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Paved with Ice

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«·»

The Well of Urd is an unremarkable construction, for its importance in the balance of everything. Loki stands before it, his gaze fixed on the large wooden doors that lead to the great hall of the Norns. They know he is here; Loki is certain of it. Skuld would have known that he’d come. Verdandi probably knew the moment he arrived.

Urd will know when he turns away. To hear one’s fate from the Norns is to be bound to it. Loki is afraid. He’s already come so far on this twisted path; he’s lost his identity, he’s lost Thor to Midgard and he’s lost Odin to the Odinsleep. To ask what will come next only to be told that his troubles are just beginning would be more than he can bear. Surely there’s some magic he can learn, a spell that he can find in one of his ancient books, which will show him how things might be. Loki wants a choice. He wants control. It feels like he’s had far too little of it lately. It’s time that changed.

It’s a long walk home, along the twisting roots of Yggdrasil. Loki enjoys it; enjoys the glimpses he is afforded of the other realms as he keeps close to the World Tree and off the Bifrost, his magic keeping him hidden from Heimdall. This may be a lonely path to walk on his own, but it’s Loki’s own fault that he’s alone. Thor should be here. It wouldn’t be half this bad without him; Loki misses the way that Thor would wrap him in his arms, kiss him, and assure him that everything will be fine. Without Thor, Loki has nobody to turn to, nobody that he can trust. He harbours no illusions that friends of Thor’s are friends of his. The one person he loves more than anything is trapped on Midgard due to Loki’s own prank going awry and as much as he wants Thor back, he needs to prove himself even more.

Odin may never have meant for his Jotun son to sit upon the throne of Asgard, but it is Loki’s now. He wants nothing more than for Odin to awake, to reclaim his title as king, and praise Loki for all that he’s done during his rule, however short.

It’s the Jotun blood in his veins that Loki’s mind keeps returning to, however. His anger at being lied to still simmers steadily below the surface, but it’s nowhere near as strong as the distress. Loki has never been quite good enough, according to Æsir standards; he’s always been smaller, weaker, and he has never had a problem with that before. His mind is sharper than several of theirs combined.

This is the first time that Loki has ever felt repulsed by who he is—by what he is—like a wolf only just realising that it is not a sheep, but a monster.

Heimdall, forever vigilant, is standing at his post when Loki returns. There is suspicion in his eyes and Loki sighs, suddenly weary.

“I cast my eye out for you and could neither see nor hear you,” Heimdall states, his tone full of accusations that he is far too clever to place at the feet of his king.

“I believe we are all entitled to some privacy, are we not?” The peace of mind Loki gained from his walk is quickly bleeding away. There is a taunt that has been sitting at the tip of Loki’s tongue ever since he learned to hide himself from Heimdall’s sight, ever since he worked out that even the great gatekeeper had blind spots. One that he could have gotten away with before, but he knows that now, it will only prove his involvement in Thor’s banishment. He doesn’t look at Heimdall when he says, “You must have known from the very beginning what I was and yet you, like Odin, like Frigga, never breathed a word of it to me. You keep your secrets, yet you expect me to tell you everything?”

Heimdall’s gaze is still on Loki when he looks back, and while he stands straight as ever, the tension is gone. “You went to Nornheim.”

Loki doesn’t respond, turning on his heel and leaving. He broods as he walks along the Bifrost, back to the palace. Heimdall had sounded relieved to realise that Loki had been in Nornheim. He must have expected Loki to be hiding his tracks to Jotunheim, to cause even more trouble, and he would be insulted if not for the fact that the thought had crossed his mind.

There are more important things to deal with now, and Loki has work to do. He needs to find a way to prevent the war with Jotunheim, he needs to prove himself to Odin… and then he’ll need to find a way to undo the lies he’s told Thor. Right now, the one thing he needs to do before any of that is to figure himself out.

It’s late at night and there is nobody in the library when Loki lets himself in. Familiar as he is with the palace from centuries of living here, there are few places he knows better than the library. He has spent a great deal of his time here, absorbing whatever knowledge he can get his hands on.

The one section Loki visits the most houses all the books containing magical knowledge. There is no light in the library and yet Loki weaves his way between the shelves, only casting a spell to provide himself with some light once he’s standing before the correct shelf.

There are several books about the future and about fate, their gold-lettered titles shining in the light that hangs above Loki’s head. Most of the books will be on theory, with any relevant spells hidden between pages upon pages of philosophy and history.

Loki doesn’t have the time or the patience to go through every single book right now. Of course, he already has a spell for that. He spreads a hand out and the titles of the books gleam bright gold, fading as Loki’s magic searches for the most relevant one. Finally, there is only one book left, its title glowing steadily until he picks it up.

His own chambers are warm and lit, so Loki returns there. He spreads the book out on his desk and sits down in front of it with a sigh. As quick a reader as Loki is, the book is thick and his exhaustion catches up with him. His eyelids grow steadily heavier with every sentence he reads, until it’s a struggle to pay attention.

Just a quick break, he tells himself. He’ll shut his eyes and give them some rest.

Loki is asleep before he even finishes reading the next sentence.

«·»

The next morning, Loki wakes with the sun in his eyes and his face pressed against the yellowing pages of the book. He frowns, sitting up in his chair and rubbing his cheek, still feeling incredibly tired. He means to get up and change his clothes and get himself something to eat, but then a paragraph of the book catches his eye. It must be from the part he hadn’t yet reached because he’s certain he would have remembered something like this.

The book states that there have been no documented accounts of this spell actually being used—not when the book was written, but Loki doesn’t even know how long ago that was. He frowns at the page, tapping his fingers on his desk. Spells without any records can be extremely dangerous; until they’re put into practice, they’re just magical theories about the way things should work.

It’s still the best option Loki has. The spell claims that it will allow the caster to speak with a future incarnation of themselves and it sounds exactly like what Loki is looking for. He has a quick read of the theory behind the magic and it seems correct to him, from what he already knows. Right now, Loki wants nothing more than to sit down and immerse himself in this book until he knows exactly what to do. He wants to cast this spell now, so that he will know exactly what is ahead of him, and what to change if he needs to.

His duty lies with Asgard, though, and as much as Loki would like to sit here and read, he knows that he needs to attend to his kingdom first. With one last look at the book, he marks the page and leaves it shut.

