Victor is on his way to bed when his instruments register two things: first, a falling object, in the north sky of his small country; second, magic. The readings are made by two different instruments. They point to the same location. Victor swiftly restores his armor, arms himself with robots, and goes out into the night. Even his cowed peasants might be curious enough to spoil whatever the object is, and even ostensibly nonsentient magic can sometimes act for itself.
Victor’s robots see the object before he does. They alert him, and he waits for them to clear it as not presently dangerous before he approaches.
He thinks it is a satellite. Not the man-made kind—a lump of black rock, torn by space and burned by the atmosphere of Earth. It’s not until his robots, chirruping and prodding, roll it on its side, that he realizes it’s biological. A figure. Nearly human.
Victor orders one of his robots to carry the body, and the rest to ensure that it won’t explode or attack or any other unpleasant possibility. He has it carried to his lab. When the robot sets the body down on the table, one of the robot’s arms falls off. The body is so cold that the metal has cracked.
Victor tests and observes the body before he thaws it. It’s humanoid (a hubristic term, of course), but its skin, in the light, is in parts Caucasian-pale, in parts a deep, brilliant blue, and in parts burned a harsh blue-black. Lines, practically aboriginal, criss-cross the skin. Its magic is pulsing, and the creature is breathing, though infinitesimally.
Victor modifies a prison quickly, and then puts the body in a tank to thaw. It will take two days to do it safely. He hopes the creature doesn’t wake up early.
The creature is still on the floor when Victor arrives, struggling to rise and beating its fist against the stone. The noise it makes sounds like strangled sobbing. As soon as Victor comes through the door, the creature looks up at him, silenced. Its eyes are large and difficult to meet. Victor meets them. One is bright, deep green. The other is red, as though blood has flooded it, or as though it suffers alone from albinism.
Victor stands back from the mess, holding his fist in his hand behind him.
“I doubt very much that you can understand my speech,” Victor says. “What do you say?”
“Mortal,” the creature spits. It tries again to get to its feet, and slips hard against the stone.
“Interesting,” Victor says. “Are you not?”
The creature, apparently without regard to his question, screams in anger and something else, rolls itself onto its back and sobs. Victor waits, but the sobbing doesn’t subside. After a minute or so, the creature curls onto its side and scratches at the stone, wracked with its tears and raging.
Victor gestures to one of his robots, which moves forward and puts its hand on the creature’s shoulder. The creature jerks out of its reach, looking fierce and deranged. It reaches forward again, quickly, and in a few seconds’ time the robot is embedded in ice. Victor can feel the temperature of the room drop.
The creature edges away from the frozen robot on its hands and knees and then, with a cursory and perhaps scornful glance at Victor, it starts to inspect itself. Its motions are painful, and it seems more pained by what it sees in its body. Victor can’t imagine which parts of itself, in particular, are causing its distress. He cannot guess what it is supposed to look like.
But that begins to come clear. The creature stretches out its arm, staring at it with its full attention; the creature grimaces and moans, and the arm begins to change.
“Fascinating,” Victor murmurs. The creature seems satisfied with its limb; it moves its attention to the other arm, and presses its hands against its face as though molding it into a better shape. When it lowers its hands, the bright blue is gone from its skin, and the criss-crossing burns seem both less protrusive and less extensive than before.
Determinedly, by inches, it gets to its feet. It has not yet straightened up to its full height (close to Victor’s, he thinks, if not taller) when falls again. It lies sprawled, propped on its arms and cursing. It looks at Victor when it’s stopped.
“Midgard?” it says. Perhaps Victor should not keep calling it it. The creature seems almost definitely male. On the other hand, it fell from the sky.
“Did you say Midgard?” he asks.
“Of course,” the creature spits.
A satellite gifted with a temper, using the language of Norse myths. Interesting, thinks Victor.
“This is Midgard,” Victor confirms. “I am Victor Von Doom, king of Latveria. You fell into my lands.”
“Everyone’s a king these days,” the creature mutters. It—almost certainly he—Victor shouldn’t guess—sits up, still propped on its hands.
“You have a name?” Victor asks. “Are you male? Female?”
The creature laughs. It’s very ugly.
“I have fallen into Hel,” it says to itself. It turns its eyes on Victor. “Let us say for the moment that I’m a man. My name is Loki.”
Victor laughs at that, surprised and terribly pleased.
Loki frowns. “Why are you laughing?” he demands.
“I’ve heard that name before,” Victor says. “It’s famous. You’re a myth.”
“I am not,” Loki says viciously. “So—you know my name and doubt me?”
“Oh, no,” Victor says. “Your magic is of no kind I’ve seen before, and you change form with ease.” Relative ease. “I believe you.”
“Then why did you laugh?” Loki spits.
