Chapter 1: Hogwarts
Had any of the students of Hogwarts looked out from their dormitory windows that night, they would most likely have seen nothing but the shadows of an ordinary, cloudy night. Granted, Loki thought as a segment of shadow detached itself from the trees in the Forbidden Forest and became a cloak for him, there were some few who might sense something. The headmaster was no fool, and Loki thought Dumbledore must know a good deal more than he said. Holding one’s tongue in the right company was the best part of wisdom, and Loki could respect that. Still, more often than once as he had glided down the darkened corridors and had come upon Dumbledore unexpectedly, he had been nearly certain his eyes had fixed on the empty air, and perhaps there had even been the slightest incline of the head, so subtle that it could have been only imagination; however, he had kept silent.
But tonight, there was no one in the castle wandering the corridors, not even the ghosts or his own pet, Peeves. He’d rather hoped to have a word with the odd little poltergeist. Peeves was chaotic and full of tricks, a regular devotee of Loki’s favorite pastimes, and whenever he was in need of a respite from the incessant pageantry of Asgard, the second prince could depend on a hearty laugh by looking in at Peeves’s latest jokes.
This happened to be one of those times. In fact, Loki’s mood was quite low. Thor had conquered yet again in battle, complete with the usual parade of accolades and that look in their father’s eyes that said without the need of words that he was proud of his son. Jealousy bit into Loki’s heart like a viper, and he had simply vanished from the feast, unnoticed and probably unmissed… though perhaps not. He could have been mistaken, but as the world turned to the blur of melting realities, he thought he had seen the Lady Sif frown at where he had been seated. Still, it was probably only fancy.
He had fancies enough about her.
An owl hooted softly from its roost in a rafter of the Great Hall, and Loki paused, wondering if perhaps he should simply let Peeves go and instead pay a visit to the Slytherin common room. He wondered if anyone living remembered exactly why the house’s colors of green and silver and its mascot of the serpent had been chosen. He doubted Salazar had admitted to that bargain, but he admitted a slight fondness for what he always thought of as his house, filled with the ambitious, the wily, and the twisted of tongue. He had just decided to slip into the dungeons when he heard a commotion on the grand staircase.
“Students out of bed!” shrieked an old man’s voice.
Loki’s interest was aroused, so he silently took up a post at the banister. He was greeted almost immediately by the image of Filch hauling two students, twin boys with hair like flames, down the staircase with a firm pinch on an ear each. Loki raised an eyebrow. They were as identical as two grains of rice, but as they complained loudly over the caretaker’s punishment, that was not what fascinated him.
He could actually smell the chaos on them, and the doubling of it was utterly delightful. A smile split his face as he followed three steps behind them, and while the pair might seem perfect twins, he noted with ever-increasing interest that one of them seemed almost to twist towards him as though he sensed another presence. What a perfectly fascinating evening this was beginning to become.
“I’ve had it with the lot of yeh!” Filch continued. “Between Dungbombs in the Potions master’s tea and that centaur you tied up in the Prefects’ bathroom, I’d have thought yeh’d be chucked out months ago. And that load of Pepper Imps you let loose in the laundry!”
Loki laughed. He hadn’t been so amused in a long time, but again the twin to the right seemed to cock his ear as if he’d heard something far off. These two were perfect gems. As he noted their Gryffindor colors, he wondered with sudden annoyance why they hadn’t been put in his house.
Filch had managed to pull them both to his office, and after fumbling open the door with his knee to be sure he didn’t lose his grip on either boy’s ear, he unceremonious threw them inside and into a pair of beaten up chairs. Filch pulled out a very, very thick file labeled “Fred and George Weasley: CAUTION! HIGHLY DANGEROUS PAIR OF DELINQUENTS!” and began rifling through it. Loki leaned over his shoulder and noted such interesting entries as “Itching powder on the toothbrushes,” “Exploding Mimbulus mimbletonias in the staff room,” “Egging Miss Myrtle into flooding third floor,” “Getting the pumpkins to spit their innards on the Minister of Magic’s shoes during Halloween visit,” “Setting Professor Trelawney’s sherry bottles talking,” and “Hexing the Ravenclaw keeper’s right hand to make rude gestures in attempt to have him thrown from game.”
It took rather a lot to impress Loki, but right now he was seriously considering adopting these two. He smiled at the pair fondly.
“I am going to have yeh ejected from the premises if it’s the last thing I do!” Filch yelled, his face turning blotchy red.
