It was a beautiful day: big fat fluffy clouds wafting their way through the air like giant whales, sun gleaming everywhere, birds singing their little hearts out as they tried to impress a mate and charm each other. The ground was still wet with the rain that had fallen the previous night, soft and springy beneath the feet and making the plants look even more verdant than usual.
Loki despised it.
He slouched his way towards the orchard so that he could double check his work from the night before, still trying to shrug the sleep off. He could hear Thor in the distance, his booming laughter carrying across the grounds. His teeth ground together, feeling his headache intensifying, pressing against the back of his eyes.
At the edge of the orchard, he knelt down, pressing his palms flat against the wet grass. He took a breath to clear his mind, focusing, and then opened his eyes. They gleamed a deep green as he looked over his work—carefully twisted and woven ley lines, each pulsing softly, each manipulated so that the harvest from the trees would be the best that it could. Despite his headache (worse, now, getting worse with every second he watched the magic and could hear it singing, loud and pulsing and impossible to drown out), he smiled at a job well done.
He closed his eyes again and just sat there, leaned against one of the trees, ignoring the damp spreading through his rough spun shirt. The slowly spreading warmth of the morning sun dappled through the branches; it was warm, almost cozy here. The ever-present song of magic dulled his lack of focus and lulled him to sleep. He drowsed, relaxed, and the headache began to ease.
His eyes snapped open and he cursed. The sun had hardly moved, but he scrabbled up. His steps were quick and he rapidly approached the stable from where the call had come. Even from a distance, he could see the bear-like silhouette of his foster father, could imagine the scowl that shaped the remaining eye.
"Loki, where in the nine kingdoms have you been? I told you to have the horses ready to ride an hour ago." Odin glared at him. Loki stared sullenly at the ground, what respite he'd had from his headache gone.
"I was sleeping, because I was up all night ensuring your precious trees will bear their fruit. Or do you not remember telling me to do that?"
Odin stopped what he was doing and Loki forced himself to meet his glare with one of his own. Odin was bigger than him, stronger, and he knew it. Even mostly done growing, Odin could still beat him soundly. He ignored the fear buzzing in the back of his mind.
"Well it's good that I woke you up then, isn't it? See to the horses." Odin turned to walk away, to leave Loki to take care of these animals that bite and butt and that he hated.
"No," Loki said, raising his chin.
Odin stopped, turned to look at him.
"What did you say?"
"No," and Loki tried desperately to ignore how his voice almost squeaked. "I won't. I hate them."
Odin started to return. Loki stood his ground.
"You always do that, try to make me do things I hate. And I won't do this. I won't take care of these stupid four-legged pets that you treat better than me. If you want them taken care of, have your precious Thor do it. I won't." Loki licked his lips, breathless at his own courage.
Odin was in his face, loomed over him, single blue-gray eye flashing.
"Ready the horses." Odin's voice rumbled like thunder, just barely above a growl.
"No," Loki whispered back, unable to help but take a single step back.
Thor took care of the horses, but only after he made sure Loki didn't need anything. The kindness nearly killed him, but Loki took it because he ached deep into his bones, back burning from where the lashes struck. He hated Thor, vocally, because they were not brothers despite what Thor says, and loved him, silently, because Thor thought Odin was being unfair.
"I don't think you should be moving so much yet, Brother."
"I don't care."
Loki slipped away from the estate into the forest and ignored Thor's baleful blue eyes.
The forest was quiet and the trees thick enough light was only just getting through to the floor. It was Loki's favourite place; Odin and Thor rarely needed him so desperately that they would follow him in here, and the forest's low hum was one that reminded him of his mother. Especially the lake, which was the closest he had been to his native kingdom of Jotun since he was a boy.
As he rounded the corner, he spotted someone sitting where he usually would on the lake shore, feet in the water. He growled; one more thing to go wrong today. No one ever came here. No one should ever come here. He approached, haughty and angry; he remembered the feel of Odin's cane on his back and let it bubble into his voice.
"This is my lake," he half-snarled.
