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Vicious Cycle

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Loki took a deep breath and calmed his racing heart. I’m doing the right thing, he reminded himself. It was just over a week until Thor’s coronation, and he’d tried to talk to Father again. No use. He wasn't surprised, but he couldn't deny the sharp pain and anger he’d felt when Father had dismissed him. He’d lost his temper this time, said Loki was just jealous of his brother. Jealous! It had nothing to do with jealousy. Thor was just immature and woefully unprepared for the responsibility of ruling over the Nine Realms. He would be a disaster as King. He wanted to make his mark so badly Loki was sure he would start a war with one of the other realms just to get his name in the history books and on the lips of the skalds. That was the only thing he’d ever cared about in their studies - becoming like their grandfather with Svartalfheim, or Father with Jotunheim.

Loki was not jealous.

He took his time casting the cloaking spell. He didn’t want Heimdall spying on his plans. Once he could feel the shield protecting him from Heimdall’s gaze, he wrapped the folds of reality in on himself and slipped onto the branches of Yggdrasil. He took a moment to adjust his perception. This different plane of existence made his eyes ache like he was trying to read a book too close, and he scrunched his face up to relieve the tension. The light had a strange, spectroscopic property, and didn’t seem to be coming from anywhere, bouncing off the secret paths like a mirage. He leaped lightly from limb to limb, holding on to the rough, metallic bark for the bigger jumps, then slipped down the trunk, through the shimmering disc, a two dimensional ocean that whited out his vision momentarily, to emerge into Yggdrasil’s roots and the lower realms. He was the only person he knew of who’d ever found a way to navigate this, the backstage of the universe, and he wasn’t even sure he knew how he did it. The only other people who'd ever seen Yggdrasil had leaped back into their reality in horror, even his own mother, but he found it beautiful. Maybe he really was insane, he mused, as he found a thin area in the fabric of the universe and squeezed his way back into the real world.

The cold assaulted him the moment he’d released the folds of reality and he shivered, but not as much as he had been expecting. He felt the terror rising from his core. This was Jotunheim, for Norns’ sake! He forced it down and replaced it with curiosity, a response that came naturally. He had never visited Jotunheim. It was forbidden. Of course Loki was not one to shy away from a challenge - usually forbidding him from doing something was akin to wrapping it up in silk and putting a big ‘God Jul, Loki’ tag on it - but Father had forbidden, on pain of dismemberment, any Aesir from visiting Jotunheim for a thousand years, as long as Loki had been alive. In the privacy of his own mind Loki could admit that the thought of this frozen world of barbaric Frost Giants terrified him, and up until now, that had been more than enough to keep him obedient, if only in this one area. But things had changed. He needed to do something to prove to Father that Thor would be a liability as King, and he had to do it before Father went into the Odinsleep. He straightened his shoulders and marched towards the citadel in the distance, light-footed over the packed snow, collar up against the blizzard. He reassured himself that he knew what he was doing. This was all planned out carefully. Find a Frost Giant, sell the information, and sit back to watch the chaos. There was no chance that the Jotnar would ever succeed in getting their grubby hands on the Casket of Ancient Winters, the Destroyer stood ready for them. Thor would lose his temper, have a bit of a tantrum about his coronation being interrupted, and Father would see what an immature, self-centred child he was putting on the throne, and would make Mother regent again for another few decades. He had no illusions that Thor would end up being King at some point, it had been obvious since their majority. The feasting for Thor’s coming of age went on for over a week. Loki had spent his own, five years later, studying in Alfheim. His mother had come to visit.

His skin crawled as he stepped into the ruins of a vaulted building, columns stretching up to the snow-driven sky, and his lip curled. In a thousand years they hadn’t repaired anything from the war. They truly were mindless beasts.

The rumbling chuckle drew up through his boots, turned his insides to jelly. It sounded like a distant avalanche. He turned calmly to face his first frost giant, cricking his neck up to an uncomfortable angle to look the creature in the eye.

