It is with a certain amount of relief that Loki sees the library clock tick ever closer to closing time. It has been a difficult day. He slept poorly the night before and woke with a headache that he has not been able to shake. The children were fractious and disagreeable during story time, and all day Loki has been distracted by the sound of a baby crying. Logically he knows that he must be hearing Hairball Poirot upstairs or possibly a bird outside, but pragmatism does not help his already raw nerves from being irritated further.
The one bright spot during the day had been the arrival of Meggie for story time. Before departing for the library that morning she had apparently been left unattended with a set of markers, and as a result she presented herself in the children’s room sporting brightly colored patches in her normally white-blond hair. The look of resignation on her mother’s face when combined with the expression of pride on Meggie’s had been enough to startle a laugh out of Loki and keep him levelheaded throughout the difficult morning.
He has just bidden the last few patrons good night and is about to shut off the lights and go upstairs when Oscar lets himself in through the front door. He smiles apologetically when he sees the irritation that Loki is not quite fast enough to hide.
“I’m sorry, I know it’s the end of the day,” he says, pulling the wooden chair from the entryway over to the desk and sitting down. “I brought you a present.”
“Oh?” Loki says, intrigued despite himself.
With a flourish, Oscar removes a file folder from his bag and lays it down on the desk. At his encouraging nod Loki opens it.
Inside is a small plastic card and two sheets of paper which turn out to be, upon closer inspection, a driver’s license, birth certificate, and social security card all made out to ‘John Bookman’. The license has Loki’s picture on it.
“This is... me?” Loki asks, unexpectedly touched.
Oscar nods. “I, um, asked around to see what people thought would be a good last name for you. ‘Bookman’ was Meggie’s suggestion and, well, it seemed to fit.”
“Yes,” Loki says, voice hushed. “Yes, it does. Thank you, Oscar.”
Oscar shrugs, the tips of his ears going pink. “Well. I know a few people.”
Loki smiles, turning the license over in his hands. “I feel obliged to point out, though, that I don’t actually know how to drive.”
“Really?” Oscar says, taken aback. “Oh. Well, I trust you to be responsible with it. I’m sure Tom will teach you when the weather gets a bit better and if he says you can drive then you can drive.”
“Yes, he is very sensible,” Loki agrees. “Really, Oscar - thank you. This was very thoughtful. It is... nice to have a name.”
Oscar smiles, still looking somewhat apprehensive. “Did you know I went to college out of the state?” he says abruptly.
“I did not,” Loki says cautiously. It would seem that Oscar has another item on his mind tonight.
“Yep. It’s pretty rare for a kid from New Stebbinsville. Not to go to college, but to leave the state for it. We tend to stick close to home.”
Loki nods. If he had grown up here he would try to stay as well.
“I studied criminology, of course, but I minored in mythology. Not too many people realise that. I specialised in Scandinavia.”
“Oh?” Loki manages.
“Mm. For my final paper I actually put the two together - I used everything I’d learned in criminology to prove that the trickster god Loki had been unjustly persecuted and unfairly convicted of his crimes. My criminology professor wasn’t quite sure what to do with it, although the mythology professor didn’t seem too surprised.”
He takes a book out of his bag and lays it on the desk in front of Loki, open to a bookmarked page. ‘Loki, the God of Mischief’, the heading reads. There is an illustration as well. It is not a good likeness, although they got the helmet right.
Loki stares at it.
“It’s just. It’s Thor that you react to the most,” Oscar goes on, speaking quickly as if he is afraid he will lose his nerve or Loki will attempt to shut him up before he is finished. “Robbie scared you before Thor even showed up, and they look a lot alike. When you saw the picture of the Avengers in the paper you asked ‘when did he land?’ And the lullaby you sing to Emmett is in Old Norse. I, I had to look it up, I still have some of my textbooks, but I’m sure.”
For one of the first times in his long life Loki cannot think of anything to say. How is it that in all of his fretting and overthinking it never occurred to him that someone would figure out who he was? No. From the very beginning he had discounted that as a possibility out of hand. Such arrogance.
“You don’t - you don’t have to say anything one way or the other,” Oscar says, desperation creeping into his voice. “I just thought it might be helpful to you if someone else knew. I thought it might - might be a relief if there was someone you didn’t have to hide that around. I don’t know how many of the stories in that book are true - the ones about Thor seem to be fifty-fifty, from what I can tell - but, but I know who my friend John is, and he’s a good man. I like having him around and I’d like him to stay. I don’t need to know the details.”
Loki swallows hard, and then places his hand over the picture in the book. There is a brief green glow and when he removes it the likeness is accurate.
Oscar makes a strangled noise. “Oh. Oh wow.”
