Continuing Tales

Overlapping Spaces

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Khilari

Part 35 of 37

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Overlapping Spacesl

They arrived in Heimdall's observatory and walked out onto the solid light surface outside, the solid part of the Bifrost stretching between them and Asgard. Loki shivered; like this he could feel the magic of it and it no longer seemed an illusion. That should have helped more than it did. Thor moved to stand behind him and he tensed. Danger. The Bifrost and Thor and the sense of failure…Thor flinging him down. No, not real.

'I shall carry you again, brother, if you wish.' Thor put a hand on his shoulder and Loki turned, sharply, palm tingling as he summoned a knife into it, hidden mostly by his sleeve and the way he was standing. Thor was about to put an arm around him, if Loki slid an arm around his neck he would suspect nothing until metal cut through his spine.

Loki wrenched away and threw the knife, watching it skitter to the edge of the Bifrost and then teeter before tumbling into the void. Thor was gazing at him with wide, hurt eyes. Heimdall had his gaze fixed on Loki, waiting to see what he would do before acting but body shifting into a stance he could move quickly from. It suddenly occurred to Loki how much danger they were in. He'd never thought of himself as strong, alway physically weaker than Thor and less of a warrior. I might be one of the most powerful people in Asgard. He gasped, forcing enough breath into his lungs to speak. 'Sorry. Memories.'

Thor lowered his outstretched arm. Not reaching for Loki anymore, so he wouldn't feel he might be seized and flung - but it put Thor's hand next to Mjolnir, too. 'I forgot too easily that you do not wholly trust me, I think,' he said. A brief gesture onward, eyes intent and never leaving Loki. 'They've sent horses, if you don't wish to fly.'

'I forgot too.' As if that made sense. If you forgot your feelings towards someone, did you truly have those feelings any longer? But his body thought it was under attack, heart beating too fast. 'The horses would be a good idea, I think.'

Thor nodded and walked around him to the side, just outside of arm's reach, so that Loki could turn without putting his back to him again. It was what he'd have done outside Asgard, with someone offering a wary truce - Thor did have modes between backslapping camaraderie and smashing everything, although his reputation did not - and Loki was not entirely sure he liked being on the other end of it even as he appreciated the tactical courtesy. He turned toward the horses not far beyond them on the bridge.

Atorka, Bokki, Blidtfari. It took him a second more to recall the name of Lagsi, a gelding Birla had ridden before. They might not have been sure of his return, but someone had chosen the mounts to send as optimistically as possible.

Atorka didn't move to nuzzle him this time - she was picking up on his wariness, not inclined to mess about when there might be danger close by. Loki stroked her nose, hoping to communicate that there was nothing truly wrong, before mounting.

Thor swung onto Bokki, who also stood entirely silent and alert. Blidtfari and Lagsi both shifted and stamped, whickering softly, catching the mood and simultaneously more uneasy than the horses trained for adventuring and less sure what to do about it.

Heimdall came far enough to lay a hand in turn on their withers. It seemed an odd gesture from him somehow, but Loki knew Heimdall had a horse even if he'd never seen him ride. 'Go well,' the gatekeeper said - mildly, but it still sounded like a grave pronouncement. 'You are awaited.'

Atorka stepped out onto the Bifrost as he urged her on, unconcerned either by the strange substance beneath her feet or the endless stars above. Loki envied her for that. His palm was tingling and he wrapped both hands carefully around the reins to stop himself summoning any more knives. He'd never thought it would be so difficult not to do magic.

Bokki came alongside her, hooves as soundless on the solid light as hers. Loki reminded himself that it was really there and the horses were only acting like there might be a threat because he and Thor were. Of course, Bokki and Atorka hadn't grasped that the threat their riders perceived could be each other. That was entirely outside their experience - so they fell into position side by side, just close and far enough for their riders to protect each other without fouling one another's motions, and Thor didn't think to veer away.

'It was not easy to break even when I was trying,' Thor said at last.

