Sorry for the wait. RL has been keeping me busy. There are a number of spoilers for Thor: The Dark World in this chapter. You have been warned!
It was a relief to be home, despite the chaos that awaited Laufey. As he had feared Býleistr had been unable to keep the peace, though he did not blame his son. The boy had done all that he could, however he had no experience when it came to ruling a kingdom. It was not a role he had ever been expected to play. Helblindi had been the heir, the future king, the one their father had prepared for this. Býleistr was an excellent warrior and would have been a great asset to his brother one day, but he had no mind for politics. Still, Laufey could at least have tried to teach him. He was ashamed to admit that he had neglected the education of his youngest son, and now he was paying for this carelessness.
The first few months after his return he spent on repairing the damage his absence had wrought and on reasserting himself as king. He travelled much, subduing rebelling lords and viewing the destruction wrought upon Jotunheim by the Bifrost. There wasn't much he could do about the latter, not without the Casket of Ancient Winters. Býleistr remained by his side most of the time. Laufey did his best to teach him, and ever the dutiful son Býleistr did his best to learn. Yet, every time the king compared him to Helblindi, to both his older brothers in fact, he seemed to fall short. Involuntarily his mind wandered back to the lost prince in Asgard's dungeons. A mind like Loki's would have made a fine king. If circumstances were different...
But no, it was pointless to think of what could have been. Indeed Laufey found himself wondering more and more often whether there was a point to anything. Jotunheim had survived Loki's assault, but for what? Was the slow death his realm was doomed to truly so much better? There was no future for them. Their world was slowly falling apart. A weak heir or a strong one – what difference did it make in the end? Death was coming for them all. They were fighting a lost battle.
Farbauti had known it long before him, he realized. People still spoke in hushed whispers of 'the madness of Farbauti' occasionally (though never in hearing distance of Laufey and his son). 'But it was not simple madness, my love, was it?', he thought as he looked over the desolate wasteland of ice, that had once been the thriving plains of Thrymheim, 'You saw clearer than anyone else what was to come and chose your own way out.' Yet, Laufey was not like his mate, he was too stubborn to give in. A lost battle it might be, but he would fight it to the very end.
He was aware of the Convergence, the alignment of the realms, could feel it coming through his reawakened connection to Jotunheim. The king remembered his father's stories of the last one 5000 years ago, tales of dark elves, of battles fought to halt the end of the universe, and he knew how vulnerable the realms would be during the Convergence. However, there was nothing he could do. So he waited and listened and was inwardly relieved when the cosmic event passed without incident. Well... not completely. There was talk of an Æsir being spotted during the alignment fighting dark elves (the Æsir's description sounding suspiciously like Prince Thor), and of a Svellbeast vanishing without trace. Evidence that at least the rumours about dark elves were true was soon brought to Laufey in the form of dead bodies, the likes of which had not been seen on Jotunheim in living memory. How they could exist when their species had supposedly been extinct for millennia he did not know, but whatever the elves plan, nothing appeared to have come of it. The monotony of the struggle that was everyday life soon returned to the realm.
Then one day not long after the Convergence intelligence reached Laufey that the Bifrost had been activated. The Allfather was coming.
He sent his guards away. They would be no use against Odin, especially if his enemy had finally returned to his old self and was here for retribution. The King of Jotunheim had expected this day to come – the Allfather's uncharacteristic leniency had been rather suspicious – and he did not want any witnesses to his own humiliation.
Odin looked much better than the last time they had met, not nearly as old and tired as Laufey remembered. He strode into his hall like he owned the place, Gungnir in hand, emitting power and confidence.
"Allfather," Laufey greeted him from his throne of ice.
"Laufey", Odin returned and then they watched each other warily, like dogs circling each other before a fight, neither willing to make the first move.
Laufey was the one who gave in in the end. "Have you come here for revenge?" he sneered, "Do you intend to make me pay for what I attempted to do?" The Allfather didn't answer, so he continued, "I wonder what you will take though, as you have already taken everything from me. There's my life, I suppose, for all it is worth..."
"Loki is dead." Odin said quietly.
His words silenced Laufey. Whatever he had expected, it wasn't this. 'How?', he wanted to ask, 'Why?', but he did not say anything, tried instead to understand how he felt about these news. It was hard to believe when he pictured the boy he had last seen in his cell, full of fire, magic, and rage, so full of life. How could he be... dead? Strangely he felt a sting in his heart at the very thought. Loki wasn't his son, not truly, and yet...
"Does it make you happy?" Odin asked when he did not reply, watching him closely, "The one who nearly destroyed your realm, the one who nearly killed you is gone."