“Does anyone else know?” Loki forces himself to ask. His voice sounds rusty.
“No,” Oscar says. “Stacy might suspect a little but I had a stern talk with her about respecting people’s privacy after the Avengers were here. If she figures anything out she won’t say. I haven’t told Rick or Poppy.”
Loki rubs the bridge of his nose. His head is pounding. “Thank you. I may... I may tell them, but I do not - “
“There’s no rush,” Oscar says quickly. “Honestly. You don’t ever have to tell them. It’s not - look, we love you, okay? We all know there are secrets in your past. Hell, we’ve got secrets too. It doesn’t matter who you were, we only care who you are now.”
Loki nods jerkily. “May I borrow this book?”
“Sure,” Oscar says, surprised.
“Thank you. And... thank you. For your delicacy.”
He sits downstairs for a long time after Oscar has left. Eventually he pages through the book, glancing over the myths included. They are not reassuring. If Loki thought he had a bad reputation on Asgard it is nothing to the one he enjoys on Midgard.
He slams the book shut and stalks upstairs, leaving it on the desk. Poppy is out with Tom - they are going to dinner and a movie in Makers Falls and he has the house to himself for the evening. He goes into the kitchen and tries to prepare for dinner, but he is too angry.
The story about Sleipnir, he is certain, came from Fandral. There had been a tavern on Midgard he favored, Loki remembers now, and it is just the sort of story he would tell: humiliating, obsessed with sex, and resolutely uncouth. Loki had never liked Fandral much.
Thor in the wedding dress probably came from Sif. That one had not been completely awful.
The stories about Loki’s children, though... those had been - they had been -
He presses his hands against his head. His fury is making his head throb so, it is difficult to think and that damned animal that sounds like a baby crying has started up again outside. Who would think up such unkind stories about children? What possible entertainment could it have provided to tell stories about children who were - who were - even if their father was despised, what possible wrong could children have committed? Thinking of Meggie or Emmett being treated so makes bile rise in his throat. What pleasure could their punishment ever cause?
Irritably, he straightens up and
reaches for the dishcloth next to the washbasin. It is rare to have the kitchen to herself for even a moment in the winter - even if her husband is gone the children are always underfoot, and she takes a moment to enjoy the quiet. Her family is just outside, safely within calling distance, and all is right with her world.
It has been several Midgardian years since Loki came to this place in search of knowledge about his mother’s pregnancy and the problems she had encountered during it. At the time it had seemed most sensible to understand the process from the inside, as it were, so he had set out in the form of a woman.
He had not expected to like the form so much, or to gain such pleasure from what had been intended to be just an experiment. The man she had found was a good one, kind and hardworking, and their first child brought a joy Loki had never anticipated. The first pregnancy, she had told herself, was for research; the second was because with some idea of what to expect she would be better able to pay attention to the nuances of the process. Now, she thinks a third might be necessary. For research, and also for children. Loki loves her children very much.
A faint rumble of thunder in the distance shakes her out of her reverie and she laughs at herself, bending once more to her task. Her husband has taken the children out for some fresh air and to give the eldest a chance to run and play; she can hear them calling and shrieking as they enjoy the day. The youngest is but a babe in arms still, but he looks about at the world with his mother’s bright curiosity and Loki is already certain he will be clever when he is grown. The girl has her father’s white-blond hair and her uncle’s love of activity. Loki dreams sometimes of introducing her to Thor.
She knows that this life cannot last forever, and has made a kind of peace with that. Time passes differently amongst mortals than it does amongst the Aesir; years to one feel like but a brief time to the other. Sooner or later, though, Loki’s presence will be required home, and even if she stays here for quite some time it will eventually become clear that she is not aging properly. When it comes time she will use her magic to simulate an illness or possibly an accident and then depart. There is no rush, though - she has plenty of time to settle on the right plan.
It will be very hard to leave this small, peaceful life she has built, but she comforts herself with the fact that it is a long way off and she will be able to return in disguise to watch over her children and her children’s children forever after.
The door scrapes open behind her. She smiles, anticipating a bearded kiss and a hug from small, exuberant arms, but there is only silence and a cold draft. Confused, she turns to remind her husband to close the door properly.
It is not her husband in the doorway, it is Odin. For a moment Loki’s mind skitters with surprise and then she smiles. She likes the idea of introducing Odin to his grandchildren.
“Father!” She says happily. “I was not expecting you. Please, come warm yourself by the fire.”
“Loki, what have you done?” Odin demands, his face thunderous.
Loki feels her heart sink. “I - I wished to understand,” she stammers. “Mother’s illness, I might have prevented it if I understood better, and I thought - this was the best way - “
“So you decided to debase yourself?” Odin roars. “It makes me sick to look at you! Have you no pride?”
