"This trip is starting to feel ridiculous. What manner of gift do you get Odin All-Father, King of Asgard?" Thor said, laughing. "I cannot simply present him with a new cloak."
Loki tossed him a look over his shoulder, pointing out, "That's why we're here, if you'll recall. So that you can survey the marketplace for anything that might give you an idea. You don't have to buy these trinkets." He lifted a gold-plated necklace embroidered with runes; a cheap thing, as no one needed a second glance to tell.
Fandral let out a great laugh, smacking Thor's arm. "Look, look! A ring charmed against warts! His Majesty could clearly make use of that, don't you think?"
Thor was chuckling as well, but Sif told them, "These goods are meant for the common people, not royalty. Don't laugh because they cannot live up to your lofty standards."
Finally, someone with perspective. Loki nodded at her, and reminded them, "We're not here to buy trinkets for Father. We're just looking for ideas. You children are capable of forming ideas, aren't you?"
"I am no thoughtful gift-giver," Thor admitted, lifting a bauble from a countertop with all the confusion of someone who had no idea what it was meant to do. "I would just as soon buy a trinket and hand it off and be done with it."
Volstagg tilted his head back and asked, "All this talk of gifts... Should I get something for Gunnhild?" He looked at Hogun, of all people.
The Warriors Three were a ridiculous group to go shopping with, but at least they kept things amusing. Loki shook his head, returning to his perusal of the goods on display. The marketplace was bustling with energy and noise, and the people were not overly surprised to find princes and lords in their midst; there was little standing on ceremony in Asgard.
"Good sirs, a moment! Surely adventuring souls like yourselves must have need for horse charms," pleaded a merchant in thick fur, reaching out as Loki stepped past his display. "Faster, stronger, more resilient! Every man can use a better horse!"
Could, but did not necessarily want. Loki skimmed his attention over the man's goods, but was about to move on before his gaze settled on a coil of dark hair bound together with a leather cord that glittered with shimmering thread.
The merchant quickly seized on his interest, saying, "You have a splendid eye, master! This charm was made from the tail of Svadilfari himself, the greatest of all horses! Just wear it under your armor at your hip, and your steed will gain his power!"
The charm certainly did have some power to it, Loki thought, and reached out to take it in hand and turn it around. He could feel the magic shimmering under his fingers as he touched first the band, then the hair, and then he nodded to himself. The leather had a minor enchantment on it, but the true power was in the horse's hair itself.
In the hands of a competent sorcerer, with sufficient knowledge and ability, it could be used for more than just a low-end market-stall charm. This was it; this would be his gift to Odin. He would take this toy and make it something worthy of the King of Asgard.
Loki lifted his head, smiling easily at the man. "You have my attention. How much?" he said, and though the price was less than he would have paid, he haggled anyway, because it was expected of him.
His companions were amused as he walked away with his prize. Volstagg said, "I didn't think you enjoyed horseflesh, Loki!" with a roaring laugh.
"For one thing, it's for my father," he said, "and for another thing, how would you be able to tell, when Hogun is always first, second, third, and last to step up whenever horses are involved?"
The others laughed, and Hogun nodded very seriously, as if accepting and acknowledging this point.
"So, that's what you're getting for him," Thor mused, glancing at it with new interest and obviously trying to imagine it. Maybe revising his own standards, deciding that a cloak would be passable after all.
"Don't even think it, Brother," Loki said, laughing. "This will contribute to my gift, but it is not all my gift. And you may as well not even bother trying to match it." He was quite confident in the idea that had struck him.
For once, he would be the undisputed victor, and he was looking forward to it. Thor chuckled, good-naturedly, unbothered by the boast.
Thor had nothing to prove, after all, as Loki reminded himself well into the next night. He was the proud warrior and the charismatic leader. Everyone heaped praise on him and admired him. Even distant Odin had been known to touch his hair affectionately or speak rare words of respect to him.
That was not Loki's way. He was strong, as all Asgardians were strong, but not impressively so, and he did not care for combat of brute force. Instead of swords and axes and war he enjoyed throwing knives and magic spells and trickery. His strength was in artifice and subterfuge; undermining and manipulating. He won admiration where Thor was simply handed it. Even among their mutual friends he had first had to win them over, to prove to them that he was useful in a fight and that his company was not so terrible.
He had rarely excelled in a way that earned Odin's praise, but this time he knew that he would. He pored over his books, looking up the spells, the incantations, the runes, the potions; he prepared everything carefully and with great satisfaction.
