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A Tale of Two Lokis, Chapter 15

Title: A Tale of Two Lokis
Authors: Khilari and Persephone_Kore
Summary: Thor and Loki were not the first of Odin's loved ones to bear those names. After the events of the movie, Loki is planning his next moves when he discovers a frost giant imprisoned in a volcano, who proves to be both the uncle he was named for and Laufey's first child. Soon Loki has a new mentor, Asgard is shaking off isolationist tendencies, Jotunheim is receiving foreign aid, and Earth is suddenly and vividly reacquainted with the existence of aliens....

Chapter Fifteen

Loki flung himself away from Lopt, out into extradimensional space, without bothering to put the falconskin back on. He almost didn't, even when he thought of it. If you want to impress him take him this. His hand clenched around it hard enough to make his palm hurt, and then he sighed and clasped it around his neck anyway.

Seconds later, he was very glad he had. Still frustrated, he'd set off for the SHIELD research facility, and almost before he noticed it he was surrounded by a literally thorny puzzle. Loki stopped and hovered, deliberately calming down as much as possible and holding himself very precisely still, and checked first himself and the falconskin for damage, and then his surroundings for signs that his precipitate arrival had had any effect.

Not yet. He thought. And these patterns were familiar. They'd had Freya's assistance with security, then. He smiled faintly. They'd probably thought he was still after the tesseract. Which wasn't altogether a bad guess.

And when Freya put her traps in place, they would have been extremely effective. But Loki had spent the past several months studying Freya's work, much of that time specifically focused on her traps and other security measures, and now he oriented himself and began methodically working through them.

There seemed to be a curious lack of deadly traps here, but this was not to say it was easy. They were interlocked, interwoven, and fiendishly complex. Some he disarmed; some he blundered into. Time and again he was swamped by sudden, overwhelming sensation or emotion -- the first time was merely salt and citrus, and he froze in panicked flashback to the 'wolf' that had temporarily taken his vision. The second roused situationally inappropriate appetites, the third nearly made him break down in tears, and he wasn't sure which was more embarrassing. Four times he had to shake himself free of gazing entranced at the pattern of her work; twice he found himself following cleverly laid false trails.

When he finally pulled himself free, Jane was talking frantically to a balding SHIELD agent, with a familiar notebook on the table beside them and her hand on it protectively. 'I'll have that,' Loki said, stepping forward.

The agent leveled a gun at him. Jane jumped and put herself in front of her notebook. Loki sighed, snatched the gun from the man's hand and tossed it aside, and gave Jane a stern look. 'I recommend you get out of my way,' he said, almost gently, 'or you will not like the consequences.'

Jane swallowed and shook her head hard. 'I have had enough of -- augh!'

Loki picked her up by the upper arms and set her aside, ignoring the squawk of protest, and put his hand out for the notebook she'd dropped.

And suddenly the falconskin burned against his throat, the air closed in around him, and he couldn't move.

Loki’s hand went to his throat, clutching at the falconskin even as it burned his hand. Mine. The thought echoed like a struck gong, no subtlety at all, just a claim resonating with every drop of sap it contained. It may have been Freya’s design, but it was his, sap from his tree, from a seed he had grown. The falconskin cooled in his hand, and the smell of snow drifted into the air. He dropped it back against his throat and turned to see Freya in the doorway. He smirked.

‘Nice try,’ he said, forcing his voice cool and level. ‘I suppose those traps were yours too? I’m afraid I’ve become quite good at getting past your tricks lately.’

‘Some of them,’ said Freya. She was leaning against the doorframe slightly, the skin around her eyes drawn tight with an effort he couldn’t see.

Loki frowned, he could move again, she wasn’t affecting the falconskin directly, but what was she doing? Maybe just trying to recast the spell he’d broken. He lunged for the notes, deciding to grab them and leave before she could, only for Jane to do the same thing at the same time. Surprisingly, she moved faster.

Jane clutched the notebook to her chest and ran around the end of the table to try to get away from him. Loki, feeling this was fast becoming farcical, vaulted over it, then halted warily at a clatter of footsteps from two directions. A worried-looking scientist charged in from the far door; the near one admitted a very fit man with a soldier's posture and, to Loki's astonishment, a small frost giant. Jane darted behind them, obviously heading for the door. Loki slammed it shut with magic before Freya could prevent him.

‘You won't get away,’ Freya said. Jane made a distressed noise and slid down against the wall, shutting her eyes.

