And this winter it came to pass
So much slower than the last
And now there's nothing left to grasp
In our hands and nothing left to catch
So let's speak of the past
In the future perfect tense
Of places we will go
Before we grow old
-- "Buenos Aires Beach," The War on Drugs
This is the first thing you can remember thinking about him: that you were curious to know why he was standing behind his mother, his scrawny little body tucked away in the long folds of her skirts, instead of out beside his father like his brother. This is the first thing. His bloodless skin and the black thatch of hair curled around it and his blue eyes, just a glint, a glimmer, barely there. His hand curling in his mother’s skirt. He was too old for that. You knew that already. His brother was standing next to his father like the golden god he was and you remember him, too, staring at you unabashedly, but that is all: you remember nothing in particular of your first sight of Thor except him staring, the presence of him there, next to his father, and that it was simple. You were not curious about Thor then. That came later, and it was a kind of lazy curiosity, born of fondness. But you were curious about his brother, who was hiding, who was doing what your father had told you never to do: your father had dragged you away from your mother’s skirts when you were still small enough to want their comfort, had dragged you away from her forever when you were so very, very small. You were not with your father anymore.
You do not remember anything that was said to you, anything except Frigga’s hand on your shoulder, which seemed huge at the time, because this is something you forget, sometimes: that you were very young, all of you, in those days. The years run through your hands like water, now, but then time was slow-moving honey, and everything is preserved in amber. You have lived so many long years but those years are the years that you remember. You remember seeing Loki when Frigga moved away from him: the pale slender slope of his limbs and the hollowed-out quality of his face, his huge eyes, the way his whole body seemed to recede into itself. And then the way he unfolded, spine furling out, and looked at you. He did not smile. He did not learn how to smirk until later: he was not yet then the god of mischief. But he had already begun to learn the art of dissimulation, of transfiguration, of disguise. That was something you never learned at all: that was beyond you.
That is what you remember. You do not remember what was said. You do not remember Thor. You remember Frigga’s hand, and you remember Loki. You remember the look in his eyes, which was fear, and then something harder: something like pride.
Your father has been dead a long time – before his time, as they say, dead in battle, long before you became the warrior you are now, though not before he could drag you in front of his company by your scalp and say, this is my daughter, look at what I have made of her, look at what I have done with the thing that was supposed to be a son – but before he died, he came to see you, sometimes, at the court, showed up without warning, watched you practice fighting with the boys, smiled when you bested them, knelt over them, panting, your slender preadolescent legs taut with muscle.
“Do you hate him?” Loki asked you once, idly, after your father had stood above you, grabbed you by the back of the neck with his big callused hand, shook you a little, laughing about his strong fierce daughter, the warrior he would make out of you, how he’d been teaching you to fight ever since you were barely out of your mother’s womb. No soft girl, he said. No soft girl in his house. Odin smiled, benign. Odin did not care about your father. Thor was busy thrashing someone in the practice yard, and Loki was lurking in the shadows, as Loki was wont to do, listening.
“Do you hate him?” he asked later.
“Who?” you replied, deliberately obtuse.
“Your father,” he said, watching you with those sharp blue eyes.
“Of course I don’t,” you told him. “I love him. He’s my father.”
“Of course,” he said a long moment later. He was still a boy then, you know now. His voice had barely even broken.
(“Do you hate him?” you’ll ask him, a long time later, so many years later, when he is locked up in a box in a basement, full-grown and glamored and bleeding madness.
“Who?” he’ll ask, mouth curling, perverse.
“Your father,” you’ll ask, and he’ll laugh.
“Yes,” he’ll tell you, pressing his palms hard against the barrier keeping him in, and you out. His fingers will be splayed wide. For all you know he’ll be sitting on the opposite side of the cell. “Yes,” he’ll tell you. “I hate him. Do you hate yours?”
“My father is dead,” you’ll say. “It doesn’t matter anymore.”
His face will change a little, shift, maybe, twitch into something vaguely resembling humanity. His fingers will twitch against the barrier, fingertips curling. “I always knew you hated him,” he’ll say. “I always knew it.”
“You always wanted to,” you’ll tell him, and he’ll smile again, bitter, cruel.)
What would have happened, you wonder sometimes, now, if you had asked him, all those years ago, if he hated his father. What would he have said? But back then you could not comprehend it. You did not want your father to come visit but when he did you were desperate to please him in all that you did, and the simple fact remained true above all other facts in your very short life that you loved nothing more in the world than what would later become the act of war. The blood of your body sang the song of violence and would not be denied. You loved to fight, loved to throw yourself in with the boys and wrestle with them, loved the soreness in your muscles after a day of training with the sword and shield, loved learning the quick subtle play of the staff. You loved all of it. You loved being able to look at Thor, whom you knew would one day become power incarnate, and know that you might be able to beat him down with your body if you tried hard enough – and you could, half the time. They would have made you leave, otherwise, no matter what your father said. They did not want you there. They did not want girls. But you were a fierce creature and your blood was violence and your instructors could see even then, even when you were a scrawny thing with nothing more than a child’s muscles, that you would someday have killed more people than you could remember.
Sometimes, now, you think you have grown tired of it. Sometimes, now, you think that if you could lay down your sword and lay down your covenant with death and go into the world reborn you would do it. But you do not know that you could. You do not know that you could do anything else. You have nothing else. You are a creature of battlefields.
Loki never trained with you – he was always with his mother, never with the rest of you. Thor teased him about it mercilessly but you saw the way his eyes followed Frigga around the room, hungry for her attention, saw how he preened in front of her when she directed her gaze at him. Nobody would have said that Frigga did not love both of her boys but it did not take much deducing to see which one she preferred, and that was her strange pale child, her slender quiet scholar. His sneering and his cutting tongue were the out-spurts of adolescence but when you first met him – that first year – he was still quiet, still watchful, almost silent.
You wanted to ask Thor about him – you always wanted to ask Thor about him, you wanted to know everything there was to know about him, but you could not ask, because with Thor, Loki was a difficult subject. General inquiries brought out immense sulks, but any kind of snide comment or insult sent him into a furious rage unlike anything anybody had ever seen: there was no fury like the fury that raged in Thor at the merest slight of Loki coming from anybody but himself. But you really did want to know: was it that he and Frigga did all day? He was around, sometimes, and he talked to you, but only when he wanted to. You could never find him unless he wanted to be found: he popped up and then he vanished again.
You did find him once – only once, in that first year, when you were still long and skinny children, when your chest was flat and his voice was still high most of the time – when you did not think he wanted to be found. He was on the roof somewhere, hidden in some nook or cranny under a tree branch, and when you stumbled upon him, looking for your own hidey-hole, he started, eyes wide and surprised and uncomfortably honest.
“Oh,” you said. “I didn’t – I can. Um. I can go.”
“You don’t – have to,” he said, awkward. He was reading a book, and he closed it, thumb stuck in the pages, fingers worrying the edges. You sat down next to him, not too close – but not too far, either. There wasn’t much room.
“What are you reading?” you asked, eventually, when he still hadn’t said anything.
“Nothing,” he said.
“Oh,” you said. “It looked like a book.”
“It’s a spell guide,” he said.
