His name is not Neal Caffrey. That's a given.
... not Bryce Larkin, either. Look deeper, Peter.
Keep looking all the way down, past Nick Halden, past Nate Denis, and Bruce Wilkins, and Brian Lafferty.
Not Noah, either, though that's the first name you'll ever find.
... okay. Not quite the first. But who would look a thousand years in the past?
Neal has always had a fondness for Hermes. And Coyote. And Anansi.
But his favorite trickster? The one dearest to his heart, the one he wants to pull into his arms and hold tight, to murmur assurances to and swear to make everything better?
Loki, of course. Always and forever Loki.
Neal’s always had a mean-streak, too. Something sharp and jagged, a chasm in his soul.
Neal Caffrey has never killed anyone.
But he hasn’t always been Neal Caffrey.
Peter is a good man. And El is darling. Peter’s little minions are all breaths of fresh air, reminding Neal that there are others (besides Mozzie) on Earth deserving of his protection.
(Ah, Chuck. Bryce still has a soft spot for him. He’s deserving, too.)
If Neal had to walk away tomorrow, he could. But he’d regret it. He really would.
Having to pretend to be helpless is Neal’s least-favorite part of wearing the mask. But it’s part of the rules, and he can only respond if his own life is in danger – and who on Earth can actually threaten him?
But as the years pass, his own power swells. He’s the only receptive vessel on Earth for all the magicks swirling around, so, of course, it all comes to him. The human-mages touch the barest of magic and think themselves gods.
Neal knows better. Gods cannot be made. Gods are born.
And soon enough, he’ll have enough power. He’ll have what is his, and what is Earth’s, and what had been his father’s.
What should have been theirs all this time, damn all the gods.
“Just give me a hint,” El says, curled up with Neal on Peter’s couch. Peter’s at the table, a file spread out around him. “Just the first letter.”
Neal smiles at her. “It’s a secret,” he whispers, giving Peter a flirty glance.
Peter rolls his eyes. “Not that secret,” he mutters.
Grinning, Neal kisses the top of El’s head.
Maybe if Peter had access to all of the names Neal has used, he’d figure it out. But Peter hasn’t even found a fifth of Neal’s identities. After all, he’s been around for a long time.
In all his years bound to Earth, there is one letter Neal has never used. None of his names have started with it.
And as darling as El is, as much as he adores Peter – they won’t be around long enough for him to even consider telling the truth.
“Most of your aliases start with N,” Peter says, shoving his folder to the side and stalking over to the couch.
Yes, most of the identities Peter’s found start with N… and it doesn’t mean what Peter assumes it does.
How much longer? his oldest brother asks.
Patience, his only sister counsels.
You say that because you aren’t bound or banished, his second oldest brother scoffs. His third oldest chimes in agreement, of course. Those two have always been close. The most hated of them all. The most feared, despite their sister’s fate.
How long? his younger brother whispers.
Soon, he replies gently. Soon you’ll all be free.
Soon there will be blood on his teeth. Soon, worlds will burn.
Neal has never had his father’s gift for words. He’s never had his older brothers’ strength, or his sister’s calm. He’s never had his younger brother’s gentleness. His older brothers are called monsters, hated and feared.
They are what the gods made them.
Only one monster-child free, so declared their king. Only one. And their father given the choice.
A thousand years to wander, to learn, to grow. A thousand years to plan.
Neal wants to hold Loki close and promise it will all be made right soon.
But even more than that, he wants his little brother free.
And Neal has something the rest of his siblings don’t. He’s not as obedient, or strong, or patient, or manipulative, or gentle. His tongue is silver, but sharper than steel, and he is vicious. Oh, Neal can be so vicious.
There is a reason he is the one Father picked to be free.
And there is nothing he won’t do to rescue them all.
His name is not Neal Caffrey. He is a thief, yes, and a conman, and a forger. Yes, he has been a spy – for a thousand regimes. He’s been an assassin. He’s been a king. He’s been a farmer and a historian and a drunk and a husband. He has no children for he’d been forbidden to procreate and pass his accursed blood on.
He’s a god, and the son of gods, and the greatest sorcerer on Midgard. Until his father is free, he may well be the greatest sorcerer in all nine realms.
(Which is wrong, so wrong, for he’d never been in love with magick the way his younger brother is. Or as gifted as his third-oldest. Or as clever as his sister.
But he is free, because he is dangerous in a way they never were.)
Neal Caffrey is a liar. That is the one thing all of his lives have had in common.
But, really, what do you expect from the son of the God of Lies?
Neal Caffrey dies on a bright spring day. He’s buried in the rain.
The Burkes never forget him. Mozzie mourns for the rest of his life.
Nathaniel Locke has his first day as a freshman at Arizona State. He’s bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
He is a lie.
I miss you, Nathaniel whispers, eyes closed tight to keep from crying.
Soon, his younger brother whispers back. Not much longer. You promised, Váli.
I did, Loki’s only free child says. He can taste the blood that will flow, when their day of reckoning of comes. I think… one more lifetime. That’s all I need.