Being the ruler of the nine realms is extremely tiring work. Loki has always known this, and it’s exactly why he’s never really coveted the throne. It’s too much work and there are far better things Loki could be doing with his time. The golden throne, impressive as it is in its position on top of the dais, is uncomfortable to sit in for long periods of time. Loki needs to attend to every dispute in the kingdom, make sure that his subjects are happy and, on top of everything else, try and work out what to do about Asgard’s relationship with Jotunheim. He’s very quickly beginning to understand just why Odin always looks so weary.

There’s mistrust in the Æsir’s eyes and Loki does not miss it. He’s never been the popular son, the one who could gain friends with nothing more than a smile. The only good thing anyone has ever had to say about Loki is that he is extremely clever, and even that was said in a wary tone, like this was something to be feared rather than respected.

Loki misses Thor. Brash and loud as Thor might be, his company has always been calming. While Loki deliberates over what to do with Jotunheim, whether to make the first strike or bide his time until Odin has awakened at the risk of allowing the Jotuns to attack first, he knows that Thor would be proposing an all-out assault. Were Thor here, Loki would be able to explain why it’s such a bad idea, and he would be able to think up an alternative.

Without Thor, there’s nobody else to talk to. It only makes Loki even more impatient for the day to be over, so that he will have time to himself once again and he can finally cast the spell. Once he’s secure in the knowledge that he’s doing the right thing, the loneliness won’t matter. The fact that the Æsir will never see him as their proper king won’t mean a thing to him.

Just get through this day, he tells himself. Just one more day, and then everything will be better.

It is, of course, the longest, most trying day Loki has ever had. The farmers come to him, squabbling over matters that he barely even needs to think to resolve. The blacksmiths, the seamstresses, the cooks… all of them come to him to solve problems that they can easily do themselves and if Loki hadn’t already been of the opinion that Asgard is populated by idiots, he certainly is now.

Frigga greets him with a sympathetic smile when he joins her for dinner. He’s changed out of the ceremonial armour and laid Gungnir aside for the day. Now, he feels like nothing more than a boy far out of his depth, soothed by the touch of his mother’s hand on his shoulder.

But she isn’t his mother, a bitter voice at the back of his mind points out bitterly, not really. He tenses at the thought, but Frigga strokes his cheek, undeterred.

“I am proud of you,” she tells him in the soft, gentle voice he has known all his life. “I am sure that your father will be, too.”

Loki doesn’t have the energy to argue over this matter now. With Frigga still so strongly viewing Loki as her own son, he can’t tell her that this is wrong, that he cannot accept the lie any longer. Ever since he was just a child learning to speak for the first time, he’s known to treasure Frigga’s smiles, to do all that he can to ensure that he doesn’t hurt her. Several things have changed since that battle upon Jotunheim, but this is not one of them.

They converse as they eat and Frigga, laughing, tells him that Loki’s complaints of his day in court, of the people seemingly unable to solve their own problems, are the exact same things that Odin complains of, too. It greatly improves his mood; if he has this in common with Odin, then perhaps he won’t be a bad king after all.

He’s in high spirits as he returns to his chambers, his optimism driving away his weariness. The book is where Loki left it, sitting closed on his desk. He sits down, opening up to the page he’d marked and reading.

It’s not overly complicated now that he has the time to read through the theory. He has everything he needs at hand; there’s a part of his room specifically set aside for spell-casting and all Loki needs to do is go through his supplies, picking out the right magical stones and drawing up his magic circle.

There are few things Loki enjoys more than casting complex spells. He likes the knowledge that he is one of the few people in existence capable of what he does, and he likes the feeling of the magic flowing through him, letting him shape it into something more complex. There is no incantation required for this, so all that Loki needs to do is focus his energy on the intent of the spell. Standing in front of the circle, he raises his arms and lets the magic run through him, until smoke begins to rise from the floor. It doesn’t concern Loki, even as it fills the room. It’s a sign that the spell is working and he continues casting until he’s done. The torches in the walls begin to flicker and Loki can make out a figure through the smoke.

The first thing he sees are the horns. They curve differently than the ones on his own helmet, that doesn’t matter. He knows himself well enough to look at the silhouette through the smoke and recognise that this is him.

“Welcome, Loki,” he greets himself, waving the smoke away. “It’s good to know the spell worked.”

“Hmm… Loki.” It’s his own voice that replies, but the tone is completely different. The taunting edge to it is gone, replaced by the kind of easy confidence that Loki has always wanted. It would give him hope, were the words of his counterpart not so worrying. The silhouette steps forward as the smoke clears. “I have not gone by that name in quite a while.”

Loki’s eyes widen when he finally sees what he has summoned. He can feel that he’s cast the spell correctly, but what he sees is all wrong. Instead of an older version of himself, he sees blue skin and red eyes. He sees tribal markings, horns that look as though they are made of ice. The only thing remotely Asgardian about this creature is the gold that it wears; woven through its long, deep blue hair, hanging from its arms, the same way its feathered cloak hangs from its bare shoulders.

“You…” he sputters, eyes narrowing in confusion. “You’re a frost giant.”

Tilting its head, the creature gives him a wry grin. “Oh really. I hadn’t noticed at all.”

Loki does the only thing he can think of. Turning on his heel, he runs.

«·»

It doesn’t take long for Loki to be found. It makes sense when he thinks about it; there’s no real way he can hide from himself. Not when he knows himself as well as he does.

“I always did like the library,” the frost giant muses, and it makes Loki jerk in surprise. In the near-darkness of the library, the red eyes and blue skin combine to create the image that would always frighten Loki at night. It frightens him even more now, when he remembers that this is him.

“Don’t hide from me.” The frost giant’s voice is gentle and coaxing. Loki has used that tone before and been genuine, but he’s also used it to trick people. He doesn’t even know if he can trust himself. Definitely not this… this creature. With a sigh, the frost giant adds, “It’s really not in my best interests to cause harm to my past self. Don’t be afraid, Loki—and don’t tell me that you aren’t afraid, because I know better than that. You can lie to anybody you like, but not to me. I know you too well.”

Loki presses himself against the bookshelf, taking a deep, calming breath. His hands are still shaking as he stands and turns, casting a quick spell to light the nearest torches.

The frost giant doesn’t look as terrifying in the light. Loki can recognise the shape of his own face, the sharp look in those eyes. Clearing his throat, Loki asks, “You said that you haven’t been called Loki in a long time. What do they call you?”

