A Small Bowl
The darkness surrounded him, weighing on his chest, closing in over his mouth and burning his eyes. It smothered the short ragged gasps that he took in through his nose and made it feel like he was shrinking inside. Time and time again he reminded himself that it was not real... it was not real. But Loki knew – being a liar all his life – that this was not true. What is the use of lying to yourself, unless you make it believable? And the most believable kind of lie is a partial truth. It may not be real now, but it was real: either something that had been, or something that would be. And as much as he wished he could pretend that it was something that was, there was nothing, nothing at all near what he had felt and saw on the backs of his closed eyelids, lying flat on his back in his ornate chamber. It was something that would be. And Loki dreaded it more than he dreaded anything else.
Hot tears spilled down his face, and he dare not blink or wipe them away, for fear that if he closed his eyes for even one brief moment, it would return. It. The worst kind of fear – the nameless kind that is not housed in a fearsome creature or a blind force of the Yggdrasil. It was within. Loki knew this. That is why it was twice as hard for him to do anything that Thor did without even trying. He lay for a moment longer on his bed, his fists shaking around the clammy wad of tapestry, his teeth clenched so hard that his ears began to hurt and his tongue began to quiver. You are too old for this. Nightmares were for children – an overabundance of sentiment that had not been allowed proper release during the day, and pent up in an all-encompassing wave that broke over the individual at night in cold sweat. Wretched. Pathetic.
So many things filled his head in the days that he would gladly have waved his hand and dismissed them when night fell as he did those with whom he had business. But, unlike the dignitaries he received for his father, or the citizens of Asgard who brought before him their private woes, they would not listen or retire. His thoughts – they were the enemy. And since they were a part of him, they were an enemy of the most dangerous kind. They came with the predictability of death, with the calculation of a whirling ball-and-chain. A mathematical certainty; nothing in the universe could stop it once it was in motion. And it was inside of him. Loki groaned aloud, not caring if anyone heard, and flung one of his shaking hands above him, blindly groping for something to hold on to – something solid, something strong. His knuckles came in contact with the hard wood of his headboard with a resounding crack and he could feel the tepid trickle of blood seep between his fingers as his hand sunk into the deep fur of a skin draped above him.
Idly, Loki's fingers went to and fro in the fur of the warm rich pelt that adorned the head of his bed, and slowly drew from it's soft depths some semblance of comfort and distraction. A glint of light gilded the sky, and Loki turned his face away from it, torn between feelings of joy that his time of torment was over, and hatred for what was before him. He faced each day with an impassive face, and never let on to anyone what little sleep he'd had the night before. Only his mother knew. He had not even told Sigyn. Sometimes Frigga would notice his pale face and sunken eyes and reach for his hand as he walked by. Sometimes he would pull away. The thought rose within his chest and choked him with a sob.
Rising and lighting a torch with a mere gesture of his hand, Loki rushed headlong through Asgard's halls, ignoring the looks of the sleepy guards, and holding his breath to keep the tears in. He reached his mother's chamber in what must have been mere minutes, but which to Loki seemed years of sojourning. He laid a shaking hand on the door, and pushed it open. She was lying on her side in the large bed, a thin fine blanket draped over her. One perfect foot in its slipper showed from beneath the coverlet and Loki resisted the nearly overwhelming urge to take it in his hands and bestow on it a kiss. Frigga stirred, and surprise filled her eyes, clear with recent dreaming, to see her son standing before her.
"Loki," she murmured, sitting up and holding out her arms. He rushed forward with a hitching sob and fell to his knees before her, burying his face in her lap and wrapping his arms around her waist. Her fingers were in his hair, and she whispered soothing words to him in the ancient language as his weeping continued. They were not the cries of the terrified little boy that used to rush into her arms in the middle of the night, but the deep racking sobs of a grown man in great pain that tore at her very heart. Her soft fingers found his ear and stroked it hidden within the tumbled mess of his dark hair, and she bowed her head low over the undignified form of her younger son.
"Loki," she whispered his name. "Loki, tell me what it is."
He grew still in her lap; her hands continued to go to and fro over his head.
Loki slowly lifted his pale face but did not meet her eye. "You know." His voice was haggard and thin on the dawn breezes.
"Nightmares are something no one will ever know except the one who has them," Frigga said, taking his face in her hands, and looking at his lowered eyes. They slowly lifted to meet her gaze – it never failed. "You are worried. The stress of having Sigyn now to look after is wearing on you."
"I have to be strong for her," he managed. "I don't want her to know what I really am."
"Fear, Loki. It is always fear." She drew him to a seat next to her and pressed a kiss to his brow. Loki buried his nose in her shoulder and inhaled deeply. What would he ever do without her.
"How is it I can be vulnerable before you, mother, but not before Sigyn? She ought to know me best of all."
"You forget that I have known you all your life, and you have known your wife for less than half that time again," Frigga responded wisely. "But I promise you, she will not love you any less for knowing of your weakness."
"I don't want to have weakness," Loki said, bitterness creeping into his voice as he laced his fingers with his mother's. "I want to be strong – to be known as strong, and powerful. I know magic more than anyone in any of the nine realms, and yet –" He gestured helplessly. "At night I'm reduced to a mewling schoolboy from nightmares."
Frigga knew there was nothing she could say that would satisfy him; nothing she could say that she hadn't said before, and then again. So she held her tall son close, listening to his breathing slow, and finally grow deep and even. Frigga resisted a smile. She sat there, motionless, as Loki drooped against her shoulder, and when her attendant entered a few moments later, appearing shocked and ready to retreat again, Frigga laid a finger on her lips, and whispered, "Send for Sigyn."
When the door opened again, it revealed a tall, beautiful girl in a flowing robe with hair the color of fire and sunlight. Her face, however, was a mask of still beauty, and in her eyes there was no light. The line of her robes softened around the middle of her form, and proclaimed the real reason that they had been wed; theirs had not been a union without discord, even though it had been but brief, and both insisted that they truly did love the other. If only they knew the other.
The queen motioned the girl forward, and together, they laid Loki back on the bed, Sigyn covering him with the sheet, and Frigga brushing his dark hair back from his pale brow. How peaceful he looked when at last asleep. Frigga exited the room in a swish of skirts and stood on the balcony, breathing of the morning air, and watching the glint of Asgard's sun on the shining dome of the Bifrost, its glittering bridge spanning the waters of the kingdom.
The quiet splash of water made her turn ever so slightly, and resist the urge to smile at what she saw. Sigyn was kneeling by the bedside, in her hands a shallow bowl. She had filled it with a small amount of mint-scented water and was using a soft cloth to clean the dried blood from between Loki's thin fingers. So gentle was she that he did not even stir. Only when she rose to refill the bowl, did Loki's face twitch ever so slightly, as if even in his sleeping state, the actions of the waking around him permeated his spirit to fill him with good dreams in place of the bad.