These are the tales of Loki. Not all of them, for they are many, but these are a handful of the stories those who knew Loki could tell.
They could say many things of Loki. Loki, mother of monsters, son of Odin, child of Laufey. Silvertongue, liesmith, witch. God of mischief, half giant, brother, sister, trickster, changeable as skin.
Nine observers. Nine tales.
The Tale of the Tree
When Odin's sons are born, he gives each of them a gift. He gives Thor power over thunder and lightning, and later he will give him a hammer. He gives Hoder, the middle child, a thousand scholarly books, all of which cease to be of use to him after his blindness at the age of eight. He gives Tyr a vast array of weaponry to misuse. He gives Balder light, and the rest Balder manages on his own.
Loki, born mere months after Thor (and conceived on the same day—Jotun gestation differs), receives no gift.
Odin looks down at the tiny child who was blue until so recently, as he presents him to Frigga.
Frigga looks down at the baby, shifting Thor, who is cradled in her arms. "For this Jotun," she tells him, "the gift of life."
"But we have given all our children that," Odin says softly.
"The gift," Frigga says, "of not slaying him in his cradle."
So begins Loki's life in Asgard. But Odin has given Loki things he does not realize he has given him, and does not become aware until the boy is older. Loki is as good a liar as Odin, and as much of a trickster.
When Loki is a child, Odin finds him one day on the Bifrost, legs swinging out over the abyss. He's talking to one of Odin's ravens, and he's taken the form of a small girl.
"Loki," Odin says.
Loki starts and looks up guiltily. "Father." He screws up his face and transforms quickly back into a boy. "I’m sorry, I was just—"
"Who taught you how to transform?" Odin sits next to Loki, watching his face carefully.
Loki bites his lip and says as if he's not sure it's the right answer, "No one?"
Then the boy is at least as talented as Odin, if not more so. Odin smiles. "You've been working hard, then." He pats the boy's shoulder and Loki lights up.
"I have," he says, his smile a little desperate.
Odin considers. "Would you like me to teach you how to become something else?" The game of transformation is a dangerous one, as Odin can see the frost shimmering beneath Loki's skin if he looks hard enough. He knows Heimdall can see it all the time. But still, Odin's hard choice to lie to the boy and all of Asgard shouldn't rob Loki of the power of both sides of his parentage.
"What else could I become?" Loki asks hungrily. In this, he reminds Odin of neither himself nor Laufey. They were never so eager.
Odin spends the rest of the day teaching Loki to transform into every creature he knows. A seal, a bird, a wolf, a snake. Loki picks it up almost frighteningly quickly. The Jotuns' natural talent for transformation coupled with Odin's own skill leaves Loki with a distinct advantage over any other being in the Nine Realms.
As the day wears on and the sun begins to set behind the Biforst, they stop the lesson. Loki is shining-eyed and panting, having just changed out of the form of a raven.
Odin puts his arm around the boy and they walk toward the city together.
"Do you want to hear a story?" Odin asks. Some of his sons will listen to stories, some won't. He hopes Thor and Tyr, those who don't, will learn to appreciate the power stories hold, at least.
Loki nods vigorously. He loves stories more than all the others, and Odin fears it is because there is nothing in Asgard for him. For once, though, he's smiling.
"You know of the Nine Realms?" He waits for Loki's nod. "You've seen the Norn queen come to visit, of course, and you've seen the Casket of the Frost Giants. You know of the fate of the Dark Elves. And connecting all nine of them, Yggdrasil, the World Tree."
"I know about that," Loki says impatiently.
Odin smiles. "Yes. You've seen parts of it, and you know it connects the Realms, but you don't know how large it truly is. Its roots go deeper than the Aesir can imagine, to secret springs and wells, and its branches reach higher than my birds can fly. And all of the Nine Realms are bigger than you can imagine, too. You've never even been to Midgard. The scope of the world is massive, little one."
Loki shivers slightly. His eyes are on the city walls as they approach, and Odin can tell he's struggling to keep from crying.
"What is it my son?" Odin asks gently.
Loki sets his jaw and is silent for a moment. He always packs his feelings away rather than speaking his mind, something that worries Odin less than it perhaps should.
"I don't know," Loki says finally. "I sometimes wonder if I'd be happier somewhere else. I mean," he says hurriedly, "if the rest of Asgard would be happier."
Odin frowns. "Has someone said something to you?" Dealing with the immediate problem is easier than acknowledging that he might have made a mistake. He will not allow this to be a mistake.
"Everyone," Loki says, still not looking at his father. "All the time." He gives a little shrug and continues through the city gates.
One day, Odin thinks, He will be a great king.
All of Odin's sons contain the possibility of monstrosity, but in Loki's case it's written in his skin. More than that, it's written in the way the rest of Asgard looks at him. Odin never wanted him to feel different, so he hid the boy's Jotun heritage, but it hasn't helped. They can see through Odin's spell as surely as if it didn't exist. Loki doesn't act like an Asgardian and cannot be made to.
