Loki tucked at Mjölnir's handle, but the hammer didn't budge. Part of Loki had known it wouldn't, but somehow he had still hoped.
Typical, Loki thought.
The Prince glanced around to see if the Midgardians had noticed his presence, but they had not.
Loki should leave now. Actually, he should've left as soon as he was done talking to Thor. This detour served no purpose.
Why am I still here?
The most Loki could accomplish was that one of the mortals would run into him, in which case the illusion would shatter, and Loki might have to answer some awkward questions.
Loki had no intentions of staying around long enough to answer the Midgardians' questions, of course, nor did the curiosity of a few mortals worry him. The real problem was that Heimdall might be looking this way, and although Heimdall could not see Loki at the moment, if there was to be a fuss, Heimdall might figure out that Loki was on Midgard. Now that would lead to some truly awkward questions about how Loki had been able to leave Asgard on his own.
Loki looked down at the hammer again. Maybe I'm asking the wrong question. I shouldn't ask why I am still here, but why I came in the first place.
To see Thor. To tell Thor that father is in the Odinsleep. To tell Thor that this is all his fault, because it was Thor who charged off to Jotunheim, got himself banished, and upset their father. Because Thor left Loki alone, abandoned on the throne, with no idea what he needed to do to make everything right again.
And now Loki knew the truth about his parentage, and that was Thor's fault, too. Somehow.
However, it soon turned out that these were not the sort of conversation topics one brought up during a brief encounter in a Midgardian jail, and so Loki had settled for a more general admission.
Now Loki should already be back in Asgard. There was so much to do and so little time. And still... He'd come this far...
Loki took a better hold of the hammer, and pulled as hard as he was able.
Loki let go, and shook his head. He was such a fool.
For a brief moment, Loki's carefully composed mask slipped, letting a glimmer of desperation show through the cracks. Although none around could actually see him or his sorrow, Loki reigned in his emotions quickly.
On moments like these, Loki tried to feel nothing, but if he couldn't numb his emotions, he could usually at least keep them hidden. Usually.
Don't let them see the real you, Loki thought, and shivered at the thought of what would happen if the Asgardians did ever see through the elaborate lie that was Loki.
Not that anyone could see Loki. Not the mortals, not Heimdall, and most of all not his so-called 'family.'
Typical, Loki thought. Of course Odin would never let me have the hammer; 'a weapon worthy of a king.'
Thor had made a mess of things, proving himself unworthy, but Thor was still given a chance to pursue worthiness. That chance Loki was never allotted.
Why am I even surprised? Of course I was never an option, a possibility, a contestant... for the hammer, that is.
Loki looked up at the sky, half-expecting to see Odin looking down at him, frowning in disapproval.
Odin had banished Thor, and cast him out completely, but even now, Odin cared more about his eldest than about Loki.
Odin had a plan for Thor, and it probably involved the hammer. Or perhaps Odin simply had so much faith in his heir-of-choosing that he had left the hammer within easy reach, so that when Thor would eventually, inevitably be worthy again, it wouldn't take him long to call his priced tool to him and come back home.
Home. Where he belonged.
Odin had deemed Thor unworthy to wield Mjölnir for now, but Loki had never been considered worthy.
Thor at his least worthy is still more worthy than I ever could be. Even as king I am still unworthy. That is why people around me keep disrespecting me, and questioning my authority; they cannot see the real me under the facade, but they can still tell that I am unworthy of the throne.
This was no news, of course, and compared to everything else that had gone wrong during the past couple of days, being unable to lift the hammer was a minor setback at most. Even so, Loki felt shaken.
Loki knew that he was no Thor. He wasn't a warrior, he wasn't a leader, and despite what Odin used to tell them as children, only one of the brothers was born to be king, and it wasn't Loki.
Loki had for a while now known that he wasn't the man people wanted him to be, but that just meant that he had to work at it that much harder. One day, Loki would be loved. He just needed to be a bit better, a bit different...
Actually, Loki was already different from everyone else on Asgard and from his father's expectations. What Loki really needed to be was less different, but...
But that was just it. Loki was different, and there was nothing he could do to change that. The best Loki could do was hide his true self, but that didn't make the root of the problem go away.
Loki had tried to fit in, he had tried to be a good prince – Norns only knew how hard Loki had tried to be something he was not – but the change was only skin-deep. Even with all his magic and cunning, Loki could not tear himself open and remove the part of him that was wrong.
Whatever I am, wherever I go, I am an outsider. Asgard is the closest thing I have for a home, but I do not belong there.
Loki glanced up at the sky again. The unexpected rainstorm had quieted down, and he could see a few stars shine through the clouds.
What did I do wrong? What did I do to deserve this... endless dissatisfaction? Why can't I be happy? Why can't I belong?
There was no answer from the sky, but Loki didn't need one. Loki already knew the answer. He knew why the fates wanted to punish him in this way.
Loki's crime was that he had lived when he should've died; that he had aspired to be more than was his place and his right.
That he thought himself a god when he was a monster.
For such heavy crimes, the universe had chosen to punish Loki, and there was no cure or salvation to be found.
Loki felt an irrational urge to shout at the sky, much like his oaf of a brother had done moments earlier. The need came and went, but Loki didn't act upon it. His world was falling apart, and it wasn't fair, but that alone didn't mean the situation warranted a public display of emotion.
Just try harder.
The impeccably-dressed young man took a deep breath and walked away.
Loki looked down at the City of Gods. The landscape was bathed in the golden light of the setting sun, and although 'massive' and 'impossible' weren't Loki's favorite architectural concepts, even he had to admit that Asgard was breathtaking.
The young man let his eyes rest on the majesty of the city: the tall spiraling towers, the beautiful marble veneers, and the magical shine of the Rainbow Bridge. All ancient, but shining like new. All different, but still managing to comprise a harmonious whole.
Loki could also see other, smaller but equally beautiful things, like exciting little passages, lively marketplaces, and shadowy tavern entrances. The city was alive.
Asgard was unchanging. Even if you were gone a hundred years, you would find Asgard exactly the way you had left it. To Loki, Asgard's steadiness was both comforting and unnerving.
From so high, Loki couldn't hear what was happening below, but he could use his imagination and think up stories.
From so high, Loki could almost forget that he didn't really belong here. He had always been close to it, next to greatness, but never truly a part of it.
Loki was sitting on one of the Royal Palace's highest rooftops. Lazy wind caressed his hair, and Loki was glad he had come here of all places. The Prince had always felt more at ease outdoors, and this rooftop offered an excellent vantage over the city.
Despite the long fall just a few feet away, Loki felt safe up here. This was undoubtedly one of his favorite hiding places. The rooftop wasn't small or shadowy, like most hiding places were. Here, Loki could see everyone, and so it was almost like he wasn't hiding at all.
Loki was calmer now. He hadn't been in a particularly good mood immediately after his conversation with Thor and Thor's friends, but now Loki felt fine. Honestly.
Physically, he was exhausted; the thrill of the moment had allowed Loki to evade his pursuers, but in the process, he had overexerted himself.
Emotionally, Loki was all right. The situation wasn't all that bad this time. Things could have gone much worse.