“Magic?” you asked, surprised. Men did not do magic often, in Asgard.
“Yes,” he said, shoulders stiffening. You could feel him bristling already.
“Oh,” you said, and paused. “My mother couldn’t do any magic,” you told him a moment later, speaking about her in the past tense, as though she were dead, even though she was not.
“None?” he asked, sounding surprised.
“None,” you told him. It wasn’t so unusual for common people, but your family was not common. Your mother was an exception.
“She never comes to visit you,” he said. “I mean. I haven’t seen her.”
“Have you been paying attention?” you asked.
“Yes,” he said. It was one of the straightest answers you ever got out of him about anything. You could not have known, at the time, how rare that would be. You were only children. “Is she –?”
“She’s alive,” you said.
“Oh,” he said, and then, a moment later, added, “can you – can you do anything?”
“I’ve never tried,” you told him. He blinked.
“Do you want to?” he asked, and you thought about it.
“No,” you said. You were thirteen years old.
“I – fine,” he mumbled, curling in on himself again.
“Could you show me something, though?” you asked. “That – that you can do?”
He looked down at his hands, twitching over the book, for a long time, and then carefully put it aside next to him, and spread them over his knees. His fingers were long and white and he balled them into fists once before spreading them out again and reaching forward to pass his hand over the tree branch, which suddenly was blooming, blossoms pink, leaves like velvet.
“Oh,” you said, leaning forward. “Oh.”
“They’re not actually there,” he said, and when you turned to look at him, his face was flushing. “And I shouldn’t have to – do that. With my hand.”
(Later, he will need none of these things: later he will be so fractured by all the magic thrumming inside of him that there will be no real self left anymore, you think, just a collection of glamors. But then, then: the bony white hand, that you could have reached out and touched. A physical thing. Sweating, probably, in the palm. The delicate bones of his wrist. The fact that he was still amazed by his own trembling coltish gifts. He will take no joy in them, later, for all his manic smiles and his scheming. They will have become a burden.)
“That’s amazing,” you said, and he blushed more, and you sat there as the sun went down, under the falsely blooming tree, until you fell asleep, and when you woke in the moonlight the blossoms were gone but Loki was staring down at you with a kind of desperate hunger that children are not supposed to feel, eyes huge and pale in the cool white light.
“Did nobody come looking for us?” you asked, voice slurred from sleep.
“No,” he said. And they had not.
Thor was not always tall: at first he was short, strong, golden. Loki was taller, though he never seemed it, limbs scrawny, body curled up into itself. You were interested in Loki but Thor was interested in you, from the day you set foot on the palace grounds in your boys clothes, your long dark hair flowing behind you. The other boys made foul comments about you and your cunt, their balls hardly dropped, and Thor beat them senseless. Thor was not interested, generally speaking, in girls: he made faces when anybody talked about kissing, and when Odin once made casual mention of the idea of the two of you getting married, one day, the look on his face was of such revulsion that you almost laughed, except that you were careful never to laugh in front of Odin, who was not a man who took kindly to being mocked. You turned away from him, instead, to hide your amusement, and saw Loki, who was standing very still, hands clasped behind his back, whose face bore no expression at all. He did not look at you, or at Thor, or at his father. He was not looking at anything.
Thor did not want to kiss you or fuck you or marry you but he was curious about you – not about where you had come from or about what had made you; those were not the sort of things that interested Thor. He was curious about what you were here, now, in the present moment. He was interested in your strength, in the fact that you were a different sort of creature than the boys he was fighting with all day, some of whom were frightened of besting him, some of whom wanted to be better boys than he was, wanted to prove themselves as though they could somehow be made kings in his stead. You just liked the fighting, liked the raw brutality of it, and Thor was strong, and tough, and clever when he fought. He was not clever in any other way, but he was clever with his body, just as you were clever with yours, and you loved touching him in that way: with violence. You did not want to touch him any other way. The idea did not interest you.
But the boys did not stop their whispering, their mockery, because of course they did not stop. You did not expect them to. Eventually you thought it would roll off of your back, like water over a smooth stone, but it did not: their barbs nestled into your skin and burned in their, nasty, festering way. You knew they were saying those things about you and Thor because they were imagining doing them to you themselves. You had breasts, now, small protrusions from your flat chest; blood flowed from between your legs. You did not really feel any different but you were, you knew; the world had told you.
On one rare occasion when Loki was around, one of the boys – you have forgotten his name but you remember his orange hair and his freckles and his lopsided face – said something, made some comment to one of his friends about shoving his cock down your throat after Thor did when he thought you weren’t listening. Or maybe he thought you were – maybe that was why he said it. You were fourteen then and he had never touched a woman in his life and all of the sudden his face was going red and he was choking, his lips turning purple and then blue as Loki watched passionlessly.
You reached out and put your hand on his shoulder, tightened your fingers in the fabric of his clothes. It was only the second time you had ever touched him. The boy collapsed, panting, and you let go. Loki took a couple of steps forward and crouched down next to him. He was fifteen, still scrawny, but he looked older, and already he was tall. Thor had not caught up to him, but Loki had started growing.
“I could kill you,” he told the boy. “I could kill you and nobody would ever know what had happened.”
“You fucking – get the fuck away from me,” the boy choked. “Little – mama’s boy, can’t even touch me with your own hands –”
“Is that really how you choose to talk to your prince?” Loki asked, and now you look back and shiver to think of the way he held himself: so careful, so still, looking down at his prey. He would have killed him, you think, if you had not stopped him. He would not have felt guilty.
The boy swallowed. “No,” he said finally. “Of course not.”
“Good,” Loki said. “That’s good.”
“They say that stuff all the time,” you told him later, when the two of you were alone. You weren’t alone very often. Loki looked at you, expressionless.
“I,” he started. “Okay,” he said, voice flat.
“Why don’t you ever train with us?” you asked.
“I didn’t ever want to,” he said, and you could tell that he was lying through his teeth. But you did not want to fight him. Nothing about him made you want to fight him, not like you wanted to fight Thor. You thought you loved Thor, maybe, after a few years of fighting him, of getting to know him, of smiling at him when he smiled at you, broad and happy and full of himself. He was stupid and kind and you loved him, you thought.
“You’re never around,” you found yourself saying, disgusted by how sad you sounded, but that was you, always: you could not disguise yourself. And you wanted him to be around. You wanted to pick him apart. You wanted to know him, and you had been around him for years and you did not know him at all.
Sometimes you feel like you still do not know him: you will feel this, sometimes, even when he is locked up in his prison: for you will never know all the nooks and crannies of his mind. You are a simpler creature than he is. Your pain is not like his; it has not eroded you in the same way it has eroded his mind, the very fabric of his personality, the deep core of his soul. He was such a wounded child. You understood even then that he was wounded but you did not understand the depths of it, and you did not understand that you had something of a wound yourself, that that was why you wanted to know what was inside of him. But the thing your father did to you was trivial; the thing your father did to you parents do to children all the time. The thing Loki’s father did to him ripped him apart at the seams until he was a screaming husk of himself, a mad flame of rictus grins and slick laughter and cruel amusement.