Loki summoned the casket, wincing as his hands turned blue when it appeared between them. For all the times he'd now used it, he was still not quite used to that, especially in front of anyone but Lopt. Ice washed over the room, a neat circle around Jane remaining free from it since Loki didn't want to freeze the notes to her. Being forced to kidnap Thor's girlfriend would be even more ridiculous than this had been already, and inconvenient as well. Around Freya the ice melted, rather than avoiding her, leaving a strong smell of summer rain and new turned earth. Freya brushed a hand across the front of her sopping wet dress and pulled a face.

From around the frost giant and the soldier, the ice shattered. The shards started toward Loki like flechettes and then checked in midair and dropped to the floor. ‘Steve?’ the frost giant asked.

The soldier replied through gritted teeth, ‘Fine.’

Loki sent another wave of ice across the room, this time the other frost giant put his hands up and it stopped before it could reach him and Steve, piling into a jagged wall. The frost giant's wrists were trembling, clearly this was taking all of his strength and Loki was impressed he was managing it at all. Stepping past them while the frost giant couldn't concentrate on attacking him he reached out towards Jane.

He could feel Freya melting his ice, but of more immediate concern was the fact that Jane was flickering. But if she was trying to escape into extradimensional space, Freya's own defenses balked her. She opened her eyes with a gasp, blood trickling from her nose, and then Steve tackled him.

It worked - very briefly - breaking Loki's concentration enough that the casket vanished and even knocking him down. But he was still a frost giant, neither shapeshifted nor glamoured, and burns were appearing on the soldier's hands even as he didn't seem inclined to let go.

The other frost giant joined the scuffle, less skilled than the soldier but untroubled by the cold, while a very level voice on the other side of the room urged someone named Bruce to calm down.

Freya was doing something to make him dizzy, but Loki managed to shove Steve off him by dint of greater than mortal strength. The frost giant, rather to Loki's surprise, flinched at the knife he conjured to his fingers. Loki surged back to his feet, disgusted by the discovery that he had some of Steve's frozen skin stuck to him, and summoned the casket again just as the door he'd sealed burst open and two more frost giants charged in.

‘Is there a treaty between SHIELD and Jotunheim that I was unaware of?’ Loki asked. He really wasn't sure what to think if there was, he'd been surprised by how quickly the mortals seemed to accept Gerd, but surely they weren't suddenly hiring frost giants for security?

‘SHIELD is not an entity with the authorization to make independent treaties,’ said the balding man, somewhat pedantically.

The shorter of the newly arrived frost giants stepped forward onto the ice, which cracked under his weight, and said, ‘Loki.’

It sounded like...'Thor?' Loki said, his voice coming out as an undignified yelp. He took a deep breath and managed to continue at a lower pitch. 'Why are you - are you glamoured? As a Jotun?'

Thor looked down at himself as if he had somehow missed this, then said, 'We were in a bit of a hurry.'

Loki blinked. The situation was surreal. Having his brother see him as a Jotun had been strange enough, but seeing Thor as one was just bizarre. 'That doesn't explain anything,' he said, feeling that he sounded remarkably calm under the circumstances. 'I take it you didn't do this just to confuse me, but why did you do it?'

'I did it,' said the other new arrival. 'He's been helping repair Jotunheim's climate, but having Prince Thor walk around the planet openly would have been, shall we say, awkward. I'm Nari, by the way. I would guess Father's mentioned me.'

Loki was left reeling. Nari. The son who looked like a frost giant, who Lopt had worried about but who had never taken to wearing glamours. A son he had somehow thought of as being a long time ago and a long way away, not someone he might meet. There was a darkness to the thought, to the realisation that this was someone Lopt would have rather been spending time with given the choice, a familiar shadow on the edge of his mind.

With that going through his head it took a moment for the other revelation to penetrate, and then it left no space for anything else. Thor - Thor who had gone there furious, to start a battle, who had dreamed of killing Jotuns as a child reading about wars - was fixing Jotunheim. It felt unfair in a way he couldn't quite put his finger on. Thor could accept frost giants enough to help them. Thor was fixing Loki's mess. Both of those things were somehow terribly wrong.

'Why would you care so much about their planet that you'd willingly wear the form of a monster?' he snarled.

Nari arched an eyebrow. 'I admit, I wondered at first if he'd go along with it....'

Thor glanced up at Nari, then looked back at Loki and said heavily, 'They... are people, Loki. We have both gone too far, before, in thinking of them as enemies.'