Loki had wanted to get mad. He had wanted to throw a fit. He had wanted to do something destructive and desperate to prove a point. However, Loki was unable to muster a state of anger and despair similar to the one he had felt moments before trying to end his life.
Loki couldn't become angry and desperate, because this time, there was nothing surprising about what had transpired. Loki's anger burned quietly, and only rarely lashed out, and it was hard to get furious over something that wasn't a least bit unexpected.
Finding out you had been lied to all your life by the people closest to you – that was surprising. Getting manhandled by Thor because you didn't choose your words carefully enough – that was typical.
Truly, there was nothing new about Thor loosing his temper and taking it out on his little brother. Sometimes Loki managed to walk the line and keep Thor's aggression at bay. Other times he didn't, and as for all mistakes, there were consequences.
Today Loki hadn't even tried to mind his tongue in Thor's presence, and so it was in part his own fault that he hadn't seen the attack coming.
It would have been easy to take mortal offense over Thor's actions, but somehow Loki didn't. He was still angry at Thor for many different things, but he didn't begrudge Thor for what had happened.
Loki's relationship to his brother was far from what he wanted it to be, but at least it was honest.
Everyone in Loki's family kept telling him that they loved him, and that he belonged with them, and then they asked him to be someone he was not. They only loved him if he kept on pretending.
Thor also wanted a better brother, but at least he wasn't subtle or deceptive about it.
Whether the Thunderer realized it or not, Thor didn't love Loki. Thor loved the idea of having a little brother, but Loki wasn't that brother. Loki wondered how long it would take Thor to figure out that Loki had never been and never would be the brother Thor wanted and probably deserved.
Loki was tired. Even if he wanted to hold a grudge, he didn't think he had the strength for it. People who only had one or two enemies did not realize it, but holding a grudge was taxing.
Also, as annoying as Thor's actions were, Loki wasn't so beside himself that suicide would start to seem like a tempting option again.
Still, as if to toy with the idea, Loki peeked over the edge of the rooftop, and looked at the seemingly endless fall to the water below. The unforgiving waves streamed white between the cliffs the city was built on.
Loki sighed, and leaned back, away from the fall.
Where was I? Oh yes, the conversation.
Loki had asked for the meeting because he wanted to give the Warriors Four a piece of his mind. It was important to Loki to get a chance to tell his version of events. He was by no means innocent, of course, but he also wasn't as guilty as people were making him out to be, and Loki was frankly a bit tired of getting all the crimes of Asgard pinned on him for the sake of expediency.
One of Loki's greatest fears was that one day, he would be accused of great crimes that he had not committed, or at least not entirely, or not for the reasons people thought, but he would be unable to make anyone hear him out, or believe him.
Loki brushed his hand against his lips. The tiny scars had long ago grown invisible to the eye, but Loki could still feel them with the tips of his fingers.
No, Loki would not be silenced this time. Never again.
This time Loki had spoken his mind, and whether anyone believed him or not, at least he had been heard. That alone granted him some peace.
The meeting with Thor's friends had been mostly about Loki's need to explain himself, but ideally, it should've provided everyone present a chance to have an honest conversation about how they felt about each other. Or at least vent out some frustrations.
Loki's plan was to pester the warriors in an attempt to trick them into saying what they really thought of him, and the plan had worked, more or less. At least Sif had spoken her mind freely, and that was a good thing.
Was it irritating? Yes. Painful? Perhaps. But good, nonetheless. It was better to finally clear the air between them than to keep pretending that nothing was amiss in the first place, and to let the wounds fester.
Sometimes you have to reset bones to let them heal properly. Painful but necessary.
After centuries of sly remarks and 'playful' insults, meant to hurt more than to amuse, it was good to get it all out in the open, and finally begin to address their issues head-on and uninterrupted.
Well, nearly uninterrupted.
At least Sif had had time to make it known that she was no friend of Loki's, and Loki had done the same in return. There was no guarantee that Thor had paid close enough attention to the conversation to realize what had happened, but that didn't matter. This wasn't just about opening Thor's eyes to reality.
Now that the truth was out – well, a truth, Loki should probably say – and they were all clear about where each stood, Loki felt calmer. He really did, but somehow, Loki's calmness was gradually shifting towards melancholy.
It doesn't matter what they think of me, Loki told himself. Their opinions mean nothing. They are nothing to me.
Loki smiled. He wasn't happy, but he could appreciate irony wherever he encountered it. Ironically enough, it was Loki who had not been honest about his feelings.
"You are not my friends."
Loki could repeat the words as many times as he wanted; he could tell it to everyone who would listen; he could shout it at the skies, and still, no matter how Loki phrased it, repeating the words wouldn't make them any less a lie.
People don't take grave offense when a casual acquaintance lets them down.
Loki had finally denounced their friendship, only to realize that the situation was more complicated than that. The truth was that although the Warriors Three and Sif weren't great friends to him, they were the best friends Loki had. Even though Loki had never truly belonged with Thor and his friends, they were the people he had grown up playing with, and gone on countless adventures with.
Loki sighed. There must be something deeply wrong with me for being unable to make better friends. Why don't I have friends I could actually count on to have my back?
The Warriors Four weren't the only friends Loki had ever had, but it seemed that everyone else that Loki had been close to went away. Either they moved to other realms, or just grew distant to Loki.
There were virtually no boys of Loki's age with an interest in magic, so Loki had gotten into the habit of practicing magic with sorcerers and sorceresses much older than he was. Some of them did not approve of Loki, and some of them envied him for his innate talent, but most of them had eventually become Loki's friends.
However, because negative attitudes towards magic and its users were so common on Asgard, most of the truly notable sorcerers either quit or moved out, favoring some other realm where they would not be looked down upon for their incredible talents.
Magic was considered a more suitable pastime for women than for men, so most of the other sorcerers Loki knew were female. That provided its own complications.
When Loki was just a boy, he had many young sorceresses as his close friends, but as Loki grew older, those relationships had grown more and more complicated. These days, if Loki showed special attention to a woman, everyone mistakenly assumed he intended to swoon her.
Loki couldn't care less about court gossip, but unfortunately, it turned out that the women themselves also expected more out of the relationship. Those women who were not interested in Loki turned down his attempts at befriending them, and those who accepted his company were looking for more than a friendship, which was something Loki could not offer them.
'You can choose your friends, but you cannot choose your family' an old proverb lamented. Well, to Loki's credit, his selection of potential friends had been narrow at best.
Asgard's population wasn't big, there weren't many children his age, and for a Prince of the Realm, the options were even fewer. Thor and Loki were only encouraged to play with noble children, which limited their already scarce options considerably. They could also only spend time with other noble Asgardian children.
There were noble children on other realms as well, but, perhaps to avoid too much foreign influence on the future rulers of Asgard, foreigners were rarely invited to stay over. Only some of Frigga's Vanir relatives and their young had been allowed to visit, and even those visits had been short.
In the past, noble families all over the nine realms had sent their children either to Asgard or to Vanaheim. There, the children would be educated about the other realms, and they would learn discipline.
Loki could not bring himself to chastise anyone for abandoning such a cruel tradition, especially since it was more about ensuring peace through extortion than seeing to children's education. Yet, growing up, Loki had more than once wished that their distant Vanir cousins were asked to stay longer. They appeared far more approving of magic than their Asgardian counterparts, and although Thor didn't care much for their company, Loki wouldn't have minded seeing them more often.
