One Second, Frozen in Twilight

"The great question in life is the suffering we cause, and the most ingenious metaphysics do not justify the man who has broken the heart that loved him." ~ Henri-Benjamin Constant de Rebecque

Eir will tell Odin, rightly, that her death was swift and nearly instant. That the pain was minimal, and that warm darkness wrapped close and fast around her body. That there would be no fear, for Frigga was beloved and had a place among the stars. That there would be eternity, for her soul would shine forever on Asgard, and on her family.

Still, there is that time-thread of life between the moment the knife pierces her side and the moment it pierces her heart. Enough for the mind to flash its memories into a thousand gleaming points of light. As time stops with the final beat of her heart, each shard whispers its comfort and its sorrow to her.

. . .

The baby is small for an Asgardian, smaller yet for what she learns he is. With a hand that trembles, uncharacteristic of her bold and wise husband, Odin pulls the glamour free for her to see truly the unusual trophy he's brought home. The concern on his face is clear to her. He thinks she might recoil.

Oh.

The child is not what she expected. For all that she knows of the Jotun and the legends of their monstrosity, there is little of it in the smiling, pudgy little face. It squalls, fidgets in the broad hands of Asgard's great king and Frigga instinctively reaches for him – him, now, and with the first contact the word it leaves her entirely. Her fingers smooth the wide forehead and its little raised lines.

He's so blue! And the thought bears no disgust. The flesh is a bright azure, the color of some of her loveliest silks. It gives her delight.

The little monster-child looks up into her face with bright red eyes and smiles. The squall ceases, and a fat little hand reaches up to grasp at a tendril of her honey hair. She smiles back, ducking her head so that he may entangle his fingers more tightly.

Odin's hand reappears in her view and he touches the baby's face with a single, cautious finger. The glamour falls again and the alizarin eyes take on the bright blue of his true flesh. Still they smile for her, full of a newborn's simple trust. "No one else needs to know. Heimdall cannot be sworn to total silence, it is true, but nor will he speak of this. For my love, and yours. Will you help me raise it?" Again, the odd care. Caught by the child's smile, she misses the tone and the choice of words.

"Of course, my love. Our Thor could use a little one abouts, to temper and to wisen him." She strokes the baby's face with a slender hand and looks up into her husband's eyes.

Odin smiles back, calmed by her acceptance. "We should name him Loki, for with his adoption, we might close the gate on a great war, and see the end of one era, and the opening of another, a golden one."

Frigga smiles as the child coos in her arms, amused as ever by his grand schemes even when she is given only fragments of what he thinks. "A fine name, and a clever one."

. . .

It is a high summer and Thor will not be still. There are histories and songs and legends for the still-little princes to learn in advance of a coming high feast and the golden child fights her at every turn.

"You are utterly your father's get!" she sighs, flinging her hands up in exasperation at last. "Very well. Go! Toy about with your swords and your hammers in the garden. But I demand you are able to recite your grandfather's name and deeds by midday morrow."

"I can do that right now!" preens the darker prince.

Frigga favors him with a bright smile that, in turn, sets him to glowing. "That is because you are more my child, little Loki. But I'll do you a trice better. Learn the grand song of sorrows that we must recall at the coming feast, and I'll give you a gift."

The pale little boy, head already slick with a mane of long, shiny black hair, cocks his head in eager interest. "What's the gift, mother?"

"A book, Loki. A very special one."

"Boooring!" Thor's voice calls back from the door of the learning room, full of innocent tweak. "All yours!" He fled without a look back.

"And gladly. What book, mother?"

She puts a finger to his lips. "A magic one. One that I was given when not much younger than you. It will be a challenge between us – can you riddle its lessons for your own?"

He leaned back from where he knelt, pale fingers knotting worriedly at his narrow knees. "What if I can't?"

Frigga closed her eyes. With a gasp from Loki, she disappeared only to reappear crouched behind him. "I have full confidence in you, my clever son. You can."

. . .

The boys are arguing again. About what, she doesn't know, can never remember. Before she can cross the room, they are both near crying. Thor pushes ineffectually at the tinier boy, who slaps back with a viciousness born of weaker desperation. It barely connects.

"Stop that!" Frigga barks with a queen's voice of command, and they look up at her, startled. With a united suddenness, they throw themselves together into her arms and proceed to cry heavy, braying tears. She clutches them both close, her hands rubbing into golden and black hair, soothing them into a still-sobbing quiet. "I love you both, can you not love each other?"

With a sniffle, each nods.

. . .

They are growing like the proverbial weeds. Trite and base is the comparison, but it is not merely their size that calls the parallel but their wildness. Thor craves to fight at his father's side and collects friends among the other warriors, many of whom are several times the young man's age. Even Heimdall spares a smile for the wiry little princeling, a rare treat. He grows impulsive, knows Frigga, but deep in his heart is still the kindness she has fought to instill in him. Someday she hopes it will take full root.

But for now he is all lightning and fire.

Loki is wrapped in frost and quick wind – she loses track of him in the great palace of Asgard, though he is ever on time for lessons in both the mundane and magical. She suspects where he oft is and needs not Heimdall's gift to guess it – for a birthing day not long after his first gift of a grimoire, she took him down the lesser-known halls of Asgard's great library and it is usually there that he is hidden. He grows, too, strange and pale and dark, his every elegant, nearly feral stride a clue to his changeling nature. Yet, secretly, he remains her favorite.

