"I am practicing my spells and will not be disturbed."
Loki slammed the double doors in his brother's face. Thor had the instant urge to thrust them right back open, hopefully into Loki's nose, but as satisfactory as that would be, it would also be but a fleeting moment, and what Thor wanted was a good laugh.
When Loki performed his magic before others, it was always something he'd perfected. The learning process itself was kept private behind locked doors such as the ones before Thor now. How many misfires, backfires, and other things gone amiss that could only end in fire occurred while Loki perfected his craft? His elder brother wished to find out.
Loki was not the only Asgardian capable of mischief, and while Thor's attempts could hardly be comparable with his brother's more robust acts, he had the occasional desire all the same. Loki was also not the only one who remembered all the small passages they had used when they were children, and there was one that led right to this room. It would be a tight fit, but he would still manage.
Though in the meantime, Thor had to admit to himself that without the Warriors Three and Lady Sif about, his boredom did seem to grow to monstrous sizes. Annoying his mouthy little brother because he could just happened to be the best way to alleviate it.
Once certain he would not be seen, Thor stepped out of the passage into Loki's sanctuary. The room was large, almost a hall in itself, with high ceilings and arched windows. Pillars reached up from the floors along the three windowless walls, and it was in their shadows Thor hid himself. In the center of the room was a green marble circle that encompassed a mosaic of Yggdrasil, its leaves golden. It was just a tree in daylight, but when the night fell one could see all the nine realms depicted there. Loki strode to this spot, and it was then Thor could see his brother was not alone.
Hel sat cross-legged on the floor, waiting for her father. If you could only see one side of her, she was a pretty little girl with dark hair and green eyes like her father. It was her other side that disturbed all who saw her. The half-face and body of an old, rotting woman, her hair sparse and her other green eye milked over with cataract. She half hobbled when she moved, her arms held out in front of her like the partially undead she was. Thor dared not think of how she would be when she was grown, but for now she was still a child, and one who brightened when her father entered the room.
Loki stood across from his daughter and began without preamble, "Are you ready?"
Hel smiled and bounced on her rear in excitement in a way only a little girl could.
"All right." He smiled, a wicked twist of his mouth, "Find Daddy!"
The circle was suddenly filled with Lokis, dozens of them, each moving on its own and reacting to another, one even juggling fruit. Hel climbed to her feet and dashed forward to where Loki had been standing mere seconds before, but her hands pass through her target. She moved among the simulacra, her hands passing through them as she sought her father, but they avoided her while some tried to lead her to distraction by calling "Over here, I'm over here!"
She stilled then, listening as the false images of her father surrounded her. Moving swiftly, she lunged just behind and to the right of where she stood and her arms wrapped around a corporeal waist. As one, the simulacra turned and applauded, then vanished.
"Very good," Loki praised, lifting her into his arms, "much faster than last time!"
Hel beamed, her aged side splitting into wrinkles and cracks, and threw her arms around his neck before giving him a wet kiss on the cheek.
And Thor, still in shadow, wondered where his conniving, sharp-tongued brother had been hiding this facet of himself for so many years. He then sadly realized it had been hidden behind big double doors, away from him, the whole time.
There were few things that Sif, proud warrior of the Aesir, truly feared, but there were certainly many things in the realms that creeped her out.
She came across one of these things as she passed through a courtyard of Gladsheim. Autumn was approaching, and while the leaves on the trees were still green, their edges began to take on a faint golden cast. She heard yipping and laughter and assumed the hunting hounds were being exercised again, but when she rounded the corner she saw only Loki, crouched in the dirt with his head and upper torso in the jaws of the monstrous wolf Fenrir.
Sif had little love for Loki, but she had her duty to the realm and he was a son of Odin. More importantly the little brother of her closest friend. She reached for her blade, her body prepping for battle. "Loki!"
"Got it! Hold still, this may hurt..." came his muffled voice from inside the wolf's maw, having heard her not at all.
Fenrir yelped then whined as Loki extricated himself from his child's mouth, strings of saliva dangling off him and mussing his normally immaculate hair. In his hand he held a bloody fang, nearly as long as his forearm.