However, Loki knew he couldn't blame the circumstance alone for his own inability to make friends. Thor had been in the exact same position, facing all the same limitations and difficulties as Loki had, and Thor had had no trouble finding good and loyal friends.
Loki had tried. At first, Loki had tried very hard to make Thor's friends his friends. It just hadn't worked out, and in the end, Loki had given up. He had accepted that he was not like the others, and did not enjoy the things that made everyone else laugh. Even at home, Loki was an outsider.
The fact that some of Thor's friends still claimed Loki as their friend was a bit endearing, but ultimately meaningless. What good did being called a 'friend' do to Loki, when the person saying the words was either lying, or clearly had a vastly different idea of what being friends entailed?
Loki supposed that it was possible that the Warriors Three really thought that treating someone as a nuisance to be tolerated did not mean that the same person couldn't also be your friend. However, to Loki, being tolerated wasn't enough.
Loki's relationship to his friends was much like his relationship to his father; far from what he hoped it would be, but still the best he could ever have.
Somehow, Thor could make both, his relationship to his friends and to their father, work. Why? Why was happiness granted to Loki's brother, while it was denied of him?
Loki knew the answer, of course. His friendships were only as good as he deserved.
Only good and loyal people deserve good and loyal friends.
Loki rubbed his eyes. He wasn't crying, he really wasn't. Just tired.
Loki heard a light sound echo from the direction of the balcony that lead to the rooftop. He turned to look, and soon, the familiar figure of Frigga walked into view.
She smiled at him, apparently calm but obviously also relieved. Loki swallowed, mentally preparing to be reprimanded.
"Can I join you?" Frigga asked, and Loki nodded his consent.
Frigga stepped over the low railing of the balcony and onto the nearly flat roof. She walked over to sit by Loki's side. For a moment, Loki wondered if Frigga would do something silly, like pull him further away from the edge of the roof, but she did not.
"How did you find me?" Loki asked, his voice empty.
Frigga was arranging the hem of her dress. She looked up, and answered: "You've been coming here since you were a little boy."
Her voice was kind, and only a bit teasing.
Loki nodded, and turned to look at the horizon again. He had known there was a good chance that Frigga would find him if he came here to hide. Actually, Loki had been counting on it.
Loki really wanted to be alone right now, but after his suicide attempt, he also owed it to his mother to let her know where he was. Loki wasn't trying to end his life again, and Frigga deserved to know as much.
Right after escaping Thor and his friends, Loki had been so upset that he had considered leaving the realm for good. However, Loki had soon realized that he had nowhere else to go. He didn't truly belong on Asgard, but he wouldn't be welcomed anywhere else, either.
Besides, even if Loki had somewhere else to go, and the energy and determination to get there, he wouldn't have left. Not right now, and not like this.
Loki sometimes dreamt of leaving without a word of goodbye, never to be seen again, but he didn't want to put his mother through that. Not now.
After Loki had realized he wasn't so angry that he would do something risky and stupid, he did something smart and logical instead; Loki had come to hide here, where he knew Frigga would find him, if she so desired.
Coming here was Loki's silent apology for making her worry. He could only hope that Frigga got the message.
Loki had found this place when he was a very young boy. He had done something bad, and was so afraid of the punishment that he had run away from his nannies, disappearing for hours. Frigga had eventually been the one to find him.
At the time, Loki had thought that it was because they were connected. Now Loki thought that Heimdall had had something to do with it. Either way, over the years, this place had become Frigga and Loki's shared little secret. Loki would come here when he was upset, and only Frigga would find him, because no one else knew about it.
No one else ever came looking.
If Loki had truly wanted to be alone, he would've gone to one of his other, numerous hideouts, or to a new place altogether.
"I am here for you," Frigga spoke up gently. "You can tell me anything. You know that right?"
Loki sighed and nodded. He had thought that he wanted to be alone, but now that Frigga was actually here, it turned out that he didn't.
Loki didn't want to be alone. Very few people preferred isolation. Many just found it safer.
Loki turned to look at Frigga. "Shouldn't you call of the search first? I think there is a chance that Thor is still looking for me."
Despite Loki's best efforts to keep his tone casual, the last sentence came out more as a question than a statement.
Frigga smiled a kind, warm smile. "Your brother is indeed looking for you, but it will do him no harm to keep looking a bit longer."
Loki smirked. They sat in amiable silence for a while, until Loki spoke up: "Thor told you what happened?"
The Queen shook her head. "It was not Thor who came to me but Lady Sif. She told me you had gotten into an argument with your brother, and that the argument had turned into a brawl."
Frigga reached out and took Loki's hand. "I think your friends are very worried for you."
Loki closed his eyes, resisted the knee-jerk reaction to repeat that they were not his friends, and simply nodded.
"You made me very worried", Frigga spoke softly, as if to a child. Loki felt like a child being chastised for small mischief.
"I'm sorry," he said, his voice almost too quiet to be heard.
Frigga smiled a sad smile. "You need to remember to be more careful around your brother while he is still powerless."
Loki nodded, mostly because 'But he started it!' sounded petty even to his own ears.
"Even if Thor was the one who started it, as Lady Sif has informed me," Frigga finished, as if reading his mind.
Loki's head snapped up, but there was no lie in Frigga's eyes. Loki was surprised, and a bit confused.
Sif wasn't a liar by habit, but she certainly understood the power of omission and selective storytelling as well as the next guy. Why had Sif even brought up the matter of who started the fight?
"So," Frigga continued. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"Talk about what?" Loki asked in a clipped tone.
Frigga raised her eyes. "Whatever it was that you were arguing about. Whatever made you all so upset."
Loki sighed. "It's just... I just... And I know I don't deserve better, but... Why doesn't anyone on Asgard like me?"
Loki blinked and looked away. That was the question topmost on his mind, but he hadn't intended to ask it out loud; the words had forced their way off his lips.
Frigga squeezed Loki's hand, and that gave the young man some comfort. Even so, Loki could already imagine the disapproval in her voice.
I shouldn't have said anything, Loki thought. I'll just make her worry.
When Frigga spoke, her words were serious, but not reproachful: "There are many people who love you, and most of them live here on Asgard. This is your home, and you are well-liked here."
"Of course I am. My mistake. Sorry," Loki said bitterly, still looking away.
Frigga sighed, and went on, her tone slow and careful: "I wish I could tell you that you are entirely mistaken, and that everyone on Asgard likes you, but I won't, because it isn't true, and denying the truth won't solve anything."
Loki looked up, surprised. Even though Loki had admitted the same truth first, it was still surprising and a bit painful to hear his mother agree. However, the twinge of shame Loki felt was nothing in comparison to the wave of relief that washed over him when he finally heard Frigga admit that Loki wasn't lying or just imagining things; that the problem did exist.
Could it be... Would his mother listen, truly listen, this time and believe Loki? Could they actually talk about things?
Frigga took a deep breath, and went on, now with a faint smile on her lips. "You may not have many friends or admirers in the court of Asgard or among the warriors who serve the realm. That is unfortunate, but it is not your fault. It's not anyone's fault. You just have a very different set of priorities than they do, but that doesn't mean that one is more right than the other."
