The ice and brutality of Jotunheim was beginning to bore Loki.
Oh, it wasn't as though he didn't appreciate such things, once in a while. That was why he loved Angerboda, after all; the delight of the ache of bruises after rough, unplanned fights that turned into equally rough sex, all grunting and muttered curses.
But he longed for something more, something different. His fellow jotuns only looked baffled when he played his tricks upon them, and Angerboda quickly tired of his clever words, silencing him with rough kisses that made it clear that she did not understand the power that could lie in a simple turn of phrase. In Jotunheim, everyone's hands were too numb with cold to invent clever new things, and their minds too slow from an excess of mead to create lies or stories.
And then, one day, a stranger came to Jotunheim, his sword gleaming with the red blood of Loki's kinsmen, his eyes bright and intelligent.
His name was Odin.
Loki, who was slender as a sapling and handsome as any Aesir, and who had more fire in his blood than ice, approached the stranger and asked, "Have you come to rid the world of jotuns, then?"
And Odin replied, in a mild voice, "Not to rid the world of them, no. Just to tame the population a little. Otherwise they might decide to take revenge for Mimir's death and throw all the nine realms into chaos." Realizing something, he paused. "Or...are you one of them?"
He was young this stranger, at least for a god. But so was Loki, who smiled. "Just as sometimes an ugly old Jotun lord, with icicles in his beard, may sometimes father a daughter as beautiful as Vanir maiden, so it is with me. I have a Jotun father as ugly as sin, and here am I, incarnation of virtue."
That teased a laugh from Odin. "If you're the incarnation of virtue, what are you doing in Jotunheim?"
Loki felt a brief, unwelcome surge of guilt: how could he speak so to one who was obviously an Aesir god, one who had come to slay his people? Why, this stranger could murder Angerboda, and their first child, little Hel, kill them as though his blood was as cold as Jotunheim itself!
But, Loki decided suddenly, such qualms were ridiculous. Morals...morals were how one lived a boring life, full of nothing but plots of revenge for dead kinsmen. And so Loki took a deep breath and accepted betrayal into his soul.
"Biding my time," he said with an invitation in the lift of his eyebrow, "until a better opportunity comes along."
Loki saw the stranger inhale as deeply as Loki himself had just a moment before. "What's your name?" A pause. "Or what would you like me to call you, at least?"
"Loki." He left off Laufeyjarson. "And yours?"
"Odin." The stranger didn't need to give any other name, not when this one had been whispered and yelled through all the realms since the creation of Midgard. "I don't meet many men like you, especially not in Jotunheim."
Loki didn't even try to hide his sarcasm. "Well, when you've found out the runes and are worshipped by humanity as a god of wisdom, I imagine that it can be hard to find others to match your intelligence."
There was a challenge in Odin's smile. "Are you saying that you can?"
Loki took a step closer towards Odin, the other man's breath seeming hot in comparison with the cold of the air. "Would you like to test me?"
And Odin accepted the challenge.
They told riddles and fucked one another for the rest of the afternoon, Odin's bloody sword forgotten in the snow. When they had finished, both exhausted from it, Loki was satisfied in a way that he didn't think he ever had been before, however wonderful such things were with Angerboda.
"You will bring me back to Asgard, won't you?" Loki asked as he put his clothes back on, "Otherwise this encounter will have been quite a waste."
Odin nodded, buckling his belt as he did so. "I would like to have someone there as clever as you. Someone to make me laugh - to make all of us laugh."
But Loki thought in tricks and had begun thinking in betrayal, and knew that Odin was just as clever as he himself was. "I will not go to Asgard as a Jotun," he told Odin, leaving no room for argument in his tone, "your children and brothers will throw me all the way back to Jotunheim before you can tell them my name, even if you are the All-Father, or whatever it is you call yourself. You need to do something to make me an Aesir god, to bind me to you."
And suddenly, the plan seemed clear as though it was an uncluttered road laid out before him; he would become an Aesir god. They had no god of trickery, of cleverness, and humans needed someone like that. And as for how to become one, well, that was simple here, with Odin half undressed at his side.
"Make me your blood brother," he told Odin, an echo of a command in his voice.
The All-Father, the lord of all the Aesir obeyed.
Odin made the cuts on both their wrists, long shallow ones, and barely any blood had welled up there at all before he pressed his wrist against Loki's, holding them there for a few long minutes, whispering magic charms that Loki didn't recognize as he did so.
When Odin pulled his wrist away, the cuts healed instantly. Loki could feel Odin's magic and knowledge coursing through his blood, warm and satisfying, and smiled at the sensation.
He knew then, all that Odin knew, of Ragnarok, of the end of the world in fire and battle cries, and saw himself in it. He met Odin's eyes. He was smiling.
