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Heimdal usually keeps an eye on certain individuals and events more than others. The gods do not often speak of Ragnarok, but part of Heimdal's duties are to watch for it, which also means watching the slender black-haired second prince destined to become Bringer. The boy doesn't know it, of course; most people do not know the details, not really, but Heimdal is one of a few who remembers each cycle; each time he is killed by the Bringer. A shame, really, as the boy always grows into a clever thing, full more of mischief than malice.

Most cycles since the first, Heimdal tries to change things, see if he can't curb the events that shape Loki into Bringer. He does not lack for time and if he fails he can always retry.

Some cycles, he almost succeeds.

This cycle, Loki seems rather fond of Heimdal. This cycle, Loki has wandered down many days to question Heimdal about the books in the library. This cycle, Loki uses his ability to hide hardly at all when he realizes Heimdal will not spoil his pranks. This cycle, Loki always lets Heimdal know in advanced if he will arrive by a way not the Bifrost. This cycle, Heimdal was feeling as if he might manage to stop the machinery of the universe.

Was.

Heimdal had not even known Loki was not on Asgard—a new trick, that—when suddenly he felt the workings of the byways twist and groan, space and geometry pushed aside like no more than cobwebs, and the prince and five others suddenly appeared in Loki's study. Heimdal went blind for the sudden blaze of energy that obscured everything as the universe righted itself once more; when his vision first returned, all he could See was blood. Blood, red and bright with echos of fire (logi), and he Knew that the odds, which had so far been on his side, suddenly were very much not.

He Watched: nothing followed the prince back.

He Watched: Odin gathered his broken son in his arms, refusing to look at Thor's guilt-stricken face.

He Watched: healers stripped the prince and set his wound closed.

Odin asked him how he had missed this; Odin asked him what had happened. Heimdal could not answer him; never before, this cycle or any of the others, had Loki managed to appear in one place and actually been another, not so thoroughly and convincingly that, if asked, Heimdal would have said Loki was leading Sleipnir through pasture and apple orchard.

They waited.

Heimdal turned his gaze outward and watched as the remnants of what Loki had done continued to shift. Structures and things in the universe had snapped and were already unraveling, dark things crawling through the spaces. Something old and cold and dead was wandering, looking for the thing that had, for a brief moment, tamed chaos and rearranged space. Heimdal swallowed and, though not given to it often, prayed. He prayed that She did not look this way. Not yet; Loki would recover, but only if given time.

Frigga questioned Thor and his companions. Odin sat by her, silent, watching Thor for the first time with all the silent judgment usually reserved for Loki. The halls were hushed and though there was no way their words would wake the slumbering prince, all spoke in whispers. A healer bent over Loki, checked to find his wound still not closing despite salve and spell. Loki's lashes fluttered just before he opened his eyes.

Loki's shriek rent the air, chaos howling in its wake.

By the time Heimdal arrived, the healer lay dead, neck snapped, Loki crouched over her. Loki snarled at Heimdal, eyes panicked and broken, before leaping out a window.

Eventually, they found him, deep under the castle, leaned against the walls of the vault; no more dead, but there were injured, those foolish enough to get between Loki and where he was running. The prince growled low when he saw them, eyes brilliant in the near dark, until Frigga arrived. She pulled him down, till his head rested in her lap, and crooned him to sleep, weaving song and magic around her son's mind until he could not wake without aid. Not long after, most of the gods fell to mortal dreams.

Heimdal did not. Heimdal Watched and he waited and he did what he could to keep Her from noticing Loki.

 

XXXXXX

Something old and cold and dead has been meddling. Heimdal finds Loki awake and wandering the quiet halls, eyes glassy and red rimmed. None of the other gods have stirred from their mortal dreams. Heimdal saw Loki's mortal self die; Frigga's spell should have eased his mind back to darkness. Loki stops as he sees Heimdal.

"You need rest, my prince," Heimdal tells him.

"What is t?" Loki asks. His eyes flicker, desperate crazed need spasming over his face. "What am I?"

"Tired." Heimdal knows it is not the answer that Loki is looking for for either question, but he does not have any others to give. "Come, Highness. The others should wake soon."

Loki allows Heimdal to guide him towards the library and press him into an armchair, takes a mug of tea handed to him by a nervous healer. One too thin hand skitters over the book on the arm of the couch, pages through it unseeing. Heimdal watches him, smells old and cold and dead, and debates what to do. He does not wish to leave Loki, not until others have woken, others who will be better be able to explain. If he leaves now, Loki will vanish, searching for answers to both his questions.

Heimdal is no seer. He imagines it would drive him mad to have both types of sight. But he remembers all the cycles before and all the ways that Loki has become Bringer. He remembers Frigga's vision of invasions and glass and fire, before Loki was wounded. He remembers the words Mimir whispered to Odin of how Loki would try to destroy Midgard if Odin did nothing, after Frigga spelled Loki to sleep.

Heimdal watches how tears fall unnoticed down Loki's cheeks as the prince stares at the pages before him.

He remembers two young men, filling in each other's missing parts until their equations tangled together into one, bounded into an infinite fractal recursion.

Loki has never loved, not in any cycle. Not like this.

He turns his gaze away, towards Midgard, to a young man standing in the rain, wearing sunglasses to hide his own tears. Heimdal frowns and looks again at Loki.

Loki will leave if and only if he is left alone and his questions still unanswered.

He stands there for a few moments longer, but he has already decided. Heimdal has been playing the long game for longer than even most Aesir remember—what is one more Ragnarok when he has been presented with the slimmest of odds that Ragnarok might not come at all?

Heimdal leaves Loki in the library by himself. He begins to think of how he will explain this to Odin when the king wakes. He is no seer, but Heimdal remembers all the cycles and he Knows that this is critical, key to causing the ripple effects of chance that will create the mere potential of averting Ragnarok; he can do no more. Loki cannot stay in Asgard, cannot be put back to sleep, no matter that his mind is not yet healed, no matter that his soul is ragged and bleeding—not if this possibility is to be made as likely as it can.

Loki does not leave by way of the Bifrost.

Heimdal Watches: something old and cold and dead finds Loki where he walks. She smiles at Heimdal before vanishing, Her fingers tangling in the paths beneath Loki's feet as she goes.

Loki stumbles and falls.