For my friends, The Wayfaring Strangers, RandomCelt and DarthMihi. Have a very happy birthday! :D

I shiver still. Futilely chafing frostbitten hands above the dying brazier, I find now that Jotunheim's chill will not be so easily dispelled. Above the sputtering orange flames, my fingers are a vivid red, an unnatural red, a red that whispers lies about what lurks beneath my flesh.

I've proved it now, I suppose: that Laufey's black blood runs through my veins. A bargain struck in darkness for the life of Odin (who is dead to me). An exchange for the gilded throne (that I craved and now find wanting). I must return to it now, that highest seat, but I know I will lose my way there.

With a final useless rubbing, clamping, clutching, I lower my cold, dry fingers from the fire and turn my back to it. The click of my boots is light as ever on the stone floor, but the sound echoes to a great thudding in the cavernous hall, like some momentous heartbeat, ascending to the ceiling far above me. The throne beckons from rooms away, yet I shut my ears to it for now. I've never been one for sitting.

Weaving around the golden columns that skirt the hall, I find myself turning toward the wide corridor lined with the high doors of our living chambers. Braziers and torches mounted on the gleaming walls toss quivering shadows on the floor, merging my own shade with those leaking out from darkened rooms to shroud my path.

Empty is the hallway, and hollow are my ringing footfalls. Empty is the hallway-for little longer. What soon shall follow me...

I lift my gaze from my own stretched shadow, look left, and freeze where I stand. My brother's door is shut; he has never liked closed doors. ("They imprison those on both their sides," he once said, opening mine, "or speak of secrets when there are none.")

I bite my lip and bend down, run my fingers over four fine lines, low on the golden wall. Only once has the door to Thor's maze of chambers been closed to me.

We were young, and the healers treated him in his own bed. I hadn't meant to inflict his hurt, only to watch him fly, yet the leg broken by the fall separated us four days. ("Loki, you'll only be underfoot.") Four days that I kept vigil here, scratching a tally count into the wall, childish dramatics to mark my devotion. Four days before I tricked my way inside and found him still elated from the thrill of the leap.

The smile that twists my lips is mirthless as I trace the delicate knife-strokes, the four fine lines that have outlasted my love for Thor. I rise quickly, let a guard pass me on his hurried way, before I move on.

I walk forward, and my steps are listless, meandering. The quiet corridors melt into a sallow haze. I watch the shadows beneath my feet until light spills out over them from open double doors, these embossed with the image of Yggdrasil, spreading her nine branches across them like a spider's clever web.

Illumining the room is the bed in its center, where Odin drowns in a golden sea. His hair and robes are snow upon the linens, soft as the ice that truly bore me can never be. Father. Is he? I run a hand compulsively through my hair, swallowing as I move one foot forward, inward- and stop.

Frigga- Mother leans over the still, white form, coils of hair spilling over her shoulders and onto the coverlets. Her lips part, trembling, and her voice emerges fractured. "I know that you have faith in him. Though your last words together were bitter, they cannot taint the fount that is your love for him." She caresses Odin's limp hand. "When you awaken, you will see- you must awaken, you must see-" Her low, strained voice further splinters. "-that he is worthy of his place."

I swallow, cast a wary glance at my feet. Mother must speak truly; few lie for the pleasure of their own ears. I hardly dare to hope my father hears this, her seeming prayer, and yet... No. It will take far more than begging words to change his mind.

"You will see that he deserves his title and the throne, that Mjolnir suits his hand. Awaken, I beseech you, awaken-" Here her voice shatters at last. "-and bring Thor home."

Thor. Ever Thor. My face burns in private shame. What folly, to read my own story into her desperate yarn, to presume that once, but once my plight would trouble the king and queen. In silence, I briefly clench shut my eyes, then draw the gilded doors gingerly together on their hinges. I wish to hear no more.

My pace is swifter now, though it has gained no purpose. Through the infinite passages my sole thought is escape. Farther, farther from the private chambers, I walk, as my boots become black blurs beneath me in the flurry of my flight. Gradually the sallow ceiling rises, until I emerge through lofty doors onto the portico, where the sky is sable behind the rows of gargantuan statues.

I venture among them, and Odin's face, graven in gold, leers down a dozen times at me, glinting fiercely between the shadows. Natural light plays upon the blades of his countless axes; it is only my mind that stains them red. And still his eyes bore into me, still his gleaming lips frown. You are not mine.

Those four words, etched into my consciousness-in my own voice or his, I do not know. Laufey's rebuke? Thor's lament? Four words. I am utterly alone.

A gust of wind hurries cold between the statues, then another, lashing my skin until it smarts. I bow my head and set my jaw, rush for the nearest door inside. Halfway down the veranda, my sprinting pace carries me over the smooth stone and into the shadows thrown by sputtering braziers once again. The throne room, I discover, is cast in orange, and I trample the knot of the slain, Odin's three tortured ellipses, engraved in the ebony floor.

Gungnir rests across the arms of the empty throne, exactly as I left it ere departing for Jotunheim. Still shivering for the torment of the wind, with bent shoulders I climb the steps of the dais. Reaching their pinnacle, I wrap my fingers around the scepter-spear's golden haft; with effort I lift it, tap it once against the platform and set the hall throbbing with echoes.

Shall I sit? I must, but I cannot, not now, with no audience save my own demons, no royal task save to stare into the shadows and await the hour of Laufey's arrival, musing on every reason I will never name him Father. I have misery enough without that.

So taking Gungnir I descend from the dais, walk right and toward the pillars, the hall's stone crutches, upholding this side of it into a balcony of sorts. Crossing the floor and setting foot outside, the cold again arrests me. I make my way to the edge of the platform as goosebumps rise on my arms. Surveying the taciturn expanse of the realm that is mine, I shiver still.

Rooftops cast in gold and silver stretch to the coastline, where obsidian waves lap forever against the stones. Far from the shore, starlight dances on their crests, a thousand mirrors for the indigo sky. Asgard, infinite and beautiful; Asgard, mine now and always. Thor, I am not sorry.

My gaze probes the abysmal sky, seeking out the black crevices between the furthest stars. How far might my realm stretch? How far will prove that Thor is nothing?

Out of the darkness springs a delicate rainbow, irisdescent, to sever the inky heavens. Bifrost. A tremour runs through me; I steel myself against it. Brother, I am not free of you yet.