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A Tale of Two Lokis, Chapter 16

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 Sixteen

Thor started forward with a cry as Loki disappeared, then stopped himself and turned to look around, forcing his mind past the dismal conviction that it had all gone wrong again. He'd desperately wanted to offer Loki safe return home, amnesty, but he wasn't sure he could promise that on Odin's behalf and he wasn't sure it would be fair or right if he could.

At least no one was frozen or severely hurt, thanks to Freya and Jack Frost and perhaps to his own efforts to increase the temperature in the room. He should probably stop that now. He could hear the 'climate control' systems' labored groaning. The humans were mostly heading off for medical attention, but they were all walking even if some were helping each other. Coulson didn't look exactly well, but he didn't look like he intended to go anywhere, either. Next to him, Bruce looked a little wild-eyed, probably more from worrying that he'd become the Hulk reflexively than anything else. Thor was not unaccustomed to the idea of berserkers, but it would perhaps have been an awkward place for one.

Freya, dripping and slightly wan, picked herself up and began casting healing spells.

Thor went to Jane, who was still wrapped around her precious notebook, curled up against the wall. When she raised her head as if exhausted, he saw that she was frightfully pale and blood was dripping from her nose. 'Jane.' His heart clenched. How had he not noticed? He'd been focussed on Loki, had thought she was only staying out of the way to protect the possession she'd told Nari was in danger. 'Are you... you are not well. Did he harm you?'

'Are you all right?' Jack was asking Steve Rogers, in an undertone.

Steve smiled, a little hollow-eyed. 'I don't remember much of being frozen,' he said, which was not exactly an answer. 'I didn't know you could do that.'

Jack let it pass. 'I didn't know I could do that!' He frowned. 'We should get you to medical.'

'I'm fine, I just--' Thor stopped listening at this point.

Jane giggled, rather unsteadily, and placed the notebook carefully on the one remaining patch of dry floor before clamping a hand over her nose. 'He said to get out of his way or he'd do something I wouldn't like. Then he picked me up and moved me. I think he liked me. Oh God....' Her head flopped back against the wall; Thor got a hand behind it just in time and tipped it forward again so she wouldn't choke.


'He came to my lab. Earlier today. We actually almost had a nice talk. I think he's glad I didn't kill you with my car.' Her eyelids fluttered as if she were trying to stay awake. 'I messed up. I'm sorry. But he didn't do anything to me. Just everybody else. It was the c-communication spell....' She started shivering. 'Knew it from last time. But I had to call you.'

'It wasn't actually a bad idea,' Freya said, kneeling beside them in a sweep of flower-and-spice scents. She pinched the bridge of Jane's nose sharply, and the flow of blood stopped. 'Although you are going to have to rest for a while.'

Jane looked up at her. 'Did you,' she began, then looked uncertain, then plunged ahead anyway. 'Did you let him go?'

'I did,' said Freya. Everyone stared at her, and she looked around coolly, regal despite the sopping wet gown clinging to her. 'He was thinking, at last,' she said. 'He'll have gone back to the elder Loki. A talk with him is very likely the best thing for him at the moment.'

'Then we should be leaving,' Nari said, interrupting the consternation before any of the skeptical-looking Midgardians could speak up. 'We left a storm going on Jotunheim that is probably still under the influence of Thor's emotions.'

Thor winced slightly. He didn't want to leave Jane, and he wanted to ask more about what she and Loki had said to each other and what Freya was thinking, but... Nari did have a point. That could be dangerous, as tumultuous as he was feeling. More so than if he'd withdrawn from it altogether, as then Jotunheim's own weather-workers could manipulate it more easily.

'Then by all means, you'd better go--' Freya broke off and swore in a manner that would have appalled the Vane who'd remonstrated with her over 'wilting'.

'What?' Thor asked, alarmed.

Freya's eyes were unfocussed, or focussed somewhere that wasn't in the room. 'I think he's just gone somewhere else.'

Nari frowned. 'Where?'

'I don't know,' Freya snapped. 'As you can see, I didn't follow him in the first place. But I got a very good "look" at his falconskin -- I still can't believe they did that -- and he's just made a second trip.'

'That leaves him little time to have talked to our uncle,' said Thor, frowning.

'Thor,' said Nari.

'I know.' Freya was frowning. 'But Nari's right. You need to go. I'll trace where your brother went from here and deal with that; you get back to Jotunheim.'