"However," Frigga added quickly, "my son, you are by no means 'disliked by all.' On the contrary: most of Asgard admires you and respects you. Many Asgardians feel strongly attached to you."
Loki scoffed, disbelieving.
Frigga placed her hand on his cheek and forced him to look her in the eye. "You are more liked on Asgard than you perhaps realize."
"I see," Loki stated sarcastically. "Well, it is a relief to hear that I am not generally hated by all. Just among the court and the warriors then. Thank the gods those categories do not cover all that many people I know."
Frigga pursed her lips, but then her face softened. "My sweet boy. You've always been so perceptive of everyone but yourself."
Loki tried to turn away, but Frigga wouldn't let him. Her hand still on Loki's cheek, she went on with her explanation: "After the news of your injury spread, dozens of people I had never met came to me and asked after your wellbeing. Many promised to pray for your recovery, and that number only includes those subjects brave enough to approach the Queen of the Realm personally about the matter. I am certain that the true number of people worrying about you and hoping for your recovery was much greater."
Loki straightened his pose and frowned. His first reaction was to ask for more details, so that he could figure out who these inquirers had been and what they had been really after, but he wasn't sure how to politely phrase his thoughts.
In the end, Loki didn't have to even ask. Frigga must have seen the dubious confusion written on his face, for she went on: "I made it my business to inquire who the subjects were, and where they knew you from. Most of them had at some point met you personally, and had either been impressed by your talents, or they felt indebted to you for something you had helped them with. Actually, it turns out you are quite the folk hero."
Loki rolled his eyes, but Frigga just smiled and stated: "Really. I hand't even realized how much time you spend among the common people. Of course we all tend to their needs, and work hard to further their benefit, but you do so more often and more intimately than most members of the court."
Loki sighed. He supposed that Frigga might have a point, at least about him spending an inordinate amount of his time among commoners. That said, there was nothing 'heroic' about his actions or the motivations behind them.
Loki was lonely, clever, and grew bored easily. He kept his eyes and ears open, and knew what was going on in the realm. Loki also had no scruples about getting involved in things that really weren't any of his business. On top of that, Loki loved to show off his talents and wits.
Most importantly, Loki wanted to be noticed. Loki wanted people to like him, but more than anything else, he wanted his father to be proud of him.
Loki had many selfish reasons for wanting to get involved in all kinds of quarrels, especially if the injustice of the situation was obvious, and there was no one else available to step up to the task.
However, Loki didn't know any of his so-called admirers intimately. He helped around when the peasants happened to need help, which in practice meant that he met the same people a few times at most, and then never saw them again.
Loki had many other duties and hobbies as well, and he didn't spend most of his time solving other people's messes, but over the years, Loki had had time to get involved in all kinds of things.
Loki had a knack for creative problem solving, and so he was often tasked with jobs that required him to settle minor feuds and find compromises. Usually neither party was truly happy with Loki's proposition, but they could not turn it down, either.
Loki had handled a lot of negotiations and other domestic affairs. Sometimes he even tended to trivial, yet surprisingly heated matters such as sewage construction. Loki had been doing it so long that these days he didn't know if he actually liked getting involved, or if he did it because it was something he was good at.
As a side product of all his scheming, Loki had undoubtedly helped countless people in some small way, but he had also made many enemies.
Even so, Loki still found it hard to believe that most of Asgard had a strong opinion on him, one way or another, because at the end of the day, Loki really wasn't all that famous. Thor was the brave warrior, victorious in countless battles. Thor was that one Asgardian who everyone in the nine realms had heard about, and Loki was but his shadow.
Even when Loki did something on his own without Thor there, no songs of praise were ever sang of Loki's tediously mundane deeds.
"Thor is the one the people love," Loki pointed out. "He is the golden son; the embodiment of Asgard and her values. You saw how they cheered him on at the coronation."
Frigga smiled a knowing smile. "Most Asgardians appreciate valor and strength in battle, but there are also other, everyday things that people need and value. While Thor may be good at solving problems that require use of brute force, not all situations can be solved with a hammer. Also, just because a situation isn't immediately life threatening, doesn't mean that solving it has no value. Whether most people realize it or not, non-violent oppression can be just as frightening as the dangers of battle."
Loki nodded, thoughtful. He definitely agreed with his mother on her last point at least; as far as Loki was concerned, constant oppression was worse than momentary uncertainty and chaos. However, Loki wasn't sure whether to believe her when she said that the people of Asgard liked him as much as Thor.
Perhaps sensing Loki's hesitation, Frigga smiled reassuringly, and said: "Although you and your brother are very different, it doesn't mean that one of you is better than the other, or that you two could never get along. On the contrary; I think you and Thor are stronger together, and could learn much from each other."
Loki nodded again, and tried to consider Frigga's words. Could she be right? Could Loki sometimes be as heroic as Thor, if not even more so?
Thor was a good man, there was no doubt about that. Few could measure up to him.
Thor defended those weaker than himself. Then again, he only ever acted when injustice was so obvious that it was staring him in the face.
Thor doesn't take preemptive measures to evade potential conflicts, nor does he stay around long enough to face the messy aftermath of one. He just swoops in, saves the day, and then flies off to celebrate his victory.
Not that I can entirely blame him for that. If I had the power to singlehandedly save the day with the swing of my hammer, and get all the glory and everyone's admirations by doing that and nothing more, I would have no incentive to try harder.
Mother took a better hold of Loki's hand, looking him in the eye. "Loki, I meant what I said. Whether you realize it or not, you have a lot of good in you, my son. You have helped many people in their time of need, and those people have not forgotten your kindness. The people of Asgard respect you for your talents, and even those who do not like you recognize your value."
Frigga paused for a short while, and then went on more gently: "Most of our subjects love you, and not because they think you have a flawless reputation, or because they believe that you can solve any problem, but because they know that if they need your help, you will try to help them. They know that you care, and that is enough."
Loki couldn't think of anything to say to that.
Could Frigga be right? Did the people of Asgard more than just tolerate him? Was Loki in fact beloved?
Loki's instinct told him that Frigga was wrong, but he should perhaps look into the matter more before accepting or dismissing it entirelly.
Even if Frigga was mistaken, Loki couldn't immediately think up solid arguments that would prove it, and that already was a bit surprising. Loki knew he had enemies in the court, and that had led him to assume that people in general didn't care much for him; that they simply tolerated him, because they didn't want to show disrespect towards any member of the House of Odin.
However, the ordinary people did not treat Loki unkindly as a rule, and Frigga's reasonings made sense. She had little reason to lie to him about this, since Loki's mother knew better than to speak comforting lies to Loki, because Loki would look into them, realize that he had been deceived, and then feel unhappy and betrayed.
Yet, if evidence in fact pointed towards Loki being popular, how had it taken him so long to even consider the possibility?
Also, if Loki had been so blind about one thing, what else might have he missed?
Loki hated few things more than getting judged prematurely by people who did not truly know him, but now it seemed that he was guilty of the same thing. Loki had been so sure that he understood people and their motivations that he hadn't stopped to truly evaluate the evidence right before him.
