Chapter 30:

Across from him, seated at the royal family's table within the palaces banquet hall, Frigga watches her youngest child intently.

Loki's eyes are cast out upon the dance floor, his own gaze intent and lost in the revelry before him. So much so, the Queen of Asgard is certain her son has failed to notice her attention on him, and that in itself causes worry to churn unhappily in her stomach.

Loki, who is always so aware.

He has been in his seat for the entirely of the evening, and watched the other guests dancing and laughing and carousing since the music had been struck up and the floor had filled.

Thor had quickly taken to it, and was there now, performing a choreographed waltz, exchanging partners ever few steps. Sparing a glance towards her elder son, Frigga sees him with his smile wide and eyes bright.

He laughs at some unheard joke one of the many maidens here this night whispered into his ear.

And Frigga's eyes move back to Loki, who continues to sit, with his eyes upon the others.

He doesn't smile. Nor does he frown. His face is blank, devoid of any discernable emotion, as ever more frequently it is these days.

But Loki is not so well at concealing his moods as he would like to think, Frigga muses silently to herself. There are tells even he gives, and being his Mother, she has long since discovered each of them.

His hands fold together tightly along the tabletop, squeezing each other minutely every few, passing seconds. In a rhythm, his left leg bounces almost nervously, and the Queen knows her boy is thinking, and that he is less than happy.

She reaches across the table then, and rests one of her hand over his own.

Loki starts, flinching at the contact, and Frigga frowns, unsettled by such an extreme reaction to only a little contact.

"Are you not enjoying yourself Loki?" She asks softly, smiling gently at him in reassurance once his eyes turn to her.

He blinks, as though coming out of a daze, his mind trying to catch up to her words.

"… Yes, thank you." He finally answers, and his soft voice is nearly lost to her in the noise of the crowds and music.

Her hand squeezes over his own.

"Why do you not join in the festivities?" She asks.

Almost immediately, Loki gives a lazy shrug, turning his eyes from hers.

"What use have I for such frivolity?" He asks in return, his tone going for unaffected.

But Frigga can hear the lie in it, and her hand squeezes along his again.

"Loki…" she says.

He keeps his eyes turned from hers, and she knows something is wrong when his gaze casts down, to his lap, and she feels him tense.

"My son," she presses gently. "what troubles you?"

He shakes his head.

"It is nothing." He says, less successful this time in keeping his voice flat.

"Loki, you have my ear." Frigga says, unwilling to give up so easily. It has grown more and more rare over the last, several decades for him to seek her out as he once had, to call upon her for advice… or comfort. It worries her deeply, that he isolates himself so. "You can speak with me."

Several, long seconds pass without response, and the Queen begins to fear he will not answer her at all.

But then he shifts in his seat, his head bowing further, almost as though ashamed, before at last he speaks.

"… There are, I think, few among this evenings guests who would welcome me as dance partner, Mother." He says, and Frigga feels her heart sink at the words, and at the casual resignation in his tone.

"Loki," she says. "that is untrue. My boy, there are countless young maidens here who would be honored and grateful for the chance to dance with their Prince."

At her words, Loki gives a tight, almost wry smile, his gaze lifting back to the dancing guests.

"If it is Thor you refer to Mother, than indeed, none could argue your point. Even I, with my so called silver tongue."

"Loki, it is you I refer to." Frigga said, her tone taking on a firmer edge. "My son, why do you speak thusly?"

Again, for long seconds, Loki is silent, and Frigga sees as his eyes light on Thor from across the room. They remain there those many seconds, before at last, he looks away, and his voice is near soundless when he again speaks.

"You see how they go to him?" He asks, not looking at her.

The Queen keeps her eyes on Loki a moment, before almost hesitantly, she looks to Thor, studying a moment, and then back again to her youngest.

"They are like moth to flame." Loki continues, unprompted. "Their love for him is great."

"Aye." Frigga nods her agreement. "Indeed. Thor is well loved by his people."

Once more, Loki smiles that same, tight smile. There is no joy in it though. Only a kind of weary sadness.

He nods.

"They shall never love me as that." He says. "I am looked upon only with suspicion and distaste."

"Loki, that is…" Frigga tries, but he cuts her off, uncharacteristically.

"I fault them not for it." He says, voice worryingly calm. And again he shrugs, shaking his head. A short, sharp chuckle escapes past his lips. "I am not exactly of the most charming temperament, while Thor is near blinding in his charisma. I know not how to talk to others as he does."

Frigga doesn't miss the way Loki's fingers clench briefly along the tablecloth, nor the very slight tremor which works up through his wrist, into his arm, before he wrestles the trembling under control.

