"The queen is dead. Long live the queen."
Loki's power explodes from him in a barely controlled burst, slamming furniture against the walls of his cell. Fury erupts in him, a torrent of fire and rage and barely controlled self-loathing.
Because Loki knows. Loki knows that he is the cause of her death. He knows with perfect, crystalline clarity that if he hadn't sent that monster up the side stairs, Frigga would be alive. He knows that, regardless of how she died, whether by blade or hand or magic, it was his blade or his hand or his magic.
It was him.
He is the reason she is dead.
The one person in the whole of the universe who trusts him, who loves him and cherishes him, is dead. And he is the reason.
He paces his cell, grief and hatred clogging his throat. When breathing becomes difficult, he claws at his skin, gouging great welts in his neck. They heal swiftly, but the streaks of blood remain.
He screams, and he uses illusions to hide the sounds, but his fellow prisoners eye his cell with uncertainty. They know they are in the presence of a predator. They know that he is full of hate. Full of rage. And they tremble even when they don't know why.
Loki slams his hands against the flickering force field holding him in, and the magic burns the skin off his palms.
He relishes the burn. He embraces the pain. The pain he does to his body almost outweighs his grief.
Magic swirls around him, overturning already broken furniture. Taking up the leg of one chair, he smashes it against the wall until it splinters, raging against the unfairness of it all.
All he wanted was the throne. All he wanted was to see Asgard hurt. To see Thor hurt as Loki hurts.
And now Frigga is dead.
He turns his furniture to splinters. He shreds pages of his books, and then he crouches over one, clutching it to his chest and gasping on unshed tears. His entire body shudders but he will not cry. He will not cry. He will not cry.
Tears splatter on the floor of his cell, on the torn out pages, on the ink of an inscription penned by Frigga.
To my son on his tenth birthday. May this grimoire bring you knowledge, may knowledge bring you wisdom, may wisdom bring you satisfaction. With all my love, Frigga.
He stares at the ink blossoming across the page, watches his tears destroy the precious message.
He screams again, and his illusions can't hide the sound of his anguish. This time, the prisoners draw into the back corners of their cells. They pull away from him, and they eye him warily. They cannot see his pain, they can only see him pacing his cell with a nervous energy. He will not show this weakness. Not to them. Not to anyone.
When his agony changes from something brutally sharp, a lance between his ribs pricking his heart, into something dull, an edge of an old blade sawing repeatedly through his side, he gathers up the books he destroyed. With controlled care, he places each page in its proper place. He turns the covers over the pages and sets the books from Frigga in a special pile in the corner.
The others he destroys.
He uses their destruction as an attempt to pull the blade of guilt and remorse and bone-deep out of his side. But he can't. There is no way to succeed in this, no action he can take to absolve him of his sin.
Frigga is dead because of him.
The pain returns, fresh and hot, like the agony of a physical wound. Like a gut wound. He can't breathe; its intensity suffocates him. He drowns in it, in the swirling current of its waters, and when he gasps for air he breathes in only more shame, only more misery, only more certainty that he is damned, that he is forsaken, that there is no one left in all the universe who will ever care for him.
He is alone.
He hates her for leaving him.
Whirling on her books, he reaches for one. He takes it in his hand and feels the burn of his magic in the tips of his fingers.
He sees the title. A Grimoire of Basic Spells.
"You did this to me," he hisses at the book, dropping to the ground and dropping the book into his lap. "You knew, you with your prescience, your sight. You gave me this and you knew what you wrought. You made me into this, into a creature to be loathed and hated. You taught me the tricks of women, of witches, and made me weak in the eyes of Thor and Odin."
He grasps the spine in one hand and the cover in the other, prepared to rip the book apart, to do damage to the first spell book Frigga ever gave him as a symbol of his hatred for her. To distance himself from her.
But it feels too much like holding her shoulder with the intent of tearing off her arm, and instead he hurls the book at the flickering glyphs that contain him.
"Is this not magic?" he bellows at the walls. "Is this not what you condemned me for? What you laughed at me for?"
The book bounces off the glyphs and falls to the floor of his cell, flames licking at the edge of the cover.
"Burn then," he snarls at it, turning away.
Seconds later, he uses his hands to beat out the flames, and when the book is safe from harm once more, he turns the pages in his lap, and he remembers. He remembers when he showed Frigga his mastery of each spell. The very first spell is a spell to make flame, and Frigga held him in her arms when he learned it, whispering the words over and over in her rooms after Sif mocked him for not being a strong as Thor, as good as Thor.
He remembers how Frigga encouraged him. How she praised him.
It was Odin's attention he wanted, not Frigga's. It was Odin's love he craved. He always wanted more than what he had.
And it has killed her.
She is dead.
He may as well have driven a blade into her heart and watched her fall.
Loki curls over the book, biting his lip until it bleeds. He claws at his hair until it is a disheveled mess, until he has destroyed all facsimile of civility. He cannot be civil; he can barely be a man. Grief strips him of every last measure of culture.