“My eyes must be deceiving me, Helblindi. Is there a little Aesir in front of me, or am I dreaming?”

A second giant, smaller than the first, only two feet taller than Loki, lounged on a crumbling windowsill, examining black fingernails with undue attention. “It seems there is, brother. He must surely be lost,” he drawled.

Loki cleared his throat. “I seek a bargain which will serve both parties,” he began, cringing inwardly to hear his voice quaver.

“The only thing I seek from you is your absence,” growled the first giant, taking a step forward.

“You have no interest in the Casket of Ancient Winters then? I see, well, I’ll be on my way.”

“What do you know of such things, little one?”

Loki turned back to the brothers, hiding a smirk. “I was a mage in the Allfather’s palace. I know a secret way to the weapons vault, where you will find what you seek.”

“We seek nothing,” snapped Helblindi, his feet swinging around on his seat so he sat square on to Loki, levelling his red gaze on him. “The Casket is gone. We wait for death.”

“Brother…”

“No, Byleistr, you know better than to trust the false hope of lying Aesir scum. This is a trap.” He slipped off his perch, landing lightly. “Go home, little warm-skin.”

He walked close by Loki as he left, passing through a door further into the ruined palace. Byleistr remained, staring at Loki, eyes narrowed. “Why?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Why would you betray your people?”

There is still a chance…Loki curled his lips into a snarl. “They betrayed me first. They have taken the one I love from me, forbidden us from seeing each other. She…she took her own life.” He injected fury and pain into the lines on his face to turn back to the giant. “I want them to suffer as she suffered. As I have suffered.”

He thought it was a pretty good performance. Better than the skald who had told the same epic love story at the feast last month. Now was the time to see if beasts felt this would be a good enough motivation for betrayal. Byleister stared at him for a long moment, and Loki was beginning to think he should have gone with greed instead, surely something a monster would understand better than love, you sentimental fool, Loki…

“Tell me everything.”

***

Loki led Byleistr to the portal device he had hidden in a cache near where he had come through from Yggdrasil. He hadn’t wanted to take it with him in case things turned nasty. He still couldn’t believe this was all working so well! Byleistr brought a second giant with him, Gridr, and the two of them spoke in sub-sonic rumbles that Loki could feel in his chest like the purr of a cat. They kept glancing at him, Gridr with ill disguised hatred that made Loki feel even more exposed.

“It’s up here,” he yelled over the wind. The two giants turned to the small pile of stones on the hill, and Loki leaped up the rugged path. Gridr followed.

It all happened so fast. The ground made a screeching, crackling sound as Gridr placed his feet where Loki had stepped. Byleistr shouted a wordless, panicked warning, and Loki turned to see the world drifting up before his eyes. No, it was him falling as the ice crumbled, sliding down the cliff. Loki felt his stomach rise up in his chest with inertia as his body followed, and wondered if his death would break the cloaking spell. Would Heimdall find him, shattered at the bottom of a frozen crevasse, or would his Mother forever wonder where he had gone?

Then Byleistr’s hand shot out, the giant’s upper body stretched over the open air while Gridr clutched at his feet. Loki stretched for him, felt his huge hand close around his arm from wrist to elbow, hyperventilating as his shoulder was jerked in its joint, and watching the snow and ice shattered into powder far below him. He looked up at his monstrous saviour just as he felt the leather of his vambraces crumble with cold shock and remembered all the stories, the horrible scars the old soldiers wore from the Jotun frostbite. This is really going to hurt, he grimaced. Byleistr and Gridr were thinking the same, pulling him up as quickly as they could.

When skin touched skin Loki braced himself for the burn that never came. He had his eyes shut in preparation, but when Byleistr gasped and nearly dropped him he snapped them open again.

At first he thought he might have fallen through the gaps in reality again. There was an extra colour, an extra sense, haloing the two Jotnar and flickering in the edges of clouds, cutting through the blizzard and providing more definition to the previously blue and white world. Byleistr and Gridr had hauled him back onto solid ground now, but instead of letting him go, Byleistr grabbed him by both shoulders and shook him. “Who are you? The truth!”