Thor wanted badly to protest, but they were right. And at least the colour had come back into Jane's face, even if she still looked drained. He kissed her lightly on the lips, got a shaky smile in return, and then stood and offered his hand to Nari, looking again at Freya and searching for words. 'Deal kindly with him, if you can,' he said at last.

Freya rolled her eyes. 'I will try. Go.'

Nari pulled him into colour-shot darkness, and they retraced their path of moments before: back to the nearest convenient Bifrost site on Earth in seconds, then a shout to Heimdall and two quick trips that deposited them back on Jotunheim.

One of Jotunheim's strange electrical bees landed on Thor as soon as he returned to the site of the storm, its wings a buzzing whine, and was evidently in an ill temper as it promptly tried to sting him. Thor ignored the tiny spark-shock as he began wrestling the weather under better control than his own emotions, but he was unsurprised when Byleist loomed over him as he was turning the storm out toward open land.

'Just what was that about?' Byleist asked. They had mostly been avoiding each other, as Thor's presence on Jotunheim was unofficial, but Byleist had -- somewhat to Thor's surprise -- also turned out to be a weather-worker.

'An emergency.' Thor thought for a few seconds before admitting, 'Loki showed himself on Earth.'

Byleist looked at him sharply. 'What did he do?'

'Visited SHIELD.' Thor sighed. 'Escaped Freya's grasp.' And went... somewhere, apparently. Maybe she knew where, by now. He didn't mention that part.

'Escaped--' Byleist frowned. 'Of course. He does still have the casket, doesn't he.' He gave the storm another push of his own. 'To my understanding, though, it's not exactly subtle. Could someone not find him that way?'

'Freya said something about that,' Thor replied, deliberately vague. 'I couldn't stay.'

Byleist gave him a hard look, then turned abruptly as a breathless messenger arrived.

'Your Majesty. You're needed at the palace. Loki Odinson is offering surrender.'

Byleist sucked in a breath, turned back to look at Thor -- who stood open-mouthed, mind in complete shock -- and then said to the messenger, "Tell them I'm coming," and set off on foot. The messenger merely vanished.

Thor thought about dispersing the storm, or at least letting go of it. Then he hurried after Byleist without doing either.

Byleist glanced back at him and Nari once, eyebrows drawn together. 'I think I believe you were surprised,' he muttered. (Thor half expected this to be followed with 'No one would look that idiotically astonished on purpose,' then realized that was more Loki's line and he wasn't sure why it had come to mind. Byleist was Loki's younger brother by birth, even if he didn't know it, but the family resemblance wasn't exactly overwhelming.) 'What will you do?'

'I have no idea,' Thor said honestly. 'At this point I have no idea what he's doing. But he is my brother.'

Byleist huffed out a long breath and didn't pursue the subject. As they neared the palace, more bees started appearing, swirling around him. Thor collected his own eddy of them, which he eyed with some suspicion, but they didn't settle on him, whereas they kept landing on Byleist and staying there.

Thor finally couldn't resist asking, 'Are you collecting the bees to make an impression on him or something?'

Byleist glanced back irritably. 'They sense the lightning. Farbauti gave them to me when I showed ability with storms. Didn't anyone give you --' He broke off. 'Ah, Asgardian bees use toxins, don't they?'

'And they disembowel themselves to leave the weapon behind in their foe,' Thor agreed.

'How bizarrely impractical,' Byleist muttered. Thor told himself he had greater concerns than being offended on behalf of Asgard's bee population. Like what Loki was thinking. Or, as that remained a mystery to Thor nearly as often as Loki claimed the reverse, what Loki might be about to do.

Loki was waiting, in the same place they'd stood and disputed with Laufey. He was still dressed as he had been moments ago, in casual Midgardian dark grey and green. He looked Asgardian instead of Jotun again and very, very pale. Thor winced and halted as Byleist continued past and turned, everyone else's attention following him as he seated himself on the throne.

'Loki Odinson,' he grated. The bees hummed... more than hummed, a dull roar now. More of them seemed to be coming from all directions to swirl around the area in a cloud, like a swarm that hadn't quite settled. Loki focussed briefly on them and then on the carpet of them on Byleist's body, looking bewildered, then jerked his eyes back to Byleist's face. 'You come to Jotunheim and ask an audience with me?'

