Loki’s latest fascination was searching out the hidden pathways between worlds. Heimdall was convinced each one of Loki’s trips through the wrinkles and eyelets of space would end in disaster; no matter how many times his son returned safely, he still worried. It was, he supposed, the way the passages removed Loki from him so completely. Looking for him in those hours was like looking for the dead.
But when Loki returned like this—all bright-eyed exuberance, his cheeks pinked as if he’d been out in the cold—Heimdall remembered why he didn’t burden the boy with his own cares.
“Where were you this time?” he said, amused now that he could see Loki had come back intact. “And do you know how close you’ve come to being late?”
“Hela’s. And yes, I do—not at all, thank you very much. I’m perfectly on time.” He conjured up a mirror and began combing his hair, slicking it down with a bit of already-melting ice he flicked off his fingertips. “I wouldn’t miss the coronation.”
“If you’re going in and out of Hela’s when I can’t track you, tell me that you’re at least being cautious about it.” The last thing they needed was Hela seeing the hem of Loki’s cloak flutter out whatever makeshift door he was using. She had become passably fond of Loki, but a crow could eat from your hand every day and still peck you to the bone if it had the chance. Heimdall hoped for the best for her but did not trust her, not entirely, not with his son.
But he had seen the reluctant softness in her eyes when Loki had lit up the dull white of her chambers, when he had made her Vanir fireworks shows and Jotun orchards, visions that had lingered long after he’d gone. He couldn’t forget the sight of her trailing her fingers through a warmly colored wake of sparks, like a woman holding out her hand to feel the rain.
What the All-Father had done with her had been both brutal and unsustainable. Her death, if it truly did require the death of all Asgard, was likewise. Loki’s way forward, though, had a chance of someday ending in peace. He could hope for a reconciliation. Stranger things had happened.
“I’m careful,” Loki said. “I promise. I just wanted to let her know what day it was.”
Heimdall understood why—Thor’s ascent was Odin’s descent, and Hela was allowed to scoff at a half-fallen enemy and Loki was allowed the vicarious pleasure of it—but he hoped that would be the end of it for now. He didn’t want bitter delight to be what Loki took from the day.
But lately shadows hadn’t clung to Loki for long. He just exhaled, shaking himself a little, and said, “But enough of the not-family side of the family,” and smiled. “It isn’t about them. How do I look?”
“I’m sure your usual adherents will be pleased,” Heimdall said lightly.
Loki had drawn still more followers on Asgard after the crisis with Hela. Whispers in the streets: There he goes. I heard he ventured singlehandedly into Helheim to retrieve the All-Father. The accounts were all charmingly garbled, though Ivar would never answer for exactly how much of that was intentional; he had a bland innocence he trotted out whenever Heimdall asked. No, he was sure he couldn’t say, strange how things like that happened. I heard he descended into the Void. He’s going to be the next Gatekeeper, that’s why the All-Father had to give him up to Heimdall. Those talents come around so rarely.
He had no doubt Odin encouraged that part of the fiction. It gilded all his mistakes with necessity: yes, he’d given up his beloved son for the greater good of Asgard. He was a tragic figure. Heimdall wouldn’t even call those things lies. But to be tragic in error was less glorious than to be tragic in vindication, and Odin was Asgardian, was Asgard itself. He had chosen the tale that brought him the most fame. They all bore with it, a small enough price to pay for what they had in return.
Odin had changed Asgard but had not been able to change himself; he had outlived the best of his time. He was as glad to see Thor’s ascent as any of them.
Heimdall hoped he found quiet, in what days remained to him.
I found transformation once, long after I thought my ways were set in stone.
“I have a surprise for you,” Loki said, recalling him to the present.
“Hmm. I remember some of your surprises. How worried should I be?”
Loki tilted his head, considering it, or pretending to. “Moderately. But—oh, here it comes.” The Bifrost was calling them, announcing visitors; its voice was like a snatch of melody running through their heads. Whenever it came, he could feel Loki’s mind next to his, just as attuned to the song, to the instrument itself. They would hear it often today, right up until they closed the Observatory for the ceremony proper. Visitors were coming from everywhere, a deluge the likes of which Heimdall couldn’t remember ever having seen before.
They opened the way.
Brynn and Freydis were among the earliest guests to arrive. Heimdall and Loki embraced them both.