"There now, is that better?" he asked, rubbing his free hand on Fenrir's muzzle and holding up the fang for better viewing, "Look at that, that's beautiful."
The wolf lapped at the bloody hole in his mouth and whined, long and deep.
"It will grow back, don't worry yourself. What would you like done with it? I hear the mortals of Midgard trade their teeth for coin from the elves or some such nonsense."
Fenrir rumbled in his throat and dragged his tongue over his father's thigh, leaving more saliva in its passing. Loki didn't seem to mind.
"Thank you, my son, 'tis a lovely gift." Examining the curved tooth, Loki held it up close to his head, "What do you think, a new helmet, perhaps?"
"Well, what do you know about armor anyway," Loki grumbled and tucked the fang into a pouch on his hip.
Despite his large size, Fenrir was barely older than a pup and still desired varying attentions from his father. With a whuf, he tried dropping his too-big head on Loki's shoulder, nearly knocking the trickster over.
"What? Oh, I know what you want," Loki said with a broadening smile, "Sweet spot."
Fenrir rolled onto his side, paws in the air. Loki climbed over his forelegs and onto his belly where he began to scratch furiously. He shifted until he found a spot right under the wolf's ribs where Fenrir's hind leg began to kick and his tongue lolled out of his mouth in pleasure.
"There it is! Sweet spot!" Loki crowed, not minding the loose fur flying everywhere, "Ah, you love that! Keep going!"
It was not the overly saccharine display of Thor's younger brother playing with his monstrous child that made Sif's eye twitch and her hand to remain on her sword in a white-knuckled grip, it was Loki's voice. Broken free from its usual calm restraint, it was a keening falsetto that would make any eunuch proud.
Sif hurried from the courtyard, knowing that that horrible voice would haunt her nightmares for centuries to come.
"Put it back."
"I caught it, it's mine to do with as I please."
This was not how Tony Stark wanted to spend his Friday, or any day of the week.
News of a beached whale was hardly the concern of an Avenger, but a beached blue whale was certainly worth note, especially when the thing was dragged ashore by their local God of Mischief, Strife, and all around Obnoxiousness.
Said god was currently reclining on the dying animal, sunbathing in full armor and a pair of sunglasses he'd apparently stolen from a six-year-old girl, plastic star-shaped frames and all.
Tony should have known this mission was a bust when, upon hearing that Loki was involved, Thor didn't come flying out to the beach at all speed to confront his brother. The Thunder God had instead opted to continue eating his morning cereal as though nothing was amiss. So Iron Man was here instead, under the blazing sun in his armor next to a giant smelly whale with a bitchy Norse god. There had to be a joke about this somewhere.
He sighed and looked at the whale. He felt sorry for the thing. "Just how bored are you?"
Loki reached up and pulled the ridiculous sunglasses down his nose, glaring at Tony over the top point. "If I was bored, Avenger, you'd damn well know it."
"Blue whales are on the endangered species list, you know."
"You can hardly blame that on me."
A part of Tony wondered why he hadn't started shooting yet. He was in perfect range; the Trickster had let him get amazingly close, almost standing on top of him.
"You're blocking my light."
"Why the whale? They didn't have any beach chairs to your liking?"
Loki slid the glasses back into place and lay back, the horns of his helmet supporting his head in a comfortable position. "Does a father need a reason to give his child a present?"
The people crowded on the beach, some in the midst of whale rescue efforts, began to make a commotion. Tony looked out beyond the surf where they were pointing to where the water began to churn and froth as something very large moved beneath the surface.
Loki stood, tossing the sunglasses over his shoulder and dusting off non-existent sand. "Here he is."
The head of a serpent of unimaginable size broke the surface with all the glory of a bad Japanese monster flick. Its fins and spines uncoiled and acid dripped from between its jagged teeth. Its red eyes roamed about until they settled on Loki who waved.
"DINNER!" the Trickster God shouted over the sound of the surf and screams of civilians.