“Because,” Victor tells him, “I have saved the life of a god, and he is growling at me from the floor of my laboratory. Oh, it’s too good.”
Loki looks warily interested, at this.
“Are you a scientist?” he asks.
“I’m a witch,” Victor says. “And a scientist also.”
“Ah,” Loki says. Something ugly happens to his expression. He bows his head toward his chest and seems to will the moment to pass. When he looks up there are tears in his eyes, but he only looks gently curious. “What will you do now, Victor Von Doom?”
“I brought you here because my instruments registered your magic,” Victor says. “I could take you apart. Learn how you work, and take your powers for my own.”
Loki regards him. “I was king of Asgard,” he says.
“No longer?” Victor asks politely.
“It didn't take,” says Loki.
“Do you eat?” Victor asks. “You must be hungry by now, if you eat.”
“I am a wound,” Loki says. “One long scar, still bleeding.”
“And is the wound hungry?” Victor asks after a pause.
Loki’s expression softens to something imploring. “Very,” he says.
“You sleep?” Victor asks. Loki looks at him through bright, narrow eyes.
“Not while you watch,” he says.
It’s true. Over the next few weeks, Victor often tries to catch Loki at rest. But Loki’s eyes are always open, no matter what camera or side door Victor uses.
When Loki has been there for a month, and the marks on his skin have become no more than thin black lines, he goes outside and doesn’t come home for five days. Victor worries, and is disconcerted by his own concern. Loki returns, however--in a foul mood that turns to tears when Victor presses. Loki has found his brother, newly returned to Midgard, keeping company with a band of hapless freaks that Victor could frankly do without.
Loki tells him that he can do without them as well, and stops crying, and only mentions his brother in tones of seething hate from that point forward.
“Loki?” Victor checks.
“What a clever boy,” Loki sneers at him.
Victor sits. He doesn’t know whether Loki has avoided shapeshifting because his injuries have made it painful, or because he’s been afraid of this moment. It’s hard to say. Loki seems both afraid of nothing and afraid of everything. Victor always wonders whether he is too careful with him, or not careful enough. The line changes, moment by moment.
Victor starts in on his dinner. Loki does not. She says, “Is that all?” in a tone of great condescension.
Victor puts down his fork. “Would you like me to address you as a woman?” he asks.
“I am a woman,” Loki says.
“All right,” Victor says. “Then yes, that’s all.”
Loki (for lack of a better word) pouts for the rest of dinner. Afterwards, she gets up to leave without saying anything.
Victor says, “You’re very beautiful, my dear, but you already were.”
Loki’s head whips around. She looks stricken.
“Oh, Victor,” she says viciously. “I wouldn’t let you fuck me.”
Later Victor finds him, male again, blunting a sword against the stone walls of his room, screaming.
“Oh?” Victor says. “Is it terribly insipid?”
“Naturally,” Loki says. “He loves that beast of the Avengers’. The Hulk.”
Victor laughs, startled.
“The Hulk, or his counterpart?”
“Both,” says Loki. “Both.”
“Ugh,” says Victor.
“Are you any better?” Loki asks, casually cruel. Victor pauses, falling out of rhythm for the moment before he collects himself.
“I certainly hope so,” he says. He won’t admit his own monstrosity like this. Not being compared to Bruce Banner. He wishes Loki would stop spying on Thor. It only puts him in a temper.
“Maybe I’ll kill him,” Loki says.
“You can’t,” Victor says. “Nobody can kill the Hulk.”
“I see,” says Loki. “Then I’ll do something else.”
“Something worse, I imagine?” Victor wonders, with a sinking heart.
“Of course worse,” Loki says. “It’s always worse.”
Victor wishes he could disagree.
He hears Loki get up from the bed. He glances up and sees Loki walking out the door, taking a bite from an apple.
Victor likes his satellite. Loki is insane, and his tempers change direction and ferocity with such speed that Victor can barely keep pace. His self-loathing cold-burning fury is as beautiful as his casual acts of perfect, elegant magic. Victor enjoys Loki’s company even when—not least when, if Victor is honest—Loki lashes out and carelessly reminds Victor that what he is hosting is a mad god.
Victor finds all of this easy to live with, from the beginning and increasingly so—but it is an awful idea to fuck.
Loki is a woman when she suggests it and a man when Victor touches him. Victor chooses not to think about what that might mean. He keeps his mask on, and Loki doesn’t protest or deride him. Loki’s whole body is beautiful, like his face and his motions. Half the noises he makes, he bites back into stifled moans, and Victor’s blood burns in his veins. Victor holds Loki down by his hair, and by the time he comes, he feels fearless and all-powerful.
Loki still won’t close his eyes afterwards, which dims Victor’s glow. And then Victor falls asleep, without meaning to. When he wakes up, his mask is sitting on the vanity across the room, and Loki is gone.