Loki opened his mouth to deny it. Except - except Lopt, who he was angry with right now for trying to talk him out of his plans, but who had, not that long ago, been telling him stories of his childhood, who had hugged him when he came back safe from trying out the falconskin, who played music specially chosen to annoy him and talked him into watching silly Midgardian films. It was impossible not to think of Lopt as a person, whatever he thought of Jotuns as a group.

'Enemies,' he said, feeling on safer ground with that. 'Even if they are people, they have been our enemies since before we were born.'

'Under truce,' said Nari. 'Wars do end.'

Wars ended. This one had a long time ago, but it had never felt ended, not with the stories, with the memories in history books. It wasn't like the war with the Vanir, over so long ago the fact that his friends' mother had fought in it had never felt real. Besides, if it was over, if everyone, even Thor, could accept with a little time and even be content to wear the shape of their hated enemies themselves, then why had be spent his whole life in a skin that wasn't his, feeling different without knowing why, until now neither of his shapes really felt like him? He looked down, knowing he couldn't ask that, couldn't scream everything at Thor without leaving himself vulnerable in ways he couldn't bear.

'I do not say it was easy,' Thor said. Slowly, this time, as if he was fumbling more than he had in their first conversation. 'You asked if Jane had changed me. I never answered you. I did not tell you we sat through the night, looking at the stars, and she asked me of the other eight worlds as if they must all be wonders alike. That I had wished you there to answer her questions better.' He swallowed. 'It was not comfortable to greet Nari. Nor was it comfortable to know a citizen of Asgard had risked appearing from thin air in the palace gardens over walking the city streets in his own face.'

Loki breathed in sharply, transfixed by Thor's face. It was so strange to see Thor's expressions there, to see the helpless earnestness in red eyes, and know that this was Thor feeling useless in a situation he wanted to resolve with words. 'Jotunheim is no wonder,' he said, remembering ice and darkness.

'It... has its wonders,' Thor said. 'Although I would not particularly want to live there.'

Nari snorted. 'You didn't see it at its best, either. Laufey was a stubborn, prideful idiot who made a poorer treaty than the Allfather would have given him, and then spent the next thousand years sulking about it. Even without that,' he nodded at the casket, 'it could have been better off than it was.'

It looked like Nari had inherited his father's hatred for Laufey, although he sounded more dispassionate about it. But then, he had not been the one to be either abused or abandoned. 'Is there a new treaty, then, with Laufey dead?' He should grab Jane's notes and run, trust that Thor would hesitate to hurt him long enough for it to work. But part of him wanted to know the consequences, good and bad, of what he had done without thinking of any of them.

Thor blinked, then gave a slightly choked laugh. 'You've missed quite a bit, brother. Asgard sent them eight mages to help first, and the Vanir and Elves and Mists came.'

'After Mother talked Byleist into it,' Nari put in.

'Everyone has been helping Jotunheim?' Four out of eight worlds, anyway, and the Muspel giants wouldn't be any use even if they could get there. 'Why? And they can't possibly have sent you disguised as a frost giant as a mage.'

Even as he spoke another thought occurred to him - how severe had the damage been that Jotunheim needed four out of eight worlds to put it right and the aid was still ongoing? The damage should be severe, he thought, starting to shake his head and then suppressing the tell. He'd meant to destroy it. A world full of people like Lopt, and Nari and...and Thor, if he had really been what he appeared to be right now. That wasn't even a logical thought, Thor was not a frost giant. It shouldn't have the power to wound him.

'I... am not officially there,' said Thor. 'Hence the disguise.' He sighed. 'They help out of mercy, Loki. Or old obligations. Or because kin or friends asked them to.'

'Is that what you offer me then? Mercy to an enemy?' Loki asked, forcing venom back into his voice. Where had the old anger gone? No, he was still angry, there was still too much pain between them, but he could not hate Thor as he stood there talking of helping Jotunheim in secret, not even considering that he would get no credit for his graciousness to an enemy fallen low. The lack of hate felt like an empty bubble inside him - he'd started this hating so many things, so many people. When had he stopped?

Thor's eyes (red eyes) were bright with hurt. 'I have never wanted to be your enemy.'

'I could never be your equal as a friend.' Thor had changed so much he wondered whether that was still true, but maybe it was truer than ever. Before he had wondered what Odin had been thinking to make Thor king, now he could see the beginnings of someone who could rule. The confidence that had always been hidden under arrogance, kindness that had been condescension, diplomacy that had been gregarious boastfulness. Underneath Thor's childishness there had been something that could be great. Underneath Loki's exterior - was a mess of pain and anger, something as monsterous as his true exterior.