That wasn't terribly comforting, calling to mind as it did the shattering as Thor's hammer came down. Loki reached out mentally, finding the Bifrost a solid entity with no weaknesses left over. 'I know. I know it will not break, just as I know you will not attack me, and I am still -' Still tense and shaking, refusing to look anywhere but ahead.

The silence was shorter this time before Thor said, 'You are still riding onward regardless of what your fears tell you.'

That actually was comforting. Not only could he do this, he was doing it. 'It wouldn't be the first time. Remember that lindworm?' One of his earlier adventures - and to be fair none of them had known the predator taking Vanir flocks was going to be a lindworm when they'd agreed to go after it. But they'd needed magic to deal with the poison, so he hadn't even been able to wait at a distance . He'd been scared half out of his mind the whole time and utterly determined not to let anyone get hurt when they were relying on him. Afterwards he'd nearly fallen off his horse - Thor had caught him, and perhaps because he was still young, or because both his fear and exhaustion were extremely evident, they'd made rather a fuss of him at camp.

'Hah - I do not think I could forget a lindworm. Especially the first one.' Loki had excellent peripheral vision, which he was mostly trying very hard to ignore at the moment, and saw Thor's head turn toward him. 'I remember not knowing whether to think it was a good thing you'd come or that our parents would kill me for it if we survived. You were astonishing. The only magic against poison I'd heard of, then, was runes to break the horn.'

'I didn't think, when learning spells against airborne poisons, that I'd ever be applying them on quite that scale. Or against something that could eat me if the poison failed.' He remembered long black fangs that had seemed far closer than they actually were. Thor had been between him and lindworm the whole time, but he'd still imagined its mouth arcing over Thor and down upon him. And afterwards he'd laughed with the rest of them, delighted at his own courage and skill, the comforts of food and rest thrown into sharp relief by their adventure. He smiled, both at the memory and at Thor's praise of him now. Even though he was still afraid, it was good to remember that he was an adventurer, that he'd faced down all sorts of fears before.

'Remember when a kraken actually did swallow Volstagg, and we thought we'd have to cut him free until you made it turn itself inside-out instead?'

Loki wrinkled his nose. 'I remember the smell of half-digested fish.'

Thor laughed. 'The fragrance of victory was less than sweet that day.' They had not lingered to take a trophy as proof that time. Other sea life, less squeamish than the adventuring party, had swarmed in a feeding frenzy where sharks and their usual prey tore at the same meal side by side. Apparently kraken was delicious if you were a fish. They had been more concerned with getting somewhere they could wash the digestive slime from Volstagg.

Loki laughed too, and if it came out rather high-pitched and nervous it was still grounding. 'I see you can tell tales of my magic when you try.'

'I thought we said you had done that at the time!' Thor protested, then, before Loki could point out how the story had been perpetuated, 'No one could have believed we were serious about Volstagg merely being too heavy a meal for it.'

'No one really cares what the truth is if something else makes a better story.' And they called him a liar. 'It's good to know you do recall it, though.'

'We can leave the joke out of the tale next time if it troubles you that much. You did start it.' Volstagg had taken a dose of paralytic venom, luckily a small one, but had recovered enough to start thrashing when they ducked him under the water to wash the acid from his face. Loki had just been whacked in the mouth and torn between sympathy and impatience; telling Volstagg he'd been too much for the creature had been the first thing to come to mind. 'Oddly, one of the things I recall most vividly - aside from the smell,' Thor went on, 'is Hogun shouting "What do you mean, you're going to tickle it?" and you telling him to shut up.'

Loki shook his head, smiling again. 'I know my methods are confusing when they start perturbing Hogun. And it's not the joke that troubles me, the most told version of that tale is funny.' Somehow most of the Bifrost was behind them. And, just as much of a relief, Thor's presence beside him had started to feel like a comfort more than a threat.

'Still - I have never meant to rob you of your true credit.' Thor was silently pensive for a moment before adding, 'Some of the tales where we had to rely on your tricks to escape tend to be embarrassing for the rest of us, which is no excuse. In other cases I am not sure what to tell if you don't, in case it should spoil your stratagem for future use.'

