Slowly, slowly, the world comes back.
He notices food. He remembers eating. He starts to realise when it is day and when it is night. People touch him, gently, and he turns into it, seeking comfort. He registers the feel of Poppy’s sweater, the smell of sawdust and engine grease on Tom, the look of sun glancing off Beverly’s silver hair.
He is rarely alone. Sometimes he sits in the clearing on top of the mountain and watches the valley below and there is always someone else sitting a few feet away. It is not obtrusive. It is comfort, concern.
Poppy places notebooks in front of him. He stares at them at first but slowly he begins to write. He fills up page after page and new notebooks appear as if by magic. He fills them too. Sometimes he writes good things, memories, and sometimes he is so angry the page rips under his pen.
Jess marches up to him one day and deposits her son in his arms. He takes the baby automatically and then stills, staring at him, while everyone around holds their breath. He sees his son, he sees his daughter, he remembers the baby smell of them and the conversations he had with his husband about what they might grow to be.
Emmett reaches up and grabs his chin, kicking his little legs. I will protect you, Loki thinks, and wants to throw up.
Poppy sits with him often, stroking his hair or rubbing his back. She has an uncanny knack for knowing when he wants silence and when he needs distraction. She reads out loud to him sometimes, and sometimes they just sit together.
We both lost our children to our own foolishness, Loki thinks, but he does not say it. He is many things but he is not pointlessly cruel.
He writes Odin endless letters. He blames, he begs, he accuses, he cries. He wonders sometimes if Heimdall is watching and repeating what he reads. Sometimes he hopes this is true, sometimes not.
“Can you tell me about them?” Poppy asks him one day.
Loki leans his head against her shoulder. He cannot. He places his hand over a page in his notebook instead and concentrates. There is a green glow and his family’s faces appear.
I just did magic in front of Poppy, he thinks dully, but Poppy does not seem surprised.
“They’re gorgeous, John,” she says softly. He agrees.
Slowly, slowly, Loki begins to re-enter the world.
Hours spent writing in his notebooks become careful, tentative conversations. Tears turn into anger, and Robbie obligingly takes him to a gym with an apparently unlimited supply of punching bags. He calmly reads a book while Loki utterly destroys several of them. Anger turns into tears again. Robbie gives very good hugs, and takes him out for ice cream when he is done.
“I feel as if I am doing a lifetime’s worth of mourning all at once,” Loki says, staring down into rainbow-colored sprinkles.
“That sounds like grief, all right,” Robbie says, handing him fudge sauce.
Oscar keeps his distance. Poppy says it is because he feels that he has brought all of this on by their conversation before Loki reclaimed his memories. She does not say whether she knows the topic of their discussion or not, but Loki is unconcerned. Even with everything that has happened he does not think Oscar would betray such a confidence, and in any case he does not mind if Poppy knows.
Grief allows one to be a little selfish, Loki learns. He calls Oscar up and tells him to come over and bring some Hercule Poirot with him. Oscar is there in ten minutes. It is enjoyable until the episode with the dead child, and then Oscar has to go find Poppy. But he seems a little more sure in Loki’s presence, so that is good.
“I did not read all the myths,” Loki tells him one day. “Is there one about my children? Do they have names?”
Oscar looks like he would rather be anywhere else answering any kind of question but this. “There are a couple,” he admits. “It’s... kind of a theme. There isn’t one that exactly fits what you’ve told me. Hel, Fenrir, and Jormungandr are probably the most well-known of - of the mythical Loki’s kids, and Sleipnir next. I think if any of them fit it might be Vali and Narfi. They were both boys, though.”
“Did they die?” Loki asks.
Oscar’s expression twists. “Yes,” he says, very quietly. “But not... not how you described to me.”
The names do not sound familiar, at any rate. “I see,” Loki says. He decides to never read up on the unfortunate Vali and Narfi.
Sometimes in his notebook he makes charts. He lines up the slights against him on one side and the wrongs that he committed on the other. Does the slaughter of his family justify the attack on Jotunheim? Do Odin’s lies justify Loki’s own? By the numbers Loki is still at fault. Three people, only one of them grown, do not stack up against an entire realm.
But his family was his entire realm. Does that matter? Their deaths, forgotten though they were, set him on the course to Jotunheim and informed his every decision afterwards. Does that make it all Odin’s fault?
Does it matter? One wrong does not justify a greater wrong in return.
It occurs to Loki that he is the child of monsters on both sides. Would it have been possible for him to bear innocent beings at all? Would his children have been monsters too, as Odin seemed to think? They had their father’s blood in them too, after all, and he was a good man.
When Loki asks Oscar, he admits that most of Loki’s children were considered monstrous. This could be truth. It could be lies. Loki cannot tell, which is an irony he feels somewhat offended by.
Slowly, slowly, Loki resumes his place in the town’s daily activities. It takes him a few tries to be able to bear doing story-time again, and it is traumatic for all parties involved until he gets the hang of it, but work at the general store resumes easily. Loki is surprised by this. He had expected to feel more nervous about returning to the place that Thor had appeared so suddenly, but it would seem that Thor has faded as a threat in light of Loki’s new truths.
