Now, and Then
Dawn’s impending arrival drew the second son of Odin from the shadows of his dark bedchamber to the open window.
Standing in the pale, early morning light, Loki flipped one of his throwing knives into the air. Caught it. Threw it again. His mind turned, heedless of the lethal blade spinning up, then down. With each catch, he exhaled. The repetitive physical motion relaxed his body, easing away all tension, and allowed his mind to fully engage without distraction.
The coronation loomed ahead, mere weeks away, hanging over the future like so many dark clouds gathering to throw the nine realms into turmoil. Although he loved his brother, he recognized the danger in their father allowing Thor to ascend the throne as King of Asgard. Quick to anger. Reckless. Arrogant. These traits often overpowered the innate good in Thor, obliterating his ability to think. And that boded ill for Asgard. Perhaps in time he would mature into a king worthy of the throne. Not yet.
A prank, then. Something serious enough to cast doubt on the timing of the coronation. An ancient enemy. Not an act of war though. Simply old hostilities rekindled. A bit of chaos. Yes. Perfect.
As the knife spun high overhead, a slender ray of morning sun cleared the horizon. It reflected off the blade, flashing down across his vision. The blinding light jerked him from his thoughts and interrupted the mindless motion of his fingers opening to snatch the spinning blade from the air. Still glinting sunlight, the razor honed edge sliced across his palm, leaving a trail of pain like fire.
Stunned, he watched the knife fall to the floor. Steel met stone, ringing off the walls and echoing though his head.
Loki clenched his hand tight, denying the pain. Denying that he could have been so clumsy. Blood oozed through his fist. A single droplet fell, red tumbling down toward the floor. He sensed a magical flux disrupting the privacy spell he had earlier set over his bedchamber.
The droplet of blood stopped, then hung just above the still shimmering knife. There it spun, suspended, a tiny globe of red, flattening, finally reforming into a single rune.
Fear crawled out from the well-guarded recesses of his psyche. He reached inside himself, grasping for more power. But the incoming magic sliced through the tenuous link.
The rune crafted of his blood splashed onto the knife, then spread over the steel. More blood dripped from his hand, dark red pooling at his feet. Golden light rose from the blood. The color deepened, gold into green, swirled up from the knife, twisting around him, pulling, tugging, threatening to rip him apart.
Horrified, Loki stared down, his body frozen, mind unable to turn fast enough to fend off his attacker.
The agonizing physical pain strangled his breath, and stole his voice. Unable to even scream as he felt himself being unmade, a last, confused thought...
Who? Who would dare...
Loki gently swirled the tip of his forefinger in the small pool of his own blood. Turning, slowly. Chanting, softly. Drawing past into present, gradually.
A dangerous spell that could fail, leaving him, them, dead. But at this point, he had nothing to lose. He had already lost everything. Did life really matter?
The blood churned now, a vortex of immense power held in a tiny gold bowl set upon his bed. Not his bed. After all, this was Midgard, and he was reduced to inhabiting a lavish suite at some luxury hotel in The City That Never Sleeps.
He knew what it meant to NEVER sleep. Not after he crashed into this Midgardian nightmare. Not during the endless, spirit rending fall. Not after his father told him the truth. Not since Thor had been exiled. Never. Or it seemed never. Of course he did sleep, but for the needs of flesh only. His mind never rested. No peace there. How long had it been? Forever? It felt like forever since he closed his eyes and drifted away. Away...
He wished that peace for himself. Forever.
But the present jerked him back from that impossible fantasy. Not impossible if he failed. Because if he failed it would be over. He hated failure. He hated that somewhere in the dregs of his fractured mind he yearned to fail this time.
No. Not yet.
Focus. He drew his fingertip around and around, the warmth of his blood and the energy released from the spell flowing up his fingers and spreading out across his hand. As it rolled through his palm, he flinched, feeling the cut he could not see. Could not see because it was not there. Or was it?
Reality stretched and bent and twisted, distorted by the dimensional stresses.
The past drew nearer, blood calling blood, his power amplifying the link forged by a single rune. A shroud of green gathered long upon the bed, deepening in color, shot through with glints of gold.
Loki breathed deep, once, a slow, calming breath.
Come on... Just a bit closer... Come to me... You blind fool...
The energy fueled warmth surged up his arm, rushing now toward his core, sweeping through him like ice burning his blood away.
Hot and cold. Fire and ice. Darkness and light. Life. Death.
A scream caught unvoiced in his throat, denied by some renewed power of will he long ago stopped caring to exert.
Then, nothing. The massive flow of power cut off, cleaved apart just as the Bifrost had been that day...
Eyes squeezed shut, Loki ground his teeth together and forbid that memory. This was now. Then was over.
And as he regained a grip on consciousness no longer upended by memory, nor by the enormous use of magic, he opened his eyes.
The shroud of green gave way to pure gold, then dissipated in a shimmering cloud, revealing a long, slender figure now prone upon his bed. The impossible made real.
But magic demanded a price for his audacious misuse of power. A violent backlash of energy crashed against him in a wave of white hot light. Clutching the bowl of blood against his chest, he stood firm. Refusing to yield. He endured far worse when he had fallen from his past.
Abruptly, the flux ended and he dropped into a chair beside the bed. Then he sat motionless, eyes closed, slowly breathing while the lingering cognitive fog cleared. But anxiety over the final result of his spell forced him back full awareness. As he placed the bowl on the bedside table, the slight tremor in his hands betrayed the extreme limits he had pushed himself.
Both of them.
Still trembling, he stood, and tugged his sleeves down to meet each slender wrist. Then he smoothed his hands over the leather tunic, fingers catching on burnished metal adorned with interlaced patterns reminiscent of those found in Asgard. A flicker of memory threatened, but he swallowed hard, forcing back it down, away from this moment. Perhaps he should have clothed himself in the simplistic garments worn here on Midgard. But he retained some sense of propriety, and chose to welcome this prince attired the same.
