1. something that is or may be inherited; property passing at the owner's death to the heir or those entitled to succeed; legacy.
2. the genetic characters transmitted from parent to offspring, taken collectively.
3. something, as a quality, characteristic, or other immaterial possession, received from progenitors or predecessors as if by succession: an inheritance of family pride.
4. the act or fact of inheriting by succession, as if by succession, or genetically: to receive property by inheritance.
5. portion; birthright; heritage: Absolute rule was considered the inheritance of kings.
The cell is small: eighteen paces across and twelve from back to front, but that is not what you mean when you think that it is small. The space is small. You can feel it pulsing along the walls, the ceiling, the floor: the finite edge of space. Space is not usually finite for you in the way that it is for other people. There is a jittering hum around everything here that settles in your bones, a buzz that makes your teeth ache and your ears ring. You know this looks like silence to the rest of them, to the guards outside, simpletons and fools who stand staring straight in front of them, never moving. You are sure it looked like silence to Odin (your father, your brain treacherously calls him, but he is not your father, the All Father, he is just the man who watched you grow up with his one cold eye) when he put you down here and then left you forever. You told yourself you would not watch him go but you did: you watched him until he was gone.
Nobody else has seen you here except your mother, and she is the only one who knows, even though it does not do the same thing to her. She knows because she is the one who built it, the sick golden space sliding around the edges of the box in which you have been placed for all eternity. You do not know if she could have done it more kindly than she has done it but you do know that she could have been crueler. You do not ask.
It was her, though: you can feel her in it. You will, you think, always be able to feel her. There is a thread of Frigga in all of her magic that you cannot help but recognize, that she taught you to hold onto as a little boy, as a toddler, when she was teaching you your first little threads yourself, and you were grafting them onto hers. That is how she taught you magic, Frigga-who-is-not-your-mother, Frigga-who-raised-you, Frigga-who-held-you-to-her-breast-when-you-cried, Frigga-who-loved-you: maybe there are other ways. You learned your magic by climbing onto hers, like a vine onto a tree, and then when you were ready she slowly pulled herself away from you and left you standing on your own. There are schools, in Asgard, that teach magic: they must do it some other way, you suppose. But you cannot imagine it.
You are more powerful than she is, now. But she made you: she knows you. You will not be able to break what she has done, will not be able to wiggle part of it loose. It is a complete thing, a totality, and the hum inside of you is fierce, and sick.
Her eyes are sad when she looks at you the first time she comes to see you, just the shadow of herself: Odin has forbidden you visitors. You turn away from her without speaking. If you speak you will call her Mama and you will sound like a child: but she is not your mother, and you are not a child anymore. You are a demon in a cage and your ears are ringing and your teeth are on edge. You will not sleep tonight. You wonder if you will ever sleep again.
At night, in the dark, you hold your hands up in front of you and you watch color bleed into them: the color of your skin. You will never believe that that is what you are really supposed to look like. You were a vain adolescent, spent too much time in front of mirrors making sure your hair was neat and – you can admit it now, in some ravenous babbling part of you, deep inside, that is one long circular scream – just staring at yourself, assuring yourself of the finitude of yourself, of your existence, of your face – and then that you were, after a fashion, attractive; that there was something pleasingly sharp about your cheekbones, your nose, your chin; that your eyes were pale and luminous. You spent so much time, inevitably, looking at Thor, who was broad already, muscular, golden and burnished, and then had to reassure yourself that you, too, were a real, masculine thing: that, even if you were nothing at all like Thor, you might be appealing in another way. You never believed it. You kept looking at yourself as if you might suddenly become convinced that it was true.
You do not know what your face looks like now – what the reality of your face looks like. You are not sure that there is any reality to your body anymore, or if there ever was in the first place. But you do not want to know what your face looks like when it is yours-but-not-yours. That is different than wearing a mask – you have done that forever. This is you-but-not-you. You have no desire to see your eyes burn red. Still: here, in the dark, you look down at your hands and watch them slide in and out of focus, in and out of color, before shaking them out and leaning your head back against the wall, and failing to sleep.
No visitors, Odin said, as though that would stop him. You have been waiting for him – for Thor. It will happen eventually, you know, for Thor was a good son and has become a good son again, but Thor has never understood you, not like you understand Thor – that is something you have worked for, something you have earned over all the long span of the years – for Thor did not always come easily to you. There were no commonalities between you, after all, but you learned him the same way you have always been able to learn anything, and you know him now: besides, you grew up together. And even if Odin is not your father, and Frigga not your mother, the truth is and shall always remain that Thor is your brother.
And Thor will not be able to stay away.
So you wait, and you wait, and you wait. Your mother comes, and comes again, and you do not look at her, and finally you do, and you scream at her: no. For she is not your mother.
Always so perceptive about everyone but yourself, she says, and the jittering buzz in your teeth and your bones intensifies, and you want to touch her: to put your hands on her knees through her skirts like you did when you were tiny, to steady yourself. And later you want to scream at her again, want to scream at her and tell her to take your scream back to Odin to deliver directly into his ear.
And finally you have another visitor, but when you look up with your smirk ready it is not Thor who stands before you, beyond you, an impossibly long ten feet away. It is the god of war.
“Sif,” you say, and smile. She does not smile back, just tilts her head to the side. She is evaluating you. This has not changed: she did this as a child, at eight, her head tilted to the right, her dark hair shining in the sunlight, her round face serious, her brow creased in concentration. She was an uncommonly serious child, and so, of course, were you.
“You’re not supposed to be down here,” you tell her, raising an eyebrow. “I believe the All Father has deemed it forbidden until the end of time.”
“The guards will not tell Odin I was here,” she says. “And if he found out he would not punish me.”
You feel your face twist into a sneer on instinct. “What,” you say, “will Thor protect you?”
“No one would protect me,” she says, calm. “But he would not punish me.”
“Your confidence is striking, if deluded,” you tell her.
“Your father has had no hard word for me since I was fifteen years old,” she tells you, and you are saying, “He is not my father,” before you have time to think about what she has said.
“What happened when you were fifteen?” you ask, and she smiles, finally, although it is thin, and pale.
“You were sixteen,” she said, “and I saved your life.”
You stare at her for a long moment and you remember: her long hair blown out in the water, your cold fingers pressed between her knees, her fierce little body that did not seem little to you at the time but that does now, in retrospect: you are so much older.
“Have you forgotten?” she asks, and she sounds brittle.
“No,” you say.
“But you had,” she says.
“No,” you tell her. “I had only forgotten the year.” You swallow. “I did not realize it had curried you such favor with Odin.”
“He has never said one unkind word to me since,” she says, and this is the thing you remember, now, about her, about Sif: the sliding opacity of her eyes, the way they flicker in and out between deep, wide-open clarity and smooth dark impenetrability. She believes she is a bad liar but she is wrong, for it is so very, very hard to tell what she means except in those moments when her face opens up like night-blooming jasmine and she is there, the sum totality of herself, unmasked.
She would probably deny it but this, too, was always Sif: this was Sif at eight, at the palace for the first time, cocking her head to the side, unreadable. She smiles at Thor now, makes jokes in battle, plays himself back at him, and makes a show of anger in other quarters, but this is her at her core, her unfettered self: calm and guarded and cautious but not afraid.
You stand up and walk toward her, walk as close as you can, until Frigga’s magic is a harsh jittering burn against your skin. You are taller than she is anyway but you are especially tall now, in here, raised up as you are: she tilts her head back passionlessly to look at you.
“Do you mean to make me sentimental?” you ask, sneering. “Dear old Odin, he always did love me as if I were his own flesh and blood? Do you imagine us staging some sort of tearful reunion where all is forgiven?”
“Odin always favored Thor,” Sif says, blunt. “And you hate him more now than any sane man hates anyone. I am not here to convince you of anything.”
You rest your palm against the barrier between you, even though it sparks against your skin, a thousand little shocks. You could leave your arm hanging at your side and glamor it, the image of your hand resting there, but you do not: you let yourself feel the pain running up your arm. If it were Thor standing there you would not be standing up at all; you would be sitting on the other side of the cell, watching him talk to your shadow self. But it is not Thor in front of you, now: it is Sif.
“Oh, but you are,” you tell her. “You are here to convince me you still care.”
She looks at you for a second, face devoid of expression, eyes opaque. “I would kill you without a second thought if you put Asgard in danger,” she tells you.
“You would not,” you say.
“You almost killed me,” she says quietly, and you swallow, stare at your aching hand instead of her calm face.
“What,” she says a moment later. “Loki Silvertongue, with no answer at the ready?”
“Don’t call me that,” you snap before you can stop yourself. When you glance back at her she is looking at you with something in her eyes that might be kindness.
“Loki Odinson,” she says instead.
“Don’t call me that,” you snarl.
“It’s what you are,” she says, and your lips pull away from your teeth like an animal.
“Laufeyson,” you say, and it hurts: you do not want either of them, either of the men who are not your fathers. You have no name anymore except Loki.
“Loki Friggason,” she suggests, and you flinch.
“I am not her son either,” you say, and she makes a sound, a little snorting sound, soft, and you remember that, too, and it makes something ache, deep inside of you, that you have not felt in a long time. It rises into your throat, makes it hard to breathe: this is something like panic, you think, but she cannot see it. Sif, of all people, cannot see you panic.
“If you are not her son, then whose son are you?” she asks.
“Nobody’s,” you tell her, and when you look at her she is open: and she looks so, so sad.
“Please,” you say, “go away,” and she goes.