Odin wants to tell the boy he's proud of that, and that someday it will help, but Loki cannot know the truth. He wonders, sometimes, if keeping the truth from Loki is what has made the boy a liar. But no. That's written in his skin as well, in every bit of his blood.
The Tale of the Eye
"What do you think Heimdall sees?"
Heimdall, standing on the Bifrost, hears his name and turns to one of the many courtyards of Odin's palace. Loki and Balder are sitting next to a shallow pool set in the stone, Loki dragging one foot in the pool, Balder playing a lyre. The sunlight makes Balder's pale hair shine, his still-rounded limbs contrasting with Loki's body, which is skinny and sharp.
Heimdall spends a frustrating amount of his time watching these two, because he knows what Balder has been and will be, and many of the things Loki could be. Odin's children all carry destruction inside them, in varying degrees.
Balder carefully puts down his lyre and looks at Loki thoughtfully before answering. Getting Loki's measure is, for him, never impossible. He hesitates for a moment before saying, "Why do you want to know?"
Heimdall would like an answer to that as well.
Loki hops off the low stone wall. The child has been doing nothing but sitting and watching Balder. And thinking, of course. Most people forget about that. "Idle curiosity."
The words enough of a joke that it's clear Loki is lying out of habit rather than because Balder is meant to actually be convinced of anything.
"I imagine he sees everything," Balder replies. "What do you mean?"
Loki settles at Balder's feet on the flagstone terrace. "I know he sees everything. Everyone knows that. I just want to know what that looks like. He can't see it all at once, I'm sure of that. And what if he wants to find something specific? Can he? Or would it just be harder, because he can seeeverything?"
"If you're trying to slip something past him . . ." Balder starts. Loki frowns and Balder sighs and begins again. "Well, that's clearly not what you're doing. You've already seen that it won't work. He always catches you."
"Yes," Loki agrees, sounding happy. "Don't worry, I don't fancy being punished again. I was thinking something else."
"How useful it could be, then?"
Loki laughs, a loose, genuine sound. "I hate you. I'm going to gut you with knives. You always know what I'm thinking."
Heimdall wishes he could tell what Loki was thinking.
That night, Balder is sound asleep when Loki creeps into his bed. This is a common occurrence, although not, as Heimdall understands it, as common as Loki creeping into Thor's bed.
Balder turns over, restless, and accidentally rams his elbow into Loki's shoulder.
"Are you awake, baby brother?" Loki whispers. The sound is nearly a hiss.
"I am now," Balder says, also in a whisper, as if he fears speaking aloud would break the spell.
Loki's mouth curves in a slow smile. "No one else is." At a squeeze of Loki's hand, Balder shivers. "I have a plan, and I'm going to tell you, but only if you swear not to wake anyone."
Heimdall has seen dozens of nights like this, watched Balder being wrenched from sleep by Loki's plots or tears.
"I swear," Balder says. When he swears, he means it.
Loki snuggles against him, uncharacteristically friendly. "I'm going to steal one of Heimdall's eyes."
Heimdall fights a wave of shock. And this is Loki. It might be worse than it sounds, or at least differently terrible.
"Oh," Balder says finally.
Loki rolls over and watches the ceiling with flat green eyes. Balder's white hair and Loki's dark mix on the pillow. "Let's go."
Balder slips out of bed and pulls on a tunic, shaking off the bleariness of sleep. Heimdall does not blink, intent on not missing a moment.
"I've found a way to do it," Loki says, still hushed as they creep through the corridors of the palace.
Heimdall hasn't yet discovered the pattern of when Loki chooses which brother for an adventure.
"You can't be thinking of digging his eye out with your bare hands," Balder whispers, although Heimdall isn't sure at all that this isn't exactly what Loki is thinking of.
Loki's hand closes more tightly around Balder's. "Shh." They slip past the wing of the palace that houses their parents' rooms. Once they're past, Loki says, in a slightly louder voice, "Of course not. That would be impractical and maybe even impossible. You really think he'd let us dig out his eye?"
Hilarious, Heimdall thinks absently.
"No," Balder says sounding relieved.
Heimdall wonders if Balder's brothers have seen Loki like this, not quiet and sad, but scheming, close to happy. He thinks Loki hides things from all of them but Thor, and only then because around Thor, Loki cannot help it.
They're free of the palace now, in the vast courtyard. The moon is half hidden by clouds, and Heimdall suspects that Loki chose this night very carefully. The child must have waited long, asking Balder questions, even asking Heimdall questions, scrying and reading the signs until the weather and season were right. Heimdall knows now the spell Loki intends to use. He could stop it, if he wished, but much like Balder, he's too curious.
"Are we going far tonight?" Balder inquires.
"No," Loki says, offering a little smile. "No need." The pattern inscribed in the air is nearly too complex to follow. A dim light appears between Loki's hands, caught in the net of quick motions.
