This story is fucking weird. It's born of lots of scotch and reading everything astolat has ever written and also what lots of other people have written, and no one had yet said the thing I kept thinking, and--well, shit, sometimes you just have to do it yourself. So.
If you're confused about timing: the first section is just after the events of The Avengers, followed chronologically by the second and third sections; the fourth section happens kind of throughout all of time and space; the fifth section happens... well, after the fourth one and also sort of immediately after the third one; and then the last section covers an imaginary version of Thor: The Dark World.
Fandom: The Avengers/Thor/Norse mythology
Pairing: Loki/Thor, Loki/Angrbotha, Loki/OC
Summary: "I do it because I want to hurt you," Loki says, staring unblinking at Thor, and the pale skin around his mouth is cracked by the irritation of the just-removed gag, raw and bloody. "I want to hurt you. Is it not obvious? Is there anything else I could do?"
"Why do you do this, Loki?" Thor says, arms loose and aching at his sides.
Loki shifts, on his knees. The ropes binding his arms behind his back hum with sorcery, swirling the night to sharper, darker shades. "Do what?" Loki says, calm.
The familiar surge of irritation flares, but Thor is too tired for this. In the trees above them no birds sing. "Why must we be always at each others' throats? Why must you always—“
He cuts himself off. Loki's eyes are shadowed, as though with bruises, and his face is gaunt and taut with the ravaging caused by the suppression of his magic.
"I do it because I want to hurt you," Loki says, staring unblinking at Thor, and the pale skin around his mouth is cracked by the irritation of the just-removed gag, raw and bloody. "I want to hurt you. Is it not obvious? Is there anything else I could do?"
Thor steps closer, and the shadows shift around them. Loki's eyes stay on his face and they are blown wide, still and black and unfathomable.
"Don't you see?" Thor swallows to keep his voice from cracking. "This is it. This hurts me."
For a moment, Loki's expression flickers, and something not quite a smile passes over his mouth before he shrugs, as much as he can in his bindings, and though Thor looks there is no hint of malice or delight in his face.
"Then I am victorious," Loki says. He blinks, once, and then looks up, into the starless pit of the sky. "Never hope for a moment that I will stop."
Thor walks the night-paths of Asgard, his armor gleaming silver and Mjolnir quiet at his side. In the distance the apple orchards glow faintly gold, a sight which in his youth had always comforted Thor with the assurance of immortality. Now, he knows better.
The sun spins past the disc of his home with pale indifference and the stars glimmer harshly overhead and the aurora spills colored fire from horizon to horizon, and all Thor can see is the terribly blank expression on his father’s face when he brought Loki into the center of the great hall.
The judgment was given swiftly, of course, because despite Odin’s silence Thor knows he is aware of each of the great events in every realm, of the deaths of heroes and the rise of villains. Thor does not know under which category Loki falls.
Loki stared straight ahead, eyes cool and green and unmovable, though Thor’s hand never left his unbowed shoulder. Around the edges of the hall were all the warriors who had wished Thor luck so recently, all silent in the face of this reckoning. Sif, Fandral, Hogun, Volstagg—his four friends stood near, but dared not look into Thor’s face. He is unsure as to whether, if they had, he would have wept or attacked.
His wandering has brought him to the edge of the city and he turns back, looks up at the magnificence which he has always considered home. The gold heights of Odin’s palace rise majestic in the distance and even now, with his heart cracked and bleeding, he knows comfort in the sight. The tower in which Loki has been imprisoned rises to the east, where the sun will so quickly rise, and Thor’s hands clench and his stomach roils at the thought of Loki’s voice bound, of his hands tied. The cell may be reached only by flight or magic and it was Thor who was forced to gather his brother into his arms, to rise the thousand feet into Asgard’s skies and deposit Loki into that place, the barren stone cell where he’d live out the end of his days.
He knows his mother is working at Odin. Though Loki is no son of her blood, she loves him as completely as she does Thor. The tears gleaming on her cheeks during Odin’s sentencing were the only thing that kept Thor from screaming. She, more than any other Aesir, knows the depths of horror engendered by the vastness of Odin’s knowledge—and yet, Thor is certain, she will not abide the imprisonment of her second child.
If Thor closes his eyes he can see it. Gray stone. Golden bars at the single window, which one of the mages had drawn in the cool evening air as soon as Thor cleared the threshold. Loki didn’t look at him the entire time—not as Thor settled him as carefully as he could on the thin mattress at the center of the circular room, not as Thor bid him goodbye and promised him forgiveness, not as Thor lingered on the wide ledge just outside the window, drinking in this last sight of his cold, broken brother.