You are a little sick too, though – this is what you will come to know about yourself, in due time. Because you will still want to know. You will shun him and then you will come back and want to crawl inside of his brain just as much as you ever did, even though the thought will be terrifying. You will want to know what happened to him, because it will tear at you, not knowing how it happened. You will never be able to let him go. It will never be over, for you: and he will not let you go, either.
“I don’t like them,” he told you, when you were children. You were fourteen, fifteen: you thought you were becoming adults. You had no idea what adulthood was. You do not know what adulthood is now. You do not know anything. Is adulthood madness? Loki is mad. You may have become mad. You have only blood on your sword. You will soon entertain the thought of madness – soon enough you will be a kind of mad thing yourself. You are a lost girl, for all your centuries of life. You are fourteen again.
You were fourteen and you were so bad at pretending to be anything you were not. You swallowed. “You don’t have to talk to me if you don’t want to,” you told him, stiff. He blinked, eyes wide, and then he was vulnerable again, and young, and though you did not know it yet, you loved him.
“I don’t –” he said, in a rush, before he could stop himself. “I don’t – you’re – you do – with them. With Thor.”
You felt yourself gaping. It was the most incoherent you had ever heard him, though at that time he still did not speak much. It was the following year that his silver tongue began to reveal itself. “What?” you asked dumbly, and he flushed.
“I just – read things,” he muttered.
“Do you think I just beat people up?” you asked.
“No,” he said, too quick.
“You do,” you said, surprised in spite of yourself at how sharp the disappointment was, in your chest. You stepped back – you wanted to leave, to be gone from here, away from him.
“Sif,” he said, and you stopped. He never said your name. “You,” he started, and then stopped again. “You – like Thor.”
“Yes,” you said, because it was true. You did.
“Okay,” he said, and sort of – faded, a little, right in front of you.
“I like you,” you said.
“Oh,” he said, and you thought you had never seen him look more surprised about anything in his life. And then he said the thing that you think will bind you to him forever, the one word that will never let you leave him – not physically, but in your mind, in the deep core of you, that will keep you loving him, or at least the boy that he was, until all your thousands of years have passed and you fade back into the stars.
“Why?” he choked out, voice breaking, hoarse. His hands were shaking and he shoved them behind him but you could still see the tremors running through his body. It occurs to you now, remembering, that probably very few people had ever told Loki they liked him, and meant it. Maybe nobody, except his mother.
“I just do,” you told him, which was not a good answer but the only one you had for him at the time. You could not, then, articulate it. If you could go back now, you could put the words in your younger self’s mouth: you liked him because he was clever, and sly, and observant, and lonely, and wounded, and hungry for something he was never going to get. You liked him for irrational reasons; you liked him because you just did. You wanted him: you did not know it yet but you would soon. You wanted to touch him like you had never wanted to touch Thor or any of the other boys against whom you committed regular acts of inconsequential violence. You wanted him to touch you.
“I like you,” you said again, and his whole body shuddered once, and then he straightened up, himself again.
“Glad to hear it,” he said, and smirked, and for some reason that made you like him more, although maybe like was not the right word: really it just made your heart hurt that he had to joke about it, the fact of being liked, that he could not just take it inside of himself, and let it grow. But he has still never learned to do that: never, in his whole life thus far, has he learned to believe anyone when they told him they liked him. He did not believe you when you told him you loved him, either – but that came later.
You were fifteen and Thor and Loki were sixteen: that was the year all the sweaty anxious tedium of being an adolescent, specifically of being an adolescent at court, caught up with you – or began, really, because it began, officially, with the princes, and the girls being trotted in before them like cattle.
There would be no matches – that was not how Asgard worked, not that young. When you live for thousands of years it is not sensible to marry at sixteen. But there were cautious sorts of alliances, boys and girls put together, ways for them to learn about each other and for their parents to get friendly. The whole enterprise was, even you could tell at the time, a sort of hilarious disaster from a political perspective: Thor remained staunchly, almost perversely uninterested in women, vaguely disgusted by them in a childish way you could not help find endearing. He was not interested in boys, either: you could tell from the quality of his revulsion that he would one day be interested in girls, but that like a little boy still could not imagine kissing one, let alone anything more intimate or sensitive. He could not speak to them – he was very hopeless, in those days, at speaking about anything about anything but the particulars of combat, although if you got him started on that subject he lit up and smiled his broad sweet smile and explained to you very earnestly the differences between all the different sorts of broadswords he was training with that week, which was, regrettably, not a subject many young ladies found particularly engaging.
For the first time in some time he and Loki had been put into commiseration about something, which was, you thought, interesting. They were not together very often, not in front of you, anyway – or, well, not together together; there were always too many people around. They were together much of the time, but you were not privileged to that. Now, though, the two of them had to sit together all the time, ignoring girls, or being forced to talk to girls, or sometimes looking at each other despairingly, like they could not believe the world was as deeply, flagrantly stupid as it appeared to have become. You had never seen them look at each other like that before; they had never had anything to join them to each other in that way. They had nothing in common – but this, now, they did.
Thor looked at you, sometimes, across the hall, with a similar kind of expression, an expression that said, can you believe this? The bald outrage and bafflement on his face made you want to laugh, but you stopped yourself. You were not a candidate for these little sessions, although you got to wear dresses at the weird, uncomfortable dinners, which were a kind of dull novelty. You were not politically useful, and anyway Thor and Loki both saw you enough that you did not present, in the eyes of Odin and his council, any kind of excitement. Of course, neither did anybody else, as they rapidly discovered, but that did not stop them from trying, nor did it stop nobility from the other realms from sending their daughters to parade in front of the princes of Asgard. They figured out soon enough that it was a mostly hopeless endeavor, but there was no harm in trying, and the food was good, and it was never a bad idea to please the All Father.
You sat in the back, and ate, and watched as the other boys ogled the girls, and tried to talk to them, and generally failed. They had, at least, moved on from you: you had become essentially sexless to them. They did not care about you anymore. So you watched Thor and Loki grow bored and frustrated and performatively aggravated – for this, after all, was the beginning of Loki’s sharp wit. You could not even hear what he was saying, from so far away – and anyway, he was not speaking loudly, not to the girls themselves, but to his father, to his mother, who hushed him, and to Thor, who snickered. There was a kind of sneer on Loki’s face, often, around a third of the way through those dinners, when his snarling wit reached its peak, and then it slowly burned out, replaced by sheer exhaustion. You used to think often of how exhausting it must be, to be a prince. Thor never showed any signs of it – of the wear of it, that burden of expectation – but Loki did, no matter how hard he tried to hide it. You could tell.
Loki looked at you sometimes, too, in those dinners, but not like Thor did, not in commiseration. He looked at you with no expression at all, sometimes, or other times – rarely – like he was just lonely. He was a long way away, all the way up on that dais, surrounded only by his family, and though he had grown tall, his shoulders were still very skinny for the tall chair in which they had put him, a weird shadow of the throne you and everyone else knew but did not acknowledge aloud he would likely never occupy.
You climbed up to the little nook where you had found him that one time, as children, after one of those dinners, when he had vanished early, and came upon him curled into the small space, hands hooked around his knees. He did not start when you poked your head out into the nighttime air: he must have heard you coming.
