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The Old Ways

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They were barely just moments from barring the door to the bridal chamber when there came a tap upon the great closed shutters of the windows. Loki didn’t pay it the slightest heed, already setting about disentangling his hair from the corona of spring flowers woven there. Thor set down his emptied flagon upon the low table, and crossed to see who had come to pay their respects.

The guest list held no particular surprise: Volstagg climbed in first, surprisingly nimble for one of his girth. Hogun’s own elegant ascent of the two storeys to the window sill held no surprise; the Vanir was as a feline, and would have landed on his feet in the unlikely event of falling in the first instance. Only Fandral appeared to have had any trouble, scrambling through behind the others with rather a dearth of grace. But then, he had been the one to put away the most mead during the nuptial feast.

Sif came last. Disapproval shone bright in every movement, even with all her natural physical ease. But then she had been unimpressed by matters even before Loki had offered the outrageous solution to Thor’s boorish behaviour: marriage. A marriage bolstered with deep and ancient magics that few practitioners of seiðr would be familiar with. Thor knew Sif doubted Loki was one of them, for all he was renowned – or denigrated, depending on the audience – as a particularly accomplished and educated seiðmaðr. Still, it was Loki who spoke first.

“You shouldn’t be here.” Thor himself remembered the collective relief at the news there would be no public bedding ceremony, even as Loki sharply added, “There has already been enough disrespect levelled at their customs without you all barging into the wedding chamber.”

“Exactly what I told these idiots.” Sif paused. “Well, I didn’t need to tell Hogun.”

“It was a hung jury,” Volstagg protested with his usual good cheer; somehow he had smuggled up an alarmingly full jug of wine, which sloshed upon the wooden floors with each exaggerated gesture he made. “And I told her, it wouldn’t make any difference, coming up here; Loki would be on the side of reason, while Thor would always be on the side of merriment.”

“I can’t imagine you’re wrong, much as it pains me to admit it,” Loki said, cool and unimpressed. “But the point still stands.”

Volstagg shrugged, grin wide enough to swallow words entire. “Oh, come, Loki – I just wanted to give you one last toast!”

“I’ll pass.”

Thor did not. In fact he almost drained the ceramic jug before giving it back to a disgruntled-looking Volstagg. Wiping his chin, Thor then discovered Loki still trying to finish destroying his crown. He paid no heed to his own, examined his wrist instead.

“Might we take these off, then?”

Loki glanced up, face set in deep disgust, to where Thor held up his left arm. The simple silver bracelet glinted in the low light. Unadorned to the untrained eye, its binding runes could only be seen when deepest seiðr was whispered into the void. “Did you or did you not just hear Sif, Hogun, and myself say that there has been enough disrespect paid to our hosts this day?”

“Seems to me only you said it.”

“Out loud, perhaps. To your face, yes.” The smile this earned him was bright, lovely, and sharpened even more so than his favoured long knives. “But then I am your brother.”

Baby brother,” Thor corrected, and flicked his brother’s nose. He got his fingers out of biting distance just in time. “And husband, now! Most peculiar. What would Mother say?”

Settling back into his chair, Loki scowled at his reflection and what presumably was still too many flowers in his dark hair. “Nothing, as she is not going to find out.”

“I’m sure she’d find the situation rather amusing.”

Loki’s hands fell to the table with a sharp slap; turning, his eyes flashed with the kind of fire that not even a monsoon might douse to ashes. “It’s very, very, ancient seiðr, Thor. It is anything but amusing.” With nose firmly in the air he returned to the mirror, lips downturned. “I’m not sure you understand at all what this means.”

“It’s…not binding. You said so.”

The faint hint of unease in his voice had his brother openly snickering, even as Thor noticed an odd look pass between Hogun and Sif. “Yes, I did, and no, it’s not. For us.” Loki took a borrowed comb, began to yank more harshly at his tangled hair than Thor had seen before. “This seiðr was once practised in Asgard, but many millennia ago. It was considered…not cruel, perhaps. I believe that’s too harsh a word. But the seiðr infused in the ceremony means that any two bound by such, will be bound always and forever. Through life, and beyond death. It cannot ever be undone.”

Their mother might have been a seer and powerful seiðkona, and their father the only known king to so finely walk the line between warrior and seiðmaðr, but Thor had never found much interest in pure seiðr. He glanced to Mjölnir, quiescent in her corner, skin crawling in a manner that made him suddenly wish he might scratch it all away. “Are you making this up just to frighten me?”