'I have more than one trick, and you're not the only one who falls for the same thing over and over.' The memory of the last time he had accused Thor of always falling for the same trick came suddenly to mind and with it the inappropriateness of this whole conversation. He'd recently been an enemy of Asgard, had even more recently risked it by letting Malekith loose. It was hardly right for him to be squabbling with Thor about whether he was given enough glory. He looked away, stopping himself from looking down.

Thor snorted. 'And yet I'm still not sure you would be happy if my tongue flapped about them too carelessly,' he said, apparently ignoring the memory even though it had to have come to mind for him too. (Didn't it?) 'You will have to tell more of your own parts of the tale, then we'll know.'

'Perhaps I should.' Asgardians didn't just listen to tales. They argued, declared you couldn't possibly have done that, mentioned the time they'd done something ten times more impressive. It was in good humour, always, but, especially as someone whose tales didn't fit the usual mold, Loki was always reluctant to subject himself to it. Everyone else told their own tales, though. Maybe he was expecting too much to want to both stay quiet about himself and have his stories told.

'I should like to hear your versions more often,' Thor said, and the sound of hoofbeats returned as they came off the bridge.

The road to the palace was solid and safe and even where the land dropped off in a cliff beside it, the fall would be a trivial thing next to the void. Odin and Frigga met them, not in the throne room but at the stable, when Loki was not prepared for them.

'Loki,' said Odin. Loki turned and bowed his head, then braced himself and met Odin's eyes. Whereupon Odin took one look at him, full in the face, and said, 'We will speak after you've slept.'

Loki was led to his room by attendants, which was just as well since he was half-asleep already and tried to go the wrong way twice (once to his normal rooms, and once to the ones he'd just been moved out of). He remembered to dismiss his armour before climbing into bed and then nothing, not guilt or anxiety, was enough to stop him falling into a deep and dreamless sleep.

He woke feeling much better, if still rather worried about facing Odin now he was awake and would be having an actual conversation. Lying in bed he replayed the events of - yesterday? He had no idea how long he'd slept - and decided most of it was just as bad when he wasn't panicking about it. All of his decisions had been terrible. He owed Jane a great deal of thanks for both getting him somewhere safe and not at the other end of the universe and keeping him calm enough not to cause havoc.

It was Birla who led him to the throne room once he was washed and dressed, assuring him on the way that things with SHIELD had worked out and the tesseract was back in containment in the treasure vault. Loki hadn't actually remembered to worry about what had become of the tesseract, but he now knew he didn't have to start which was something.

Odin was waiting for him. Frigga as well, looking vaguely supervisory, as if she was not so much desperate to see him as entertaining doubts about his and Odin's ability to conduct the conversation. The guards had been dismissed, possibly so they wouldn't notice the Queen looking dubious or possibly in case Loki did something inadvisable.

Odin's fingers tapped the shaft of Gungnir, one at a time, as Loki swallowed and went down on one knee. Then Odin produced the open and discarded bracelets and set them on the arm of the throne. They chimed, silver on gold, dissonant. 'Loki. Can you explain yourself?'

'No?' He probably wasn't going to get away with that, but none of the explanations he had were good ones.

Odin arched an eyebrow. 'Because you don't remember what you were thinking or because you have realised it was foolish?'

'Because I realise it was foolish.' Loki didn't look away, although he wanted to.

'That is preferable,' Odin said with a sigh. 'Give your account of what happened, then, if not why. There are aspects to which you are the only witness, as,' he said, a little dryly, 'we cannot now question Malekith.'

Loki recounted the events as blandly as he could manage, as if they had happened to someone else. He tried to gloss over the implications about Odin that the elf messenger had made, his own evident lack of trust in Odin's abilities or judgement. The story became a little muddled once he reached SHIELD - at that point it really did become harder to remember what he was thinking other than a primal fear at being surrounded by enemies.

'And then Thor arrived and brought me home,' he finished. His voice was hoarse, more than the length of his speech could account for.