When people acted the way Loki expected them to, he became more sure that he had them all figured out. If they acted differently than he would've expected, Loki could always find a suitable explanation for this 'temporary deviation from norm.'
Even when people acted contrary to his expectations, it did not often change his perception about them.
Maybe Loki shouldn't have been surprised to hear that Sif had defended him to his mother. There was a possibility that the Warriors Three were not mean to him on purpose, even if it didn't seem likely.
Maybe Frigga was right; Loki could be at his blindest when it came to his own life, and the people closest to him.
Food for thought. However, if Loki raised his expectations, and started trusting people more, he would most likely end up getting hurt again.
Suddenly Frigga stood up. "It is already dark, and a cold wind is rising. We better get inside."
She was right, of course; the sun had already set, taking the afternoon warmth with it. Absorbed in his thoughts, Loki had paid little attention to the passing of time.
"I'm sorry," Loki said, "I didn't realize I was keeping you."
Loki got up, smirked to himself, and added quietly: "Cold never bothered me."
Frigga gave him a strange look, but she didn't say anything about his remark.
Loki started to raise his hand to offer it to Frigga, but then changed his mind, and used it to smooth down his tunic instead. Loki wouldn't mind escorting Frigga back inside the balcony, but he also did not wish to offend her by implying that she needed the help.
Although Loki was emotionally relatively close to his mother, that closeness did not manifest itself in physical proximity. In the days following his suicide attempt, Frigga had touched Loki surprisingly frequently and openly, but those moments still felt strange to him, and probably to Frigga as well. Loki didn't dislike being touched, not as a rule, but he never knew what to do when someone did.
With the exception of Thor, who had no inhibitions, they just weren't the type of family to show affection easily. Whether Odin was banishing Thor or making him king, their father stayed far away, and often stood on a pedestal, furthering the physical distance between them.
When Odin fell down in the Weapon's Vault, Loki had been hesitant to touch him, partly because he thought that he had caused the seizure, but also partly because he and Odin almost never touched one another.
Loki wanted to trust Frigga, but he was still hesitant to reach out to her. She was trying to be nice now, because it was a special circumstance, but as soon as the situation calmed down, their relationship would probably go back the way it had been before.
Loki didn't want to make Frigga feel obliged to touch him if she didn't actually want to, and she probably didn't want to. Before Loki's 'accident', he couldn't even remember when was the last time his mother had hugged him, but he was pretty sure that it must have been a special occasion.
Frigga started walking towards the balcony railing, apparently unaware of Loki's inner struggle, and Loki followed close behind.
"I am sorry I kept you from your duties this long," Loki repeated his apology. "If you are in a hurry to go somewhere, I completely understand."
Loki rather hoped he wouldn't have to go with her just yet.
Frigga stopped and turned around. Her lovely face was sincere when she said: "If it were up to me, I wouldn't mind staying up here all night, but I believe we are both missed elsewhere."
Loki nodded. He understood what she was trying to say. "I should let Thor know I'm alive."
Loki was still angry at his brother for going down on his promise, and he certainly didn't feel like talking to him just now, but Loki wasn't feeling so vengeful that he would mislead Thor into thinking he was dead. Any longer than he already had, anyway.
"Yes. Your brother and your father are both waiting to hear from you," Frigga stated, and climbed over the railing.
Loki followed her, but also frowned at her words. "I should think the Allfather has better things to do. I doubt he even knows anything is amiss."
"He knows," Frigga corrected Loki. "Your father learned of your disappearance the same time I did, because we were talking when Lady Sif sought me out. First Odin intended to order his guards to find you, but I convinced him that I would have better success. Your father agreed to let me handle the situation, but he also made me promise that as soon as I was done talking to you, I would take you to see him. He wants to have a word with you."
Frigga and Loki walked inside the palace while Loki mulled over this new detail. Loki wasn't sure where the Allfather was, but for now he had bigger things to worry about, and so he trusted Frigga to lead the way.
"I see," Loki continued the conversation in a purposefully polite tone. "And did the Allfather happen to mention what punishment he was planning to bestow upon me this time?"
"Loki," Frigga warned him. "I'm sure your father isn't angry. Of course he's not pleased that you provoked Thor to fight you, but you didn't start the fight. Your father just wants to talk to you about what happened, and I'm glad that he has decided to get personally involved. It is due time the two of you had a proper conversation."
Loki was actually quite worried, but chose to hide the emotion under sass.
"I don't know," Loki said and made a deliberate effort to look puzzled. "A heart-to-heart with the king? That sounds awful lot like a punishment to me."
Frigga actually rolled her eyes at that. "You should perhaps know that your father also sent for Thor and the Warriors Four. He wants to talk to all of you about what happened."
Loki raised his eyebrows innocently. "Why, of course. He needs witnesses present in my trial."
Frigga sighed, but instead of arguing further, she asked: "Why are you so sure that your father intends to punish you?"
"Because he wants to see me," Loki replied without hesitation. He knew he was being a tad unfair, since Odin could have many reasons for why he wanted to talk to Loki. However, in this instance, Loki really did expect to get punished.
Mother frowned. "You participated in a fight, but no more than the others did. Why are you so sure that your father is going to punish you? It was just a quarrel, and even if your father was to punish someone, he would surely punish everyone involved, and the punishments wouldn't be severe."
Loki saw Frigga's logic, but he still didn't agree with her. Getting punished for this would make a lot more sense. It would be more... consistent, if that even was a word you could use to describe the way in which Odin handed out punishments.
On top of being the King of Asgard, the Allfather also had the last say in all rulings made in any Asgardian court of law, if he so pleased. Odin had the power to decide who was guilty and who was innocent. He handled all matters concerning the people of the court by habit, and so Loki had never been judged by anyone else.
People assumed that since Odin was a wise and just king, he was also automatically impartial, but sometimes he wasn't. Odin was just a man, and like any man, he could make rash or unjust decisions. He was especially partial when it came to his family.
It had taken an international conflict for Odin to see that Thor wasn't fit to be king. On other occasions, Odin had punished Loki more harshly than he would've punished anyone else for the same crime, probably because Odin was Loki's father, and felt personally let down by the Prince's bad conduct.
Loki had over the years become closely acquainted with the judicial side of the Allfather's duties, for the young man had been questioned uncommonly often at court hearings. Whenever something bad or unexpected happened in the palace, it seemed that Loki's name always came up, be it as a suspect or a potential witness.
Loki was a trickster, and so perhaps some part of this automatic suspicion was justifiable. Loki was, after all, clever, knowledgeable, and liked getting involved, and these qualities had earned him a reputation as the sort of person who always had a plan. Honestly though, at least half of 'Loki's schemes' were just stuff people invented in their heads and then credited him for.
Sometimes, people saw complicated plots and hidden meanings even when there were none to be found. Perhaps it was comforting to believe that someone was in control all the time – even if you didn't like that someone – rather than admit that life was unpredictable, and sometimes bad things happened for no reason.
In reality, even Loki couldn't see everything coming, and always have a plan, a backup plan and an emergency backup plan.
Yet more often than not, it seemed that Loki was presumed guilty unless he could prove his innocence, and even if Loki found a way to clear his name, some doubt remained; it was, after all, awfully convenient that there happened to be evidence to prove Loki's innocence.