“No.” Hogun’s low voice resonated across the room, heavy in both accent and meaning. “It was practised by the Vanir too, once.”

“Why should it frighten you?” Loki turned about, crossed one long leg over the other; where one hand dangled over his knee, the bracelet there shone bright. “There are of course failsafes to such powerful seiðr. One of which I utilised – because such a bond cannot be forged when one partner is unwilling. The safeguard against incest was placed there in the belief that those of too close blood relation may have a power imbalance that prevented one partner from speaking aloud what they did not wish for.” The smile playing upon his lips turned sour, but did not fade. “Or so I was led to believe.”

Even as Sif murmured something unintelligible to the ever stoic Hogun – while Fandral apparently challenged Volstagg to an arm-wrestle over the remaining wine – Thor lifted his hand, again. The neat silver bracelet remained there still, plain and unadorned upon his golden skin. Though it had opened to close over his wrist, he could find no sign of closure now. Indeed, it could have been but plain jewellery, for he felt nothing of its own inherent power. It had little in common with the deadstar song of Mjölnir, which reached full crescendo only in heated battle, but would remain as a low hum whenever she was near. Still, he could sense something in the silver: Loki’s cantrip, the one keeping the illusion of their binding. It caressed his mind from within like a gentle song from a distant room. He closed his eyes, smiled at the comforting warmth.

“I can feel your seiðr.”

“Clever boy.”

Thor opened his eyes, grinned wider at his brother across the room. “It reminds me of when we were small.” He leaned back upon the bed, allowing his eyes to grow hazy and distant, all the better to match the nostalgic bent of his voice. “When it was dark, and the nurserymaids said we must sleep without the lamps. You used to conjure small ghostlights, hanging them beneath the ceiling in all the constellations.” Flicking a loose flower out of his eyes, he gave Loki the kind of warm look he generally saved for their private conversations. “It feels just like that.”

From under the tangle of his own loosed hair, Loki gave him a strange look – Thor might almost have called it hunted, if Fandral hadn’t pushed to his feet with a gagging sound.

“Well, I do believe that’s out cue to leave the newlyweds to their romantic evening, yes?” he announced, though from the way Volstagg had tossed the emptied wine flask aside Thor doubted it was the real reason. He was reaching across to clasp his comrade’s forearm in farewell when Sif appeared at his side.

“Thor.” He glanced up, found the hazel eyes dark, searching. “Will you be well, here alone?”

“Of course not.” Loki’s low words were perfectly pleasant, spoken from Thor’s other side with an amiable smile. “I plan to ravish my husband as soon as you and this motley crew are banished from my sight.”

She never once looked to Loki. “Thor.”

“Sif. It is fine.” Laying a hand upon one shoulder, he gave a light squeeze. “Go, enjoy what remains of the celebrations. We will pass a pleasant enough night here, I am sure.” Then he glanced down to the bed at their side, gave her a crooked grin. “And there are plenty of pillows I might smother Loki with, should he snore.”

He couldn’t be surprised that he was promptly smacked in the head with one for his trouble – and then two, for Sif could never stand to be outdone by Loki. In the end the four of them trailed out the window with only one minor incident, when Fandral slipped several feet above the ground and landed upon Volstagg. Even the big man’s bigger protests managed to draw no attention from their hosts. Still, if looks had been lethal, Volstagg would have been dining in Valhalla in several large pieces before the morning dawned anew.

As Thor dawdled at the window, closing the great shutters and their glass, Loki at last finished with his crown. The denuding had left a pile of blossoms upon the dresser, which he disregarded entirely as he turned to the centrepiece of the room: a wooden banded tub, more than enough to accommodate two individuals. The herb-infused water shifted beneath the inquisitive dip of one hand, a haunting rose scent upon the air. Thor had since returned to his chosen seat upon the canopied bed, content amongst its down mattress and many blankets, the sheets beneath starched so white they almost hurt to look at.

“It seems a shame to waste it.”

Loki withdrew his hand with a snort. “Who is wasting it?” Reaching for one of the many large towels piled neatly upon the shelves at its base, Loki added, “I fully intend to bathe, after being forced into close quarters with you for hours on end.”

“Naturally.” Thor sprawled more comfortably upon the bed, cocked one eyebrow. “But, my dearest husband – do you require aid in scrubbing your lovely back?”

“Idiot.”

With only that passing as a reply, Loki set about undoing the clothing. It was much simpler than their usual finery, given they had chosen to travel incognito: strangers in a distant land. Everything about this chosen garb was purposefully simple, designed to be anonymous. The villagers had adorned them both with crowns of flowers and heavily embroidered cloaks for the ceremony, but compared with the pomp of Asgard, it had been very subdued for a wedding of princes.