You pace around the edges of your cell, getting closer and farther away from the barrier, closer and farther away to the grating hum, listing toward pain and then away again. You have nothing else to do. You have looked at the book your – that Frigga left you, but the words do not like words to you anymore. You have time to read – you have more than enough time to read, you have an infinity of time – but no space in your mind, no room for ordered, consecutive thoughts, no room for structure. You walk calmly around the cell in which Odin has placed you for the rest of your thousands of years of life and the inside of you, the part of you that is yourself, that you cannot glamor, that you cannot and have never been able to change, surges up against the levees you have built around it in an endless roar of fury. When you were a child, you and Thor used to argue after your mother told you stories of the old ones about all sorts of things, but one of them was madness: whether it was possible for a mad person to know that he was mad.
“Of course he couldn’t,” Thor used to scoff, six years old, or maybe seven, round-faced and golden-haired, as simple as he was all those many years later, when you whispered into his ear that he should go to Jötunnheim.
But you thought a mad person might be able to, that there might be shades of madness, that it might be more complex – you could not articulate it in those terms, of course, at six, or seven, or however old you were; but you did not think, even then, that anything was simple. The only things that were simple to you then was that you loved your mother and that you loved Thor (and wanted him to love you) and that you were afraid of your father. You doubted everything else.
For so long you did not think you were mad – you are not sure you are now. It is an overly simplistic term in any event. You are not insane: you can see with a certain clarity things that Thor and Frigga cannot see; you can see that Odin is a liar and a criminal and a fool, and that he is not your father and never was, even if you thought of him that way, even if you will never be able to erase those endless years of inculcation. You know that the people on Midgard are small and stupid and that their lives are trivial concerns compared to yours, and that wittering over them as Thor is increasingly prone to do will get him nowhere in the end but distracted from his kingship. Even before everything that has happened you were always able to see Asgard for what it was, all the machinations of the court and the palace and the city and the country, all the nine realms: base, brutal, savage politics. There was a reason, after all, that Odin should have chosen you as his successor in the first place. You were always better suited to the task, with all its parlor games and backstabbers and secret killings. Thor’s warfare is nothing compared to those machinations – they are what actually keeps the peace.
So you are not insane. But there is a fury inside of you that you cannot entirely control, now, and you can feel yourself following it, and you do not know whether you want to stop. You do not know whether you would be able to tell if you wanted to, or if you could even if the thought occurred to you: it is like the buzzing in you, the perpetual jarring hum; it is in your bones. You are a creature made out of rage.
(Except: in the quietest, darkest moments, deep into the night, when everyone else is sleeping, except for you – you do not sleep – when you do not know whether you will ever get out of the room in which you are currently living; when you do not know whether you will ever touch anyone again; when you do not know whether you can touch anyone at all or whether you would just slip through them, ephemeral, if you tried; when you imagine all the thousands of years spent here, in the dead white light of this room, alone; when you think of Thor old and haggard on the throne raising up his boys in the gold-washed light of the sun through the windows, shining and bright and so profoundly unlike you in every way; when you think of Sif, eight years old and twelve and fifteen, tilting her head to the side, looking at you without giving anything away, and then later, grinning at Thor with her fierce sharp smile, the weight of the sword nothing in her callused hands; when you think of Sif opened up from neck to navel, innards spilled out onto the ground, eyes empty and staring at the sky.
You would have done that, once. So sometimes you think, deep in the darkest part of the night, when you slide your hands over each other and watch the color of your skin change, that perhaps there is a part of you that is mad. But it is a fleeting feeling. For how can it be madness if you are hurtling yourself willingly down into the abyss?)
Frigga did not talk about her parents and you did not ask about them. For a long time you did not wonder about them at all, and it occurs to you now that you have never thought about why that is. At some point she told you that they were dead. You do not remember that conversation very well either. You are not sure why you were not curious about them: it went against your nature, which was always to discover everything about everyone. It was impossible to imagine Odin having come from anybody else; he simply existed. But Frigga was a person, even if she was your mother and therefore assumed the stature of a god (they were gods, your parents; they are gods; you and Thor are gods – “you’re just a couple of shits,” Sif told you once, profoundly unimpressed, when she was fifteen and you were older, and Thor had snorted, and she had elbowed him in the face, and you had wanted, insanely, for her to elbow you in the face, too), and yet you had never really wondered, had never asked. You just knew that they were dead. That was all.
Your mother did not teach you everything you know about magic but she taught you everything that matters. She taught you how to reach out and take a hold of something that was and was not there and how to feel it glitter in your hand, warm against your palm, and how to make it grow, how to push it, stretch it; how to pull everything around you until you were not there anymore at all, to anyone else’s gaze; how to feel everything that was around you and use it. Your mother taught you how to be in the world and now she has wrapped you up in a box inside of it. The irony is not lost on you. You would rather it be her doing than anyone else’s, still: the dull, jarring pain would be worse if it there were not something in the film over your tongue, the smell in your nose, the shake in your bones, that was your mother.
You always thought you would know if she died – when you were very young you did not think about it at all, for how could your mother die? How could your mother possibly not exist in the world? But Odin came back from battle badly wounded when you and Thor were still young – nine, you think you were nine – and the sight of him, carried in by soldiers, bandaged, bloody, made you turn your face into your mother’s waist, even though you were too old for that. You and Thor huddled together against her, but while he stared out at Odin, eyes wide and terrified, you kept your face pressed against your mother, paralyzed by the thought of her dying. The reality of it had never really occurred to you before, although of course you knew that you would all eventually die, many, many years in the future, millennia away. But it was real, now: she could die. Somebody could kill her. It did not matter that she did not go off into battle like Odin. People could come to her, people could come to you and find her and cut her throat, could shoot her down, and you would not be able to do anything to stop them.
You couldn’t sleep that night. Nobody was sleeping: everybody was going back and forth in the hall, taking things to and from the healers’ rooms, whispering about Odin. He was not going to die but nobody could tell, yet, how well or poorly he was going to heal. You gave up sleeping and wandered around, used your clumsy shadowy glamor to sneak past people who would normally have noticed you but were now too distracted to pay attention. Finally you poked your head into Thor’s room and found him sitting up in bed, his knees pulled to his chest, and tugged him out with you without saying anything, down long winding hallways until you got to the long row of identical doors where the young nobility were quartered, if they lived at court and were training to be swordsmen. You and Sif were only on cautious terms but you knew which door was hers, and you knocked on it, and she let you in.
The three of you curled up sideways in her bed, in her little bed that could barely fit all of you even when you were that small, and you remember thinking that the sensation of her smooth hair under your cheek was strange. You never spent any time around girls: she was the only girl you knew. Women were different: you haunted women; you were your mother’s shadow. But the only girl you knew was Sif.
Thor fell asleep eventually but you did not, and neither did she. You could see her open eyes staring at the ceiling in the light of the little lamp in the corner, which she had left on after letting you into the room.
“He’s going to be okay,” she said finally, without looking at you, speaking very quietly so as not to wake Thor.
“I know,” you said, and you did: it was not him you were worried about.
She turned to look at you. “Okay,” she said.
In the morning you woke up before her, her mouth sagging open in a little, mashed against your forehead, and you made a face as you pulled away, rubbing her spittle away. She blinked blearily and blushed a little, wiping at her mouth, and you felt bad. You were only a year older than she was and usually felt much younger, but sometimes she looked babyish, and you remembered. When people are children they think they are adults: the space of a year becomes infinitely significant.
“Sorry,” she muttered. Thor was still asleep, back turned toward both of you.
“S’okay,” you said, and neither of you got out of bed for a while.
After that you always thought that Odin would die first. For a while you thought that you would kill him. And you always, always thought you would know when she died: that you would feel it, somehow, wherever you were in the universe. But when it happens, you do not: you feel nothing. The cage around you does not tremble, even though she made it; it is probably the sturdiest thing she ever made. You have no idea that anything has happened to her until a stranger comes to tell you that your mother is dead, and it does not occur to you to correct him, to say the queen, to say Frigga. For yes: your mother has died. She is gone. You have no mother anymore.
It is only a matter of time, you know, before he comes. You are waiting. But once again, she comes first. You suppose you should get used to it – you suppose you should have gotten used to it already, by now: that always, amidst all madness and carnage, there is Sif.
“We meet again,” you tell her from the edge of your cell, from where you are sitting at the back, dirty, bloody, unkempt. She will not see you like that. She does not need to see you like that.
She looks at the version of you standing in front of her. You like watching her like this, from a slightly different angle; you always have. You see things you do not normally see: the way she straightens her shoulders a little, steadies herself on her feet.
“Thor is going to come,” she says, business-like, almost brusque.
“I see,” you say.
“He is going to come and do something very stupid, I expect,” Sif says, and you can’t help but smile, genuinely, because it is so exactly the sort of thing she would have said when she was thirteen. The version of yourself that she is talking to you smirks.
“When is Thor not doing something stupid?” he asks.
“He will do it regardless of what anyone tells him he should or should not do,” she continues, imperturbable.
“Because of that human woman,” your double says. “With whom he is so blithely infatuated.”
“Yes,” she says. “And also because of your mother.”
You do not say anything for a moment.
“He is going to come down here and do something stupid and you will agree to whatever he says because it will get you out of here and I know you will not say no to anything that will get you out of here,” she says, which is true.
“Do not be stupid, Loki,” she says. “Do not do anything stupid.”
“I am never stupid, Sif,” you tell her.
“Yes, you are,” she says. “You are stupid all the time.”
Your double scoffs. “Give me some credit,” he says. “They all tell me I’m mad, but stupid: that, I can’t abide.”
“I know that’s not you,” she tells you. “I know you are somewhere else in there. Don’t underestimate people. It doesn’t become you.”