The monster dragged its tongue over its teeth and fell upon the whale like a giant snake, its law unhinging to engulf the animal's bulk, easily devouring the largest animal in the world. Tony could hear the sound of a thousand cell phone cameras clicking and groaned. He activated the suit's jets and moved back from the whale, hovering a safe distance away. He wasn't too surprised when Loki appeared next to him, suspended in the air by his magic.
"That's your kid?"
"Jormungandr," Loki said with pride.
"What did you do, bang Godzilla?"
"You're just jealous of my awesome godly sperm."
When the whale was gone Jormungandr lay partially strewn out on the beach, happily digesting. Loki dropped down in front of his son and rested his arms on the tip of the enormous snout.
"Did my little sea-horror enjoy his meal?"
Jormungandr belched with enough force to send Loki's cape flapping.
Loki flicked some fish guts off his shoulder. "That's good. On your way, now, before the mortals manage to gather their pathetic defenses, for all the good it would do them."
With a rumble deep inside his throat, Jormungandr raised his great head and retreated back into the surf.
"And no deep-sea swimming for at least half an hour, you hear me!"
Jormungandr vanished beneath the waves, gone save the occasional sound picked up by SOSUS.
Tony dropped down beside the trickster god. "Is that it for today?" It was honestly more than enough.
"That's it. Maybe," Loki said with a too-wide grin, and then he vanished, leaving the Ironman standing alone with a crab.
And he was certain that Loki was trying to say something with that.
"Don't you dare wake them," Frigga said firmly to her husband.
"I need Sleipnir."
"You can wait until tomorrow."
"No, my love, I cannot."
"I wasn't aware you were making a journey to Helheim."
Odin sighed, knowing exactly where this was going. Sleipnir was the only steed able to charge into that gloomy realm. "I'm not."
"Then you can take another horse, for once. You have many fine stallions, make use of them."
"I shouldn't have to," the All-Father muttered to himself, leaning on the stall to see what his queen was making such a fuss about.
Sleipnir had settled his great bulk onto the floor, his eight legs tucked under him and his head drooping in sleep. The King of Horses did not make it a habit to sleep on the floor, but Odin immediately saw the reason for this change. Loki too was asleep, slumped against Sleipnir's shoulders with his head tilted back and mouth partially open. An open book rested on his lap, slipped free from his lax hands.
Odin rested his head in his hands. "I thought I made it clear he was to stop these visitations to Sleipnir."
Frigga shot him a look so inflamed he actually felt burning in his brain. "He's Loki's child."
"And Loki is mine, and I will not stand him to suffer rumors and cruel accusations!"
"I doubt he minds them, my love."
"He is the son of a king, he should."
Frigga drummed two of her fingers lightly on the wood of the stall. "Two kings," she mused.
"Don't start," Odin growled, "we agreed."
His queen spoke not a word, but her eyes said everything. It was true, when it came to the matter of Loki's heritage, they rarely agreed on anything.
Odin regarded the quiet scene before him again, his eye drifting to the book that had fallen from Loki's hands. He recognized the bright, colorful binding. A children's book from which he used to read stories to Thor and Loki when they were small. It was a special occasion when he could do so, as his duties often kept him from his sons outside official functions. On these rare instances, his boys would become so excited by his presence that they would get all riled up rather than settle down to sleep. In the end, the book would be forgotten and Odin would tell his sons of his great battles throughout the nine realms, Thor tucked under his arm and Loki pressed close behind him, draping over his shoulder, their mouths open and eyes wide in wonder.
And here was the very same book in Loki's hands, his son tucked up behind him. It was not a book Loki would read for himself; he'd been reading to Sleipnir, as his father had read to him.
The hard resolve within Odin softened and he sighed in defeat.
"I suppose some of the other horses could do with proper exercise." He turned to leave, but glanced over his shoulder at his son and grandchild. "And I think it best we ensure no one disturbs them."
"A novel idea, my Lord," Frigga said, putting her arms around him. He might have found her words patronizing but the slight but brilliant smile she gave him.