Loki moistened his lips and said, 'I come to Jotunheim to surrender myself and make what amends I can.' He passed his hands one over the other, and the casket appeared between them. Blue crept up his hands and into his face.

The murmur among the assembled Jotuns rose above the wings of the bees.

Byleist stood up, very slowly, incredulity plain on his face. He walked down to Loki, towering over him, and placed his hands on either side of the casket. Loki's fell away, and he stumbled back.

Byleist raised the Casket of Ancient Winters over his head.

The murmur grew to a roar.

Loki paced the apartment, trying, frantically, to think. There had to be a way out. He'd agreed to this, yes, but surely the boy couldn't have been that thorough. He'd forgotten for more than a day to order Loki not to kill him.

There wasn't. Not one he could think of. He wrenched the outer door open, heedless (not thinking) of who might see him, but couldn't make himself step outside. The runes on his skin felt tight, burning as cold as Niflheim. He tilted his head back but couldn't form Heimdall's name, let alone shout it. He couldn't push from his mind the reason to strip away the boy's concealments that diverted Heimdall's attention from the apartment.

He couldn't find a way out, and he was going to lose the boy, it had all gone wrong in a way that had never even occurred to him (again, it always did) and everyone would--

...He was being infected by the boy's viewpoint. No one would blame him this time, and for a moment he almost understood why the boy was going, because that almost made it worse.

He sank down next to the ash tree the boy should never have been able to grow. They'd had to repot it several times and now there was room to sit next to it in the container, arms looped around the slender ragged trunk. Although salt water, he thought hazily, was probably not very good for it.

He'd barely sat down when the air ripped open and Freya stalked in, from kitchen to living room. 'Loki! Where did he go?' He sat up abruptly; she frowned. 'Are you all right?'

'Jotunheim.' The word was out before he realised he could say it, that he'd only been forbidden from talking to people outside the apartment, and his next sentence came out so fast it almost tripped over itself. 'You have to tell Heimdall, he's gone to surrender and they'll kill him.'

'He's what?' Any other time Freya's incredulity might have been comical. She lifted her chin slightly, and he felt the boy's concealing spellwork shatter. 'Heimdall! Tell Odin his child has gone to surrender on Jotunheim.' She glanced at Loki. 'We could use a lift, too.'

'I can't,' Loki realised he was still curled in a plant pot clinging to the tree. Freya hadn't commented, either because it was less urgent than just about anything else or because she was a Vane and taking comfort in trees didn't seem odd to her. He stood up, still with one hand resting on the bark. 'I can't leave the apartment or talk to anyone outside it.'

Freya rubbed a hand over her face and sighed, then said, 'Never mind the bridge,' to Heimdall and sat down on the edge of the container, wringing out her hair over the roots. 'He expected you to warn us if you could. Of course. Then, is there anything else I should relay?'

'You could still go and help,' said Loki, although truthfully he didn't want to be alone right now. He sat down on the edge of the container as well, trying to slow his racing thoughts enough to pick out anything that might help. 'He's taken them the casket.' No, that might be useful to know, but it wouldn't help them save the boy. 'He decided Jotuns aren't monsters, but that he is anyway because of what he did before.' Loki shivered, bowing his head. 'I didn't mean it to turn out like this.'

'Perhaps I shouldn't have let him go.' Freya put a hand on the tree trunk, looking up at it curiously. 'I expected him to come talk to you, settle down and perhaps consider returning to Asgard, not have a crisis of conscience and rush off to make reparations.' She pulled her gaze from the branches and looked at him. 'I'm not blaming you.'

'I should have been able to say something to stop him. But I didn't see it coming at all, I still don't understand why he'd do it.' The link with Heimdall through Freya was a second chance, if he was able to find those elusive words to send to the boy that would stop him doing this then he still could. But he had no idea what to say.

'Because he is young and dramatic and has Odin's sense of honor without his pragmatism.'

Loki blinked. 'Do you know him?'

She laughed at that, not happily. 'Yes, though not terribly well. He and Thor and my daughters used to visit each other. I taught him basic fertility spells--' Her nails tapped the bark. 'Although this is still something of a surprise.'

'To me as well,' said Loki. 'He spent days only sleeping a few hours at a time, pouring magic into it.'

'I was furious when I realized what you two were doing.'

Any other time that comment would have got a grin. 'You know I live to annoy you, but it wasn't actually my idea this time.' It came out flat, awkward.