And so on the second night after purchasing the charm, he lifted the hair of Svadilfari up to his lips, and he swallowed it.
Then he happily buried himself in his chambers for the next five days.
It was not uncommon for Loki to vanish for a week or more at a time; when he found something he wished to study he often neglected the company of others for long stretches of time, barely sleeping, eating, or drinking. Thor liked to joke that what most warriors did only in the grip of bloodthirst and madness, his unassuming brother did on a whim.
Maybe that was what gave him away -- that he did not abandon all personal care, that even though he was locked within his rooms, he still called for substantial meals, requested new bed linens and baths to be brought to him, opened the windows to his chambers and came to the windows to breathe the fresh air.
Loki really should not have been surprised, then, when Thor came pounding on his door.
"I'm busy," he said.
Thor called back, "Too busy for your brother?" as if Loki couldn't have told from the entitled thumping who it must be.
Loki felt his lips curve up, amused, but he did not move from his place in bed, buried under blankets and propped up by countless pillows. "As far as I'm aware, the definition of busy remains the same," he responded.
Because he was not to be stopped by logic, Thor then tried to open the door anyway, and complained, "You've locked it."
"Yes." Loki painted another rune delicately, and lifted it from the page with a soft word. "Because I would not care to be disturbed. Because I'm busy."
"I've been waiting to speak to you for days!"
"Wait a while longer."
And thus, a few hours later, while Loki was preoccupied with reading, Thor climbed through his window.
Loki put down the book on his stomach, the fond amusement of earlier replaced now by annoyance. "You will not be told no," he said irritably.
"I wanted to know what you thought about my gift for Father," Thor responded, matching his irritation effortlessly. "Now tell me why you've barricaded yourself in your room. You're just lying abed. This is no-- This is no grand working!"
"You didn't come here to interrogate me. Please tell me about your gift so that you can go," Loki muttered, sitting further upright and holding the thick tangle of his blankets to his chest like a coy maiden.
Taking that as invitation, Thor crossed over to the chair by the wall nearby and threw himself down into it, leaning forward on his knees. "A horn," he said, proudly. "For the Wild Hunt. It is about -- so long," he held his arms apart, "and thick and dark. The sound it makes, you should hear it! It's deep and glorious."
It sounded like an impressive gift, Loki would admit, privately. Aloud he admitted only, "He'll like it. Why are you even asking me?"
Thor gave him a bit of a lost look, tangling his fingers together. It was a look that said, Why wouldn't I ask you? I always ask you.
It was nice to feel needed, Loki supposed.
"Where did you find your prize?" he asked instead.
Thor puffed up, pleased. "Sverrik from the Guard told me of it. He had been to a specialty craftsman in the city. He thought it would be a fitting companion for Father on his Hunts."
"He was right," Loki said. That Thor had not come to that conclusion himself would, of course, not make the slightest bit of difference to anyone. That was Thor's talent: befriending others, winning allies, putting people at ease, and it brought him endless good. He should use it to his advantage.
And Loki could afford to be generous, because he still felt confident that his gift would be the favorite this time.
"So?" Thor said, as if on cue, leaning close. "What of your gift? Can I see?"
"It's not ready yet," Loki told him. "A few days more."
"You really aren't giving him the horsehair charm, then. What are you doing? At least tell it to me." After centuries, Thor still had the earnestness of a child, though his form and easy, heart-stirring grin were that of a man.
It was hard to say no to him. "A mount sired by Svadilfari," he said, lips curving up in a knowing smile, and Thor's reaction was no disappointment: his golden brother's eyes went wide and he slammed his hands on his knees.
"Nothing can beat that," Thor said, and laughed, loud. "How are you producing such a thing! I see no broodmare hanging about your chambers, and you haven't been out in an age."
Well-intentioned and thankfully blind. "I don't need a broodmare," Loki started, and glanced across the room with the blankets still clutched high against his chest, searching for an appropriate thing to say; his gaze fell upon a pot full of soil, on the far windowsill. He spared a hand to gesture to it. "I'm growing it. I laced the container with power and enchantment, and then planted the hair. I speak runes over it every day to bring it life."
The thunder god crossed to the pot with naked wonder on his features, and crouched beside it, reaching out but not quite daring to touch it. He obviously feared ruining the gift somehow, perhaps breaking it. "...In this? Truly?" He would believe anything, spoken earnestly enough.
"Truly. In mere days I will bring it forth, and you may see for yourself."