“It well might be,” Loki said with a frown as he considered whether or not summoning an ice giant would be worth the trouble if it managed to rid him of the man. Eventually he decided against it. He doubted the headmaster’s benign acceptance of his presence might stop if there were any fatalities even indirectly related to him. Instead, he settled for a very minor bit of subterfuge. He simply created the illusion that entire second floor corridor was on fire, and in a nonce a fleet of sensors were shrieking in unison at the horrible calamity.
“Don’t you dare move,” Filch said dangerously as he raced out the door, swearing vehemently about the stupidity of students and their infernal wanderings after curfew.
“I told you he was going to be lurking about tonight,” said the left twin. “Two straight months of planning that booby trap to make the whole Slytherin table turn into pigs during breakfast, and it’s all for nothing.”
So they had stumbled upon Circe’s spellbook, Loki thought. Yes, that had been one of his childhood favorites. It was good to see the classics were still alive and well.
“Not for nothing, Georgie,” the right twin said. “It’s just delayed a mite is all.”
“A mite!” George, apparently, said. “Fred, if we don’t get booted for being out after hours again— for the ninth time in two weeks, mind you— it’ll be a miracle!”
“Nah, he’s all talk,” Fred replied casually. “It’s Dumbledore who’d have to punt us, and I don’t see him tossing us in the lake anytime soon. Mum would kill him.”
“Fair point,” George said, thinking. “We still could do with a way of telling when that old git and his cat are about, though.”
It was then that Loki remembered them: the four lovely boys who had been so thoroughly energetic about causing complete mayhem that they’d managed to capture a very potent, almost unheard of spell and lock it into paper. He doubted they had any idea just what sort of bargains they’d made in those enchantments, but he was fairly sure none of them would live to see fifty. Still, that map had to be around here somewhere; he could feel it.
Carefully, as the twins continued to discuss earnestly the best way of tracing Filch, Loki softly shuffled the papers in the still-open file cabinet. Yes, there, he could feel the pull of it. He quickly cast a minor enchantment that made the boys look into the hallway, thinking they had heard something, and drew it quickly out of the cabinet and onto the desk. It lay there, looking like any other innocent parchment.
“You hear that?” George asked, glancing at Fred.
“Sounded a bit like Mum,” he said, turning rather pale.
George crept carefully out of his chair and glanced up and down the hallway.
“No one in sight,” he said in relief, but Fred had noticed the parchment on the desk in his absence and was turning it over.
“What do you reckon this is?” he asked.
George looked at his twin and shook his head.
“Paper, innit?” he said.
“No, it’s… there’s something weird about it,” Fred said, opening it carefully and laying it on the desk. “It’s almost like…”
Oh, he could practically give this one some of Idunn’s apple and make him his playfellow. He was so close. Loki’s face was nearly touching his cheek as he stared transfixed at the parchment, and then he whispered gently in his ear. Immediately the boy’s head jerked, and he blinked.
“You all right, Freddie?” George asked, looking a little alarmed.
“Not sure,” he said as he pulled out his wand. With a gentle tap on the paper, he quietly muttered, “I solemnly swear I am up to no good.”
Immediately lines blossomed across the map as the enchantment woke to life, and each student, teacher, animal, all of them was labeled and marked in their passage about the castle.
“Too cool,” George breathed as they both stared in wonder at the perfect companion to their pranks and tricks. “How’d you know how to do it, though?”
“I don’t know,” Fred said. “I just sort of…”
He stopped short as they both noticed their own figures on the map, sitting in Filch’s office… and another name beneath another figure that was invisible to their eyes.
“Mischief managed!” Loki cackled as he swept back into the space between worlds, leaving the twins with matching looks of shock.
Chapter 2: Mirkwood
Loki is very, very wicked.
For disclaimer, please see first chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The Misty Mountains were receding behind Loki into the darkness as he came to the edge of Mirkwood. He was still in a sore temper that his latest enterprise had gone awry. Whispers had reached him of a powerful ring hidden deep within the mountains, and he had searched through a series of progressively more disturbingly murky chambers until finally he had found the subterranean lake where Gollum lived. The creature was more than three-quarters mad by now, but when Loki had offered to play a game of riddles with him, he’d seemed overjoyed.
Unfortunately, Loki had severely underestimated his opponent. After two merely friendly rounds, both of which he had purposely lost to make the little monster overconfident, he had suggested a bet: his own helmet for the ring. Gollum had seemed more than a little horrified, but the rules of the game were very clear, and one did not back away from the riddle game without incurring serious consequences.
“You wants my birthday present?” Gollum had said, looking cornered.
“Indeed,” Loki had said smoothly. “You have bested me fairly so far, so I doubt that your precious ring is in danger, though I may well lose my helm.”
Gollum had gazed at the silver helmet, and his eyes were greedy.
