Asgard needs a new wall. Odin and Frigga talk with the prospective builders one-by-one in the throne room, while Thor and Loki mingle among the rest in the adjacent hall. The Warriors Three and Lady Sif are also in attendance, lightening the mood and also helping the princes watch for deception.
After two goblets of ale and three hours of boredom, Loki contemplates leaving. A simple cloaking spell would let him slip unnoticed from the crowd, and if he could distract Thor long enough—
The doors to the hall burst open, and everyone in the hall looks over to see the intrusion. In the doorway stands a tall man with a sword in hand. His shoulders are as broad as Thor's, but his hair and beard are ink-black, and his skin is tan from exposure. The crowd parts before him as he walks up to where Loki and Thor sit, and he drops to one knee and bows his head.
“Royal princes of Asgard,” he says in a deep voice, touched by an accent Loki can't place. “I ask on the behalf of my master, the man from the southern realms, that you choose him for the building of Asgard's wall.”
Thor laughs. “And how is your master different from any other man in this room?”
The man lifts his head. His eyes first fall on Loki before glancing over to Thor. “He can build the strongest wall faster than any man here. Asgard need not fear the gaps in its mountains anymore.”
Loki takes a sip from his goblet, lest he argue that there are far more weaknesses than just the mountain passes. He's exploited them often enough, so instead he says, “You have yet to tell us your name.”
The man looks back at Loki and then bows his head again. “Svadilfari, Your Highness.”
“A mouthful,” Thor jokes, and Loki glares at his brother and almost kicks him in the shin, but resists; they are still in court, after all.
“We shall add your testimony to Asgard's consideration, Svadilfari.”
“Thank you, Your Highness,” Svadilfari says, and he stands. Loki is captivated by his movements, wondering how anyone of Thor's size could be so graceful. His intense gaze, one that lingers on Loki a second too long, nearly makes Loki shiver. As he walks away towards the doors again, Loki takes another drink.
“Strange, isn't he?” Thor asks, scratching at the hair on his chin.
“Not more than usual.” Loki lies. Seeing Thor's small frown as Svadilfari leaves the hall, Loki pledges to secure the contract for this mysterious master, if only so he can talk to this man again.
As his fortune would have it, Svadilfari's master proposes the best plan but the worst price. He can construct the strongest wall—so say the engineers—but he wants the power of a star, a moon, and the companionship of their beloved Vanir Freyja, who absolutely won't, under any circumstance, agree to this.
“Tell him to construct it in a single winter,” Loki suggests at the table, after Freyja's done protesting to all in attendance. “He cannot possibly finish, but we will have some of the wall done, and we may hire another builder to replicate his technique and finish the task.”
Odin considers it, but he doesn't accept it until after Loki turns wide eyes to his mother and mentions, “He only has one servant.”
Freyja's livid at him, but Loki doesn't care. He looks forward to talking with Svadilfari again, yet every time he goes out to the edge of the city to see the builder work, all he sees is the man and a huge black stallion. The horse pulls carts piled with boulders three times its size—very impressive—but Svadilfari is nowhere in sight.
Every night that first week, Loki returns to the palace disappointed. One evening, when Thor decides he’s going to have a raucous dinner with all of Asgard’s best warriors, Loki stays a little longer out of the city, long enough to see the builder secure all of his tools and walk away to the little camp he’s made on the west slope of the mountain. Loki takes some sweet bread from his pocket and nibbles it as the stallion grazes in the field.
A couple bites in, savoring the honey taste of the cake, Loki sees the stallion…change. It’s a slow process, slow enough that Loki questions what he sees – but inevitably the stallion shrinks in size, its black skin lightens to a familiar tan, and what remains is a man, nude, with long black hair that falls past his shoulders. Loki watches him sit back on his heels and sigh, and when the man looks up at the sky, Loki sees the full profile of his face and nearly chokes on his sweetbread.
He packs his snack into the napkin, shoves it into his pocket again, and teleports down to the field, not more than two paces in front of Svadilfari. The view is nice; Svadilfari’s expression is even better—surprised horror—until he bows his head and scrambles to one knee, just like he did at the hall. “Your Highness,” he murmurs—the same deep voice that caught Loki’s attention before.
Loki folds his arms over his chest. “You’re a horse.”
He sees the hesitation in Svadilfari’s bare form, a small tilt of his head to the side. “I—”
“Don’t lie to me. I watched your transformation.”
“I do not wish to lie to you, your highness,” Svadilfari says, “but you are not…precisely…correct. I serve my master as a stallion, yes, but I am not a horse.”
“You are certainly not a man.”
“Perhaps not in your eyes, due to my gift, but I prefer to be a man.” He glances up to meet Loki’s gaze. “The company is better.”