He shoves the book out of his way, lurching to his feet. He makes a complete turn of the cell before he stops in front of the pile of Frigga's books. Sorrow lurches through him, a searing lance of pain, and he slams his foot into the pile, sending books flying across his cell. He stalks away from them, blindly pacing his cage, and he steps on splinters of furniture that pierce his feet.
Bloody footprints cover the floor, a carpet of crimson, before he stops again. He stares at one of Frigga's spell books, open on the floor, and he recognizes the spell on its pages.
He remembers it.
He remembers showing her the illusions he crafted from that spell, remembers drinking with her well into the night.
And he remembers something else.
A feeling of warmth, a distant melody.
He doesn't understand how it is possible to be both full of joy and full of sorrow at the same time, but he is. Settling before that book, his fingers reverently tracing the letters on the page, his soul soars with the delight of remembering.
Sound thunders through the dungeon.
Loki's head snaps up, his eyes focused on a corner of his cell. It is night, now; he can feel the darkness closing around Asgard, and he knows that they have dressed Frigga in her finery. They have lain her in a boat carved from the wood of Yggdrasil, placed a sword in her hands, and covered her face with a fine veil.
She sails now for Valhalla.
A sense of serenity washes over him. Of peace.
Closing his eyes, he pictures the scene easily. Thor and Odin in their splendid armor. The masses of people surrounding them to mourn their queen. Lights for each dead soul clutched in the hands of the grieving wives, the husbands, the sons and daughters.
His eyes fixed on that spot where the docks are, far above the dungeons, he takes a deep breath.
And he sings.
"The sky is dark and the hills are white as the storm-king speeds from the north tonight. And this is the song the storm-king sings, as over the world his cloak he flings: 'Sleep, sleep, little one sleep;' he rustles with his wings and gruffly sings: 'Sleep, little one, sleep.'"
He sings until he hears gungnir thunder again, when Frigga turns to lights in the darkness and glitters like a star among the branches of Yggdrasil. He sings until his throat is raw and his voice is scratchy. He sings until he slumps in the darkest corner of his brightly-lit cell, as if he can draw the shadows about himself like a blanket.
He is still singing when exhaustion drags him into sleep.
They soar through Svartalfheim's darkness, Loki and Thor and the mortal named Jane Foster. Loki watches her sleep when piloting the flitter doesn't demand all his attention, and he thinks Frigga must have cared deeply for Thor to die for a little mortal.
He tries to explain to Thor how quickly she will die; she is a butterfly – a resplendently beautiful creature that can be destroyed by an errant breeze. Mortal lives are like paper. They are easily torn asunder and left to rot in darkness.
Thor does not care.
So when she stirs, when her sleep is troubled, Loki feels a bubble of something inside him that might be remorse or more grief or continued guilt or something else entirely. He isn't sure, and he doesn't like it, so he snaps at Thor, "Take the helm."
"Why?" Thor asks, wary, and Loki is impressed that his brother finally – finally – seems to have learned.
"Take it, damn you, and I will see her sleep is restful and not disturbed by dreams of endless darkness."
Thor moves quickly, surprisingly quickly. He always moves for someone else, now, when before he would have thought only of himself. Thor takes the helm from Loki, and Loki awkwardly rises, his balance made tenuous by his manacled wrists.
Crouching beside Jane Foster, he wonders what makes her special. He sees nothing in her face that is so captivating that she should warrant Thor's love. There is nothing in her countenance as she sleeps that arrests Loki's affections. But Thor loves her. Thor loves her in spite of her weaknesses and her mortal flaws.
Under his grief, under his hatred and his self-loathing and his rage, Loki feels the most cursed of emotions: hope. Hope that if Thor can love this creature, perhaps he can still love Loki.
Loki stamps it out. He has hoped before. He spent his childhood and adolescence hoping, and hope brought him nothing but agony.
Hope killed Frigga, in the end.
Loki remembers. His memory is long and exacting. He remembers the cadence, the melody, the flow of words, and even with his wrists chained in front of him he can channel his magic. He touches his fingers against the very ends of Jane Foster's hair and lets power flow into her.
And he sings. "On yonder mountain-side a vine clings at the foot of a mother pine; the tree bends over the trembling thing, and only the vine can hear her sing." Jane Foster stirs, but she does not wake, and her hair shimmers with malevolent red light. The aether does not reject Loki's magic. It curls around it, accepting the power means it no harm. "'Sleep, sleep, little one, sleep; what shall you fear when I am here?'"
He isn't surprised to hear Thor's rumbling baritone rise under his own voice. Together, they sing the remainder of the song, and Jane Foster becomes still. Peaceful.
"'Sleep, little one, sleep.'"
Thor returns to Midgard. Loki does away with Odin. The throne is his.
And victory is hollow.
He wonders how it can mean so little when he wanted it for so long. Surely he should feel exultant. Instead, he feels empty.