He doesn’t forgive Loki for days.
Loki says, “Don’t you fear fire, Victor, after what it did to you?”
“Hellfire makes all other fire laughable,” Victor says brusquely. “I have no fear.” He doesn’t like to talk about his scars, which Loki very well knows.
“Laughable or not, it can still burn,” Loki says. He is sitting on the floor, his dark eyes glittering in the flames.
“I suppose you would know,” Victor says, more meanly than he intends to.
“Yes, naturally,” Loki says shortly. But Victor is still offended, and he doesn’t mind Loki’s temper.
“When you fell,” Victor says, “You were burned black by space.”
“A charming memory,” Loki sneers. “Thank you for recollecting it to me.”
“You were something else as well,” Victor continues. “Your eye was red. Half your flesh was blue. Was that the burn?”
Loki is silent and still.
“I have read myths,” Victor reminds him. “I had read them when you first opened your mouth to lecture me in my lab.”
“So what is it that you want to know?” Loki spits.
“I want to know if you’re everything they say.”
“Believe the rumors,” Loki says nastily. It occurs to Victor, too late, that he doesn’t know for a certainty what everything they say means to this Loki, the real flesh-and-blood one. Not just what is in Midgardian books, he’s sure.
“I mean to say,” Victor clarifies, without apologizing, “are you a Jotun?”
He glances away from the fire, down at Loki, and nearly apologizes after all. Loki is rigid and hunched, swallowing convulsively. His eyes, staring into the fire, are too large and too bright. Victor holds his tongue.
“No,” Loki forces out roughly. “I’m Loki Odinsson. Did you not know?”
Victor is silent. Between them in the air sit half-shared understandings, all traps: that Odin is an untouchable subject, that Victor looked hard at Loki before Loki ever waked. That the true answer is part of what sent Victor’s mad god tumbling from the heavens, scorched and weeping.
Loki snaps, “Why do you ask, Victor, and what does it matter? Which of your precious tinkering experiments can I possibly help you with if I am secretly part beast?”
Victor says, “None of them. Not for the moment, at least.”
“Then why?” Loki says, after a moment. A tear rolls down his cheek, but he doesn’t seem to notice.
“Simple curiosity,” Victor answers truthfully. “You interest me.”
“Sweet,” Loki hisses. He holds out his hand and puts the fire out. Ice climbs up the fireplace, over the hearth and across the floor. If the moon weren’t so large, the room would be completely dark.
“This is a cowardly way to show me,” Victor says.
“It counts,” Loki tells him.
“You looked at my face,” Victor says. “While I was sleeping. You ought to reciprocate.”
Loki shifts in the darkness, and then his hand is on Victor’s arm. He works Victor’s glove free and sets it on the floor. Victor can see snatches of him in the moonlight. Everything looks blue. He isn’t sure it can be trusted.
“When I took your mask,” Loki says, “I doused the lights and shut my eyes and felt your scars with my fingers.”
Victor shivers. He thinks it’s a lie, but it doesn’t matter; touch is worse than sight. He says, as firmly as he can, “Then I hope you do reciprocate, you invasive little fiend.”
Loki laughs. His hand on Victor’s is cold. He guides Victor’s hand to his face. Victor feels his coldness, and the ridges between his eyes that aren’t usually there. He feels the slight, thin depressions on Loki’s cheeks, and remembers the fine dark lines that took longest to vanish, months ago now. He’d thought they were healing scars.
“I thought you were beautiful,” Victor says mildly, carefully. Loki laughs again, startled.
“And now?” he asks.
“You do what I like best,” Victor says. “You prove me right.”
Loki breathes out, as though Victor has winded him. He is animal-still, his hand on Victor’s, Victor’s against his face.
“Some time, when we feel like testing our friendship,” Loki says lightly, “we shall have to turn on the lights.”
It’s meant to be a barb, defensive and self-deprecating, like everything Loki says when he’s not distracted from it. All Victor hears is, friendship.
That is surprising. Surprising and raw, because friendship, for Victor Von Doom, is hating Reed Richards and keeping one step ahead of Namor. This is different, difficult and dangerous and volatile. Victor is startlingly unafraid of it.
“I could turn them on now,” he says.
“You wouldn’t dare,” Loki scoffs.
“Just now,” Victor repeats.
“You won’t call my bluff,” says Loki. Victor can feel him tremble.
“I wouldn’t dream of trying,” Victor says, raising his other hand.
“I’ll do it,” Loki says quickly, pulling away from Victor.
Victor doesn’t know if he or Loki gets there first. Maybe it’s both. In any case, the fire roars up, ice bursting into steam against its heat. The room is so bright that for several seconds, Victor is blinded in the other direction—but the light settles out, and then he can see.