Odin’s decree runs thusly: Loki shall be named henceforth the trickster, he who craves genocide, he who wishes to rule those weaker than himself, he who refuses the laws of his people. Not Odinson, but Laufeyson. The Thief. The Liar. He who shall be forever denied citizenship in the realm of Asgard. He who is stripped of kin. He who shall no more speak. He whose children shall be not men but monsters. He whose actions shall not be condoned by any of Asgard, from this time until the end of time. The betrayer, who will disdain love and companionship and family, and whose actions shall bring about Ragnarok.
Thor stares at the tower, in the distance, from which no light reflects. Even birds dare not land on its smooth, unbroken surface. It is a structure from which there is no escape, unless one can fly. Or is well-versed in magic’s darker arts, Thor thinks, and with the thought he starts to laugh. It is a sound that even to his own ears seems raw, cracked and broken, and despite this he laughs harder and harder. Odin will have spelled the room against escape, and Frigga will visit and bring soft words and her mother’s love, and if Loki hurls himself against the walls and refuses his meals the healers will arrive with irresistible magics to ensure his infinite suffering, and Thor can think of all of these things but he thinks also of his little brother, the sly smiling trickster, and he laughs and laughs until he is forced to sit down in the soft brown dirt of the road and he laughs and laughs until he weeps, because at this far edge of Asgard there is no one to hear but the Allfather, and if Odin hears his son weeping, well, it is only what he deserves.
Imagine the world as a single room. In this room there is one window and through it you can watch the sun rise, can track the ebb and flow of light as day crests and fades. The room could be populated, could be filled from floor to ceiling with rich tapestries and books and gilded furnishings, but we know that in fact the essential nature of this room is to be empty. You sit on a spare bed in the center of the floor and watch for what flits past the window.
Because your room is bare, empty of music or speech, empty of any need to feel or taste or smell or love or fear, your last sense becomes greatest and you can see everything. In this room eternity stretches empty, from the first planting of the world tree to the cracked edge of the universe’s ending. In such a place your bonds are broken: there is no need for fidelity to a greater truth, there is no need for dissembling. Consider, for a moment, a different room, one with a hearth and company and a golden bowl rising ripe with apples. Does this not disguise the crucial essence of what the room is, what it can be?
You sit in the center of the room and there is nothing, and you know this is as it was yesterday and as it will be tomorrow, and in such a place a window becomes the most important thing there is. And yet if you consider further, it is simple to determine that if, in fact, this room is the entire world, then what you see beyond the window’s frame is impossible—a delusion, or fairy-dream, because certainly if all of eternity and all that ever was is bound in this circle then what exists outside the circle is… nothing at all.
And so consider further: a window. The fairy-dream outside spins past in unattainable shades and you turn your eyes from it, because it is pointless to consider that which can never be. However, consider further: a window. One can see through a window from either side.
If what flickers outside is impossible, from the other perspective are you equally unreachable? An exercise, then. In this bare stone room which is the world, close your eyes and rise outside yourself, because if you have learned anything it is that the limits of flesh are just another bond which can be broken. Make of yourself a spirit, solid, and imagine it standing in the void outside the window. Look in. See: a bare stone room, a single occupant. If you pass through the window and alight before the occupant you can see that he is the empty room, that from soles to heart to crown he is hollow, and so because you are now in the habit of staring into empty rooms you command that he open his window-eyes that you might look inside. He does and you see a faint glazed smear of green, but appearances don’t matter, you’ve trained yourself well, and so you bend down and fix your gaze and you see. Thus:
Mistress, how could I put out the fire?
Little prince, you could do that with water, or ash. You needn’t use magic for that.
But I want to. Magic should be able to do anything.
But what happens if, one day, you are left without your magic? If somehow an enemy could stop you from using your will as you wish? How then would you put the fire out, if you had never learned the ordinary way?
…I would make it so that I had my magic again.
and you see:
How does a spell affect the past?
What do you mean?
If I take this apple and freeze it—so—it is frozen now, and it will be frozen in the future, until passing time or my own inclination melt it. However, by freezing the apple now, have I changed the past so that the apple was always going to be the apple that would one day be frozen?
In a sense. Unless I miss my guess, however, the apple is a distraction from your real question. You are asking about choice.
We cannot know whether you were fated to pick that particular apple or whether it was the random fluctuation of thought that led you to choose it from among its mates. Perhaps that apple has always been the one which would be frozen and you have fulfilled its destiny and your own with that little wisp of magic.
And yet the elders speak of other worlds that reach close to our own, so wrapped around our realm that you could almost touch them with a thought, in which every single detail of every life is identical to those of our own world but for one—say, that there I have blue eyes instead of green.
Or an apple there is fresh and not frozen.
Do you think such things are possible?
Choice, predestination, the collision of universes—there is no magic I can think of that would answer these questions for you. Perhaps your father could. For my own part, I cannot say.
and you see:
But what of time?