“You look lovely, grandmamas,” Loki said warmly.
They did, and Heimdall was relieved, in his heart of hearts, to find them unchanged since his last visit to Ingberg. He would have more time with them yet. Freydis was wearing the height of Vanir finery and spent some time explaining to her bemused family how the various bits of it hooked and laced together; Brynn, who had helped get her into it, provided acerbic commentary. She herself wore red and gold, Thor’s chosen colors, but Heimdall was amused to see onyx and emerald earrings sparkle whenever she turned her head. She conceded the day to her king, but could not go without acknowledging her grandson.
“We have extraordinary pride of place at the ceremony,” Brynn said. “Which one of you do I have to blame for that?”
“It wasn’t like you were going to decide to sneak out halfway through out of boredom,” Heimdall said. Brynn exercised that privilege at the theater, entirely without apology, but she would have sat through much more tedious things for Thor, he was sure. “And the queen insisted.”
“You are almost Thor’s family, after all,” Loki said. “She could hardly put you anywhere else. Mother and I spent an eternity plotting out where everyone would go.”
“So it is your fault, then,” Freydis said, the corner of her mouth quirking up.
“I’m afraid so.”
“I tried to protect you from all this,” Heimdall said to him.
“I’m the grandson,” Loki pointed out. “She’s powerless against me.”
“Don’t tempt me,” Brynn said. “I’ll think of you when my feet begin to ache and I can’t so much as shift my weight without a hundred eyes on me.” She held them both once more, her kiss against Heimdall’s cheek as firm as ever.
“I’m not having children,” Loki said once they were gone. “I can’t imagine it, anyway. I hope you’re not wed to the idea of having grandchildren to bounce on your knee. And spoil over your actual child.”
No, he didn’t daydream of grandchildren—though he thought he would enjoy them if they came—but he would never weary of hearing Loki offhandedly trust that they were family. The first few times he’d done it, he had spoken carefully, as if the words would break if mishandled and whatever truth they carried was as delicate as soap bubbles. Now he said such things easily. Heimdall couldn’t tire of it, could not take for granted his son growing to take his love for him for granted.
“No,” Heimdall said, “I can tell you’ll keep on building a menagerie instead of having children.”
Loki rolled his eyes. “One horse. One cat.”
“One big bear-dog.”
“That’s Thor’s!” Loki protested. “I don’t even especially like it. He just needs it out in the country where it has room to run. And you have to admit it’s entertaining to watch it try to keep pace with Sleipnir.”
Heimdall did concede that, because it was hard to not enjoy the sight of the enormous dog striving to match the horse’s gait, taking Sleipnir for one of its former sledge partners. He would swear the dog looked more horse-like by the day. Thor had given the Jotuns several shaggy ponies in exchange, and the last Heimdall had heard, they were becoming a fad there—
More and more guests.
Palace security would be a nightmare. They had even had to share Ivar with his old colleagues—it was odd to see him in full armor again, a peaceful man dressed for war—and the last few times Heimdall had met with him he had looked bruised around the eyes from lack of sleep. Heimdall didn’t envy the guards their task. The open coronation was a triumph of New Asgard—peace and prosperity and diplomacy and all shining ideas—but underneath the surface were a lot of well-sharpened swords and hyper-alert warriors all too aware of the disasters that could come.
The worst disaster, people said, consisted of a handful of official invitations; the bearers of those arrived soon enough.
Heimdall stepped aside, leaving his duties to his son, and Loki turned the sword to let the delegation from Jotunheim into the heart of Asgard.
No Laufey, of course. There was a limit to what both realms would tolerate. But their old hosts had been saddled with diplomatic-sounding titles and coaxed into acting as ambassadors.
Loki was stiff with them, carefully formal, carefully polite. “Egil, Trine, Oddvar, honored guests from far away who are received with gratitude, welcome.” (It was more concise in Jotung, Heimdall assumed.) “We are very happy to have you here. Your cousin Illmay will join us later.”
“That will be nice,” Trine said. They were looking around the golden Observatory with a kind of bitter awe—Heimdall, having seen the beauties of Jotunheim, could almost see it from their perspective, could see much wealth and little taste. There were times when closer knowledge didn’t bring about closer friendship, and the Norns knew there was much for Jotun visitors to despise here. Squandered riches, prejudice, forgetfulness, vanity.