This time Loki had gotten into a quarrel with Thor and the Warriors Four, and although he hadn't started the fight, Loki had certainly provoked it. That was a key detail.
Whenever Thor did something rash, people justified his deeds by saying that Thor just got 'carried away' sometimes, but that he didn't mean any real harm by it.
Loki, on the other hand, was smart, and so if he did something stupid, it had to be intentional. Somehow, Loki was presumed to have evil intention from the start. Therefore odds were that regardless of who threw the first punch, the whole incident was primarily Loki's fault. He must have manipulated everyone else in the room in an attempt to get innocent people in undeserved trouble.
Whenever people attacked Loki, he had it coming. Somehow.
Loki wasn't sure when it had started, or how the situation had gotten so bad, but it seemed that people generally expected the worst of him. It was kind of strange, really, since Loki was fairly sure he hadn't given them all that many concrete reasons to doubt him so. Loki may have gotten into trouble more often than most, but his crimes were minor. Besides, Thor broke the rules almost as often as Loki did, and yet he was somehow generally viewed as a trustworthy fellow.
How come people are so suspicious of me? And how to explain all this to my mother?
Loki decided to start with the basics: "Normally, you would be right, but this is a special occasion that calls for an exception. The King would not punish me severely for getting in a small fight, but that is not the only thing I have done that Odin has reason to be angry at me for. My... the Allfather is undoubtedly still angry and disappointed in me for scheming behind his back, letting in the Jotun, being a poor king, lying to Thor, and most importantly, for making you and Thor worry so. So you see, Odin has much to begrudge me for, but he cannot openly prosecute me for the aforementioned things, and so he will just have to punish me harder for other crimes instead."
Frigga sighed, and said: "Loki, surely you know that your father has already forgiven you for those things."
"No, he hasn't," Loki said in a quiet voice.
Now that they were inside the palace, someone might overhear them, and so Loki lowered his voice to a whisper: "Odin can't punish me for what I did on Thor's coronation day, but that is not the same as forgiving me. The King cannot prosecute me, because in order to do so, he would have to make it public knowledge that both Thor and I were involved in the Jotunheim incident. If the other realms found out about that, it might look suspiciously lot like every member of the House of Odin secretly approves of the war. Maybe we even planned the whole thing together from the start. The other realms might be under Asgard's heel, but I doubt they would all stand by if they believed that Odin was going around making up excuses to invade foreign realms."
"Loki!" Frigga exclaimed and stopped in front of him, forcing Loki to stop as well. "How dare you make fun of something so serious! You know as well as I do that your father does not wish to go to war with any realm. Even now, although Jotunheim has already declared war on us, your father is working very hard to prevent it from ever becoming a reality."
For a moment, Loki thought that Frigga would slap him in the face, but she did not. He had rarely seen her so upset. Usually, she was endlessly forgiving, and let Thor, Loki and Odin get away with murder.
Loki felt conflicted. On one hand, he wanted to speak his mind, but on the other, he realized that it was mostly his fault that Frigga was this high-strung, and he didn't want to make her life any harder than it already was.
Loki spoke in a calm, solemn tone: "My apologies for sounding callous. I did not mean to undermine the seriousness of war. War is so terrible that I find I can only talk about it in light tone. That does not mean that I doubt the sincerity of the Allfather's efforts. You are surely right in saying that Odin is doing all he can to avoid the war."
Loki wasn't even lying, although he had chosen his words rather carefully. In all honesty, Loki did think that Odin genuinely didn't want a war, but perhaps for a different reason than was implied.
Odin didn't want a war, but not because he wanted to avoid the 'horrors of war', like he had told Thor. Niceness probably had something, but fairly little to do with why Odin opposed this war.
The King wouldn't shed a tear for a few Asgardian lives lost in the service of the realm, but even if Asgard won, what would they gain? One did not have to be the God of Wisdom to see that this war was wholly impractical. A war with Jotunheim would benefit neither Odin nor Asgard.
War was always costly, and fighting the Jotun, even when the nation was on its knees, was extremely risky. Even if Asgard were to win the war with only a few casualties on their side, they couldn't plunder Jotuheim's riches, when the realm hadn't even recovered from the last war. Nor was there any point in conquering such a desolate and cold place. So, even the best-case scenario could barely be called a victory.
The only thing Asgard could hope to accomplish with this war was to show off her might, making the other realms think twice before challenging Asgard's rule. However, even displays of power needed proper justifications in order to be effective in intimidating rather than outraging the other realms.
In any case, the situation would be a diplomatic nightmare, not to mention a stain on Odin's personal reputation. Odin had worked hard to become known as a wise and peaceful king, and this new conflict threatened to break a thousand-year streak of seeming peace and personal success.
Of course, the Nine Realms hadn't been entirely without conflicts the past millennium – Thor hadn't learned to swing his hammer by leading a peaceful life – but an outright interplanetary war had thus far been averted.
In Loki's opinion, the greatest reason why Odin disliked wars so much was that every major conflict was followed by the possibility of change. Change in the power relations between the realms, or change within the ruling regimes of individual realms.
When you, as a nation and its king, are already on the top of the world, change can only be for worse.
Frigga appeared placated by Loki's words, and so he did not elaborate on why he believed Odin to be genuinely against war. Loki was diverting the conversation from the point as it was.
Loki took in a quick breath, and returned to his earlier line of thought. "The point I was trying to make is that Odin cannot properly punish me for my crimes without running the risk of angering the other realms. This doesn't, however, mean that I won't be held accountable under an excuse. In fact, the Allfather punishes me arbitrarily so often that I doubt anyone is even going to suspect that something exceptionally condemning has happened."
"Loki," Frigga warned him again.
Loki lifted his hands to indicate that he realized that he had overstepped. However, he did not stop talking: "I know, I know: he's only hard on me because he cares, and his punishments vary because he is a wise king who knows how to best get through to each person he punishes. Still, you must have noticed that Odin always hands out especially harsh punishments to me, and that there isn't always a clear connection between the seriousness of the crime and the harshness of the punishment. Alas, it would not surprise me if the foreign delegates were to overlook suspicious behavior on mine and the Allfather's part when it comes to him deciding on my punishment."
Truly, if there was a pattern to Odin and how he punished people, Loki had yet to figure it out. Odin's punishments did not form a coherent picture, and Loki was often left with the impression that other factors than just the ones that were spoken out loud during the trial weighed in on the Allfather's decisions.
Probably Loki had done something else that didn't sit right with Odin, but because that something else wasn't illegal, the King couldn't punish him for it directly. Odin could, however, punish Loki harder for something else, and pray that Loki understood what he was really being punished for, and would not repeat that crime.
Unfortunately, most of the time Loki didn't have the slightest idea what it was that Odin actually wanted him to do.
Another possible explanation for the seemingly haphazard punishments could be that there was a general assumption around Asgard that Loki had always done something bad, even if he hadn't been caught for it. Therefore, whenever they were able to catch him for something, Odin punished him extra hard to make up for all the times Loki had presumably gotten away with his devious deeds.