“Very well,” Gollum said. “If he guesses the riddle, he gets the ring, but if I guesses his, I gets the hat.”
“Precisely,” Loki had said, rubbing his hands gleefully. “Dragon-gnawed at the root, head in sky and air underfoot, squirrel runs up and down it, harts feed on it, when it shall fall, it will ruin all.”
He had been expecting wailing, maybe pleading, almost certainly threats of violence. The one thing Loki had not expected was laughter.
“Ygdrassil!” Gollum said, laughing and slapping his wizened knee. “We remembers mother. We remembers her telling stories long ago. Hasn’t thought of those in many yearsssss. Pretty hat is mine!”
Loki was furious, but even he was afraid to cheat at this most ancient game, so he laid his helmet in a puddle of mud at Gollum’s bare feet.
“Fine and well done,” Loki said, his voice shaking with suppressed anger, still hardly able to believe that this thing’s mother had been versed in the lore of the universe. “But now you must give me your riddle as well. Perhaps I shall not leave empty handed.”
Gollum rocked back and forth in agitation, obviously trying to think of the hardest riddle he knew. A measure of Loki’s smugness returned, and he tapped his booted foot impatiently.
“I wait, Gollum,” Loki said. “What is your riddle?
Gollum did indeed look piteous now, and if Loki’s heart had been slightly less bent on the ring, a drop of mercy might have been given to the strange, deformed thing. But he had no room for such pleasantries now.
“How many fishes lives in the lake?” Gollum at last said in a rush.
“In this lake?” Loki asked, both because he wanted to make certain there was no question of clarity and because he couldn’t believe the ease of the question.
“Yessss,” Gollum said. “Counts the fishes that lives in the lake.”
Loki shrugged and reached out with his magic to feel the number of beings that lived in the water, but he was immediately baffled. Something was dreadfully wrong with the place. No matter how he tried to focus his power on tracing the fish, they drifted in and out of focus. It was then that he realized the ring was exerting its own influence, clouding his perception. It had no wish to leave here, not yet anyway.
“Many,” he said at last, hoping against hope that the vagueness of his answer would work in his favor.
“Who ever heards of threes being many?” Gollum said with a laugh, and as he said it, the ring, knowing it was no longer in danger, withdrew its power and Loki could clearly sense only three fish in the vast lake. “The precious stays with us!”
Loki had no further desire to speak with the creature. He left without another word, but he cast a spell over his shoulder as he departed. It gave him the cold comfort that the goblin lord would soon wear his old helm and that the ring, though it would never be his own, would leave Gollum someday, preferably to someone whose lack of stature would humiliate him as much as Loki had been today.
And that was how he had come to the edge of Mirkwood, now wrapped in shadows and choosing to remain on the outskirts of the forest rather than summoning the Bifrost to take him home. He hoped rumors of his failure would not reach Asgard, but luck had not been with him so far. Besides, he needed to find a suitable excuse for the loss of his helm, or better yet a replacement. He began to stray into the trees, ignoring the path as the wood had no horror for him that he could not best. In fact he rather hoped for a fight. It might improve his mood.
However, what he eventually saw in one of the forest glades after night had fallen was an entirely different sort of challenge. A group of wood elves, attired in silver and green, were feasting after a hunt. Loki remained close to the shadows, just out of the light from their fires, and watched in silence. The wood elves, unlike their kin in Lorien, were not wholly perfect, and for this reason their realm’s protection missed him, unlike the golden wood which would have expelled him as impure. As he watched, an archery tournament began, and he found he rather enjoyed watching them playfully shooting single leaves off trees at three hundred yards. Their bows were remarkably beautiful: perfect half circles of what looked like pure gold, though they bent with suppleness when pulled taut. The elves’ marksmanship was truly wondrous, but then one more archer came forward, and Loki caught his breath.
This was obviously their prince. His bearing was noble, and his eyes, even from this distance, were as blue as cornflowers. His dark hair rippled behind him, and every movement he made seemed a picture of grace and perfection. In a word, he was beautiful. In what seemed less than a moment he had shot five arrows cleanly through five leaves that were nearly half a mile from the site. Even among the Asgardians, the feat would have been remarkable.
At that, he made a decision that it was time to have a bit of pleasure along with securing his reputation again. A simple spell lengthened his ears, and he came forth into the circle of light, looking for all the world like an elf who had been traveling abroad.
“Welcome, kindred,” said the elf closest to him, though he looked rather surprised.
“I thank you,” Loki said, glancing about. “Have I found the court of Thranduil? I have searched long for my woodland kin.”