Thor lifted his head, his expression almost solemn, and said, "You have become a powerful sorcerer indeed, Brother."
"But not powerful enough. You should leave me," Loki advised him, matching his sober look. "I've been worn through with all the spellcasting."
That was all he needed to say to get Thor to his feet, pleased again, holding what he thought was a secret and content in the explanations he had been given. He still paused beside the window, giving Loki a harder glance, studying him in a way that made his younger brother nervous. "Are you sure exhaustion is all it is?" he asked. "You seem -- flushed, I think."
Loki bit the inside of his cheek. "I'm fine, Thor."
After another beat, the blond shrugged, saying simply, "Then try to make it down to a meal tomorrow. Everyone's worried about you, you know," and went out through the window again, leaving Loki alone with his potted herbs and his rounded belly.
Naturally, Loki did not go down to a meal the next day. His condition would have been very obvious -- his distended stomach grew noticeably with each passing day; he wasn't sure he would be able to walk much, tomorrow -- and he had spent too much time casting magics to ensure the health and growth and power of the creature growing inside him to worry about the complications of changing his shape, and he could not guarantee that he would be able to maintain an illusion for hours, never mind what might happen on the way.
Just two more days, he thought. Mind your own business for just two more days.
So -- naturally -- Thor returned that night.
If he had been in bed again, he likely could have weaved another story to satisfy Thor's curiosity, but he was up: slowly traveling from the dresser to the bed in the loose nightclothes that were all that he could wear like this. Loki had expected some discomfort, but he had not quite expected to get this big, making it difficult to walk or maneuver at all. He suspected that he had grown bigger than bearing a normal, Aesir child would entail, but he had the consolation of knowing that tomorrow night the creature would be ready, and he would be free of it.
A week, and Loki was already sick of this condition. Natural childbirth meant going through months of this, he thought, sourly. He was beginning to be seriously skeptical about the idea that being like a woman was somehow an insult.
Distracted with his own thoughts and the journey to the bed, far more arduous than it should have been, he did not notice Thor hopping into the window until the startled clatter of the tray against the marble floor jerked his head up.
Loki stared at his brother, who stared back, each of them paralyzed: Thor standing over the spilled bowl of custard that he had brought, and Loki bent with one hand bracing his weight heavily on the foot of the bed, and the other curved beneath his massively rounded stomach.
Thor broke the silence first, demanding with horror, "Are you ill? Do you need--"
"No," Loki snapped, freeing a hand to wave him away and then immediately returning it beneath his belly. "Please tell me I don't have to explain this to you like a nursemaid."
For a moment, he wasn't sure whether he would or wouldn't. Thor watched him uncertainly, and appeared to be having difficulty recognizing what he was looking at. If Loki had been feeling more charitable, he might have acknowledged that any variety of things would have made it difficult for him to accept the sight of his very pregnant little brother: for instance, that men did not become pregnant, or that only days ago he had seen Loki as slim and fit as ever and now six days later he appeared to be nine months pregnant, possibly more.
Then Thor said, slowly, "What -- is in the pot?"
Loki's lips quirked up, and he let out a rusty laugh, in spite of himself. "...Fennel, Thor. It's fennel."
To his credit, Thor grasped the basics quickly, and wasted no time on inconsequential complaints like the lie that Loki had told him about mythical foals growing in dirt like a flower. He stepped forward slowly, his gaze darting down to Loki's stomach, and offered a hand to help the darker god into bed.
"This seems extreme for a gift," Thor murmured.
Loki ignored his hand, gingerly moving around to the other side of the bed to defy that offer of assistance, and told him, "No one asked you to do it. Nor was I asked by another. I chose to do it, so obviously I do not share your opinion."
"You will really just give it away...?" Thor asked, brows drawing together in confusion, and then mulled, "Am I... to be an uncle?"
He was not dealing with the situation well. Loki sighed. "Of course not," he said, witheringly. "We speak of a horse, Thor."
"But... you bear it within you as your own child."
"A horse," he repeated, incredulous. "Whether I bear it in my body or not, it isn't my child. It isn't anyone's child. It's an animal."
"...Does your body mean so little to you?" Thor seemed uncertain, despite Loki's arguments seeking to persuade him; maybe even gaining in incredulity. "That you can carry another life inside you and not -- feel any connection to it?"
This line of questioning was becoming personal, almost accusatory, and Loki drew icy indifference around him like armor. This was the very reason he had hidden his methods; he had known that others would not understand. They would consider it unmanly at best, alien and repulsive at worst.