Heimdall realizes with a jolt that the little ball of light is an eyeball, and suddenly his vision is cut in half. He reels for a second, half his purpose, half his power gone. When he recovers, blinking more vision into his remaining eye, he focuses on Loki and Balder again. He has less sight to spare for the rest of the Nine Realms, but he must discover what Loki intends.
The child managed it, then. But why? Heimdall knows better than anyone what wisdom sight gives one, but he has never known Loki to be a seeker of wisdom.
Now Heimdall is truly too fascinated to put a stop to it.
"How?" Balder whispers.
Loki shrugs, looking pleased and plucking the eyeball from the air. The iris gleams gold in the half moonlight. "A spell. It took me a long time, and I had to make some changes. I had to take a hair from each of his mothers."
Heimdall feels a cool fury seep through his bones.
Balder shudders, but he does not look away from the eye. "How did you—"
"Shh," Loki says. "Secret."
The eye blinks, golden and obscene in Loki's palm. It makes Heimdall think, irrationally, of the day Odin lost his eye in battle.
Ahh. Now he can see what Loki is planning.
"I'm going to search the Nine Realms with it," Loki says, turning it several times.
The explanation ends there, but Balder's face softens as though he understands. "You belong here," he says quietly.
"Do I?" Loki snaps. "Tell that to the rest of Asgard. They'd happily cast me out to Nornheim or Midgard or—I don't know."
Or another place Loki would feel welcome. Heimdall almost wishes it weren't so obvious.
"Heimdall will watch through this night half blind until you return it," Balder says carefully.
Heimdall could watch with one eye half shut and still see more than Loki.
"This will only take a moment," Loki says, cupping the golden eyeball and raising it like a telescope.
Heimdall watches Loki's expression change, from excitement to confusion to the well-concealed rage that sometimes erupts.
"It's not working," Loki says through his teeth, shoving the eye at Balder. "Here, you try it."
Heimdall blinks and shifts, allowing Balder a quick look. Frustrating Loki was satisfying, but pleasing Balder will be doubly so.
"All right," Balder says reluctantly. He raises Heimdall's eye to his and blinks once or twice.
Heimdall can see what Balder sees with his remaining eye.
He can see the humans in Midgard, huddled around their fires or forging their swords for their human wars. He can see the mists rising in Niflheim. He can see the Elves in Alfheim, proud and vicious. He can see Vanaheim, where Freyja and her brother came from.
He refocuses on Asgard, then on the palace courtyard. He looks for Loki and sees instead, at the same moment as Balder, something that nearly makes Balder drop the eye.
In Loki's place there stands a Jotun, smaller than any Jotun the children of Asgard have ever seen or heard of, but unmistakable. Its skin glitters blue in the dark. It's staring at Balder with naked hunger.
Heimdall sighs. He sometimes hates being able to see through Odin's enchantment.
Then Balder realizes. "Loki?" he says tentatively, not lowering the eye.
"You can see," Loki says, voice taut in that horrible way that would mean restrained tears in any one else and usually means rage in Loki. "Why doesn't it work for me?"
Balder says nothing. He's always seen more of Loki than anyone but Heimdall, and now he knows.
Loki gives a cry of frustration and it begins to snow in Muspellsheim.
The eye twists in Balder's hand, a lurching, rolling motion, but before he has a chance to let go of it, it's gone.
Heimdall swears. He let himself get caught up, and now Loki and Balder will both pay the price. Odin's secrets are not his to reveal.
Balder looks at Loki, who is once more dark-haired and Aesir-skinned. "Did you give it back?"
"No," Loki snaps. "As if I could have so much control over it. Heimdall must have found a way to call it back to him. I thought—I was stupid. I think I am going to bed."
As Loki turns on his heel and walks stiffly back into the palace, Balder frowns at his palm.
Balder sits on the wall outside until dawn. Heimdall is no mind reader, but he can see the determined lines in Balder's face as he finally goes to bed. Heimdall wonders if perhaps he has done a good thing by accident.
The Tale of the Spear
Balder and his brothers are in lessons now, something Balder takes to better than the others. Thor and Tyr do very well at anything involving heavy weaponry and bloodshed, Balder and Hoder receive endless praise from their tutor in anything academic, and Loki . . . Loki is good at magic.
It's a pity that magic isn't particularly revered in Asgard, at least in men. Balder has gathered from their mother that their father used to do plenty of magic in his youth, though, and perhaps even now. Balder wonders why no one talks about that.
Loki flashes Blader a little smile across the room. Tyr and Thor are already starting a fight, across the room. Their tutor has, unfortunately, left the room to retrieve something.
"Look," Loki mouths at Balder.
Balder shakes his head, but he can't help smiling back.
Loki draws a complicated sign in the air, glowing light following where the tip of his finger goes. Thor looks up, frowning, as Loki's face shifts subtly until he looks recognizably female.
Balder grins, distracted from his work. "That's fantastic. Is it an illusion, or did you actually change your form?" Loki's skills are never any less impressive.
Loki shakes her head. "Not this time. That takes a little more effort."
"Well," Tyr snaps, tossing his book aside, "you might as well look like a woman if you're going to be doing magic like one."