“Sif,” he said, without turning to look at you. He was talking in his cool voice, the one he used when he was making sly jokes, or saying something scathing. It was the voice, you had figured out, he used when he was unhappy.
“Loki,” you said, and perched next to him, wishing you were wearing pants, instead of a dress, which was ungainly. He glanced up at you, eyes flicking up and down. “How did you get up here in that?” he asked, one eyebrow raised.
“I climbed the stairs,” you told him, raising an eyebrow back. The staircase was steep and spiraling and your dress had gotten caught on the stone walls a number of times, but you did not say any of that to him.
“I see,” he said, and went back to staring out over Asgard, dark in the nighttime, except for the flickering bridge, and Heimdall’s bright home in the distance.
“I thought dinner was particularly good tonight,” you said. “The quail especially.”
That startled half a laugh out of him. “Yes,” he said sourly. “It was delicious.”
“How long will they do this, do you think?” you asked.
“Until Thor fucks somebody,” he said shortly, and you started, leaned back from him in spite of yourself.
“Oh,” you said, and he rolled his head over to look at you.
“Have I scandalized you?” he drawled. (It is ludicrous, now, to think of this: that you were fifteen.)
“No,” you said. “I just – I didn’t realize it was quite that, um. Mercenary. I guess. That’s not the word I’m looking for.”
“Well, you’re not a scholar, are you?” he asked, somewhat scathingly. “You’re our good warrior Lady Sif.”
“Fuck off,” you said, and he grinned, harsh.
“They’ll do it until he fucks some pretty girl and gets smitten with her and then bored,” Loki said. “And then they’ll stop.”
“You’ll be doing no fucking, I guess, in this scheme,” you said.
“No,” he said shortly, pulling his knees closer to him and staring fixedly out over the city. “None.”
“You don’t like any of those pretty girls, huh,” you said, heart thudding in your chest, suddenly, in a way you did not like.
He snorted. “No.”
“Pretty boys, then,” you offered, heart pounding even harder, and he almost snickered. “No.”
“So nobody,” you said, curling your fingers in your skirt.
“Nobody,” he agreed, without looking at you.
Later, in the period of time when you were trying to convince him that you loved him, after you had started fucking and before you had stopped, when you were still so, so young, when you thought it was possible to change people, to convince them to believe things that they could not believe, just by loving them, just by pulling your own heart out of your body and putting in into theirs (into his, into his, you have never loved anybody but Loki, not like that), you used to try to force him to look at you when you were fucking, try to force him to look you in the eyes. It was like fighting, in a way, fucking him, but you did not want it to be, and oh, it was awful. It had not been like that at the beginning. But it was like that then, when he had convinced himself that you did not love him and that he did not love you, even though he kept coming back to you like a drowning man comes back to water, his hands pressing desperately into your flesh, his lips and teeth and tongue panting against your neck, nose and eyes and forehead turned against you, trying not to look. Then it became like fighting. You used to grab his face and force him to look at you and his eyes would be wide and full of terror at the end, because sometimes even he could not hide: even Loki, the god of deception, the god of tricks, had sometimes to come undone.
“I don’t understand why you’re doing this,” you said to him once, afterward, almost crying. “I don’t understand why you’re here.” Nobody else knew – nobody else knew any of it. He was the only thing you had lied about in your life, at least for that long.
He was pulling on his clothes again, hasty – he would just glamor himself, you knew, the second he left the room. “Loki,” you said, and he said nothing.
“You don’t love me,” he said. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You’re not inside my head,” you told him. “Don’t fucking say that to me.”
“I might be,” he said. “I might be doing anything inside your head, you don’t fucking know anything. I could be doing anything to you.”
“If you could get inside people’s heads and make them feel things, it’s not me you’d be fucking tricking into loving you,” you told him, and he froze.
You’ll remember it, a long time later, when you’re standing in front of him in his prison, in his little box. “Do you remember the cruelest thing you ever did to me?” he’ll ask. He won’t sound angry, won’t look angry. He won’t be pressed up against the barrier: he’ll be sitting down, leaning against the wall, looking up at you, thoughtful.
“Yes,” you’ll say.
“Really,” he’ll say.
“Yes,” you’ll tell him again.
“I remember everything about it,” he’ll say, leaning his head back against the wall. His hair will be long, longer than it ever was when you were children. You were children even then, when you were in love with each other, although you thought you were adults. He will look sickly, in his box, when the time for this comes. “I remember the what your sheets felt like. I remember the color of the walls. How many years has it been?”
“Four-hundred,” you’ll say. “Four-hundred and twelve.”
He’ll glance over at you and smile, a slow curve of something across his face. “That’s touching, you know,” he’ll tell you. “I’m touched.”
“I was in love with you,” you’ll tell him. “I haven’t forgotten.” And the smile will slowly fade from his face.
But skipping back, back over the years, back to the beginning of it all, when you were seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, deadly with a blade, being fitted for armor – the first of its kind, the armorer said, that he’d ever made, anyway. Odin and Frigga seeing you off to your first battle, you and Thor together, Odin smiling benignly, Frigga not smiling at all: your first battle, your first kill, the first taste of the bloodlust of death on your tongue, you and Thor committing countless acts of murder in the name of the defense of the peace. And you achieved it: there was peace. And you were covered in blood. You came back to Asgard caked in it, shaky on your feet, and Loki was standing next to his mother, just behind her, and you smiled at him and felt the blood flaking off of your face as you did, because you were thinking of the first time you had seen him, when he had hid behind her skirts. His face was pale and pinched now, too: he was standing very still.
“She is going to be ill,” you heard Frigga say, and you wanted to tell her you were not wounded, but your knees were buckling, and Loki moved swiftly – he was not a fighter but he was preternaturally fast, clever, and of course he had gotten private lessons in the sword and the bow, for Odin could abide a son who was not a warrior but he could not abide a son who could not fight at all – and gripped you by your arms, held you up.
“I’m not going to be sick,” you told him, looking up at him, very seriously, and turned and vomited.
When you woke up you were clean, in bed, and Frigga was sitting next to you, looking at you thoughtfully. Loki was standing in the corner, curled into himself like he had done as a boy. He had since grown out of that habit and into sarcasm. “Sorry,” you croaked.
“It’s all right,” Frigga said, quiet. “It’s quite natural, you know. After any battle, especially after a first one.”
You swallowed. “I – they’re going to say it’s because – I’m a – I’m a –”
Loki twitched violently in the corner.
“Some of them, probably,” Frigga agreed. “But you are hardly the only person so afflicted, you know.”
“What about – what about Thor?” you asked.
“Thor,” Frigga said drily, “is not prone to self-reflection, or indeed, reflection of any kind.”
You turned your head to look at Loki again. “You don’t have to stay,” you said, voice hoarse. You could feel the tears gathering behind your eyes and you did not want him to see you cry. “I’m all right.”
He twitched again and straightened up, shoulders stiff. “Very well,” he said. “I’ll – leave, I have – things – to do –”
But Frigga stood up, smoothly, and turned to her son and said, “Loki, it would help me very much if you could stay with Sif. Now that I have seen you are all right,” she added, turning back to you, “I should check on some of our other patients.” Loki froze.
