Asgard was everything Loki had ever envisioned it to be, everything he'd ever dreamt up while looking through the reflections of spells cast in the ice.
The buildings were gold and burgundy, clay and stone so red that it almost burnt his eyes. Gemstones were inset to rooves and eaves, catching light even after the sun had gone down, the flickering of lamps sending flashes out across the twinkling walls. The city was huge and resplendent, a home to gods, stretching out to the horizon and following the line of the sea, deep into the west and beyond Loki's seeing.
It was in sharp contrast to Jotunheim, cities more destroyed than constructed, more remembered than lived in. A world of caves and hovels and the grunts of men speaking of glories past. Loki had grown up in the dust of that place, never seeing how high the spires has stretched before they'd toppled, but he could only imagine that Asgard still would have conquered that height, outshone Jotunheim even at the zenith of her power.
Looking out at it, it was impossible to imagine any place more perfect.
He'd watched this realm ever since he was a child, ever since he learned the spell to let him peer through Yggdrasil's heavy branches and see worlds beyond his own. None had ever caught him like Asgard, a world of color and light, so different from the darkness in which he lived. He'd dreamed of coming here, being here, really being here, so many times. For him, it was the world he wanted, the world he'd wished for. Flawed, still, imperfect, but not in ways easily convincing an outsider -- especially not a child like Loki, still young and full of longing.
The grass always looked so much greener from the other side.
Especially when the other side didn't have grass.
"You needn't have turned her down," a low voice interrupted his thoughts, making Loki jump from where he'd been leaned against the balcony. He was too used to the dangers of being unprepared, the anger of the Jotnar too easily taken out on the runt -- the strange, deformed child that had never grown to even half the height of his sire.
Here, he was just about average.
Though he still found himself looking just slightly up when faced with the crowned prince.
He'd merely taken a stroll out on to the balcony to get some air, Asgard far warmer than he was used to, and the great hall, crammed with heated bodies, even warmer than that. The clang of brass goblets coming together and the shouts of merry men caught up in a brawl was somewhat overwhelming to someone who'd grown up in a silent, icy wasteland. The balcony had afforded some sanctuary, both from the cacophony and from the brightness, the unrelenting life of Asgard that seemed at times to dazzle and confuse him.
For a moment he just clung to the thick stone edge of the balcony, that old fear still running in him, because he couldn't use his magic here, not properly, and magic was his only defense. It was what had kept him alive, what spared him the worst of his family's wrath. Here, he had only the charm keeping up the thin illusion he'd cast, the illusion he'd spent years creating, and no way to tap into this realm's natural power.
But the Aesir didn't lash out at him. Didn't ask him what he was doing here.
Just furrowed his brow, looking perplexed -- and Loki belatedly realized he hadn't yet said anything in response.
"I--What?" It wasn't the best response. But it was better than standing there like a terrified rabbit.
"Sigyn, back in the hall," the prince replied. "When she asked you to dance. You needn't have turned her down." The prince eyed him up and down and let out a chuckle. "The clothes you wear, you hardly seem as if you came here for a scrap."
"I didn't realize that one was meant to dress for a common bar fight at a royal ball," he retorted, always having had a mouth on him, and that had gotten him into trouble with his brothers more than once(and his father), but they'd never managed to cure him of it.
"You forget, my friend," the prince announced loudly, as if there were a crowd out with them and not just one person. "Tis my celebration, my coming of age, and though I'm sure I've driven my mother to fits, I shall have the celebration of my choosing."
"And you choose to have drunkards dousing each other with mead and trying to hit each other in the head?" Loki asked, his voice half scandalized, half condescending. He'd dreamt so much of this place, with its shining spires and cultured people. It was to be a land where he'd be understood, a place where they didn't find his smallness offensive, where his wit for words and skill with spells was applauded instead of spat upon. Instead he found only more boorish fighting.
Except set to music. That was new, at least.
"Ah," the godling laughed, seemingly delighted with Loki's impertinence. "There is music and mead and laughter to be had -- and a lovely young maid bold enough to ask you to lean against her bosom. It is a fine night indeed! Shall nothing please you, little ljósálfar?"
"I'm not an elf!"
"I had thought your ears strangely rounded." The prince grinned at him. "Still, can you be certain that you are not of Alfheim? You are quite pale and fey."
"I'm nothing of the sort!"
"And you frown upon a good brawl."