“You should wash your hair,” Thor suggested, lazily stretching long limbs across almost the full width of the bed. “And then allow it to dry unimpeded.”

“Oh?”

“In the morning, knowing your hair, you’ll look suitably ravished.” The scandalised look this earned him had a full belly laugh rolling around the chamber. “Oh, come, Loki, I’m just trying to be helpful!”

A snort spoke volumes alone, even before he spoke. “As if I’d risk the state of my hair for your reputation.”

Thor rocked upward, dangling his hands between his knees. “I do love you.” Loki grew very still, and Thor leapt upon the silent pause. “I’m glad you decided to come with us after all.”

For a long moment Loki said nothing. Then he leaned down, began to unlace his boots. “Someone does need to save you from yourself.” The loose curtain of his hair masked his eyes, his voice low. “Sif can’t be expected to always pick up after you.”

The pang he felt was something odd, undefined. With the haze of mead and wine, and the sweet scent of rosewater upon the air, Thor let it go. “It is peculiar, however. I always expected you to be a large part of my wedding. Just…not quite in this capacity. You could have at least worn a dress for the occasion.”

Only in his breeches now, Loki straightened up with a scowl. Then he threw his shirt at him. With an easy laugh, Thor snatched it out of the air long before it could strike him. “Might I join you?”

“Well, you do reek.”

Knowing it for the only positive answer he would receive, Thor set about removing his own clothes. A chance glance upward, just before Loki slid into the water, showed his brother as all long limbs and pale skin: nude but for the silver bracelet. Thor found his breath caught suddenly short. He turned away, swallowed hard. It did nothing to ease the odd curling sensation felt low in his abdomen. Keeping his eyes down did not help. The silver of his own bracelet still caught the low burn of the lights as he clumsily unlaced his breeches.

As if to mask his flush, upon entering the tub Thor ducked beneath the surface. When he emerged, the floating petals and stamens from his now-ruined crown careened about the disturbed water in frantic circles. Thor batted at them with all the curious grace of a kitten, even as Loki’s scowl deepened further yet.

“Can you not sit still, for even the length of a bath?”

“Not at the length you enjoy them.”

Appearing to give up, Loki leaned against one edge, rolled his eyes skyward as he bent his head back further yet. “It has been a long day.”

“Indeed it has.” Hiking his hair out of his eyes, slopping water careless upon the floor, he gave a long and exaggerated sigh. “I do hope you don’t plan to ravish me after all, brother. I am very tired.”

The sound Loki made was just a touch too elegant to really be a snort. “And what a husband you do make, brother mine.”

Chuckling, Thor settled back, turned his face to the vaulted ceiling. Quiet soon reigned between them; in truth, his brother must have been exhausted, too. His own eyes closed, mind slipping so easily into a drowse. For all time must have passed, and possibly at length, the water did not cool. He supposed he might ask Loki if it had been enchanted. He might have, too, could he remember where his voice was, and how it worked.

Halfway between dream and waking, hands moved to his arms, gentling him upwards. “Come on, you great lummox.” The acerbic bite to the words only made him grin, sleepy and warm. “If I allow you fall asleep in the tub and drown on the night of your wedding, we really will be run out of this village on a rail.”

Without protest Thor accepted a towel, swiped it lazy over limb and torso. Gently prodded, he then fell facedown into the bed, found it warm and welcoming. Loki had made no effort to dress him, but then he had never been a nursemaid. Just a younger brother. Beloved and bewildering. Within moments he felt Loki’s weight gingerly come down beside him. He did not even think. Rather he just reached over, gathered him close, and smiled.

“Thor—”

Stiff and unyielding in the circle of his arms, Loki was just as naked as Thor himself. He yawned widely. “All part of the deception, Loki. Should some nosy village elder come to see if we’ve done the deed.” He grinned, still not bothering to open his eyes. “And I thought you liked tricks.”

Loki only sighed, low and light, his chest barely moving against Thor’s own.

“Oh, I see. Just not when they’re played on you.”

“Go to sleep, brother.”

He would do so willingly: the bracelet on his wrist remained as warm as the laughter still bubbling in his chest. Snuggling closer, he could feel his brother’s echoing heartbeat against his own. All was well. Loki was with him. In this moment, nothing else mattered.

There could be worse wedding nights, he assumed. And he smiled. And then he slept.