'I am not sure I should believe that,' Freya said, almost lightly. She sat erect and fierce, as if she might pounce on something at any moment, like one of her cats at home. As if the problem invigorated her even before she could do anything about it. 'You're good at planting ideas in people's heads.'

Loki winced at the choice of phrase, tears starting again even though he knew both that she didn't blame him and that she'd been talking about something else entirely.

'Oh, Loki....' Freya let the words out on a sigh, then leaned over and kissed him on the lips, soft and open-mouthed and for her relatively brief, before sitting up again. She might as well have just patted him on the shoulder. 'Sigyn will probably go,' she added, after a moment. 'Byleist's been listening to her.'

'That's good. I'm glad she'll be there.' Maybe not quite as much as he wished she was here. Despite Freya's attempt at comforting him they simply weren't close enough for him to cling to her the way he felt like doing.

'Mm.' Freya did not say that might save the boy's life. 'I don't suppose he grafted part of his life to the tree, or anything like that?'

Loki gave her an incredulous look. 'Is that even a real thing?'

She glanced over sharply, then shrugged. 'It's not common. It was my first guess about Idunn, though.'

'No, neither of us would have had any idea how to do that. He's...emotionally attached to it.' Loki patted the bark of the tree affectionately. 'Really, I think he needed a pet.'

Freya's lips flexed in a faint smile as she watched the motion. 'It's hard to put that much into something and not get attached.' A slight pause. 'Evidently that's part of what they did to him, to fit him for Asgard's climate at that age.'

'He doesn't know that, does he?' asked Loki. 'I thought it was a glamour at first, before I realised how deep it went.'

'I don't see how he could know. If I am reading correctly through Odin's pride and reluctance to explain anything, he was about half conscious by the time he told even part of the truth, and Frigga doesn't seem to have gone into much detail without him. And of course when he's holding half a planet's worth of ice magic it drives the change off him.'

'If -' A pause for a breath that just escaped becoming a sob. 'At some point I am going to make Odin tell him everything. Or make Odin tell me everything and pass it on. Every time there are gaps in his knowledge he fills them in with the worst thing possible.'

'I do believe you might be the only person who could get "everything" out of Odin.'

'I'm very persistent when I want to be.'

Freya nodded agreement, and an uneasy silence grew for some moments before her head turned abruptly toward him. Loki looked down and saw what she'd seen, before he felt it; the runes softened and blurred, then ran, as if they'd melted, and vanished entirely. The skin under them tingled as if the blood had just come back into it.

Loki stared at his wrists, the unmarked blue skin there leaving him shaken and dizzy. He couldn't think anything beyond, Angrboda and Ymir, please, no. It couldn't have happened that quickly, surely, but they would hardly have needed a trial. Everyone knew what the boy had done, why wait to kill him for it?

He clutched at the tree for support now, afraid he would slide to the floor without it, as he tried to jolt his brain out of its empty panic. There must be another reason, maybe, he had to believe he hadn't failed completely. 'Ask - ask Heimdall. Is the boy dead?' he said.

'Ask him yourself,' Freya retorted, seizing him by the arm and whisking him off abruptly to a desert's midday heat, almost as dizzying as his thoughts. Nothing stopped them. 'Heimdall!'

Loki grabbed at her arm for balance, blinking in the sudden sunlight. They were going to Jotunheim, and he didn't know whether it would be too late to matter, but at least he would be there. He didn't ask Heimdall in case it distracted him from just getting them there as quickly as possible. The Bifrost mark was right under their feet and he'd never been so impatient for the bridge itself to arrive.

It did, in a roar. The rush of light took them to the rebuilt control chamber -- which didn't seem to have changed much. Odin and Frigga sat astride Sleipnir, who lowered his head and snorted into Loki's hair. They looked grim, and impatient. Sigyn threw herself into Loki's arms.

Loki's arms tightened around Sigyn, even as his gaze fixed on Odin. 'Why are you still here? Is he dead? Why didn't you leave in time to stop him?'

'He lives,' Odin said shortly. 'There were orders to be given in case we do not return. But your bonds broke when he gave up the casket.'

The light took them again. And set them down, rewriting its mark, in the midst of Byleist's open-air court.