But Heimdall had hope for the alliance, awkward and fledgling as it was. He had some faith in the draw of people to worlds other than their own.
And greater faith in the way Egil turned to Loki and offered him a stilted but sincere smile. “I’ve written a song for the coronation.”
The atmosphere lightened instantly. Loki was delighted, the verse Egil sang for them appeared reasonably in Thor’s favor, and Trine unbent enough to talk to them of orchards, whereupon they all had to be shown the sweet-wish tree that had indeed taken root.
“The color of the leaves is different,” Trine said, gently turning one over with their fingertip. “Look how dark the veins are on the underside. Generations from now, any trees this one’s seeded will be different from ours. You’ll have made a new species.”
It already felt like the only one of its kind, since on Asgard it stood alone and was called by another name. Loki had tried in vain to spread about its proper species, but people called it the trickster tree instead, the thing that had come into their midst by surprise. Brought there by the prince who was not a prince, the Gatekeeper’s son who was still a mystery to them. The foundling friendly with Frost Giants. Children ate the fruit only on dares from their friends, as if there were a risk to it.
Heimdall knew they saw Loki through a kaleidoscope, ever-shifting in his colors; they saw more tricks than he’d ever even mustered. He would always be glamoured that way.
But there were enough people now, Heimdall thought, who saw him for himself. Hearthmates.
He could remember, very distantly, when Loki had been a myth to him too—a child, yes, and one he’d had some regard for, but a myth all the same, a dervish of mischief and startling resentment and wheedling. He had almost been a myth to himself in those days. The Guardian of the Bifrost, who stood at his post without fail. Without sleep, without friends. Without a home.
A far cry from now.
In another, later lull, Loki said, “Oddvar slipped, did you notice? ‘Prince Loki.’”
He hadn’t heard. He almost wished Loki had missed it too—it was one more worry in a day that hardly needed the help. “You knew they’d start getting answers once they knew what questions to ask. All it would have taken was an enquiry to Vanaheim and someone on Vanaheim asking someone here.”
“I know. Laufey will have suspicions sooner or later.” Loki looked off into the middle distance, his eyes unfocusing as they usually did when he scryed. Strange, Heimdall noted, for the color not to shift; he would have expected at least a flicker of silver. “I asked Thor what we’d do if they stormed our gates once they had the Casket back. I didn’t think to ask what we’d do if they came for me.”
“The answer’s the same,” Heimdall said. “War.”
“And this is what comes of being nice,” Loki said. “More trouble. Diplomacy is irritating.” He scuffed his foot against the floor, as if in search of solidity, clear cause and effect: a boot-mark on marble. “But they did look more fleshed-out, I think. Healthier. I didn’t know they were supposed to be darker-skinned like that, but it must be the Casket. I should ask Lady Vigdis.”
“You could as easily ask Egil or Trine or Oddvar now,” Heimdall pointed out. “And bringing back the Casket was the right thing, no matter what follows.”
Loki looked at him sharply. “You don’t have any regard for consequences, then?”
“Some,” Heimdall allowed. “But even you and I can’t see every consequence, no matter where we look. You have to rely on some other compass.”
“I rely on you,” Loki said quietly.
They were overwhelmed again before Heimdall could respond, and from there, the rush did not stop, would not stop until they closed the gates for the ceremony to begin. Illmay’s arrival was the last highlight of the drudgery, for she had come with Lady Steward Helga and their child, a tiny little scrap of wilted-looking redness, beautiful and well-mannered enough to grasp Heimdall’s finger as if to shake his hand. The two women looked weary but happy, and Illmay pulled Loki off to the side to have some rushed conference with him that ended with Loki hugging her so fervently he lifted her up off the ground. He came back grinning.
“We’re to be invited to a wedding,” he said to Heimdall.
Illmay flushed pink and took Helga’s hand.
Helga said, “It’s past time. And with Asgard—” She smiled softly. “Things are changing.”
She would risk her post, then, to marry Illmay, a woman who was one-quarter Jotun, who had once not been able to rise above the level of consort. She’d risk it partly for love and partly for their child, but she’d risk it also because the odds had at last turned in their favor. Asgard had at last extended Jotunheim its courtesy—and in so doing, given Vanaheim cause to rethink their own beliefs. No more bolstering of prejudice against Jotuns just to keep Asgard’s favor. They too could move on.