'Much to our relief,' said Odin. 'Loki Odinson-' Loki flinched at that - at the name, at remembering the beginning of Thor's banishment. 'You accepted interference with the bindings laid on you by your King, allowed Malekith to trick you into destroying his - which is uncharacteristic - and you fled rather than facing what you had done or what you believed you had allowed. You also quite literally dragged our guest with you - having absconded with the tesseract and chosen the most hazardous possible means of travel with it.' His left hand rested on the bracelets. 'Against that, you reacted only defensively when under threat and returned to Asgard voluntarily.'

Loki bowed his head. 'I will accept whatever punishment you deem fitting.' Why was banishment the thing he feared most when he'd tried to run away?

'You will submit to having your bindings restored,' Odin told him, 'which is not punishment but necessity. You yet lack the stability and judgment to wield your full power.'

'Yes.' And he hadn't even told Odin about nearly attacking Thor on the Bifrost. At this point he'd almost be glad to have his magic bound again, just to be sure of not hurting anyone. 'And my punishment?'

'You will apologise to your attendants and choose for each of them a gift in recompense for putting them at risk. You will be confined to the narrowest of your earlier boundaries for eight days.' Loki's consternation must have shown - that was shy of even the traditional nine, why? - because Odin added, 'I am not dismissing what you've done, but from your account, you are aware of your mistakes.' He rose from the throne and, to Loki's surprise, pocketed the bracelets. 'But first, come with me.'

Loki rose to his feet and followed Odin wordlessly, unsure what to expect. It was probably not a punishment, Odin would not have laid out a mild one only to spring a heavy one on him no matter how much he deserved a worse one than he was being given. But what Odin might want to show him now he couldn't even guess.

Odin did not explain. But the route became rapidly familiar as they descended into the depths of the palace, and at last onto the long stair down to Idunn's Garden.

Loki glanced ahead at Odin and more than once whetted his lips, wanting to ask why he was being brought here. Why he was being trusted here. But he couldn't find the words, and instead just followed. He could feel the garden before he saw it, like a distant orchestra, different elements with their different patterns, but all in perfect harmony with one another.

When they rounded the corner he forgot to wonder why he was there - almost forgot that Odin was standing next to him. The garden was whole, beautiful. A little copper squirrel stopped to chatter at him from the branch of an oak, a starling gave a two note call from high in one of the birches. And he could feel the life animating them all, separate and yet not. A single will behind all of it, from the whisper of the butterflies' lives to the deep, steady trees. It was a work of art, a spell it would take him years to understand, but he didn't need to understand it to see its beauty.

He walked to the fountain, and he could feel that, too, the water and stone the spell's connection to Asgard itself. Water and bedrock. A frog hopped up onto the edge of the fountain and regarded him with tiny benevolence. Loki lifted it gently with his finger, feeling the chime of its magic as well as its slick gemstone skin. He set it down again, gently, and turned to Odin.

'Thank you.' For letting him see this before binding his magic again. For trusting him not to harm the garden, when he'd wondered whether he'd ever earn the right to be trusted with it again. There were tears in his eyes, but he didn't wipe them away.

'It is one thing to have a lie dispelled and another to see the truth,' said Odin.

Loki nodded, not sure what to say to that. It was true, and seeing the garden safe meant more to him than he could express. He wanted to ask how much Odin understood, whether he loved Idunn's Garden too, or whether he found it beautiful and necessary but not fascinating, the way Thor would no doubt regard it when he was king. But he had never had a way to start these conversations with his father, who was also his king, and who he had never quite separated love and reverence for.

'Your mother told me of your passion for it,' Odin went on, after a moment. He seated himself on the rim of the fountain, curiously just to the side of where Frigga had sat, as if he were beside her even though she wasn't there. 'That you would be one of its guardians, when you can, and that this was what you would believe Malekith had threatened.'

Loki hesitated. It felt wrong to be standing while Odin was seated, at least when it wasn't on a throne. Kneeling in front of him would be wrong too, wrong for the place, perhaps, or the conversation. He sat on the rim of the fountain too, a little distance away. If Frigga had been there she would have been sitting between them, the three of them shoulder to shoulder. 'Is that still...I know my judgement was terrible. Am I still to be one of its watchers?' He couldn't keep the eagerness from his voice.