Byleist did have the casket in his hands. There was an expression of wonder on his face, and the casket shone with a cold white brilliance greater than it had ever evinced for the boy, who had never entirely liked using it. The boy was before him, looking small and pale and so washed out by the light that it was hard to tell which form he was in, but still on his feet.

Byleist turned his head, not all the way to them at first but to glance toward two shorter figures at the inner edge of the crowd. (Nari was nearly managing to loom despite being smaller than most of the frost giants there. It took a moment for Loki to identify the other, blond one as a glamoured Thor.) Then he completed the motion, studied Loki himself for a moment, then raised his eyes toward Odin. 'Allfather.'

'King Byleist.' Odin's voice was level, but tight, and his fingers were white on the reins.

Loki let go of Sigyn and raced towards the boy. It was stupid, they were in the middle of a tense political situation, they only had seven people with them in the midst of Byleist's seat of power, but until he had touched the boy he wasn't going to be able to believe he was alright. He managed to get his arms around the younger Loki before the boy or anyone else caught up enough to object, and let out a shuddering breath at the feel of the boy's body - warm, in his Asgardian form while Loki was in Jotun form - and solid in his arms.

The boy's eyes flicked back and forth between Loki and Byleist. He was as stiff in Loki's arms as the tree had been. 'Your bonds dissolved when the casket left my possession,' he said, sounding unnaturally calm.

'Yes,' said Loki. 'I thought you were dead. Please don't make me go through that twice in one day.'

'I see you managed to keep hating me,' the boy said, and there was a faint tremor in his voice there, 'for all of... less than ten minutes.'

'I told you I would forgive you as soon as it was over.'

'Not for this.' Back to sounding distant, and the last word drowned in a rumble of thunder overhead. Byleist was draped in bees, a sure sign of a Jotun weatherworker, but Loki rather suspected that this storm belonged to Thor.

The temperature of the air dropped sharply, and the glow around Byleist spread until everyone was lit in cold blue, with the hovering bees casting huge fleeting shadows over their faces. The cold seemed to make them more lively, as if they had been torpid with heat before. The ice underfoot had a sudden crispness that hadn't been there before, the air felt drier as moisture was sucked from it and frozen. It wasn't intentionally dramatic, Byleist could have done this with far more awe-inspiring effects, but what he was doing didn't need effects and he wasn't about to waste power on them. The raw magic emanating from him spoke for itself. Loki wondered how far it stretched, whether the Casket of Ancient Winters in the hands of Jotunheim's King could truly heal the whole planet at once. A light snow, small and hard flakes like powdered sugar, began to fall.

When the light faded enough for them to see Byleist clearly, tired lines had joined the clan markings on his face. 'Your transgressions against Jotunheim have been great,' he said, looking straight at the boy. Loki let go and backed off a little, one hand still remaining on the boy's shoulder, although he wasn't sure which of them it was for the sake of. 'But,' Byleist continued. 'Your gift of reconciliation is also great.'

The boy opened his mouth. Loki squeezed his shoulder hard, fingers digging in, without much hope that this would convince him not to speak. Apparently Byleist was smart, in spite of being raised by Laufey. Loki decided arbitrarily to credit Sigyn.

'My sons rarely do anything by half measures,' said Odin. He inclined his head to Byleist -- Sleipnir put them about on a level. He looked greyer than usual, with the fine flecks of snow beginning to drift in his hair and the ridges of his armour. 'And Asgard would offer further gifts, for his sake.'

Loki breathed again. Odin evidently couldn't figure out how to say the right thing to his son, but he'd just acknowledged Jotunheim's right to the casket, reinforced Byleist's cast on the situation, and made his own position very clear. The boy shut his mouth and looked dazed and vulnerable.

Byleist moved his hands together and the casket vanished, but even so something of it seemed to stay with him. Not its magic, but his sense of its power. He was now a king who could fulfil his responsibilities to his people and make Jotunheim stand as strong as any other world, and that confidence lingered. 'I invite you to visit at a time better suited to hospitality and bring any further gifts you would wish to offer. For now, this is enough, and there is too much I must do to entertain you as one king should another, so I must ask you and your son to leave.'

'I will be pleased to meet with you at a later time.' Odin beckoned to them, and Loki steadied the boy on the short walk past Byleist and to Odin's stirrup. Frigga dismounted to clutch at him. There was a startled murmur from the watching Jotuns as Thor and Nari joined them, the glamour suddenly gone, and then the world was light and coloured wind again.