Loki still doubts Svadilfari’s sincerity and wonders if he says these things out of truth or fear. Dropping his hands to fold them behind his back, he walks around Svadilfari, eying him from all angles, and the man holds still under his inspection despite the cold breeze against his bare skin. Loki feels not unlike Odin when he’s reviewing royal steeds (which he does quite often), but Svadilari is unlike anyone he’s ever seen. He’s built like Thor, solid muscle and power, but he doesn’t have Thor’s royal perfection. A handful of thin, pale lines crisscross over his back, and a pair of deep cuts dig into his sides. Loki wonders about their origin, but saves his questions for later.
He stops his survey when he stands in front of Svadilfari once more. “If you are neither, then what are you? What would you call yourself?”
“Only Svadilfari, Your Highness. You will find no other with my name, and thus no other with my gift. It is enough.”
“I disagree, but I will accept your reason for now.” If Loki has learned anything from reading and from his father’s court, it is that nothing is truly unique; it is not created without reason. Svadilfari is either the child of shapeshifters, a sorcerer like Loki, or a simple man under a strange spell. Either way, Loki is still intrigued, and his curiosity begs him to keep Svadilfari’s company. He sits down on the grass, and signals for Svadilfari to relax; the man shifts to sit cross-legged, still nude. “How shall I treat you? As a man, or a horse?”
“Whichever you prefer, Your Highness.”
Loki smirks. “Very well.” He enjoys the choice, but he would rather have some conversation now. “Tell me about your ‘gift.’”
Svadilfari gives him a faint smile. “It is a simple thing: I can change form at will, as you have seen.”
“But is there more to your shapeshifting besides thought and will?” Loki questions, skeptical. “I've shapeshifted enough times to know there is always something else involved: a spell, a sacrifice?” Svadilfari shakes his head. “Energy?”
“That, yes.” Svadilfari nods. “When I am tired, the change can be difficult, but that is rare.”
“You don't find your work exhausting?” Loki gestures to the carts of rock by the half-finished wall.
Svadilfari looks over and laughs under his breath. “It's something I do every day, Your Highness. Do you find entertaining and politics exhausting?” He leans back on one hand, revealing the entire plane of his torso. Loki appreciates the view.
“All the time,” he says with an overdramatic sigh, “but I need not change my form to do either—most of the time.”
“And when you do?”
“It depends on the circumstances.” Loki gives him a sweet smile, but his silence doesn't hold for the entire evening. Soon, he shares a story about turning into a woman and the privileges he found there, but Svadilfari seems to understand – he laughs with Loki, not at him (not like Thor). He understands that sometimes, one body isn't enough for the task.
Curiosity sated about where Svadilfari is and what he is doing, Loki lets him work and rest alone through the rest of the week. They don’t see each other again until Svadilfari finds him one morning in one of the public gardens by a burbling fountain. “Your Highness.”
Loki glances up from his grimoire to see Svadilfari once again dressed in his full outfit and armor, bowing low to him. He claps the book shut, and it disappears in a wisp of purple smoke. “No work today, Svadilfari?”
“My master has allowed me a day to rest.”
“And you intend to spend it with me?” Loki jests, smiling through his sarcasm.
“I do, Your Highness.” Loki's smile fades at the answer, surprised yet suspicious. He welcomes the attention, yet doesn't understand what Svadilfari hopes to gain from it. He'll play along for now.
“Then walk with me,” Loki says, standing. Svadilfari steps up to Loki's side and offers his arm. Chuckling, Loki takes it and directs him along the stone path that leads deeper into the garden. The citizens of Asgard work at this time of day, so the paths are empty, and the light winter wind curling through the trees ensures the rest of Loki's comfort. The path winds northward, lined with rose bushes and pygmy trees, and the palace towers loom at their backs.
“Do you enjoy treating me like a lady?” Loki asks once they reach a secluded bend in the path, his arm still looped under Svadilfari's. “Are you so eager to use your courtly manners?”
He looks up to see Svadilfari glance down at him. “Would you like me to stop?”
“No,” Loki answers, and it's not a lie. Rarely does anybody from court visit him again outside of it, much less with this attention and tenderness. He wonders if it is due to Svadilfari's other nature. “But that doesn't answer my question.”
Svadilfari stops and moves in front of Loki. One large, gloved hand rests on his shoulder. “I give you my attention in the only ways I know in this form, and I do so because you have already given me your time.” Loki feels Svadilfari's grip tighten slightly and watches the man look away. “Many would ignore a servant, and all ignore a beast of burden.”