Consequences, he thought, looking at Loki, who nodded back. It was good to see some simple, uncomplicated happiness, so long in the making.
They praised the baby in the circuitous Vanir way—
“Heimdall, isn’t that a beautiful child?”
“Her mothers must be pleased.”
“And largely sleepless,” Helga said. “She’s a very opinionated creature.”
“She’ll be quiet during the coronation, of course,” Illmay said. She sounded perfectly sure of it. Heimdall would have to ask Freydis if even Vanir babes came with a sense of ceremony.
A quarter of an hour later, they closed Asgard off from the rest of the universe. In name, at least. Heimdall liked the way their realm was, in truth, bristling with newness and foreignness, with Vanir stewards and their Vanir-Jotun fiancées, with Jotun families, with expatriates like Heimdall’s mothers, with emissaries from Xandar, with shadow-figments and living trees and Kronan warriors, with tethered spaceships and Loki’s hidden paths. They were no self-sufficient thing. And here, on the eve of Thor’s reign, seemed the best time to honor that. They had their traditions—the sword would remain as it was, turned ceremonially towards no coming and going, a standstill of all else for this singular changing of kings—but their truth was broader. Heimdall had worried once that they would grow provincial. If today went well, he would worry less.
Loki looked at him. “Are you ready?”
“If you are.”
Loki was paler than usual. He’d been unsteady off and on ever since the coronation date had been fixed—sometimes he would be at a dizzying height of self-assurance, sometimes closed-off, and sometimes frightened, as he hadn’t been since he’d been a child. Heimdall had found him on the floor again last week. He’d fallen asleep sitting on the rug, his back against the wall, as if he’d thought lying down would be too great a concession to an old and broken habit. The last few days had been at least been a little better.
Loki said, “If it’s truly going to happen, then I’m more than ready for it.”
“If anything seems to be going wrong, just run up to the dais and crown Thor yourself,” Heimdall said.
“You’re joking, but I might.”
He had only half been joking. Whatever set Thor down on the throne of Asgard today would work for him, rushed or not, formal or not.
Loki had had to let go of this day once before. Heimdall couldn’t stand to think of him doing it again.
“Thor chose the day himself,” Heimdall said. “It won’t be undone. He’s prepared.”
“And he’ll be carrying Mjolnir,” Loki said, brightening. “Which is to our advantage. No need to worry when you can haul off and smash the whole palace to rubble if you choose to. It’s about time the blasted thing came in handy.”
Loki often complained that Thor’s weapon of choice was appallingly unsubtle, which Thor always answered by saying Loki only meant it was harder to fight off with his daggers. It was the kind of trivia that would never make it into history book; ephemera that Heimdall always tried to remember.
He recorded, too, the lonely sound of their steps on the bridge. All Asgard waited for them. When they took their places before the dais, the palace guards would sound their horns, Ivar would join him and Loki, and the ceremony—such a one as even Asgard had never seen—would begin.
Ordinarily Loki would have made some crack about how awkward it would be if they took a tumble off the bridge and died horribly, leaving everyone else to sit around and wait. But Heimdall didn’t think there would be any more jests from him today until it was all settled. His jaw was tight. He seemed to be holding his breath.
They reached the palace and proceeded through the throng. People parted before them, a curtain opening the way to their place at the very front.
In another life, in a world that made no distinctions between family and royal family, Loki would have stood on the dais beside his brother. Heimdall wouldn’t have blamed him if it had chafed, but he saw no sign it did—Loki had cared very much that they have the place he thought they deserved, he was as status-conscious as ever, but what he wanted was not the prince’s post but the Gatekeeper’s. Having gotten it, he was smugly satisfied, and went on only to be excruciatingly picky about where all his friends were to be put. Heimdall didn’t envy Frigga’s task of working out the arrangements with him.
But he was glad they had done it together. Things between mother had son had been easier and sweeter of late. The distance between them had shrunk—not to nothing, but to far less than before. He saw Frigga’s mannerisms on Loki once more, heard her turns of phrase in his speeches. Their claim on each other might have once been delicate, but Heimdall thought it would grow strong. They needed time, that was all—time outside of plans and politics, time without fear and without reluctance.