A prince? He had been King, had he not? Those memories remained blurred, as if viewed staring back through a frost glazed window. He could easily wipe away the veil and examine every decision he had made, every interaction, every last moment before he fell. Why bother? Those memories were all still inside him, lurking, haunting reminders of how badly he had failed. Failed. That was enough to remember, and all the memory he could bear.
But he recalled all too well what led to him ascending the throne.
He glared down at himself. Not a copy. Not an illusion. The same pale skin. Hair black in stark contrast, one wayward lock curled against a nearly bloodless cheek. But even now, lying here unconscious, wearing an intangible air of dignity. Every bit the regal prince. The second son of Odin. At least that was what he believed, then. That misguided belief gave him the right, the obligation, to act accordingly.
Hate roiled inside Loki, undermining the desire to meet his past through a mirror of similar dignity. What dignity did he now possess? None. And who was to blame? Odin, for a lifetime of lies, then forsaking him at the end? Yes. Thor, for leaving him to grow up in the lonely shadows of the first son’s greatness and swagger? Yes.
How could he have been so blind? And arrogant. Thor had been that. But so had he. Smug and superior in his false birthright, so confident he could alter the future of Asgard. Stupid and arrogant for even believing he had the right to insinuate himself into the business of a family not his own.
They never were his family. Loki was not the Son of Odin.
The pain and fury of his truth roared back to life, knifing through the ice bound wasteland of his heart, threatening to throw into chaos his carefully constructed spell.
No. Not now. Not until he created a subtle shift in the past that would forever echo through time. Simple. All it would take was granting the gift of truth to this self, this foolish liar who had been utterly tricked all his life.
Loki took a deep, grounding breath, then slowly exhaled, releasing the tension gripped in his chest.
He leaned over, breathing warm across the figure frozen upon the bed. Here, lying before him, his prize. An oblivious fool. Any pride for successfully executing a spell only a madman would attempt vanished. Hate again surged within as his fingers met with ice cold skin and trailed over one pale cheek. He smiled down at himself, then whispered, “All those years growing up I knew I was different. But not how different... And now I will tell you our truth before they can break your heart.”
When Loki avoided their sunrise training session, Thor had not been surprised. His brother often skipped working out, claiming he was adept enough with his throwing knives that he needed no further training. Thor disagreed, but never argued that point. In fact, he avoided arguing at all with his clever brother. If words were weapons, Loki possessed more than enough in his arsenal to easily win every verbal bout and war of wit between them. But when it came to steel, practice alone kept one’s skills sharp.
The reality? Loki’s magic, his tricks, gave him an excuse to avoid a warrior’s training. This frustrated Thor. But years of such behavior dulled his reaction and on this morning he barely noticed his brother’s absence.
Now, later in the day, Loki failed to attend a briefing with their father on important matters of Asgard. The Allfather assumed Loki was off indulging in magic studies. But Thor knew his brother would never avoid any discussions of politics. Not with Thor soon to ascend the throne, and in need of Loki’s intelligence and thoroughly considered thoughts and advice on whatever subject was at hand.
Though wary that Loki might have been involved in some mischief, enough to distract him from their meeting, Thor decided to search for him. He began in the most obvious place, therefore without expectation of locating his missing brother.
At the entrance to Loki’s personal quarters he banged once, lightly with Mjölnir. Without waiting for a response he threw open the massive double doors. “Loki?!” he thundered, prepared to unleash his disappointment on his irresponsible brother. But his hope for a confrontation weakened as he strode through the empty bedchamber and neared the open window. His steps faltered. There, upon the floor, one of Loki’s throwing knives lay abandoned, the steel shrouded in a dark pool of partly dried blood.
Staring at the blood covered knife, Thor called out again, “Loki?” Concern now warred with rising fury, and he clenched his fist around Mjölnir’s handle, feeling the woven leather leave its mark upon his palm. “Where are you Brother?”
If this was yet another prank...
Possible. Loki’s sense of humor often bordered on perverse. Thor rapidly glanced around the vast room. Over the stone floors, covered here and there by thick carpets. At the window sill in front of him. To the bookshelves and desk and chairs and bed. He looked everywhere. No more blood. No signs of struggle. Nothing out of place.
But something had happened here, ending in spilled blood.
Heimdall would know.
Thunder rumbled in the distance while Thor sprinted out to the Bifrost. He neared the Guardian, shouting, “Heimdall! Where is my brother?!”
Unmoving, Heimdall replied, “Loki is not here.” He paused, and Thor stepped closer. Close enough to see the swirling in the depths of the Guardian’s allseeing eyes. “Where...” Thor began. But Heimdall tilted his head to one side, slightly, as if listening in addition to seeing. “There is something of him left in his bedchamber. A faint essence of life.”
Unsure what exactly Heimdall meant, Thor paced back and forth. “Magic gone awry? One of his tricks?”
The Guardian shook his head. “I think not. Not this time. But there is a knot here I will not unravel.” Now Heimdall fixed those eyes upon him. “Tread carefully Thor,” he said, his deep voice dropping lower, emphasizing his warning.
“Of course!” Thor shouted as he ran back along the Bifrost, idly swinging Mjölnir in time with his thudding footfalls.
Consciousness seeped back into Loki, a gradual return like tunneling up through a deep drift of snow. Senses awakening, slowly, muted at first then sharpening. He knew he suffered from shock, the result of some unknown, yet massive, discharge of magical energy. An unseen attack, directed at him. As his head cleared he sensed the powerful bonds blanketing him like a heavy shroud wrapped around his body, and his magic. Now panic crept through the shock as he recognized he was powerless both physically and magically.
Still, he had control over his senses, all but his vision. Eyes closed, and he kept them so, feigning continued unconsciousness. That might give him some advantage, at least enough to gather the most basic information. Drawing on the years of meditative practice required to open the mind to magic, he calmed his racing thoughts.
Focus. Assess. Where was he? The how, why and who could wait.