What of it?
If magic is as powerful as you promise, should there not be some way to alter time? If I can use this power to change matter and flesh and minds, if as you tell me the greatest magics have wrought realms, then should there not be some way to change the very course on which the realms are set?
The Allfather holds time in his domain. He has seen everything that has been and that will be, and he has decreed that no magic may be worked upon time’s tapestries.
But why not?
If we tear out one thread, all the tapestry could unravel.
That is glibness, not wisdom.
Think instead of your studies in the celestial geometries. Your father sees time not as a line, from one point to another, but rather as a circle. Events follow each other, yes, but when eventually we come to the end we find ourselves at the beginning. The events which will shatter the realms will bring about the birth of Yggdrasil. If one attempted to move a point on the circle, the smooth path of time would rupture and the world would fall. We mustn’t alter the circle.
Very well, the circle cannot be altered. But why not a sphere?
and now there is nothing but the concept, a radiant silver circle cradled in a moonless night and if you take the circle between aching hands and twist, if you place your heart in the center and wrap the billion copies of you around the fragile circumference, you can see the shape of eternity. But you are versed in many arts and not least in that thing which the Allfather has always seemed to lack, the ability to unseat yourself utterly, and you are holding eternity in your two billion arms and all you would have to do is push, but
If you are attempting to create a device of perpetual motion, you will need stronger magic than that.
that an ordinary sphere can contain infinity is one of the pieces of knowledge you have and will always treasure most, and yet this sphere will be anything but ordinary, its silver workings will be gray barren stone and yet contain every color and every metal and every star, and more importantly its infinite series of points will be populated by every life on every world in every realm, from time’s beginning to time’s end and back again, and you know that the greatest of magics call always for sacrifice—not just blood or life, but a desecration of everything that a being has ever been or is or will be. The billion copies of you direct empty eyes at your center and await your command, but at your heart you knew the room was never empty, it never could be, because even in extremis with no hope for time you are still Loki, who has been and is destined to be sorcerer-son-shapeshifter-husband-father-m
After the explosion comes a hail of tiny frozen shards, which when examined are revealed to be fragments of smooth, gray stone. The empty plinth at the top of the tower stands empty and though the Allfather turns his face away Thor waits atop it for a long, long time, because it was in this place that his brother never was, where Thor never looked in through the window, where he never saw his brother’s face bleed of all color until he was white and black and a faint rime of frost, and though Thor wanted to he never tried to get in, because he was assured that only a crack in the universe itself would break Loki from this prison. At last, one evening as he stands on the plinth it begins to snow, and he turns away, because if he knows anything about his little brother it is that a minor thing like altering the structure of the cosmos could never stop him.
Angrbotha: She Who Offers Sorrow. So Loki names her and so she is. She is a frost giantess and thus is proud; her skin glows blue under this realm’s midnight sun and the snow falls like leaves and ash against her flesh and she is reborn, again and again, her heart and mind and soul and muscles and tendons and sinew a miracle of godly proportions as the sun rises in the west and sets in the east, as the snows fall for eternity and summer never comes.
She is reborn again and her husband is Loki. His skin flashes grey and blue and white and red and she holds him close, as he bleeds and bleeds and creates night, he speaks stars and they are, he burrows into her flesh as deeply as he can go and she holds him close and a spasm, the universe shakes and she is with child, she rocks and moans and ice forms from her navel to her far-off midnight toes and she is with child. She holds her stomach carefully between her frightfully strong hands and watches Loki, watches him scream with his wounds, how he flickers back and forth between his rightful blue and his assumed white, how he glimmers with magic and anger and she doesn’t comprehend how he could be so fickle.
She does not know her own family. She exists in this empty world of snow and neversummer, of cold and night and no storms. Loki sometimes appears before her in shades of bronze and green and shame, and he speaks of things lost, of fate, of a father forsaken and a mother gone. He speaks of murder. He speaks of spirits twisted, of destinies warped into ideas of his own making.
“Yggdrasil burns,” he says, and she arches at it, her back bows and her loins shake and she births from the deepest most secret heart of her a wolf. In the drift of snow beside her Loki is bleeding, but he takes the wolf in his hands and stares deep into its eyes and she diminishes.
“You are mine,” her husband says, and the wolf whimpers. It is small, still, and yet Angrbotha knows its howl could fracture realms. It is Fenrir and she shies from its strength.
