Loki never knew what he was going to do from one day to the next. He didn’t have a routine but found that he did have a preference for a coffee shop on Ninth Avenue that served an excellent dark roast and had a pleasant atmosphere to quietly read and observe. One thing for Midgard was their incredible supply of literature. While he’d discovered much of it to be utter rubbish, lurid romances, and erroneously inaccurate in terms of prose, quality, and scientific value, some of them were actually able to hold his attention from start to finish.
The apartment he’d bought with money he most definitely pulled out of thin air was a loft not far from a massive library and the coffee shop was across the street from a bookstore. What books he didn’t purchase, he spent long enough perusing and touching and leaving the barest traces of his magic to allow him to conjure them when he wished. Sometimes he returned them, sometimes not, and sometimes he did the Midgardians a favor and set them on fire. Loki was well traveled throughout several realms, and not once had he ever come across a creature that ‘sparkled in the sunlight’ or one that so went against its inherent nature. For the love of a human of all things.
But Loki didn’t have a routine because that would be mundane for one who possessed the moniker of god of mischief, therefore Loki did not have routine. However, he frequented the coffee shop often enough that the barista could expect to be tipped well, that he would glare at anyone sitting at the table in the corner until they moved, and that he could recognize regulars. Which he was not.
So when the woman with the red hair walked in and immediately met his eyes as they were drawn to that amazing shock of color, he thought that maybe he shouldn’t come here as often. Because he knew that she had a purpose here more than getting a wonderful cup of coffee. And he knew that it was him. Who else, but a god among mortals?
Loki closed his ‘borrowed’ book without marking his place, without needing to, and laid it on the table next to his empty mug as she bypassed the counter and walked toward him. He took the opportunity to observe her. There was poise in her step, a surety of self. A lesser person would be jealous of that kind of confidence.
And her hair…Valhala, her hair really was ridiculous in its beauty. It was worse than Sif’s had been before he’d cut it all off. Where the warrior’s had been shining, bright gold, this woman’s was cherries and roses spread across rubies. Her eyes were vivid and alive, unlike his own pale jade eyes. She would be beautiful even by Asgardian standards.
“Hello,” she said, hand resting on the back of the opposite chair. “My name is Jean Grey. Do you mind if I sit? I’d like to discuss a few things with you, if I may.”
Loki stared at her silently before acquiescing with regal nod. The chairs and tables were the type one would find in the library of an old money home, and they were one set of other mismatched others throughout the shop. He sat back, making use of armrests and assumed the airs and graces of a king indulging one of his subjects.
“I am Loki Noson. I warn you now, if you’re trying to sell me something or you’re a Jehovah witness…”
“No, nothing like that. I’m afraid that I will stray into the area of politics though,” she said with a good-natured, brilliant smile. “Senator Kelly is pushing for a law that will require every mutant to register, as if mutants are weapons. Likely, what they consider the dangerous ones will be taken away from the general public by the government. This law will set a precedent for the way mutants are treated in the future, like something other than people. You’re aware of this?” she asked when faced with his blank stare, the one Thor said made him appear as if he were looking through a person.
Loki knew of Midgard’s current events. It interested him in ways the machinations of bees interested the protagonist of his latest book. There was potential for so much chaos in what the televisions and newspapers told him of the world. The Iron Man and a green beast, symbols of technological brilliance and government’s dirty secrets and what else were they hiding? Freaks with unnatural powers walking among common people, threatening humanity with their very existence. The misguided actions of a senator. And across the ocean, wars and rumors of war. The games on Asgard paled in comparison to the outright pandemonium he could create here. He can see the threads that weave the whole tapestry together, see the threads that intersect and the ones that never will. It all comes together in front of him so clearly, and it would be so easy to pick at a loose string and just pull until it’s unraveled and wild.
But the appeal for that type of thing has dimmed since his time in the nothing. The thought doesn’t even thrill him.
“I do not live under a rock, Miss Grey. I fail to see why you felt the need to discuss it with me.”
Though he had an idea…
“I work at a school for children with certain gifts. We help them learn to manage their abilities, give them a safe place to live, prepare them for when the world can accept people like us.”
He arched a brow. “Like us?”
She glanced around carefully. The other patrons had gone back to their own business. She set her hand next to his mostly empty cup. The cup lifted perhaps an inch off of the table and hovered. Loki smiled, because these humans were at times too adorable. Mutants, rather. Oh, and she thought he was one of them. Assumptive, but he wouldn’t hold that against her.
“Telekinesis,” he murmured. “How is it that you found me?”