Odin snorted. 'I begin to wonder why both you and Thor keep concluding I will fail to act and therefore you must. But then I also remember - barely,' and there might have been a hint of humour in his voice, 'what I was like at your age. You will learn. You will even learn to judge rightly in the heat of the moment. And the Garden needs watchers with your skill and affection.'

'I wish I knew what you were like at my age.' It was an impulsive, and possibly nonsensical, comment, born out of a mixture of relief and not knowing what to say. 'I will do my best for it. Always,' he added. 'And I will do my best to learn.'

'I believe you,' said Odin. 'And I was... fey, I suppose, or believed I was. Raging over the loss of an elder brother and reckless with it. Expecting to die and meaning to make it as wild and glorious a death as any in written tale or song.'

Loki stared at Odin, shocked by his words. If he'd imagined Odin as a young man - and he never had, really, Odin had always seemed as if he might never have been young - he wouldn't have imagined rage and grief, or self-destruction. But Odin had been born during a war, and lived most of his life during it. 'Is that why you were so angry with Thor? For nearly starting the war again when you'd lost so much?'

'Much.' The word was ironic and faintly bitter. 'I lost no more than everyone then expected to lose. I loathed the war even while I composed songs for Hoenir's death and flung myself back into it, but at the time I saw no possible end to it. I learnt wisdom and strategy slowly, Loki, and by dint of being very, very foolish.' A breath. 'Losing my younger brothers, and close on our father's heels, that was unexpected. More so was finding that I could see a way to win.'

Loki shivered. He'd risked starting that war again as well - thinking he could invite a few frost giants in with no lasting consequences. And he hadstarted a war, hadn't he? Or something close, even if it hadn't been Asgardians getting hurt. Mortals also had families. 'I'm sorry. There's a lot I never understood - never realised I didn't understand.' But Odin had been foolish once, and learnt, and Thor had learnt too in the last year. Maybe Loki was starting to learn as well.

'It would probably help had I told you more about it,' said Odin, rather wryly. 'A recurring problem, clearly.'

Loki looked away. 'I couldn't necessarily expect you to tell me about your past. But I do think I should have known about my own.'

Odin sighed. 'I spent the first years telling myself that you were too young - to understand, or to keep secrets, or at least to keep secrets fromThor, which came to the same thing. Later that it was not the right time for this or that other reason. And eventually that it didn't matter: that you were my son, by word though not by blood, and it would only complicate things unnecessarily to give you reason to question it.'

'It would have mattered to me.' Which might not be an argument in favour of telling him. 'Did you really think I'd never find out?'

'If you never had reason to go to Jotunheim or to handle the casket? Possibly not. You would have had to know if the peace had broken.' Odin looked over at him. 'Which would, I suppose, in any case have been as poor a time to tell you as... it turned out to be. Frigga always insisted you should know.'

It was good to know that Frigga had wanted to tell him. She had always been the more comprehensible of his parents, and more reliable on a personal level. 'I don't wish I'd never found out. Even if it was possible.' Maybe there hadn't been a good time to tell him, but the idea of spending his whole life wrong about a fundamental part of his own identity was unnerving. It was strange enough that he'd been wrong for the first thousand years. 'I wish it wasn't true, but not that I could have kept believing I was Asgardian and been wrong.'

'You are Asgardian. You merely weren't born here. And I should have told you... earlier, and less clumsily.'

Asgard had always been home. Even when he hadn't known what to call himself, not Odin's son and certainly not Laufey's, he'd called himself "Loki of Asgard" and made the place stand in for a father. Buri's theory and the truth of Idunn's Garden offered more reasons why he was Asgardian, why it was more than a bloodline, however strange his own way of coming by it had been. 'It would have been better.' He wasn't sure he could forgive Odin for that, truly, even though he was no longer angry enough to want to fight over it. 'But I am Asgardian. I can believe that.' Despite everything, he had a place here.