“I have never underestimated you,” you say, which is true.
She turns her gaze away from your double and lets her eyes scan the empty room. “I’m sorry about Frigga,” she says. “If you hurt Thor I will kill you without a second thought.”
You laugh. “No, you won’t,” you tell her.
“Try me,” she says, and is gone before you can reply.
They did not start calling you Loki Silvertongue until later, until you were something resembling an adult – you all thought you were adults, anyway, then. Thor’s friends used to call you that – they claimed it was an endearment, if confronted, but with the weak protestations of people who are not telling the truth. You were an expert in lying: you recognized it in other people. They were not joking when they called you that: there was something cutting in their voices, something biting and cruel. You were not like them – that was what they meant. You were not strong, like they were, or brave, or trustworthy. You were something else. They had no idea, then, how right they were – you didn’t, either. You hated it but you could not complain. You could never complain to Thor’s friends about anything or else you were the killjoy; you could only smile and smirk and make subtle jokes at their expense and try to get them to do what you wanted without them realizing what you were doing – you were good at that anyway, but you would get better as you got older.
Sif never called you that. Sif just watched you, and joked around with them when they joked around with her, tussled with them as though she were one of them – but she was not, you knew. This was a game they played with themselves, the idea that Sif was exactly the same as all of them. You were no stranger to falsehoods, but this was willful delusion. It grated at you, anyway, the sight of Sif with all of them: she was better than they were, Thor’s idiot companions. They were dumb lunks, nothing but the brutality of their swords – Sif was not like that. Sif was a soldier; Sif was violent – but she was not stupid, and she was not limited.
You were used to it, by the time you were an adult, the vagaries of Thor’s little coterie; when you were still a teenager it drove you ‘round the bend. You did not have friends: they used to say, at court, that you did not “mix well.” You were an awkward child: never clumsy but utterly incapable of knowing what to say to make people like you. Nobody did like you; nobody ever did, then or later. Thor and your mother loved you but that was not the same thing: they had to, you thought, back then. Thor is still your brother but you do not have to love him anymore: after all, he does not love you.
You would make up for it later, for all those years of never knowing what to say, by knowing exactly what to say to make people do what you wanted, but you never figured out what to say to make them like you. Loki Silvertongue, Thor’s friends called you. You thought that if you could somehow make people like you (and maybe, maybe, make them love you) that your tongue would be made of gold – but it was not.
But farther back: you were sixteen. You could convince nobody of anything. You were awkward, gangly – you had most of your height and none of the body to go with it. In the mornings you went to your mother or to the specially trained swordsmaster who trained you apart from Thor and the other boys – and, of course, Sif – and learned the things you had to learn, and in the afternoons you read in the library or skulked around the palace, gathering shadows around you so nobody could see that you were there. Sometimes Thor dragged you along with his passel of warriors-in-training, who smirked at you but did not make undercutting comments, not after the first time, when Sif had hit one of them so hard on the back of his head that he had fallen over and broken his nose on the ground, and then turned back to Thor and said something as though she had done nothing at all.
Mostly if you associated with anyone at all it was Thor, or Thor and Sif: for Sif was his favorite, you knew, of all of them. Even if they pretended not to they all deferred to him, the boys, for he was going to be a king someday: he was going to be a god. Sif did not care. You and Thor had crawled into Sif’s bed when you were children the night your father had almost died as the lantern-light had flickered in the corner and your little warm bodies had shook minutely in the darkness. Sif did not know everything about you but she knew that if you were going to be gods that you were not gods yet.
You were jealous of them and you knew it. You were jealous of the way that she smiled at him and laughed at him and pushed him around – she did not look at you that way, ever. Later you would appreciate it in a way, her serious appraisal, but then you just wanted her to smile at you: you wanted her to like you. You had no idea whether she liked you or not, whether you were just an accessory of Thor’s whom she had to put up with because she had no other choice.
Still: the three of you had known each other for what felt like a long time, then, when you were sixteen. Even if she did not like you, you were a triad then in a way you would not be later, when Thor grew up and solidified his group and you were dragged along by default. Sif was still his favorite but the three of you were not special anymore: you were an annoyance, a necessary burden. They did not like you being there, the Warriors Three, even if they pretended otherwise. You could not have said what Sif thought.
You have not forgotten what happened when you were sixteen and Sif was fifteen: it is too clear, now, almost uncomfortably so. You and Thor were fighting about something – you can’t remember about what now, it’s been so long, so many, many years – and Sif was there. You don’t remember why that was, either, only that you were all outside somewhere, and that she did not say anything while you were fighting. You did not often fight in front of Sif – you did not often fight in front of other people at all, not anymore, except your mother, who let you go at each other briefly before putting a stop to it. You had not fought in front of your father in years, not since you were such small children. He was terrifying when he saw you fighting, and though Thor would forget it later, in his years of arrogance under Odin’s favor, when you were children you were both terrified of him. Odin always preferred Thor, your whole lives, but Thor was still afraid of him. It was impossible, at four, at five, not to be afraid of Odin. He was terrifying.
But though you bickered often you did not fight in front of other people, and certainly not in front of Sif. You do not remember what you were fighting about but you remember the way she watched you, her eyes flicking back and forth. People would imagine, later, that you were infinitely more vicious than Thor when you fought with each other, but Thor was at his cruelest, his pettiest, his most cutting when the two of you fought: you were both at your worst with each other. You knew all each other’s softest spots, knew exactly where to drive your knives in under the protective armor you wore for the rest of the world. This was why you did not fight in public: you would not reveal these things to other people. That was the unspoken pact between you, even when you were nearly blind with rage at each other: you were, always, loyal.
These fights ended either with Thor beating you bloody or with you sliding out of his grasp, slippery with magic, elusive. You were good, even then, at illusions, at doing anything that you could reasonably imagine: but you were not yet great. It did not come as easily to you as breathing, not like it does now. It is so easy to you now that there is nothing pleasurable about it – or it was, until your mother sewed up the world around you, choked you off – but back then, Thor got a hold of you sometimes, just – beat you up, and you could do nothing to stop him, your mind frozen, your body in agonizing pain. Otherwise, all you could do was run away. Coward, he used to call after you, and you hated him for it: for if you stayed, what would happen? He would bruise and bloody you. There was no other possible outcome.
You slipped away from him that time, and slid away from both of them, as fast as you could. You were not thinking about where you were going; you just went, and went, and went, until you came to a ledge that looked out on a waterfall, the spray shooting into your face, the cold making you shiver.
She showed up not long after. You did not hear her coming. You would be better at this, too, later: but you were not as careful then, were more in the thrall of your own emotions.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
You started, and your feet slipped a little on the wet rocks. “How did you find me?” you asked, turning around.
She just blinked at you. “I followed you,” she said.
“I was hiding,” you told her.
“I could see you,” she said, shrugging. “Well enough.”
“You shouldn’t have,” you snapped, angry, rough, curling your scrawny white arms around you. Sif could have beaten you up as easily as Thor – she could have beaten Thor up, probably. She was smarter than he was, after all.
“You shouldn’t have run away,” she argued.
“I could have found my way back,” you told her. “You didn’t need to come chasing after me like my – nanny –”
She just looked at you, with no expression on her face, as though to say what she thought of that idea.
“Get away from me,” you snarled, with all the bitterness of your sixteen years of life. “Get away.”
She took one step backward – only one. “I was worried about you,” she said carefully, enunciating every syllable very clearly. Now, looking back on it, you wonder if she was already upset. She was probably upset. She was only fifteen, even if she seemed so self-possessed, so sure of herself.
“Don’t worry about me,” you told her. “I don’t need anybody to worry about me.”
“All right,” she said, and you took an instinctive step backward, and slipped on the rock, and fell off the edge.
You weren’t sure how far you fell: not very far, probably; you would have been more badly injured if you had fallen a long way. Sometimes people talk about moments like that feeling like they last forever, but you were hitting the water right away, the slap of it stinging sharp against your skin, your arm slamming against something hard, snapping – you could feel it break, not the pain exactly but the impact – and the cold surrounding you, your clothes heavy, weighing you down, water going up your nose before you could control yourself and blow out. Your eyes were shocked open and everything looked like a churning blue-grey mess around you, incoherent, indecipherable: you did not know which way was up. You were choking on water and for a horrible moment you thought: I am going to die. You thought of your father bleeding as he was carried into the palace and your face pressed against your mother’s dress. You were going to die. You were never going to see them again, and never see Thor again, but more importantly you were going to be dead: you were going to be in the darkness and you would not wake up again. You would never think another thought. Your mother had told you stories, when you were little, of your ancestors going back to the stars but you did not believe them and you did not think she believed them, either: they were stories to make children feel better about the ravenous darkness of space that was waiting for them on the other side of life.
Your clothes were heavy, and you did not know which way was up.
And then Sif crashed through the water above you, feet bare, her white shirt billowing around her chest, slipping out of her pants, her hair flowing out behind her. She curved in the water and swam to you and pulled your heavy body up, up, and out, until your head broke the surface and you were choking on the air, spitting up water pathetically, and she was dragging you along, your broken arm hanging uselessly alongside you. She heaved you up in front of her, onto cold stone, and pulled herself out behind you on all fours, panting. You were still coughing up water, curled onto your side, as you realized slowly and hazily that you were in a deep cave, which was echoing the sound of your coughing faintly back at you, along with the general din of the waterfall.
“You need to take off your overclothes,” she said once she had her breath back.
“What?” you said dumbly.
“You’re going to freeze,” she told you.
“I can dry them,” you said.
“Can you,” she said, and you tried to pull on the threads that would twist space around you, twist what was real, but you could not find them.