With a small smile, the frost giant places a hand on his chest. “I cast aside the name Odin gave me when I turned my back on the rest of Asgard, too. I am Loptr, now. The rightful king of Jotunheim.”

Loki frowns. “But what of Laufey?”

Loptr’s smile becomes strained before vanishing completely. “I killed him, declaring myself the son of Odin out of some misplaced sentiment. That was before. Before everything.”

“Before what?” Loki demands. “What happened, that turned you—that turned me into this monster?”

“Monster is a very strong word,” Loptr says, “especially to be thrown around Asgard. The Jotuns are not the wicked, uncultured beasts that the Æsir paint them out to be.”

“The Æsir,” Loki repeats, his eyes going wide. “If anybody sees you here, with me… when we are on the brink of a war with Jotunheim and people are already eager to cast suspicion upon me…”

“I have already thought of that,” Loptr replies, holding a hand up to calm Loki. “I have a spell that turns me invisible to everybody here, except for you.”

Loki shakes his head, not satisfied. “I need to send you back to wherever you came from. I cannot have a Jotun in my palace, and—this cannot be right. I will not accept that I will ever become you.”

“The spell had no step to send me away,” Loptr points out. “You would have noticed that, were you not so desperate to find something to ease your worries. You grow careless when you are stressed, Loki. You need to learn to accept things when they cease to follow your plans.”

Loki’s eyes widen. “So you are stuck here.”

“Luckily for both of us, I have the magic to send myself back—”

“Then go!” Loki cries. “Leave me, so I may learn how to keep your reality from ever becoming mine.”

Loptr gives Loki a stern look. “I am not going anywhere until you have listened to what I have to say. This is important, Loki. You must know that my presence here means that not only is it possible that you will end up like me, it is probable that you will. If you are really so keen on holding onto Asgard, then I can tell you what happened to me, so that you can ensure that it will never happen to you. Will that make you listen to me?”

Loki scowls, looking away. “Do I have a choice?”

“Of course you do,” Loptr replies evenly. “You always have. You ought to remember that. And you might want to lower your voice when you speak to me. I don’t mind that you feel the need to snap at me, but nobody else can see me, and it wouldn’t do to let them think you’ve gone mad.”

With a glare, Loki gives him a stiff nod. He leaves the library, returning to his chambers. Loptr follows him like an unwanted shadow, but Loki does his best to ignore that. He throws a pile of furs down onto the floor, not looking at his Jotun self.

“You can make your own bed.”

“Such a gracious host,” Loptr mocks, making himself comfortable. “Is this how you would treat the Jotuns if they wanted to discuss the conditions of their truce with you?”

“You can’t talk, you slew their king and took his place. You would have done the same to Odin if you could have gotten away with it.”

Loptr smiles. “Really. And how would you know that? It couldn’t possibly be because we are the same person, with the same urges now, could it?”

Seething, Loki extinguishes the torches keeping his room lit. “Good night.”

«·»

Unfortunately, the Jotun is still there the following morning. Loki sits there at the edge of his bed, looking down at Loptr, who sleeps on peacefully. He looks warm and comfortable among the furs and Loki spares a moment to wonder whether Jotuns feel the cold. He’s always been more impervious to the cold than the other Æsir, so it would make sense for Loptr to be the same…

Loki shakes his head, dispelling the thought. He doesn’t want to compare himself with this Jotun, he doesn’t want to consider the possibility that this is what he will become. It can’t be; it just can’t.

Getting out of bed and carefully stepping around Loptr to keep from disturbing him, Loki gets on with his day. He has breakfast with Frigga and although he worries that Loptr will show up, or that she will ask about the previous night, nothing happens. They exchange pleasantries, they eat, and then Loki needs to hold court for the day.

When he gets to the throne room, he freezes for a moment when he sees Loptr standing by the throne. He doesn’t sit in it and he doesn’t seem to have any inclination to do so. He simply stands there, waiting for Loki to approach. He makes a striking figure, with his horns glistening and his feathered cloak reaching all the way down to the floor, so different from the leather and metal of Asgard.

With a quick glance around, Loki sighs in relief when he sees that Loptr’s magic is still keeping him hidden from sight. Nobody even so much as glances in his direction, their gazes fixed on Loki as he pretends that he is not shaken.

Walking to the throne, he taps Gungnir on the floor, leaving it to stand as he sits down. Not looking at Loptr, he mutters under his breath, “What do you think you’re doing here?”

“I’m curious,” Loptr replies, sounding amused. “I want to see what kind of king we would have made, here.”

Loki doesn’t reply, turning his attention to the first group of people that have come to petition him. He’s sat by Odin’s side before in court, when he was younger, and remembers Odin sending people away with cryptic answers and riddles. Loki does his best to give them straight answers, or at least make it easier for them to work the answers out themselves, but they look just as confused as they walk away.

Loptr hums in thought, once this has happened quite a few times. “Did you know that on Jotunheim, we learn to solve our own problems? Odin has a realm of warriors with their heads full of honour and duty, who will follow his commands without a second thought. I have a realm of people who think, who will strategise and modify their plans when needed, without the need for me to step in. Does that not sound so much better than this?”

Loki frowns, doing his best to ignore Loptr entirely. It becomes increasingly difficult during the day; Loptr is stubborn and he knows that he is unwelcome. He doesn’t even try to be a pleasant guest and the most frustrating thing about it is the fact that Loki knows that were their positions reversed, he would be doing the exact same thing.

Even though he manages to remain expressionless throughout the entire day, Loki’s mind is an utter mess. By the time he finally retires to his room, he’s exhausted, but Loptr is still following him around, so Loki can’t let him see that.

“You do realise,” Loptr tells him, leaning against the wall, “I am familiar with every single one of your expressions, because they are also my own. There’s no need to hold back when you’re with me, Loki. I know you are afraid, that my presence makes you uneasy. Try as you might, you cannot lie to me. You cannot lie to yourself.”

“You are not me,” Loki replies firmly. “I will admit that you are some version of me, but—”

“Stop being so damn naive, you little fool,” Loptr snaps, advancing on Loki. “You are thinking the exact same way that I used to. Do you really think that this is healthy, this unquestioned hatred you have for everything that you are?”

“You remember the stories Father told us—”

“Of the Jotuns invading other realms? Tell me, Loki, how did the Allfather become the ruler of all the nine realms? Do you think that he was just born into that?”

Collapsing into his chair, Loki holds his head in his hands. “What do you want from me? What do I have to do in order to make you leave me alone?”