"Loki," Frigga reaches out, placing a comforting hand along his wrist. Touching him, she can feel more than see how he still shakes. "your brother is naturally social, it is true. It is easy for him to talk and interact with others. But my darling, it would become something easier for you as well were you to simply do more of it."

Loki's lips thin at her words, and he turns his face from hers.

"Perhaps it is made more difficult," he begins, and here, for the first time, his voice betrays his upset, wavering only just. He pauses, as though to compose himself. "that… that those times I have tried, I have been met with fearful gazes and disgusted frowns."

"Oh, Loki…"

"They look upon me as though my very touch may freeze their skin to blackening, like… like a frost giant." He says.

Frigga feels her heart stutter and then twist in agonizing dismay. And here, she has to force her own eyes away from him, her hand slipping from his wrist. She clutches it within her other to try and conceal the vicious trembling which has now taken hold of her.

Oh, Norns…

Why did they not tell him? She thinks frantically, eyes closing against the sting of tears. Why did they wait so long?! And now… now, she thinks with a dawning horror, it is too late. Oh, if ever he were to find out…

"Loki, those…" she swallows, willing her voice to remain even. "those are but a few, I am certain." She forces her eyes back to him, her hand back upon his wrist. "You mustn't let the mutterings of a jealous few deter you so."

He looks at her, eyes bright and sharp as any blade. She so often fears he can see straight through her lies. He is so terribly clever, and she fears…

And she is not deaf to the whisperings heard around court about her second son. The way they speak of his "strange manner" and "queer ways". The suspicious, mistrustful glances thrown upon him when he walks past, or the way the palaces occupants huddle together once he's beyond them and whisper fervently, casting looks at his back as he leaves.

She has not missed the way the workers here even speak amongst themselves of the younger Prince, almost fearfully. She has heard them refer to Loki as the Black Prince, and the dreaded tones of their voices when they speak of his sorcery and his cunning.

Loki's words are anything but without merit, this, the Queen of Asgard knows.

She reaches a hand to his face, gently cupping his cheek, her thumb running soothingly across the delicate skin beneath his eye.

"My boy, you are so handsome." She smiles at him. But the smile is forced, weak, and she knows Loki can see that.

There was a string of maidens this night who had lined together before the royal table and requested each Thor's hand upon the dance floor.

Not a one of them had requested Loki's.

Eventually, he reaches up, and places his hand over her own, still against his cheek. His hands are long and thin, and cover her own entirely. He smiles too, and like hers, it is also forced. His eyes shine brighter under the glow of the candelabra above them.

"You are kind, Mother." He says.

And then he pulls her hand away, holding to it delicately still as he stands from his seat, bending at the waist to place a soft kiss upon her knuckles.

"I am tired Mother." He says, straightening and letting her hand go. "If I may retire to my chambers for the night?"

And Frigga nods, wordlessly giving her consent.

She watches him smile one last time at her, nodding, before turning and striding from the banquet hall. None seem to even notice his departure, and when he has left from her sight entirely, the Queen of Asgard turns, and brings her fist to her mouth, biting down hard on her own knuckles and squeezing her eyes against the tears which threaten to fall.

It is Loki who is the first to pull away, and he does so abruptly, taking hold of Jane's wrists as he steps back, pulling them gently from around his neck before letting them go and turning from her.

Confusion floods Jane, and she stares bemusedly as Loki strides from her, across the room, his arms coming up around himself and his head bowed low.

"Loki?" She asks, taking a step towards him.

"That was not…" he starts, then stops, and she sees his arms tighten about himself further. "that was not right." He finishes, voice rough and uneven.

Jane blinks, and absently, her fingers come up to her mouth, touching the pads of them to her lips. They're cool to the touch, she realizes with a start, eyes slightly widening.

"Loki, what are you… what do you mean? I thought…"

"You are Thor's Lady." He says, cutting her off, and there's an edge now to his voice. Almost angry. "I should not have allowed myself to touch you."

"Loki, what are you talking about?" Jane answers, her own voice growing vaguely agitated, frustrated at having one moment felt such pleasure to this now utter confusion. "I thought we both agreed that… that…" and she trails off, unsure of what she wants to say.

She didn't know exactly what it was between them that they'd agreed on, but it had been something. They were both grown adults, though Jane had to stop herself from laughing at the absurdity of calling Loki that, when he was in fact thousands of years old. She wouldn't even know what to call someone his age.

"I have…" she hears him start, and then stop again, and still he stands with his back to her. "I have broken Thor's trust enough times already. He will… surely he will think I've spelled you, or bewitched you in some manner into feeling affection for me, and then…"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold up a second here." Jane interrupts him. "Loki, are you serious?"