“Come on,” she said, sounding fractionally kinder, shuffling over toward you on her knees. “I’ll cut your coat off.” She took your long knife off you without waiting for you to give her permission, casually proprietary, and slid it out of its sheath, shook the water off of it, and flipped it around in her callused hand, and set about cutting the sleeve of your leather jacket off of your broken arm at the shoulder. You whimpered a little when she shifted it and she stopped, rested her palm against your shoulder. Her wet hair was stuck against her neck, was hanging down in stringy clumps, and she curled her fingers gently against your shoulder.
“Sorry,” she said.
“It’s okay,” you told her, and grit your teeth as she continued, slowly slicing through the leather, letting it fold open as she went. You couldn’t help but cry out a little when she went past the place where the break was, which was throbbing painfully now, but she did not stop this time, just kept going until she got to your wrist, and the whole sleeve fell away. She sat back and looked at you for a moment.
“All right,” she said, and leaned forward again, to slice through to your collar before peeling off part of the front of the jacket, and then pulling you up so that you could shrug off the other half. You started shivering badly as soon as it was off, teeth clacking together, hands shaking.
“You shouldn’t have made me do that,” you told her, pathetic, whining, but she ignored you, just bent down and undid the laces of you boots and pulled them off of your feet, rolled down your socks over your bony white feet. You wanted to curl them away from her and you weren’t quite sure why it was that that was so embarrassing: your bare feet.
“They’re too wet,” she said. “They’d just give you frostbite.” (You wonder, now, what would have happened if she had left them on, if she had let you freeze: would the color have crept over your skin, bled into your eyes? Would your blood have saved you?)
“We probably shouldn’t have any clothes on at all,” she said, cheeks pink. “But that’s – I think this will be okay.”
“What?” you asked stupidly.
“I’m going to tie up your arm first,” she went on as though you hadn’t said anything, cheeks still flushed. You watched hazily as she cut up your jacket into strips and wrung them out – you had liked that jacket, you thought vaguely – and then turned back to you, biting her lip.
“This is going to hurt,” she said.
“Okay,” you said, and she looked at you for a long moment with her impenetrable gaze before nodding once and reaching out to take your hand. She ran her thumb over your fingers for a moment, gentle, cold, and them pulled slowly until it was straight, and you were making one long pained incoherent noise.
“Sorry,” she said, and turned it slowly so that she could hold it between her knees and painstakingly wrap the long strips of leather around your arm, threading them through each other, pulling them tight, until your forearm was in throbbing, agonizing pain, but it was straight, and it would not swell up.
“Sorry,” she said again, looking awkward suddenly, and you realized you were crying.
“S’fine,” you said, and she twisted her hands together for a moment before dragging the remains of your clothes away and coming back toward you. Her shirt was white and wet and sticking to her and her breasts were bare beneath it: she had been wearing a thick leather vest and a jacket, earlier, but now her nipples were poking up against the fabric, pink and pebbled. You could feel your cheeks heating up but you didn’t look away until she was nearly standing over you, and then sitting down, legs crossed.
“It’s dark soon and I don’t know how to – to get back up there,” she said. “That’s why I, you know – tomorrow I can go find help.”
“You don’t even have shoes,” you told her, and she shrugged.
“I’ll wear yours,” she said, and you swallowed.
“Okay,” you said. She took your good hand and held it between hers for a second, running her fingers along your palm.
“It’ll be fine,” she said. “It’s always fine.”
You wanted to tell her that that wasn’t true, but you didn’t say anything, just watched as she looked at you, and smiled a little, the corners of her mouth tugging up. Sif did not smile at you very often. This was very different from the way she smiled at Thor.
She dropped your hand and unfolded her legs before she stood up again and rolled you carefully onto your side.
“What are you doing?” you sputtered as she lay down behind you and curled her wet cold body against yours.
“We’re both going to freeze otherwise,” she said, and wormed her arm under your broken one, pressed her hand against your chest. It was shaking. Her whole body was shaking.
“Are you all right?” you asked after a moment.
“Yeah,” she said, tucking her face against the back of your neck, her bare toes against your ankles. “I’m just cold.”
She was only fifteen. That is what you keep coming back to, now: that she was fifteen. When you were sixteen you thought you were as mature as you were ever going to be – not that you knew as much about the world as you were ever going to know but that you understood as much about yourself and as much about people as you were ever going to understand. You were not adults but you might as well have been, you thought. And Sif was a soldier in training: her body was nothing but muscle and scars and bone. But her face was still babyish and round, and her breasts were small and soft where they pressed against your back, and neither of you knew anything about the world, not really.
It did not occur to you then that she was afraid of anything: for how could Sif be afraid? You still do not really believe that Sif is ever afraid of anything, but looking back you can see it, the fissures of her fear. It was there. It was there in her shaking hand and her toes curling against your skin. Some part of you is still resistant to the idea, shies away from it: you do not want to think about it, about Sif not wanting you to die. About Sif being afraid of you dying. But she was afraid. You know that now, although it makes you sick deep in the pit of your stomach, in the dull slow center of the storm of your rage, to think about it. Sif was fifteen and she had taken off her heavy clothes and shoes and she had jumped off of a cliff after you.
You were shivering when you woke up in the dawn but your back was warm where she was pressed up against you, and you clothes were only faintly damp. Your arm was throbbing but Sif’s legs were tucked up against yours and her arm was curled around your chest and her breathing was warm along the back of your neck.
You lay awake until she woke up, and went still against your back before slowly pulling away, lifting your arm carefully and putting it back down, leaving you cold and lonely on the cold hard ground. You rolled onto your back, wincing, your side aching, and looked at her as she stood up, rolling her neck to work out the kinks. She peered out the entrance to the cave, eerily still, before turning back to you. Her hair was dry and tangled, messier on one side than the other.
“They’ll be out looking for us,” she said. “I’ll find them and bring them back.”
“Okay,” you said.
“Okay,” she said, and didn’t move for a moment before she turned and sat down to pull on your boots, which were too big for her feet. She pulled the laces as tight as she could, and wrapped them around the ankles, and stomped them when she was done, and they stayed on, although you could see them shifting around her feet. She took your knife, too, where she had left it, and stuck it back in its sheath before tucking it into the waist of her pants and crouching down next to you.
“I’ll be back,” she said.
“Of course,” you said stiffly, and she just looked at you, and reached out one hand to run it through your hair, which you could feel was curling in the damp. It made you twitch, and she froze before moving it away, and you wondered why you had done that – or why your body had done that.
“Sorry,” she said.
“I didn’t,” you started, but you didn’t know what else to say. You didn’t know what you hadn’t done, or meant, or – or – what.
“I’ll be back as soon I as I can,” she said, and started to get up, so before you could stop yourself you grabbed her hand and stopped her. You didn’t know if she was ever going to come back. You didn’t know if you were ever going to see a person again. Your fingers were long around her wrist – she was strong but not big, Sif, and everything about you was long.
“Thank you,” you said awkwardly, the words ungainly in your mouth. You had never known what to say to make people like you. It did not once occur to you in that cave that Sif liked you already, that you did not have to work for it.
She looked down at you from her half-crouch and curled her fingers around yours. “You’re welcome,” she said, and pulled herself free, and seconds later was back in the water, swimming away.
It took her hours to come back, and by the time she and Odin and Thor and the rest of them appeared in the mouth of the cave you had curled back into yourself, miserable with pain and solitude, and when she smiled when she saw you – broad, glowing, all the way across her face – it looked insincere to you, and you turned your head away, did not look her all the way out into the boat, refused to see her for days when you were recovering. Finally your mother gave you such a look that you allowed her in, and when she sat down her face was not pinched with fury or deeply sad but impenetrable.
“Loki,” she said.
“Sif,” you said, and let yourself smirk up at her. It felt sour but familiar on your face. She looked at you for a long moment and then smiled, and there was no emotion in it at all.
You have been in this cell too long. You were never in your mother’s womb but you have been trapped in this nightmarish cage of her devising for what feels like an age. She is gone now: you will never see her again except spun from the ether, from your own shimmering imaginings. And yet she is still here, around you, a needle in your side. You want her to come back: you want to be able to explain to her, to make her understand, finally, what she would never understand before. But you cannot make her come back. She will never come back now.
Thor comes down to find you. You are ready for him. Your mother is gone but you are still here. The time has come at last for son to be birthed unto the world.
You cannot actually wear Odin’s body, just make the air around you look and feel like his. You think other people would not necessarily make much of this distinction but it is significant, to you: your hands are your own, your arms and legs and chest and teeth and tongue. But you are inside the shade of your father. When you reach out your hand to touch someone you feel something – warmth, pressure – but not the real sensation of texture. It makes your heart thud a little faster in your chest, the knowledge that when people look at you they are seeing him: the All Father. You are inside of him all the time, now, all day and night, until the door closes behind you and the curtains close over your windows at the end of the day and you let him slide away, breathing heavily, gasping, fingers clenching open and closed, your skin prickling all over.
You remember being a teenager, nineteen, practicing, pulling other bodies over yours. You were showing off to Sif in some palace arcade and the golden light of Asgard was streaming in from behind her, making her dark hair bright around the edges. She had her arms crossed in front of her and she looked neither impressed nor disdainful, just evaluating. You liked that about her – she was hard to impress. But you wanted badly to impress her: you knew that much, at least.
You pulled Thor up and around you and her eyes flicked up and down. “That’s good, but it can’t be very difficult,” she said. “You’ve spent more time with Thor than with anybody.”
You looked at her for a moment and then shifted into her instead. Her eyebrows rose minutely.