“Indeed, you have,” said an elf-maiden beside him, and Loki noted she was quite beautiful. “But come. You have traveled far and have need of food and drink.”
He smiled and took the offered bowl of mead. The hospitality of the elves was legendary, and Loki was very careful to remember all the complicated courtly elvish manners he had studied in the library at home. It was a merry party indeed, but Loki wanted information. He bided his time until he could speak to the elf who had first greeted him.
“Tell me, who is he that shot his bow so well?” Loki asked, gesturing with his flagon at the prince, who was seated at one of the other fires that dotted the clearing.
“That is Legolas Greenleaf, Prince of Mirkwood,” the elf said, nodding with some pride. “He is indeed a goodly archer, and his courage is that of a lion, his kindness like the springtime, and his virtue as white as snow.”
Loki barely managed to restrain himself from raising an eyebrow at the last statement. A prince, and one who was obviously wondrously fair, and yet he seemed to be, rather famously, untouched?
Obviously, he needed to seduce this prince.
“I should give thanks to him for the generosity his court has shown me,” he said, bowing politely to the group who had first welcomed him as he set out for the prince’s fire.
“What have we here?” Legolas said, smiling at the new arrival. “From where do you come, traveler?”
“From far to the west,” Loki said, which wasn’t after all entirely untrue; the Misty Mountain were west of there, and he had indeed come from them. “I wish to thank you for your kindness in offering a wandering elf good companionship and fare this night.”
Loki smiled at him, choosing to appear rather bashful, casting his eyes downward so that his long black lashes were in sharp contrast to the white of his skin. When he made as though he barely dared to raise his eyes towards the prince, he was careful that the firelight would make the green of his eyes glow to best advantage. He knew how he looked, and soft sighs from the maidens (oh, how he would love to relieve them of that title) around the circle of elves let him know he had put exactly the right amount of timid charm into his act.
“You must stay with us for at least a few days,” Legolas said, smiling at him, and he sought out Loki’s gaze and held it for just a few moments longer than necessary before looking away with the slightest trace of shyness. It was at that moment Loki changed his mind.
He wasn’t going to seduce Legolas.
He was going to get Legolas to seduce him.
The next several days were a never-ending dance of mindgames and subtle manipulations. As that happened to be Loki’s very favorite sort of dancing, he was entirely in his element. Each morning he arose in his guest chamber, attired himself in the elves’ (and his own) favorite color of green, and spent the day at court, carefully swaying Legolas into believing that he was falling in love with the stranger who had stumbled so gracefully into his father’s home. Loki, no fool, knew precisely what his interest was in the pretty elf prince. It involved a bed, conquest, and nothing more, but he could certainly feign tender feelings so convincingly that he could seduce an angel if he so wished. Granted, he’d never met an angel, but he assumed there would be no problems. There never had been before, save once, and that was a corner of his mind he kept shuttered and dark.
Mirkwood and the Hall of Thranduil were charming in their own way. While the never-ending feasting reminded him a bit too much of home, at least no one became sloppily drunk, and that was a pleasant difference. It was really quite a civilized society, and one he would have loved to plague endlessly. The more orderly a society was, the more it was susceptible to disorder. But the courting of the prince was his true joy.
Loki, or Lakilceleb as he was known here, was enjoying himself tremendously in the role he had assumed, namely that of a very shy, quite virginal elf from afar, one who seemed as guilelessly innocent as a lamb. He had perfected his character so wonderfully, letting a blush spread over his cheek at any attention from the prince or nervously playing with a flower between his fingers when they spoke, that he could have practically danced naked in the great hall and all would have believed that he meant nothing salacious by it. Legolas himself, who Loki didn’t doubt for a moment truly was every bit the innocent, grew daily more entranced with him. They were apt to take long walks together when the moon shone brightly through the branches of the forest, with fewer and fewer courtiers following until at last it was only the two of them, straying perhaps the slightest inch too close together, threading the secret paths of the forest.
It had taken a solid week before Loki had gotten Legolas to broach the topic of attraction. He had been sure to wear a tunic of silver silk embroidered with pale green leaves, making his skin look as smooth as the cloth and deepening his eyes to emerald. His long fingers stroked each other in a movement that showed both how nervous he was supposed to be and spoke of sensuality more persuasively than any words could.
“Tell me, friend,” he said, putting a light tremor in his voice, “is there not a maiden who has taken your heart?”
“Nay, Lakilceleb,” Legolas said. “In over two millennia, I have found no woman who so delights me that I would risk my heart to her.”
“And…,” Loki said, letting his voice trail off before finishing in a rush, as though he feared he would lose courage, “and is there no warrior who would please you?”
