When Loki closes his eyes he sees her.
She is ten and skinny. She is trying to juggle a red leather ball between her hands but, hopelessly uncoordinated, it keeps falling to the ground. Every time she fails she scrunches her thick, dark eyebrows and tries again because that is who she is. She is already stubborn. So she keeps throwing the ball up and after a while she can toss it high into the air and catch it without looking.
He hunches over his book and pretends he isn’t watching.
She is twelve and is fidgeting.
Every time she thinks no one is looking (but Loki is looking from behind a layer of magic, watching with an intensity that scares him) she scratches her thigh and tries to adjust the tight satin around her shoulders. If she is clumsy and poor at athletics, she is worse at sitting still and being pretty.
Underneath the blue dress that brings out the sky in her eyes, she is uncomfortable and scared because she knows that she will never survive in this world where speaking softly is required and wearing an ugly pair of earrings could lead to total failure.
He sees the fear in her face, hiding behind her easy, gracious smile and he is comforted that there is someone in the palace with more secrets than him.
She is fourteen and has taken to holding Thor’s hand.
Everyone coos over what an adorable couple they make. Loki knows they’re children playing at house but she takes the relationship more seriously than more people take marriages. He doesn’t have to use magic to catch his brother and his new consort in the act.
They are awkward and noisy and Loki pulls back a curtain and finds them entangled, Thor’s slobbering mouth pressed to her bare shoulder. Her dress is pulled down, showing a lacy undergarment that seems so out of character for the girl who talks loudly of being a knight. Thor ignores the interruption but she blushes as the awkward younger brother watches oafish, too-big hands fondle her pre-pubescent breasts.
Loki’s chest hurts and he walks away slowly.
She is seventeen and in his bed.
The wild look she carried throughout childhood has been tempered. Her bushy eyebrows have been plucked into elegant arches and where there used to be jutting bones and awkward elbows there are now sleek, hard muscles that bulge elegantly under the satin sheets. She has grown into her face, the one once whispered to be horse-like and while perhaps plain, she is undeniably good-looking with a sharp jaw and high cheekbones.
The only hint of her former days as an unruly, bad-tempered girl are her eyes, every bit as blue and turbulent as the when she fell out of trees and ran barefoot through the country side.
Loki traces his hand under the sheets, feeling fat and sinew and muscle along her calves. Her knees have the rough feel of callouses, of childhood bruises that never healed. His hand continues to travel up and she smiles wickedly with perfectly straight teeth that are lovely but like every other girl’s.
She is twenty and they are dancing.
She has learnt to wear a ball gown with something like grace and it suits her. The silver folds of velvet are soft against the hard scars of her skin. She has seen battle and it’s tempered the war cry in her eyes. Where once were freckles and smoothness is now rough and bruised and stitched together.
Loki reflects that she is quiet now. She no longer speaks of winning fame and riches with her sword but of dying for something noble. She speaks of death far too much for a young woman with pink lips.
When the music swells then slows and they separate she excuses herself and Loki knows she is good because she is unhappy. She may never recover from the sparse bloodshed she’s witnesses and he examines her pain in stark contrast to his own giddy amusement at ending lives in one fell swoop of magic.
She is twenty-two and he has lost her.
Loki knows this when she returns from somewhere and her arm is wrapped around Thor’s waist and they are smiling. She hasn’t smiled, genuinely smiled in so long.
He is several thousand years old and he is underground. Sometimes his jailer brings him a candle and he remember the light of the sun illuminating the shoreline or the peculiar warmth in Sif’s eyes.