“You’re looking at me,” she said flatly.
You tried to think of someone, someone who would impress upon her the enormity of your skill, of your achievement – you had met her father a few times, most recently the year before. You tried to remember what he had looked like the last time you saw him, and what Sif had looked like standing next to him, not quite meeting his eyes.
You cracked your neck and let it flow over you – you could not even remember his name, only that he was Sif’s father, and that she was afraid of him: Sif, who was afraid of no one. He had brought her to the palace when she was eight and you remember seeing him again a year later and realizing that she was afraid of him and hating him viciously, but it was years later and she was still afraid of him and that made you want to slit his throat, to suffocate him, and to make him look at you while you did it so that he knew you were the one killing him.
She went very still in front of you. “How are you doing that,” she said. “You don’t even know my father.”
“I’ve met him,” you said, letting your fist rest on your hip the way you remember him doing, and she went white, and you let it drop so fast it was jarring, involuntary. “That’s not how it works, really,” you told her. “It’s – what you think about the person. It wouldn’t work otherwise, it wouldn’t – you couldn’t remember that many things about people. I couldn’t, I mean.”
“That’s very impressive,” she said stiffly, not meeting your eyes, and turned away, and left.
(The next time he came was a year later, and she did not look at him, and you magicked yourself into a guard who claimed that she was needed urgently in the barracks, took her by the elbow and hurried her out of the room, fell back into yourself in the dark hallway and slid your hand down her arm, pressing your fingers gently against her palm. She looked at you out of the corners of her eyes and didn’t say anything, but ran her fingers up your wrist, along the bone, and then let go, and turned down a corridor, and vanished.)
You let him go sometimes, Odin, let him sit in his throne, and stand in the shadows watching, hidden from everyone, but it is tiring, when it is not yourself that you are sending out away from you: it is so much easier when it is your own image. So you wrap yourself up inside of him, in the intoxicating smothering breadth of him, let his voice boom out of you, and watch as everyone trembles in terror and awe before you. You are drunk on your rage and your power: Odin is dead but you do not hate him any less than you did when he was alive, you have found – you think you might hate him more. Still, he is yours now – he belongs to you. You control him. You control everyone: they stare up at you with those wide eyes, bow nervously, offer condolences at the death of your wife, and you try not to twitch, try not to say: she was my mother.
Eventually, as you knew she would, Sif presents herself to you, pale and drawn, bent on one knee, head bowed. You remembered what she said: that Odin had said no cruel word to her since that day when she was fifteen.
“My deepest condolences for your loss,” she says without looking at you.
“It was your loss as well,” you tell her, and she swallows.
“Yes,” she allows. “I hope – I hope Queen Frigga found something worthy in me.”
“I know that she did, Lady Sif,” you tell her, and she twitches.
“I would – I would like permission to go to Svartalfheim to retrieve – the body of your son,” she says, jerking, too quickly, still without meeting your eye. You stare at her for a moment, trying not to look too shocked, too hungry.
“Svartalfheim is a cruel country,” you say finally. “It has been many weeks. The body you wish to seek there will have been long destroyed.”
She does not move for a moment, just swallows again. Neither of you say anything about the bodies of the Jötunn, which freeze solid for months, and slowly break into pieces and then are ground back into the earth. (You have no idea what would happen to your body when you die. You have no real idea what your body is at all.)
“Of course, All Father,” she replies, and gets up and walks away in one smooth movement, her hair swinging behind her as your heart pounds in your chest.
That night you collapse against the back of your door, panting, one hand scrabbling through your hair, which, you realize, is beginning to curl thickly. You turn and look at yourself in the mirror over the washstand: you are letting yourself go, locked up like this. Your cheeks re gaunt and your skin is even more bone-white than it was after your imprisonment underground. You hacked off most of your hair after Thor left for Earth but it is nearly to your chin again, and left to its own devices is curling horribly. Your lips re chapped and your eyes are bloodshot. You do not look well.
You lie carefully in bed that night, your body feeling disproportionately fragile, and find yourself thinking once again about the night that Odin almost died. You want to be that young again: you want Sif to open her door and let you into her bed with the same uncomplicated acceptance, and you want to be only pettily jealous of Thor. You did nothing, back then, but fight with Thor, and you wanted nothing more than for him to pay attention to you, for him to approve of you, to deem you worthy. You were separated off for your educations and took after each of your parents so distinctly back then but you were together: you belonged so fiercely to each other. Here, in the darkness of the night, you can admit that you love Thor still – but you hate him, and he hates you – you have not stopped hating him; your hatred has not gone away. But oh, how you wish that you could pick yourself up and go back to a time when you did not hate him. You wish that that were possible.
You remember more than anything being aware of Odin, as a little boy: of being watchful, of being careful around him, as well-behaved as you could possibly be. Thor was not as well-behaved as you were but he was still Odin’s favorite: it was not fair. You were not an especially angelic child outside of Odin’s presence but you knew on some instinctual level not to misbehave in front of him. Thor was afraid of him, too, but Thor was not as good at controlling himself as you were.
You had broken something once – by accident, you had insisted, but you think now you had done it sort of purposefully, to see what would happen – when you were very small, and Odin had just looked at you with something like distaste, where you were sure he would have shouted at Thor. You had not done anything against the rules since.
You were almost never alone with him: if you were with him it was usually in a room full of people, and on the rare occasions he paid attention to you in particular it was always when he had the two of you together. He took special pains with Thor that he did not with you and you knew it: it made Thor puff up in pride and you hated him for it and the hatred was something that ached deep in your chest. You were cleverer than Thor, Thor who only knew how to hit things and run around and shout: you could already read and make the air around your hands sparkle and glow and you were faster than Thor was, anyway. You ignored Thor on the days that Odin took him away someplace on his own and then Thor would badger you until you could not ignore him anymore – Thor was very good at badgering people – and tell you all about wherever Odin had taken him, whatever Odin had shown him, flopped back on the grass next to you on your own private lawn behind the palace, your knees knocking together as you tried not to cry. You loved Thor, you told yourself, biting the inside of your mouth, or your tongue, chewing on them until you tasted blood. Then Thor would ask you what Mother had done with you all day and you would swallow and tell him and he would pretend to listen, except that he was not really listening, because Thor found anything that did not have to do with fights or adventures boring. You were not very good at fights so you determined you would get better at adventures.
That one day, though: you must have been eight years old, for it was before Sif arrived and looked at you with her tilted head, but not by much. You were creeping around the palace on your own – you could not disguise yourself yet, but you were a good sneak anyway, and everybody was off doing something else; you did not know what and you did not care. You were more interested in poking around the nooks and crannies of the palace unnoticed than in whatever it was they were all doing.
You came upon the throne room, which was empty, and got bold enough to walk out into the middle of the room and look around. You knew either you or Thor would be king one day, just like Odin was, and sit on the great throne in front of you – even then you think you knew it would not be you, but you did not want to think about that just then.
“Little boys do not belong in here all alone,” he said, and you froze as he walked out from – somewhere.
“Where are you supposed to be?” he asked, looking down at you.
“Nowhere,” you said, feeling as though you were lying, although you were not.
“Hmm,” he said. “Let’s go, then.”
“Where?” you asked. You still hadn’t moved. You felt like you couldn’t move.
“You’ll find out, won’t you?” he said, and started walking. You stared at him for a moment and then started to follow him, body jerking awkwardly.
He walked quickly, without looking back at you, but not quickly enough that you could not keep up with him so long as you walked fast. “Here,” he said finally, when you had gotten to one of the balconies that looked out over Asgard. You were not tall enough to see, so he lifted you up and rested your arms on the edge. Everything was glimmering and gold before you. You had seen it before but not from here, not as Odin was seeing it.
“There is the bridge,” he said. “And there is Heimdall’s observatory. And there are all the people who live close to us.”
“Will I ever get to meet Heimdall?” you asked a long moment later, for by that point Heimdall had reached the status of impossible legend in your mind. Odin laughed, his chest shaking against your back.
“Yes,” he said.
“Oh,” you said, feeling stupid.
“Heimdall will take you to and from all the nine realms,” Odin told you. “Can you name them?”
You rattled them off, Asgard first, then Midgard, and on and on until you finally came to Jötunnheim. Odin did not say anything for a long time.
“Yes,” he said. “One day you will go to Jötunnheim.”
Your skin prickled with a thrill of terror and anticipation. You knew you were no use at fighting but back then you still harbored secret dreams of military valor: you could kill some Jötunn, maybe, like Odin had, and then everybody would nod seriously when they looked at both of you and say that you were very much like him, like your father.
“One day you will go to Jötunnheim,” Odin said again. “It will not be a pleasant journey. It is not a pleasant place. But you will have to go. We will just have to hope you can come back.”
You curled back against him.
“I don’t want to go if I might not come back,” you said in a small voice.
“There’s always a chance you won’t come back, in battle,” he said, and stepped away from you, and you thought you did not want to be a soldier, then.
(But of course you did. You just did not know it.)
In the end you suppose it is a small blessing that they do not come after you in the middle of the throne room, in front of the entire court. In retrospect you will attribute this to Thor’s mercy or good sense – he is making up for a lifetime’s worth of senselessness, it seems to you, in recent days – for it was not Sif who made the decision to so pardon you.
It is Sif who slams the doors to Odin’s private study open late in the afternoon, as dusk is falling, hand already reaching down to pull her long sleek knife out of its sheath, face like fire, with Thor at her heels, closing the doors behind her. You are wearing Odin – the doors are not locked here, only later, at night – and look up at them, mild and munificent. But you know that they know. You can see it on their faces.