Walking closer, Loptr sighs quietly. “Listen. Just listen to me, without judgment. Without rejecting everything I have to say.”

Giving Loptr a doubtful look, Loki says, “I make no promises.”

“Of course not,” Loptr sighs. “Fine. We’ll do it this way. You talk, and I’ll listen.”

“What could I possibly want to say to you?” Loki asks with a frown.

“Well, you can start by telling me why you’re so afraid of me. What is it about the thought of being a Jotun that scares you so much?”

“I don’t want to become a monster,” Loki admits. “Or… any more of a monster than I already am, anyway.”

“You need to stop thinking of yourself in that way,” Loptr chides. “I thought the same thing for such a long time, but then when I finally left Asgard behind and embraced my true heritage, it felt so freeing. I learned the truth about the Jotuns, about how they really are, instead of the tales Æsir children are told to scare them into doing as they’re told. The Jotuns are intelligent and they may be harsh, but that’s the only way we can hope to survive. You and I are far better suited to ruling Jotunheim than this place. That’s a job for…”

“Who?” Loki asks. “Odin? Thor? What of Thor, Loptr? You have not mentioned him even once since you came here. Why is that? You know that I would never—could never love anybody more than him. So why don’t you tell me what happened between you and Thor, in your past? In my supposed future?”

Loptr doesn’t reply, his lips pressed into a thin line. Loki can recognise the brief flicker of pain in those red eyes, and it tells him more than enough.

“Whatever happened to you,” he decides, rising to his feet, “will never, ever happen to me. I will die before I let your life become mine.”

“Loki, listen—”

“I’ve heard enough,” Loki shouts, storming out of the room.

He can’t go to the library, in case Loptr comes searching for him again. The thought of hiding in Thor’s room is both too obvious and much too painful. In the end, he finds himself walking to the empty dining hall, where he sat with Thor mere days ago, convincing him to make the greatest mistake of his life.

It’s unfair, Loki thinks angrily as he sits on the step, that the good things take years—decades—to come to fruition while mistakes happen in the blink of an eye and only continue to worsen with each passing day. It had taken so long for him and Thor to overcome everything they’d been told about being brothers to admit that the way they cared for each other was so much more than that. Now, it feels like Thor is slipping out of his reach entirely and Loki misses him so fiercely that it aches. He wants to go down to Midgard, to see him once more, but he’s already made the decision that he will not see Thor until he’s made everything right once again. It’s a self-imposed punishment that he deserves. It gives him yet another reason to be as good a king as he can.

He doesn’t know what happened between Loptr and Thor, but the thought of there being any rift between them frightens Loki. He’s lied to Thor and tricked him, but Loki can’t imagine doing any lasting damage. He can’t imagine calling Thor an enemy, and he certainly can’t imagine a life without him in it.

Wrapping his arms around his knees, he sits there for hours, until the torches in the wall brackets burn themselves out, until the only light comes from the stars that hang in the sky.

By the time he returns to his room, Loptr is already wrapped in his furs and blankets, fast asleep. Loki feels thankful for the fact that Loptr hasn’t stayed awake, waiting for him. Then again, Loptr probably knows him better than that.

“Good night,” he mutters, crawling into bed and finally succumbing to his exhaustion.

In the dark, he hears Loptr turn over and whisper, “Sleep well.”

«·»

The next day, Loki watches Loptr closely whenever he can. There are plenty of chances, with Loptr continuing to follow him around everywhere. It feels odd to have grown used to looking over his shoulder and seeing the Jotun there. The instinctive fear is gone now; Loki only truly begins to feel scared when he thinks of all the possibilities in his future.

He does his best not to dwell on it for now. He sits on his throne, turning his attention to the people kneeling before him, placing their problems at his feet. It doesn’t take long before their disputes cease to hold his attention and his mind begins wandering.

He glances in Loptr’s direction, because it’s already becoming a habit for him. He expects a smug look in reply, or to be told that he’s better-suited to ruling over the Jotuns. Instead, Loptr is looking around the room. He’s mesmerised by the intricate patterns on the golden columns in the room, that Loki has always taken for granted.

Loki, knowing the look in those eyes better than anyone else, is surprised to see the longing, and the nostalgia. Loptr is sad, and the revelation shocks Loki. At a glance, Loptr looks proud and confident. The tilt to his chin, the way he stands straight and tall… Loki wonders if this is yet another lie. Now that Loki knows to look for it, he can see the loneliness in the slump of Loki’s shoulders, and the faraway look to his eyes when he doesn’t realise Loki is watching.

It bothers Loki throughout the entire day. He makes his excuses to Frigga, telling her that he is dining alone before making his way to his room.

Loptr is sitting there, eating the food that Loki had snuck out of the kitchens for him. Raising an eyebrow, he asks, “Do you want me to leave so you can eat on your own?”

“Stay,” Loki replies, shutting the door behind him. “Please.”

“Oh.” Loptr turns around to face him. “You’re finally going to listen, then.”

Sitting on the edge of his bed, Loki looks down at his food for a long moment before looking back up. “You say that you’ve left Asgard behind… but why? What drove you to do such a thing?”

“It was a long, painful path,” Loptr replies with a sad smile. “I’m not quite sure where it began, myself, but I know that it worsened the day I found out that I was a Jotun.”

Loki picks at his food, trying to keep his face blank, but he can’t. Not when he and Loptr both know exactly how painful that had been. He takes a bite of his bread and washes it down with wine before speaking, “So you thought to yourself that Jotun or no, you would do your very best to prove yourself to Father. To show him that you were loyal to him, despite everything.”

Loptr nods in agreement. “Exactly. I won’t tell you what happened to me—I doubt that would help you at all—but I went too far. My rage drove me to actions that could not be forgiven. I fell from Asgard and tried to carve my own place in the universe but I was thwarted then, too. Thor brought me back here to Asgard afterwards. Home, he called it. I’d stopped thinking of it as such—I could not get over the fact of my Jotun parentage enough to believe that I had a place here any longer. I resented Odin for keeping the truth hidden from me all this time, but I stayed. For one reason.”

“Thor,” Loki whispers, because he can think of nothing else that would keep him somewhere he doesn’t want to be. “But that doesn’t explain how you came to look like a Jotun.”

“Oh.” A wry smug tugs at Loptr’s lips. “That began purely to make Odin uncomfortable. There’s not much that will bother him enough for him to actually show it, but the very first day that I willingly wore my Jotun skin in his palace? To show his people that he has been housing one of the enemy this entire time?”