"Just because I'm not a savage--"
"And you turn down the hand of a fine and buxom lady--"
"I don't know how to dance!" he spat, before realizing he hadn't actually wanted to say that. Also, that he probably shouldn't have yelled at prince of this realm. Then again, it seemed to be that Aesir preferred to speak at increased volume.
He shifted uncomfortably, hands brushing at nothing at all on his illusionary outfit, as if dust could settle on it, a surface that did not exist. As if it mattered at all to the rags he truly wore. In the awkward pause that followed, he managed to muster something like an apology.
"...forgive me for my outburst."
The prince, however, just had his expression shift from surprise to amusement again.
"You are certainly a strange one, ljósálfar... But you needn't fear my anger. I prefer my friends to speak their minds with me. I have never had patience for those who think to mask their feelings and bow and scrape."
Loki's stomach bottomed out, and he couldn't help but wonder what the prince would think if he knew that Loki's face was very much behind a mask right now. An illusion.
"And we are friends now?" the Jotun asked, his tone expressing his disbelief. One befriended only those who could bring one benefit. Those who would fight together, could hunt together, could survive the breadth of the long hard winter and see the other side. Those who couldn't contribute were left behind -- baggage too heavy to carry.
But Loki had to wonder if an Aesir prince ever wanted for anything. The pinch of jealousy, of want, ran so deep then that he could taste it at the back of his throat. Some ugly, selfish, Jotnar piece of him wanted to claw and grab, to take so that it was his. But he knew that in his hands it would be ruined. The shining gold would turn to rust.
"You are at the celebration of my birth! How could we not be?" The prince let one heavy hand come down on Loki's shoulder hard enough to rattle teeth, clasping material that would feel far rougher than the illusion would claim. But if he noticed it, he didn't say anything, and the skill of falsehood seemed one unnecessary here. No scraps to fight over, no gain to be had through trickery.
The realization of how little he fit in here made Loki's stomach sour, some small childhood dream tarnishing in that moment, the realization that not only was his perfect world imperfect, but it was still not imperfect enough to have a space for someone like him.
"...thank you for your hospitality, my lord," Loki monotoned, tempted to reach a hand up to brush the Aesir's away, but instead bowed his head, slipping to the side. "But I should be going."
For a second he saw the prince's expression slip, before he'd turned his head away, but he didn't make it but two steps before his wrist was caught.
"Wait--" This time the prince's voice lacked any teasing or lilt, something this time a bit more flummoxed and surprised. "I did not mean to offend you. And please, you may call me Thor."
"Thor?" Loki glanced back, the prince looking repentant. He smiled, wide lips not parting to show teeth as before, but just wrinkling stubbled skin. It seemed kind, something Loki was unaccustomed to.
"Thor," the prince affirmed, nodding his head. "Please, accept my apologies--....? I'm afraid I don't know your name."
"Perhaps I prefer to remain a mystery."
"Then perhaps you shall just have to remain my ljósálfar."
Loki bristled again, like a cat with his fur stroked the wrong direction, but before he could respond, Thor's hand tightened on his wrist and yanked him closer. Close enough that Loki was up against the taller man's chest, eyes wide. For a moment he tensed, every instinct screaming for him to keep his distance, that he was no good in a close proximity fight. He'd always known that if he was ever caught, it was over for him.
But Thor bestowed no violence.
Swallowing hard, Loki dared to glance up, skepticism written across his features.
"You are no good at apologizing," he pointed out. Thor did grin then.
"So my mother reminds me almost daily." He held a hand out to one side, palm up. "I could teach you to dance."
Loki had no idea what to do with that information. His mouth opened, eyes narrowing skeptically, then shut again.
"I am sure I look the graceless meathead," Thor continued. "But I shall have you know that fighting requires a certain amount of grace, and besides, I am a prince. As loathe as I was to learn, dancing was among my learnings."
"I-- You--" Loki prided himself on his skill with words. Be they spells or merely a pedestrian insult, words came to him easily. Nothing else did, nothing that mattered anyway, but words, at least, had always been his friends.
No more, apparently, as they'd all deserted him.
He blinked hard and shook himself, trying to recover his wits.
"I'm sure you have more important things to do," he finally managed, rather diplomatically too, he thought. "And besides, didn't you mention 'lovely young maids'? Surely you'd prefer their presence to my own."