Heimdall saw her now, entering the throne room. The beauty of her generation, clothed in white and gold, with rubies at her throat—and onyx and emeralds in her ears. She took her throne.
Then came Odin to take his. He wore gold armor, fully arrayed for battle. He’d been resplendent once, when thus equipped, and was not so now—but almost, and what a trick of power that was. Heimdall knew him to be exhausted and doubtful and full of self-recrimination, knew him to be in poor health, knew him to be a man who had destroyed much of the happiness life had given him, who had failed as a father. But he had succeeded as a king, more than any king of Asgard before him ever had. He had affected a transformation that would outlive him, had turned the tide towards the peace and kindness that would now unseat him. He had shaped the world against his own interests and redefined how the men of Asgard thought of glory. That was the man in the murals and almost the man before them now. Almost resplendent.
Almost: Hela’s flatly white prison, the end of the Valkyries with girls like Gara and Sif left to train without much hope, Thor grown up much too young, Frigga’s heart broken. Loki’s hurt never quite gone, only faded and faded and sometimes brought back, like a war wound aching in the rain. Heimdall cared more about that than anything else.
But he did kneel, all the same. To get the day done with—and because Odin was, for these few minutes more, his king. And if Heimdall could no longer quite love him, he had more pride day by day in the realm Odin’s choices had helped to craft and had not been able to destroy.
He was a king of Asgard on his last day of power. He had the glory of a star that was burning out.
Odin took his throne for the last time. He raised Gungnir and brought it down against the floor with a crash that resounded through the hushed room.
Thor entered, flanked by his escorts, his brothers-in-arms. They fell away at the front of the crowd, Volstagg raising his head a little to Heimdall and Loki, and Thor went to the dais and dropped to his knees. As low as all the rest of them for this one moment.
When he next stood, he was king. Odin rose, giving him the chair, and receded into the shadows. He would not see the rest of the ceremony but would have a kind of rehearsed death, a total clearing of the field for his son.
Bors had not done that, but each coronation was newly wrought. And this had been Odin’s gesture, the one he had chosen—chosen perhaps, Heimdall thought, for Loki.
Loki grabbed Heimdall’s arm tightly, his fingers digging in so hard it hurt, and Heimdall covered Loki’s hand with his own and squeezed it back. Yes. That was it.
There were speeches Heimdall barely heard. His understanding of how the ceremony was going on was limited to the gradual loosening of Loki’s hold on him as Loki accepted that it was really done, that his brother was king, that he wouldn’t have to burn himself down to nothing with fear and defiance. Thor was king and Loki was free.
Loki’s hand finally fell back to his side when Thor took the throne. He was a good fit for it, Heimdall thought, with a fierce pride in his son’s brother, with a deep loyalty to his new king. Thor knew too much of power to wear it lightly, and because of that, he wore it well.
It always fell to the new king, at his formal ascension, to make a handful of proclamations—charitable acts, usually, or pardons. Gestures of mercy. In certain severe times, sentences of justice. Heimdall knew he planned to reinstate the Valkyries.
Thor said, “The throne summons Loki Heimdallson.”
Loki squeezed Heimdall’s arm once more, briefly this time, and walked forward—his stride was steady, controlled—and knelt there.
“My king,” he said, in a voice meant to resonate. He had magnified it somehow, making sure everyone could hear him. Heimdall would have smiled at the theatrics if he had been able to spare the attention for it. He was held by what was happening in front of him.
Thor spoke to the crowd. “Before you all, as my first act as Asgard’s king, I swear that Loki Heimdallson is and ever has been my brother. I don’t know if that counts as a proclamation or not, but it feels like one. Stand up, brother.”
Loki stood. The smile on his face was one Heimdall knew, though he never saw it often enough.
“And now, certainly an actual proclamation, I herby formally swear you in as the apprentice Gatekeeper of Asgard, to assume the full role if and when your father ever tires of it or should you come to some division of labor. Do you accept this post for the good of all Asgard?”
“I do, brother.”
Thor’s smile, on the other hand, was new—or so old Heimdall had thought it gone for good. Unburdened pleasure, as electric as lightning. “Then let it be so. Stand down, Loki, brother, Gatekeeper, citizen of Asgard.”
Heimdall didn’t miss the significance of that last bit, the gauntlet thrown to any listeners, Aesir or Jotun or otherwise, who might wish to decide that Loki’s place was elsewhere. Saying essentially what Heimdall had told Loki in the Observatory—Thor would go to war to keep him home.
