Heimdall has not seen everything in the Nine Realms, but he could, if he looked. He never tells anyone how much time he spends watching each place. This is partly because he never volunteers information unless asked and partly because it’s safer if no one knows exactly where his attention lies.
Some might find it interesting to know that he spends a shockingly large amount of time watching Loki.
The reason is simple: Loki spends most of his time doing tiny, horrible things that no one will notice until it’s too late, and should anyone ask, Heimdall wants to be able to help repair all the small damages. Few people, of course, have noticed Loki’s habits.
As time goes by, though, more people begin to notice.
Frigga, who has always been cold to Loki, grows colder towards him when he cuts off all of Sif’s hair. Heimdall has watched Frigga, and knows how much she wants Thor and Sif to marry.
Odin notices, but he doesn’t care. Or rather, he cares all wrong, trying to ignore Loki’s transgressions rather than punishing him. Heimdall can see the larger trajectory of Odin’s actions, but it’s never been his place to speak up.
Then Balder notices. Balder, who everyone thinks is perfect and no one thinks will be king. Loki opens his mouth and lies spill out like snakes, twining around Balder’s neck, invisible and shuddering. Balder brushes them off with a frown and a “That’s not true. I know it’s not.”
The certainty with which he picks apart Loki’s webs disturbs Loki, and Heimdall watches Loki catch his balance by learning to hate Balder.
“Stop forgiving me!” Loki spits as Balder turns away with a shrug from his latest prank gone too far. Loki enraged is a sight to see, and he so rarely lets anyone bear witness to it.
Balder turns back to him, frowning. “Never, brother.”
Heimdall sees Loki’s hate freeze and crystalize.
Loki’s feelings are unpredictable and many, but he has learned to hide nearly all of them. His mother thinks him cold, and only Heimdall, out of everyone in Asgard, can see Loki cry and scream and rage in private. If it feels like a violation, he ignores the feeling. Someone has to watch Loki.
And watch he does, as Loki, starved for love, scrutinizes and then devours every scrap of love that’s thrown his way by Odin or by Thor. He swallows their love and it increases his appetite.
As for Thor, he simply never notices Loki’s lies and tricks. Thor is too busy worrying about himself and loving Loki without really knowing him. Loki is not content with that, either, though.
No matter how anyone behaves towards Loki, all it seems to do is hurt him. There is no way not to hurt the boy.
Heimdall has been watching all of Loki’s life. He saw his birth. (Perhaps more importantly, he saw his conception.) He’s seen every shiver of Loki’s skin as he walks the halls of Asgard, the frost inside him straining against the walls of his flesh. He’s seen Loki’s thieving hands as they take Freyja’s necklace, his deceptive body as he becomes a seal, a bird, a mare, a wolf.
But Heimdall doesn’t watch Loki to keep the gods safe. He watches Loki because Loki is his death.
It is rare for Heimdall to be able to see into the future, but his memory is impeccable. By now, he knows the Ragnarok cycle inside and out, even though the others have forgotten, this time and every time.
Some things change from cycle to cycle, but others remain the same, points holding the fabric of each cycle in place. It doesn’t take Heimdall long to discover what those points are. They are Odin’s sons: Thor, Tyr, Hoder, Loki, Balder.
Heimdall has been watching for longer than any of them can remember, and he does not always like what he sees. Odin’s sons carry Ragnarok inside them. Heimdall has never said this to Odin, because he owes Odin his fealty, but he can feel it in his bones and behind his eyes whenever he looks into the city and sees them.
He watches Thor, who is young and arrogant and acts as though he is already king.
He watches Tyr, who is even more violent than Thor, as he tries to make war time and time again.
He watches Hoder, who, in his blindness, sees things Heimdall never could. He learns to spend less time watching Hoder and more speaking to him. Heimdall never mentions that he would give anything for a few moments without sight.
He watches Loki as he pulls tighter and tighter into himself, as his pranks become more and more malicious.
He watches Balder, brave, sweet, perfect. He watches Balder closely.
He watches Thor’s hands on Balder, Balder’s hands on Hoder, Thor’s hands on Loki, Loki’s hands everywhere.
Every time Thor reaches out to Loki, he accidentally does something to drive him further away. One step forward, nine steps back.
Oh yes, and there are other signs. Loki’s spawn, cast to the corners of the world. Loki gives birth to monsters; like father like son.
Odin’s sons are stars, and together they form the constellation of Ragnarok. The largest star in the constellation, of course, is Balder.
The cycle is a little different every time, but Balder’s death remains the same. He burns too brightly, so brightly that Loki can no longer see clearly. With his blind heart he takes Hoder’s blind eyes and Balder is dead.
Frigga calls for Balder’s return, and for tears, and everything in the world weeps.
Loki’s grief eats itself and he does not weep.
Every time, every cycle, from birth to Ragnarok, that is what happens. But there are differences. Odin does not always take Loki as a baby. Once, King Laufey takes Thor. Thor grows up cold and violently angry in Jotenheim until Laufey can no longer control the boy’s desire to make war. Ragnarok pulls at the seams that time, threatening to come crashing down early. As always, Loki, this time shining and blue as Thor’s brother, kills Balder. His reasons are not always the same, but they are always close.