Sif knocks you out of your chair, down onto the ground, with one blow. You let out a little sound and let yourself fall the way an old man would. “Lady Sif,” you say in Odin’s voice, “would you so injure a man as past his prime as I am?”
“You are a snake,” she says, voice shaking, blade pressed against your neck. “Are you even there, or are you standing off somewhere else? Are you that much a coward?”
“I have no idea what you are talking about,” you say, and she raises her hand and punches you in the face as hard as she can, and it shocks you so much, and hurts so powerfully, that your vision goes dark for a moment, and when it comes back you are yourself again, mouth sagging open, bleeding from where your teeth cut into your lip.
“Impressive,” you manage, spitting onto the floor next to you, and turn to look back up at her, grinning, and she punches you again. It hurts more the second time.
“Sif,” Thor says.
“Thanks, brother,” you say when you can talk again. “I do feel somewhat at a disadvantage here.”
“He should have killed you when he wanted to,” Sif snarls down at you, her face mere inches away from yours, twisted into something ugly with rage. “You should be strung up in the fucking streets.”
You reach up a hand and grab her hair, wrenching her head back. “So do it,” you hiss up at her. “Cut my throat. Put my head on a pike and parade it around the country.”
“He won’t let me,” she tells you, smiling sickly down at you.
“Did you kill him,” Thor asks, but it is barely a question, just weary words strung together. You wet your lips with your tongue, quick, and Sif swallows.
“You’ve clearly already decided I have,” you tell them, letting go of her hair slowly, tucking a loose lock behind her ear and watching with a kind of detached satisfaction and self-loathing as she flinches away from you. “I can’t imagine that anything I could say in either direction would convince you at this point. Since I am, as you have both so often reminded me, such a skilled fabulist.”
Sif stares down at you. “You did not used to be like this,” she says.
“None of us used to be the way that we are,” you tell her. “Times have changed, my lady.”
She just keeps staring at you, not impenetrable now at all, face utterly unshuttered. She looks younger than you have seen her in a long time and you want to reach up and touch her cheek, run one finger along the fine straight line of her nose, her eyebrow, the thin skin of her eyelid. When you were a little boy you thought magic made every impossibility possible but you know better now. Magic alone cannot make people love you, no matter how ingeniously constructed. You have tried that.
“We need to get him out of here,” she says to Thor over her shoulder, finally.
“Yes,” he says finally, with a sigh, and looks down at you. He is holding those damned handcuffs again, the ones you thought you had escaped forever. “Make yourself look like someone else,” he says. “Anyone else. Someone no one will recognize and care about. If people see you, they will kill you. You know this is true.” And it is. And you do not want to die. So you let them chain you up, and you wear another face, and let them drag you off to Heimdall, whom you no longer find remotely awe-inspiring, and who does not look very surprised to see you.
“Do you know what he has done to Odin?” Sif asks. She is desperate: that is interesting, you think, almost absently. She is so very desperate to know the precise extent and nature of your guilt.
Heimdall looks at you and you look back, unfazed. You do not underestimate him but you have not been cowed by him for years. “The Odinson has ways of concealing himself, my lady,” he says. “Of course, not always. I have seen him at night.” Thor makes a face, and you cannot help but smirk. You are not cowed by Heimdall but it is difficult not to respect him.
“Where would you like to go?” he asks, and Thor says, “Svartalfheim,” then the three of you are being sucked into the bright hot darkness and flung out the other side.
“Ah, yes,” you say once you have landed. “I died here. Such difficult memories.”
“If you keep that up Sif will kill you, brother,” Thor says.
“I am going to kill him regardless,” Sif says, and when you turn to look at her, her hair is streaming out behind her in the harsh wind. All you have ever wanted, you think, was for her to look at you. All you have ever wanted was for people to look at you, and see you: you have worked so hard to make that impossible. Sif was the only one who could do it. And even she cannot manage it now. You can hardly see yourself anymore; maybe that is the problem. Who are you anymore, anyhow? You are a collection of fragmented thoughts, a jumble of identities, a nowhere person, two bodies in one.
“I did save her life, you know,” you say to Thor.
“I know,” he says.
“For no selfish reason,” you continue.
“Everything you do is selfish,” Sif says, staring off into the distance, hands on her hips. Neither you nor Thor says anything for a long moment.
“I do not want to kill you,” Thor says eventually, and Sif chokes from where she is standing behind you. “But I do not know what to do with you either.”
“He will kill you if you do not kill him,” she says. “He will kill all of us. Do you not see that? That is where forgiveness for him has led you so far.”
Thor is looking at you with eerily wise eyes now. “I do not think he will kill you,” he says. “He may kill me.”
You look back at him, at your brother who is not your brother, and smile, slow and delighted. “Brother,” you say. “How you have grown.”
“Do you not mourn for your father?” Sif asks, and Thor sighs.
“I am frightened of a world without my father,” he says eventually. “I mourn him and my mother both.”
“You do not want to rule Asgard,” you point out. “You will have to come back.”
“You cannot be serious,” Sif says.
“I think you’ll find I have been doing an excellent job,” you reply, turning to look at you, and she punches you in the face again.
“You have got to stop doing that,” you choke from the ground. She is shaking with rage, apoplectic, and you are so very, very tired. Even the appeal of kingship has faded, though you would not admit it. You want to sleep for a very long time. You want your mother to tell you that everything will be all right, and failing that you want Sif to do the same. Neither of those things will happen, so you would take the sleep on its own, but you will not admit as much to either of the people standing above you.
“I told you,” Thor is saying. “He will do nothing to you.”
“He has tried it before,” Sif is telling him, and you close your eyes.
“He is more sane now,” Thor says.
“He has murdered your father,” Sif shrieks.
“Yes,” Thor says wearily. “That is likely. But our father was not a very kind man, particularly not to Loki, and he did not – feel about him – the way he feels about you.”
Your eyes snap open.
“Excuse me?” Sif says.
“Yes,” Thor says, voice turning a little wry.
“I – it is not for me that I am concerned,” she splutters, “it is – he is not – the entire kingdom –”
Thor claps her on the shoulder. “I know,” he says, and you can tell from the way he says it that he does not believe her at all.
“I think we will not come to any solution to this problem today,” he says, ruminative. “Heimdall? Back home, please.” But when the hot-bright-dark-light coughs you up you are not in Asgard but staring at Jane Foster across a very unremarkable kitchen in the midst of what looks like a very unsuccessful attempt at dinner.
“Seriously?” she asks, and Thor shrugs.
Jane forces Sif and Thor out of the kitchen when they start bickering in barely-hushed tones in the corner about whether to kill you or not.
“Out,” she says, waving a ladle covered with tomato paste, and pushes them bodily out, and although she is half Thor’s size he goes docilely.
“We can’t leave you alone with –” Sif starts, and Jane closes the door in her face.
“If you try anything I’ll smack you over the head with a frying pan,” she says. “I’ve done it before.”
“Noted,” you say, leaning back in your chair, and cross your legs at the ankles. She frowns down at her recipe.
“This is probably going to be disgusting,” she says, “but you’re all going to eat it anyway, and nobody’s going to complain.”
“I’m sure it will be delicious,” you tell her, with deep insincerity, and she gives you a look.
“Well, you’re not getting anything else,” she says.
“I thought pasta was the easiest food you people made,” you said, peering over at the stove.
“Fuck off,” she says, and shakes something into the pot with the sauce in it, which is blubbing woefully, an air bubble bursting with a wet pop.
“I’d offer to help,” you say, “but, you know,” and raise your hands up self-pityingly.
“You never cooked anything a day in your life,” she says. “You’d be even more of a disaster than I am, plus you’d probably poison us or something.”
“Miss Foster,” you say in tones of mock horror, leaning back again. “I would never.”
“Sure,” she says. “That seems totally outside the realm of possibility.”
“I’ve already saved your life once,” you point out. “It would be awfully counter-productive to rob you of your precious few years now.”
“Yes,” she says. “The thought has crossed my mind.”
You consider her, Jane Foster, in her baggy shirt and even baggier pants, frowning down at her recipe, tapping her fingers on the ladle, which is dripping down onto the counter without her noticing. She does not seem particularly upset to find you in her kitchen.
“Thor does not seem very angry,” you say. “Neither do you, if I may be so bold.”
“I think Sif is angry enough for all three of us, don’t you?” she says without looking up.
“Even so,” you say.
She pauses for a moment and glances at you. “I think it’s just not that surprising anymore,” she says. “At this point.”
“What isn’t,” you ask, although you think you already know.
She shrugs. “You,” she says. “Anything you do. You’re – beyond surprise.
“And anyway I didn’t know your father,” she says, turning back to the stove. “And frankly it doesn’t seem like he was a very nice guy, so I’m not going to cry myself to sleep over it – although I’m not saying it’s not fucked up that you killed him, even if he, like, abducted you from wherever as a baby,” she adds, turning around and pointing her ladle at you in an accusatory fashion, ignoring the way it drips on the floor.
“I never did say that I killed him,” you tell her mildly, raising your eyebrows and lifting one leg to cross it over the other, resting your bound hands on your knee. “To be clear.”
She looks at you for a long moment, apprising.
“I guess not,” she says, and neither of you says anything else at all until she’s done cooking, proclaims, “Well, it’s not going to kill anyone,” and lets Thor and Sif in from where they’ve been reduced to sitting in the hallway.
“Dinnertime,” she says cheerfully. Over your shoulder, you can see Sif glaring.
You are not permitted to eat at the table; Sif, still looking murderous, marches you down to what must be the guest bedroom, it has so little personality.