Lying on his back. Cushioned softness beneath him. A bed, then? Quiet. No sounds near. But a complex din far off, muted as if heard through walls. Air, without a hint of breeze, and neither hot nor cold touched the bare skin of his hands and face. Feeling the familiar embrace of leather and silk snug against skin, he assumed he had retained his clothing. He focused on his faint, shallow breaths and found subtle scents. A mingled impression of metal and leather and something sweet. Flowers? The metallic odor overpowered all though. Blood. Yes, he smelled blood. The sharp throbbing across his palm reminded him he had been cut. Perhaps he still bled. And that would give further power to his attacker. Fear rose through his attempt at total calm and feigned unconsciousness. He dragged his eyelids open, just a crack.
He turned his face to the clear, yet quiet voice. Vision blurred, then sharpened. He blinked again, and brought the man into focus. He shook his head, slowly, a denial of what stood beside him. Refusing to see. Except he could not look away.
Pale skin. Black hair. Eyes green. His face. HIS FACE? Tall, slender. His body. Unable to access his magic to further examine this thing standing there, he could only lay on his back, staring, utterly stunned.
Had he done this? Made himself? Beyond the images without substance so easily conjured in jest or defense? Was this a nightmare of his creation? A horror gone out of control?
“Look at me,” the thing said, then paused, gracefully waving one hand down a long, lean body draped in clothing similar to, but not an exact copy of, his own. Laughing, the image of himself spun, an elegant swirl of black leather touched with metal, and edged with green silk. The laugh cut off, abruptly. “You think this some illusion? Cannot have that, can we? Look closely. I will allow it.”
The bindings over his magic slipped, slightly, and he reached out to this twisted reflection of himself.
Immediately, his blood screamed in recognition of self. Real. Flesh. He heard himself gasp. Unable to bear even the faintest magical link to this impossibility, he severed contact. As he pulled away he sensed a darkness like shadows cast across its, his, spirit.
Real. Yes. Not an accurate reflection though. Something different. Evolved perhaps. And not for the better.
Still lying on his back, unable to process this impossibility, he stared up at the ceiling. Blank, a wash of white plaster overhead. Not his bedchamber, and likely not even Asgard.
“Where?” he heard himself whisper.
“Midgard. Not that it matters where. When. This is a when, Loki.” The clear voice drew out his name, softly, seductively, as if speaking to a lover.
He glanced aside, and found himself staring back, smiling. The sight drove a wave of nausea through his gut. He closed his eyes, unwilling to believe, then choked out, “What?”
“You, smug as you are in all your unique abilities, think you lack the skill to cross the dimensions of time?”
Cross dimensions? Of course he could, and had, often. But this? Bringing together two dimensions in which he existed simultaneously? In the same place? Such an audacious act defied the rules of magic and could destroy more than himself. It could tear apart the harmonious connections linking every dimension, and end all life. Everywhere. Everywhen.
Fighting against the heavy bonds of energy holding him down, he dragged both hands up from the bed, then twisted his fingers together. The slash across his palm hurt, and he ground the open wound against his other hand, seizing the pain to anchor his upended emotions and gather his chaotic thoughts.
What could possibly push him to risk absolute annihilation of all existence?
An exasperated sigh caused him to open his eyes. Now he watched himself pace across the dimly lit bedchamber, footsteps muffled by the carpet.
Finally, this thing, himself, halted at the bed. “Well? Finished your little internal monologue? I suppose now you wish for me to explain why I risked all for us to meet like this.” Then he raised his eyebrows, and smiled, merely lifting the corners of his mouth. The smile did not reach green eyes while this stranger began laughing, and fixed a gaze down upon him that held so much anger and fury and hate and all the answers.
Loki stared back. Cringed hearing laughter at first soft, then rising, shaking, edged with a maniacal, desperate quality he never thought himself capable of.
At times in his life he fought hard to remain a faithful son and supportive brother. Pushing away his jealousy and loneliness and petty emotions was not always easy. More than once he embraced that part of himself and often lied and stirred up trouble for more than his own fun. But never had he approached the line between sane, rational thinking and this, what now stood before him. Mocking him.
Whatever these circumstances, whatever the truth behind this impossible meeting, he needed to understand how this future self had gotten here, to Midgard, and in this unhinged state.
Emboldened by his need to understand, he asked, “How are you here?”
The laughter stopped, abruptly. “I fell.”
And in those two simple words, the quiet way they were spoken, he perceived a new emotion. Beneath the twisted tangle of insanity, he heard the faintest echo of sadness. Perhaps even grief. It pierced his heart, a sharp, driving pain that forced tears into his eyes. What could have been so catastrophic that it destroyed him in this way? He blinked, sending a tear down his cheek.
This other self leaned over the bed. One elegant finger smeared with dried blood reached toward his face, then traced along the wet trail. “There are not enough tears,” his future self said, in the same quiet voice tinged with sorrow. “Never enough tears.” Green eyes looking down at him remained dry, face blank, expression void of any emotion. The touch continued; a gentle brush against his cheek, almost a caress.
Recognizing a weak moment, he quickly prompted, “You fell?”
Green eyes narrowed. The blank expression vanished as this unstable self snatched his finger away, then started laughing again. “No. You need not hear this. Not yet. Maybe never. Yes. Never.” He stalked away from the bed, then paced back, laughter mutating into a manic flurry of words. “When we are through here this will all be over. Over. It will never have been. Never have BEEN!” he shouted, fists clenched, then slamming down on the bed. “NEVER BE!” He fell to his knees on the floor, and bent forward, resting his head, their faces, next to each other. Leaning closer, he whispered, “No tears Loki. No tears.”
The contradiction in his words, and the violent swings in his demeanor, from faintly pensive, to renewed laughter, to raging fury, and back to barely contained sorrow, impressed upon him just how far gone he was in this future.
He shivered, one hand clawing at the bedcovers, pushing away, a pathetic attempt at denial. But he could not escape the specter of madness haunting the desolate wasteland he now saw in himself.