This man is foolish to reveal a weakness, Loki thinks. It is only a matter of time before someone takes advantage of it, and Loki reasons that perhaps it should be him, for he can be far kinder than many others in this city. He is not one to refuse a gift, either. One hand comes up to cup Svadilfari's jaw; the other reaches back, sinking through soft, long black hair. “How can they overlook a specimen like you?”
That jerks Svadilfari back to attention, his dark-eyed gaze entirely focused on Loki again. “Your Highness—?”
“Strong, handsome,” Loki continues in his sweetest voice, though he means everything he says. “I would kiss you now, if I could.”
Svadilfari swallows as Loki’s fingers brush his throat. “And you cannot, because—?”
Loki's expression falls into disappointment with a splash of yearning, carefully calculated, and he caresses Svadilfari's jaw, feeling the black hair shift underneath his fingertip. “Well, you are a visitor to Asgard, and to take advantage of you...”
Svadilfari catches his hand, holding it still for a moment, and then he brings it near his lips. “My prince,” he says quietly before kissing Loki's knuckles, “you would be doing no such thing.”
It's a wonderful thing to have one's loyalty, and Loki smiles, though it only shows a fraction of his satisfaction and pride. “In that case—” He twists his own hand so he can catch Svadilfari's and drag it away, and then his other grips tight at the back of Svadilfari's strong neck, tangling in long hair. If no one else in the kingdom will appreciate these circumstances, at least Loki will. “Indulge me.”
Svad, as Loki takes to calling him later, continues his innocent and polite courting throughout the next few weeks, lavishing Loki with attention and small gifts whenever he has the time. Sometimes they walk the gardens, the fields, or the city; sometimes they sit alone in Loki's chambers; sometimes they don't talk at all, and Loki gets to see the extent of Svad's strength and how well he reacts to a tug on his hair. It's more fun than Loki's had in years, completely unbridled by court politics, at least on the surface. Freyja is still angry at him, but why should he desire her attention when he has Svad's?
All the time he spends with Svad and all the distant, jealous looks from Thor distracts Loki from noticing the remarkable progress the architect has made on the wall—until Thor pulls him to the shared balcony between their separate chambers one late afternoon.
“Look at the wall, Loki,” he says, pointing out towards the mountains. His other hand rests at the small of Loki's back. “It is only half-way through winter and they are nearly done!”
“Nearly?” Loki cocks his head as he examines the wall. What's done is dusted with a fine layer of snow, marking it against the obsidian cliffs of the mountain. The structure extends far into the distance, curving around to meet the shore on the other side of the city. “I suppose they've made good progress, but they will not finish before the winter is over.”
“Freyr disagrees,” Thor tells him, as if Loki hasn't seen those discontent looks across the high table. “If he has to forfeit his sister...”
“You don't fancy fighting with him, do you, brother?” Loki grins, knowing Thor considers Loki's honor his own, and Thor frowns, confirming that this is still true. “Don't worry about the wall.” He slips out from under Thor's hand and starts to walk back inside. “They won't finish.”
Except Loki sees that at the current rate they can and probably will. Asgard can't afford to pay the price of the wall's completion, and the responsibility of preventing that disaster weighs heavily on Loki's shoulders, both as a prince and as an enabler of this deal.
He walks towards the construction site while thinking of a plan. Outright sabotage would be too obvious, and he knows the architect secures his tools and his materials too well. The use of magic would be apparent, and there are few mages in Asgard who would have reason to even wander out there. The key to the architect's productivity—the reason he can move all the material to build the wall—is Svad.
Loki swears under his breath as he steps through the shadows, quickening his pace. He vaults over the remains of the old, crumbling wall but doesn't venture out of its shadow on the other side. The architect's camp sits a hundred yards away with a low smoldering fire, and next to that a black stallion lies content on the ground, covered in a dark blanket.
He takes in a deep breath and whistles a high, long note that carries on the wind. The stallion's ears perk up, and he looks to wear Loki stands by the wall. He rolls to his feet and canters over, each step his hide growing lighter in color, and when he is almost at Loki's position he rears, and Svad stands as a human once more. The blanket clings around his shoulders, and Svad wears nothing else.
The snow crunches under Loki's boots as he steps up and kisses Svad, hard, wrapping his arms around his neck. He feels Svad's arms embrace him, holding him close as Svad returns the kiss, courtly restraint forgotten for now. It leaves Loki breathless when he finally manages to pull away. “Good evening, Svad,” he says quietly and smirks.
“Why are you here, my prince?” Svad asks between placing small kisses along Loki's jaw.
“I could not leave you out here in the cold—not tonight.” He tugs at Svad's hair, forcing him to pull back, and Loki ducks his head to kiss his neck. “I intend to exhaust you,” he murmurs against the skin. “I hope you won't mind.”