For the first time in his life, Loki felt overcome by something greater than himself. The idea that Odin had known when he saw Loki that this handsome young man would be the agent of the destruction of the world he had created, and had spoken to him anyway, simply because fate was unavoidable...it was completely beyond his comprehension, and he was, despite himself, in awe of it.
Loki didn't like that feeling. He resolved to never let himself feel it again.
Loki left Jotunheim then, saying goodbye to no one but Angerboda, who he promised to visit (she was pregnant with their second child at the time and craved solitude, so she didn't protest).
He went to Asgard.
There, no one much seemed to like him. Frigg, Odin's wife, a gentle, intelligent, not particularly beautiful woman, smiled at him and welcomed him to her realm, but said little else. Balder, one of Odin's sons and the one universally known as the kindest of all the Aesir gods tried to exercise that kindness on Loki, but Loki's jokes just confused him. And the rest of them all looked at him with expressions of barely hidden distrust at the meeting Odin had ordered to introduce Loki. No doubt they thought him a spy or assassin or, at the very least, a traitor to his own side in this informal war between Asgard and Jotunheim. Loki would have explained that he didn't have a side, and never would have a side, but such a comment would probably have been met by confused stares.
Thor, Odin's son and the god of war and thunder, however, made no attempt to hide his dislike for Loki. "He's a Jotun!" he practically bellowed, looking as though he was about to rip Loki to shreds, "Jotuns are our enemies, father!"
Odin seemed used to such a reaction. Loki wondered what Thor had been like as a child. "Loki isn't like other jotuns. He's one of us now."
Thor's fingers curled around the hammer (a normal one, no magical dwarven hammer yet) that he held in his right hand. "I don't know what trollish trickery he's used on you, but it won't stop me from killing him and freeing you from it."
Odin's voice was quiet. "I've made him my blood brother."
The room went silent. After a long pause, suddenly, practically everyone in the room wanted to speak to Loki, asking him polite questions, explaining their complicated genealogies to him. Only Thor remained in sullen silence. And that was all right; Thor seemed as though he would have fit in well enough in Jotunheim that Loki knew how to talk to him.
Eventually, Loki grew adjusted to life in Asgard, to the perpetual sunlight and games of chess, to the constant sounds of raucous rejoicing from Odin's hall. He went on adventures with Thor, and gambled and received startlingly numerous offerings from worshippers and had more children with Angerboda and tested his shape shifting to the limits, and created new species and dreamed of Ragnarok.
Then came a great war with the Vanir, whose world Loki didn't understand in the least, a war started by one beautiful woman who Loki thought clever and worthy of respect, but who was a witch and thief.
The war was fought by men other than Loki, and ended eventually by an exchange of hostages, which Loki thought sounded tiresome until he saw the hostages that the Vanir gods sent.
One, the old man Njord, was boring, but the other two were a brother and sister, young and attractive, with hair as light as sunlight. The boy was named Frey, and was optimistic and cheerful: a harvest god. He quickly became fast friends with Balder. He was uncomplicated.
The girl, however, was named Freya, and brought with her a little daughter and an aura of sorrow. She was beautiful, so much so that there were few on Asgard who did not seem in love with her. But her sorrow was a problem, for on Asgard there were none with great, all consuming sorrows, and no one there knew how to handle such things.
Frey told the others, quietly, that her husband was lost, and she still dreamed that he might return to her.
Then it seemed clear to Loki; the girl was lonely.
He asked Frey all he could about Freya's husband, whose name was Od, and then went one night into Freya's bedchamber, where he found her asleep with golden tears upon her cheek. He shifted into a form that resembled all the descriptions he had heard of her husband, and woke her more gently than he was wont to, whispering to her things about how this would be the last time he could ever see her, and how she would have to learn to live without him - rubbish like that. And then had made love to her, because he couldn't let such an opportunity pass by.
Thereafter, she was as jovial as the rest of them, and (so he heard) cried only in her sleep. He told only Odin of what he had done, and Odin, who had lost an eye and grown less adventurous, looked at him sternly. "That wasn't right, Loki," he told him, and that, Loki thought later, was the beginning of the end.
Odin eventually decided that Loki should be married. Loki suspected that Odin, having been settled down himself, wanted the same for Loki, but, having no way of proving that intention, didn't mention it. He married the girl Odin picked for him, a boring, submissive one named Sygin, but felt resentment stirring in him at that, potent as it had been when he lived in Jotunheim.
There were more incidents that aroused that resentment, times when his pranks weren't so easily forgiven as they had been before, and Asgard seemed to be a prison, filled with golden chains. He no longer found himself able to accept the imprisonment of his children with Angerboda, or his furtive visits to her. Odin's ever more self-righteous and paternal tone made him hate the man.
Something, he realized, had to change.
The golden chessman and good intentions of Asgard were beginning to bore Loki.
Ragnarok was coming.