Brooding 53

Loki was trying to decide whether he liked or disliked the song playing on the StarkTunes 3000 at the moment. While the refrain of “born to be wild” was memorable, he thought the repetition of the lyrics rather tedious. Just as he reached out to press the arrow on the screen to skip to the next song, he heard the familiar sound of a man clearing his throat. And not just any man, but the All-Father.

“Loki,” came the stern command, “open your curtains.”

Startled, Loki fumbled to turn off the device, but he regained his composure before using seiðr to part the curtains at the window where he knew Odin stood. He had not expected Frigga to be there as well, so he was forced to swallow back the sharp remark he would have made otherwise.

“Well, well, well,” he said instead, his tone dripping of honeyed sarcasm. “To what do I owe this… pleasure?”

“You have not been forthcoming with us,” Odin began, then suddenly paused when Frigga gripped his arm. “That is to say… you have underestimated our ability to seek out the truth. But the truth will be known, eventually, and the more you reveal of your own accord, the more likely… perhaps… that you may redeem yourself from this disgrace to which you have sunk.”

Loki’s sharp eyes did not miss the tug Frigga made upon her husband’s arm at that last jibe. Realizing she must have dragged the All-Father down here to some specific end, he chose his words with care as he slowly approached the window.

“To what ‘truth’ are you referring? There are so many to choose from…”

The artful, delicate arching of his brow seemed only to anger Odin more, but the King exercised great restraint in his reply.

“I speak of the Titan, Thanos, who rescued you out of the Void.”

Loki’s surprise was genuine, overtaking his expression before he could suppress it. “How did you come to know of him?” he demanded. “Did Clint talk to you – or did you coerce it from him?”

“Loki! We did no such thing,” Frigga chided. “I merely overheard your conversation with him on Midgard.”

Overheard?” Loki repeated. “The only time I mentioned Thanos… was…”

“Yes, you were alone with Clint in your room,” Frigga said, confirming his suspicions. “You should have realized that the Midgardians would have planted listening devices in there… as well as devices for observation. You had attempted to subjugate their realm on your previous visit, after all.”

“And you… allowed them to… spy on us? Even while we were…” Loki nearly choked on the word, “intimate?

“They had extended the courtesy of permitting you to be with Clint, which they were under no obligation to do,” she pointed out. “And I could not demand that they make their vigilance grow lax when they were concerned for the safety of their people. I knew you would have nothing to hide in that regard, so it served not only to soothe their worries but also to prove that you were no longer a threat to them.”

“So… you knew… they were… observing us,” Loki managed to spit out, despite his breathing becoming more labored as he paced his cell, “and you did nothing to… prevent it? But rather… you used the opportunity to eavesdrop… on my private conversation… with my Hawk?”

“Yes, of course,” Frigga answered placidly. “Dearest, I needed to be sure that your child was safe! I knew next to nothing of your Clint Barton – only that he was a Midgardian warrior – so I had no assurance that he would be gentle with you. I was very pleased when he laid all my fears to rest and, I must say, I was also impressed with how talented and skillful he is. I understand now why you are so taken with him.”

This last bit of news, delivered with aplomb, caused Loki to cease his pacing and stop in his tracks, staring with wide-eyed horror at the woman who had reared him.

“You watched?!” he cried in disbelief.

“Only until I was certain that his passion would not lead to excessive force,” Frigga assured him.

Loki reached behind him for a chair, summoning it by seiðr before collapsing into it, aghast. Even Odin could not help but sympathize.

“But enough of that,” the All-Father interrupted, providing a welcome distraction. “We came to speak with you regarding Thanos and the threat he presents to all of the Nine Realms.”

“Thanos… yes, of course,” Loki mumbled. Pulling himself together with an effort, he looked up at Odin and resumed his mask of nonchalance. “You wish to know of his weaknesses, no doubt, but I can only tell you that he has none.”

“Our records mention little about him or even his race,” Odin grudgingly admitted. “What more can you tell us of him? If not his weaknesses, what are his strengths?”

Loki’s features hardened subtly as his cunning mind assessed the situation.

“Why should I tell you?” he asked, his voice infuriatingly smooth and, on the surface, reasonable. “What are you willing to offer in exchange for this… precious information? Information which, I might add, I gained only at great price and… personal pain.”

“Oh, Loki!” Frigga sighed, preventing Odin from lashing out with an angry retort. “What did he do to you? What pain did he inflict upon you to make you accede to his will?”

Loki pursed his lips, struggling to keep from showing how much the Queen’s query had knocked him off-balance. He did not wish to relive what he had suffered at Thanos’ hands, so his answer was curt.