If that was what people expected, then it made sense for the Allfather to acquiesce. It didn't matter if anyone had proof of Loki's alleged crimes, or even any idea what they might be, because it always stood to presume that Loki had at some point in his life probably done something to earn the punishment he was given.
Frigga sighed. "Perhaps your father would be more lenient on you if you didn't get into trouble so often. Breaking the rules continuously indicates that you haven't learned your lesson, or that you have no intentions of mending your ways."
"True," Loki acquiesced. "Though it would be easier to follow the rules if I knew what they were. I suppose my moral compass should automatically show me the right way, but unfortunately, my compass and Odin's compass rarely point towards the same north."
Loki couldn't stay out of trouble even if he tried, because the rules kept changing. Asgard had laws, but they were old, and they were invoked selectively. The line between 'illegal' and 'offensive to the people in power' tended to be blurred at best, but somehow, no one but Loki saw this as a major problem.
Perhaps the others had never been abused by the system.
"You have read up on Asgard's laws," Frigga pointed out tiredly. "And you know the ways of our people. You know what is right, and how a prince is to conduct himself."
Yes, Loki thought. But just because there is a 'way things have always been done' doesn't mean that it is the only right way of doing things. Or even the best possible way. Or even right.
Loki rolled his eyes, but didn't continue the argument. What was the point? Speaking his mind was rather futile when it was unlikely he could actually change anything.
On Asgard, there were certain things that Loki wanted to redesign, and the justice system was on top of that list. However, it didn't seem likely that he would get a chance to make a difference so long as Odin was in charge; Odin preferred the status quo to nearly any proposed change. Unless a truly dire need for a new law came, it just wasn't going to happen.
It was also unlikely that Odin would ever loose his position of authority, not even when he officially stepped down as king, and so Loki could propose all the improvements he wanted, but no one would listen.
On the other hand, it was more than likely that Loki wouldn't always stay on Odin's good side, and when that happened, there would be nothing left to protect Loki from Odin's wrath. Nothing but Asgard's justice system.
Loki could only hope that Asgardian justice truly was just, though his encounters with the judicial system so far weren't promising.
To stay out of trouble, all Loki had to do was to behave in a way that Odin approved of. Unfortunately, Loki was never sure what Odin considered proper behavior; sometimes Odin would simply laugh off even Loki's crueler deeds, but on other occasions, Loki would face severe punishments for deeds he was absolutely sure went against no Asgardian law.
When Loki contemplated assassinating the King of Jotunheim a few days ago, he wasn't absolutely sure whether he would be rewarded or punished for killing the man. If he had chosen to do it, his main reason would have been to prevent the war, but also to make Odin proud. Still, in retrospect, he would have probably been punished for the deed regardless of how it affected the war.
If Loki misread Odin's preferences, and Odin really didn't approve of the assassination, Loki would have been in big trouble. Yet, even if Loki presumed correctly, and Odin truly wanted his enemy dead, the Allfather would admit no such thing. After the deed was done, Odin could say he disapproved of Loki's plan, and get his optimal result: Laufey would be dead and Odin could pretend to be merciful and fair.
Looking back on that night, Loki realized that he hadn't thought his plan through at all. Whether Odin wanted Laufey dead or not, the Allfather would not defend Loki, because Odin gained nothing by doing so.
If Loki were to kill Laufey now, he would do it for Asgard, and not for Odin. But that was all very hypothetical, since Loki was most certainly not going to assassinate anyone now. Even so, Loki found himself wondering how the people of Asgard would have reacted to such a deed.
Generally speaking murder was wrong, and killing an unsuspecting man even more so, but on the other hand, different rules applied when you were fighting a known enemy of Asgard, or anyone from an enemy race, really.
On Asgard, killing your enemy wasn't considered murder; not even if you were the one who started the fight, like Thor had done on Jotunheim. The killing didn't have to be in selfdefense, either.
Actually, so long as the other party was non-Aesir, a different set of rules applied, because the other species were considered somewhat sub-Aesir, and their lives in varying degrees less valuable.
Royalty, no matter what species they were from, had to also be treated differently than common folk, so all in all, it was hard to say when and how killing a man was justified by Asgard's laws and traditions.
Sometimes, it seemed that the justifications for killings were decided after the fact, and the most important factor to consider was who won.
If Thor had gone to pick a fight on Jotunheim and won, it is unlikely he would have been banished.
And even so, no matter which way you looked at the situation, Loki would've been punished for killing Laufey.
Even though if Thor had killed the King of Jotunheim, no matter how he went about it, they would have thrown a feast in his honor, Loki thought bitterly.
On Asgard, it was generally believed that some people were good by nature and some people were bad. If someone was a Good Person, he acted righteously and made good and just decisions.
This was the reason why there was no political will to limit the authority of individual rulers and judges; since they were Good People, strict laws would only limit them from making the best possible decisions, and handing out the best possible punishments in every individual situation.
Giving each judge a lot of leeway made Asgard's justice system flexible, but also arbitrary. And scary, in Loki's opinion. There were a lot of different punishments sited in the laws, and some of them were archaic and frankly brutal, and although those punishments were almost never given to anyone these days, they were still on the table.
Living in constant uncertainty really was a punishment on its own accord, and that was one of the main reasons why Loki wished Asgard had a clearer justice system that was less dependent on the whims of the people in power. Although Loki himself was one of the people in power, and the system really should have benefitted him more than harmed him, Loki could easily sympathize with the people who were wronged by 'Asgardian justice.'
Of course even if the system was altered, Loki would probably still break the rules from time to time. Probably he couldn't help it entirely, since leading a quiet life wasn't in his nature any more than it was in Thor's, but at least Loki would know when he broke the rules, and what the consequence might be.
"Do you know where the Allfather is at the moment?" Loki asked, mostly to break the oppressing silence, but also because he was starting to get curious about where they were headed.
"I'm fairly sure he's in the Throne Room," Frigga stated.
Loki frowned. "At such late hour?"
Frigga smiled dryly. "Your father has been working hard to catch up on lost time."
Time that I spent unwisely, Loki thought and winced.
If the Throne Room was their destination, they would be there soon. Loki wasn't looking forward to the meeting, but as he also couldn't begin to guess what his punishment would be this time, and the uncertainty was painful, it was perhaps a good thing they were close.
Better to just get it over with.
Perhaps Odin would be lenient this time. Maybe he would only scold Loki, but not hand out any actual punishment. Not that that was of much comfort to him; the trial itself was often the worst part of the punishment, because the mere act of being tried was humiliating, and sent the message that Loki was unworthy.
Sometimes when Loki was feeling particularly resentful, he was sure that Odin punished him so often and so harshly because the Allfather wanted to undermine his credibility. That Odin made a purposeful effort to discredit him, so that people would doubt Loki even when he was telling the truth.
Because the message Odin was sending with Loki's constant trials and punishments was that there was something truly wrong about Loki. But why?
Because I know more secrets than anyone, and most of them do not paint a particularly admirable picture about the Allfather, a hateful voice whispered in the back of Loki's mind.
If Loki ever chose to tell anyone about Odin's less admirable qualities, who would believe him? Who would take the word of the 'God of Lies' over that of the 'God of Wisdom?'