Legolas smiled as Loki blushed deeply to the roots of his coal black hair and hung his head as if in deepest embarrassment. Hesitantly, he reached a hand towards Loki’s cheek, then softly stroked it.
“There have been none,” he said softly, and Loki felt the prince’s hand trembling as he lifted his chin so Loki could look into his eyes, and with delight he saw him draw in a breath and add the word, “yet.”
Finally, he thought as he averted his eyes and did a remarkable job of looking pleased and shy all at once, finally he was going to do something, anything. If this never-ending tension didn’t come to fruition soon, he was going to bed Thranduil and have done with it.
But yes, it appeared Legolas had finally found his courage. He moved slowly, as though Loki might startle like a deer. Indeed, he did widen his eyes in pretended panic, though he also barely parted his lips, positioning them perfectly for a kiss.
“You are as fair as starlight,” Legolas whispered. “Will you grant me a kiss, not as a duty to a sovereign, but because you…” he paused, licking his lips as though his mouth had gone dry, “desire it?”
Loki blinked once, letting a breath cross his lips like a ghost, knowing full well that Legolas would feel it against the delicate skin of his throat, and said in a small, trembling voice, “I… I do desire it, so very much.”
And then, thank Odin, the elf finally kissed him. Loki found it had been more than worth the wait. Over two thousand years of repressed drive seemed to break from him all at once, and what he lacked in technique, he more than made up for in sheer willingness. Loki found himself pressed against the trunk of a tree, Legolas’s body molding against his from knee to shoulder. Legolas took hold of Loki’s hair almost too tightly, and his tongue slipped over his lips, thoroughly claiming him as his own. Loki barely managed to restrain himself from taking matters far further immediately, but he remembered he was supposed to be the one being led, not the one leading. When at length Legolas moved from his lips to the length of his jaw, nipping and licking a path to his ear which he then lavished with attention, he did allow himself a rather wanton mewl, or perhaps it would be more honest to admit it was drawn from him whether he allowed it or not.
“Lakilceleb,” Legolas breathed in his ear. “I think… I think you are everything I could possibly desire.”
Loki slid his hands gingerly over Legolas’s back, pretending his own ineptness.
“Shall we…?” Loki whispered, and it was for the best that Legolas’s eyes were closed in bliss so he could not see the wicked grin that passed over his face. “Shall we be lovers, then?”
“You would come to my bed?” Legolas asked, drawing back from him only marginally, and, yes, Loki thought, hardly restraining himself from rolling his eyes, he seemed rather shocked.
“If you,” he paused again, biting his lip with uncertainty, “if you would wish me there, I think I could come to you. But I must warn you, you would be my first.”
Loki had, of course, neglected to mention exactly what Legolas would be his first for. If he recalled correctly, he’d never actually had a male elf whose name began with L during a full moon in April before, so yes, Legolas would be his first. The trick of lying was, of course, to make it entirely true from some vantage point.
“You shall be mine as well,” Legolas said, wrapping an arm around him protectively. “Come. None shall disturb us in my chambers. You need have no fear, my beloved.”
Delicately, he nodded, putting his fingers into Legolas’s offered hand, permitting himself to be led back through the forest, through the halls of the castle, and up to the prince’s chambers, where the door shut most resoundingly behind them.
When morning came, Loki was far more than satisfied. He’d all but ravished the elf, and he’d been quite thoroughly pleasured in return. He had managed what no mortal, elf, dwarf, wizard, or Asgardian had been able to do in twenty centuries: he had deflowered the prince of the wood elves. While he may not have won the ring, this was certainly a prize worth bragging about.
Legolas rolled over, waking at last, and a sleepy smile touched his features.
“Good morning,” he said, moving his hands to play with the curls of Loki’s hair. “Such a very, very good morning.”
“Indeed,” Loki said, kissing him with a great deal more voracity than someone who had been a virgin mere hours before could logically have been said to possess before abruptly standing and pulling his leggings up. “I must be going, though.”
Legolas lay in stunned silence, his face turning pale as the sheets in which he was entwined. He tried to form words twice before he finally managed to ask, “But, why? I thought you might stay, now that we are… now that we have… We were one.”
“Yes, and it was very pleasant,” Loki said, savoring this part of his victory as sweetly as any other, “but neither of us made any promises, now did we, and I always said that I was only a traveler.”
“But,” Legolas managed to squeeze the one word from his mouth, but nothing more came. It was as though Loki had slapped him.
“Now, now, princeling, don’t take it so much to heart. You’re a goodly bit of flesh, and there will be lovers for you aplenty if you want them,” Loki said, carelessly throwing on his tunic.