Loki frowns, his food lying forgotten as he gives his full attention to Loptr. “But how did the Æsir treat you? They’re barely tolerable on a good day…”

“By the time I began doing this, I’d fallen so far out of favour with the others that I no longer cared,” Loptr replies with a soft, sad look in his eyes. He understands how much that thought terrifies Loki. “I wish I came here with better news for you, Loki. I wish that my very presence didn’t make you so afraid.”

Loki shakes his head, not knowing how to reply to that. He’s never really expected his life to be particularly easy or even happy; he’d come to terms with that a long time ago. There was only ever so much hope for him, when even his status as Odin’s son couldn’t keep him from the constant suspicion in everyone’s eyes, the whispering that’s just loud enough for him to hear, the mistrust…

“Thor,” Loki whispers, unsticking his throat. “What happened with Thor?”

Getting up from his chair, Loptr moves Loki’s food aside and sits down beside him. He places a light hand on Loki’s back, a silent warning for him to brace himself against what he knows will hurt.

“Thor… poor noble, stupid Thor refused to give up on me no matter what I did. I would hurt people—hurt him—and he would always find a way to forgive me. He loved me. Perhaps not in the mad, desperate way I loved him, but he loved me just as strongly. I know that, now. He knew that I was unhappy in Asgard. Perhaps he’d hoped that he was enough to keep me here and he was right, for a while. Until I began to realise just how much I needed him.”

“And then…” Loki realises, his insides going cold with fear, “you began to hate him for it, didn’t you? You hated that you needed his faith, his forgiveness, his love. The only thing you could do then was lose it.”

Loptr nods, the regret clear in his expression. “I kept pushing him until he found his limit. Until even he would not forgive me. Thor turned his back on me because I made him do it. I blamed him all the same. His eyes would hold only anger for me. Not hatred—he was still far too stubborn for that—but I no longer had a place in his heart. I no longer had a reason to stay in Asgard. So I left. I made my own way to Jotunheim and by this time, they knew of my parentage. I had been wearing my Jotun skin on a permanent basis by then and they knew that I was the son of Laufey.”

“I doubt they welcomed you with open arms.”

Loptr barks out a laugh. “No. They forced me to my knees before my blood brother Helblindi. Their new king, after Laufey. I was to pay for killing my father with my own life. I convinced them to reconsider; I was much more useful to them alive. I told them how to sneak their way into Asgard in exchange for their trust. I did not care who died, on either side. Odin refused to declare a war with the Jotuns but I managed to worm my way into the royal family. When I had gained enough trust, I convinced Helblindi and his younger brother Byleistr to make a direct attempt on Odin’s life, knowing they would not succeed. I was the only remaining son of Laufey, so the throne became mine.”

“You betrayed everyone?” Loki’s mind reels at the thought. He knows that right now, he is incapable of doing such a thing; to realise that all he needs is one great push is terrifying.

“I had nobody left to care about. I’d left Asgard, I chose this new name for myself, there was nothing. I thought that perhaps, if I could embrace and accept the one thing I feared most, I would find a place for myself. That I could be happy.”

“And are you?” Loki asks, frowning at Loptr. “You say that you’ve left Asgard behind, but I have never seen a Jotun wearing so much gold. They don’t have horns—certainly not horns that resemble my ceremonial helmet so closely—and every single one I have seen is bald. Perhaps you have yourself convinced that Asgard means nothing to you, but when I look past the colour of your skin and the colour of your eyes, you still look Æsir to me. Perhaps it’s not what you want to hear, but neither of us seem to get what we want anyway, do we?”

“I understand that you’re upset…” Loptr begins, and Loki cuts him off with an incredulous laugh.

Upset? A-after you’ve just told me that I’m going to lose everything, including the one person I’ve always truly loved?”

Loptr’s fingers curl around Loki’s shoulder and squeeze. “Calm yourself. You used a spell to summon me here instead of speaking to the Norns. Why?”

Taking a deep breath, Loki answers, “I did not want to be tied to one particular fate.”

“Exactly. I am a possibility for you—not a promise. You can still change everything. I’ve already told you; the choice has always been yours.”

Loki nods, chewing on his lower lip in thought. “Will you tell me what I need to do? What I must change?”

Shaking his head, Loptr says, “I cannot. Those choices are yours to make. It wouldn’t count if I made them for you. But now, you should know what to change.”

“I need to stop this at the very beginning,” Loki decides. “That means that I need to act now.”

“Not immediately.” Loptr gives him an amused look. “Eat your food and rest your mind. You can start tomorrow.”

When they’re finished eating and are preparing for bed that night, Loki clears his throat.

“You don’t need to sleep on the floor. I’m sure that the bed is big enough, and much more comfortable.”

“Thank you.”

Loptr has no body warmth, which Loki had noticed before, but it feels odd when they’re lying side by side. He is not cold, but the lack of warmth is strange all the same.

Once again, Loki thinks longingly of Thor, of his big, warm body and his strong arms.

“Thor,” he murmurs, not quite meaning to, and hears Loptr’s sad sigh, feels the long fingers stroking his hair gently.

“Sleep,” Loptr tells him, and Loki doesn’t argue.

«·»

The next morning, Loki doesn’t need to go into the throne room. Once a week, the king of Asgard is given a break from his duties and Loki finds that he desperately needs it.

He wakes at the same time as he always does, and finds that Loptr is awake too, watching the sunrise through the large window.

“Do you miss it?” Loki asks, sitting up. “Do you miss Asgard?”

“Yes and no.” Loptr continues to look outside for another moment before turning around. “Asgard reminds me of Thor. I miss him.”

“That’s why I need to change my future.” Loki gets out of bed, walking to the window to stand beside Loptr. “To find a way of avoiding this painful path you speak of, but more importantly…”

“To ensure that you do not lose Thor,” Loptr finishes, nodding. “It will break you.”

“To do that, I must bring him back from Midgard.” Loki watches the edge of the sun cling to the horizon before finally letting go, rising by itself into the sky. “Will you stay? So you might see Thor again?”

Loptr smiles sadly, shaking his head. “No. This Thor is yours. Mine is a… memory.”

“What will you do when you return to your own time?” Loki is both curious and afraid. “Will you try to change anything? Will you speak to your Thor?”