Loki told his brother, with great finality, "On the contrary. My body is the key. It is the only vessel that could make this creature a fitting gift for Father."
Being nurtured in the cradle of his body, bathed in his power and his magic, had been an essential component in reproducing Svadilfari's reputed prowess.
"Every night I spoke runes over the seed that I planted, giving it life and spirit," Loki continued, gentling his tone a little, trying to make Thor understand. "It is not so different from the story that I told you, only the seed is not planted in the soil, but in my body."
Thor hesitated; wavering on the edge of relenting, Loki thought, but he put up one last bid. "...Can you tell me, truly, that there is nothing of you in the foal that grows in you?"
He was hopeful. He wanted to be told that Loki was not bearing a child intended to be a beast of burden, and Loki was all too happy to oblige him. "Nothing, Thor. The pot is not the sire of the plant, only its container," he said, and his lips quirked up. "I promise you that the creature will not have green eyes or my nose."
That got a laugh out of his brother, and Loki felt some tension easing out of him as well as he lowered himself to the sheets. The last thing that he wanted was for Thor to become fixated on this idea, and to then find himself unable to look at Loki the same way again, without thinking of him as my brother, the mother of a horse.
Thor followed him, again, coming up alongside him on the bed. "How much -- longer? You seem to be having difficulty."
Speaking of things he didn't want to happen, Thor's solicitous assistance and caretaking as if Loki were invalid was definitely among them. Even moreso his clumsy efforts to midwife during the actual procedure. "It is almost finished," Loki said. "Two days from now, at noon, it will be ready, and I will bring it forth."
Twelve hours exaggerated. By the time Thor came to check up on him, he would get to see the result for himself, and Loki would be long rested, bathed, and recovered. Another little white lie to protect him from things he did not want to know, and Loki from how that knowledge would change his opinion.
"I don't understand why you would have done this," Thor murmured, reaching out to touch Loki's stomach.
Loki arched an eyebrow and drew the coverlet over himself deliberately. "This is the reason it is a kingly gift," he countered. "Because I sacrificed for it. Because I give something of myself with it. Because this is a gift that cannot be earned with a swing of a sword, or purchased from a merchant. This is something only I can give. And it is something great. I just--"
"You know that..." Thor hesitated, and then pushed on, blue eyes focusing on Loki's face. "You know that he doesn't need you to do this for him, don't you? Even if you simply bought him something from a merchant -- that charm against warts that Fandral laughed over -- you know that Father would love you the same."
What grim words, Loki said, looking at his fingers curling in the cloth before shaking his head. "It's not about winning his love," he lied easily. "I was only inspired, and I did not take it so personally as you apparently do, Brother."
He relented enough to reach out and let Thor take his hand, the bigger man squeezing it reassuringly.
"I stand by what I said," Thor said. His sincerity was blinding. "You are a great sorcerer, Brother."
Loki allowed no one into his room the next day, retrieving his meals from the other side of the closed door laboriously; he had gotten even bigger over the course of the night, and walking across the room was so unbearable that he only bothered to fetch his breakfast and lunch, leaving the supper where it was. He spent all his time sleeping to gather his strength, or breathing more magic over the unwieldy roundness of his stomach, a constant flow of runes and spells and prayers.
Be strong, be swift, be impressive, he wished at the life inside him. Be worth it, or so help me, I will turn you into riding leathers instead!
Magical pregnancy did not produce much in the way of hormones to ease his mind from the agitation of his state.
It was nearing midnight -- finally -- when he forced himself out of bed for the last time. He locked the windows and drew the curtains, leaving himself with only a few candles around the area where he would work, cleared the rugs away, and settled on the stone floor on his splayed knees. He surveyed his materials. The blade, to open himself and free the foal; the healing stone, to repair the damage; the milk in its shaped canister, for when the foal was ready to suck; towels and liquids to cleanse the creature and their surroundings. He had secreted away everything before he was too far along to go out.
The only thing left to do was enchant the milk, again to make the newborn grow fast and powerful, and he was concentrating on that when he heard the scraping at his windowsill that he had missed twice before.
Loki clenched his teeth, cursing his brother a thousand times for his good nature and his oblivious willfulness, and hoped against hope that the locked window would stop him. Scarcely a heartbeat later, the quiet sound of breaking glass dashed his prayers.
He lifted his voice enough to snap, "Get out, Thor!"