“But I don’t want them,” Legolas said, his eyes beginning to fill with tears. “You are the one I love.”
“Well, now, isn’t that nice,” Loki said as though Legolas had offered him a particularly juicy apple, “and I am sure you will love others as well.”
“You… you don’t love me?” he said, unable to form the words. “But you gave yourself to me! We are bonded together! I won you!”
Loki laughed, and the noise was so far from the beauty of the world of elves that he might as well have doffed the false tips on his ears.
“Oh no, fair prince. I would be the one who won you,” Loki said. “It took a good deal less doing than I thought it would, too. Your ‘virtue white as snow’ was almost too easy to sully.”
Legolas stared in stunned silence, his face a mask of horror. With a shudder, he collapsed to the bed, sobbing in heartbreak.
“Poor, sweet elf,” Loki said, looking at Legolas’s long, dark hair spilling across the pillows.
It reminded him for a moment of someone else, far away. Gently, he stroked Legolas’s hair as he lay face down among the blankets, sweeping it behind his delicate, leaf-shaped ears and pulling it into a long tail. Well, why not leave his mark here, he thought. If it had worked once to turn fair to dark, could it not be the same in reverse? With a murmured enchantment, the color left Legolas’s locks and became like living gold.
“There,” he said. “A parting gift from your first darling. I am quite sure I shall not be your last.”
He finished tying the strings of his boots, and just as he was about to go out the door, he heard Legolas break through his tears and say only one broken word.
Loki turned to look at him as he lay on the bed, still naked, the golden strands of his hair glimmering like sunlight, his eyes pleading for some reason to this madness.
“Why not?” he said with a shrug, and closed the door behind him.
Before he opened the Bifrost, he took not one but two bows of the elves. He mounted both on the new helm the dwarfs made for him, and though many took them for great horns, powerful symbols of virility and strength in battle, only he knew they were tokens of a victory of a much different kind.
If my Elvish is even close to being right, Loki's name of Lakilceleb translates roughly to "silver victory." Interesting, the word loki translates to... snake. Very cute, J.R.R. As for the change in Legolas's hair color, when the photos for the film version of LotR first leaked, a firestorm erupted over a blond Legolas, with several fans saying wood elves were traditionally dark haired while high elves were blond, but others pointed out the books never say what color Legolas's hair is, but his father Thranduil is light-haired in The Hobbit. Let's say this solves the mystery.
Chapter 3: Delirium's Realm
No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is made from this work of fanfiction.
Loki seldom visited her realm by choice. As god of chaos, he should feel perfectly at home in the eddying, multi-colored mist, the view forever changing, never what it should be, always a breath away from plummeting into the abyss from pure confusion.
But he was not the one in the driver’s seat there. He was not the one who had chosen to have pink and green spotted sparrows suddenly start singing Wagner, and he had no control whatsoever over the rain that had begun to fall, which was actually burning small holes in his cloak since it was pure acid. It smells like rotten blueberries.
There have been times when she has come to him, against his will, though she never materializes fully. Those have been the darkest moments, when madness beckoned him to dance in the shadows, dance until the world would end from the sheer insanity that wracked his mind. He could smell her then, a perfume of violets and scarlet fever mingled with the bitter taste of wormwood. But she would never entirely appear to him outside her own realm, and he asked her once why. She had mumbled something about not wanting to walk in the door uninvited.
He has made sure he never, ever invites her.
But this day, he had chosen to come to her. It’s a rare choice, precarious, but one he sometimes feels the need to make. Usually it’s prompted by a tiny thing, something Thor or Odin would never even notice: a soap bubble bursting on the wind in perfect droplets, a snowflake that stays silhouetted on his glove for a moment before melting to oblivion, a china doll with a cracked face. He saw a child that day, a little Midgardian girl in a dress of pale pink. It was the color that caught his eye, a truly happy color that spoke of spring primroses and the delicate tints of sunrise. He had paid no mind to the girl, who was sobbing for some reason. She was staring at the sky, and he noted a single dot of yellow growing smaller and smaller in the distance. Her balloon had escaped. He walked away.
And he had come here.
“Hi,” she said, toeing the ground with one foot, currently clad in a ballet slipper the same color as the child’s dress. “I’m sorry about your cloak. It’s got holes in it. Like lace on accident, only not pretty.”
“That is no matter,” he replied, waving a hand in a spell a beginner could have accomplished.
“Why are you here?” she asked, her voice suddenly petulant, angry. “You don’t come here anymore! You don’t like it! Not for ages!”
With practically anyone else he would have either disappeared or exacted some form of vengeance for her lack of respect. He did neither.