Loki returned to his place at Heimdall’s side. There was a glow to him, a kind of radiating happiness that could almost have been a glamour, a trick of imagined moonlight, if it were not so sincere, if Heimdall didn’t know him so well. He had waited more than half his life for this moment, and it had come at last, and perfectly.
Heimdall hadn’t expected to see his son again for the rest of the night, and, in all honesty, wouldn’t have been surprised to not have seen him for over half the next day. Coronations were infamously drunken affairs, wine and mead and still stronger spirits flowing freely, all paid for by the crown. And Loki had much to celebrate.
“You could go celebrate with him,” Ivar suggested.
“I’m bad at parties,” Heimdall said dryly. “And it was my plan to make sure that you could celebrate—or at least sleep.” Ivar had been cast back and forth from the Observatory to the palace for days and he looked uncharacteristically worn and disheveled, half uniformed and half informal. “You should take advantage of it.”
Ivar cleared his throat, looking sheepish. “Ah. I promised Huw I’d meet him here—it should be easier than finding each other in the crush.”
He felt sure he must be missing something. “Huw.”
Ivar nodded. His face had gone an unusual shade of pink. “He can be quite agreeable—under certain circumstances.”
“Well,” Heimdall said, unsure what to do with this information, “you’re owed a good evening, certainly. I’m sure he is as well, after the all the chaos they must have been dealing with at the palace.” Huw, of all people. He rested his hands on the Bifrost sword and looked out. The stars hung there, making everything else seem small in comparison—though nothing felt small. Not today. Not even Ivar’s inexplicable choice of a sweetheart. “I wish you both happiness.”
“Early days yet,” Ivar said. “But thank you.” He leaned against the wall, his gaze only on the floor. “Should you want me to return to the palace, now that Prince Loki’s position is official—"
“No.” He hoped Ivar would hear the warmth of the response and the immediacy of it. “No, and Loki would go into open revolt if I did want you to, for what that’s worth. You’re invaluable here. And with three of us to stand watch, Asgard will be safer and we all might get a little more rest.”
“You can finally do all those home repairs you keep putting off,” Ivar suggested.
“Oh, I think Loki likes having an injustice or two to complain of. Though maybe he’s due a fresh one.”
“He has a great deal of freshness to contend with just now,” Ivar said. “An old grievance might be of some comfort.”
“I’ll tell him you said so when he mentions again that we haven’t put an extension on the kitchen.” He caught sight of a figure in the distance. “I believe that’s your assignation.”
Ivar grinned and straightened up, smoothing down the front of his shirt. Baffling.
“Good night, Gatekeeper. Long live the king—and our prince.”
He met Huw on the bridge and Heimdall, still baffled by this development, watched as they exchanged a quick kiss and then proceeded back to the palace and its revelry.
Leaving him alone with the stars.
He wasn’t free of all worries, but for now, in this quiet, still darkness, he couldn’t feel the weight of any. He allowed that lapse in responsibility. It was a warm and beautiful night and Thor was king and Loki was safe. Asgard and Jotunheim had mingled under one roof and neither had suffered any bloodshed for it. Everyone he loved was well. And Loki was safe—which he would always come back to, which was a thought he could have had every minute without tiring of it.
Anything else could wait until tomorrow.
“I was just thinking of you,” he said lightly as Loki stepped out of thin air. Show-off. “Whether you’d actually like it if we expanded the kitchen or not.”
“Prosaic,” Loki said, raising his eyebrows.
“We suddenly have the luxury of a few more prosaic concerns.”
“Yes.” Loki smiled. He was a little drunk, Heimdall noted without surprise, but not more than a little; he was still upright and while his voice was more languid than usual, his words were clear. But his expression was soft, softer than even happiness tended to make it. He looked very young. “I keep thinking of other things—but yes, we do. And yes, I would, in answer to your question. It’s ridiculously tiny, I’ve said so a hundred times.”
“Was all that your surprise?” Heimdall asked. “Thor’s summoning of you?”
“No, of course not. You knew that was coming. Thor and I hammered out the specifics together, obviously, but you couldn’t have been thrown by it.” His smile hadn’t faded. He was beginning to look like Edda curled up around a saucer of cream. And—
“Your eyes,” Heimdall said.