And yet from there Angrbotha dissolves and is reborn, again, into a world of night. Loki lies beside her bleeding. She gathers him into her arms and he drinks from her cupped hands. Unbidden, her palms fill with grief and he absorbs all that she is, he closes his eyes and laps it up. Her eyes swell with tears, as replete with sorrow as he is, and yet he is inside her, there is only Loki and chaos and mischief and lies, and lies, and as she convulses in time there is a fullness inside her that cannot be denied. Ten thousand years could pass in this place and yet she would still feel the hardness and impenetrability of her womb, and so it is not ten thousand years but a single instant and Loki is beside her, his skin Jotun blue and white and black and he is holding her hand, he stops her screams with his mouth as she expels a long coil of wrongness—as she aches and moans and weeps he gathers the coils around his arm, he strokes its scales and thinks of murder.
“I name you Jormangandr,” Loki says, and Angrbotha fades. Her child warps and grows at his father’s word, he wraps around the realms and swallows his own tail and she knows that if he ever lets go it will be her end. Loki smiles, and his teeth are white and sharp and bisected with red.
And yet Angrbotha is reborn, again. With the shuddering awareness of experience she knows that Loki is beside her, bleeding, and he does not weep. She turns wide bloodshot eyes upon him and knows that he thinks of things elsewhere, that despite her presence and the knowledge of his children he craves golden spires, a world in which the sun and stars and moon reign together, a world in which he is equal, but not—a realm in which there is peace and war and joy, endless joy, in the gleam of light from a well-known smile and the warmth of an embrace is something familiar, not something which must be earned.
She offers grief and sorrow because that is what she knows. In this place, outside of time, Loki drinks from her cupped hands and in the touch of his mouth she experiences eternity:
a place from which there is no escape, in the Allfather’s grasp all is the same, a moment in which nothing at all is possible because the only things forbidden are those borne of imagination, and yet I am Loki, Father of Lies, and if one cannot lie to the Allfather what point is there in existing, what point is there in continuing to breathe and think and imagine, because without me there is nothing at all
and so he retracts until he exists only in the deepest, truest, emptiest part of him, he disappears until there is nothing which may be seen:
and he goes to a place that Odin knows not, a place which could be the remotest twig and leaf of the world tree, a place in which he can bleed for eternity, for an instant, for ten thousand thousand thousand years and she will be waiting, his mate, chosen among all the millions of Jotun from the beginning of time until the collapse of eternity, because he is darkness and light, he is midnight and noon, and despite all her craving he is outside of her, he is solitude and the enemy of nations and she brings him into herself and yet can never experience what he truly is because he is
bleeding twilight and the green jealous heart of magic and love’s constant inelegant sorrow and she arches, her center sore with the necessity of storing everything that he is, for a thousand years’ worth of pain and greed and envy and why does my brother believe in me, why does my father deny me, why does my mother pretend at love when I am a monster, I am ice and pain and magic when I should be fire and honor and bravery and I shall become the fear that fathers warn their sons against, I shall be the sorrow that mothers caution their daughters from seeing, I shall be betrayal and darkness and shadow while my brother is loyalty and brilliance and light, because there is no other way, he is the prince of Asgard while I am the heir to the throne of Asgard’s enemy
and Angrbotha screams, she screams and screams and Loki is inside her and all that she is and all that he is is constructed into a perfect halflife and halfdeath and from the center of what they are is born Hel, Hel incarnate, a baby half night and half day and yet at the same time a nightmare and dream fully grown.
With her deathlife Loki breathes deep. He raises himself on stiff arms above Angrbotha, he stares down into her pained expression and smiles and then is gone.
There is no life here, no death. There is nothing but endless snow and Angrbotha knows she has been used, utterly. She gathers the ice about herself, with her three children, and with the wolf and the snake and death herself she builds a palace of great walls, a place of famine and sickness and trouble where her husband might come again, might renew, and with the last part of her, the last unused resource, she burns arctic cold and creates a universe in which Loki is victor.
In the moment that the light comes, I am drinking from a pool in a clearing deep in the forest. I hold in my cupped hands a mirror that reflects only black, but as I sip there comes a flash so pure that tears spark across my eyes. I hide my face but a shield isn’t enough; long minutes pass before I can open my eyes without the world being riddled with unfamiliar, untrue color.
So far from the horizon-lights I cannot fathom what could make the night retreat, but when I draw my hands back I see in the middle distance a form in white. Here, in the dark, such things are known only in story and so I come closer, I slip from tree to tree and make of myself a shade, lingering in the spaces between black leaves.
The white is fading, of course, because even in myth we have never attempted to pretend at color. Still, as I approach I feel the temperature drop as I have not since my youth, when I was given to one of the ljosalfr and travelled through many realms. As a slave I saw beings blacker than I and whiter than my masters and yet this body is foreign, its flesh flows from blue to gold to red with blood and, for the first time, I see snow. The body radiates cold, ice spreading from its outstretched bleeding hands, and despite the rarity of difference I am afraid.