“Suffice it to say that… after my ordeal in Thanos’ court, even birthing this child will seem easy by comparison.”

“Oh, my dear,” Frigga whispered, noting that Loki had instinctively clutched his left wrist. “How you must have suffered!”

“It was no more painful than finding out that my entire life had been a lie,” Loki shot back before he could stop himself. The stricken look on Frigga’s face pierced his heart, but since he could not take back the words, he continued on, addressing Odin instead. “If you wish to learn about Thanos, make me an offer commensurate to what this information is worth to you. If you have nothing to offer, I have nothing to say.”

That is not how this works, Loki!” Odin shouted, too furious to care whether the entire prison ward heard him. “You are in no position to bargain with us! Tell us what you know, and if I deem that you have been forthright with us, I may possibly consider granting some of the privileges your mother wishes to bestow upon you. But you have already tipped your hand, foolish boy! If you do not know of any weaknesses in Thanos that we may exploit, whatever information you might share is useless!

“And I have no use for an extra portion of fruit with my meals!” Loki snarled in contempt, leaping to his feet. “You think I am the only one who has tipped my hand? Ha! You also have revealed that you know nothing of the Titan! Which means,” he added with a triumphant, haughty scowl, “I am the only one with any knowledge that could help you formulate a plan against his attack. And believe me… he will attack!”

“Loki, Loki!” Frigga cried, standing as close to the barrier as she could. “Will you not help us defend against him of your own free will? Even when such an attack must mean grave peril to your child?

Her plea had the desired effect: it gave Loki pause, at least for a moment, and stopped his shouting match with Odin. When he replied, it was in a much more sober tone.

“If Thanos comes… When Thanos comes,” he corrected himself, “he will free me from this prison and reinstate me as his… ally. I have certain talents… skills… that he values. I shall be able to protect my child so long as I remain loyal to him… which is, perhaps, more than you can claim.”

The taunt was aimed for Odin, but Frigga replied quicker than the King.

“Would you not help us, then, for the sake of your brother?” she asked, sorrow lining her brow.

“My brother!” Loki spat. “Oh, yes – my wonderful, caring brother! The one who would have left me to rot in here for all eternity had you not ordered him to come! Even Thanos’ ill-bred daughters lent me more comfort than that, though they owed me nothing. If you wish to appeal to my better nature, dear Mother,” he declared, his expression hard, “you will have to choose a more worthy object, I’m afraid!”

“Then do it for Clint Barton,” Frigga said earnestly, never quailing even in the face of his fury. “He is a mortal and much more vulnerable in the event of such a horrific attack. Please, Loki! Think of what a war would mean for him, and not only him but the countless others whose lives would be affected. And if that still fails to move your heart, consider how it would grieve mine.”

The soul-searing look she gave him then would have melted even the coldest glacier on Jötunheim. Loki’s shoulders sagged and – though he was yet loath to admit it in Odin’s presence – he was ready to surrender.

“It’s no use,” he whispered, his voice barely audible over the hum of the barrier. “Thanos is more powerful than any other force or being I have ever encountered. Even Gungnir may not be sufficient to withstand his strength.”

Expelling a sigh, Loki continued speaking to Frigga, as though by not acknowledging Odin’s presence he might cause the All-Father to cease to exist.

“He knows about Gungnir now, of course… from me, though not willingly. He sifted through my mind – one of his many abilities – to learn what treasures lie in Asgard. He is particularly interested in collecting the six Infinity Stones, of which the Tesseract is but one. He has been searching for the others and has agents throughout the universe willing to barter or kill for them.”

“No!” Odin breathed in dismay. “He means to create the Infinity Gauntlet!”

Loki nodded, resigned now. “He would be delighted to get his hands upon the powerful treasures in the vault here as well, meaning the very weapons you would wield to defend Asgard against his attack would be used to conquer the other realms afterward. So if Asgard falls, all will fall… and his rule would be absolute.”

Odin narrowed his eye with determination. “We will not fall. We must not!”

“You must help us, Loki,” Frigga said, her voice gentle and persuasive, “for the future of Asgard and your own child… for all of us.”

Loki stroked the protrusion of his belly, silently mulling over her words. Although he had claimed immunity from Thanos – provided that he remained the Titan’s faithful pawn – it was more of a bluff than a certainty, and having experienced first-hand the levels of cruelty the creature was willing to inflict, Loki had more reason than most to desire his erstwhile captor’s defeat. He finally turned back to Odin with a slight shrug.

“What do you wish to know?”

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