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To Be Oneself

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He's nearly eight when he first finds the book. Thor is out doing appropriately Thor things, considering that Thor's already gone on his first hunt and ever since then Thor doesn't have time to deal with Loki because there are so many other things to be doing.

Loki lies to himself, and he says he does not mind.

It is a slim book, though still large for his hands, tucked away. It is the only book that doesn't hiss and whisper and vibrate with dark promises. Just because he does wish to find some way to level things once more does not mean he's going to be an idiot about this. These books are dangerous.

As it would happen, this book does not need to whisper in order to hurt.

He puts it away, determines that it is only fancy, and leaves.

The fact that it is where books that are far more dangerous are, in the only part of the library he is not allowed access, suggests something more.

XXXXXX

He's sixteen the first time he meets the Norns. He is on what Thor is calling a quest and Loki is calling idiocy, and they have clambered their way down and down and down, and now they stand before Urd and Verdandi. Thor is talking and being appropriately Thor since Loki's advice isn't ever as good unless his life is actually threatened.

Loki lies to himself, and he says he does not mind.

Skuld is the eldest, because she oversees the future and there has always been a future before there was ever a present or past. She was not with the other two sisters when they arrived, but she emerges from their cottage, her head tilting as she sees Loki. It is an awful sensation, as if being laid bare before her, and he frowns tightly at her, wishing Thor would hurry up and finish so they may leave again.

"Mistress," he says, polite, because it does not do the anger the Norns—even if they are frost giants.

"Child," she says, and he does not allow himself to snarl or take offense at the term. "You have a question for me."

Loki is aware that everyone's attention is now given to them. He smiles, forcing an appearance of ease that is getting much easier to pretend these days.

"You'd do well not to listen to her," Thor says, giving advice that may be sound, but it angers Loki. Why should he listen to Thor's advice when Thor never listens to his?

"I do," he says to Skuld. "Is it true?"

He does not specify what, and when he asks, he does not think of the book. He thinks of what was in it, the idea that has gnawed at him when his differences irritate himself, the fancy that should only be fancy but which suggests itself as more. He does not think she will know, hopes she will not at any rate.

Skuld tips her gray head on its side, and there is something he might call pity in her eyes.

"Yes," she says. "It is."

He wants to ask how and demand why. From here, he cannot understand what would ever lead to that. But he was given leave to ask aquestion, not many, so he nods and murmurs his thanks and ignores how Thor is looking at him oddly.

"What was that about?" Thor asks later, concerned. Loki is not sure why; it is not as if he has been talking any more or less than usual.

"Nothing," Loki says. "Just something I had wondered about."

XXXXXX

He is twenty when he finds himself winded and exhausted and furious. Of course it was a trick, and he should have realized and Thor must be rubbing off because he did not notice it sooner. Impressive, though, that Thor did manage to drink some of the world's oceans despite the impossibility of the feat. There is Thor, being appropriately Thor, and now Thor brushes the trick away like it was nothing, smiling and they feast with giants.

He lies to himself, and says he does not mind.

But when Thor takes to gambling, he thinks perhaps he should lay his brother low for his own pleasure.

It is a sharp thought, bright, and as soon as he thinks it he near recoils from it. For all Thor's slights, he is still Thor, and Loki would not bring him to ruin. He loves his brother. He puts the thought away, uneasy, and stops drinking.

The giant king, Utgard, watches him, thoughtful, and Loki smiles for him, long since learned how to hide distress.

"It was a fine jest," Loki says, because despite his ire it was, in fact, a fine jest. He only wishes he had thought of it sooner, first. Some trickster he is.

"You do not have to lie," Utgard says, and he smiles. There is something familiar in his smile; there is something familiar about all of him, in truth, but Loki does not know what it is, so he does not comment.

Loki shrugs, and he watches as Thor makes a fool of himself wrestling in the dirt.

"It is not half so great a trick as you play, one day," Utgard says.

Loki thinks unbidden of the book and the words in it, and he thinks of Skuld, and he thinks of a future he has read and tells himself is only fancy and old wives' tale.

"I don't know what you are talking about," Loki lies, irritated, and Utgard barks a laugh. He recognizes the sound now—it sounds like his own laughter, only darker edged and bitter, older, and he is left more uneasy still.

"Of course you don't," Utgard says, lying in equal measure with a smile that is all sharp edges, pulling the scars at his lips more, "and Thor can swallow the sea." The giant king stands, tall and proud and unbent, and he leaves the table, rolling up his sleeves to enter the ring. "It is not monstrous to be oneself," he says, "only to deny it."