“Fine,” he said, and didn’t move, even when the door had closed behind her. You could not stop yourself from crying, even though you tried as hard as you possibly could. It was just something that was happening to your body.
“I – don’t – do that,” he said, panicky, and sat down with a graceless thunk in the seat his mother had vacated. “Don’t – cry –”
But you were crying, and you could not stop. You could only raise your battered hands to your face and turn away from him, so he could not see you – or so that he could not see you very well.
“Sif,” he said, sounding young and helpless. Loki did not sound like that very much anymore. He never had, really. But he especially did not now.
But soon you had cried yourself out. You did not cry very often; you did not have very many tears in you. So you wiped at your face and turned back to him, even though you knew you would still look damp and splotchy.
“Sorry,” you said. He didn’t say anything, just watched you, looking as though he were afraid you were going to explode.
“It didn’t bother me at all,” you said. “While I was doing it.”
“Okay,” he said.
“I don’t know what I’m feeling,” you said. “About anything.”
“Okay,” he said again.
“Can I hold your hand,” you said, only it didn’t sound like a question. He stared. “Please,” you added, and he swallowed, and reached out his hand. You put yours, still a little damp from your tears, in his, and he didn’t move at all. You let them lay there for a second, fingers pressed against each other, still, and then you curled yours against his.
“Thank you,” you whispered, squeezing so hard you thought you might break his bones, and he stared at you for a long moment before slowly, slowly, leaning forward to rest his head against your thigh, face pressed against your leg, body slumped in front of you, collapsed. You both fell asleep without moving.
“Do you really think I’ve killed so many more people than you have?” he’ll ask you, sardonic.
“It’s not the same,” you’ll tell him, and he’ll smile, hard and joyless and full of teeth.
Frigga started watching you, after that – watching more closely than she had before, for Frigga had always been watching you, ever since your father had brought you to the palace, dragged you in by the scruff of your neck, his little girl, his warrior-to-be-trained. But then she started watching you in a different way: for she knew her boys, and she knew Loki in particular. You could feel her eyes on her, although at the time you did not know exactly what it meant. You did not want to understand it, yet. You did not want to know. Loki barely spoke to you anymore, after that first battle. He lurked at court and smirked and made cutting comments and was with Thor, often – Thor, who had finally fucked someone, a pretty blonde girl from some far-away part of Asgard, and then gotten bored with women again, so that Odin had finally had to give up trying – at all sorts of various functions. They got along, now, well enough – there was less antipathy between them, anyhow, as far as you could tell. Loki still did not seem to like Thor, exactly, but Loki did not seem to like anyone, so that did not necessarily signify very much. They were, in any event, spending more and more time together, though not nearly as much as they would later, after they had had hundreds of years to spend winding around each other, Loki slowly dripping poison into his brother’s ear – but they were still so distinctly their father’s and their mother’s sons, then.
You were busy with your battles, busy keeping the peace. You grew numb to it, to the act of killing: it did not bother you so much, anymore. You were so very good with your sword: you felt better with it in your hand, the hot jittering song of it sliding up your arm as you thrust it into warm bodies, spilled warm blood. People died, after all: that was what people did. You just got them there a little faster.
(“It’s not the same,” you’ll say to him, and oh, how he will laugh at you.)
You did not go to court functions very much anymore: you were busy, and there hardly seemed to be any point. There were not as many, now that the boys were twenty-one – they were not men yet, really, but they were playing at it, looked like it, fit into the chairs on either side of their mother and father like they had not as boys. You became friends, almost, with a couple of the men who you fought with, and it was nice, to have people to talk to, about the things you did every day. You were another man to them, deadened from the neck down: you did not mind. You often felt that way yourself, as of late.
But Frigga was watching you. Frigga had always been kind to you, had privileged you above the other adolescents under the ward of the court, for you were the odd one out, the tough bruised callused girl with her knives and her practice sword. Frigga had been kind to you, you thought then, at twenty, because you had no mother to speak of: your father had ripped you away from your mother, and the only time you had seen her since then she had been a tiny woman, shrunk into herself, babbling quietly, a husk of a person, a shadow of nothing. You did not see her again, not ever in your life. She died later – you do not know what of, exactly: you think she just faded, under the great hulking shadow of your father, until she was nothing.
But Frigga had not privileged you as much as she might have; she had not made a surrogate daughter out of you. She had been a little kinder to you than to the boys, a little kinder than to the girls, some of whom were training in magic, some of whom were ladies in waiting. She had not stopped you from speaking to her boys. And that was all. Some small treacherous part of you had always wished, you can now admit to yourself, that she had privileged you more, that she had treated you more like a daughter, had touched you kindly: you had so few people to touch you. But you did not let yourself acknowledge it, at the time. She was, after all, the queen: what business had she with you, the strange wild child, the odd girl in the passel of boys who would grow up to be warriors?
Still: you were in with her boys, and so she had always been watching you, you thought, but now she watched you all the time, whenever you were in her sight. You could feel the prickling quality of her gaze on your skin whenever you moved, whenever you spoke, or smiled, or frowned. You could do nothing about it: how could you stop the queen from looking at you? It was impossible.
And Loki paid you no attention at all. You still had not put together, then, all of the pieces of the puzzle, still were resistant to the idea of everything that was happening around and inside of you, but some part of you knew, and could vaguely connect those two facts, could see them as incongruous: if Loki was not paying you any mind, why should Frigga? Why should she bother? You were just a person, just a soldier; a friend, you supposed, of her less-favored son. That was all.
She found you, one day, coming from your chambers – you were a noble lady; when you were not out in the field you had chambers, which rankled, sometimes, though a part of you was selfishly grateful for them, for their small luxury, their illusion of opulence. You were not, after all, so very noble. Your father believed himself to be of greater importance than he, in fact, was.
You were going – you don’t remember where, but you were not dressed for practice, though you were not wearing a dress, either; you never wore dresses except for fancy occasions, although you did not really mind them. But she stopped you in the corridor, in the golden-hued light of the Asgard sun: she was younger then, Frigga. It’s hard to remember that, too. You were all younger, even the two of them, Odin and Frigga, although they were already old. They had been alive a long, long time.
“Sif,” she said, and smiled. You bowed, formal, and she made a little tsking sound, and you came back up.
“Come,” she said. “Don’t bother with all of that.”
She didn’t say anything else for a long moment. “Did you need something from me, your majesty?” you asked, suddenly uncomfortable in a way she had never made you before. She was looking at you in a strange way, as though she could see straight through to the core of you, straight inside of your mind.
“Go find Loki,” she said finally, and smiled. You blinked, surprised. You were not sure what you had expected her to say, but it had not been that.
“I – what?” you said, stumbling over your words, and her smile broadened a little.
“Go find Loki,” she said kindly.
“Now?” you asked, stupid, and she nodded, as though you were a much younger person, as though you were a child, and so you turned and walked down the hall, with no precise idea of where you were going, for you had no idea where Loki was, exactly, but his mother had told you to find him, so you knew you had to do it.