That smile was his alone.
When Fenrir grew fierce and thirsted for battle and blood, he was bound by his own kin and hidden away. When Jormungandr's length and girth grew too great for the corridors of the citadel, Odin cast him into the sea of Midgard. And when Hel's appearance and mood disturbed all who saw her, she too was banished from Asgard to Helheim where she was left alone to rule.
Loki, bereft of his children, cast aside that he held dear, his own pride, and knelt at the feet of Odin, begging the return and freedom of his offspring.
This Odin refused.
And so, when the feasting began and Balder stood before his kin, perfect and radiant, it was Loki, hidden in the shadows in the back of the hall, who gave Hoder the mistletoe and guided his hand.
The observatory was gone, but Heimdall's duty remained as it ever had been and still he stood as Asgard's Gatekeeper. Still he maintained his watch, his infinite vision scanning the cosmos for threats or answers still asked of him by an Aesir prince. But his eyes also fell to Asgard itself, guarding it from within as well as without.
Which was how he knew the boy was coming long before the sound of his footsteps, quick and in full sprint, reached his ears. He swung out his arm and caught the adolescent in the chest before he leapt off the jagged edge of the bridge.
"Let me go, Heimdall!" Vali yelled, pushing against the Guardian's strong arm, "I'm a sorcerer too, I can go where my father does! I can do it!"
"You would cause your mother more tears?"
Spoken softly, Heimdall's words reach Loki's son better than a shout ever could. He stilled and slumped against the outstretched arm.
"I'd do it for her...For all of us..."
Were Heimdall any other man, he might have flinched at the words, so similar to ones spoken not too long ago by another desperate son. Instead he moved his arm from Vali's chest until his hand rested on the boy's shoulder.
"Your father is gone." The words needed to be said; there was no cruelty behind them.
Vali began to shake, his face fell and tears dripped from his eyes. He could try to be a man not a minute longer.
"I don't know what to do, Heimdall. What fate is there for the sons of a...a traitor?"
And even Heimdall had no immediate answer. Loki's crimes were well known throughout the realm now, and Vali carried more than his name, but the curse of his looks as well. More than that, he followed his father's footsteps in magic and proved talented. All eyes were on him, judging every move he made without a care of its intent, for he was Loki's son.
"One of your own making," the Gatekeeper intoned, unable to help but to squeeze the young man's shoulder in comfort, "One for those still here with you." His all-seeing eyes flicked over his shoulder briefly, and Vali followed them.
Standing behind them on the bridge, panting and shaking, stood Nari, youngest son of Loki.
"Brother," he hiccupped, extending his little arms, "don't leave me!"
Vali's eyes widened in horror. He'd thought his brother unaware of his departure, much less capable of following him all this way, and now faced with his despair felt nothing but shame.
"No," he whispered, hurrying to his baby brother and pulling him into his arms, "No, no, I wasn't going anywhere!" Vali could lie as easily as his father when necessary, "I was just talking to Heimdall, I would never go anywhere without you!"
Nari sniffed and, in either relief or disbelief, buried his face in Vali's neck and wailed, dribbling tears and snot onto his brother's high collar. His hands clung to fabric and his legs wrapped around Vali's waist, refusing to let go. Vali remained crouched where he was, rocking his brother slightly for some moments until he quieted, and then stood.
"Heimdall," he began, all the bluster of youth from before now gone, "I..."
"If I see anything, you will be the first to know, Vali Lokison."
Vali stared, taken aback. Nobody actually called him Lokison anymore, as though the name itself were tainted. It was a small thing, really, and yet it suddenly meant so much.
"Thank you, Heimdall," he said, and Heimdall was well aware he was speaking of more than simply keeping an eye out.
Nothing more needs to be said, and the son of Loki begins to make the long trek home. For a moment, Heimdall can see Vali's thoughts, plans being spun as a spider would its web. Of taking his mother and brother away from Asgard, to Vanaheim, or even Midgard if necessary. Just away.
And then his thoughts were shut away, and Heimdall could not see Vali at all.