" 'Fairer than the sun to look at,' " Thor declared, apropos of nothing at all. When Loki just looked confounded he continued. "That is what they say of the Ljósálfar."
"For the last time, I am not an elf--" He cut off when Thor's free hand moved back, tipping Loki's chin up unexpectedly.
"I know," the prince said, lower this time, and Loki felt it in his belly.
No, you don't, he thought. You don't know what I am at all. If you did you'd have your guards in here with but a whistle. Or perhaps you'd put that shiny hammer on your hip to good use.
But full of lies, coated in them as he was, he didn't say anything else. He didn't want to lie anymore. Here and now, indulging in a fantasy, he wanted to believe that
When the night was over he could go back to the cold and the hunger and the ferocity of survival. He could return to tricks and trickery, and he almost laughed -- that tonight he wanted to be real in his illusion. That his lies were the truth of him, and his honesty a lie.
"...teach me to dance, Odinson," he requested, quieter than he intended, looking up at the winged crown about the prince's head.
Thor smiled again, and for first time, Loki felt the warmth of it in his bones.
But strength made for weight and weight called for temperance, and Thor seemed to have never met anything that he only liked by half. There were moments where Loki felt his feet leave the stone floor, and he tripped and stumbled more than once. Thor just seemed to find it amusing.
"Fair in countenance, it seems, but you do indeed lack the grace of an elf," he teased after Loki had been whirled quite suddenly to the side, one foot bumping into the prince's finely shod feet. Loki had muttered a curse under his breath and hobbled a few steps.
"It's not my fault, you great, lumbering oaf," he bit out in return, used to harsh words and harsher sentiment in his world, and he winced as he once again remembered that he was talking to a prince that could quite cleanly end him, or have him locked away in a cell for the night. Loki was a skilled sorcerer, but every world had its own heart, and the magic of each realm was different, gifted only to those it considered sons and daughters -- and Loki was far from his home realm now. The icy magic of Jotunheim was fast dwindling, and Asgard's golden light had yet to respond to his summons.
If he was caught out here, or angered the prince, there was no recourse. His gambit to come tonight had been all or nothing.
"My apologies," he muttered, though he was certain the words sounded as stale as they tasted. He'd never been very good at lowering his head.
"Peace!" Thor cried, his eyes still having that shine to them, as if he found everything mirthful -- and Loki supposed, given the amount of bitter and wine flowing in the room behind them, it was entirely possible that the prince really did find everything amusing.
"As I said, there is no need for apologies, sweet elfling," the prince continued on. "I find your candor refreshing. I have never been one for ceremony, much to my mother's lament. And besides, you speak true -- I've imbibed enough that I am hardly sturdy on my feet tonight."
"Tonight alone?" Loki asked, encouraged to speak his mind and indulging in that permission. "Or are you certain it isn't a more permanent state?"
Thor stopped his motion and pulled Loki up against him, for the second time that night. Loki felt his breath seize up, the same as before(trapped, run, fight, run), but this time with something else altogether as well. Thor was solid and so unexpectedly warm that it made Loki shiver.
"Then perhaps you shall just have to stay until tomorrow to find out," the prince offered, his booming voice gone strangely low. It was nicer like this, quiet and almost alluring. It was a sound of loose stones tumbling through water and strangely intimate, words that couldn't possibly be heard by anyone but Loki, and suddenly the ruckus behind them seemed very far away, the balcony their own, muted little world. Loki's brow was pinched, and he was half-heartedly aware that he was just standing there dumbly, in both senses of the word.
"I'm-- I---" He made attempts at a sentence lost somewhere between realms, and his confounded mouth set him frowning.
Loki was used to his silver tongue twisting and turning out just the right words to enrage or deceive, to throw off his bigger, stronger kin, who would happily take whatever meager food Loki had managed to scrounge for themselves. Trickery was how Loki lived, how he survived the endless winter night of Jotunheim.
But it seemed here, in this foreign world, he was thrown off balance. Everything was strange and not as he expected it -- neither the barbary of Jotunheim nor the glass elegance of Asgard as he'd built it up in his head over the years, staring through his magic and dreaming of a world where he would, perhaps, be safe.
It was disorienting to actually be here, to see all the differences and flaws, to see, tragically, all the ways he didn't fit in at all. As glistening and wealthy as Asgard was, even here it seemed that the art of violence was prized over all others. Strength and the volume of one's voice were seen as virtuous, ale overflowing and bodies jostling like meat against one another. Even here, Loki was seen as small and strange and misplaced.