“Never,” Svad whispers, and the power he relents with that one word intoxicates Loki with power that hasn't yet lost its novelty. No one in Asgard would ever give him such unrestrained permission—they know him too well. Yet for all the time he's spent in Svad's company, being courted by him and accepting his affections, maybe Svad knows him better than any of them, and maybe he thinks he can trust Loki. It might be his downfall.
Magic glows on Loki's hands before he teleports them both to his chambers. Svad holds him closer as the scenery changes from cold and white to warm and oak, but relaxes as he recognizes the bedroom from past evenings. “...you will return me in the morning?” Svad asks.
“Oh, yes,” Loki says, pulling at the knot that holds the blanket on Svad's shoulders. “Of course I will.”
He knew Svad had plenty of stamina—but he didn’t know exactly how much, and he didn’t know how it compared to his own. His efforts during the night cause him to sleep in late in the morning, and Thor—predictably—worries. After two good weeks of the most energetic nights of his life, Loki wakes up one afternoon to see Thor hovering over him, frowning.
Loki’s hand twitches, but instead of going for the dagger under his pillow, he takes the pillow itself and smacks Thor across the face with it. Thor deflects it and pulls it from his grasp. “What are you doing here?” Loki asks, voice thick with sleep.
“Mother’s worried about you.” The mattress dips as Thor takes a seat. Loki squints at him just enough to see a glance to the side, and then he sees Thor’s hands fidget with the edge of the assaulting pillow. Yawning, Loki pulls himself to sit up, wincing (a little sore still in…places), and decides to shift his weight against his pillow.
“I suppose she was the one who sent you here?” Loki asks, and smirks when Thor looks over. Frigga lets Loki do as he likes, much in the same way Odin gives Thor free reign. Thor is only here for one person.
Then, Loki sees his brother’s gaze drop to his neck. Thor’s eyes widen, and he jumps back to his feet, tossing the pillow aside. “What is that mark on your neck?”
“Hm?” Loki raises a hand to touch it. His fingers find the warm and tender spot where Svad’s teeth had been just the night before. “Oh, this…do you really need me to explain it?”
“He’s been mistreating you.” Thor concludes and starts for the door, shoulders rigid with righteous indignation. Loki laughs, but does not scramble out of bed after him. He’s less than well dressed.
“Brother!” He calls after him with a grin on his face, and it stops Thor before he leaves. “Come, sit.” He pats the mattress where Thor had been sitting. “He’s been doing no such thing, and if you stop and listen, I will tell you what I have been doing with him.”
Thor turns and shifts uncomfortably on his feet. “I have no interest in hearing any of…of that.”
“Then I shall omit the most sordid details for your virgin ears, but you should listen to the rest of it, Thor.” Loki beckons again, and Thor takes his seat at the side of the bed again. “Now, if you have taken notice, the architect’s progress has slowed this last fortnight.”
“Because of you?”
“Because of my dedication to this realm as a prince of Asgard, yes.”
Thor looks uncertain, caught between something like anger and confusion. One of his hands grips tight at the duvet of Loki’s bed. “…you could hire a common courtesan to do the same, Loki. Your honor—”
“My honor isn’t threatened at all, except perhaps,” and Loki sits up and squares his shoulders back, “by your insinuation that it will be, by my strategy. I am quite enjoying myself, and you should be grateful that you will not have to fight Freyr at the end of this. Now, bring us some lunch, unless you want to scold me further.”
Thor snorts and folds his arms over his chest. “You can dress and get it yourself.”
Loki shifts forward to sit closer to Thor, one hand touching his shoulder while the other keeps the blankets about his waist. His eyes widen to pitiable proportions. “You would see me starve, brother?”
He gets one long, stoic look before both their expressions crack into grins and laughter, and Thor stands from the bed. “I will order lunch,” Thor says. “Don’t give the servants a show when they arrive.”
Two weeks of fun almost verges on three, until one night he appears at the wall and Svad doesn’t come to his whistle. He can see the clear outline of the black stallion against the snow, and he can see it lift his head but do nothing else. Concerned, he teleports to the camp itself. Upon arrival, he throws out a spell that weaves a sound-absorbing bubble around the tent where the architect sleeps, and then he turns his attention to Svad.
“Oh.” Loki knows now why Svad didn’t attend: a thick rope halter loops over his large head and leads down a long rope to a stake in the ground, and Loki can already feel the magic woven into the strands. Hobbles on Svad’s legs only allow him to shuffle up to Loki, and his head butts hard against Loki’s shoulder. Loki winces but doesn’t step back, instead reaching up a hand to stroke Svad’s neck.