Which was very much the wrong thing to say, of course alerting his brother to the idea that he was stressed, upset, doing something he didn't want Thor to know about, or all of those things. Thor reached around more quickly to unlock the door and then flew into the chamber, his eyes wide and his body tense, ready for anything.
Loki gritted, "I told you it was tomorrow afternoon."
"I worried when I saw you hadn't touched your supper, and I knew you wouldn't answer the door again." Thor's gaze skimmed over the assembled tools and then finally lifted to Loki again. "It seems my arrival was timely."
"You do not want to see this," Loki told him, turning back to his spell and closing his eyes.
If it had all worked out as his plans, Thor would never have known the origin of the foal. He would have marveled at the gift on the day of its giving, the same way that Odin would have, and pressed for details, while Loki smiled secretively and said nothing at all. There would be no knowledge of the way he had looked, laden and heavy with life; even less knowledge of the blood that would be shed in ridding himself of it.
Thor stepped up beside him, stubbornly. "What can I do to help?" he asked, apparently ignoring him.
"Get out so I can cease worrying about your presence," Loki hissed. He felt like he was repeating himself, but Thor's refusal to listen might not only result in awkwardness: it might ruin the goal he had been willing to sacrifice all of that to see through.
The blond god looked up again, meeting his eyes with a steady intensity. He said, simply, "I will not leave you in this state. You would not leave me were our positions reversed, would you?"
A question Loki could scarcely even imagine enough to answer, even to himself. He turned his gaze back to his working.
At the very beat of midnight, the foal began to kick.
Loki doubled over with a groan, curling over his stomach, and he gasped, "The knife!"
"What's happening?" Thor's eyes were wide with alarm once more, but he picked up the knife, gripping its hilt in his hand and coming closer to Loki, kneeling down beside him.
"It has to be cut out," Loki growled, struggling to keep his composure as the magical womb roiled within him, suddenly straining with a being that was conscious and whole and could no longer be contained by his body.
"Cut?!" his brother echoed, and Loki snarled, "Give me the knife!"
"You cannot mean to--"
"If it isn't cut out, it will tear out," he gritted.
There was a moment of long silence, ending sharply with the punctuation of another kick, harder, and Loki's muffled cry. Thor abruptly said, "Lie back. I will do it." He readied the dagger in his fist, and without needing instruction, he took up the healing stone in his other.
It was agonizing, and Loki's fingers scrabbled so fiercely into the seams of his floor that he cracked the stones. He lost track of time for a while, not unconscious so much as numb and senseless from pain, with nothing to occupy his thoughts but endure this: when the haze cleared and he lifted his head wearily he found himself covered in blood, the wound sealed without so much as a line to show where he had been sliced open, and Thor worriedly hovering over him, his hands and arms red and his features glistening with a thin sheen of sweat.
"Brother," he murmured.
Loki fumbled with hands sapped of strength and gritty with stone dust, pushed himself hazily upright only when Thor got an arm behind his back to help. "The foal," he managed roughly, and saw it.
It was hard to imagine a creature already so tall could have come from inside him; it was standing, though not quite ten minutes old, its gray hide damp and eyes black as it stumbled clumsily around the room, exploring with a newborn wonder.
"It has eight legs," Thor said, and looked down at Loki hesitantly, clearly waiting for his cue on whether or not this was intentional.
But as he pointed it out, the little foal broke into a far less clumsy canter, crossing the wide chambers in seconds and venturing into an adjoining room. Loki closed his eyes again, finally, and said, "He will be faster than any other." If eight legs was a part of that, then so be it.
He gathered himself slowly, feeling strange now that his body no longer carried its burden, strange now that the wound that had been carved into his body was gone. "The-- milk," he said, and Thor obediently got up and retrieved it. When the foal next wandered by, he offered the canister to it, and the little creature paused, trembling, to investigate.
Loki lifted a hand and dragged loose, sweaty hair from his face, heedless of the additional filth it pulled through his hair. Thor held the bottle to the foal while it suckled, and his expression was clouded, considering.
Debating, again, whether or not he was an uncle, Loki suspected.
Thor's eyes lifted, surprise taking over his face. "What?"
"You know how foals imprint," Loki said, resting his weight on a hand. "If he is -- handled, then he will make a better mount. You will ruin my gift -- by treating him delicately."
Thor nodded slowly, his own experiences finally coming back to him. He reached out with his spare hand to take up a towel and rub the animal's neck, stroking the moisture from its hide, and it shivered but paid him no mind. Slowly, both god and beast began to relax.