Loki shrinks back against the washbasin, bewildered and hurt. “Father - it is only temporary - “
“That does not matter!” Odin shouts. “Do you not realise what shame you have brought on your family with this behavior? You will return home immediately and you will think long and hard about what you have done.”
“It is not shameful,” Loki protests, pleading. “I have brought you grandchildren, All-Father. Do you not wish to meet them?”
Odin’s gaze flickers, just a little, and oh, Loki knows. Her husband was not so far away. He should have heard Odin’s rage and come.
Odin reaches for her but Loki has always been fast. She is out the door and halfway down the path before his hand closes on her arm.
“Loki, no - don’t look - “
But Loki has already seen. She has seen the still bodies and sightless eyes, the tangle of white-blond hair against the snow.
“Loki - “
Loki screams her rage, wordless and beyond reason, and flings herself at Odin. She claws at his face, seeking to remove his last eye. She hurls her magic at him but her strengths lie in scholarship and illusion instead of battle, and she is too slight to have a chance against Odin’s bulk. The fabric of her simple dress tears as Loki shifts, using Odin’s surprise against him. He lands a blow to the weak spot in Odin’s armor at the crook of his elbow and rakes his fingernails down Odin’s neck.
“Loki, stop!” Odin shouts, struggling to restrain his son. “It had to be done!”
“They were children!” Loki shrieks. “My children! You monster!”
“It had to be done!” Odin repeats, finally managing to pin Loki’s arms to his sides. Loki writhes and twists, screaming and sobbing. Odin works one hand free and clamps it over Loki’s eyes.
“I am sorry, my son,” he says. “I am. It had to be done.
“Now sleep. Forget.”
Loki opens his eyes.
It is dark. He is in the kitchen, sitting against the sink cabinets.
That’s Poppy’s face, hovering in front of his. It must be late if she is back from dinner.
She is touching him now.
“John, sweetie, I need you to let me know that you can hear me, okay?”
Of course he can hear her.
She sounds worried. What did she want from him? Oh.
She shifts closer. “John, thank God. Can you tell me what happened?”
Can he? No. There are no words for what has happened.
“Did you remember something?”
She pulls him close. “Can you tell me what you remembered?”
His head is on her shoulder. He remembers this. This is comfort.
“He killed them.”
Was that his voice?
“My husband and my children. He killed them.”
Poppy makes a distressed noise. “Oh God. Who did, John?”
“My - my father.” Odin had been his father, then. Maybe for the last time.
“Oh God,” Poppy says again quietly.
“He said. He said I debased myself. He said it had to be done.”
Poppy’s hands are very tight on him now. It hurts. That’s good.
“I think he thought they would be monsters because they came from me. Unnatural.” That - that has to be it. Half-Jotun children. Someone would have noticed. Loki would have noticed. “They were just children. A baby and a girl with white-blond hair. They were so small. They weren’t monsters.”
“Oh, baby,” Poppy says. It sounds like she’s crying. Loki isn’t. “Oh, baby, of course they weren’t. I’m so sorry.”
“I tried to fight. I tried. It was too late.”
Poppy rocks him a little. “I must have found you right after,” she says, her voice thick. “How did you get away?”
“No,” Loki says. “Then I forgot. I forgot it all. I was angry, I was so angry but I didn’t know why, and he was so angry with me and I didn’t - I tried, I tried to make him proud of me, and it never worked, and then - and then I found out I wasn’t his son at all, it was a lie, and I was so angry. I did, I did terrible things in my anger. And then I ran. And I fell. And then you found me.”
“I am so glad I found you,” Poppy says fiercely. “I am so glad you aren’t there any more. You never have to go back, do you hear me? You’re safe now.”
Loki’s body spasms. “They were my children,” he says. His chest hurts. It feels like something is trying to get out of it. “How could I forget my children?”
“Shh,” Poppy says. “Don’t blame yourself for that, okay? You did what you had to to survive. You remember them now. You loved them. You were a good dad.”
The thing in Loki’s chest rips free. He feels like he is coming apart at every seam, every molecule. He feels like he did when he fell through the void except this is so, so much worse.
“I don’t remember their names,” he chokes, and the anguish overtakes him. He cannot breathe, cannot speak. Poppy holds him up and holds him together. If it weren’t for her arms he is certain that he would no longer exist, scattered by agony and grief and betrayal. He can hear an animal wailing somewhere, a pathetic creature in torment, and he feels sorry for it. He cannot breathe.
Poppy rocks him gently, crying, and finally there is darkness. Finally, there is nothingness.
Loki sinks into it gratefully.