“Did he know you were disappearing with me?” he asks, and Svad snorts before nudging his shoulder again, gentler this time. “Will he stop your visits, too?” At this, Svad only flicks his tail, and Loki sighs. He drags his fingers along the rope of the halter, and the magic in it hums, on guard. With his skill, he could break it, but it feels foreign; he’s not sure he could reform it without Svad’s master knowing.
He wraps his arms around Svad’s neck, tangling his fingers in the thick mane. “I shall get a bushel of apples for you,” he murmurs, “and we can sit for a while.”
Without the opportunity to tire Svad at night, the architect finishes more and more of the wall. It circles the city in a wide arc, closing in towards the sea, and Loki can see where it will join the water—soon. He has few ideas on how to stop him, short of outright murder or sabotage, neither of which bodes well for Asgard.
So, as he always does when his own knowledge fails him, Loki retreats to the central library of the palace. He needs to distract Svad while he works, but being neither horse nor man, but both at the same time…he’s not certain if Svad has any other weaknesses besides those Loki has been enjoying. He doesn’t want to exploit that while Svad is a stallion, but he’s running out of options.
It takes another five goblets of ale before Loki surrenders to the fact it might be his only option, and he opens his favorite primer on shapeshifting. When he’s certain he has the spells down and the magic feels hot and ready in his veins, he walks down to the training grounds by the stables and finds Thor practicing with Mjolnir in the field, snow and ice already kicked up around him. Around his shoulders he wears a thick scarlet cloak lined with grey wolf’s fur.
“Thor!” Loki calls from the open stone corridor. Mjolnir snaps back to Thor’s hand before he jogs over to where Loki stands, the snow crunching underneath his boots.
“What is it, Loki?” he asks, breathless with exertion and grinning.
“I think it’s time to halt construction on the wall,” he says, leaning one arm against a wide pillar. “Your assistance would be most appreciated—and not in the way you think, Thor.” His brother’s sudden excitement fades, but he still looks enthusiastic enough.
“You wish to leave now?” Thor asks as he slips his hand through the strap at the end of Mjolnir.
“Before the sun sets, yes—and no, Thor, I’m not flying with you—” Loki snaps as he darts back from Thor's encircling arm.
“It’s faster than walking!”
Loki sighs. The sky darkens with hues of orange and pink, and the construction is site is several miles from the palace. Thor’s right: it’s faster than walking, it’s faster than riding, and since this whole fiasco, Freyja won’t let him borrow her falcon cloak anymore. “Fine,” he says, and steps forward.
Thor takes him around the waist, pulling him close. In his other hand, Mjolnir swings round and round in a dizzying blur. “…have you been drinking, brother?”
“No more than you usually do. Are you going to throw it or not?”
Thor lobs Mjölnir in the direction of the western coast. The sudden, whiplash jerk off the ground reminds Loki why he likes the alternative, and he holds his eyes closed for a full five seconds until his stomach settles. Underneath them, the lights of Asgard whip by, and the evening air chills his face and his hands.
“Not too near,” he shouts at Thor over the roar of the wind, and Thor only nods.
They land—hard—on the other side of a large grove of bare trees that separates the construction site from the outlying suburbs. Loki clutches at Thor’s shoulder for a moment while he steadies his body and his power, and then he breathes against his palm to warm his fingers and spark magic against his skin. Warmed, Loki sets off for the trees. “Come on, brother.”
Thor follows him in, all the way to the other edge of the trees, where they can stand behind a large oak and watch the construction. The architect leads Svadilfari by his halter down from the mountain slopes and behind them rolls a large cart full of granite.
“What do you hope to do?” Thor asks quietly.
“Distract the stallion,” Loki says, already sliding his jacket off. “He cannot build the wall by himself, and there are only three more days on his contract. Without his horse, he will fail.”
“Loki, what are you doing, it’s cold—”
“I know it’s cold!” Loki hisses at him. His skin prickles as he wrenches off his waist wrap and shirt. “Hold these.” He shoved his clothes at Thor who fumbles with them as Loki pulls at the fastenings his trousers.
“What—what are you doing?”
“A horse.” Feeling thoroughly frozen and second-guessing his own judgment, he slides off his boots and shoves the rest of the ensemble into Thor’s arms. “Don’t lose these.”
Thor stares at him dumbly as Loki steps away from the tree, green magic forming a thick cloud around his nude body. Under his breath Loki murmurs the spells from the primer, reading it off the page in his mind’s eye. He closes his eyes as he walks, only guided by the direction of the northern wind that penetrates through the ether. His bones lengthen; his muscles pull; he stumbles to his knees in the packed snow. His hair grows longer, and his chest swells, and when he opens his eyes he sees a broad, white landscape, and his entire focus narrows to that one black stallion.