“Don’t fucking try anything,” she says, and slams the door behind her. There’s no chair, so you sit on the edge of the bed, tapping your feet on the floor. It doesn’t take long for the door to open again, Thor maneuvering carefully in, balancing a plate in each hand. He looks preposterous in the dull Midgardian bedroom with is salmon-colored walls and off-white bedspread – Jane Foster has many gifts but interior design is not one of them. You have seen him, of course, in what she would call normal clothes: they do make him fit in here, though you do not like the sight. It looks wrong, like a child playing dress-up.
“Ah,” you say, after he’s pushed the door closed with his foot. “Haute cuisine.”
“Well, brother,” Thor says, “it’s the only dinner you’re likely to get.”
“Fair enough,” you say, as he puts the plate down on your lap, and sticks a fork in your hands.
“You really expect me to eat like this?” you say, and make a face up at him. He raises his eyebrows.
“Well, I had to try,” you tell him, and go about spearing a piece of pasta awkwardly with your fork held in both of your bound hands. It is, as expected, repulsive. Thor, of course, is eating his with what appears to be blithe satisfaction.
“Your woman is no chef,” you tell him, and he just smiles.
“She is not my woman,” he says.
“Semantics,” you choke out, and neither of you says anything for a while as you pick slowly at your food at Thor shovels his down, which is not, you reflect, all that different from all the dinners you ate as children at the palace, although back then it was not that you were disgusted by the food so much as sullen and picky.
“Is it so wise,” you ask eventually, “to leave the two of them out there together?”
“They are not so fond of each other,” he says, almost cheerful.
“Jealousy is indeed a bitter fruit,” you tell him, and he laughs.
“You know as well as I do what foolishness you speak,” he says, and you shrug, smirking.
“Jealousy takes many forms,” you tell him. “We are far from Asgard.”
“True enough,” he says, and puts his cleaned plate aside before turning back to you. “You have been very stupid, brother,” he says.
“You were so very stupid for so very long,” you point out, “it’s only fair that our roles eventually be reversed.” He smiles.
“Not,” you amend, “that I am ascribing you any great higher functions now.”
“You know,” he says thoughtfully, “I do not think you would kill me, either, if I let you go. Not now, anyway.”
“Then we are both fools,” you tell him, “for I have tried, need I remind you, repeatedly.”
“Yes,” he allows, “but you were mad then.”
“Am I not mad now?” you ask, trying for flippant and falling, you think, just short.
He looks at you for a long time. “No,” he says eventually. “I think you are not.”
“You think that I killed Odin,” you remind him, “which in your mind would, I believe, constitute madness.”
“Not the same kind of madness,” Thor says. “And you have not admitted that you killed him.”
You smirk. “Semantics, brother,” you tell him, and he just smiles, a little bit, faintly.
“I think maybe you did not,” he says, and you are reminded suddenly of sitting on any of the low ledges at the back of the palace, when you were very small, after you had fought and made up, before your fights were serious, and brutal. You and Thor used to sit next to each other on those ledges in the sunlight, kicking your feet against the stone, eating sweetmeats and cheeses and big orange slices and figs, and Thor would chatter away while you said nothing, just listened to him until you were not secretly upset anymore, and then he would stop, and the two of you would sit in companionable silence watching the birds and the trees moving in the wind and the people in the distance, and then you would start making comments about the people walking by, speculating wildly about them and their lives based on what they were wearing and how their faces looked and how they walked, and Thor would snicker as he listened, and then eventually hop down, and wait for you to come down, too, so you could walk back together. And you wonder suddenly, with a jolt of shock so severe it almost hurts, whether Thor is perhaps not so stupid after all: whether he has perhaps never been stupid, but just different from you.
“You were not there,” you tell him. “You will never know.”
“I know,” he says. “But there are many things I will not ever know.” He pauses. “If you killed him,” he says slowly, “you should not have done it. And he was your father. But,” he continues, as you open your mouth to argue with him, “I understand why you are so angry.”
“You do not,” you say, but your voice is not accusatory, just exhausted.
“No,” Thor agrees eventually, peaceable, a little sad. “No, I suppose I do not.”
Your mother did not teach you all the dark passages between the nine realms: your father did not teach them to you either. You taught them to yourself; you found them all, worked the tendrils of your mind into the cracks and empty spaces that separated and linked them together and learned them, crawled between them, made them your own. Thor was off fighting his battles and his wars, his petty little conflicts while Odin watched from above, always making certain that his favorite son was never in any real danger, and in the meantime you were making the universe your own. You were a dangerous creature: they should all have been afraid of you long before they were.
You slid back into Asgard from Svartalfheim in the nighttime, in the darkness, and you cloaked yourself in such impenetrable shadow that you could not even see yourself when you looked down at your body. You had your knife in your hand, the knife with which, you told yourself, you were going to kill your father, and you were a shade in the wreckage of the attack that had killed your mother, whose body you had not seen before they had sent it away, whose body you would never see again: your mother, who was dead.
He was in his chambers, Odin, and he was protected by guards, but that was of little consequence to you: you reached up and passed a shadow over their faces and emptied them out, for a little while, of themselves, and went inside, closing the door behind you. He was sitting in a chair in the dark, turned toward the fire, and from behind he looked old.
“What is it,” he said wearily. “What has happened now. What havoc is my son wreaking without my consent.”
You swallowed, and licked your lips. “I believe you told me I was not your son, and I must say, I am very much inclined to agree,” you said, leaning against the doorframe and crossing your arms in front of you. “What trouble Thor is off getting himself into, I really could not tell you.”
He went very still, and turned around to look at you.
“Thor took you with him,” he said, his one blue eye glinting in the firelight. “What have you done to him?”
“I have done nothing to Thor,” you told him, and smiled, baring your teeth. “Thor is my brother. I would do nothing to hurt my family.”
“You are a murderer and a traitor and a liar,” Odin said, unmoved. “You would kill us all if you had the chance.”
“Not everyone,” you told him. “Just you.”
“Your mother was a sentimental fool,” he said. You could see that his hands were shaking – not with anger, you thought, but in the way any old man’s hands shake. There were dark, sagging shadows under his eyes. “I told her, he does not care for any of us. And still, she did not believe you.”
“You are not listening to me,” you said, fingers curling into your arms where they were folded before you. “You are not – I have said, I have done nothing to Thor, though there is no love lost between us, for he is my brother, and Mother would not have wanted us to fight. And do not – you cannot say – you know nothing of me and Mother. Do not speak to me of that.”
“She was not your mother,” he said, hands shaking harder. “She did not birth you.”
“She was my mother,” you told him, voice low and trembling. “Do not – she was my mother, she raised me, she –”
“Then I am your father, am I not?” he asked.
You raised your head to look at him. “You hate me,” you told him, in as clear a voice as you could manage. “You hate me too much for me to be your son. I hate you too much for you to be my father.”
“That is not how it works,” he said.
“It is exactly how it works,” you told him. “You were going to kill me, you were going to have them – kill me, you were going to have them murder me and drag me through the streets, what kind of father does that to his son, what kind of –”
“And what have you come here to do?” he asked, and you took one, two, three steps forward, and crouched down in front of him, so that your faces were level.
“You did it first,” you hissed. “You did it first.”
He stared at you dispassionately out of his one eye. “You are more my son than Thor ever was,” he said finally, and you reeled back as though you had been struck.
“Stop it,” you said. “Stop – stop it –”
“Do not take that as a compliment,” he told you, and he sounded tired, and when you looked at him he seemed even older than he had even moments before: he looked wizened, ancient. He looked like a man who was about to die.
“I am nothing like you,” you hissed at him, but your heart was pounding in your chest.
“You are heartless and you are cruel,” Odin said. “You are bloodthirsty and you are manipulative and you are obsessed with power. In every way you have turned yourself into my image.” He let out a grim little laugh. “You would make an excellent king. Kingship is nothing but cruelty. That is what nobody likes to admit.”
“I am not heartless,” you choked out. “I am not – I am not –”
“You are,” he said. “I take responsibility. You would not have been that way if I had done otherwise. I used to think it was in your blood – it may be something in your blood – but you have turned out too perfectly in my image for it to be a coincidence.”
“I am not some plaything that you toyed with and molded out of clay,” you snarled at him. “Where was Mother, in all of this? I spent more time with Mother than I ever did with you, you –”
“Your mother was soft with you,” he said. “She was too soft and I was too hard. We miscalculated.”
You let out a harsh, hoarse little burst of laughter and pulled your knife out of its sheath in your belt, tossed it back and forth between your hands. “Do you know,” you said, “I’ve had this knife ever since I was fifteen? Sif took it when she saved my life, but she gave it back. Do you remember that? She claims you never said a cruel word to her after.”
“You nearly drowned,” Odin said. “She jumped in after you. She had the most terrible crush on you, Frigga said, and you had no idea.”
You winced, but carried on. “I used to daydream about stabbing people with this knife,” you told him, almost conversationally, except for the way that your voice was trembling, just a little. “I used to imagine stabbing everybody who made me angry – that was most people – Thor, very often, all of his smirking, pathetic little friends, even more. Never Sif or Mother. You most of all. I used to imagine stabbing this pretty knife into you over and over and over again.” You glanced over at him out of the corner of your eye.
“So do it and get it over with,” he said, spreading his hands, his chest open, inviting. “Kill me. You seem determined to do it.”
You adjusted the blade in your hand and walked back toward him, slowly, and crouched down in front of him again, one hand fisted in his shoulder, the other holding the blade to his throat.
“Do it,” he said, but you did not, not yet.
“Why did you take me,” you hissed. “Why did you take me away from there.”