"Happy," Laufey spat and suddenly there was anger surging through him, fierce and terrible, "There has been no happiness for me in a very long time. Do you wish to mock me? Or do you expect me to thank you? You took my own flesh and blood and turned him against me! You forced him to become something he was never meant to be, playing with powers you could never understand! And when he proved to be too much for even you to control, you caged him like a beast! But it was not enough, was it? Tell me Allfather, how did he die? Did you put him down yourself, like a rabid dog?"
He did not know when he had got up and started to walk towards the Æsir king, but suddenly he found himself towering over him, trying to smother him with hate-filled red eyes alone.
Odin stood his ground, gazing at him, his single eye cold and calculating. "You claim to care about his welfare now? You left him to die when he was but a babe! Because he was a runt..."
"Do not presume to know me or my motives, Odin Borson!" Laufey hissed, echoing Loki's words to him in Asgard, "He was my first-born, my heir! Treasured from the moment he was born in the middle of a war. And despite the hardship he grew and flourished and he would have been king one day if the course of history had run differently. What does size matter to those who wield the power of magic, who can shift their shape and change their skin as easily as garments?" There was a slight twitch of Odin's lips at these words, though Laufey didn't see anything amusing about them. "He would have been the first sorcerer king and he would have been great! Returning him to Jotunheim was not a decision made lightly. But we were desperate! A sacrifice was all that could save us, so we offered the most precious thing we had... and yet it was not enough." Accusingly he stared at the Allfather. "Can you imagine, Odin, our pain when we realized... when we believed our child had died for nothing?" 'All because you took him!' he screamed inwardly, 'All because of you, meddling old fool!'
He found he could not bear to look at Odin any longer, so he turned and stepped back to his throne, hoping to find comfort in the numbing touch of ice. "I grieved for him then," he said bitterly, "And despite everything I grieve for him now, and for all that could have been. I would rather I had never known of his survival. If revenge is what you sought, you have it. Now leave! Let me be!"
The Allfather did not move, he only looked at the king of Jotunheim thoughtfully. Then suddenly he was engulfed by a green shimmer and before Laufey's eyes a new form took shape. A very familiar form.
"Well, this has certainly been enlightening." Loki said with a grin.
Laufey could only stare. His mind was in turmoil, there was not a clear thought to be had, and his feelings seemed to be changing by the second... disbelief... relief... anger... indignation... Nothing seemed to make sense any more, though his mind was working feverishly to sort through the mess, leaving him with fragments of information: trickster... shape shifter... sorcerer... not dead...The first real thought that made it through the chaos into his consciousness was, 'I've been tricked again!'
"So," Loki mused, "Not an unwanted runt you were trying to get rid of but a sacrifice for the Greater Good. That is hardly any better! Many would say there is no difference at all."
"And what do you think?" It wasn't what Laufey had wanted to say when he opened his mouth. He wanted to rage at the boy for making a fool out of him again, for lying to him, for making him feel. Yet the question slipped out before he could stop himself.
To his surprise Loki started to laugh. "You ask for my opinion? My actions are all people have ever judged! No matter how good my intentions. No one cares for reasons!"
"You do," Laufey said softly.
"I do," Loki agreed, "Though if you are hoping for my forgiveness, I fear you will be waiting a very long time. Anyhow, you tried to kill me, I tried to kill you – by my estimation we are even."
"You certainly owe me for the prank you just pulled!" Laufey growled. But he thought that while it wasn't exactly a peace-offering, it was probably the best he could hope for with Loki. "There was no need for this disguise! As Odin of all people... how did you get Gungnir?" For the spear was definitely the real thing. He could feel the power in it, remembered all too well what it felt like to be on its receiving end.
Loki gave him another grin, feral and full of mischief, and he reminded Laufey so much of Farbauti in this moment that his heart nearly stopped. How had he never seen the similarities before?
"Ah... but to all intents and purposes I am Odin!" the sorcerer smirked, "Loki died somewhere on Svartalfheim fighting dark elves... finding honourable death while protecting Prince Thor... redeeming himself in the process... it was all so very tragic and heroic!" he mocked.
"You took Odin's place?" Laufey asked disbelieving, "What happened to him?"
Loki smiled darkly. "Let us say he is taking an extended... rest."
Things were becoming clear to the King of Jotunheim. When he looked at Loki as he appeared before him now - elated, impish, carefree, so different from the angry, resentful man caged in the cells of Asgard – he had the thrilling notion that this was where the trickster belonged: at the very top, conning whole worlds, making everyone believe he was dead, while hiding right under their noses, effortlessly impersonating one of the most powerful beings in the nine realms. Laufey felt a strange mixture of awe, fear, and pride at the thought that he had somehow contributed to the creation of this creature, even if he could not claim him as his own, because Loki would never let anyone claim him. He was the wild spirit of Jotunheim in corporeal form, lethal, tantalising, and cold. Odin had never understood this, Laufey realized, had tried to change what should not be changed, had tried to tame what could never be tame, and in the end he had paid for his ignorance. It appeared Laufey had gotten his revenge on Odin after all.
