Never before had Loki felt such pain when he looked upon his father's face.

No, he reminded himself. Not his father. Never his father.

Almost every day of his life he had looked on that face, looked up at it, looked up to the man whose face it was, wanting nothing more than one rare word of praise or appreciation that seemed to befall so easy to Thor. Now it was as if he saw that face for the first time. All the things he had seen in it, all the things he had wanted to achieve and live up to, were gone now, replaced by the stillness of the Odin-sleep.

Odin, the Allfather. The abductor. The liar.

Loki could not remain in the king's chamber any longer. He turned on his heel and rushed out into the gallery, ignoring his mother's – no, not mother, the Queen's – cry of surprise as he brushed past the guards in a flurry of energy, of a need to put as much distance between himself and the sickbed as possible.

He made it to the balcony.

Panting as from heavy exercise he put his hands around the parapet and held on tightly, forcing his stomach to stop churning and the hotness in his blood to cool. He was only marginally successful, and he could not stop the tremor in his hands. The stone railing was cold under his palms and he gripped it even tighter, wishing for a moment to possess Thor's strength, to crush the golden marble between his fingers and feel the rubble cut into his skin.

Thor.

The man would have broken something, surely. Would have carried his father in his own arms, rather than call for help – would have roused healers, would have summoned the council, all with that deep, booming, commanding voice of his. Thor might be a bulky, foolish oaf, but he was a born leader, even Loki could not argue with that. But Thor was not here now, and he was not, had never been, Loki's brother.

At some point between the argument in the weapons' vault and now, day had turned into night. The sky was its usual mosaic of the universe, golden orange and crimson and emerald and purple, speckled with the lights of brilliant stars burning to their death millions and millions of miles away. It was beautiful, chaotic, and dangerous. It was the same sky as always, even if everything else had changed.

He swallowed and bit down hard on his lower lip.

"Loki?" The Queen's voice drifted warm and gentle on the cool winter breeze. "What has happened? Your father–"

"But he is not my father, is he?" he demanded, forcing himself to sound calm and composed, rather than spin around and shout to her face. "And you are not my mother."

"Oh." She said nothing more, but he could hear her walk up to him, and then she stood beside him by the parapet. "What is a mother then? Please, enlighten me."

Her voice was calm, as always, but there was an edge of steel under the usual softness, one that he had always thought of as one of her finest qualities as queen. Now it made him think that no matter what he answered, it would displease her. And he had never wanted to displease her.

As he said nothing, silence loomed heavily between them until the goddess of motherhood spoke again.

"A mother is someone who feeds, clothes, comforts and loves a child. Someone who kisses scrapes and tells stories and sings songs for that child. And I have fed and clothed and comforted you, and I have loved you. I always have, and I still do. You are my son. As is Thor, though I have given birth to none of you."

"What?"

He turned to her now, unable to mask the surprise on his face, and his confusion only grew as he saw the Queen smile. It was a kind smile, but there was sadness in her eyes that seemed for a moment greater than the entire span of the universe above them.

"Blood is not all that matters. In fact, it matters very little. What matters is what is in your heart. And we are your family, as we have always been, and we love you. Know this to be true, and then come inside and get warmed up."

She placed her hand on his cheek and he automatically lowered his head for her to kiss the other cheek – a gesture he and Thor had both adopted when they had outgrown her – and watched her as she went inside again, back to the royal bedchamber, he presumed.

The warmth of her lips lingered on his skin and his gaze returned to the sky once again. He would have laughed at her words – the child of a Jotun would hardly suffer any ill from standing outside on a cold night – but did not. Her motherly concern, as well as her words, had, like always, been like a soothing balm, and her words of comfort so different from those of the Allfather.

In her eyes, at least, nothing was different.

Did Thor know? he wondered. Not only about Loki, but about the other thing. If not Frigga, Queen of the Aesir, then who? And why had the two of them been raised as royal princes, when Loki knew of at least three official half-siblings who had never been included in the succession at all? He could make no sense of it.

But then he realized that the why did not matter.

He was a prince of Asgard. Whether the King was his father by blood or not, it was of little consequence, because he was officially son and prince, and with the king in Odin-sleep and the crown prince in exile on Midgard… Loki was prince regent. For the first time since he came out onto the balcony, he turned his attention to the buildings below him, rather than the cosmos above. Palaces, houses, roadways – the capital of Asgard, the mightiest of all the Nine Realms and home to his people. His people.

Frigga had been right – of course she had been right, she was always right – and he left the balcony. He ignored the looks of the guards as he strode past them and re-entered the royal bedchamber. The King was in the bed, just as Loki had left him, and the Queen by his side, the very picture of loving and tender care. As he saw them, he felt again the pang of clarity and realization.

He would take up his father's spear and rule in his absence, as he had been raised to, as the people expected him to, and he would do it with all the skill and knowledge he possessed. He would rule as Odin had done, and then, when the Odin-sleep ended, the King would see that Loki was not only his son but a ruler. And for once, Odin would be proud of him.

He went to the bedside and put his hand on Frigga's shoulder.

"I shall summon the council, mother. Please let me know if anything changes."

He would rule as Odin had done, and finish what his father had started so long ago. He would prove his worth, and his place among the Aesir, to them and to himself. He would destroy Jotunheim.