Before I can run the body arches and steam rises; the snow stops in the air and turns to rain and when the falling drops hit the flicker-color flesh there is a hiss, and it has been so long since I have heard sounds that I am arrested, my shadow-self caught in the space between the trees as I lean in, all of my attention caught. The ice surrounding the body cracks and from between its red-blue lips slips a moan of what I remember is pain, and as I lean closer its eyes open and it stares up at the empty sky. The eyes are red, or blue, or green, and as the colors flicker through their inconceivable permutations I slip up into the tree, I flow from branch to branch until I am above the body and I rest my chin on my folded arms and I watch, because if there is anything I have learned it is that in the dark one takes what experience one can get.
Hours pass, then days. The body shakes. Even in the trees above I feel the temperature rise and fall, as though inside it fires burn and suns expire. The bleeding does not stop. I wonder, at first, whether I should fashion bandages and attempt to bind its wounds, but the skin appears and erodes in colors I do not understand and a patch of ice will be flesh or blood in a fraction of a moment and even if I dared approach I cannot tell what good it would do. I recognize some of its shapes, at least, and I wonder if I called it Aesir or Jotun which it would answer to.
The horizon-lights flare, once, and I do not hide, because I want to see what it does. Its blue-red eyes do not shift from the empty sky, not once, and it is only then that I begin to wonder what has happened to it, to make it as vacant as we are. In Alfheim I learned what it was to be part of an absence and it was explained that the dark was nothing at all, that my shadow-hands and my shadow-heart were not evidence of my being but rather of my not-being, and I could accept that. In one of their mirrors I reflect nothing—but its body is not shade but rather hue, it is change and confusion and presence, and I slip down from my perch and move my hands in almost-forgotten shapes and work silhouettes into bindings. It does not look at me but its eyes do close, and as I spin my shades around it the ice retracts and the body goes solid and a faint keen reaches my long-unused ears and, despite the nearly unbearable recollection of existing, I gesture closure into its dressings and wrap shadow ‘round it to keep it safe.
The ljosalfr who took me was a watcher of battlefields. It turned its great clear eyes from realm to realm and found the souls of warriors, and with me as its shadow it flowed from one universe to another. In a moment we would be above the fracturing nightmare of Ragnarok, and then the green hills of Senlac, and then the siege of Nibelheim, when Hel’s palace was nearly overrun. I could never tell one body from another, for in those days I was blinded by all light, but with a thought my master sent me from one fighter to the next, and I would slip into the spaces between armor and sword and deflect pain, could take an arrow into myself, could divert action into stillness. Here, in the dark, my own stillness overflows, I am replete with non-existence, and I spill over into the being, I allay its weeping with the certainty of its ending and, as they always have, it subsides.
With the presence of this body and its capacity for change, I can measure the passage of time. The horizon-lights flicker, far in the distance, and the body heals. Its bruises and colors waver and fade. I watch, and wait, and then, between one moment and the next, the body’s eyes open again and the shadows fall from its flesh and it settles to a faint, pale gold.
“What is this place?” it says, and its voice is for a moment unutterably loud.
I think, it is the dark, and then I say it aloud, but my voice is no stronger than what passes between whispers and the being cannot hear me, it blinks at the sky and wet streaks down its temples like blood and the sound that cracks from its throat is nothing like words but it is enough to turn me to glass. I feel, and in the bare, wracking eternity that follows I create ambrosia, bread, nectar, water, and I lay them at its golden hand and am filled with a yearning that pierces deeper than any sword.
When the body does not stir I pour nectar into its mouth, I spill water across its body in my haste to keep it alive, and the ambrosia I press between its lips in sticky-sweet chunks, stroking across its throat and whispering in my not-voice to please, please, stay with me, it is all right, speak again, let me hear again, please. I strip away leather and linen and cold metal, I make of myself a solid, breathing thing, and though it reduces my strength to a ruin I create warmth, I wrap myself around the shuddering body and burn, and when a gasp rocks through it I cling to the sound and press my new-born face into its throat and whisper into its freezing flesh to live, live, live.
Awareness fills me. Familiarity and the insinuations of my seldom-used power bring knowledge. I know this body for what it is: he is a god, seldom worshipped but so often feared, and it becomes easy to wrap myself around him, to whisper little prayers into his ear, to beg and to cajole and to plead. He sleeps and I stroke across his brow, I murmur obeisances into the hollow of his throat. My solid self is foreign, for my former master required only my silhouette, but the din of a living heart’s beating keeps me here.