Before his brothers can quarrel, Balder says, "It's gorgeous. You're gorgeous."
Loki's mouth becomes a thin line as she's caught between the insult and the compliment. "I'm done with lessons for the day," she says evenly. She's out of the room before any of them can say anything.
"Well, congratulations on being horrible," Balder sighs, shutting his book. "I'm going after her."
"What do you mean, 'her?'" Tyr asks. "I don't see any sense in taking a magic trick this seriously." He sounds something between indulgent and annoyed. "Besides, it's not my fault he's oversensitive."
Thor frowns at Tyr. "Balder, why don't you see that Loki's all right? I'm going to teach our brother a lesson in manners."
Balder swallows a grateful laugh and dashes down the corridor toward Loki's room, hearing Tyr and Thor behind him, finally having the fight they've been working towards all day. At least Hoder will be able to moderate.
Loki's door is unlocked, which Balder takes as an invitation to come inside.
Loki is standing in the middle of the room, still female and still furiously upset. Her shoulders are shaking, but she isn't crying yet. "Get out," she snaps when he sees Balder.
Balder sighs. "Talk to me." He already knows, though. Loki doesn't belong here, and worse than that, she doesn't even know that she shouldn't keep expecting to.
"It's always something," Loki says a little desperately. "I'm always too hot, too cold, not male enough, not female enough. Intentions too good, intentions too bad."
"But you're perfect," Balder says hollowly. He means it, but that won't help.
Loki sneers. "Perfect. Balder the Pure calls me perfect. Of course, neither of us can hold a candle to Thor."
Balder often feels as though he's speaking a foreign language, and badly, when he's speaking to Loki. The way Loki looks at him when he speaks, he always feels as though what Loki's hearing isn't what Balder intends to say.
"You know I love you better than Thor," he offers up recklessly.
"If you love me," Loki snaps, "then show me." She opens her left hand, which up until now had lain clenched at her side. The blast of magic hits Balder in the face before he can even cry out.
He falls to his knees, and he can't see, because something dark and leafy is covering his vision. His chest burns with pain, and everything is so dark. He can feel the heavy weight of something in his chest.
He gasps raggedly, more fear than pain. He can't see.
He stops, blinks hard, and concentrates. Light. It flows from him in warm, easy waves until his vision clears and he can shake off the feeling his chest.
Loki draws closer, looking terrified and hungry. "What did you see? It was a spell to make you see your death."
She didn't need to say so.
"Don't," Balder whispers.
"You don't know what I'm capable of," Loki murmurs under her breath. She reaches out with sharp nails and touches Balder's face.
She smiles. "You always defend me. I don't understand why. The others can see I'm a monster. Well." She pauses. "Maybe not Thor. But Tyr and Hoder can. Now maybe you will, too."
It feels like a dream. The phantom weapon in his chest doesn't quite feel gone.
"Do you love me still, baby brother?" Loki asks. She sounds choked. "Or do you see me for the monster I truly am?"
Balder shakes his head. "I'm sorry," he says, "but I still love you. Tricks don't scare me."
Loki deflates, magic seeping out of her. With a defeated shake of her head, she's Balder's brother once more. "Next time," he says weakly, "it won't be a trick." But he just nuzzles into Balder's chest when Balder comes close.
Balder spends the following weeks in his father's library, reading. There's very little in any of the books about the Jotnar, which makes Balder wonder. Of course they've never needed to study the creatures—people?—who are ostensibly their enemies in at least some capacity, but he suspects that there may have been more books before their family took Loki in.
Which must be what happened, of course. The more Balder thinks about it, the more it troubles him. He imagines Mother and Father both know, but they must be the only ones. His brothers are terrible at keeping secrets. It occurs to him that perhaps even their parents don't know, and that Loki might have been planted among them as a spy.
The idea dies even as it comes into his head. He knows Loki, probably better than anyone in Asgard (or anywhere else), and he can always tell when Loki is lying.
Balder has also given a lot of thought to the question of whether or not to tell Loki. He can't think of any way to make it something other than hurtful, though, and Loki is so easily hurt. It explains so much, though.
He does find one or two books on the Jotnar, and everything he reads throws Loki and his strangeness into clear relief for the first time. He reads of how the Jotnar are born without a sex, and how as they grow older, many will choose a form to settle in (often male, for battle), but how all of them are capable of shifting. Even their kings and queens (except that their tongue has no such words—only ruler) will change sex as if it's nothing.
Balder's heart aches for Loki, whose magic is so strong and who changes skins like running water, miserable in each one.
The Tale of the Mother
Loki never comes to Frigga, and certainly not for advice, but today is apparent different. She is wearing the guise of a young woman today, raven-haired as her true self, and miserable.
"Mother," Loki says. She never calls Frigga that.
Frigga frowns and looks away from her mirror. "What is it, child?" She realizes Loki is crying. She sometimes thinks Odin's child too cold to cry.
"I," Loki begins. She clears her throat. "I am with child."