Thor sat crosslegged on the stone floor of Loki’s bedchamber, staring at the blood covered knife. The dark red pool had dried completely during his vigil. Here he sat, waiting, which was all he could do after finding no other clues to Loki’s whereabouts but this throwing knife. For once, he heeded the council of another, and listened to Heimdall’s warning to tread lightly. He knew better than to involve himself in matters of magic. Even touching the blade or blood could disrupt whatever his brother had done. If Loki had actually done anything at all. But he must have. Who else in all of Asgard wielded power enough to cause this? Whatever this was. Thor had only a missing brother and a bloodied throwing knife as evidence that anything was wrong.
Because Heimdall sensed some essence of Loki here, this seemed to be the best place to wait.
Thor despised waiting. It chafed at his overpowering need to do something, anything. Raise his fists. Swing Mjölnir. Incite a massive thundercloud to build until it ruptured in a wild storm of lightning and wind driven rain. But in matters of magic, and of his brother, he understood patience might yield answers. He hoped. Because he could sit here only so long before the need to seize control won out, and forced him to act. Action would also lead him to involve their father, and the inevitable assistance he preferred to avoid.
But as the sun set and darkness swept over Asgard, Thor’s patience stretched until it began to fray.
“Where are you Brother?” he said, his usually booming voice softened by worry to a mere whisper.
“It is familiar to me. Nothing of this world,” Thor stated, with absolute confidence.
Tony Stark glared at him. “Then do tell us what we are dealing with.”
“I will not speak of this.” He spun on one foot, then strode away, ignoring the protests of those he worked with. This was not their concern. The unique energy flux he had sensed earlier that day was a matter of family, to be handled as such.
Hope warred with trepidation as he prepared to search for the exact location of the flux. More than once since he arrived back on Midgard he sensed the faintest trace of his brother, here, somewhere on this world. But again and again it vanished, leaving him to believe it was fantasy, all in his mind, purely because of his own wish to be reunited with Loki.
Life had gone on since the day he shattered the Bifrost. But he never forgot. Always he held on to some hope that he would find his brother, and make right all that had gone wrong.
Now, finally, he had some tangible proof that Loki was indeed here. His brother survived the fall. But in what condition?
Loki knew himself better than anyone. His upbringing ensured a unique level of self intimacy. Therefore, he expected to bring forward from the past an arrogant, blind fool. But this pathetic, weak minded thing he did not anticipate. How could he actually have shed tears for himself? He had been stronger than this, had he not? Far stronger. For his past self to show any empathy for him only stirred his continually simmering fury, pushing his ability to contain it to the very edge.
Lifting his face from the bed, he snarled, “I hate you.” His past self stared up at him, eyes wide. “Hate you,” he said again, disgusted. How weak his answer when asked how he came to be here on Midgard. How stupid to allow his control to slip like that, and admit he fell.
Fell?! An utterly ridiculous word to describe what he endured. It started long before he hung suspended from the shattered Bifrost. Before the man he had called Father admitted the truth, and the years of deceit. Perhaps it had even begun before the disastrous little outing with Thor to Jotunheim, when he first watched his skin betray him.
He fell. It felt like he was falling still, each moment of awareness further eroding his grip on self. “Fell. I fell... I fell...” he laughed.
On the bed, his past self flinched, then shifted away, slightly, as if to avoid him noticing. But he heard the sharp intake of breath. No surprise, given he had removed the weakling’s defenses. Without the ability to move from the bed, or use magic? Just a useless, pathetic, quivering shadow.
Now he drew himself upright, standing tall, grinning down. “I fear me.”
Past Loki, as he now thought of this ridiculous version of himself, opened his mouth, and stuttered. “Are... Are you, we, alone here on Midgard?”
“Alone?!” he exclaimed. Had the journey forward destroyed his most basic knowledge of the nine realms and their inhabitants? “There are mortals everywhere. Too many. And they are even more pathetic than you. Well, maybe not. Because YOU should know better.”
But Past Loki ignored the insult. “Is Thor here too? Or does our brother sit upon the throne of Asgard?”
Inside his head, the last tenuous thread of discipline he maintained over his self control snapped. “Our brother?” he whispered, welcoming the sudden fury blazing through his body. “Our brother?” he screamed. “Brother?! He’s...!”
Then he paused, choking back words he most wanted to fire at his past self. Unleashing the truth like a weapon, aimed to destroy instead of enlighten, was not how he planned to inform himself of his true heritage. Bowing his head, he breathed through the anger now roaring through his body.
He is not our brother. He is not our brother. He is not...
“Why did you bring me here?”
He lifted his face. Past Loki glared up at him, skin still pale as death, but eyes narrowed. He knew that look all too well. Arrogant, defiant even, despite the deep running current of fear. Excellent. Because this was preferable to a distraught, weak creature unable to grasp the profound, life altering, no, life shattering, answer to the question ‘why?’.
Pleased, he nodded to himself. As if hearing his thoughts, Past Loki, still flat on his back, tilted his head to one side. Wearing the barest trace of a smile, he said, “Bringing us together was an adept feat of unimaginable power and sublime skill, one that took creative thought and absolute confidence to even attempt. You succeeded. Simply awe-inspiring.”
Despite the embroidered words, the honest compliment soothed the harsh edges of his anger. He returned the smile.
Then Past Loki reached a hand toward him, palm up, revealing the cut still weeping blood. “But why?” he asked, somewhere between a plea and a demand.
Wary, wanting to avoid physical contact, Loki backed away. He had always known how to manipulate any given situation. Silver tongue indeed. So this was it. The time to speak. If he could trust his voice to divulge the truth with calm rationality. He found challenge enough in even reminding himself of the past. And the anger smoldering in his blood threatened to burst forth again at any provocation. So he paced the bedchamber. His long strides carrying him from the bed, across the room to the floor-to-ceiling windows concealed with heavy silk drapes, then back again a single step from the bed.