I chose him. Willingly. Because he needed me.

In opposition to Thor, his words were easily kind; equivocating, glib and swift. It was harder to see into his heart, though for her, his care always felt made of things deeply true.

In her moment of twilight she still believed that in his heart was care for her, wrapped in a lie of distance, wrapped in easy care. Deep within, she could still not see. But she held hope, to the very last second.

I can only pray for your peace, my favored son, thinks Frigga, before the shards of memory clatter again.

. . .

When he approaches the years of a young man grown, Loki's hiding grows more complex. Frigga detects a shame in its effort, something that warriors have taught both brothers to hide well deep. With a question to Heimdall, one day she breaks his solitude buried within the forgotten halls of the library, where she herself might not have walked past if not armed with proper guidance.

He looks up at her with his bright blue eyes, startled, and cries openly at her arrival, as if still the tiny child at war with a still equally tiny brother. Frigga opens her arms to him, brings him close to stroke the soft, black hair.

"I can never be a warrior. Mother, why am I not like them?" sobs the young man, injured in that dark, secret way that never shows in the flesh.

Tempted, she does not tell him the true answer. Instead: "Because we are Asgardians, Loki, and our tradition gives little flex to those who are meant for different paths. So your hands are not best with a blade itself as tall as a man. There are other skills, though you will find they are liked less by brute forces."

"Skills like yours." His voice is uncertain. In it, she can already hear the benign, well-meaning poisons left by men's burlier traditions. A woman's skills.

Frigga smiles down into her son's unruly mane. "A clever man should learn clever skills. You are quick, and smart, and unafraid. These are not weaknesses, and your father knows better than to put his full faith only to the strong. A knife can challenge more easily than a broadsword, in those situations that are more desperate, or that need a faster touch to resolve."

"But why am I so different?" he all but wails, the laser-guided question lacing her heart.

"Because you are special to me," she replies, hugging him again to forestall any more pain.

. . .

Thor is now mighty, his shoulders broad and his golden hair spilling easily to them. Still, he is a child to Frigga, and the kindness in him fighting openly with brash resolve. "He is no warrior, Mother!"

"He is your brother, and it is in your oath and blood to love him." Her arms cross with another kind of resolve.

"I do, and truly!" He spreads his massive hands to her. "But we grow apart! He is too clever by half, silver-tongued, and apt to start a fight with a single whisper!"

"If he were supported full by his family, he would not be driven to act out so." She believes this entirely, the younger lad's growing dark nature fed by the taste of being left behind by the stronger and bigger. Again, she knows this for women's pain, made doubly insulting by weighing on a male of Asgard. It is not a thing she would tell Loki. The pain is too open in his eyes when they speak of magic and mystery, gifts scorned by warriors fair.

"But he is not like us!" Thor snaps, driving far too close to a truth he's still too young to comprehend. "I cannot fathom him sometimes."

"I understand, Thor. But for my sake, try." She reaches up for his face with both hands, smiling deep into his worried eyes. "For I love you both too much to bear a sundering."

. . .

Oh Gods why.

He fell. He was king by my hand and he fell.

Why did he fall? Was it my fault? Was it Odin's? Oh Gods, we saw him let go, and was it a nightmare, oh please sweet stars say yes. Please, let me wake up from this. Let not my son, strange, and wild, and broken, be gone.

I SHOULD HAVE TOLD HIM!

Oh, my sweet little boy.

Odin's entry to her private chambers is rebuffed for weeks on end, no word passed, no food easily accepted.

The guards admit to the All-Father that Frigga wails incessantly for her lost child.

Thor is admitted once and once only in her grief. Even her own memory blots out this event.

. . .

He lives.

Instead of pure comfort, Loki's survival gives Frigga a new fear. She no longer recognizes the look of bridled rage in his eyes as she spies on his meet with his adoptive father. It disquiets her, an alien anger wrapped in pride that itself might be a pearl formed around a deeper pain. Perhaps. She clings to the possibility.

"It's not that I don't love our little talks, it's just... I don't love them."

The acid in his voice is new. The loping, wolflike gait is evolved from the gently feral quickness she once observed. She wonders what happened to him, and not for the first time, feels a pang of guilt.

When Odin says that he will receive no visitors, Frigga smiles slightly to herself despite her worry. Odin is sweet and wise in their private moments together, but he has always known her for being twice as clever as he.

They will speak, and in it, she hopes to find some fragment of the quicksilver boy she raised.

. . .

There is a fragment in him, amidst the lie that wraps the same pain he wore as a child.

"You are not," he says when she asks him if she is yet his mother, and he wraps the words in a desperate, transparent lie. They hurt regardless, but she sees the pain they offer him as well. In that is a strange comfort. He has not forgotten how to hurt. Through that agony could be a road to new compassion.

She cannot know they are the last words they will share together.

She will go to her last hours with hope. Never for a second does she believe that his words and deeds might lead to her ending.

In the last moment before twilight takes her, Frigga thinks first of the son she chose to love, despite what he was or could be.

I forgive you, my Loki.

In my forgiveness, please remember thy brother, who is but your brighter half.

Oh, how I have loved you both. But remember that I loved thee better.

. . .

After this, there is only darkness. It is ultimately filled with three things.

Odin's sorrow.

Thor's pain.

And Loki's eternal, consuming rage.

~ Fin