He was not in the library, which was your first, obvious choice – Loki was not always in the library, although the other boys had often teased him about being such a bookworm, but he was there often – and he was not in his own chambers, which you confirmed after awkwardly asking the guards there about his whereabouts. You looked everywhere, all over the place; you looked on the roof, in his secret spot, but he was not there, and so you just asked everybody you saw, even Thor, whose brow creased, befuddled, at your inquiry. “Loki?” he asked. “No, I’ve not seen him. Why?”
Finally you trudged all the way out to Heimdall, which you supposed you should have done in the first place, but it felt like cheating, in a way: you had pettily liked to think you knew Loki well enough to find him yourself, or at least with the help of less superior beings. But that had evidently not been the case.
“Sif,” he said, low and echoing, as always. You had not had much occasion to speak to him: he was as intimidating as everyone said.
“I’m looking for –”
“Loki,” he finished for you. “Yes.”
“Yes,” you said, and flushed a little. “Do you know where he is?”
“He is nowhere in Asgard,” Heimdall said, and your blood ran cold.
“Where is he?” you asked. “Heimdall, where is he, I need to know, I need to –”
“Midgard,” he said, and you balked. Nobody ever came or went from Midgard; it was, everyone agreed, a barren place.
“Why on earth has he gone to Midgard?” you asked. “Did you send him there?”
“The Odinson has other ways of passage,” Heimdall said. He never quite looked at you, when he spoke; you had noticed this before: he was always looking at something else, far away. “He can go where he will.”
“Can you send me there,” you asked. “Where he is. Can you send me there, and bring us both back, when I ask you to?”
“Of course,” he said. “I can send you anywhere you want to go, Lady Sif. You need only to ask.”
“Thank you,” you said. “Thank you. I – thank you, that’s all.”
“Are you ready?” he asked.
“Yes, yes, I’m ready,” you started to say, and then your body was pulling apart from itself, hurtling through some black spaceless color-blasted void and you were stumbling onto some mountainside, and there was Loki, curled up into himself, arms wrapped around his legs, black hair whipping around his face, because it was windy, and cold.
He must have heard you land because he started and turned to look at you, blinking for a moment before his face darkened and he turned away again.
“Sif,” he said coolly. “What a pleasant surprise.”
“What the fuck are you doing here?” you said – or snapped, really. You were snapping at him. It was very cold, and you did not want to be here. You did not want to have followed Loki to some cold miserable planet he had slipped off to in order to sulk about who knew what. You could not slip away when you wanted to sulk. You had responsibilities: you were bound to things, bound to go where Loki’s father directed you to go at any moment’s notice. What did Loki do, after all, besides sit in his tall chair and smirk at his father’s subjects and sneer at those he considered less than him – which was, of course, everyone?
“We’re going home,” you told him, stomping over on the slanted ground as best you could, grabbing him by his shoulder and trying to haul him up, but even though you were stronger than he was, he would not be moved: he remained stubbornly on the ground, dead weight, not even looking up at you, gaze fixed stubbornly on the cold hard sprawl of land before you, the scrambling downward slope of the mountain and the broad sweeping plain that opened up below it, deadened and bare.
“Come on,” you said. “Fuck, come on, come on, you – stop sulking like a – like a child. You’re acting like a five year old child.”
He curled one of his hands up, his grip like steel around your arm, and turned to look at you, gaze cold. “I am not a child,” he said.
You stared down at him for a moment, as surprised by the violence in his voice as by the strength of his grip. You had not known he was so strong. It was not like your strength: it was something different, something cold and deadly all on its own. Your strength was your body and the way you had trained it, hot muscles and blood beneath your skin, but his was not like that. His was like steel.
“Let go of me,” you told him, and he slowly uncurled his fingers from your arm, but he did not get up.
“Your mother wants you to come home,” you told him, and he shuddered, just a hint of a motion under his clothes.
“And she sent you to find me,” he said a second later, once he’d gone still again, hands linked in front of him, between his knees, so hard his knuckles had gone white. He sounded vaguely disgusted and you did not know why but it made you angry, that tone, the undercurrent of repulsion.
“Yes,” you snarled. “She sent me. I don’t know why.”
He turned to look up at you again, a slow, sick smile spreading across his face – you will know this expression, centuries later, well enough that when you think of this day, think of Loki on the slopes of some nameless mountain on Midgard, on Earth, it will make you shudder, make your blood run cold in your veins even as the shameful thrum of aching longing pulses in your breast.
“Because you are the only one who would come,” he told you, and you wonder, now, if there was madness in him even then, if some seed of insanity had begun growing deep within him and was entangling itself within the soft mesh of his brain, lurking in the dark, biding its time before it would burst out, later, in its full bloody flourish.
“Thor would come,” you told him. “Thor would come looking for you, if he could not find you.”
“Thor would pass me over for a match in the practice yard,” Loki replied. “Thor would leave me for a battle, for a meal, for any of his friends. Thor would only come if the All Father forced him to, and the All Father would never force him to come searching after me.” He sneered. “He believes he has better uses for his time.”
“You are being ridiculous,” you told him. “You are being ridiculous, and if anyone in your family heard you they would tell you so.”
He turned a little, to look at you more clearly, tipping his head back, eyes clear, a little frightening: but that was Loki, always. He saw too much, except when he could not see what was in front of him at all. “Thor would come for you,” he said, smirking. “Thor would come for you in a heartbeat. He would come for you before he would come for me, Lady Sif.”
“That isn’t true,” you said, but you weren’t certain that it wasn’t, and he could tell, because that snake-like smile slid across his face again, wicked and sharp.
“Oh, it is,” he said, curling one hand around each knee and gripping them, hard. “It wouldn’t do, you know. You are so much more – vulnerable – than the rest of us.”
He was saying it to make you angry, you knew, and it – it did, it made you angry, in a certain way, in some part of yourself. But it was just so – it was so petty, and childish, even though he wanted so badly to be an adult. You wanted to be an adult, too, but you were not, you realized: you were standing on foreign soil looking down at the prince of Asgard, who was sitting on the ground, hands gripping his clothes, incapable of coming up with any better insult to throw at you than to call you what you were, which was female.
It would have fazed you, a year before, in bed, with his mother beside you, when you were crying from the smell of death, the taste of death in your mouth: the fear that they would think your weakness came from your sex. But you had been bathed in blood for a year and you were not weak. It did not faze you now.
You couldn’t help laughing: you covered your mouth with your hand, and your belly with your other arm; it was the least defensive stance you could remember occupying in ages, your body naturally trained for it, for protecting itself. He reeled back, as if you had struck him, expression open and confused for just a moment before it darkened.
“Fuck off, Sif,” he snarled, and you stopped laughing, but you could not help smiling at him, weirdly fond of his rage, which was then impotent and would later become so horribly, vastly powerful. Perhaps that is why you remember those years so clearly and with so much yearning: you could kill people and Loki could slide in and out of images of himself, but you had no real power. You made no real impact on the cosmos, only on individual lives, death writ small instead of large. Again, again, again, the thing you keep coming back to: you were all children.
“I did come, you know,” you told him. “I did find you.” You were still standing and he was still sitting on the ground, looking up at you, bald confusion creeping in behind his anger. You had no idea, you realized, whether he knew why it was that you had come, except for the fact that his mother had asked you to, and then the thought came to you that you did not know either: but you did, you realized. You did know.