Though acutely aware his every step was watched, he kept pacing, struggling to regain his composure. But his silence only incited frustrated anger in his past self.
As he neared the bed, prepared to turn and again cross the room, Past Loki shouted, “Why?! Tell me!”
Loki froze. Those two words echoed in his memory.
The past ripped through him, crushing his defenses, hurling him back to that devastating day of truth.
He heard his voice, shaking with desperation and anger and shock and horror. He collapsed to his knees.
I am a monster.
Veiled in frigid darkness, gasping for a single breath, he choked out, “No.”
Warmth called him back from that horrible moment. A gentle touch. A hand curled around his. “Loki?” his past self whispered.
He blinked, then realized he was lying on the bed, on his side, their hands entwined, clutched against to his chest. Beside him, his past self remained silent, still, head turned toward him, face wet. More tears? This he could not tolerate. Nor could he look away.
In those eyes, his eyes, he saw the desperate need for answers, the confusion and the fear. And beyond all that, raw innocence not yet destroyed by the truth. Now he began to comprehend the mistake he had made bringing himself here. It was for his father to deal the fatal blow, and bear the guilt, in his future. Past. But not him. He could not bring himself to speak the truth.
Nor could he lie.
“The truth is bad enough that I wished for death,” he said. But the admission spoken aloud inflamed his anger again. He tore his hand away, spattering blood across the bed as he rolled to the floor. Enraged, he shouted, “Is that what you want to hear?! Death! Because of YOU! Blind, stupid fool! I HATE you!”
He waved his hand, releasing Past Loki’s body but leaving the magical bindings intact. Then he pointed to one corner of the bed and twisted his wrist in a circle, tracing the perimeter with energy, trapping his past self within its confines.
Now physically able to respond, his past self tumbled away, and slammed into the unseen wall on the far side of the bed.
Breathing heavy, he came up on his knees, arms out, prepared to defend. “Hate?! How dare you take me from my life! What could possibly justify this?!”
Justification? Now this fool wanted him to justify his actions?
Loki snarled, a deep, guttural growl like a vicious animal. He flung himself onto the bed. Past Loki met him halfway and they fell together in a torrent of fists, fighting, kicking, wrestling. Each grappled for dominance. But even through the blinding rage, he anticipated every move, every block, every counter attack. He proved stronger and quickly subdued his past self, who had been dramatically weakened by the journey.
In a single, smoothly executed maneuver, Loki threw him onto his back, then straddled his narrow waist, pinning him to the bed.
Laughing, he closed one hand around his past self’s throat, tightening. Cutting off precious breath.
Under him, his past self kicked and twisted, hands clawing at his, trying to pry them free. The desperate struggle infuriated Loki. Shaking with rage, he placed his other hand down, pressing, squeezing, denying life. Through the red haze of fury, he wondered how it had all come to this.
Suddenly, Past Loki’s entire body slackened. His arms fell to the bed, and he parted his lips, as if to speak.
Loki eased his grip, slightly, still shaking with hate, furious thunder pounding in his head.
Beneath him, Past Loki gasped, “If... If the future is so dire that this is what I will become... then rewrite our history. Kill me...” he paused, gulping for air. “K... Kill us both. Now, and then.”
Loki snatched his hands away. “Now, and then?” he murmured.
Under him, Past Loki remained unmoved, his face, sweat shined and reddened from their struggle, paled back to nearly bloodless. “Whatever happened has already killed me, hasn’t it? I can see it in you. In me. Feel it, beneath the hate and anger... The desolation rolling off you in waves.” He reached up and pressed his hand flat against Loki’s chest, fingers digging into the leather. “Where have I gone? How...” he faltered, eyes staring up, searching. Then he whispered, “How did I lose myself?”
The quiet plea reached a place inside Loki he refused to ever access. He closed his eyes, and let his chin drop, bowing his head.
Lost. He was lost. Had been since the most honest moment in his life. The most honest act he ever committed. Hanging from the shattered Bifrost, his fingers opening from around Gungnir, releasing his grip on the past. Letting go. Falling. Escaping the pain and anger and unending torment of never being good enough. Ending false hopes of redemption and forgiveness.
Then, after. Allowing the darkness take him in every way possible. Stripping him, violating him, repeatedly, until there was nothing left. Nothing but life.
He hated himself. Then, and now. That was the only untainted honesty he could offer.
“I hate us,” he admitted, his voice startlingly clear.
But self hate proved an ironic emotion. Looking down at his past self, sprawled across the bed, clothing torn, pale skin bruised and smeared with their blood, he felt delicate tendrils of affection twining their way into his darkness. Crumbling the remnants of his rage like ivy collapsing a stone wall.
Past Loki joined their hands, then raised them and pressed his lips against the back of Loki’s hand. As he lifted his mouth away, slightly, he said, “The only one you can ever love is the one you hate the most.”
And in this new truth, observed by his past self, Loki took a small measure of comfort.
The subtle gesture gradually became something more. Warm, his past self’s lips pressed against his hand again, then lingered. Their gaze met, and held.
Past Loki closed his eyes, slowly, then shifted. There was no mistaking the slight tilt of his hips pushing upward. “Touch me,” he said, breathing the words softly across the back of Loki’s hand.
Loki shivered, his legs closing tight around the trembling body trapped beneath him. A faint moan formed in the back of his throat, but he strangled it off before it further betrayed his own body’s treacherous response.
His past self gazed up. “Please? No one else will. No one else ever has. Not really.”
This pathetic admission dragged forward painful memories from somewhere in the distant past. The simple need for affection, crying out but left unanswered. As he matured, others had grown more wary of him. He occasionally charmed someone into giving him physical pleasure. But those were empty connections, void of emotion. And the only genuine desire for intimacy he experienced was for the one person forbidden to him. So he had turned to himself, his own touch the only one he trusted.