Frigga doesn't even feign surprise. It's nothing Odin hasn't done in the past, much as he'd like to deny it, and she knows Laufey has done it. Of course Loki is with child.
"I see," she says briskly. "Sit." She pats the bed next to her and Loki, with a moment's flinching hesitation, sits.
"I don't know whose it is," Loki says, a false smile already working its way across her face. "That's a little funny, isn't it?"
Frigga sighs. She's not even going to ask what the options are, because she fears the answer. "No."
Loki swallows. Then she says, "I told Balder about this, and he said the Jotnar can become pregnant no matter their sex. So I went to the library and looked it up."
Frigga wishes fervently that Odin had finished the job he begun on the books about Jotunheim.
"I have things in common with only monsters," Loki says flatly.
Frigga can hear the rest, the parts between Loki's words and thoughts. The parts about becoming a woman and becoming and man and not being allowed to be anything right. She could tell Loki of Odin's pregnancies. She could even tell him of Odin's greater transgressions and Loki's true place in Asgard, but that . . . It would be cruel, and Odin has requested her silence.
Loki is staring at the wall, anywhere not at her. "Will I have to keep this form until the child is born?" she asks. "I've suffered enough humiliation for my skill with magic. I cannot imagine doing this for months. Not that it matters. The 'child' is probably a monster."
Frigga stops herself, again, from asking why that might be. Instead, she says, "A few months as a woman might do you some good."
Loki gives her a look that's half grateful and half hunted.
Over the following months, Loki spends every moment female. Everyone talks and no one talks to her face. They know better than to offend her in her hearing, as they have learned to their cost many times before. Instead of respecting her anger, as they do Thor's and Tyr's, they hate her and call her unnatural for it.
After eleven months and eleven days, the child is ready. Odin calls the best midwives in Asgard to assist, and the best animal handlers. Loki's shame burns as brightly as her pain.
The child is not a child, but a wolf, and Loki was right. He is a monster. He is huge, and his eyes burn with strange fire. When Odin moves to slay him, he cries out with a human voice and cruses Odin.
Frigga stands and watches as Odin casts the creature out. Loki, still lying in her birthing bed, watches as well. Her face is white.
The midwives and animal handlers just look at Loki and shake their heads. Loki is suddenly male again, and naked, and shaking.
"What are you, child of Odin?" whispers a woman.
"Son," Loki says softly. "Son of Odin." But it's no use.
Afterwards, Frigga takes Loki to her room, away from curious eyes. All of Loki's siblings have been, sooner or later, violently supportive, but that means little when all of Asgard is against him.
Loki collapses on the bed, silent in his grief.
Frigga strokes Loki's hair until morning.
The Tale of the Wolf
There's a market tonight, and Tyr hates markets. They're exciting enough, but only for about an hour, and then all he can think about is how he isn't allowed to kill anyone.
Tonight, though, is different. A current of fear is running between the stalls, and even the wine smells like blood. Tyr can sense these things the way the others cannot, because he is the god of war. The air itself smells like a fight.
He prowls between the market stalls until he runs into Balder, the only one young enough that Tyr can call him little brother. The boy—and he is still a boy, white hair hanging in his beardless face as he eats a plum—is sitting at a stall listening to an old woman tell a story. Tyr fights a smile.
"Balder," he barks. "Have you seen the others? Something's happening."
Balder frowns and puts the plum down. "I haven't. Like what?"
"I'm not sure. Has Loki done something horrible again?" Tyr asks.
Balder opens his mouth, almost certainly to say no, but he shuts it again with a snap. "Oh, no. No. Tyr, he said—Oh, but it's a secret."
Tyr waves his hand dismissively, already itching to transform his other hand into a mace.
Balder bites his lip. "All right, I'll tell you, but only because I'm worried about him. He was talking about missing his children, and I—We decided maybe he should go and see them. And he's quite drunk. We had some of that mead they were selling. I'm afraid."
Tyr snorts. "As well you should be. He bears nothing but monsters." But in his gut, a tiny prickle of fears starts. He wishes no harm on any of his brothers, even Loki. And those monsters would take apart even their own flesh and blood.
"He's going to see Fenrir," Balder says. He looks truly frightened as he says it. Something to the tune of I'm sorry it reminds you of your hand.
"I'll deal with it," Tyr says, too tense to do anything but look for a fight, even if it's a fight that makes his old wounds ache.
Balder nods. At least the boy has the sense to bow before Tyr's pride.
Tyr finds Loki with Fenrir where the wolf is bound. Thankfully, it's not a far journey, although further would be safer. Tyr wonders sometimes why Father didn't kill Fenrir, but he doesn't like to consider the possible reasons. Odin believes everything has a use, after all. The little island, covered in heather, smells even more like a fight.
Loki is all wrapped up in Fenrir's chains, practically bound up against the beast. He's crying. Tyr has only seen him cry a handful of times.
"Loki," he says roughly.
Loki draws a shuddering breath. "I," he says.
Tyr waits, bones humming.