(Hopefully the accessories to the spell worked, too, or this would be all for naught.)
Loki trots out towards them and stops on a nearby hill. His tail flickers, and he rakes at the ground once before neighing loudly, just as the architect unhooks Svadilfari from the cart. Loki watches as Svadilfari rears, neighs, and pulls and pulls until finally, with one mighty jerk, he breaks his halter rope free of the architect’s grip and takes off toward Loki.
Now he needs to follow through with his distraction. Loki gallops for the thick forest off in the distance, far away from the grove where Thor hides. Svadilfari closes the distance behind him faster than Loki expects, and so close Loki can hear his heavy snorts before they even reached the trees. The dense brush doesn’t slow him down, either, until finally Loki has to call his magic to block the path behind him. He hears a loud, angry neigh as he gallops off, searching for a river or a meadow—
He finds one, an open meadow covered with unbroken snow. He slows to canter and then to a trot before stopping altogether, and then lets the magic take over. His lungs burn and his muscles ache, and after the transformation he kneels there on the snow and recovers his breath.
Something heavy crunches the snow nearby, and Loki lifts his head to see the black stallion standing there at the edge of the meadow. Loki forces himself to his feet, and throws out a spell. Svadilfari rears as the magic cuts through the air towards his head, but it only slices the halter off, and the rope falls to the ground before shriveling into ash. For a long moment, the stallion shifts nervously on its feet, and then it starts to step towards Loki.
“Svad,” Loki says, his voice rough already, “transform. I ask it of you, as your prince.”
Svadilfari walks nearer and tosses his head with a snort. He’s agitated—still. Loki is no longer a horse and yet Svadilfari…responds as if he were.
He’s huge up close, getting larger with each step, and his form is a stark silhouette against the landscape. Loki holds out a hand, ready to turn him away with magic if need be. He doesn’t intend on being ill-used by a horse.
Another step, but Svadilfri stops. They stare at each other, Loki’s hand never lowering, and finally he begins to transform back into the man Loki knows well: tan skin, black hair, broad chest.
Loki lets out a breath and lowers his arm, but then Svad rushes for him. Loki darts to the side, ducking under his arm and getting behind him, and calls out a spell from his lips and throws out magic from his hands. The ether twines around his head, loops through his parted lips, and pulls back towards Loki’s hand. Svad’s jerked off his feet and onto his back in the snow. Loki steps over him, looking down. “Would you calm—”
Svad reaches up and pulls at Loki’s ankle, sending him back into the snow, too. The moment after his back hits the cold, Svad has moved between his legs, hands on Loki’s hips, and he ruts desperately against him. Loki twists his hand and pulls at the magic rope still dangling from his head, and Svad stills, his head bent back to expose his throat, and his teeth visible through the translucent ether. His body trembles, and he looks ready to pull at the reins any moment now.
“I suppose I should not have teased you like that,” Loki says as his other hand conjures another spell that travels over his own skin, down his chest and below his navel. He shivers as the magic slides inside him; it will make this easier. “But if you want any release, you will listen to me.” He eased the pull of the bridle. “Start slow. We shall be here for a while.”
The grip at Loki’s hips tightens as Svad pulls him closer. He slides in with a loud groan before bending over him, his hot breath ghosting over Loki's chest. One hand curls under his shoulder as Svad fucks him with slow, complete strokes. When his tempo becomes too fast, Loki tugs at the gag, and Svad slows again. Svad nuzzles at Loki’s shoulder, noses against his neck. Loki enjoys the easy pace and the chance to recover his magic and strength, all while basking in Svad’s attention. He takes that strange new power, the joy of complete control, and revels in it.
When Svad’s tempo stutters and even a sharp tug can’t stop him, Loki smirks, shifts, and rolls his hips against him. His nails dig hard into Svad’s back as he thrusts in to the balls and stills with a small, desperate sound that belies his strength.
“Feel better?” Loki whispers to his ear. “Get up, and I’ll have you, too.” He tugs at the gag again, and Svad sits back, pulling Loki up with him. Loki takes a moment to memorize the feel of Svad’s arms around him and the relief of not having his back pressed to the snow before he pushes Svad back and switches their positions.
It will be a long night.
After he exhausts Svad until Loki can dismiss the reins and Svad lies pliant by his side, Loki watches for the dawn in a little bubble of warmth he’s woven around them. Svad rests until the first birds begin to chirp and orange touches the sky again.
“…we must return,” Svad murmurs against his shoulder.
“We?” Loki questions. “I must return as prince, true, but you—you are free to run from here, with my blessing.”