In the dark I can do anything and with that certainty comes power. When he burns with fever I slip into his core and pull the cold into the air, I cover his shivering body with my own and I press my mouth to his chest and breathe frost. I make myself in his image and spread cold thighs across his hips and pillow his head under blue-white hands. Please, I whisper, shiver-soft against a blood-stained ear, talk, speak to me of anything, and I pour nectar into a dry, coughing throat, and though fever wracks him he shudders into a kind of wakefulness against me and puts a hand to the small of my back and holds me close, he stares up with blank eyes into a midnight sky and with a scarred, hollow voice he says:
the dark is nothing, it is nothing that could have ever frightened me, for I have fallen through space for millions of years and yet also for a single instant, in the moment Odin’s all-seeing eye turned from me I fell, not even my brother’s love could keep me there, I knew that even if I begged penance for the rest of my rotten life I would never see anything but my father’s disappointment and I would know myself a monster I am ice and pain and I have killed so many, I have brought destruction to the Aesir and to Earth alike because the sound of thunder makes me ache with yearning, because as I fell I could see storms of lightning through space, I knew realms where there existed nothing but endless falling rain and I wanted to stay, I wanted to spread myself cracked open to the punishment of water and melt away, but instead I fell into a chamber of rock, unerodable, inconceivable, and despite all my entreaties they stripped me down to bone, they discovered everything that I ever was or am or could be, and the poison body of a snake, a presence I knew, wrapped around me, and though I felt as though the core of me would burn I pushed away, I looked into blood-black eyes and I accepted the insistent presence of a master, I let myself be flayed open and promised my obedience despite the screaming defiance of my every molecule, because even at this far edge of reality I could feel the weight of my father’s stare, of my mother’s fear, of my brother. I allowed myself to be transported to a place where I could feel like a god and I took, I ravaged and wrought magic and mutilated and made my brother hate me anew, because it is nothing more than I deserve, and I can feel the universes colliding, I can feel a space where my children fear me, in a land of snow and endless suffering, and I was willing to destroy that which loved me to escape again, to be able to wreak havoc again, because if I cannot be my father’s son I will be his enemy, I will engender the circumstance in which I can kill, if only to see the look on Thor’s face, to prove myself strong, to prove that I do not crave his love, or need him, or—
It presses against my ear hot and unfamiliar and I arch with need, I am redolent with all his burning loathing and his misery and his fear, and his fever blazes black with acrid smoke, a sorrow I can taste and which I would alleviate if only I knew how. There is a hard, unyielding core to him which he sheathes in vengeance, and though I could spread through him with shadow and corrupt him into stillness I do not, because his hatred towers to unimaginable heights and covers something else, something which I cannot sense but which I know would shatter me down to dust with its power.
There is so little left of me. He has done this before, I know, because I know him from his empty staring eyes to his too-full soul. He has destroyed an existence simply to escape a room and I will be no different. I tuck my head under his chin and murmur nonsense words into his blue-white skin and feel complete in a way I have never contemplated, because for the first time in my not-being I am needed, I can make him whole, and though I can hear the mocking laughter of my old master I pull his fever into me, I take his bruises and his pain and I wrap cool hands around his wrists and bring his fingers to my abruptly solid throat.
Loki opens his eyes. He flexes his hands. There is power lurking under his skin, and his grip tightens, his thumbs cross over my windpipe, he looks up at me with an expression I cannot decipher.
“You saved me,” he says, eventually, and I nod.
“You are,” I say, and for once, he can hear it.
The horizon lights flare and his head snaps up, he rolls me beneath him and I glory at the strength I have helped to provoke, I shudder at the feel of his torso, his thighs, as he kneels up astride me, as he stares off into the black distance and understands.
“Svartalfheim,” he says, and his eyes flicker blue-red-green as he looks down on me, and I flash from bright to shadow but cannot lose my solid self with his hands upon me.
His regard is shattering and his grip tightens and the cold leaches into me, an experience at once familiar and breathtaking, and though his eyes are nothing but curiosity and blankness I am complete, because this is what feeling is like, it is something that burns deep and breaks, it is something that wrenches existence into a new, shuddering form, and he murmurs and runes form across my black-blue skin and I am dying, I am dying at long last, and I arch up into his freezing hands and exult because he is mischief and lies and, if nothing else, I have at long, long last achieved difference.
Thor waits. Asgard spins its disc of night and day around him, and his father sits silent atop his throne and his mother occupies herself with weeping and hope and Thor waits. Heimdall rests his hands atop the dull pommel of his sword and Thor stands beside him attempting to learn the realms, to see as Heimdall and his father do. He will be king, one day, and it seems only right that he should be able to understand the universe from edge to edge. On the fractured horizon of the Bifrost Thor stands with his hands tucked under his elbows, he shakes and pretends he is not shaking, because Heimdall is a solid, unfeeling presence beside him and in this company Thor cannot admit his fear that all he can see is shadow, that he cares hardly at all for the bright sparks of life before them, that he quakes and shivers with the idea that he will never see his brother again.