"I tried to unchain him," Loki says, and his voice breaks. "I tried, but it didn't work. My children are all—They're mine, I—Even if—" None of his sentences seem to be working, his mouth and mind slamming into each other at every turn.
The wolf growls deep in the back of its throat, a satisfied sound.
"What am I?" Loki sobs out. "What am I, Tyr?"
Tyr has no answer. "Come, big brother," he says, looking away from Loki's tear-stained face. "Let me unchain you."
He works silently to untangle Loki from the chains for nearly ten minutes, with the hot breath of the wolf in his ear at every moment. Tyr isn't afraid, though, not any more than he was when he lost his hand. It strikes him that the beast is technically his nephew, and he laughs.
"Sometimes I think you truly are a woman," Tyr says almost cheerfully, unwinding the chain and being careful to keep it wound around Fenrir, who growls low in the back of his throat. The growl becomes a laugh, and the wolf mutters, "Fool."
"Tyr, don't," Loki says, his voice wrenching and horrible. His features contort in an expression he usually hides more quickly. "It's not a joke," he hisses. "Nor a trick, nor a lie."
Tyr finishes in silence, with nothing to say to that. Finally, pulling the last of the chain away from Loki's body, he says, "Well, whatever you are, sibling, you're free now."
Loki looks up at him, something that looks like gratitude and nothing more on his face. "I want to go home," he says.
Tyr takes him back to the city, but Loki begins crying again when they go through the gate.
The Tale of the Storm
It's well known in their family that Balder has nightmares, in the same way it is known that Hoder is blind, Tyr one-handed, Thor hot-tempered, and Loki too sensitive. They all have their weaknesses. Balder's nightmares are the ones most harped on, though, in Thor's experience. Mother babies him.
Lately, though, they've changed. Everyone is used to his nightmares of being devoured by a wolf, tramped by a monstrous steed—too much time in Father's stables, Thor privately thinks—or bitten in half by a serpent. In the past months, though, he's been recounting more and more grisly tales.
They and the rest of their brothers are sitting together at the training ground, watching Sif defeat every warrior who is fool enough to do battle with her, as Balder recounts the latest.
"I dreamed a girl with red hair and eyes red from crying sewed my mouth shut," Balder says distantly, looking as though he still hasn't quite woken. "I don't think they're my dreams anymore. Father says he thinks I'm dreaming of Ragnarok."
"Nonsense," Tyr snaps. "That's absurd. Besides, he'll just frighten you, talking like that."
Balder looks frightened. Loki has his hand on Balder's leg, possessive and comforting, but his face is pinched with worry.
"Tyr's right," Hoder says firmly. "I think you just have nightmares because you've seen such awful things. Loki had his mouth sewn shut once, remember?"
Loki gives a tiny, mirthless laugh.
"I suppose." Balder leans against Loki. "I'm beginning got think I should do as Father says and marry Lady Karnilla. Being away from Asgard might help."
Thor snorts. "Oh, her. I don't see why we're so desperate for an alliance with the Norns anyhow. They have very little in the way of political power."
"That can't be true," Loki says with a little sigh, sounding the way he always sounds when Thor tries to talk politics. "Of course they have power, at least in the form of military strength. That's the only reason Father's so set on it, regardless of what Balder actually wants."
Balder smiles wanly at Loki. "I don't want to marry her. She's so much older, and she's frightening. But maybe in a few years."
Loki nods, seemingly satisfied that Balder's marriage has been put off for the time being.
Odin's talk of marriage and political maneuvering has always seemed to Thor like something he can ignore. Let Loki worry about that, for the day when he's Thor's advisor. Father says, of course, that Loki might become king, but everyone knows that's just something he says to make Loki feel better.
Balder used to ask about the line of succession, and whether Thor or Loki was older, and if it mattered. As far as Thor could tell, Father had never given a straight answer, and Thor and Loki had always assumed they were twins. Thor did find it odd and everyone remembered the great celebration at his birth but said nothing of Loki's.
Of course, regardless of easily-bent succession precedents, Mother wants Balder to be king. Luckily, Father will not hear of it. And of course blind Hoder has no chance, and Tyr will never be disciplined enough.
The night after Balder tells them of his latest dream, the Midgard Serpent rearing up and devouring the sky, there is a storm. Thor thinks it might be his fault, because he's feeling moody and uncomfortable. He never knows how to deal with those feelings. The thunder splits the sky with its sound, and all of Asgard stays indoors.
After the storm has raged for an hour, during which time Thor paces his floor, tired and angry and at odds with everything, Loki comes to his room.
"Bad day, brother?" he asks.
Thor laughs hollowly. "You could tell. I don't know what's wrong. I'm sorry."
Loki nods and goes silently to Thor's bed, where he sits. "It's all right. Everyone has days like that. They're just not all so . . . dramatically expressed."
Thor nods and rolls his shoulders. "I'm tired of Balder and his dreams. Can't you do something about them with one of your spells? I don't know why he's got to have them every night. He didn't always."