In the darkness of night, he shrouds himself so Heimdall cannot see him and goes to the place where the citizens of Asgard build a monument to their queen. A circle of twelve stones has been erected in a central square. They are a beautiful marble, grass green and black and flecked with quartz. Lines travel from one stone to its opposite, turning the circling into a spinning wheel, and already fog lingers between the great monoliths.
Frigga's spirit is there, Loki thinks as he walks silently about the monument's perimeter. It is unfinished, but her spirit is there; Frigga has ever loved unfinished things.
"Is that why you loved me, Frigga?" he asks the darkness and the fog and her strange, ethereal presence. "Because I was a work unfinished? Did you love me only because I was your project? Did you wish to complete me? To turn me into something more?"
A sneer pulls his lips from his teeth. "Behold me now, Frigga, for I am your king. I am king over all of Asgard."
The sneer falls away. He stops his circling of her monument and leans heavily against one of the smooth stones. The stone's chill seeps into his forearms through his armor, and his head falls silently against the rock. His eyes close.
"And I am nothing."
He hides behind Odin's face as he once hid behind Thanos's borrowed power as he once hid behind Thor. He is Loki, forever in another's shadow.
He stands now in Frigga's shadow. In the shadow of her memory.
There are lines cut into the ground to make the stones a spinning wheel, but there are strands of beautiful and precious gems strung between the stones, too. They hang above his head, and they flicker with magical light.
"I hate you," he tells the stones. "You and Thor and Odin. Did you hear what Odin said to me that day? Did you hear him tell me my birthright was to die?"
His hands slide down the stone, seeking warmth, as though something of her might be inside the marble. His fingers find only icy coldness.
"How it must have galled you to pretend that a jotun was your son. How you must have despised me." He clenches his hands into fists and slams them both against the stones. "Did you ever think how easy it would be to let me die? How easily you could discard me?"
A frigid laugh works its way out of him, and he laughs until his lungs burn and his diaphragm aches and his laughter turns to tears that track down his face. He slips around the monolith and sinks to the ground, his back against the stone. The fog swirls around him, and he feels it stroke against his face like fingers.
"Do not mock me," he whispers in a cracked and broken voice. "This is what I always wanted."
He closes his eyes and leans his head back.
There is solace in the silence, but also uncertainty, and he finds himself wondering whether he came to this place to gloat or to grieve.
The ache in his chest where his rage still burns against the Dark Elves grows. Thor delivered the final blow, a necessity that makes him feel worthless. Powerless. Even his rage wasn't enough to destroy Malekith. It had to be Thor. He was robbed.
"What am I, Frigga?" he asks the fog. It wraps around him, leaving his clothes and hair damp. "Am I Asgardian by choice? Does my birth make me a monster? Does it gall you that you raised me to be more, but I remain less?"
He falls silent once more. There is nothing to be learned in the fog. He feels silly for coming to this place in the darkness, under cloak and veiled by magic. Frigga is not here.
But he doesn't leave. He remains until his body protests the hard surfaces behind and beneath it. He stays until sleep makes his eyelids heavy and his body sluggish. He knows it is dangerous to stay, that every second he remains Heimdall might spy him or someone else may come across him. Even so, he remains.
He remains to see the fog grow thicker, and he watches it with bleary eyes. It resolves into the shape of a woman at her spinning wheel, a smile on her face as she bends over it. It is not possible, but he hears the clacking of the wood, hears it creak as the wheel turns.
She is dressed in one of Frigga's gowns. Her hair is braided and falls down her back in a fountain of curls. A collar necklace covers her chest and shoulders, its gems dripping down her body like raindrops. A veil embroidered with seed pearls covers her hair and her face so that he cannot make out her features.
It doesn't matter that he cannot make out her features.
He knows who she is.
"Frigga," he breathes into the night.
She does not stop her spinning, but her head turns ever so slightly toward him. The veil shifts, the clouds above part, and moonlight falls on her face. She smiles and her lips part. She sings. "The king may sing in his bitter flight, the pine may croon to the vine tonight, but the little snowflake at my breast liketh the song that I sing best. 'Sleep, sleep, little one, sleep; weary thou art anext my heart; sleep, little one, sleep.'"
She continues to sing long after he leaves, and her lullaby haunts the nights of Asgard for weeks to come.
Loki, in his workshop in the bowels of the castle, crafts a plaque made of gold and precious stones. He works through the nights he should sleep, and plans when he sits on Odin's throne in Odin's skin.
When he finishes the plaque, he takes it to the monument on the night of a full moon, and he uses magic to carve a circular hole in the center of the marble ground piece. He sets the plaque inside it, and it fits perfectly.
He crouches beside it and brushes his fingers over the carved letters. He knows them well, now. He will always remember them.
She sang them to him once as a promise. He leaves them at her grave monument as a promise, too.
Sleep you well and sleep you long
For life will leave you weary
Sleep you still and sleep you strong
'Til you no longer hear me
He stands, backing away from the monument. "Sleep well, Mother."
Spiritual successor to Lullaby and Lullaby II, using both the poem Norse Lullaby by Eugene Field and Icelandic Lullaby by Sissel Kyrkjebo.