'I want you back as my brother.' Thor let out a pained sigh. 'And you are a good friend when you choose to be.'

'Naive,' Loki spat. 'I manipulated you, pushed you into actions that Father would banish you for, knowing you'd be too stupid to realise it. A good friend indeed.'

'I don't think you spent all our lives at such games,' Thor snapped back.

That was more like it, Thor's anger was familiar as his forbearance was not. It made things so much easier. 'As if you would have been able to tell if I had.'

'I think we'd have had a higher rate of unmitigated disasters.'

Loki snorted, a laugh trying to make its way up his throat without his permission, the corner of his mouth twitching with it.

'...I was serious,' Thor protested.

Loki swallowed. What were they doing? This whole thing seemed like stalling tactics, but which of them was stalling and why? We're both stalling, because the alternative is to fight or leave, and neither of us wants that any more. He touched the falconskin at his throat, take him this, accepting Thor's offer and going home had never sounded so tempting. Go home and admit he was wrong, had been wrong all along, that he wasn't sure he was capable of ruling Midgard any more even if he succeeded in forcing it to bow to him.

Thor looked at him, with red eyes, and was also silent. As he should be. If Loki couldn't find words, why should Thor?

The room was eerily silent, except for some piece of equipment emitting an irregular, vaguely plaintive beep. Possibly the ice or icemelt had damaged it. No one else spoke. No one else moved toward him. As if everyone, even the mortals who couldn't possibly understand, even Freya and Nari and the unexplained random frost giant who might think they had something to contribute, could feel that this was between him and Thor.

This was unbearable.

He thought to wrench away. To leave, to flee like a coward without what he'd come for (Jane still sat against the wall, eyes wide and wary; it was a shame, he'd enjoyed the academic discussion) -- when he tried to move, he ran into that choking closeness of the air again. Not the air, space. His eyes darted to Freya, finally comprehending what she was working at so hard, and that was when Thor started talking again.

'We spoke with the Muspel giants,' he said, and Loki's breath froze in his throat. 'I think all would be glad if you still helped to save them.' Return home with me to our family in peace. Was that even possible, if they knew everything? 'That is... also becoming a cross-world project. Asgard, Vanaheim, Earth -- it sounds as if you have made more progress, though. The Jotuns are rather, ah, preoccupied, but I think when they have more time --'

Loki's tolerance broke. It occurred to him, hazily, in torn wisps of awareness, that Thor probably shouldn't be telling him any of this, especially the relative estimates or where to look, where to interfere. Fool. But all he could focus on was that the worlds were coming together to help Jotunheim, the worlds were coming together to rescue Muspelheim and Earth from him and Thor expected Jotunheim to help -- and why should he not, with them turning up all over SHIELD --

He had to get out of here.

He threw himself against whatever Freya was doing to constrain him, hard enough to startle her. She looked -- worried, too, and he wasn't sure if it meant she wasn't sure she could hold him, or 'You're going to hurt yourself, foolish child.' The second thought nettled him, made him feel more frantic to be away, but it also spurred him to be more methodical: he called on the power of the casket and aimed it at her, throwing her back in a breaking wave of icewater as she tried to counter, and then turned it away and simply ripped a passage out through her defenses. That was part of what the casket was for, after all.

He didn't aim very well. He found himself floating in extradimensional space, the pulse in his throat beating hard against the falconskin, encased in blue-white energy.

Jormungand looked at him. Loki's stomach lurched, and he shot downward again and into the kitchen where he'd left Lopt. Who looked up from the next room as Loki wandered into it. A dewy, mostly full glass sat on a coaster beside him, and drew Loki's attention. Suddenly lemonade and vodka sounded like a very good idea.

Lopt grabbed for the drink half-heartedly, but sighed and sat back as Loki gulped it down. ‘Didn’t it go well?’ he asked.

Loki put the glass back on the coaster. His hand was shaking. It was also blue - he’d used the casket to get back and he’d forgotten, just like Thor had. ‘Thor was there.’

Lopt stood up, looking at Loki with concern. ‘Did you fight?’

‘No.’ Loki could feel tears stinging his eyes and forced them back. ‘There was no point. Father was right.

Lopt blinked at him, concern deepening. ‘About what?’

‘About Thor.’ There was a breathless quality to Loki’s words, but he couldn’t stop his chest rising and falling as if he’d been sparring for hours. ‘He was right to spend more time with Thor, to pay more attention to him, when he’s going to be a-a good king. And I’m just a monster.’