Thor was impulsive, self-centered, and too prone to rages, it is true. But he had treated Loki as kindly as he knew how, and had done what he could to stand between Loki and Odin even though he understood nothing of the circumstances. It would be hypocrisy of the highest order for Loki to condemn him for being imperfect. Loki does not so much forgive him for their childhood and the events on the Bifrost as he simply ceases to care about it.
Somehow, winter passes into spring. The days become longer and brighter. The snow melts, leaving the sad iced-over remains of drifts in their wake, and everyone goes from shaking snow off their shoes to tracking mud everywhere. Poppy talks Loki into helping with the traditional New Stebbinsville spring celebration, which involves a fair on the green complete with unhealthy food and games for the children. Loki is to be in charge of painting faces, which allows him to participate but to avoid excessive conversation on the pretext of concentration.
The day dawns rainy and cold, which Poppy tells him is also traditional, but they are spared the equally traditional last-minute relocation to the bingo hall of the volunteer fire station when the weather clears and warms in the afternoon. Loki’s station is set up next to the street, between the ball-toss and a game that involves striking a platform with a large hammer in an attempt to make a bell ring, which causes Loki no small amount of wry amusement. He is just putting the finishing touches on a balloon on the side of Emmett’s tiny, sleeping face when one of the ball-toss balls misses its target and bounces away.
Meggie chases after it, laughing, right through two parked cars and out into the street. Loki has just enough time to remember white-blonde hair spread against the snow and then there is a screech, a thump, and he is staring over the tips of his Jotun-blue fingers at a wall of ice between a bewildered Meggie and the crumpled remains of Joan’s Frank’s front bumper.
There is a moment of complete silence, broken only by the sound of Meggie’s mother rushing to check on her daughter.
That’s it, then, Loki thinks dully. That’s the end. He is still Jotun-blue - his hands won’t change back, no matter how hard he stares at them, and he knows, he can feel that he is the same all over. Even if he could change back he has already been seen.
“Oh,” Stacy says, as if everything has been explained. “You’re an illegal alien.”
“Explains a helluva lot about his bloodwork,” Eleanor says drily.
Beverly immediately rounds on Oscar. “Don’t you dare arrest him, Oscar Macklin,” she says sternly.
Loki stares at them.
“Arrest him, hell,” Oscar says, grinning. “My jurisdiction doesn’t extend to outer space.”
“What the hell just happened?” Joan’s Frank demands, finally managing to pry his door open. “Crap, John, was that you? Is Meggie okay?”
“She’s fine,” Meggie’s mother says, standing up with her daughter in her arms. “She’s about to learn a very firm lesson about traffic safety.”
“John,” Jess’s sister says urgently. “Have you ever played hockey? I coach the high school team and I think we could really use you - “
“Forget about hockey,” Rick says. “We need him for the fire department.”
“Can you get rid of ice as well as make it?” Joan’s Frank asks, slithering over the remains of Loki’s barrier. “Because if you can get rid of it the road crew could definitely use some help next winter and we pay a lot better than the fire department.”
“Hey!” Jess yells. “Cut it out, creeps! John wants to be loved for his mind, not his awesome alien ice powers. You’re freaking him out!”
A chorus of sheepish Sorry, Johns greets this statement. Loki stares at them all and thinks I am blue. I am a blue monster standing in the middle of your tiny sleepy town. What is wrong with you people?
“John?” Poppy says. “John, it’s okay. Really.”
“Here.” Meggie’s mother pushes her way through the crowd and deposits her child into Loki’s arms. Meggie immediately wraps her arms around his neck, and the blue begins to recede.
“That is so cool,” Stacy breathes.
“Isn’t it a pretty color?” Poppy agrees admiringly. “Do the lines mean something?”
“I - I don’t know,” Loki admits. “I’ve never really been sure.”
“Rick, your stew’s boiling over,” someone calls from the refreshment table, and the normal activity of the fair begins to assert itself.
“Quick thinking,” Robert says approvingly, pausing to shake Loki’s hand before wandering off into the crowd.
“Is that why those Avengers were here?” old Mrs. Nau asks.
“Oh, no, that was completely unrelated,” Poppy assures her.
“Good,” Mrs. Nau says. “They can’t have our John.”
Poppy pushes the folding chair from Loki’s station into place just in time to catch him as his knees give out. “Okay, John?”
“Yes,” Loki says numbly. “Yes, I - you have to understand, this - the way I look - where I came from I would have been killed on sight.”
“Kind of a shock to have people not care that much about it?” Poppy says sympathetically, smiling down at him.
“Yes.” Loki says. “Yes, that’s it exactly.”
Meggie raises her head. “Blue’s my favorite color,” she tells him solemnly. “Can you draw a snowflake on my face?”
“I think that would look lovely,” Poppy approves.