Loki waits. He raises the shadow-sorcerer of Svartalfheim, he prostrates himself in a lie of epic proportions and lifts Malekith to his darkest heights and pretends that there are not shadows that follow him. He knows Angrbotha is waiting, he knows that the shadow that found him twines hopeless around his soul; he feels the futures he could choose streaking impossibly before him, a snake and a wolf and all of hell gaping, waiting to take all that he is, ready to consume him. Apocalypse seems always around the corner, the weight of Death sagging against his will, and it would be so easy to yield, to allow himself to be taken and to let all the universe realign itself to a brighter future. But—he can’t. He can’t, because somewhere above him there is a white, open smile, there are warm arms and a hand offering a golden apple, and he whispers treachery into a dark, listening ear and creates, instead, chaos.
Thor fights. His arm aches with unaccustomed distress as he heaves the hammer which is his birthright over and over again, as he catches flickering shadows from the corner of his eye and chases the sorcerer from realm to realm, always one step behind, always left in the dark. Malekith laughs, at him and at everything else. Thor chases and feels as though his breath is laced with shards of ice and he fights Malekith on his own dark world, on Earth, on Alfheim, in the burning light of the fire demons and below the sparkling colors of the Bifrost. With every step he feels as though his own shadow is cloven in two, as though something at his side is missing—his allies aren’t enough, his righteousness cannot save him, and though Mjolnir sings through his skin in quicksilver tones he is always looking for something else, for someone else, and though when at war he is in his element it is as though his heart is bleeding.
Loki fights—he supports Malekith’s plots, he imbues his sagging black body with the brightness of magic’s promise, he firms the slippery ground beneath him with ice and though thunder cracks overhead he is unyielding, strong, someone that his father could be proud of. But which father, he thinks unbidden, and the memory of magic piercing blue skin coalesces around the possibility of fragile flesh wrenched apart by a wolf’s fierce jaws. He knows it will happen. It is as certain as his knowledge that he is a monster, but—but. In his palm sleeps the memory of a frozen apple, an uncertainty to which he has never reconciled himself, and with the cold leaching from the apple into his skin he watches Malekith, studies him. Malekith is petty. Malekith reeks with greed. He craves fear, and Loki remembers the sentencing under his father’s tongue, the certainty that crashed into his bones, and he is standing at Malekith’s shoulder as the sorcerer screams invective at Thor, but Thor has eyes only for him.
Thor is watching Loki. Malekith is an unwelcome, frightening distraction. He understands that it is his brother who has raised this dokkalfar to greatness, that has made him worthy of challenge, and before he came he had braced himself for the sight of Loki smirking, of his little brother lost to him, once again, of shadows twisting between them and any memory he had of family and rightness washed away in the face of his malice. What he finds, though, here in the dark at long last, is a brother emptied. Loki is not smiling. His face is smeared with blood, hair a black tangle spilled down his back, his skin scarred and blue-white and his eyes empty, and though he glows with magic, a tangible line streaking between his body and Malekith’s, he looks at Thor with nothing like enmity and Thor feels himself disarmed. Malekith screams but Thor raises his arm and from Mjolnir the magic rebounds; Malekith screams, but Thor has eyes only for Loki, and it is as though the distance between them shrinks to nothing and he swallows, he disregards the fear, and holds out his hand.
Loki is watching Thor and Malekith whispers at the back of his mind, wrapping the world round with shadows. Even in the dark, his brother glows, golden-haired and fair and eyes a righteous, faithful blue, even when they are streaked with sorrow. Malekith raises his hands, crackling with magic, but his darkling bolts cannot match Thor’s power and in Loki’s hand a knife appears. His fingers wrap, unbidden, around the frigid iron, and Thor is raising his hammer and magic is streaming bright around him, and though the sight would have once made Loki smile, around his soul now wraps shadow and blue frost, and he takes an unsteady step forward. Thor reaches out his free hand, and in Loki rise memories, thick and horrible as mourning, and he plants the knife in Malekith’s back. Thor’s eyes widen, no doubt with shock, and though warmth blossoms across Loki’s fingers he forces them to release, he takes another step forward, and with one hand blue-white and one hand red he takes Thor’s fingers in a cold, crushing grip and turns his eyes to the brightening sky and they are gone.
Thor’s arms are wrapped around Loki and the sky above them is night as well as day, shadows and sun alike, and he does not know in which realm they have landed but for once he does not mind, he holds his brother shaking between suddenly weak arms and he presses his face into the dark tangle of hair and pretends he is not weeping.