“I do not know what I will do. What I can do. My entire world may have changed because of your actions. I will have to wait and see.”

“Whatever happens,” Loki touches Loptr’s hand lightly, “I hope that you will be happy.”

Holding Loki’s shoulder, Loptr kisses his forehead. “I hope the same for you. I warn you, Sif and the Warriors Three will grow restless in Thor’s absence. If you don’t go to him, they will. I’m sure you can imagine how Thor will react if he hears the truth from them, and not you. It is time for both of us to go.”

Loki nods, feeling strangely sad at the thought of parting ways with Loptr. “Take care.”

With one final smile, Loptr vanishes into a light green-grey smoke. It lingers around Loki’s shoulders for a moment before finally dissipating. The only sign that Loptr was here at all is the bedding on the floor, some stray feathers from his cloak, and a golden chain sitting coiled on Loki’s desk.

His fingers hover over it for a moment before he slips it into his pocket. Then, gathering his own magic, he hides himself from Heimdall’s sight and makes his way down to Midgard.

As he walks, he changes his clothing to something that would let him blend in with the humans. His clothes become lighter, softer, as he dons a suit similar to the one he wore the last time he’d seen Thor, so close to Mjölnir and yet so defeated.

Thor is no longer being held in the compound. There’s only one other place to look, and when Loki reaches the glass door, he can see Thor inside, cooking with the humans. He raises a hand, not sure whether or not to knock, but then Thor sees him, eyes widening.

“Loki?” he rushes to the door, opening it. “You’ve come back?”

“I’ve come to take you home,” Loki replies with a small smile.

Thor frowns, glancing behind him before turning back to Loki. “But I thought…”

“I need to take you home.” Loki tries not to be impatient, but it’s difficult when he knows that everything in his future hinges on this. “Please, Thor. I will overrule your banishment and find another way to make peace with Jotunheim. I’ll explain everything on the way home.”

“My hammer…? My power?” Thor asks hopefully.

Loki sighs. “That is up to Father to undo.”

Thor frowns. “Father? But…”

“Just come with me,” Loki pleads. “I must speak with you. We won’t leave Midgard until you are ready. I promise.”

“Thor?” A short, brown-haired woman is frowning at them. “Is everything alright?”

Thor glances back at her before turning back to Loki. “We’ll be back.”

Thor leads the way out, to a quiet area to the side of the building, and turns to Loki expectantly. There’s already suspicion in his eyes and Loki drops his gaze to the ground as he speaks.

“I’ve made a mess of everything, Thor. I’ve lied to you and now…” Loki shakes his head, cutting himself off. “This is the truth; Father is alive, but in the Odinsleep. Mother doesn’t know when he’ll wake, but he is not dead. Jotunheim is yet to attack us, but I do not know how long that will last for. I cannot undo the spell Father cast upon Mjölnir, but I can take you home. I am sorry, Thor.”

A range of emotions flicker across Thor’s expression as he processes all of this. Finally, he frowns at Loki. “You are sorry? After you let me believe that I was responsible for Father’s death, after you made me think that I no longer have a home, all you have to say is that you are sorry?”

“I didn’t think… I wasn’t thinking at all, Thor. There was so much weighing on my mind at once and so I…”

“You let me suffer for it?” Thor asks, his blue eyes ablaze with anger. He grabs Loki by the arms hard enough to bruise. “You left me here, after everything? You lied to me and tore me apart…”

“Don’t be angry,” Loki whispers, touching Thor’s cheek. “I will fix everything, I swear…”

“Do not do that to me,” Thor growls, shaking his head. He lets Loki go and paces back and forth. “You have always been known for your lies and your tricks, Loki, and I have always forgiven you for them. I have always convinced everyone that it was just harmless fun, but how can I, this time?”

Loki balls his hands into fists to hide the way they shake. He cannot think of what to say now, how to convince Thor to stop being angry with him, to come home. He knows that he cannot afford to tell any more lies because that will make matters even worse.

“Go home,” Thor tells him, shaking his head. At Loki’s wide-eyed look, he adds, “I will stay here until Father wakes, until I have earned my powers back. Then, we will have words.”

“Thor,” Loki protests, but he is already turning away, going back inside. The fear prickles at the back of Loki’s eyes, twists in his stomach. “Brother, please.”

He waits, not moving from where he is, but Thor does not return. Not after a minute, and not after ten. Loki’s shoulders slump in defeat and finally, he leaves.

It’s a good thing that Loptr is not waiting in Asgard, Loki thinks to himself. The look of utter disappointment would be far too much to bear.

When he returns to Asgard, there’s a strange kind of excitement in the air. Frowning, he walks through the halls, searching for the source. He gets as far as the royal quarters when he realises that it can mean only one thing: Odin is awake.

Loki breaks into a run, going straight to his parents’ chambers. Indeed, Odin is up, dressed in his ceremonial armour once again. Frigga is holding his hand with both of hers, the relief bright in her eyes. She notices Loki first, beckoning him closer. Odin turns around, and Loki immediately feels nervous.

“Loki.” Odin reaches for him with a hand, and Loki feels like a boy once again, his legs carrying him forward without thought.

“Father.” The single word carries Loki’s fear, his remorse, his relief, all combined. He’s still carrying Gungnir, and he passes it back to its rightful owner. “I am glad to see that you’re awake.”

“Let me look at you, my boy.” Odin places a hand on Loki’s shoulder, his grip tight and comforting. “You ruled well in my absence. You made me proud.”

Loki looks away, not knowing how to reply. He doesn’t feel proud. Just one mere day ago, he would have given anything to hear those words from Odin. Now…

“Let Thor return,” he whispers, taking a step backwards. “He is worthy. He always was. Bring him home.”

Odin’s gaze softens, but before he can speak, Loki slips away. Walking through the halls, he returns to his own chambers, and locks the door shut.

«·»

Loki doesn’t leave his room for days on end. With Odin awake and back on his throne, there’s no need for Loki to bother with the kingdom any more. He can just sit in his room, reading all of the books that he’d desperately wanted the time for earlier.

Of course, now that he does have the time, he no longer has the inclination. He doesn’t feel like doing very much at all, other than sit at his desk, or lie in his bed. The anger in Thor’s eyes haunts him every waking moment and with it comes the fear that by trying to prevent his life from becoming Loptr’s, he has only succeeded in setting everything into motion.

This suspicion isn’t helped at all by the fact that Frigga comes to his room on the second day, a soft smile on her lips. “Have you heard? Thor has returned home to us.”