When he fails to reply, she steps the rest of the distance to him, reaching out and taking hold of his arm.

"Loki, look at me." She says, trying to turn him. He won't budge though, and she feels her lips pulling into a frustrated frown.

"Listen," she pushes. "look, Thor and me, we've… we haven't exactly been together at all these past few months." She says. "He's come to visit regularly, sure, but we haven't been… that is… we haven't been…" she feels her cheeks burn slightly with embarrassment, unsure of how to word it. She growls in frustration, dropping her hold on Loki's arm and glaring at the ugly carpeted floor. "It's not really like that between us anymore." She finally just settles. "We aren't really an item."

At that, finally, Loki turns to look at her, and she sees only confusion across his features.

"An item?" He asks, clearly thrown by the terminology.

"We haven't been sleeping together, alright!?" Jane finally snaps, losing her patience. "We're just friends, really. We realized a while ago it wasn't really going to work between us, and we… we just decided it would be good to stay friends and that's it."

Loki just keeps staring at her, like he still doesn't get it. He looks almost utterly bemused, saying nothing, and Jane can feel her agitation growing.

"Loki, do you understand what I'm saying? You aren't betraying Thor, alright? We're not together like that anymore. He'll understand if we… I mean, if you and I…"

Loki's eyes narrow suddenly, and at once, his face seems to close off, the open vulnerability of it vanishing in an instant.

"Are you attempting to play me for a fool, Jane?" He asks, voice thick with wary suspicion.

"What?!" Jane's eyes go wide. "No!" She nearly shouts, throwing her hands up in anger as at last turns from him, striding back across the room. "Loki, I don't know what you want?!" She goes on, beginning to pace. "You know what Thor told me? He told me he thinks you like me. His exact words were that you were smitten with me. Jesus, who even talks like that? But he also said you were shy and you wouldn't know how to just outright tell me how you felt."

She nearly laughs, finally stopping and staring at him.

"Can you imagine, you being shy. But he also told me some fucked up stories about you and other girls and how rotten they treated you, and I thought well, shit, I better be careful, or you'll scare him away. Loki, I didn't know how to admit it to myself, but I've liked you for a while now, and I was just waiting for you to be ready before I really acknowledged it. But now you're acting all weird and freaked out, like I'm cheating on Thor by showing interest in you, and I don't know what the hell you want!"

Loki's jaw is working visibly now, clenching, his arms folding closer still against his chest, and at once, his stance is guarded and unsure.

"… What stories?" He asks, voice quiet.

Jane can only stare at him disbelievingly for a moment.

"Oh my God, are you serious?" She asks finally. "I don't know, just… stories. Alright? About some women who you tried to… to court or whatever you call it, and who were really mean to you. It made me feel bad for you and…"

The second the words leave her mouth, Jane knows she's made a massive mistake. But it's too late to call them back, and if Loki had looked defensive before, he looks downright hostile now.

Immediately, he bright green eyes harden, flashing like ice chips.

"You feel pity for me." He says, his voice eerily soft and calm. It isn't a question.

And suddenly Jane doesn't know what to say.

She can see all too clearly now the precariousness of the situation, and one wrong move will bring the whole thing crashing down. She wonders frantically how it devolved so rapidly.

The truth is, she thinks to herself woefully, she does feel pity for Loki. She feels fucking awful for him, if she's being honest. She doesn't understand how anyone couldn't, he's such a wreck of a being.

But she knows if she tells him that, he'll think her interest in him is only because of that pity, and his pride is such he wouldn't be capable of bearing it. The bizarreness of the contradiction doesn't escape her, that Loki could be so hopelessly self-loathing and yet so stubbornly, almost tragically prideful.

And yet, she doesn't want to lie to him either. He's been lied to enough in his life, and how could she ever hope for whatever their relationship is to have any real meaning if she adds herself to that list of people who have deceived him.

It turns out she doesn't need to worry, as her silence is answer enough for him, and she hears him scoff loudly.

"Of course." He says. "I truly am a blind fool."

"Loki…" she starts, panic beginning to build fast in the pit of her stomach.

But he's already moving, heading for the room's door.

"LOKI!" She calls, panic blooming fully, and she moves after him.

/

AN: I'm so sorry for the delay in this chapter guys, and I know it kind of suck massively. I hope you aren't too disappointed. I promise happier times in the next chapter.

I've recently moved and haven't had much time for anything lately, but I'll try and keep a more regular schedule with this. Thanks so much again to all my readers and reviewers and hope you had a good new year!