"He really is like any other horse," he observed.
Loki let out a long breath. That was the conclusion he'd wanted Thor to find: that the behavior, the reactions, the choice of treatment that would be most effective, were the same as those of 'any other horse'. That this foal had no great intellect or soul just because it had come from within Loki's body. Sired of magic and hair and divine flesh, or born from a mare in the usual way, a horse was simply a horse.
"Enough of you stealing the fun part from me," Loki said with a lightness he was beginning to feel. "You clean. I will train him."
When all was done he used illusion to cloak them in invisibility and guided the foal by a harness out to the stables, where he slid it discreetly into a stall that he had prepared with all that the animal would need: milk and artificial mother, warmth, and protection from those who might notice it before it was time to present it as a gift.
Thor was in good spirits despite the menial work that Loki had talked him into doing, and he laughed as the gate latched shut behind them once more. "That settles that, then," he said, blue eyes dancing as he spared a glance for Loki, approvingly taking in his brother's clothes, fitting well to his slim figure and showing no sign of what had so recently been cut from him, and then returned his attention to the foal one last time. Cheery, he added, "Enjoy your night, 'nephew'."
He went off, chuckling to himself, and Loki watched him go with a reluctant quirk to his lips. Then he turned to gaze at the gray pony, which stood by the gate of the stall, ignoring the illusory mare that Loki had cast to give it comfort and staring at the dark god with unwavering black eyes.
"You are lucky he thinks that no more than a joke now," Loki told the newborn. "If this had changed anything between us, I would have rent you limb from limb before I kept you in either of our lives."
The foal stared at him more, ignorant of the meaning of his words. On some level, he thought, it must have recognized him, at least as a presence, not dissimilar to one it had felt before it was truly conscious.
Thor was a fool, and he didn't listen, and he was often trouble, and Loki was always having to help him or explain things to him, to keep him on the correct track. But Loki loved him more than any other, and he would set Asgard ablaze if it meant keeping his goodwill and his affection.
That was Thor's gift. He was the sun, around whom they all revolved.
But this was Loki's triumph.
On the anniversary of Odin's coronation as king many, many centuries before, he waited until the last moment, getting up only when it seemed like there were no other gifts left.
"A moment more, All-Father," he said, smiling warmly. "I have one last offering in your honor."
Loki descended from the table where they would shortly feast, gesturing at the door, and a guard stepped forward to walk the horse into the hall. He was already tall enough to be ridden, power and strength in every step of his eight legs, spirit in his dark eyes. Odin was standing, seeming fascinated, and Loki was feeling pleased as he began his tale.
"This steed is of the blood of Svadilfari, the great horse lord, whose strength is known all across the realms," Loki pronounced. "With such great lineage, this creature needs few other merits to mark his worthiness, but he has been imbued with deep magic and is gifted with vast physical potential. Though young yet, he is faster than any horse I have ever seen, and I would not be surprised for his destiny to be the swiftest horse in all the Nine Realms."
He peppered his speech with gestures and grand flourishes, turning to survey each noble in the hall between appeals to the king; showing off his grand gift. He paid no mind to the animal itself, and when he caught Thor's eye, Thor grinned at him, a broad, knowing grin that spoke of nothing but happiness and a shared secret.
It was surprisingly refreshing to regret nothing.
Loki turned once more to Odin, his flashy speech trailing off, and for just a beat he was only a boy, standing in front of his father and looking for the approval in his face. Odin's usually drawn face was delighted, his visible eye alight with anticipation and pride.
"For you, my king," Loki said, ducking into a bow, and he was sincere. "--For you, Father. The only man in Yggdrasil's vast reach who deserves a mount such as this."
Odin stepped forward, quick decisive steps, and his broad hands cupped the sides of Loki's face, pulling him up to press a fervent, fond kiss on the crown of his head.
"Today," Odin said, his voice tight, but still carrying to the farthest reaches of the hall, "you have truly overwhelmed me with your consideration -- and your esteem, my son."
And the assemblage applauded him, a few voices even rising in calls of admiration. Even Loki could earn such accolades, he thought, swelling with pleasure. It had all been worth it, every moment, every mishap. For this: the proof that he, too, could be valued; that even his methods could earn him praise, if he kept his own counsel and allowed others to make their own assumptions and let no one stand in his way or sway him from his course.
That stayed with him, that lesson. But the admiration, the affection, the accolades... those he forgot, all too quickly.