“I thought I would stop by,” he said, not looking at much of anything since wherever his eyes rested he found something bizarre staring back at him. “Are you well?”
She wrinkled her nose and looked away.
“You know I’m not well,” she said. “I’m never well. Sometimes I’m kind of happy, though. And sometimes I’m not.”
“Then are you happy, Endless one?” he asked, trying to preserve decorum, but she said nothing for a long time. The rain turned into purple grasshoppers.
“I’m not her anymore,” she finally said. “She’s gone. Or mushed down inside in a little box. Or something.”
Loki nodded. It had been a very, very long time ago, and he had been merely a little boy. He’d liked her, the pretty youngest sister of the Endless with the sparkles in her blue eyes and the laugh like jingle bells. They’d played together. She had particularly liked the meadows full of flowers on Asgard, and butterflies had followed her, little bits of a shattered rainbow. He remembered urging one to land on her nose, tickling her. It might be the first bit of magic he ever did on purpose, and she laughed, delighted, clapping her hands in the joy of it all.
His father had used the word betrothed, and something in that bothered Loki. Perhaps he would have picked her of his own accord when he grew up. Perhaps he wouldn’t have. Perhaps someone should have consulted the girl to see if she was willing. The point was there was no choice in it. He was being bartered as a way of securing ties with the Endless, one of the few groups of beings in the universe who undoubtedly held more power than the Asgardians, and joining the youngest prince and youngest sister together would have been very profitable.
That’s why he hated it. And he hadn’t meant to do it, hadn’t meant to break her, but he was angry and still little more than a child. His temper had gotten the better of him, and he’d willed it to happen without thinking that he actually could do it. And suddenly, there she was, shrieking among the wildflowers, eyes two different shades, mismatched, screaming, terrified. He’d simply wanted her to go away, maybe not even forever, but the spell had lacked any control and had ripped her in two.
He had been horrified and ran to his mother, wailing, begging her to undo it. She had stroked his hair and said nothing, and he knew it couldn’t be undone. The Endless were furious, but it was Destruction who came to claim his little sister, calling her new name gently, letting her hiccup quietly against his broad shoulder until she was nearly calm.
“I’m sorry,” he’d choked out. “I didn’t mean to.”
Destruction had looked at him and sighed.
“I know,” he said as he gathered her into his arms and turned toward the Rainbow Bridge. “I never mean to either.”
That had been eons ago, but the feeling twists in his heart like shards of glass still, and he is still the boy who played too roughly and broke her.
Barnabas appeared at her side, snuffling his nose into her hand.
“Do you want me to bite him?” he asked.
“No,” she said. “He’s okay for right now. Well, as okay as anyone is, which isn’t much. But you don’t have to bite him.”
Barnabas looked at him with obvious dislike but stayed where he was.
“I am glad you have a friend,” Loki said.
“Are you lying?” she asked suddenly.
“No,” he said.
“Are you lying now?” she asked, giving him a grin.
“No,” he said again.
“If you were lying, you’d lie about it,” she said, but it didn’t sound like an accusation. “Do they still have butterflies there?”
“Yes, my lady, Asgard has butterflies by the thousand,” he said, but he was careful, so very careful, not to invite her to see them. There can be destruction on so many sides.
“Okay. That’s good,” she said. “Anything else?”
He stopped for a second, putting his hand behind his back, and when he brought it forth again, a bright yellow balloon bounced into view, pulling at its string.
“For you,” he said, handing it to her, watching as she smiled in that strange, hazy way that made him wonder if she saw a balloon or something else entirely.
“Thank you,” she said. “It’s pretty, isn’t it.”
“Yes,” Loki agreed. “Goodbye.”
“Bye,” she said as Barnabas turned her gently away and back towards a bank of green clouds that smelled like a blizzard.
For a moment, as she left, he heard her laugh, sweet and silvery, and it was almost as though it had never happened. He slipped back between worlds with the scent of snow and sweat clinging to him. He left quickly, not wanting to hear the pop of the balloon that would inevitably come. Some things could not be undone.
Chapter 4: Elsinor
Loki hadn’t visited Scandinavia in quite a while. Things had changed. For one thing, the home of the vikings was much too calm and orderly for his taste. He hadn’t seen a single sacking or pillaging in his time here, though the armies did at the very least seem to be mustering for some purpose or other. There was usually good fun to be had in war, but it was so impersonal. At the moment the flavor of chaos he desired was more subtle, something just beginning to ripen, something that would need only the smallest, most innocent action to cause an explosion. He found precisely what he desired at Elsinor. His mother would probably have been able to see dozens of possible outcomes to the story these fool mortals were weaving, but there was no doubt they were reaching a point of no return. All they needed was one tiny push.