Loki's face goes taut and quiet as it often does. Thor always feels as though every conversation with Loki is a test, some sort of feat he must get through. Only no one wins. If you get all the answers right, you break even. If you get them wrong, Loki is angry and upset and won't be right again for days. Thor invariably gets at least one wrong.
"Mm," Loki says after a moment, his features smoothing out again.
Thor decides to change the subject. "Oh, Balder said something the other day," he says. "He says you might prefer if . . . I know you sometimes become a woman, and he said we should actually treat you as a woman when you do." He raises his eyebrows at Loki, hoping he's cheered him up.
Instead, Loki face is so still Thor knows he's said something really wrong. "No," Loki said. His voice is practically a croak. Then he forces a horrible little laugh. "That's absurd. Don't do that. I don't know what's wrong with Balder. He's so silly." There's a plea in his voice.
"All right," Thor says, mystified. "I'm sorry."
Loki nods and turns away to watch the storm out the window. It doesn't die down until morning, but Loki stays, finally dozing on the end of Thor's bed. Thor eventually stops pacing and dozes as well. When he wakes, Loki is gone.
The Tale of the First Frost
Loki's misery grows and grows, less visible the larger it becomes. By the time something snaps in him, his grief and rage are practically invisible.
And by the time something snaps, his brothers are not with him. Thor has been banished to Midgard, which may have hastened Loki's breakdown. Tyr is away doing battle with an army of giants. Balder is in Nornheim with the Lady Karnilla.
But Hoder is still in Asgard. After Loki is crowned, Hoder goes to see the new king.
He stands in front of the throne, unable to see Loki, but certain he's smiling. He knows Loki well enough to be sure he'd keep up the façade even in front of his blind brother. It's what he does.
"Congratulations on your coronation," Hoder says neutrally. Loki has never liked him and will likely not appreciate anything more.
Loki sighs sharply. "What do you want?
There's a short silence. Then Loki says, "Do you know what I am?"
Hoder has heard by now the rumor that Loki is a Jotun, whispered in his ear by Balder when they were younger and mentioned by their mother in the past few days.
"No," he says honestly. "Not for certain, anyhow. We all knew you were different."
Loki laughs softly. "Once," he says, "I would have given anything to be a Jotun."
"They can do things I—Things I wanted it to be all right for me to do," Loki says roughly. "But I didn't want to be a monster, so I decided it wasn't worth the trouble. But surprise! I'm a monster anyway. Soon all of Asgard will know, and I can change my shape to my heart's content. And I can do any other horrible thing, too. It's in my blood."
Hoder wants to say that Loki never does horrible things, or at least that there's always something a little more horrible that he hasn't done and maybe won't do, and anyway, he's sorry every time. Instead, he says nothing. Loki wouldn't listen.
"Tell Balder," Loki says, "not to return from his stint as Karnilla's pet until I've done what I was born to do."
The Tale of the Truth
When Amora came to Asgard from Nornheim, exiled by Karnilla, she found Loki and taught him everything she knew. As Loki grew, he quickly outstripped Amora in raw magical power, although not always in skill. He was afraid to use it, for one thing.
Just as he was afraid to use his shapeshifting powers. Amora spent years telling Loki his ability to become a woman was useful—it made dealing with men so terribly easy, for one thing—but Loki refused. Amora couldn't really blame him. The way Asgard treated men who did magic (and the way they treated Loki like a man) made it clear that being more open about that kind of power and what it truly meant was dangerous.
For years, Amora was the only one who could see that Loki was no man, or at least not only that. It wasn't until Loki fell to Midgard and emerged again slightly more mad that he had the confidence to use that, to be it.
And now here they are on Midgard, and Loki, after years of scorning it, needs Amora's help once more.
Amora has a little workshop here for her current plan (it's not going too well—the Avengers, including her beloved Thor, are already onto her), and Loki has managed to find her. He always was good at finding what he needed.
Today he needs a marriage.
"Just the binding ceremony, Amora, please," Loki says. He sounds annoyed, and he never says please. "I can't do what I need to unless you marry us. It's vital to my plan."
He seems to have no regard for the young woman standing at his side. The girl looks horribly hopeful. She's Asgardian, Amora thinks. And she must either be deaf or not be listening to what Loki's said.
Loki looks harassed and nearly frightened, and he's wearing a necklace that Amora is certain once belonged to Freyja. Other than that, he appears male.
Amora raises her eyebrows at Loki. "We need to speak in private."
He sighs shortly. "Don't waste my time, Enchantress. I need a marriage."
Amora grabs his arm and drags him into the adjoining room.
"What are you doing?" she hisses. "You don't even like women."
"I told you," Loki says, shaking her off. "I need this wedding. Otherwise, I don't know what will happen to me. It's a long story, but being bound to someone will protect me. I'm cause between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers, and it's bad.
Amora can sympathize. "I see. And the girl?"
Loki shoots her a slightly thin smile. "Charmed by me."
Amora sneers. "You' re willing to just use this poor girl." She's a little proud.