There are heroes in New York. The so-called next step in evolution all over Midgard. Magick twisting itself. Magick that answers his call, and twines in him and through him, magick no one else on the rock can touch. Not truly.
He is not the sorcerer Narvi would be, were Narvi free. He doesn’t have his own realm or army like Hel. He can’t crush the world the way Jörmungandr could, or swallow the sun like Fenrir. He can’t outrace the wind like Sleipnir.
But Váli is more of a monster than them all combined, and no one Asgard has ever seen it. Váli is a lie in a way his siblings never have been.
Any of his siblings would kill to defend the rest. Only Váli would kill a realm to keep them safe before the threat can be made.
Most days, he wishes he’d been born first. None of this would’ve happened, then.
Be safe, Narvi murmurs, falling back into himself, where he is chained inside the cavern, body cut open, alive even as he binds their father.
Váli wants to destroy worlds. He wants to set them all free and exact bloody retribution, and a part of him is pissed off that Narvi wouldn’t take it. That Narvi would forgive.
Sleipnir has been their grandfather’s loyal mount for the better part of three thousand years. Fenrir docilely let the fearful aesir bind him in a cave and shove a sword in his mouth so he couldn’t speak the words to free himself. Jörmungandr was sent to the seas and kept immobile by the curse of a bitter old man terrified of a possibility that he made possible because of his fear. Hel stays in her realm and rules the dishonored dead, and never sets foot outside her borders. And Narvi…
For Narvi, Asgard will fall.
Why do you think I chose you? Loki says, late one night while Nathaniel cannot sleep because horses stampede and wolves howl in his dreams. Of all my great and powerful children, why do you think I chose you?
A deal with Odin All-Father, King of Asgard. Loki and his monstrous spawn would stay bound if one could go free and live on Midgard. Live without magic. Prove to all the aesir that the children could be ‘rehabilitated.’
Váli has never touched magic. Magic is Odin’s, and Frigga’s, and all the mages of Asgard. Magic is something they can monitor and track and take.
What Váli has is magick. Maybe it is his jötunn blood. Maybe it is the curse of Loki. Whatever it is, it runs rampant on Midgard, and answers his call, and he can feel it spiraling, and he is one lifetime away from having enough.
You chose me, Father, he says, looking at the ceiling and seeing only stars, because of all your children, I am the one most like you.
In all his lives on Earth, Váli has never used a name that starts with V. Usually he picks N as a way to honor Narvi.
Thor is in New York, playing protector of Midgard.
Loki has been bound beneath Asgard’s golden halls for a thousand years for a crime neither he nor his children remember.
Loki’s children have been bound or banished for even longer.
And Nathaniel Locke just died in a car accident.
Váli does not need the Bifrost. That’s something Loki taught all his children, before things went so horrifically wrong.
He stares at Midgard’s sky and tastes blood.
Odin’s warhorse races to the edge of the palace’s corral and delights in the wind in his mane. A giant wolf closes his eyes, remembering how it felt to throw back his head and howl. The largest sea serpent in any ocean strains against ancient spells and imagines swimming once more. The Lady of the Dead dismisses her servants and wanders to the border of her realm. And a young man whose only crime was being his father’s son listens to his father’s laughter as the binding – shatters.
Váli helps his twin to his feet and heals him of every wound. Together, they help their father.
While Loki leans against the wall and stretches, working out a thousand years of sore muscles, Narvi pulls Váli into a tight embrace and whispers, “Don’t hold yourself back on my account.”
Váli smiles, pulling his brother even closer, and then steps to his brother’s side, as they both watch their father.
“I’ll release Jörmungandr,” Father says. “Sleipnir will meet us in Niflheimr at Hel’s palace.”
“I’ll see to Fenrir,” Váli tells him.
“And I’ll go with you,” Narvi says.
Váli wants to send him on to Hel immediately, where he’ll be as safe as one of Loki’s spawn can be. But it’s been a thousand years. So instead he gives his father a long embrace and then grips his brother’s hand and takes them both to Fenrir’s prison.
Odin’s experiment failed. Monsters can’t be rehabilitated.
Or maybe he let Loki choose the wrong child.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter.
He bound them all to keep Ragnarök from coming, and only engineered its arrival.
Poetic, in a way.
So damned poetic.
“I am glad it was you,” Loki tells Váli, after Asgard is torn down to the foundations. Blood ran in the streets. The Bifrost shattered. Earthquakes and hurricanes shook the great cities apart.
Asgard had many enemies, when the way was opened and they could rush to attack.
Ragnarök. Váli spent a thousand years planning it.
For just a moment, Neal wonders what Peter would think. Bryce imagines Chuck’s reaction.
Loki’s eyes are kind as he says, “Of all my children… you are the only one who could have succeeded.” He presses a gentle kiss to Váli’s forehead. “Ragnarök is not the end,” he whispers, turning from Váli to look out over the destruction.
“Váli!” Narvi calls.
Váli smiles. He once swore to destroy worlds in his brother’s name.
He almost wishes Odin were still alive to choke on the irony of the Liesmith’s son keeping his word.