They were the same shining silver he’d always known they would be, the lake of Ingberg distilled to its essence; they changed Loki’s face completely. He could not help but miss what was gone, because he’d always loved Loki’s eyes as they were, but he’d known how much Loki had longed for this, how hard he had worked for it. This too demanded celebration. He could save missing what was gone, like the rest of his troubles, for later.
“They’re remarkable,” he said honestly. “I thought they’d come in while you were scrying, not—” He shook his head, putting together the sudden manifestation of Loki’s silver eyes with his gloating look and his promise of a surprise. “And they may well have. How long have you had them glamoured back to ordinary?”
“Two weeks,” Loki said, a little too proudly for someone admitting to a fortnight’s worth of deception. “I wanted to wait to tell you until after the coronation.”
So as not to steal Thor’s moment of triumph, Heimdall deciphered, or, for that matter, have Thor steal his own.
“I’ll keep them normal for another week or two,” Loki said, “with everyone else, so there’s a decent interval, and then I’ll tell Thor and Mother and everybody. But I wanted you to know before anyone else and—I know they’re not gold but I’d hoped that you would still be pleased.” He looked off into the night and Heimdall realized that he would no longer know for sure whether Loki’s attention was in the room or not. He would be unfailingly tied to the far-sight now, never moving in and out. He would keep his other talents—had obviously kept the illusions—but this was the one that had become part of him, the one that had changed him to make itself at home.
And he was wistful as well as pleased and, naturally, proud. None of that made him understand what Loki was saying, or why he felt called to say it with his eyes averted, as if confessing to something shameful. He was beginning to feel he had some key mistake somewhere.
“Why would your eyes be gold?”
Loki turned back to him, looking stung. “Why shouldn’t they be?”
“Because you’ve not, to the best of my knowledge, scryed with gold? Let alone spent made a habit of it.” He put his hand on the back of Loki’s neck. The pieces were coming together for him. “I didn’t know you thought Gatekeeper’s eyes were always gold. They’re not, though it’s a common shade. Gold was how I learned, at the beginning—looking into a plate. You learned on the water—I’ve seen silver in your eyes off and on for years now, when you scryed.”
Loki blinked at him. “It changes from one person to the next? Just because of how they studied?”
“And how you think, perhaps. It’s not a sure thing—you know magic, very little is sure. I had the gold plate and I thought of hawks, flying over everything, surveying it all—so I came to have these. My predecessor called them bird-eyes.” Gold and silver. He sighed and shook his head. “Loki, you don’t have a lesser color, a lesser worth. You have your own.” He ran his thumb up under Loki’s braid and flicked it gently. “And trust me, if we’re the only two people on all of Asgard with metallic eyes, the family resemblance will still be there.”
“My own,” Loki said. He exhaled. “I always thought—I took you as the measure of the universe.”
Heimdall shook his head. “You’ll terrify me, saying that. You’re your own measure, Loki.”
“That will take some getting used to.”
“You have time,” Heimdall said.
Loki’s smile returned, as true as before. “Yes. That’s true.” He looked around at their new Asgard, and this time Heimdall did know what he was seeing, did know that Loki was with him still. “I could stand watch with you. See the morning in.”
“You should be with your brother,” Heimdall said gently.
“I was, until not ten minutes ago. He’s satisfying himself with wine and song and a king’s appetites generally. He’ll want me to nurse his unbelievable hangover and the awkwardness of his various conquests—and he’ll want me for after that. Often, I hope, and forever. But not now. I’d like to watch the sunrise with you—and then never be awake at this hour again.”
Heimdall chuckled. “I couldn’t refuse such an offer.”
So they watched as the hours passed and the light drove the stars from the skies—though not from their gaze. Dawn came, turning the white towers pink and gold, and before the new morning could end the holiday and usher in the rest of their lives, Heimdall found himself thinking of the past. Of an early day when he and Loki had barely known who they were to each other. Loki had torn the whisker off the toy cat Thor had given him and Heimdall had promised him he would fix it.
And he had, though such darning wasn’t his strength, and Loki had watched him all the while. He wondered now where the cat had gotten to and he hoped Loki had kept it. He could not forget the way Loki had looked at him once the work was done, the way the mending of that bedraggled cat had become, quite suddenly, the highest of his accomplishments.