His lies came slow and clumsy and his wit even slower than that. He should have been dancing verbal circles around the grinning idiot in front of him, the prince obnoxiously self-assured, but at every turn Loki found himself stumbling, floundering, while Thor laughed at his ineptitude.
Loki yanked himself away from their impromptu embrace, his expression clouding.
"I don't need to be mocked." He found plenty enough of that in the world he'd run from. This was supposed to be his fantasy. Tonight had meant to be his inch of warmth to take home with him, to hold on to when the cold of Jotunheim crept back into him, down to the core of him.
Thor, though, just looked at him baffled, shaking his golden head.
"Mock you? Hardly," he replied, opening his arms in something like acquiescence, his palms open to the night sky. "Must you miss guess everything I say? You will not even give me your name. Of the two of us, I believe I am the more trustworthy."
"I didn't come here for this." Loki crossed his arms.
"You didn't come here to talk to me? On the celebration of my own birthday? At my feast? In the palace of my forefathers?"
"I--" Loki realized belatedly that that had been a stupid things to say. Now he didn't know how to reply without giving himself away -- he'd backed himself into a corner. "I just--...I want to be left alone."
It was the best he could come up with. Thor's expression fell, and if Loki didn't know any better(which he didn't), he would have thought the Aesir looked disappointed.
"If that is your wish... I don't wish to burden you with my presence, truly. You just--" Thor shrugged slightly, his hands dropping back to his sides. One tucked a thumb into the belt he wore round his waist, the great silver hammer attached to it.
It was Loki's chance to walk away. It was his chance to turn and go, unmolested, and he was absolutely aware that he should take it. Instead he found himself saying:
"When I spied you earlier, out on the balcony."
"What about it?"
The single word is plainly stated, no great revelation, but Loki felt his shoulders shift back in surprise, like the word was a spell and not something terribly mundane. It was a completely uninteresting observation, as things went. After all, he was standing outside alone, how else could one look in such a situation? And it wasn't as if loneliness was a deadly condition. Loki knew starvation -- what it was like to scurry in after a carcass had been thrown out and crack the bones for marrow. He knew the brunt of his brutish brother's curled paw. He knew what it meant to stay up night after night, desperately reading the ancient texts, left abandoned in a half-destroyed building in a half-destroyed city, his eyes burning and heart thumping, knowing the magic inside him was the only thing that would allow him to survive.
Magic he'd foolishly wasted to bring himself here, for one night and one night only, to be something other than what he was.
'Lonely' hardly seemed to matter at all.
Except for how it did.
"Was I wrong?" the prince asked, and Loki couldn't come up with an answer. When the silence lingered, Thor bowed, the motion too formal on his jovial demeanor, and Loki's breath caught. "Forgive my intrusion then. I shall leave you to your solitude."
He straightened broad shoulders, red cape flicking as he stepped to the side and back towards the open arch, out of the dim blue night and into the orange heat of the feast.
Loki glanced to watch him, and Loki's pulse rest on a breath. Tonight was his one night. The only one he'd ever have and the only moment in an interminably desolate(lonely) life to speak to someone. Someone who didn't know who he was, didn't mock or deride him. A moment to be something other than a scraggling runt clawing at the edge of his pack and barely managing to keep up, to stay out of the darkness.
A night to shine as this city did, and to be a part of it. A part of anything at all.
"Wait--!" Loki turned sharply, his hands coming up with no destination, hovering uselessly in the air.
In front of him, Thor paused, glancing at him, but now reserved, his previous enthusiasm dampened, and Loki felt a strange regret for that. Regret, as if he'd done some great wrong, and not merely hurt the feelings of some prince who had so much food and drink that he could throw and spill it, who lived with servants and family and love. Loki couldn't tell if he wanted to keep Thor close or if he wanted to destroy him completely, to have his attention or take his life and make it his own.
But Thor wasn't moving back, nor saying anything. Instead he waited, just as Loki had asked, for something more. For something that meant something.
And words that were true always managed to evade Loki.
He floundered for a moment, feeling himself a heartbeat away from losing the prince's interest completely and certain that more regret would follow in its wake.
"...I came here to see the palace," he said abruptly, an answer to a question unasked and long past. Thor's brow furrowed.
"Before. You asked why I came here."
"I did not. I merely observed it was strange to attend someone's feast but not wish to speak to them."