Should he be surprised by this physical response to his past self? Unanticipated, yes. But no shock.
Steeling himself against this unexpected weakness, he untangled their hands and met those green eyes now searching him for some reassurance. “You want this because you cannot have him,” he stated, bluntly.
Past Loki sighed. “I see that has not changed. He is what we both want. We love him.”
Hearing the aberrant desire in those wistful words reminded Loki just how convoluted his feelings were for the man he grew up believing was his brother. The man his past self still believed was his brother. How twisted he had been, even then, to feel this way.
But there had been something between them, had there not? Beyond the dark emotions? One memory still haunted him now when his body slept, but his mind remained aware. At the end Thor cried out when he realized what Loki was about to do, the plea in his voice matching anguish in his eyes. Then, as Loki fell, the heartbroken scream of denial.
“I cannot hate Thor enough to wish myself upon him.” He exhaled, the wistful sound eerily like the one his past self made only moments ago. The irony broke through his pitiful introspection.
Thor meant nothing to him. Nor did this wretched, pathetic reflection of himself. He shoved his body clear. “How can we love anyone? I hate. HATE!”
Past Loki grabbed his arm and jerked him around. “Stop! Look at me.”
Feeling the heat of renewed anger roaring through his body, Loki tore his arm free. But his past self reached out, one hand resting on his chest, the other twisting fingers into his hair and forcing his head around. “Look at ME!” he shouted. “Whatever has happened, you are worthy! Remember who you were before whatever has befallen us. This clever mind. This cunning. Talent. Skill. Magic. And heart.” The hand upon his chest clenched into a fist, and thudded thrice against him. “We have heart.”
Kneeling, they stared at each other, faces a mere handspan apart, both drawing short, shallow breaths. Loki broke their gaze first, dropping his focus to his past self’s hand sliding down. Feeling it slip around his waist, pulling him closer as the fingers gripping his head relaxed, now smoothing his hair.
Still, he struggled to deny what he could no longer stop. “No, we do not have heart. And I should tell you why.” Should. But could not. And now this ridiculous proof of just how innocent he had once been swept aside the last of his defenses.
Past Loki leaned forward until their lips nearly touched. He whispered, “After. Tell me after...”
As he pressed his lips to this distorted, fractured self suffering so much angry pain, Loki wished to give his future self a reason to live in this time far from home, parted from family, alone and despairing. In offering all he could, he would reach through the madness and give comfort and strength. After, he could worry about how to return home, back to his time. First, he needed ensure his future self would always remember who he had once been.
His honorable intent melted away any lingering fear he had of this self who had just tried to strangle the life from him. He parted his lips, sighing softly as their tongues met, sliding together in a slow, sensuous dance. He kept one hand around his future self’s narrow waist, feeling the supple leather molded to the sinuous body beneath, other hand raised, fingers gently, reassuringly stroking hair grown longer than his own. But his future self tensed in his arms, then broke off their kiss. “How could you want me? After what I have done to us?”
He searched his face, the creases on his forehead and at the corners of his green eyes, and saw the mistrust there. “Let go. Please?” he asked, not begging, but wanting so desperately to erase the hateful words and violent actions between them. This was akin to coaxing a dangerous, unpredictable beast to feed from his hand. Except he was not an animal, not even in this disturbing future. “I trust you,” he said.
His future self breathed deep, then exhaled, as if wavering at the edge of decision. Loki remained unmoved, still embracing him, loosely now. He stared at the mouth so close, lips reddened from their shared kiss parted slightly, quivering. He closed his eyes. And felt those lips return to his.
As Loki lost himself in their kiss, he realized this was more than some noble effort at using empathy and affection to ease the emptiness bound by fury and bitter hate.
The ache inside him swelled into an insatiable hunger while their mouths locked in battle. Tongues wrestling, teeth clashing, moans identical, echoing between them. Lust burned in him like greedy flames, racing through his body, threatening to incinerate them both. Fire and ice. Two sensations so extreme they became one, roaring inside him. He needed this, needed himself like he never wanted anyone, ever.
Ever? Even as he embraced himself, moaning into their kiss, memory flickered across his closed eyes. Thor, smile shining like lightning, strong and confident and beautiful and...
He blocked that distracting image. Thor was not here. He was, holding him, needing him.
“Touch me. Touch... me...” he urged, then tilted his head back, baring his neck. And felt lips pressing there, soft at first, then parting. The damp tip of a tongue, touching where he had been strangled, then circling down, leaving wet trails along his neck followed by teeth sharp, dragging over the bruised skin. Pleasure and pain mingled, driving straight to his core. Hard, harder than he had ever been, his cock strained against his tight leather breeches. He moaned, pushing his hips forward, shoving his erection against himself. And he felt the same in return. They fell to the bed, side by side, long legs entwined, kissing again, grinding against each other. He clawed at their clothes, needing more than this safe parody of sex.
Against his future self’s neck, he murmured, “Want to feel you against me... All of you...” He closed his teeth hard, biting, savoring the deepening moan they shared.
“You are certain?” he heard, the three words whispered forcing him to pull back, nodding. “Yes Loki. Yes...”
Through the binding still over his magic, he sensed a brief spark, like the crack of a whip. Their clothes fell away. Between them now was nothing more than turmoil and anger and raw desire.
Loki gazed at the sleek, sensual body, fully aroused, perfectly mirroring himself. Then he raised his eyes and found his future self staring back. There he found traces of hate, even now, while locked in this intimate battle.
Then his future self growled, and a faint smile lifted his bruised lips.
Loki smiled back. Lying on their sides, facing, they reached down as one, hands closing tight around each other’s erections. He thrust into the grip so familiar, reveling in fingers exerting just the right pressure. His own hand matched the strokes, in time so that together they gasped and moaned with each ragged breath, driving toward their shared climax. So perfect.
Suddenly, that perfect touch vanished. Before he could protest, he was grasped by his shoulders and thrown onto his back.