Not even Heimdall would be able to find him. He’d already proved that the bridge-keeper wasn’t as all-seeing as he’d have them to believe. No doubt one who’d fallen through the absence of everything would slip his eyes, doubly so once that one recovered his wits and strength enough to hide himself completely.
“That would be Professor Xavier’s doing,” she said in a voice filled with fondness and gratitude. These human were at times even more transparent than Thor with their emotions. “He was able to sense you with his telepathy. The school is his.”
So the mutant was able to sense him, was he? Get inside his mind? Loki had never dealt with readers for a long period of time before. They existed in some of the other realms he visited, but they were all very wary of outsiders and he of them.
“What is it that you do? If you don’t mind me asking,” she said in that abrupt manner.
He raised both brows and widened his eyes in a show of shock and innocence.
“You mean your professor wasn’t able to glean that from my mind? I should think that would be the first thing to find.”
She shook her head. “Professor Xavier wouldn’t invade anyone like that. Neither would I.”
A lie, white but dingy with use.
“At least not without a good reason,” he surmised, smiling and not the least bit warmly. “Have I given you one?”
“Yes,” she admitted after a slight pause with a shamed look. Completely false, but women had to play coy games everywhere. A rule of their race. “I apologize for that, really, Mr. Noson. But I wasn’t able to read you.”
“Oh? Why is that?”
“It might have to do with your powers,” she shrugged and effortlessly drew the conversation back to the matter of his powers.
This time he smiled, and there was humor behind it. Clever, curious creature.
“That’s a possibility. I am gifted with a great many talents.”
He laid his hands on either side of his book. Then he folded his hands on the table where it had been a second before. Her expression was minimally impressed, but it truly was a fairly simple trick.
“Why should I come to your school, Miss Grey? I don’t need your help, somewhere to live, or your…preparations.”
She peered at him, and he was struck by the intense color of her. Was she trying to read his mind now or merely gathering her thoughts?
“How many years have you lived alone with what you are? Everyone at that school knows what it’s like to be different and to try to fit the idea of what everyone else thinks they’re supposed to be. I used to think that there really was something wrong with me. I thought everyone would hate me. I thought I was alone.
“We will see you as you are, and not one of us will judge you because of it. You won’t be alone.”
And with that speech, Loki no longer found this amusing in the slightest. He wanted away from her, this woman and her too bright eyes. Loki would not be the one to leave. This place was his, and he would not be run off by her.
He scoffed. “We’re done here.”
She looked as though she wanted to say more but could see it would do her no good.
“If you change your mind,” she slid a card with an insignia and a number to the center of the table, “that’s my cell. Call anytime.”
He looked between it and her, making no move to pick it up. She gave him one last smile then stood and left. Loki watched her through the shop’s windows until she was out of sight.
Loki pulled the card toward him with a finger, examined the neat numbers written below the X. Tapping his fingers on the table, he stood, pulling on his overcoat. Loki strode for the door, not once looking back. Leaving the card behind, he went out the door, down the street three blocks, and stood at an intersection with a throng of other people when he slipped his hand in his pocket. He came out with the card, held between two long fingers. The light changed, and the crowd moved obediently forward like so much cattle, Loki with it. A flip of his wrist, and he sent the card off, to his apartment to rest on the mantle above the fireplace. He would burn it later.
Loki never got around to burning it. He walked by it whenever he went through the living area of his loft, and it stayed wedged between two stacks of books. He could almost forget it was there. For a week, when he was in Italy merely because he could be, he did. Loki returned with a love of gelato, opera, and wine and several bottles that he’d actually paid for. To him, someone who did something well enough to please a god should be rewarded.
And it seemed like such a long time since anything had pleased him. Anything outside of himself and his clever wit.
Three days after his homecoming, Loki was stretched out on his pristine white couch like a cat in the summer sun. One hand rested on another stack of books that acted as an end table with a bottle of wine set atop. His hazy green eyes were set on a space between two stacks of books, a slip of paper peeking out.
“How many years have you lived alone…?”
Millennia, he’d thought. Loki had lived in Asgard among them for eons. Never once had he belonged there, and he’d always felt that. Even before Thor’s arrogance and pride had become a threat, when they were still boys, that feeling had been there. But he’d been a child, and such things are easily pushed aside and forgotten in the face of Thor, boisterous, eager Thor, wanting nothing more than to play and quest together as great heroes, vanquishing all the monsters.
Then they grew, Thor into the massive, shining golden one and Loki into the tall, slim pale thing. Like the moon to the sun to creatures that thrived in the light and warmth. And that feeling he’d repressed as a child, that never went away, took a seat at the forefront of his mind, whispering. It pushed him apart as surely as Thor's bloodthirsty ambitions, and Loki pulled himself away, so as not to be near enough to be struck down when he ventured out of his place.