This time, Balder is again dead. Dead by the time Loki finds out what he is. Balder, who would have loved Loki anyway, is not there to tell him so, and thus again Balder’s death is a harbinger of Ragnarok. But Ragnarok should not be coming so soon. Odin has fallen into the Odinsleep, Thor is banished to Midgard, and Loki is in so much pain that he is going to bring about the twilight of the gods too soon.
Odin’s lie, single and monumental, has done more damage than Loki’s hundreds of lies could have done.
Heimdall blinks the memories of Ragnarok from his vision and looks at Loki, who is standing in front of him on the Bifrost, a tangled skein of barely-contained emotion.
“They lied to me.”
“Yes,” Heimdall concedes. He has no respect for his new king, but he can afford pity.
The orange sky is rapidly darkening. “They lied. You saw it, you must have. You saw my birth.”
“Yes,” Heimdall says again. He does not add, I’ve seen every crime you’ve committed and every tear you’ve shed in rage. It would make matters worse. Balder, even without Heimdall’s power, saw too much of Loki, and he paid for it.
Loki has often come to the Bifrost to stare over the edge and into nothingness. Now, though, he meets Heimdall’s gaze. Not many will do that for long. “Tell me, Heimdall, did father ever love me?” His tone is clipped and horrible, and perhaps no one but Heimdall would know that the question came from fear rather than anger.
“Of course.” Don’t ask about your mother, Heimdall begs silently. He is no stranger to telling Loki lies, but with the heat rising and the sky darkening, he would rather not risk a lie Loki might see through.
Heimdall is tempted to laugh, but he knows that Loki, for all his tricks, can’t stand to be the one who is laughed at. He’s also tempted to say, How could you tell? Do you even know what truth sounds like?
Instead, he says, “No. Would it matter, now? You’ve made up your mind to hurt the Aesir. Are you really so cold?” A mistake, he tells himself.
“Cold?” Loki laughs, an upset little chortle that dies in his throat. “Cold? The Aesir are cold. That’s why I’ve never belonged here. They’re made of ice and I’m on fire.”
Thunder rumbles in the distance, and Heimdall can feel the worlds crinkle at their edges. He remembers being locked in mortal combat with Loki in dozens of Ragnaroks, blood in his mouth, his hands at Loki’s throat.
“I feel as though I’m choking,” Loki says, his breath still coming too fast.
“Yes,” Heimdall says slowly. “But this storm you’re bringing won’t help. It will be the end of the Aesir.” He says it as if that is something Loki should care about.
“Good,” Loki snaps. “Let them die. I don’t feel for them. I’m a Jotun.” He pronounces the word with an accent he wasn’t raised with.
“You are Odin’s son.” Heimdall wonders if attacking Loki would help.
The thunder rumbles above them, louder and closer than before. Heimdall can hardly breathe for the heat in the air, and he’s sweating. He never sweats.
“I am no one’s son,” Loki says bitterly. “But you misunderstand my intentions. I would never hurt Odin.” He reaches up and lifts Heimdall’s helmet from his head. The quickly-rising wind against Heimdall’s skin is a relief.
Heimdall doesn’t move. He is a watchman, a gatekeeper, never a participant in events until the end. If Ragnarok will come, it will come. Heimdall is not sure he could prevent it if he tried. “What you doing?” he asks anyway.
“Looking for a reaction,” Loki says quietly. “Some glimmer of feeling, something. Do you feel? Or are you just like the rest of them? Can I make an impression?” He has a soft, almost studious look on his face, as if he’s asking out of academic curiosity.
“Wait and see.” It’s meant to be a threat, but it comes out wrong.
Loki smiles mirthlessly and touches Heimdall’s chest. “Very well.”
Heimdall stands silent and unmoving as Loki removes the rest of his armor.
“Gatekeeper,” Loki says, “you saw my whole life and you let it happen. Why?”
Heimdall doesn’t know whether Loki wishes for a reason he was allowed to be Odin’s son or a reason he was allowed to live at all. “It was never my job to interfere.”
“I can make you interfere,” Loki says viciously. He slips off his own robes, and his skin looks blue where the shadows fall.
Heimdall has seen Loki use sex to lash out hundreds of times, to make people give him children, to make people jealous, to make them hurt him until it hurts them. Heimdall is unimpressed, but he wants to see what Loki will try with him.
Loki kisses him, eyes closing in an expression that looks more pained than anything else. Heimdall keeps his eyes open.
He keeps his eyes open the whole time, watching places other than the Bifrost. His hands roam over Loki’s twisting body as he stares at the traces of Ragnarok rising with the storm. Whatever Loki intends to do, it will bring on the end.
It’s been lifetimes since someone has touched him like this, and he hasn’t wanted it, but Loki makes his skin burn as though he’s young again.
He takes Loki every way Loki wants: his hand over Loki’s mouth, Loki on hands and knees, Loki in his lap. Heimdall keeps his eyes open; Loki doesn’t. The storm rages above them, wind and thunder and no rain.
No rain. The thunder rages above them, loud enough to deafen mortals; the lightening rends the sky in tandem with the thunder, but no rain.
