Bargaining Universe – but can be read without it in mind. Companion piece to this drabble.
The All-Father stared out into the night from a balcony high above the realm. His fingers tightened around Gungnir, but he couldn’t feel the cool weight of it in his hand. His kingdom felt utterly abandoned. The palace halls, emptied. The streets, devoid of life. The stars, frozen in place.
A hush had fallen over everything—though in truth, only one voice had gone silent.
After so many years of demanding silent respect from Loki, Odin wanted nothing more than to hear his youngest son speak again, but he had fallen beyond his father’s reach.
Though the All-Father’s eyes remained dry, they searched the sky as if pleading with it to reveal a solution. Odin felt surreal, absolutely stunned, and he replayed memories of earlier events over and over in his mind. Though he analyzed and deconstructed every second of them, he came no closer to understanding the outcome. It had always been so with Loki, whose emotions could so easily cloud the truth. Odin loved his son, but he had never understood the pathways Loki’s thoughts let him down, despite the All-Father’s attempts to teach him logic over sentiment.
And yet none of this mattered now. The feeling of loss was a painful void inside of him. What he wouldn’t give for another chance.
The sound of a little boy’s laughter roused the old king’s mind—so achingly familiar, he drew in a sharp breath and turned to look. It was the first time the All-Father had moved in hours.
Behind him, the room was dark and still. There was no one there, but Odin heard the familiar laughter again, followed by the ghostly pitter pat of little feet on the tile. Odin swayed on his feet for a moment as déjà vu swept over him. He followed the sound of footsteps out into the empty palace corridor, and then stopped to stare.
The child could not be more than a handful of years old—a little boy with fair skin and thick black hair that curled at the ends, refusing to be tamed into order. His back was turned and his feet, bare. Odin recalled with perfect clarity the ornate embroidery on the child’s tunic, which stretched nearly to the floor. He was tiny, perhaps even too young to speak.
“Loki?” Odin said, stepping forward out of the shadows of the doorway.
The boy turned to look up at him, toddling uncertainly on his feet and nearly toppling over—but it was Odin who felt like he was the one falling. The vivid green eyes cut through him with inescapable familiarity.
Odin was not so foolish as to immediately believe everything he saw. He wondered if this was his imagination or some kind of trick. Perhaps he had fallen asleep and headlong into a dream. There was, of course, a logical explanation, and he waited for it to present itself.
A golden shimmer went through the child’s image, and he smiled a fraction at the same time the All-Father did. Odin relaxed as he recognized this moment for what it was—an illusion cast by his own mind, evidence of a need to see his child once more.
The All-Father had never been one who allowed himself to indulge in emotion, but in looking at his little boy now, he felt his own face transforming into that look of desperate sorrow he’d seen on Loki’s face when he’d learned the truth of his Jotunn origins. Odin had not known what to do with that look when he’d seen it, but he now knew what it felt like. He recognized what he should have done immediately.
Odin straightened and disciplined his expression. “Come here, Loki.”
But when Loki’s face split into a smile before he ran forward, Odin soon lost hold of his composure. He set Gungnir aside and kneeled, hands stretched out to his son. With a whisper of magic, the illusion took physical form, and Odin caught his boy up into his arms. He lifted him up with a proud smile and then pulled him to his chest for a hug.
Odin’s eyes squeezed shut. Why had he lifted this child up so high and not taken more care to watch him as he teetered on the edge? “I’ve got you, my boy,” he whispered fiercely, even though it was a lie.
Was Loki’s body falling still, ever deeper into the Void?
There was so much more he wanted to say, but he had never been good at such things. And so he simply held onto the precious memory of his child and pretended they were falling together.