“Byleistr, stop!” Gridr wrapped his arm around Byleistr’s chest, pulling him back.

Loki stared at the horror and grief in Byleistr’s face, still shell-shocked from his near death experience. He didn’t understand. What was going on, what could cause his childhood monsters to look so terrified, so distraught? Why was he not freezing, burning with the cold of his touch? Loki finally looked down at himself. Where Byleistr’s hands gripped his upper arms, the leather had crumbled away, but his grip felt no colder than that of his brother and his hands…his hands were blue.

Not cold blue, but a deep, rich indigo, with paler, raised lines. Blue like the creatures he had sought to lead to death and chaos.

“What is this? Am I cursed?” Loki barely recognised his own voice, weak as it was.

“Byleistr, is he…?”

“Laufeyson,” Byleistr whispered. “Brother.”

Loki’s eyes snapped up to the giant. Horror heaped on more horror. Gridr reached out a trembling - trembling - hand, and stroked Loki’s cheek, following a line Loki couldn’t see. “Is it possible?”

“What is going on?” Loki screamed. There was nothing left to hold the terror back. Every nightmare he had ever had as a child poured up through his skin, his hateful, blue skin, and he thrashed against Byleistr’s grip. “What am I?”

“Loki,” breathed Byleistr, before the writhing captive made him shake his head. “Loki, stay still, please.”

“How do you know my name? Let me go!”

“We thought you dead! Please, brother. Father left you in the temple during the war, we begged him to let us care for you but…we thought you were dead!”

“I am not…” Another wave of horror flared through him. He was not his Mother’s son. Not his Father’s… “Father…I am just another stolen relic…this explains so much…” Loki flopped in Byleistr’s grip, his knees no longer able to hold him up. The giant released him, sitting down heavily in the snow in front of him. Loki gulped air that grew colder as the blue receded from his skin to leave behind the ivory colour he had cursed his whole life, wishing he could look more like Thor. He laughed at himself, a breathless, trembling giggle with no joy in it whatsoever. This explained so much. He never had any hope of being anything like Thor. Appearance was the least of it.

Thor. He didn’t think he could feel more fear, but this sent a fresh wave over him. Thor had sworn many times to kill all the Frost Giants, strike their heads from their bodies with Mjolnir. Loki’s arms, goose pimpling now from the snow beating against his bare skin, wrapped around his chest in a childish attempt at self-comfort. He couldn’t go home. Asgard was not his home. He would not be able to keep this hidden, and when it came to light Thor…Thor would surely kill him. He had only been putting up with him and his women’s tricks for years, centuries. He could not bear to see the disdain in his brother…no, not his brother…in Thor’s eyes turn to hatred before he crushed his skull. Loki stared into the abyss he had almost fallen into, and considered, for a long moment, throwing himself into it anyway.

“Brother?”

Loki’s head snapped up to look at Byleistr, heart hammering in his chest. No, no, this could not be. This was not fair. He had lost one brother, a golden, heroic prince, and gained a vicious, cruel, monstrous Frost Giant…he was not his brother! He would have no brother…he would have no-one…he stepped back from the two crouching figures and with fumbling hands reached for the cloth of reality, pulling it around him.

He almost collapsed onto the branch under Jotunheim, fingers gripping the cool world tree spasmodically as sobs bubbled up in his chest. He couldn’t return home, though his panicked feet just wanted to take him that way. His hands slipped on the tree, his eyes blurred with tears and still itching from the strange light, and he staggered away from both Asgard and Jotunheim, no destination in mind, crashing through the branches, sliding and almost falling more than once. When a glimmer of light, more a feeling than a sight, flickered at the edge of his perception he turned towards it. Midgard. It was almost as off limits as Jotunheim to the Aesir. Perfect. He took hold of the fabric and pushed through it, landing on his hands and knees.