His future self again pinned him to the bed, straddling him, as he had when trying to strangle him. Only now skin against skin. On his back, he thrust up, searching for some relief but finding none. His future self smiled down, then bent forward, mouth hovering and swept his tongue slowly, sensuously across his lips first, then Loki’s. “I want to fuck you,” he said, somewhere between a growl and a purr.
Utterly lost now, consumed by this insane carnal desire, Loki spread his legs. “Do it,” he demanded, then wrapped both legs around his future self’s waist, urging their bodies together. “Take me. All of me.”
Magic flared between them, bright warmth splashing over him, then trailing wet heat down over his cock and reaching inside him, opening him, probing him. He threw his head back, slamming it hard against the bed, savoring the feel of helplessness while trapped by the hands pinning his wrists.
His future self released him, then began stroking himself with one elegant hand. The other traced over his mouth, and slipped one finger between his lips. In and out, up and down, performing both acts on himself while kneeling there, ignoring Loki’s own desperate arousal.
Lying there watching, Loki marveled at this body he thought he knew so well, now seen from outside. Sweat glimmered over his chest, defining sleek muscles, reaching down to the flat plane of his stomach. Head tipped back, slender throat exposed, revealing red marks left by his teeth. Eyes watching him, aware, yet slightly glazed over with pleasure, like dark emeralds gleaming in the dim light.
Was he really this beautiful?
That thought flitted away as his future self reared back, then lunged forward, burying his entire length deep inside him.
He screamed. Or maybe they screamed together. The piercing sound wrapped around them both as he pulled his legs back, fully accepting the savage physical breach.
“Hate you... Hate you...” his future self gasped, pounding deeper, faster. He writhed on the bed, held down, helpless, taking it, and giving all he could of his body to stop the hate.
And his future self took him without mercy, giving him pleasure that transcended all previous experiences. A thrashing, violent union void of tenderness stripping him of identity. The line between them burned away to nothing. Two merged into one.
Now beyond all sane limits of physical sensation, he could endure no more. Desperate for release, he snaked his hand down, reaching between them. But before he touched himself, his hand was shoved away. He closed his eyes, groaning, begging, “Please...”
His future self, still relentlessly plunging in and out of him, leaned forward, pushing his legs further back, until their lips met. He accepted this last, brutal kiss, his entire body on fire.
Then his future self tore his mouth away and stared down. “Hate, love, hate,” he murmured, as if in a trance as his continued his frenzied thrusts.
Loki felt his consciousness begin to recede. Just then, a hand closed around his cock. Ah, sweet mercy... It stroked hard, down, up, in time with their rough union.
He heard laughter. Dark, quiet, gasping laughter. He was so far gone he knew not which of them laughed. Nor did he care.
Those slender, yet powerful, fingers gripped so tight it bordered on pain. And that set free the last of his control. The tightness in his groin unraveled, then exploded in all consuming pleasure. As the shroud of climax stole him away, his moan stretched into a single word, “Love...”
Love. That hated word chased Loki into the blinding darkness of his painfully exquisite release.
Now he lay on his back holding his past self against him, blanketed by their combined warmth. Thoughts of the future and the past crept into his mind, but he walled them away. For now, in this moment, he permitted a shadow of comfort.
Despite all he had done in anger and hate, his past self loved him enough to cede control and submit to him. A noble gift, one he took, and took until they became one again, here in this skewed future.
Past Loki threaded one hand into his hair, fingers gently stroking while the other hand rested across his chest, palm up. The cut had healed to a neat line, still angry red but no longer seeping blood. He lifted his own hand, and found that his cut too had mended itself. A wash of calm rolled gently through him. A turning tide, perhaps.
But the fury remained, dulled now to a smoldering, controlled burn. There waiting for him to reignite it at his command, then wield it for purposes beyond self-destruction. In taking the gift so generously given by his past self, he rediscovered something of who he once had been. Just enough to anchor the ever swirling thoughts and rogue emotions spinning him out of control. Sanity? No. The lies and truths had splintered his psyche beyond repair. He would never again be this man he now held in his arms.
“I wish I could stop this future from happening,” his past self said, as if knowing his thoughts.
It was too late. He sighed, “You cannot save me.”
“No. As much as I yearn to change what happened, whatever that was, the breach of every law of magic would only create worse chaos. And not the sort of chaos I enjoy.”
His past self smiled. So did he, inside, deep inside where some shred of this past self still lived.
“You are strong Loki.”
He shrugged. Strong? Perhaps, yes. But forever stained, ruined from the beginning. He never had chance. The fall had been inevitable. Still, he yearned for the innocence in his past self. This man raised to believe in his nobility. A regal prince. And in nobility there existed inherent power. He was not entitled to it in Asgard. But here?
In his mind strands of abstract thought floated, then drifted together, loosely weaving themselves into an idea. An aspiration. The barest trace of a plan.
They lay together in silence, gradually drifting apart in spirit. He sensed the limits of this impossible meeting had stretched. Maybe because of what they committed together. Or simply because this was never meant to be. He stirred, shifting away from the now disconcerting feel of his past self against him. Then he noticed the small bowl on the bedside table tipped on its side. Their rough joining had shaken the bed, perhaps enough to jar the table and knock the bowl over. His blood pooled on the table’s polished wood surface, dripping down the side and onto the floor. The spell, bound by blood no longer contained in the energy charged bowl, began to fray.
Past Loki glanced aside, to where he stared at the blood falling. Then their eyes met. In his past self, he found a hint of desperation. No. He denied it. Denied that together they soothed the loneliness he had always lived with. This was impossible, despite the brief time they shared.
He slid free. Ached at the loss of warmth. Denied his own desperate need. Hating it. Quickly, he waved a hand, reclothing them both, then focused his energies on stabilizing the spell. Standing beside the bed, he tugged Past Loki up, so they now stood together. “You must return. Now. And with no memory of this.”