The figure turned, looked at him in genuine surprise. Eyes that were black all the way through regarded him, skin cast with a light dusting of green. Tall, Loki suddenly realized, tall and too thin in a way that suggested an alien anatomy. A fairy. Here.
"I wasn't aware that it was owned. My deepest apologies." The fairy stood like a snake striking. Loki kept his scowl. "Perhaps I could do something to make up for this intrusion?"
"No," Loki snapped, because even if he was willing to antagonize a fairy he knew better than to take anything offered. He purposefully turned his back on the hir while he took off his boots so he could go wading in the lake. "Your kind have nothing worth taking."
"Is that so?" Hir voice was a purr, soft and sliding into the shadows of his mind. He wanted to listen to that voice, because there was comfort in it, a suggestion of something better. Loki wanted something better. Grander.
Loki ignored hir and started to roll his pants legs up. The forest went back to its usual early summer hum and he couldn't hear the fairy behind him. Wading into the water, he nearly jumped out of his skin when zie spoke again.
"What ails you so, little raven?"
He twisted around to face hir, scowl firmly affixed to keep hir from knowing how hard his heart was pounding. He just glared, pouring all of his anger and unhappiness with the past day into it. Zie crouched by the edge of the water, face solemn and black eyes like water at midnight. Loki met them until he thought he might fall in.
Loki blinked first.
A hand—cool, fingers just slightly too long and slender—brushed against his face, fingertips ghosting over his cheekbones. Loki jerked back, lake mud sliding beneath his feet, and fell; the water was cold, far colder than he had thought at first, knocking the breath out of him and water rushed to fill his mouth. It shouldn't be this deep at this part of the lake—the water had barely been at his knees before. He flailed, heart stuttering out a hummingbird drumbeat, and a hand—fingers just slightly too long, just slightly too slender—wrapped around one of his wrists and pulled him… somewhere. He didn't know which way was up, which way he was going, the hand on his wrist burned.
He surfaced. He was sitting, the water up to his chest. There was no hand on his wrist, just one extended before him, fingers too slender and too long, and midnight pool eyes watching him. Loki trembled, burning with shame at having fallen, having no idea what it had looked like to the fairy, and he growled, shoved the hand away, forced himself to his feet. But he couldn't stop gasping, dragging each breath in like it might be his last, because the water had been so cold, dark, and though everything seemed normal now, his left wrist still burned and ached at remembered touch.
"I can make you great," zie said.
Loki looked up, frowned. He rubbed his wrist.
"I can make you great, little raven."
"Stop calling me that. I nearly…" he stopped, realizing how foolish it sounded. He nearly drowned in water that barely comes to his knees.
The fairy regarded him patiently.
"You… you did something." Loki reached out, called to his magic, usually kept dull (because listening to the world at full swell was too painful) and looked. Listened. The forest was throbbing with energy, fairy magic, but the fairy before him did not change in appearance at all. Dissonance began to eat at him, made his bones creak; it wasn't very much, but… He looked inward, at his left wrist, the wrist of his main hand, and had to bite his tongue to not cry out in surprise.
"Clever," the fairy said. Loki glanced up, growled, and shook off the brand with a whispered half-song. The dissonance faded.
"You are… get away. I don't want whatever your offering. Leave me be." So he found the fairy's working; he doubted that he could do so again, reliably, and instead of angry he was just frightened. But he wouldn't admit it.
"I can make you great. Grand. More. You desire to be better than them, your family, do you not? You desire to be more. Look at you, catching fairy magic you've likely never seen before." The words are so matter-of-fact. Loki started to move towards the edge of the lake. "You deserve better."
Loki paused. He shouldn't. The fairy had just nearly drowned him, would have made it so his spells went awry had he not caught hir brand.
He wanted more.
He deserved more.
"Don't you want it?"
Loki closed his eyes and centered himself. He pushed down the fear and the want and the anger before he turned to look at the fairy.
"Maybe," he said because it was honest. "But not by your abilities and tricks. I can raise myself up."
Loki hesitated; too-thin lips curved up just slightly at the edges.
"Give it some thought," the fairy suggested, the most reasonable suggestion in the world, and was gone.