‘Loki,’ Lopt said, softly, hand grabbing his wrist, blue on blue. ‘I’ve told you. Jotuns aren’t monsters, we’re just people.’

‘I know that. I know you’re not a monster, that the Jotuns aren’t, and it’s taking four worlds to hold their planet together because of what I did, so what does that make me?’ The question came out anguished, Loki backing away a step and half doubling over with the force of it even as his wrist remained in Lopt’s grip.

‘No.’ There was a thready note of panic in Lopt’s voice and he swallowed quickly, before continuing more calmly. ‘You didn’t know. And now that you do know you wouldn’t do it again. That’s enough, that’s all any of us can do to atone for the past.’

Loki shook his head, minutely, the trembling getting worse. ‘I’ve known you were a person since you wanted Laufey dead. You’re still - ‘ He ran the fingers of his free hand over the band of runes on Lopt’s wrist. I thought my desire for a throne was more important than your freedom.

Lopt winced at the reminder and then quickly masked his expression behind neutral concern, both reactions feeling like blows to Loki’s chest. ‘If you think this is wrong then undo it,’ Lopt said, his own voice starting to tremble. ‘You’ll be forgiven the instant you do.’

Loki’s fingers rested on the runes, he could feel their magic pulsing beneath him, find the thread to pull and undo the spell holding them there, but not yet. Perhaps it was fear holding him back, afraid to see what Lopt was like without that hold over him, afraid to lose the act if that was all it was. Or perhaps it was a reaction to a plan not yet fully formed, thoughts coalescing like hailstones in the back of his mind.

‘It’s not enough to be forgiven. To just pretend it never happened and trust to the mercy of everyone around me to pretend the same, as if nearly destroying a world could be erased. Going home and living there knowing all the time that I don’t deserve it.’ Pride and shame and remorse mixed sickeningly inside him. His eyes were burning. ‘I have to give them what I owe them. The casket, so they can fix their world, and myself, so they can have justice.’

‘No!’ Lopt grabbed Loki’s other wrist, his grip on both tightening until it was painful. ‘I won’t let you go like this!’

‘It’s the only thing I can do,’ said Loki, voice wavering so much he wasn’t sure the last few words had been intelligible.

‘It’s not!’ Lopt was crying, making no effort to stop the tears running down his cheeks. ‘I didn’t want you to see Jotuns as people so that you’d see everyone as a person but you. I’m sorry.

Loki jerked against the grip on his wrists, he had enough guilt of his own without taking Lopt’s on as well, and his voice snapped out, cold and ragged, ‘Let go of me.’ Lopt’s hands jerked back as if they’d been burned. ‘Kneel.’ Lopt’s legs folded under him at the tone of command, the push of will in Loki’s voice. Loki’s voice became softer, no longer giving orders, but still just as cold. ‘Now tell me how forgivable I am, how much you understand.’

Lopt’s eyes were wide and stricken, but he met Loki’s gaze, and deep down Loki could see a flickering spark of anger. ‘I’ll forgive you for this just as soon as it’s over. But I won’t forgive you for throwing your life away. You’re not afraid of not being forgiven, you’re afraid of going back home and finding nothing’s changed, that everyone treats you the same as they always did and you’re still unhappy and confused. And you’d rather run away from it all than face up to the fact that you could change it.’

‘I’m not running away. I’m facing the consequences,’ said Loki. His voice sounded remote to his own ears.

‘If you want to die it’s not even a punishment,’ Lopt snarled. ‘You don’t deserve death.’

‘I don’t want to die,’ said Loki. He didn’t want to live with forgiveness he didn’t deserve, with kindness from people who were ashamed of him. But he wished he could have made another falconskin, one that wasn’t sluggish on the turns, and he wished he could have seen how Jane’s research turned out and maybe collaborated on a way to move Muspel giants, and seen that silly pirate movie Lopt had been talking about, and gone adventuring with Thor to see how deeply his attitude had really changed. It wasn’t that there was nothing left he wanted to do with his life, there was nothing left he deserved to do. ‘And your attempt at manipulation is transparent. You are forbidden to leave the apartment. You are forbidden to phone, or otherwise contact, anyone outside the apartment. If they choose to imprison me rather than executing me, I’ll release you from there.’ Lopt’s hands moved convulsively against the floor as he tried to reach for Loki. ‘You may stand up.’

Lopt stumbled to his feet, swiping away the tears that were blinding him with the back of his hand. ‘I hate you for using this to stop me saving you.’

Loki closed his eyes. ‘I know.’ The falconskin flared to life, blue-green light encasing him, and he stepped into extradimensional space.