Then their idiot of a prince managed to cause enough trouble on his own by stupidly spearing an old man standing behind a tapestry, knocking over a domino that started everything rolling without Loki needing to do a thing. He felt rather cheated, honestly, that he hadn’t gotten to play.
And then suddenly there was poor, dear, mad Ophelia. She was lovely, though that had very little do with the pull she had on him. This child had believed to the core of her being that everything her father had said was right and just. She was such an obedient little thing that if Polonius or Hamlet or Claudius had told her to sever her right arm and feed it to the dogs, she would have immediately begun looking for an ax. Not that she would have been happy about it, but she had been utterly convinced that her own desires were as nothing to those who had more power because obviously they were right and she was always wrong if she wanted anything different.
She was also completely out of her mind. Her thoughts weren’t simply twisted; they were mangled and screaming. It was remarkably sweet music to him, a lovely harmony of betrayal and broken hearts, murder, disloyalty, and most of all disillusionment because she suddenly realized her betters were no better than she.
Daddy died because her lover had killed him and it was all swept under a rug, quite literally, and Claudius did nothing, nothing at all, to fix it because his hands were dripping blood as well. Ophelia’s painful but orderly world collapsed like a flaming house of cards, and it took her reason with it. Loki found himself looking out from a mirror that hung in the great hall of Elsinore, watching as she writhed on the ground, spewing ribald songs that she never should have known and bits of old, broken stories and wisdom only he and she could understand fully. She terrified the queen and made the king sweat as the madness of her words came so very close to the truth, as it often does.
After her brother walked into the room and she’d begun handing out imaginary flowers that each shrieked their true meanings to everyone who bothered to listen, she’d caught sight of Loki in the looking glass. It was another sign of just how far gone she had become since he should have been cloaked to anyone with a normal mortal mind. She laughed, throwing her head back in a merry peal, and the others took it for only one more show of her sickness. Loki, for his part, applauded and extended towards her a bouquet of nettles and long purples. Delighted, she made as though to take it from him, but the guards were called and she was pulled away, her fingers barely scrabbling against the glass, leaving streaked prints that might have been from either side.
He followed. She was far too much of a liability to the king, of course, and Claudius had killed over less before. It was only a matter of time. She was playing happily alongside the brook now, making garlands of words and nonsense and pain and the occasional flower, until at last she came to the willow tree that grew aslant the brook. The wind was perfectly still, making the water as reflective as any mirror, and he peered out from it, watching her dance along the edge. Those who had charge of her paid no attention, weary of her already, or perhaps simply exhausted by her, the mad having energy in abundance at times. She was quite alone.
Loki considered from where he stood, looking through the brook and up into the branches of the willow. She had climbed a few feet up, her bare feet dangling among the leaves, her hair straggling down like she was part of the willow. She was mostly quiet now, her hands full of flowers, and she seemed almost normal again.
Then she glanced down and saw among the green and silver fishes of the brook different bits of green and silver, eyes, a face. She smiled at him, recognizing the friend of a little while before from the mirror, and she reached forward, perhaps trying to break the surface of the water and bring him out to the world. The serene surface was broken, but not to pull him forth. The branch snapped. She fell.
The folds of her dress spread around her in a circle, and she sang, happy in her danger. The guards saw what had happened, and he waited to see what they would do, and he slowed her sinking so that it would have been quite easy for them to pluck her from the rather shallow water. They did nothing, and he knew they had been ordered to do exactly that should an opportunity present itself. He felt disgusted, even considered mustering the energy to thrust her back out of the water and onto land. But he was not sure at all that would be a kindness.
In the end, he neither tempted nor saved, and she died. He had watched as she drowned, studying her until the last bit of breath left. Loki considered himself blameless in her death, though he supposed Odin would have reasoned otherwise. However, he took time to be sure there was vengeance. She did not die alone. One does not leap into a grave and disturb the dead without paying a price, and both lover and brother died. It had taken the very smallest of nudges to trip the dueling pair, to exchange their swords. Such a tiny thing, to plant in Gertrude’s thoughts that she was thirsty. It took no time at all for the very tardy prince to act when dear Mumsy was poisoned, though Loki couldn’t help feeling that poisoning Claudius as well as stabbing him--with a poisoned blade no less--did seem a tad excessive on his part. Midgardians could be so gauche.
He wondered, as he left Fortinbras to sort out the horrible muddle they’d all made, which of them might be visiting his dear daughter or if some might be found worthy of a nobler end. At the very least, he had not been bored, and that was always a pleasant outcome.