You looked at him, at his pale skin and his dark hair curling against it, in disarray in the wind, at his cold blue eyes and his bone-white hands, which were trembling, just a little. You looked at him curled up on the ground and thought about him lurking in the shadows, over all those years – it felt like a long time to you, then, the years you had known him, though they were but a handful in the grand scheme of your life – thought about the half-conversations you had had, stilted or natural or smirking or forgettable; thought about all the time you had spent watching him, spent watching him watch Thor, spent watching him watch his father with a kind of naked screaming hunger you only realized you could see years later, when you understood that you had felt something like that yourself. You thought about him laying his head down on you when you lay in bed, his hand clutched in yours. You looked at him and you did not think: I love you, but you do not know when you began loving him, or when the feeling stopped, or if it did, because you do not love the thing he became, the mad flickering dark creature, which was just splinters of himself, but you love the boy you remember, twenty-one years old and looking up at you with that confused, defensive expression. You love him. And you will love the thread of him that will survive everything, every life he extracts from the world, that will look at you without smiling when you tell him you remember the worst thing you did to him. You will love him forever, although you do not know it yet: you are simply trying to convince yourself otherwise.
You are not simple beings, you impossible creatures made of blood and salt and water, made of starfire, who live for thousands of years. No creatures are simple, you know: people who live eighty short years are not simple. But you have known Loki for hundreds of years and you will known him for hundreds of years more, for he will not die, and neither will you. You do not know this with the certainty of fact but somewhere else, deep inside of you. Loki is not meant for death, not for a long time, not for millennia. And you are not, either. You have looked death in the face too many times and not been taken away to die before your time. You will survive.
You do not know if you loved him then but you did not think: I love you. But you knew why you had come. You knew. You knelt down in front of him and he leaned back, so tense he looked like he might break. You had never touched anybody like you wanted to touch him, never kissed anybody: you could not, with your brothers in arms; it would have been a violation of something, you thought, would have made you vulnerable in a way that you were not, otherwise. And anyway, you had never wanted to – because of this, maybe, you thought. You wondered if he had, in the years since he had told you on the roof that he was not interested in pretty girls. You did not really care – you were just curious.
“Loki,” you said, and felt yourself turn bright red at the way your voice trembled, a little. You wanted to seem confident, seem sure – and you were sure, you thought. You were sure. But you were not exactly confident. “I would come looking for you even if nobody told me to.”
He looked away from you, hands twisting together again, jaw working. “Don’t say things you don’t mean, Sif,” he said a long moment later. “It’s not flattering.”
“I would,” you said.
“You would go looking for Thor first,” he said, petulantly, but his voice was shaking badly, just like his hands were.
“No, I wouldn’t,” you told him, and it was true, not because you did not love Thor, but because Thor could defend himself better than Loki could, and anyway half the dangerous situations Thor got himself into were his own damn fault. It was not that Loki could not defend himself physically, even; he could do that, he was clever. But he could not defend himself from other things: you knew that even then.
“You’re lying,” he said, low and harsh. “You’re fucking – lying –”
“I don’t lie,” you told him. “I’m not any good at it.”
He turned to look at you then, eyes wide and frightened. “Sif,” he said, “that’s – that’s all I do, all I do is lie, you don’t –”
“I know,” you said, interrupting, trying to sound kind. “I know. But I can always tell when you’re lying.”
He stared at you without saying anything for a long, long time. “Sif,” he said again, like he didn’t know what else to say.
“I don’t always know it at the time,” you said. “But I can always tell.”
You reached out and smoothed his hair, which had been mussed out of place by the wind, back down, fingers brushing against his ice-cold skin, making him twitch.
“You should hate me, then,” he said, somewhere between terrified and confused. “You should – you should hate me, I don’t – I don’t –”
“I don’t hate you, Loki,” you told him, curling your fingers around his wrist, thumb hooking on his, and when he looked down at it, baffled, you leaned forward to press your dry lips to his cheek, pulling back too quickly for him to react, flushing, avoiding meeting his eyes. You could feel him staring, and then suddenly his other hand was curling around your neck, fingers gripping your hair, forcing you forward, and then he was kissing you, clumsily, and you never did find out whether he had ever kissed anybody else before, because he never told you. But your tongues were wet and sloppy and touching each other, and your body was jolting with something you recognized only distantly, a long-repressed aching need, and his hands were clutching at you like he needed you, and when he pulled back, finally, he was panting, and looking at you with such terror and desire that you wanted to pull him against your body and curl yourself around him, to keep him safe, and you realized with a kind of wonder that you could.
You kept on fucking for a long time after you as good as told him his father did not love him: you could not stop. Your bodies had been tuned to each other’s in your extreme youths and even when you had learned to hate each other your bodies did not know anything about that: your bodies were your bodies and they were only interested in each other. Your bodies remembered each other, remembered the first tentative moves they had made toward one other: the first time he had gotten his long fingers into you, his tongue; the first time you had fucked. Your bodies remembered his hands splayed across your scapulae, remembered your fingers tracing the white, white skin of his slender chest, his long arms, the elegant sweep of his hipbones. Your bodies remembered everything.
“This doesn’t mean anything,” he used to snarl to you when he had three fingers inside of you.
“I know,” you’d pant back up at him, but it did, it did, it meant too much; it meant everything to you then. Thor did not know and Loki was always – saying things to him, making comments, innuendo that anybody clever would probably have figured out, in front of you, and smiling at you in his sly, smirking way. But Thor was not clever, and he did not know. Thor was not clever, and Thor was not insightful: he had never had much in common with his strange, prickly, negative-image brother but he loved him in a simple, uncomplicated way; that much was obvious to anybody who knew him at all. Loki loved Thor, too, although he would later pretend that he did not – you know better, you have always known better – but his love was never uncomplicated, never – even when they were little, he used to watch Thor and Odin from the shadows, hungry, desperate.
You think now that maybe that is where the madness began, even then, when he was a tiny child, even before you knew him: watching his father smile down at his brother, touch his brother with the unconditional love of a parent, never quite bestowed upon his less-favored son. Thor used to look at Frigga like that, too, sometimes, but Frigga was not Odin: Frigga loved Thor in a way that Odin did not love Loki, and Thor’s face would clear, simple and happy again, at peace with himself in a way that Loki never could be. For Loki was never satisfied, never content, relentlessly, relentlessly miserable.
You were fucking as Odin was slowly beginning to confer even more of his favor on Thor, a process that would take hundreds upon hundreds of years of infinitesimally shifting degrees of preference, of power, as Loki watched, as he said nothing, as you killed people, as he said over and over again that he hated you, as though that would make up for every time you had told him you had loved him and he had turned away. You had given up trying (I love you, you had told him, the first time, and he had started shaking so hard you had thought you had made him physically ill, and he had turned away from you, leaned down, his head between his knees, and had to leave the room), and you did not even think it was true, anymore; you wondered with a kind of detached numbness whether he really did hate you. You felt like you hated him, sometimes, but you did not think you hated him with the whole core of your being. It was a transient hatred. You felt a sort of pity for him, beneath the hatred, that pervaded everything. He was a sad creature. He was not destined for a happy life.