“Has he?” Loki asks, his heart sinking. “How long as he been home for?”

“Since morning.” It’s now late in the afternoon. Loki feels even worse. Frigga strokes his hair affectionately. “You would have known yourself, if you left your room.”

“Or if Thor came to see me,” Loki replies. “Which I doubt that even he wants to.”

“There will be a feast tonight—”

“—I shall not attend. If anybody asks, I have taken ill.”

“You cannot lie your way out of everything,” his mother scolds gently. She continues stroking his hair and it’s so comforting that he shuts his eyes. “It has been a long time since you have gone into one of your black moods like this. Even as a child, you would never tell me why, but I could always tell that it had something to do with Thor. Just as it does now.”

Loki shakes his head, ducking away from Frigga’s hand. “I do not want to talk about it.”

“I know. Just remember that you mean the world to your brother, just as he does to you. I’ve treated you as my own son from the moment your father placed you in my arms, and I know you as well as any mother knows her son. You may believe that you care more for your loved ones than they do for you—you may even believe that you do not deserve their love—but you are the only one who believes that. Not your father, not I, and certainly not Thor.”

With a strained smile, Loki thanks his mother. He wonders, when she leaves, if Thor will visit him after the feast, with drink giving voice to the anger that has no doubt remained in his mind. He wonders if Thor will yell at him, hit him, target every single weakness that he knows Loki to possess. He spends so much time dwelling on this and obsessing over it, holding entire imagined arguments in his head that when the night and then the following day both pass without a sign of Thor, it hurts worse than any imagined insult ever could.

And with each day that passes, the more convinced Loki becomes that Thor is done with him. He talks himself back down every time, but the longer that Thor’s silence lasts for, the harder this becomes.

Finally, after an entire week, Loki cannot take any more. It’s time that he stopped being so afraid of his fate, he decides, and started accepting it. A life without Thor will be unpleasant, but Loki has survived a week already. Besides, he’ll still have his mischief and chaos. Perhaps without Thor holding him back, this will come easier.

And Jotunheim cannot be such a bad place, really. Loki is no longer afraid of the Jotuns, no longer repulsed by the fact that he shares their blood. Perhaps it’s time he grew accustomed to looking like one, too.

There’s a mirror in the corner of his room and Loki strips out of his upper layers until he’s bare-chested as Loptr was. He slides a hand into his pocket, fingers closing around the fine gold chain that his Jotun self had left behind. Loki fastens it around his neck and it looks plain against his pale skin, so much smaller than any of the jewellery the Æsir normally wear.

With a deep breath, Loki holds the gaze of his reflection and wills his skin to turn blue. The grooves and markings appear on their own and the chain stands out now against his darker skin. His eyes are completely red and it still looks a little eerie to him but surely he’ll overcome that. His black hair looks out of place, however, and he changes it to the deep blue that Loptr had.

Loki sighs, knowing that he is not happy with this. It still scares him, to know that he is losing Thor, to know that he is doomed to a path that he does not want to walk. But it is not his place to complain. He brought this upon himself and all he can do now is accept it.

At that moment, the door to his room opens. Loki can only watch in horror as Thor enters his room, the small, determined frown deepening and becoming something far more fearsome.

“Jotun scum!” he snarls, pulling Mjölnir from his belt and lunging forward. “What have you done with my brother?”

“Thor!” Loki drops to his knees, raising a magical barrier around him that shatters under Mjölnir’s might. He looks up, hands covering his head as he lets his pale skin replace the blue. “Thor. It’s me.”

Loki.” Thor’s voice is a mix of relief and anger. He hauls Loki to his feet, keeping him pinned against the wall. “What is this? Yet another one of your tricks?”

Loki laughs bitterly. “Oh, so Father has not told you, then.”

“Told me what?” Thor demands. “No more lies.”

“No more lies,” Loki agrees. “You have not been told of my true parentage. I am not like you, Odinson. I discovered it when we all went to Jotunheim the night of your banishment. Why do you think I kept you away from Asgard? I needed to prove myself to Father, to show him that I was still a worthy son. I wanted to be your equal.”

Thor’s eyes narrow as he struggles to determine the truth to Loki’s words. Shaking his head, Loki looks away.

“Ask Father, if you don’t believe me. And why would you, after all I have done to you?” Loki struggles ineffectively against Thor’s hold on him and sighs, slumping against the wall. “I am a Jotun by blood, a liar by nature, and I will spare you the trouble of telling me that you cannot forgive me, because I already know.”

“What…?” Thor blinks in confusion. “Why would you think that?”

“It’s been a week, Thor.” It takes all of Loki’s willpower not to break. “Please don’t insult my intelligence. I know what your silence means.”

“No,” Thor murmurs, loosening his grip on Loki even though he continues to hold his arms. “I do not think that you do. Yes, I was angry at first. I did not want to see you until I had calmed down, but before that, I had to go to Jotunheim. Father told me that the condition of my return to Asgard was that I had to repair the damage caused by my rash behaviour. He told me that I was to understand the Jotuns a little better. I think that now, I know why that might have been.”

“You believe me?” Loki asks in disbelief.

“I can see that it upsets you, Loki. And I have always been able to tell when you were truly upset.”

“Only because it was mostly your fault,” Loki retorts, but his words lack any real bite.

“I don’t care what anybody thinks or says,” Thor says, as determined as ever. “You are, and shall always remain, my brother.”

“Ah yes, your brother.” As much as Loki tries, he cannot keep the bitterness out. Of course Thor would no longer see him as anything else.

“Loki, you know that I have always cared for you more than any sibling should. That love for you will never change either. No matter what. There is nobody else that I care about more than you.” Thor leans closer to Loki, nose skimming across his cheek. “Gods, I missed you.”

“Not as much as I missed you,” Loki replies in a whisper. He shivers as Thor rubs his bare shoulders, suddenly feeling self-conscious about being half-dressed. He stays within Thor’s reach as he pulls his clothes back on.

“What is this?” Thor asks, touching the chain that still hangs around Loki’s neck.

“Just a reminder,” Loki answers as Thor pulls him close. “Of what is important to me.”

“And what is that?” Thor nuzzles into Loki’s neck, his large, warm hands resting on Loki’s hips.

“Having you with me,” Loki murmurs, wrapping his arms around Thor’s shoulders. “No matter what.”

Thor kisses him on the lips gently and smiles. “You always will. Always.”