Loki is under him now, and he changes against Heimdall’s skin. Now the ice is spreading from the hollow of his collarbone and the shadows by his pelvis to cover his whole body. Heimdall hasn’t seen all of Loki’s faces, but he’s seen more of them than anyone else has. He doesn’t flinch, doesn’t even stop moving when Loki grows cold under his hands.
Loki cries out when Heimdall’s hands tighten on his hips. “Doesn’t it disgust you? Doesn’t my skin burn you?”
Heimdall doesn’t answer, because Loki cannot call an action a lie. He groans and pulls Loki closer.
The sky is bloated and bloody.
“Now you can call me cold,” Loki whispers hoarsely.
And then the wind sings of Ragnarok.
Heimdall can see it all happening before it does, because it has happened before. He wonders exactly how it will happen this time. He pictures Balder, rising from Helheim and crowned in mistletoe. He pictures Fenrir crouched over Odin in his sleep, the wolf’s jaws open wide. Loki’s son devours Odin whole and Odin’s line eats itself.
Heimdall pulls away from Loki’s body. “But no,” he says. “Not yet. Loki, we can still stop this.” You can stop this, he means.
Loki shudders. “No. You’re wrong. I would never do anything to hurt my family.”
Heimdall looks up at the angry clouds and smiles tightly at the half lie. Time for a new tactic. “Loki, tell me a story.”
Loki rolls away from Heimdall, still blue, still angry, and crouches almost like a beast. No one ever asks him to make things up. “This family,” he hisses, “is rotten.”
He truly believes that of all of them, Heimdall thinks. Not just Odin and Thor, but Frigga, too, and Hoder. Even Balder. Even himself. And he’s going to bring on an early Ragnarok because of it.
“In the beginning,” Loki says. His voice shakes. “In the beginning, there was a chasm, and it was bounded on one side by ice and the other by fire. Where the fire met the ice, Ymir, father of the Frost Giants was born. A cow, named Audhumbla, was also created. She nourished Ymir and was nourished on the ice. From the ice, came Bur.”
The thunder crashes, and Heimdall actually shivers. He has heard this story before. They all have. He simply doesn’t know the end of it, because the end changes based on who is telling it. Most stories do.
“From Ymir’s sweat,” Loki continues, his skin shimmering, “came a race of Frost Giants. But Bur had a son, and Bur’s son had a son, and that son was Odin. And Odin slew Ymir.” His eyes flicker like fire. “He slew him and most of his race.”
The lightning races along beside the Bifrost, illuminating it.
“And when Loki was born, Odin took one of Ymir’s line into his home to raise as his own, so that when Loki’s true father died, Odin would finally have complete control over the Jotuns. But he made a mistake. He let a monster into Asgard.”
This is where the story becomes a lie, Heimdall thinks.
“Oh yes,” Loki continues viciously. “His mother could see it. She knew what he was. Odin saw, but he liked to ignore it.”
Worrying that Loki’s mouth is, however briefly, is full of truths.
Loki sighs shortly and looks up at the sky. “Thor didn’t understand. And Balder didn’t figure it out until it was far too late.” He gives a little laugh.
Wrong, Heimdall thinks. He always knew.
Loki meets Heimdall’s eyes. “He used to have nightmares,” he says flatly.
Heimdall wants very badly to touch Loki again in some way, but none of the ways are right. The storm rages all around them, a dry storm.
“The monster ate Balder alive and blamed someone else,” Loki says casually. “Monsters do that. He tried to eat the rest of them, to eat everything, but something always stopped him. No inner moral compass, you understand, only circumstance. He was hungry enough do to it, and bright enough. But he had too many feelings; all he did was feel. He would have been found out. And now, Heimdall, the little monster is going to swallow his father whole.”
Heimdall says nothing, but his heart races for Odin.
Loki looks back up at the sky and shrugs. “So that’s the story. It doesn’t matter if I got parts of it wrong, or that parts of it aren’t true. Nothing I say ever is.”
“So you’re going to prove them right?” Heimdall shrugs. He is not here to affect events, but nor can he allow Loki to continue in this kind of pain. “Be the monster some of them have come to expect? That doesn’t sound like you. I’ve never known you to do anything but shock people.”
Loki smiles. “What, then?” he asks.
The sky breaks. It shatters. It falls.
The rain comes down, washing the icy blue out of Loki’s skin. It soaks Heimdall and his discarded armor. It dims the fire in his eyes to a low flicker, although it does nothing to the fire in Loki’s. The rain crashes down so hard that Heimdall can barely see it when Loki gets slowly to his feet.
Loki is wet and laughing, and it’s not a good laugh.
“You won’t harm the All-Father, then?” Heimdall shouts.
“No, Heimdall. I have no interest in harming the All-Father.” Loki folds back in on himself, his robes coming back around him with a wave of his hand. Heimdall can see him packing the pain and rage away again, the feelings seeping out of his voice and finally out of his face until he’s looking at Heimdall blankly.
“No,” he says again, so softly Heimdall can barely hear him. “There are greater monsters.”
By the time Loki has walked out of sight, the rain has stopped.