'Good.' Odin rose and went to the apple tree, curling a hand around one of the branches in a way that made Loki think he must have some affection for the Garden, at least. 'And you are my son, whether you acknowledge it yourself or not.' ...Or perhaps he had wanted to grip something that would stand up to it. Without waiting for Loki to answer, Odin took hold of an apple and pulled. It took some effort. The branch bent stiffly before finally releasing it, and he returned to Loki, holding it out. 'One of the beginning lessons of the Garden. Keep it until you work out how to return it.'

Loki had jumped when the apple was pulled away from the tree, but Odin's words soothed the fear (irrational, Odin would not damage the heart of Asgard) that irreparable harm was being done. At least, it had not been done yet. Loki looked at the apple, gold and beautiful in Odin's hand. It had a coiled feel to it, as if something much larger was wrapped around itself contentedly, potential, as of something not yet born. And he remembered holding an apple earlier, watching it turn black and blighted in his hands. I am Asgardian. The earliest Asgardians might have been no different from me. He reached out, but still hesitated, pausing to look at Odin's face. His expression was patient, encouraging.

The apple was surprisingly light when Loki's fingers closed on it and he lifted it with great care. It stayed the same as it had been, whole and golden in his hand. This close he could feel its magic as something like a soft humming, somewhere between a bumblebee and a lullaby.

'The Garden is actually made to be very difficult to damage,' said Odin, looking out over the rest of it while Loki studied the apple nestled in his hand. 'Idunn wrought with the chance of peril in her mind, so far as we can tell, and the deftest of the guardians have grafted in additional protections as new methods and new dangers were understood. I do not believe Malekith even knows of it, or could reach it without being brought.'

'That makes sense,' Loki said softly. 'Jane saw him, when he was an illusion, but not the apple. He just made me see what I feared - he probably didn't even know what I was seeing, or what I thought the heart of Asgard was.'

'It is... an evocative phrase.'

'But not one that necessarily means the garden?' Loki looked up from the apple, cradling it closer to him as if it might need more protection with his eyes no longer on it.

Odin's mouth quirked, so briefly Loki almost missed it. 'Not an unreasonable interpretation, but it would not have been my first guess.'

'What would you have thought?'

'Ah -' A trace of embarrassment, there and gone and leaving Loki wondering if he was imagining things, or if these fleeting expressions normally happened and he simply hadn't been watching closely enough before. 'Frigga. Or perhaps you and Thor, depending on the circumstances. Where you were, any evidence of a specific grudge.'

That was unexpectedly sentimental, from Odin. 'If Thor and I can be the heart of Asgard then it must be in danger a lot,' he said, thinking less of the last year than of all the years before that when they'd thrown themselves into battle with dragons, trolls and bandits for allies on other worlds or just anyone who showed signs of welcoming their interference. If you considered either of them as truly integral to Asgard they'd both seem hopelessly reckless.

Odin chuckled, a little ruefully. 'I was glad not to have to fling you both onto the greater battlefields before you even came of age, but it never crossed my mind to expect you to sit safely at home. I suppose if you follow out the metaphor, Asgard has survived having its heart pierced many times.' After a brief and contemplative silence, he added, 'We both have other tasks to pursue,' and took out the bracelets. His voice was surprisingly gentle. 'Give me your hands, Loki.'

Loki set down the golden apple, then held his hands out to Odin and closed his eyes, trying to etch the garden's spells into his memory, throwing himself into the last time in a while he would sense them. The bracelets were snapped shut on his wrists, one after the other, Odin's fingers oddly tender as they brushed his wrists. It was only once both were in place that he could no longer feel the garden, like having a velvet curtain drawn across his sense of it. He opened his eyes, blinking slightly, and looked around at it, still able to trace the most obvious paths of its magic in his memory. When he picked up the golden apple again it was smooth and light, but he no longer felt its contentment or its potential. One day. He'd need magic to return it to its place.

'Come,' Odin said quietly, and Loki walked with him, leaving next the sight of the garden and at last its sounds behind. The long stair in stone seemed more barren than before.

When they reached the top, the apple dewed abruptly in the warmer air. Loki wiped it off and it seemed to shine all the brighter.

Overlapping Spaces

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Khilari

Part 35 of 37

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