Thor’s arms are wrapped around Loki and he presses his palms to Thor’s chest, he feels the creak of leather and the unyielding nature of Asgardian steel and he knows that he could sink cold into it, he knows he could press with fingers and mind and streak Thor with ice until he could shatter like glass. But—there is damp at his throat, and a warmth that seeps through him, and though he could reach out with magic and halt the succession of Asgard with a thought, though he can feel an army of futures reaching out towards him, he reaches one hand to the back of Thor’s neck and does not snap it, does not kill him, does not do everything of which he is capable.
Loki gentles him with a cool hand and Thor is mumbling nonsense. It would be embarrassing if there was a single particle of himself that was unhumbled. Pride is something he has long ago left behind, honor something he has nearly forgotten. He remembers the cold desolation of an empty tower and the feel of his identity cracking, because in Asgard there had never been a storm without the possibility of snow, and he cradles Loki’s bloody face between his once-strong hands and he looks into eyes he will always remember as green leaves of summer, the dark blue crash of oceans, and, now, the heart’s blood of something precious, flickering one-two-three and he knows he should care, should rear back in fear, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t.
Loki gentles Thor and he knows his strength is spinning out of control, the realm in which they stand something familiar and yet not, and here he is Aesir and Jotun and also, simply, magic itself, and the power rocketing from his soles to the lump in his throat could be harnessed to affect the spin of the universe but for the broken murmurs of Thor against his damp skin. Thor’s hands spread broad against his jaw, thumbs stroking along his cheekbones and coming away red and rust-brown with blood.
“I could hurt you,” Loki says. Thunder rumbles through his skin, shivering into his bones and flashing lightning across his vision.
“You already have,” Thor says. His hands are shaking with cold, his skin rippling with gooseflesh. He looks into red-green-blue eyes and holds his breath.
They lay on their sides in the dirt and in this unknown realm it is unimportant whether they are under the Allfather’s eye, whether they are within the span of Heimdall’s gaze. Shadows spin away from them and coalesce in unfamiliar shapes, ice crackling across the ground and green shoots rising from the dark soil, and Thor rolls Loki atop him and sinks his fingers into dark hair and feels as though he is burning. Loki wraps careful hands over Thor’s bare shoulders and behind him a shoot grows into a sapling, a trunk widening even as Loki settles his mouth over Thor’s bared throat, as a hiss rises between them, as lightning flashes overhead. There is no vengeance here, no madness or jealousy, and Loki rises up and Thor reaches and it is an accident of no consequence when they roll, again, and Loki finds himself beneath his brother, opening his thighs wide, his hands guiding and welcoming until they are together. There is a moment of piercing awareness in which Thor blinks, guilt-stricken, until Loki shifts and the stars spin past in a golden streak overhead and, for a moment, they seem to be fighting, but of all their battles this is a combat that cannot be won and Loki stretches upward, whispering promises he has no idea if he can keep, and Thor clenches his eyes shut and pushes and puts a careful hand at Loki’s hip, puts a restraining hand on his breast and feels the cold, racing thump of his heart, listening.
The trunk reaches upwards, unfurling bright leaves against the midnight-noon sky, and Thor cries out into Loki’s cool skin, he lifts Loki’s shoulders off the soil and pulls him into his lap and Loki pushes him back, he sinks his teeth into golden flesh and feels the swelling promise of eternity.
“I would have made this choice,” he says, a frosted murmur against Thor’s flushed face, feeling Thor shudder with it, “even had I never been given one, I would have made it.”
Thor gathers him close, surging with power against him, not understanding. Loki rolls his hips, sinking backward into sensation. If the universe collapsed into a single future right now, he thinks, looking down into Thor’s wrecked expression, I could bear it. I could.
Thor clasps him and the noise that rips from his throat is ravaged, hurt, and Loki closes his eyes and contains thunderstorms within himself and above them the tree is flowering, scent floating down as they catch each other, as they fall.
Time passes. Stars burn out and collapse and galaxies end and Thor is content, because his fingers are twined around a freezing grip, because he feels the steady gust of frosty air against his shoulder. Somewhere, sometime, there will be a reckoning. Loki breathes out a cold sigh and he looks down to see his eyes opening, slits of blue that resolve to a cool, familiar green, and he follows Loki’s gaze to the tree above them.
The branches are now laden, smelling of summer and heavy with smooth golden apples, and Thor stands, bare and clean and empty of suffering, and pulls one of the apples free from the leaves. It sits in his hand, smooth and real, full of promise, and he turns, extending it down to Loki, an offering for which he has no words.
Loki meets his eyes, skin stained with blood and, even now, Thor knows that a thought could shade him into more frightening colors. Bruises collect around his throat, over his arms and wrists and hips, but his gaze on Thor’s is considering, steady, and he reaches out, fingers grazing Thor’s with freezing warmth, taking the apple just to make Thor smile.
If you want to know more about indeterminism, read on here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indeterminism
Big props if you got through it. Would appreciate a comment.