Past Loki nodded. A single tear fell, tracking down his face. He gripped Loki’s hand tight. “It grieves me, leaving you here alone, and not knowing what will become of me, nor why.”
He had no answer for that. Nor for the tears beyond his ability to shed. What grief this past self now experienced would vanish upon returning to his place in time. For Loki, the grief in his unavoidable future would never end. But at least now he attained some purpose to guide him through the darkness.
Past Loki straightened, throwing back his shoulders and lifting his chin. Looking every bit the regal prince. “Leave the past to me and think only of what is before you. We are the Son of Odin. Whoever left us to this fate must answer for what they have done.”
He flinched at the heartfelt declaration, spoken with total confidence. The lies he had thought to rectify in this time remained. Nothing had changed. Had it?
His past self stared at him. Into him. Gripped his hand as if not wanting to ever let go. “We were wronged Loki. Make it right.”
Energy crackled, snapping in the air, a warning that the complex working had lost stability.
Time had come for them. Together they knelt on the bed and he set the gold bowl between them. He conjured a throwing knife, then held his hand over the bowl. Past Loki followed, hand trembling.
Loki breathed deep. Once. Twice. Exhaling all distractions. Grounding himself. Focused, he weaved the spell’s intricate energies, then swept the blade over their hands.
Their blood dripped into the bowl, swirling together, a maelstrom of dark red.
He breathed over it, releasing the single rune, Raido, in reverse. Gold began to obscure their mingled blood, turning, fast until it rose, a cloud twisting around Past Loki’s knees, reaching up, darkening as the spell’s powerful energies unfolded.
His past self, now caught in the relentless magic bearing him away, whispered, “Do not forget me...”
I wish you could remember me...
He reached both hands out, thumbs brushing gently over the tears falling, fingers sliding into his past self’s hair. Then he closed his eyes, and stole every memory of them together.
Numb, he opened his eyes and watched as, in a darkening shroud of gold, Loki faded away, back to the past.
He fell to the bed, empty. His being now just a vast desolate wasteland, like Jotunheim had been. Frigid winds howling in his head, and lashing his spirit. Bitter cold slowing his heart. A sluggish thought. Perhaps he had altered his history?
Do not forget me...
Inside him, amidst the endless shards of ice, fire sparked. Like jagged lightning tearing through the frozen desolation with heat and rage. And chaos. Reminding him he lived, and more.
Asgard had rejected him. But here on Midgard? He would be King.
Against the spell reinforced door, a single boom thundered. The impact reverberated off the walls, ringing in his head like the profound peal of a bell. Mjölnir. He smiled. With Thor here on Midgard, perhaps he still had a chance to prove himself worthy.
Soon. He vanished the gold bowl, then gathered his remaining strength and wove a transfer spell. A simple journey across Midgard, away from Thor. For now. Watching his hand fade, he stared down at the cut across his palm. “I will make this right for us Loki... I swear.”
Thor swung Mjölnir again. The second blow cleaved through Loki’s magic and exploded the door inward. Kicking aside the splintered wood, he strode into the hotel suite.
“Loki?!” he called out, as if he could demand his brother’s presence. But the room was empty. Left behind, only the faintest trace that Loki had been here. Alone.
Nothing appeared out of place. Except the bed. Blankets strewn upon the floor. Linens on the bed tangled. And a small pool of dark red in the center.
Wary of the magics he sensed still lingering he approached slowly. At the bed, he dropped to one knee. Power had been discharged here. Massive energies like the earlier flux. But more than that. Lacking the subtle ability to discern exactly what transpired, he focused on the only physical evidence left behind.
He trailed his fingers through the blood. Still warm. His brother’s blood. Of that he was certain. At least Loki had not done harm to a mortal. But he had to himself. Why?
A complex storm of questions and emotions battered at Thor, threatening his single-minded objective. But he refused to allow any such distraction, yet. This time he had almost found his brother. Next time he would not fail.
A voice drew him back from the darkness. Familiar. Comforting. Like the strong arms that held him.
He dragged his eyes open and found Thor staring down, blue eyes intense with worry. Felt Thor lifting him, carrying him, setting him carefully onto his bed like he was made of spun glass.
Loki shivered, as if an icy shadow passed through him. “I fell?”
Thor raised Mjölnir and pointed the hammer toward the window. “Slipped in your own blood.”
Loki lifted his head from the pillow, just enough to see one of his throwing knives on the floor, sitting in a dark pool of blood. He shuddered, unable to recall any of this. A thread of fear wound through him, and he shook his head. “What?”
“You cut yourself Loki. With one of your throwing knives. You think yourself so adept with steel, but this proves you should not practice alone.”
He continued shaking his head, trying to grasp some recollection of the morning’s events. He awoke before the sun’s rise. Then, nothing. “I don’t remember...”
“You were unconscious when I came looking for you. Does your head hurt? Perhaps you hit it when you slipped.”
No. no pain in his head. Just sharp throbbing in his palm. He lifted his hand and found it had been sliced across. Though already healing, the cut burned like fire. And ice. But the pain was rapidly fading, leaving behind the faint tingle of magic. And the uneasy awareness that something more had happened to him this morning.
Thor’s typically booming voice rang through the bedchamber, startling him. “We meet with Father later. Will you be well enough?”
Oh yes. Discussions of Thor’s impending coronation. He could not miss this.
Smiling up at his brother, he replied, “Of course I’ll be well enough.”
Thor smiled back, all brightness and power. He smoothed his hand over Loki’s hair. “Rest now.”
Leaning into his brother’s affectionate touch, Loki savored the contact so rare between them. It could never be more, but for even this he was grateful. “Thank you for being here,” he said, with complete sincerity.
“Always. You are my brother Loki. That will never change.”
As Thor strode out of the bedchamber, Loki closed his hand, tightening it into a fist, savoring the magic-tinged pain still resonating faintly in his body. Change was inevitable, and he would likely be the catalyst. But Thor was right in that at least they would always be brothers. Not even the uncertain future could ever take that from them.