Thor ends up needing to half-carry him across his shoulders when they leave, because Loki cannot find nearly enough drink to drown out the words.

XXXXXX

He is twenty-three when his son is taken and locked away where he cannot reach him. Thor tries to console him, but he does it in an appropriately Thor way, pointing out the child not even close to rational and the danger that he presented. No doubt things fed to him by the rest of the court.

He lies to himself, and says he does not mind.

His smile is near perfected now, and he paints himself half-fool and mostly magic. He does not listen to words about honour and manly and the 'proper' way to fight because they do not suit him, and he will not compromise any further, not after this.

He thinks of the words he read at eight and Skuld's answer at sixteen and Utgard's words at twenty and he thinks

Ah.

Perhaps…

But he does not say anything to anyone. These are not words he would discuss. If he does not talk about them, if he applies himself hard enough, perhaps, perhaps, things will be averted.

Instead, he plays jest and trick to distract, and the court yells its displeasure and demand he fix what he breaks and Loki smiles and deigns to do so while Odin sighs, looking older by the day.

XXXXXX

He is twenty-five, and Thor is entirely unsuited to take the throne. Thor is being appropriately Thor after the discussion with their father, boundless enthusiasm, excitement, and not one whit less dangerous than he was before.

Loki lies to himself, and he says he does not mind.

But he knows many, many things now, and part of being a prince is making sure that what is best for the kingdom is done. Thor is not best for the kingdom, not yet; he only needs to make their father see that. Heimdal is distracted, now, by everything else going on, and Loki has long since realized that he cannot see everywhere at once. He thinks, then he picks where to leave a doorway to Jotunheim open—because he knows Thor; nothing will raise Thor's ire like Jotnar in the palace.

He is on Jotunheim only long enough to make sure that it is somewhere it will be found. He does not notice the chill, and he does not think to notice how odd that must be. Not then.

Loki smiles and when Thor is nervous the next morning, Loki says:

"Never doubt that I love you"

and he smiles, meaning it in truth, for he does love Thor.

It is not until later, when his wrist turns to blue, that he thinks No and why and what am I? the world entire ripped down around him.

Quiet, quiet, lost in the cacophony of questions swirling in his head, he thinks

ah

XXXXXX

He is twenty-five and eight and sixteen and twenty and twenty-three; he is every age and every moment come before, swirling, unfocused, peeling it all apart, layer by layer, looking and finding and realizing and doubting and the only words his mo—Frigga says are 'Your father always has a plan' and 'We did not want you to feel different.'

He lies to himself, and he says that he does not mind.

He remembers what Heimdal said of leaving the Bifrost on.

He remembers that there is a war that needs to be ended, and he has a kingdom to keep safe from a war caused by—by Thor. By Thor beingThor.

Thor who would slay all the monsters, wouldn't he?

But Loki is not a monster, will never be a monster, because they are only stories written in books and only an answer from an old woman and words from a fool of a king, and he—he can be better than that. He will stop things, and he will be a hero.

He burns the book that night.

XXXXXX

He is nothing, born and reborn and twisted apart as he falls. And as he falls—eternities, down and down and down, this time not landing among the Norns but farther still—he Sees between the Realms and beyond.

He does not lie to himself.

He watches, and he Sees things bigger and greater than anything he had known, and he hears the whisper of star dust, and he listens to the bones of the universe, and he thinks

why

and he thinks

it is not monstrous to be oneself

and he thinks of difference and plan and always always being in the shadow next to beautiful, golden Thor, Thor who was and always will be perfect no matter what he does. Thor who would destroy a race and is only tossed aside until deemed worthy, changed by love by some mortal when he has spent near all his life trying to chase after Thor and help and advise and what has he got besides pain and being ignored?

Thor who loved him, and Thor who does not understand, and Thor who will not love him now that he no doubt knows.

He watches, and he Sees this repeated, over and over and over, experiences that play out the same but different. Loki watches, and he Sees himself in a thousand other times and a hundred thousand other universes and he sees this repeated and it is as if every wrong done there is a wrong done here, because it is true. A multi-versal truth that Loki will fall and Loki will End and Loki will be the shadow to Thor's light.

And as he falls, he knows why, and he wonders why he spent so long trying to prove otherwise.

All he has left now is how.

XXXXXX

He is Loki, and he smiles at panic, feasts on fear, and wonders why he ever denied this before.

Foolish creatures, to try to tame him, to use him, and think he would never discover it. But he can be kind, and he will be, and give them one last joke, a final one, better than any other he has played.

Conviction they say. As if he desires to rule when instead he can watch it all burn.