A long beat passes between them, then Svad sits up and looks down at him. “Loki—please.” He looks towards where they came, and Loki sighs and gets to his feet.
“Well, we can’t go like this,” he says. He reaches out a hand and draws a black robe out of the long shadows cast by the surrounding trees, one for Svad and one for himself. They’ll do for now. Svad gets to his feet, slips his robe on, and ties it off, and then helps Loki into his. Before they set out, he offers his arm, and Loki gives him a tired smile as he takes it.
When they emerge from the forest, Loki stops them before they walk any further. At least fifty Asgardian engineers crawl over the construction site, standing on scaffolding as they examine it from all angles. Guards also stand in a wide perimeter around it, some of them looking bored and fidgeting.
“Brother!” Thor breaks the perimeter, jogging up to them with his winter cloak flowing out behind him. He looks happy, then shocked, then concerned, and once he reaches them he takes his cloak and throws it over Loki’s shoulders. All Svad gets is a wary look. Loki suffers the attention, but as Thor’s hands move he sees the tarnished finish on Mjolnir’s mallet.
“Thor,” he says, brows furrowing, “is that blood?”
“Oh, yes,” Thor turns and gestures towards the bridge. A tall, dark blue body lies in a pool of blood. “When you ran off into the woods he tried to take after you…” From this distance, Loki would say it looks like a frost giant, but—
Svad runs from his side. Guards stand in his way to keep him outside the perimeter, but he pushes them aside with ease. He stops just outside the ropes, and the guards cluster to point spears and swords at him, but he stands stoic and silent, as if not noticing them. Loki rushes to follow and Thor trails behind; he comes up to Svad’s side and looks down at the carnage. A crater mars the giant’s skull, but through the dark blood and the matted hair, he can recognize the architect’s features, even with the blue skin.
“Well,” Loki says, folding his arms over his chest, “you certainly took care of him, Thor.” He glances over to see a smug grin on his brother’s face. However, what worries him is Svad’s reaction. He looks to his other side, wondering what Svad’s loyalty will lead him to do…and he sees Svad smiling.
“Your Highnesses,” Svad kneels right where he stands, facing Loki and Thor, and both of them step back in surprise. “I owe you my life for giving me freedom from this monster.”
Loki and Thor look at each other, expecting the other to say something first. Loki gives Thor a questioning look, who in turn shrugs his shoulders. Loki leans forward to touch Svad’s shoulder. “Let us go to the palace and have some breakfast—by chariot,” he adds for Thor’s sake, and once Svad stands Loki leads him off to the waiting vehicles the engineers had brought with them.
Frigga frets over all of them when they arrive at the palace, including Svad. She orders a large breakfast that spreads out across an entire table, and the three of them load their plates with eggs, bacon, and cabbage rolls. Svad’s pile is the largest; Loki and Thor’s tie for second.
“So, what were you boys doing by the wall?” she asks. Loki glances at Svad who glances at Thor who glances at Loki; he looks back at his brother, and then back to his plate. Thor clears his throat.
“We wanted to examine the progress,” Thor says. “Loki suspected dishonesty.”
“And one thing led to another,” Loki jumps in before Thor’s terrible lying indicts them all. “The jotunn revealed himself and Thor defeated him.”
“This took the entire night?” Frigga asks, sweetly skeptical.
Svad sets his goblet down after a long swig. “Indeed, Your Majesty.” He smiles at her in a way that makes Loki feel a spark of envy—for some reason—but Frigga doesn’t push further. Loki supposes that makes up for it.
Frigga permits Svad to have one of the guest rooms as long as he’s at the palace, though he spends more time in Loki’s chambers. Sometimes his quiet presence is enough. Other times, they read together, and Svad hasn’t been bored by his novels or plays (like Thor).
“You could find work here, if you wanted to stay permanently,” Loki says one evening as they sit on one of the high observation towers, watching the moons emerge on the horizon. “Our old stablemaster is looking to retire…”
Svad stays silent for a long moment, the tip of his boot tapping against the low marble wall. “…I had planned to visit Midgard before settling anywhere.”
Loki blinks. Of all the realms—”Midgard?”
Svad nods once. His distant gaze looks towards Heimdall’s observatory. “It was my homeland until the jotunns came, my—former master among them.” Svad runs a hand through his hair. He fidgets at the mention of the man now, and Loki wonders what about the man’s memory bothers him after death. “I want to see if my family still lives, after all this time.”
“You can ask our gatekeeper if they do.”
Svad gives him a small smile, and he reaches over to take Loki’s hand in his own, their fingers lacing together. “My prince…if someone took you from Asgard, and kept you from seeing it for years and years, would you not want to see it again with your own eyes?”