“I’ve already told you that,” he said. “Because you were a baby, and you were dying.”
“I want the real answer,” you snarled. “I want to hear you say it.”
“That is the answer,” he said, but you could tell that even he did not believe it.
“Tell me,” you said, “tell me, I need to hear it, I need you to say it –”
“I took you because it was expedient,” he snapped. “Does that make it easier for you? I took it because it was a good idea to take you and because we already had one baby at home and one more wouldn’t be much more trouble. That was why. That was the reason. Your mother was enraged. We did not speak for weeks.”
You swallowed, and the hand holding the knife twitched. “She did not want me either, then.”
“She pitied you,” Odin said. “She pitied you.”
“Don’t say that,” you said. “Don’t say that –”
“I thought you wanted the truth,” he said. “She felt bad for you – she paid you so much attention because she felt bad that I had stolen you away –”
“Why are you like this?” you cried. Your voice was shaking badly now and you knew there was nothing like artifice in your face, just bald misery. “Why do you do this? Why do you have to do this to me?”
He looked at you for a long time as the knife you were holding shook against his throat but did not pierce the skin.
“Because I want to die,” he said eventually, dully. “I want you to kill me.”
You threw the blade across the room. “Stop trying to manipulate me,” you cried. “Stop it, stop it, you keep – you keep doing it, you’ve always – why do you keep doing this, why are you doing this to me, why can’t you ever just listen to me – why didn’t you ever listen to me –”
But he was not listening to you then, either. He looked up at the ceiling with his one eye for a long moment and then looked back down at you. “I am going to kill myself now,” he said. “I do not care what you do.” And then he got up, and stepped over you where you were collapsed on the floor, crying, snot sticking to your upper lip, and collected your knife, and stabbed himself in the chest.
They lock up your ankles, too, before you go to sleep. The magic in the bindings is strong but it is not your mother’s magic: it does not know you, and so you are stronger. You think you are probably stronger than anything made by men now. You have spent the evening feeling the connections, the little gold sparks and threads knotting together, and once you have slept a few hours and everyone else is breathing the deep and heavy sleep of the unconscious, you flick them gently and let out a little sigh as they all slide apart, and the contraptions fall from your wrists and ankles: you are free once again.
You climb out the window instead of risking waking up Sif where she is sleeping on the couch, and find yourself walking down some nondescript street in the earliest predawn gloam. If anyone saw you dressed as you are, you would surely look like a madman – which, you suppose, you are. But nobody else is awake.
You can, you think, hear the ocean, so you walk toward the sound, and sure enough, there it is: cold and grey under the low-hanging clouds and the receding night. You stare out at it for a long time. It is very different from the seas you are used to, but you like it all the same. You like Midgard well enough, you suppose, though its people are stupid and small and live such very short lives. You do not like it nearly as much as you like Asgard, but you cannot go back to Asgard, not for a very, very long time. Asgard’s memory is long, and unforgiving.
You take off your boots even though it is cold, and roll up your pant legs, and curl your toes in the wet sand. It is such a relief, you think, to feel something in your own body, or at least in whatever this thing is that you think of as your own body: it is, anyway, not the shadow of somebody else’s body wrapped around your own. You take a few steps forward, down to the water, and that is cold, too – it is freezing, but after a few moments it is not so bad anymore, and when you look down at your feet they are blue and patterned. They do not look like your feet but they do not look not like your feet, either. When the water flows away the color leeches away with it, and when it rushes back in the blue rushes back, too. You curl your hands into fists and shove them under your armpits.
You stay that way for a while, for quite some time, though by the time Sif finds you the sun has still not risen. You should have gone farther, you suppose, or asked Heimdall to send you somewhere else – he probably would have done it. Heimdall is not fond of you – or, indeed, anyone – but he does not hold grudges. And he is, after all, all-seeing.
“You piece of shit,” she says as she comes over the rise of the dune. “You fucking – if Thor won’t do it I am going to kill you myself, I swear upon all the stars –”
“Look,” you say, interrupting her, and point at your feet.
“Why the fuck should I look at your feet,” she says, and you hush her, and motion at her to wait. The water comes back, and runs over them, and there they are: Jötunn feet, attached to your body. She starts.
“Oh,” she says. “Is that –” she starts, and then stops. You look up, and raise an eyebrow.
“What?” you ask, the picture of innocence.
“It doesn’t matter,” she says, scowling again, but you can tell she doesn’t really mean it.
“But you want to know,” you say, needling her, and she huffs, and waves an annoyed hand at you.
“Is that – is it work,” she says. “To look – like you look. Now.”
“Like – this?” you ask, gesturing up and down. “To look – normal?”
“Like me,” she says, almost hesitantly. “Like Thor.”
“No,” you tell her. “No. That’s – what I look like.”
“Oh,” she says. “Okay. But –” She looks back down at the water.
“It just happens,” you say. “Sometimes.”
“I guess,” she says, and watches it happen a couple of times. “I’m still going to kill you,” she says a few moments later, turning back to you, and she looks fierce.
“You are not going to kill me,” you tell her. “If you were going to kill me you would have already done it.”
“That’s incredibly insulting,” she says, “and only makes me want to kill you more.”
“I have no doubt that you could, physically, kill me if you were determined to do so, if that makes you feel any better,” you tell her, wry. “But you aren’t going to.”
“Watch me,” she snarls. She is angry; you will give her that. She is very, very angry with you.
“I am not going to do anything to you, or to Thor,” you tell her. “Stop worrying.”
“You aren’t only a danger to Thor and me,” she says.
“That’s true,” you say. “I cannot promise I will be entirely morally circumspect as far as the rest of humanity is concerned, but you cannot either, so I think that would be ethically unstable grounds upon which to commit murder, don’t you think?”
“I kill people in the service of the good,” she says, flat. “I think this would qualify.”
“That is very sticky territory,” you tell her. “What, for instance, is ‘the good’? And it is dictated by whom, exactly?”
“Fuck, you’re annoying,” she says.
“So I’ve been told,” you say.
“You were so much less annoying when we were kids,” she says wearily. “I think it’s supposed to be the other way around. You were so much quieter.”
“I was terrified,” you tell her. “All the time, I was terrified.”
“And you aren’t now?” she asks, and you do not know what to tell her.
“I did not kill him,” you say, eventually, after neither of you has said anything for a long, long while.
“What?” she said, sounding startled, so you turn to look at her.
“I did not kill my father,” you say.
“I’ll never be able to know whether or not you’re telling the truth,” she says eventually.
“That’s what I told Thor,” you say, but you know that Sif cares more, even though it was not her father who died, or her brother who might have killed him. She swallows.
“I just –” she starts, and then stops. “I don’t want you to have done any of the things you have done,” she says, and your heart hurts.
“I know,” you tell her. “I know you don’t. But I have done them.”
She turns and looks out at the ocean and you think you can see her impenetrability coming back: that is a relief. You like it so much more than her anger, at least when her anger is being directed at you.
“He stabbed himself with my knife,” you tell her. “It was the same one I had ever since I was fifteen, the one we had down in that cave. I had to get rid of it.”
She looks at you sharply. “I didn’t know you still had that knife.”
“I had to switch out the sheath over and over again,” you tell her. “But I always kept that knife.”
She turns back to the ocean. “What are you going to do?” she asks a long moment later.
“I don’t know,” you say. “Stay here, I suppose. It is where I am the least known.” You pause. “I suppose I will have to cut off my hair.”
“Oh,” she says, a little involuntary sound, and then stops herself. You turn to look down at her, inquiring, and her cheeks are pink.
“That’s – it’s too bad,” she says, awkward.
“Well, I don’t have to,” you tell her, wicked. “It’s not a requirement.”
“Fuck off, Loki,” she says, and both of you go back to looking at the ocean. The sun is rising, you think, but the cloud coverage is heavy enough that you can’t see it: the light is just slowly getting a little brighter and brighter around you.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you I hadn’t really died,” you say finally, though it sticks in your throat, for you hate apologizing, and you hate honesty, but you know that you need to say it to her, in case she goes back to Asgard and you do not see her again for a hundred, two hundred years. She goes very still.
“Why are you apologizing for that?” she asks, without looking at you.
“Because I am not stupid,” you tell her. “Even Thor is not that stupid, and as we both know Thor is an idiot.”
“Thor is not an idiot,” she says automatically.
“Yes, I know,” you say impatiently, “that is just what I say to make conversation, this is not difficult.”
She runs one hand through her hair compulsively and then crosses her arms in front of her.
“I am sorry,” you say again, and it is easier this time, because you are looking at her stand there nervously, and it reminds you of the way she stood in the cave all those many years ago, when she was fifteen and did not know what she was doing, and you really were stupid.
“I thought you were dead,” she says finally, voice trembling. “I thought you were – I thought you were dead.”
“I know,” you tell her. “I’m sorry.”
“You tried to kill me, too, you should apologize for that while you’re on such a roll,” she says, like she’s trying to make a joke, but she isn’t joking at all.
“I’m sorry,” you tell her, hoarse and broken. “Sif, I’m – I’m so, so sorry –”
“Stop it,” she says suddenly, and turns to look at you with her wide clear eyes that are no longer angry. “I don’t need you to apologize anymore.” She pauses, and in the pause you can see a thousand futures splitting off into a thousand thousand different pathways, veering off into every corner of the universe imaginable, dizzyingly limitless, for although she scoffed at the term when you were children you are all gods. You will live for a long, long time: everything will be open to you eventually, if you wait long enough, except for the dead, who have already passed, and except – perhaps – for Sif.
But: “I forgive you,” she says, and she does not smile, but that does not matter: you do not need her to.