It’s a big promise, and one that Loki isn’t quite convinced that Thor will be able to keep. But when Thor pulls him close, wrapping his strong arms around Loki’s slender body, and kisses him deeper this time, Loki lets himself believe that everything will be okay.

He has Thor. He will do everything in his power to ensure that it stays this way. He no longer feels the desperate urge to prove himself despite his blood and for the first time in a while, Loki feels happy.

He turns his face to Thor’s, seeking his lips for another kiss, and hopes that somehow, wherever he may be, Loptr is happy too.

«·»

Epilogue.

When Loptr opens his eyes, he is back in his palace, at the very heart of Jotunheim. He blinks, walking to the window, and tries not to feel disappointed.

There’s an emptiness in his heart that has been there for so long now that it feels like a permanent part of him. He looks out on his kingdom, at all the structures of stone and ice that he’s constructed during his reign. He imagines gleaming gold in its place and is struck by the truth of what his past self had said to him; it looks like Asgard.

“It would seem,” he mutters to himself, “that I am a better liar than I give myself credit for.”

His servants do not look alarmed to see him walking about the halls after his unexpected absence. They’re used to Loptr coming and going as he pleases, now. That’s the good thing about Jotunheim; it is self-sustaining. It won’t fall apart, just because its king is caught up in magical matters.

With that said, however, Loptr knows what he must do.

The pain of losing Thor feels brand new, because Loptr had foolishly allowed himself to hope that he would return and everything would be drastically different. He doesn’t know what he was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t this. He hadn’t thought he would open his eyes and find everything unchanged.

But this is his time, and he cannot expect anybody to change it except for himself. He had hoped to return to a time when he and Thor were still together. That tells him exactly what he needs to do.

He sets out for Asgard, not taking any pains to hide himself. Most of the secret passages had been found and blocked off with Loptr’s first betrayal when he’d come to Jotunheim. The Bifrost, however, is open for whoever has the magic to travel upon it. There aren’t many people who are capable of it, but Loptr is.

Heimdall watches him approach, his fingers tight on the pommel of his sword. “I could slay you where you stand, traitor.”

“If you wished to start a war, perhaps.” Loptr has always felt some measure of disdain for the all-seeing gatekeeper. It would not do to act upon that now, so he pushes it back down. “I come here in peace. The king of one realm, come to speak to another.”

Loptr ends up with an escort of eight heavily-armed guards, marching him all the way through Asgard and to the throne room. He doesn’t know if his arrival has been announced, but he can feel hundreds of eyes on him. He can feel the hatred, the disdain, and Loptr ignores it all, keeping his head held high and his gaze forward.

“Your highness,” one of the guards calls as they enter the throne room, the other Æsir moving aside for them. “You have a… visitor.”

Loptr is pushed forward unceremoniously and forced to his knees. He seethes, rearranging his feathered cloak about him before looking up.

“Loki…?” Thor leans forward, sitting at the edge of his throne. He looks ridiculous, with his armour and his helmet, with both Gungnir and Mjölnir on either side of him. He looks strong and beautiful, and Loptr misses him desperately.

Ever since changing his name, Loptr has been very particular that no one address him in any other way. Now, he only offers a small smile. “Thor. This is a lovely way to treat a king.”

“To be fair,” Thor replies, “you have caused a lot of damage.”

Loptr tilts his head, conceding the point. “I suppose I have.”

“Why are you here now?”

“I wanted to see you.”

“The real reason.”

Loptr looks up, holding Thor’s gaze. “I wanted to see you.”

Thor is silent for a moment, and then looks about the throne room. “Leave us.”

At first, nobody moves. It is an extremely large room and there are hundreds of people assembled. Undeterred, Thor stands and raises his voice. “Leave us. Whatever you have to say to me can be said tomorrow.”

Loptr waits until the room is empty but for the two of them and the multitude of guards before getting to his feet. “That was excessive. You could have simply taken me elsewhere.”

“Wait outside,” Thor commands the guards, descending the steps until he is standing in front of Loptr. When the door closes behind them, Thor looks at him and frowns. “You wanted to see me.”

Loptr keeps his hands held at his side, to keep himself from reaching for Thor. “It has been years.”

Thor doesn’t have the same restraint. He reaches forward before snatching his hand back. He hesitates, and Loptr takes pity on him.

“Would you prefer if I left?”

“No.” Thor’s answer is immediate. “I would… I would have you stay, if I thought you would. If it would not cause such an uproar.”

Loptr looks at him in surprise, and Thor laughs quietly, taking another step closer. When they’re this close to one another, it doesn’t feel like they are the rulers of two realms with a shaky truce. Nor does it feel like they are brothers, or lovers, or anything that they once were. There are still too many barriers for that.

“I miss you,” Thor admits quietly. “Every single day.”

Loptr can no longer hold Thor’s gaze. “You must have been glad, when I first left, to be rid of me.”

“As were you, without doubt.” Thor gives Loptr a sad smile. “But those days have passed. We were younger, then. Foolish.”

Loptr nods. “True.”

“I was too proud to attempt to make amends when you seemed so disinclined to listen to me,” Thor says. “I am truly glad that you came.”

“I was reminded just recently of how much I’ve lost.” Loptr sighs. “I cannot sit aside and pay for my past mistakes any longer. I will repair the damage I have done. I will mend the bonds I have broken.”

Thor’s expression brightens immediately. “You mean—”

“I will start with our relationship. If you would permit it.”

“You need not ask. Loki…” Thor pauses and frowns lightly in thought. “Or do you prefer Loptr…?”

“I am Loki to you,” he replies. “I always have been.”

Thor smiles, taking Loptr’s hand into his own. “You always will be. Loki. My brother. My love.”

“You should know that you cannot trust me,” Loptr warns, raising an eyebrow.

“And you,” Thor replies, pulling Loptr into his arms, “should know that I am wiser than that, now.”

Loptr rests his chin on Thor’s shoulder and oh, he’s missed this. He breathes in the half-forgotten scent of Thor, and knows that Thor is doing the same.

“This shaky truce that Asgard has with Jotunheim…” Thor begins.

“We’ll work on it. Smooth everything out. It will give me more reason to see you often.”

“Good.” Thor smiles, his hands slipping beneath Loptr’s cloak to rest on his back. “I would like that.”

Closing his eyes, Loptr feels warm and happy for the first time in countless years. “Yes. So would I.”

«·»