The fact that Odin had allowed occasional use of the title of the 'God of Lies', even as a joke, should have been Loki's first clue to figuring out that Odin wasn't his real father. There were few things Odin cared about more than maintaining his reputation, and Thor and Loki's mistakes reflected on their father's reputations as well as their own. Therefore the King had strong incentives to make sure all members of his family were revered; they were, after all, his own flesh and blood.
However, in Loki's case, Odin had done the exact opposite; even when there was no proof of Loki's guilt, with his disapproving words and looks, Odin made it blatantly clear to everyone present that at least he suspected that Loki was guilty as charged.
Every time. Even when Odin knew for a fact that Loki was innocent but saying so would be 'inconvenient.'
For the second time that day, Loki's mind raced to the day his lips had been sewn shut. Odin and Loki had been part of a diplomatic delegate to Svartalheim, to the part of the realm ruled by the Dwarf Kings, to be more exact. Loki had been young, only fifteen, and it was one of his first major diplomatic missions.
Loki had still been so naïve.
During the last night of their stay, Loki got into a wager with some of the dwarves. The dwarves cheated on him, and he lost the bet, and as if that wasn't bad enough, the dwarves had suddenly claimed that Loki had promised them his head as reward.
The resulting dispute was taken before the kings. Loki had desperately tried to explain to Odin and the Dwarf King that he had promised no such thing, but the Dwarf King sided with his subjects. When it came Odin's turn to defend Loki, he hadn't.
Later Odin told Loki that he had believed Loki's side of the story, but to say so then and there would have been the same as calling the Dwarf King a liar, and it could have lead to a major conflict. Odin had explained that the dwarves had probably wanted a fight all along, but that Loki was to be blamed as well; Loki should never have allowed the dwarves to fool him in such a way. Loki's foolishness had nearly given the dwarves the excuse they had been after, and his careless conduct brought shame on all of Asgard.
In the end, Loki had saved himself by saying that they could have his head, but not the neck that it was attached to. In retrospect, he should be grateful the dwarves didn't just bash his head in. Fortunately, they thought of a different way of enforcing the wager.
They sewed his lips shut; a punishment fit for a liar.
After Odin and Loki returned to Asgard, it had taken the healers no more than a couple of days to find a way to remove the enchantment keeping the stitches in place. When Loki was in the healing rooms, Odin had explained to him that he believed that Loki hadn't meant for this to happen, but that he should also learn from this trial. Next time, Loki should not be so careless as to give his enemies an opening.
Loki had nodded, and when he'd reached the privacy of his rooms, Loki had cried. Hard.
At the time, Loki liked to think that if the dwarves had actually tried to behead him, Odin would have stopped them. Now, he wasn't so sure.
Looking back on it, it really wasn't just Loki's own fault that he had such a bad reputation. If the Allfather really cared, he could have treated Loki in a way that wasn't so harmful to the Prince's reputation.
People saw how Odin treated his second son, and they thought that it meant that Loki was bad. If there was any good in Loki, his wise and just father wouldn't punish him so. However, if even his own father thought Loki was a rotten apple, then it had to be so.
Odin hadn't been worried about Loki's tainted reputation, because he knew something Loki had not: that Loki would not always be a member of his family.
Now Loki knew the same truth, and finally, he understood Odin's reasonings; if Loki ever got into really big trouble, Odin could disown him in a heartbeat, and wipe his hands clean of any responsibility.
'So what if I raised the kid from infancy? He's a Jotun, so clearly he was born bad. There was nothing even I could do to set him right.'
...Surely, I'm just being paranoid.
Loki hoped that he was just being paranoid.
Not even Odin would have the foresight to slowly make everyone think the worst of his own adopted/kidnapped son/bargaining chip. What kind of a father would purposefully discredit his own son, making his life Hel in the process?
…Odin would, if there was something in it for him.
Also, what better way of ensuring that Thor would get the throne than convincing the world that Loki was wholly unfit to rule?
Loki shook his head to clear away the horrible doubts. Frigga looked at him with a question in her eyes. Loki smiled briefly at her to show that he was fine.
He really needed to stop thinking these poisonous thoughts. Truly, hadn't Loki only moments ago decided that he was guilty of judging people prematurely?
Loki did not know Odin as well as he thought he did, so maybe Odin wasn't as bad as Loki feared. Maybe Odin cared about him, in a way, even if Odin's sympathy manifested itself in a strange manner.
Well, I'm about to put that theory to a test.
Loki and Frigga rounded one more corner, and arrived at the corridor that lead directly to the Throne Room, only to find their way blocked. Thor, the Warriors Three and Sif where already standing in the corridor, waiting in uncomfortable silence.
Thor looked angry, the warriors somewhat nervous, and Sif determined and frankly a bit pissed. Loki could only begin to guess what they had been talking about.
The moment Thor saw Loki, his face cleared. Thor had been leaning against one of the pillars, but now he straightened and muttered stupidly: "Loki. You're still here. You're not dead."
Loki was angry and amused all at once. He could laugh it off and let Thor of the hook, or he could be spiteful and let Thor hear it, but Loki did neither. Instead he hid all his emotions behind a bland mask. Even his voice sounded perfectly neutral when the younger prince responded: "Evidently not."
Thor took a few steps towards Loki, his hands dangling in the air aimlessly. For a split second, Loki tensed, his body rather than his mind interpreting Thor's movements as hostile.
Loki quickly covered for his slip up by stretching his shoulders, as if to emphasize that he was very much still here and breathing, and gave everyone present a flash of a grin.
Then he returned to his blandness. Loki would not give Thor the satisfaction of knowing what was going through his head.
As he did not look at his brother, Loki wasn't sure if Thor had noticed the tension, but for some reason, Thor did not come closer. Loki didn't mind.
"Shall we?" Loki asked tonelessly, and stepped aside to let mother go first.
This chapter took longer to write than I had anticipated. I do apologize for the wait. For the readers of my other fanfic, I promise that there is going to be an update soon.
In this chapter, I speak a lot about the justice system of Asgard, and most of it I made up myself. Based on the movies and the fanfiction, 'Asgardian justice' could be anything between a slap on the wrist and an eternity in a torture chamber.
From what we do know, I've deduced that Odin has virtually limitless power, and that he is a supreme judge as well as a ruler. Odin casually decides about Thor's banishment on the fly, and although Thor is apparently quite popular, no one questions Odin's decision. Therefore I am fairly sure there is no political opposition on Asgard, and that there is no institution that is supposed to question Odin's decisions. In Thor: The Dark World (spoiler alert!), when Odin decides that all of Asgard may bleed so long as he can have vengeance on Malekith, there isn't anyone but Thor to oppose that decision.
In this chapter, there is a reference to a time when Loki's lips were sewn shut. This incident isn't part of the movie canon, but it happened in the mythology and in the comics, and the symbolism of silencing fitted this story well, so I inserted my own take on the lip-sewing event. My take is vastly different from what happened in the original myth, mostly because the actual chain of events was too complicated and cruel to make sense in the movie canon.
In my version, the bet isn't about the completion of Mjölnir, because in the movie Thor, Mjölnir was already in the Weapon's Vault when Thor and Loki were just children. All in all, the movie-Loki and movie-Thor are much more humane than their mythology counterparts, and so all mythology references need to be humanized to fit.