“I suppose,” Loki agrees, trying to keep the sullen tone from his voice. He doesn’t want Svad to leave, not when it seems they have finally found time to enjoy together. Loki wants to show him the blooming flowers of spring, the fields of mustard peeking out from the snow, white blossoms in the city that will coat the streets with pollen and petals. It's all a childish fantasy, Loki knows, but it’s a pleasant thought to entertain.
Maybe there is another way to indulge his own hedonism. “…let me accompany you.”
“And drag you from your home?” Svad shakes his head. “I could not.”
“The kingdom can survive without me—for years, if necessary. They won’t miss me in court.”
Svad lets another long beat of silence lapse between them. “…if you are certain.”
“I am.” It's lunacy, really, to run off with some shapeshifting man to a realm of barbarians, looking for people that are probably dead—but it reeks of a chaotic spontaneity that Loki loves, and if he can't share Asgard's beauty with Svad, at least they'll have the insanity of Midgard.
Loki has his bag half-packed when he decides he should tell Thor, then once he secures his support, their parents.
He lures Thor into a nice, long spar that takes up a majority of the afternoon (no weapons, to even the odds), and then they sit down on a low wall for a snack: a small keg of beer sits between them with two goblets (for some civility), and they each hold ovular buns stuffed with meat and vegetables. When Thor has his mouth full, Loki says, “I was thinking of going to Midgard with Svad.” Thor chokes on his mouthful. “He plans to find his family there, or what remains of it, and I intend to help him.”
“...Loki,” Thor finally manages after a hard swallow, “is this wise? Midgard is—”
“It's harmless. What's the best they can do with their brittle swords and blunt arrows? Come, Thor, we've fought there before.” His stomach aches (with anxiety, but why?). Loki sets his bread down on a napkin by his side and stands to face his brother. “What are you really worried about? Svad? He's no more a threat to me than you are.”
Thor frowns. “Are you sure? He could be luring you towards a trap—he was in the service of a jötunn, Loki.”
“That was hardly his choice.”
“Unless he's lying.”
Loki laughs, really laughs, his hands on his sides. “Oh, Thor...do you think I would be so naïve? That I wouldn't be able to tell if he was? Me, the best liar in all the realms? You've said it yourself.”
Thor stands. “That was in jest, but this is not.” He reaches out, and Loki doesn’t step back fast enough to escape his crushing embrace, tight around his sides. Loki sighs against Thor’s shoulder and waits for him to hug all his feelings out. He supposes he owes Thor that much, having dragged him through envy and anger and fear this past winter.
“Be safe,” Thor says before he releases Loki, but Thor still grips his shoulders while they speak, as if afraid to let go. (He always does get so attached.) “I will accompany you to the Bifröst, when you are ready to depart.”
“We don’t need to make a show of it.” Loki gently brushes off Thor’s hands from his shoulders, however reluctant his brother was to move them. “Meet us there at dawn in three days, and you can give me a kiss good-bye then.”
A smile tugs at the corner of Thor’s mouth. “Very well.”
Earning his mother’s approval took only an evening of impassioned speeches in the privacy of her sewing room, and his father’s permission took no work at all. From what Loki had heard and read, Odin would understand Loki’s desire to travel, having been guilty of the same want in his youth. Yet Loki would look for a one-eyed raven on their travels; Odin was still his father, and probably still concerned.
On the morning of the third day, Loki and Svad walk into the Bifröst to see Thor already talking with Heimdall on the pedestal. “You could have slept in, brother,” Loki says as he steps up to Thor, who claps a strong hand on his shoulder.
“And miss seeing my brother off?” Thor grins, but it fades as he asks, “Are you prepared?” He glances over Loki’s shoulder to Svad, who waits a few paces back. “Are you armed?”
“This is not our first adventure,” Loki rolls of his eyes. He pushes Thor aside to stand closer to the portal, and Svad steps up to his side, always keeping a wary distance from Thor. “Heimdall, if you would.”
Heimdall lifts his great sword and slides it into the central switch, causing the outer shell of the apparatus to spin faster and faster. “Do not spend too much time wandering, or you will find what you do not want.”
“Kind words of wisdom,” Loki says, rolling his eyes. “We will start with the middle mountains, so no doubt we will find a dragon or two.” He looks over at Thor, flashing a smile, “You can help us slay it, if we come to that.”
“If you call.”
“Why would I not?” Loki turns his gaze to the swirling rainbow portal before them now, the outer shell spinning with a roar around them. Briefly, he wonders when he’ll see this again: his brother, the gatekeeper, Asgard, the luxury of being a prince. Yet he doesn’t allow himself to worry about it; home is always so close.
“Send us away, Heimdall.”