He allowed himself a smile, matching Loki's. For an instance it was not so hard to believe them father and son.
But the moment passed, and Loki's expression grew serious. "To business," he announced, "As interesting and revealing as this visit has been, I am actually here as King of Asgard. It is my intention to forge a lasting peace between our realms."
"And how do you intend to do this?" Laufey asked curiously, "Blood of my blood you may be, but this fact alone won't be enough to stay my hand if ever the opportunity presents itself to reclaim what Jotunheim has lost."
"I am not so foolish as to think it would," Loki sneered, "No, I intend to make you an offer you cannot afford to refuse." He made a strange movement with his empty hand, the one that wasn't holding Gungnir, and suddenly it was no longer empty. Though the object that appeared in it was too heavy to hold in one hand, and Loki ended up cradling it in his arm instead.
But Laufey wasn't paying attention to that. He only had eyes for the object. So familiar it was, even though he had not laid eyes on it for more than a thousand years. It was a box, glowing blue because of the powers within, and it was calling to him, to Jotunheim. Never had he felt such longing!
"Is this..." he whispered, voice failing him.
"Yes," said Loki, who was beginning to transform before his eyes, green eyes turning red, pale Æsir skin turning blue, revealing ancient ancestral lines. If Laufey had still needed proof that Loki was indeed his offspring, he would have it now. "Do I have your attention?"
He simply nodded, still not trusting his voice. For the first time since it had been taken, the Casket of Ancient Winters was back on Jotunheim, and he could feel the land reacting to it, rejoicing in the return of her heart. It did not matter what Loki wanted, the king would give him anything just to keep the Casket here a little longer.
"I, Loki, King of Asgard, offer you, Laufey, King of Jotunheim, to return the Casket of Ancient Winters on the condition that it is never used against Asgard and her allies. If I return it, it is never to leave Jotunheim again."
Laufey exhaled sharply. "This is all?" he wanted to know, disbelieving, "This is your condition?"
"Well, did you expect me to demand blood sacrifices?" Loki asked sarcastically, "I can if you want. But you would have more experience with sacrifices, would you not?"
"I am not your son!" Loki shouted, belying the markings on his skin, "Let me make one thing clear! I am not returning the Casket out of some kind of filial duty or Norns forbid love. You and your kind mean nothing to me! I am doing this because I can, and because Odin never would!"
Revenge against his adoptive father was his motive then. Laufey could live with that, although there was a faint ache in his heart at the boy's words.
"I have no interest in this ice ball you call home," Loki continued, "I have no interest in your throne. I already have one! Please do not come to me if you are ever in need of an heir! After this I want nothing more to do with Jotunheim if I can avoid it. These are my terms. Take my offer or leave it! Either way I don't care."
Laufey looked at him as he stood there, blue-skinned and red-eyed and undeniably Jotun. 'You think you can buy yourself off with the Casket,' he thought, 'You think you can bribe Jotunheim into letting you go. But things are never so easy!'
"I agree to your terms," he said, "As you knew I would... son. You can deny it all you want, but these ancestral lines do not lie. If you ever change your mind, Jotunheim will welcome you. You have returned our heart to us. You have returned our hope. Jotunheim knew what she did when she spared your life."
A conflicted expression sped over Loki's face, but it was gone in a moment to be replaced by an indifferent mask. "Very well then." Carefully he set the Casket on the ground. Laufey watched as his body reversed back to its Æsir form, only to be replaced by the image of the Allfather shortly after. "Know that if you betray me, there will be no mercy," Loki said in Odin's voice, "If you ever violate these terms, I will finish what I once started."
The King of Jotunheim tilted his head to indicate that he understood. His gaze followed the shape shifter's form as he retreated from Laufey's hall. It was a long time after Loki had left before he moved towards the Casket. He knelt down beside it, tentatively reaching out.
There it was! The song of snow and ice, that had not been heard on this world for so long! It was even more beautiful than he remembered. As the ice around him began to wake, Laufey wept.
Not exactly a happy end, but this part still turned out lighter than I thought it would. I blame Loki who is still experiencing the exaltation of triumph and is therefore in a really good mood. Anyway, this story was never meant to have a happy end (the words 'Loki' and 'happy end' are probably not even compatible). However, I wanted there to be a chance for Jotunheim, because its story in the first film is such a sad one (despite not being destroyed).
Btw, this is the first story I've actually written in English (and not just translated), and it's all Loki's or rather Tom Hiddleston's fault. I've watched parts of the German dub of 'Thor', and while it isn't horrible, it's just not the same. There's no way to get that voice or that accent right in any language other than English. It's been an interesting experience though, so I'm not complaining.
Big thanks to everyone who reviewed, faved, or followed this story! :) I couldn't have done this without your encouragement.