Loki gives her a blank look, clearly surprised that she's surprised.
"For a price, of course," Amora says, relenting. Why would she ever pass up the chance to have any small amount of power over Loki?
Loki nods, and the necklace jangles. "Name it and I'll see if I'm willing to pay it."
Amora looks Loki over, considering. "Truth," she says.
Loki frowns. He looks even more concerned. "From me?"
Amora smiles. "From me."
Loki's face changes, becoming hungry and open. He'll never tell the truth, but he's obsessed with being given it by others. "Deal," he says quietly.
Amora considers. She's angry with Loki, but not as much as she used to be. When they were younger, Loki was furious with her, both for her ability to use her feminine wiles and for her devotion to Thor. But the sting of Loki's violent anger has faded, and Amora truly wants to grant this favor. She's curious to see what Loki's planning now. But they are still enemies much of the time.
She chooses a truth just painful enough. "Laufey bore you," she says with satisfaction.
Loki looks stricken. "What? No one ever tells me these things. He bore me?"
The pronoun is inaccurate, from what Amora knows of the Jotun language, but Loki seems to still cling to the Asgardian ways in some vain hope of being accepted, whatever he says to the contrary.
"Yes," Amora says. "Jotuns can do that, or didn't you know? Zie was your mother."
Loki swallows what looks like several responses. Finally, he says, "And my father?"
"A second truth?" Amora pouts, but she's too delighted to stop. "Very well, then. Odin."
Loki takes a sharp breath. "No. You're lying. But no, no, you can't be lying, can you? It was your price." He turns and looks around the room, maybe for something to hit or throw. Finally He takes a deep breath and says, "Damn it, Amora. All right. Marry us."
"Gladly." She follows Loki out into the other room where Sigyn is waiting.
The Tale of the Trickster
Victor Von Doom sometimes wishes he had better allies. As it is, Namor has allowed the two of them to be captured and Loki is nowhere to be seen.
They're at the Avengers Tower and in some short of chains Victor has already tried three ways of breaking.
"Who are you working with?" Iron Man demands, clearly enjoying his pathetic leader role.
"What makes you think we're not working alone?" Victor says loftily, wishing with annoyance that it were true.
"It hardly matters," Namor says, sounding just as annoyed. "They aren't here." Then he shrugs, shoulders straining against his bonds. "However, I have no qualms about revealing the truth. An unreliable ally is as god as an enemy."
"Oh, please," Victor starts, even more aggravated, but Namor talks right over him.
"Loki," he says.
Thor snorts. "I should have known he was involved. We haven't heard from him in far too long."
Namor frowns. "Him?"
"Uh, yeah," Iron Man says. "You know, Thor's brother? God of mischief and inappropriate hitting on people?"
"She's a woman," Namor says sounding, baffled. "There's no mistaking it. She wears very low-cut robes."
Victor snorts. He'd forgotten Namor hadn't met Loki in his other form yet.
Thor sighs, sounding exasperated. "Oh yes, he does that. It's one of his many magical abilities." Thor may sound annoyed, but Victor thinks he can detect a note of fondness in his voice. "He's actually a man."
The others—those whose faces Victor can see—are looking between Thor and Namor awkwardly, like they aren't quite sure how seriously to be taking this. Hawkeye is smirking. Iron Man is unreadable behind his mask.
"If you're sure," Namor says. "No one mentioned it."
"And what does that have to do with your plan to steal Iron Man's tech?" Captain America chimes in. He looks very focused and clearly doesn't care about Loki's arguable gender.
It takes Loki an hour to show up. She's still a woman, and she gives Thor a venomous, complicated look as she's breaking them out.
They end up back at Victor's expensive hotel to regroup and craft a new plan.
"Thor says you're his brother," Namor says, blunt as ever. "Why?"
Loki, sitting on the bed next to Victor, half in his lap, grimaces. "Thor," she spits. "What does he know about anything? He doesn't think before he opens his mouth and he can't see--" She sights irritably. "I don't know why I even—Oh—"
Victor puts a hand on her back and pulls her into his lap. "He doesn't bear thinking of," he says viciously. "He's an arrogant fool."
"I can't help it," Loki snarls. "You don't understand. He makes me so—You make me so—"
Victor has one or two ideas about how he makes Loki, but showing her will work better than telling her. His fingers close around her wrists, and he tugs her closer. Her heart is beating too fast.
Then she changes in Victor's lap, becoming a man, a small wolf, a snake, a bird.
"Stop," Victor says absently, quieting Loki with his hands. He's seen them all. He knows all of them are there.
Loki stops, a man this time.
"It doesn't matter," he says to Namor, still looking at Victor. "It's both. It's whatever I feel like, and I'm powerful enough to make my body follow suit." He shrugs. "One of my simpler tricks, and easy to perfect. But not so easy to get through Thor's thick skull."
Namor nods acknowledgement. "I understand. I just wondered."
Loki gives him a gratified little smile and leans against Victor, shifting back into a woman again.
"You see?" she says. "All of them are true."