"Loki, I don't know how to tell you this…"
Loki, hearing the sound of his father's voice behind him, tried to keep from turning. He knew what his father was going to say. He didn't want him to say it.
A tense, rigid silence freezing into the pores of his heart and squeezing. A throbbing pause as his father tried to speak and couldn't find the proper words. An unnatural tingling in his eyes.
"You never told me."
"Loki, I never wanted you to-"
"Why did I never know !"
"You never told me I was a-"
"I didn't think it was important in the scheme of-"
"You should be."
Loki took a deep breath and focused on gathering his confidence together. All his strength, his courage, all his hard-won blank expressions… all would be needed. Needed… to turn.
Slowly, he set down the Casket of Ancient Winters. Slowly, he forced his mouth into a line, his eyes into pistols. Slowly, he fixed his shoulders into twin blocks of hard ice; paragons of strength, archetypes of warriors' shoulders.
Slowly, he turned.
His father was looking at him stiffly, one eye immovably centred on Loki's left ear. Awkward. Anticipatory. Waiting.
Loki gulped (he hoped his father hadn't noticed).
"I'm… I'm really…"
"So… that means…"
"Yes, Loki. I'm sorry. I should have told you."
"But I thought they didn't exist."
"I know… I'm sorry. I should have- What?"
"Chameleons, father. Shape shifting chameleons."
A blank face.
"Shape shifting what?"
"Chameleons, father. They live on Midgard. Mother told us about them at bedtime before… Well, if I'd known she'd been gallivanting, I would have told you of my suspicions, but then she was Mother and I suppose… Father, am I getting into trouble over this? I know crossbreeding is a slightly taboo subject, but-"
The four capitals hit both ears with grating finality.
"I am, aren't I?"
"No, Loki," said Odin, tight-worded and also tight-lipped. "No, Loki: that is not what happened."
"But I thought… I thought… The stories…"
"Mother said they turned different colours when they were frightened. She said the different colours made them blend into their surroundings. I thought-"
"You thought wrong, Loki, so let me explain."
Loki felt his eyes blur again and forced himself to stay calm.
"Loki… You were adopted."
"Oh thank Norns."
"I thought you meant the bit about the chameleon. I mean, of course I'm a chameleon: what else could I be? The fidelity. Of course you were always faithful: that's the only bit that didn't ring true and now it's confirmed… I'm so happy. I'm a shape shifter. A natural, inherited shape shifter. Norns. What are the chances? Sleipnir; the fact I could grasp magic so easily to start with; hereditary! It's all making sense now-"
It was no less startling the second time round and no less loud either.
"Pick up the casket."
"I said pick it up. I'm Allfather. You ought to obey me without prior questioning. Pick it up or I shall disinherit you."
Loki picked it up.
"Yes… I'm turning blue…? Look, father: if I'm a chameleon, what other colour am I supposed to turn? This is obviously a stressful situation and the glowing blue box in my direct line of sight is glowing blue. I'm not surprised my inner-beast is choosing to turn the same."
"I've accepted him now. This is who I am and it will be useful in a battle, so maybe if you could be more of a loving father and less of a king, I think my original self would be a lot more grateful. Thank you."
He felt a hand lightly brush his shoulder.
The hand fell away.
"You were adopted from Jotunheim, Loki. As a baby."
"The… the Jotuns."
"The Jotuns are…" He felt his eyes prickle. "The Jotuns are chameleons too? The Jotuns are chameleons? We've been persecuting harmless Midgardian animals because we-" He choked on a sob.
He felt his father stiffen behind him and heard the thud of a descending man. He paid it no heed.
"We've been torturing innocent-"
And the last thing he thought before he turned to find Odin on the floor of the storage room with his eyes closed and the weight of the Odin-sleep tainting each heavy-sounding breath was…
"Chameleons are eight feet tall?"