“You won’t be alone.”
Loki hardly understood what it was to not be alone. He’d let go of the Bifrost, intending to be alone, completely and utterly. Intending to die, if he were honest. When was he ever? If he’d let them pull him back up, he would have been punished for letting the Jotuns in, for disappointing Fath – Odin. Perhaps he’d have been banished like Thor. He’d saved them all the trouble and exiled himself.
There was no way it could have gone back to before. Not after everything that had been said and done. And he didn’t want to go back to that, to being Thor’s shadow. That dark, lurking creature weaving spells and playing at women’s games.
And he had to think, would it have mattered? If Odin had told him from the beginning, what he was, what he was meant to do, if he’d known why he simply did not fit, would it have made it any better? Knowing why he couldn’t be Thor’s equal, knowing that he shouldn’t even try because there was no use, and it wasn’t his fault? That his place was beneath Thor and always would be by virtue of what he truly was? That he was no Son of Odin? He was monster to the hero.
Yes. Yes, yes, yes!
It would have. Because he wouldn’t have had that hope, only to have it crushed time and again. He wouldn’t have so many breaks and cracks that centuries of failure etch into one’s spirit. He wouldn't have reached for so many things that were simply beyond him. He wouldn’t have wondered what was wrong with him and why because he’d have known.
Loki snatched the bottle up and set it to his lips. He took long draughts, hoping to drown some of the thoughts in his not-quite tipsy head. He kept his gaze on that space and lifted his hand to his face. There was a slip of paper between his fingers with ten numbers and an X on it. He crushed it in his hand and sent it off with no destination.
The next day at nearly four in the morning, Loki dialed ten numbers and waited patiently for the colorful Miss Grey to answer her phone.
Professor Charles Xavier was a serene, brilliant soul wholly devoted to his grand and foolish dreams. He was not a man to do anything without reason and trusted too readily, but never stupidly. He was a genuinely kind man with strength about him that Loki could not ignore. This was one who desired to live in Order but found himself more in the center of Chaos and survived it.
Loki knew more of him than just what he gleaned from the surface as he’d done extensive research; he’d Googled him. Xavier had a fascinating history. Loki could see the all those past victories and losses, those contrasting dynamics between soldier and scholar, and the cracks and chips that formed his armor and saw fine work.
“Loki Noson. I’m glad to make your acquaintance,” Professor said, holding his hand out for Loki to shake.
Loki hesitated for the briefest of seconds. An Asgardian prince would never have taken the hand of someone such as the professor. But he wasn’t Asgardian now, was he? And a Jotun, oh, he didn't even want to think of what they'd do. He shook his hand before settling into a plush leather wing-back. He ran his fingers over the smooth material, and it was ridiculous how much he liked these chairs.
“Likewise. My curiosity and boredom won out, I confess."
“Well, whatever your reasons, I am sure that if you were hired that you’d find the school entertaining, to say the least.”
If…if you were hired…
This one knew the importance of words, all the careful insinuations.
“Perhaps. I have more interest in you at the moment. You have five Ph.D.s from two separate universities, all before twenty. I have no such documents, but I consider myself a scholar of many things. The aspect of knowing the mind and how it works and twists is a subject I have great interest in. Your thesis on flawed neuropsychology and its possible correlation to latent mutancy was a…page-turner.”
Loki hesitated at the odd but appropriate phrase. Midgardians had many quaint turns of phrase.
“Thank you. I’m very surprised you read that. Forgive me if this sounds rude, but did you actually understand it?”
Loki smiled, because that was genuinely funny.
“Oh, yes. I hung on your every word. The deconstruction of cause-and-effect was entirely captivating, but I did wonder at the veracity of several of the concepts. Although there were a few punctuation errors…”
The look on the professor’s face was nothing short of pleased. Still, a cautious, speculative gleam remained in his eyes.
“Perhaps I should hire you as my editor in the future then. Jean has explained that you might have more to offer us than we to you. How would you best like to resolve that?"
Loki glanced around the spacious office with floor to ceiling windows and two bookcase walls.
“I'm sure we can come up with something, Professor Xavier. Business, I think, can be discussed later. There was a question I had concerning the nurture influencing how mutant abilities manifest, if there is some subconscious control in that.”
The one question became three then a verbal dissertation and a civil debate concerning the aspects of innate and learned mental shielding. There was a brief interruption when a horde of teenagers came looking for the reason why the professor was late for lecture. After some brief apology, he dismissed them and the remainder of his classes for the day.
The moment the door clicked shut and the professor gave him his full, undivided attention, Loki decided that the job was his.