But at some point you could not do it anymore: even your bodies could not do it. You were too tired. You knew, at some point, that you were fucking him for the last time, and you did it less angrily than you had been. He did not look at you, did not meet your eyes, but you looked at him, ran your fingers tentatively through his hair, like you had done before, when you were younger, when touching him had been a novelty, a comfort to both of you. He leaned down and pressed his face into your neck and gripped your arm with one hand, squeezed tight as he pushed harder into you, and you leaned back and looked at the ceiling.
You remember so distinctly thinking: nobody will ever know now. The only person who had known was Frigga, who had never said anything to you about it, but had simply looked at you in a way that had conveyed to you the simple and definite fact that she knew. You supposed it did not matter: none of it mattered, after all, except to the two of you.
After, he sat on the edge of the bed for a long time without going anywhere. You sat up too, finally, and looked at him, at the familiar stretch of his body, which you knew better than anybody else did in the world. You reached out and took one of his hands, the one that was closer to you, held it gently by the wrist, and spread yours against it, your palm pressed against his, your fingers aligned. He froze for a moment and then slowly pulled his hand away, and got up, sliding into another version of himself, smooth and collected and clothed, and walked away.
(The two of you, lying naked together the first time, pressing your hands together, sex-sweaty: “mine aren’t that much smaller,” you said, and he hmmed, spreading his fingers wider, yours following, until he curled his around yours.
And before then, almost forgotten: the first time he touched you, or you touched him, when you were still children, and you insisted that your hands were bigger than his. “They aren’t,” he huffed, so you spread your fingers out – how old were you then? ten? – and he stared at it for a moment before holding his up, too, stretching his skinny fingers up against yours. They were exactly the same size.
“See?” he said, triumphant. “They aren’t longer.”
“They’re the same,” you pointed out, and he huffed, and pinched your palm.)
How many years? How many years passed? You can no longer remember them. They were so similar, so lacking in substantial incident, at least by your standards. You remember individual moments, scenes; months, even. But not years. The years are gone. You remember learning to pretend you had not spent all those years fucking the prince of Asgard in secret, learning to pretend so well that you almost believed it: you got one thing from him, at least. You learned how to lie. You don’t know what he got from you.
You remember your father dying. You had not seen him in a long time and then he was, suddenly, dead: he had died in battle, there was no body, there was nothing. There was just – there was nothing. He no longer existed in the world. He had lived to see you become a warrior but not the warrior you would become later, vaunted above all the soldiers in Asgard short of Thor himself. You did not know at the time what was coming for you but it was a strange feeling in the pit of your stomach anyway, the knowledge that he would not know.
You climbed to the roof and Loki found you there, fifty years after the last time you touched each other, and for a while neither of you said anything.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“I don’t feel anything,” you told him, looking out over Asgard. The tree had grown: the branches were bigger, now, covered more of the space. “I don’t feel anything at all.” It was not entirely true, but it was not quite a lie, either.
“I envy you,” he said, the words dragged out of his throat, scraped raw, agonized. That was the moment you knew with certainty that you did not hate him anymore. You only pitied him.
What happened to him? You will spend so much time wondering, so many hours contemplating that question. In a way you will be the person most qualified to answer that question: nobody, after all, will have known Thor and his brother quite so well, except perhaps Frigga, and everyone knew her bias. And anyway, Frigga will die, stabbed in her own home: Frigga will be gone. Odin will be gone, soon, too. People will fade, and only you and Thor and Loki will be left, of the people who were there at the beginning, and you will have to try to understand it, what happened. You are not destined to be a warrior after all, perhaps – or not only a warrior, maybe. You are a truth-teller, a keeper of record. You will be the seer of Asgard with your long backwards gaze: you are the only one who will remember the things that happened long ago, although you are not good at telling stories.
There is a lack of love and there is madness, there is the demon that Loki became: that is what you cannot stop thinking about, that is what you keep puzzling over, in your mind, and you know it has nothing to do with the foreign blood running through his veins, whatever some of the other soldiers whisper amongst themselves when they think nobody is listening. Loki’s blood is not the issue: you know his body well enough to know that. It is what the blood means to his mind.
You will miss him – you miss him now and you will miss him more and more as time passes, though it should work in reverse. Your friends will find people to woo and wed and love; Thor will pine after his mortal Midgardian woman, and you: you will be alone with your memories, and your sword, and the shades of your father, and the mother you never really had, and of Loki behind his own mother’s skirts, and of him as he slowly grew up, and of his body and your body together, now severed forever by the barrier between you, or by the way he has destroyed himself by division: you have no idea whether he has a body anymore at all. It is achingly awful to you, the thought that he might have no body left. You want so badly to be able, if only hypothetically, to touch him – just to know that you could, even if you do not want to right now.
You are a star body, a thousand-year creature; you are your sword. You are Sif-who-loves-Loki. You will come to realize it eventually, though maybe not soon enough. Loki is a star body, too; he is made up of his madness, of his father’s cruelty – but although he will think for a time that he is Loki-who-hates-Thor (he loves Thor, he is a liar even to himself) at the core of him, he is Loki-who-loves-Sif. Nobody will tell you this; nobody else will know. You will have to find it out yourself.
You will think he is dead, and then realize he is not; you will hold a knife to his throat; you will beat him up with your bare hands – and he will draw your blood and practically rip off your scalp, and he will kiss you and fuck you and go down on you, and you will grab his face and tell him that you were right, that his father never loved him, because he was never his son at all. And later you will touch him gently and tell him that you are sorry, that you were lying, and he will do what he always wanted to do and kill a man who injures you with nothing but his mind, choking the air out of him as his own face grows redder and redder with rage. And you will laugh a little, feeling mad yourself, insane, because you are both violent, wild creatures and you cannot do anything but collide, over and over again. You are star bodies and you came from the same star and you will go back to the same star when you die and are no more in the world. That is the truth of it. Loki will spend hundreds of years hung up on his Jötunn parentage but none of that will matter in the end: what will matter is that you are made up of the same starfire, a little mad, a little desperate, a little violent. You will pull him down to Earth, away from the worst parts of his nature, and he will set you on fire and you will let yourself go up in flames. You will become less and less like humans as you age, more and more entwined in each other, Sif-and-Loki, Loki-and-Sif, but that is always what happens with you thousand-year creatures: this is why they call you gods.
But all of that is too far away, too far down the road. You are still so human, now. You have only lived four-hundred-some years. First:
“Come on,” he’ll say, spreading his fingers and palm out over the barrier keeping him caged in, eyes aching with something you’ll recognize, something you won’t have seen in such a very, very long time. “Come on.”
You’ll stare at him for a long time before stepping forward and slowly lifting your hand up, pressing it against his. You won’t be able feel it through the barrier, but you’ll be able to see it, the tips of fingers extending beyond yours.
You’ll stare at it for a moment and then turn to look at him, and he’ll be looking at you with a kind of naked longing that you remember seeing there, years before, when he looked at his father: but no, this will be different. This will be tender, not scrabbling, desperate, already verging on insane. This will be something like yearning, just for a moment, and then he will smirk at you again, and you will step back, and let your hand fall back to your side.
“Goodbye, Loki,” you’ll say, but it won’t be any kind of goodbye at all.