"The question was implied." He was doing it again. Somehow managing to make an argument out of what was meant to be an apology. It seemed that, for all his skill with words, he had no idea how to use them as anything other than barbs. He was completely out of place here. He let out a long breath.
"...I'm not very good at this," he admitted, eyes slinking off to the side.
"No," the prince agreed, but turned toward him more completely, apparently abandoning his plans to leave. He smiled. "You aren't. But then again, neither am I."
"You're at least trying to include all your guests in your attentions."
"You should see me in court," the prince pointed out with a huff of a laugh. "I would reduce my father to tears with my hot temper." Thor moved away from the archway, back over to the thick wall of the balcony, leaning himself back against it. "And besides," he noted. "You're wrong."
"Oh?" Loki found himself following, letting his elbows press to the stone wall, looking to his side at the prince.
"I've hardly been able to spread my attention around when you've stolen it all."
Loki felt that now familiar sensation of embarrassment creep up his neck, the prince always seeming to catch him off guard. He wasn't used to such earnest speech. Such open declarations with no curtain to shroud or protect them. Again, Loki envied them -- the ability the Aesir had, in their shining world, to be as they wanted, without rebuke. That Thor could have grown up knowing only the ecstasy of being himself.
And now for Loki to have all that ardent affection focused on him. It made him just slightly uncomfortable, as if he were being looked at naked.
"I hardly know why you find me so interesting," he dismissed, looking out at the night drenched city, the moons swollen full above them. He leaned his chin on his hand, eyes focused away, but he could still feel Thor watching him.
"Because you are a mystery, and mysteries have such sway," the prince replied, turning around to face out as Loki did, but his head turned to the side to gaze at him. "You are a strange pretty creature that shows up unannounced, eschews all company and glares at me when I offer him compliments, how could I not be fascinated?"
Loki gave him a baleful look.
"Yes," Thor agreed with a grin. "Just like that."
When Loki didn't respond, Thor's tone lowered again, the teasing fading.
"You said you came to see the palace... Have you never been to our city before?" He reached out, placing his hand abruptly over Loki's on the wall, the contact making Loki flinch at first, but he didn't pull away. "Pray, what realm are you from?"
"What would make you think I'm not from this one?" Loki replied quickly, back straightening.
"I only ask--"
"Because I am. From this realm."
"Perhaps I could give you a tour."
"What?" he asked, not expecting that at all.
"You said that you came here to see the palace... It occurs to me that you've seen far more of me than you have Asgard's pride and gem."
"Just as I have stolen your attention, you seem to have stolen mine..." Loki looked down then, feeling the tip of Thor's thumb trace the dip of his wrist, the ridge where bone met bone. Broad, well fed fingers covered his own, pale and thin, and Loki could feel the roughness of his callus.
"Your hands are so cold," the prince said, a wondering sympathy in his tone. Loki's heartbeat tripled.
"It's nothing," he dismissed, thinking of his cold skin and colder looks, thinking of just how heated and enraged Thor's tenderness would turn if he saw Loki as he truly was.
But as before, the prince seemed to ignore Loki's complaints, turning to take both hands in his, Loki's fingers pressed into the heat of Thor's palm. And god, it was warm. Something that soaked in like water, drifted through blood to skin and skin to ice, and Loki thought it might be uncomfortable, something his Jotun nature would recoil at. Instead he felt himself sway close.
Thor leaned over, moonlight shining a thin line along the polished ivory of his crown, the carved feathers arching up, something that should have seemed ridiculous and overly ornamental to Loki, an indulgence for a world where they had enough time and material to make such trifles. Instead, it seemed a part of Thor, something naturally meant to be there, borne with such regality that Loki couldn't imagine him without it.
The prince leaned over Loki's hands, opened his mouth and breathed. The breath hit Loki's skin like water, hot and thick and humid, wet. It was unspeakably intimate -- and Loki just wanted him to do it again. Blue eyes glanced up through messy blonde hair, a smile quirking the edges of Thor's lips, but then he softened, his face serious -- not angry or stern but solemn. Loki thought that perhaps the prince had some magic of his own, because all Loki could do was stand and stare.
He opened his mouth to say something, only to see Thor shut his eyes and dip back down. This time there was no breath but instead lips, soft and physical, touching the bones of Loki's knuckles, lips soft where Loki was hard, powerful where Loki was tender. It was a motion of infinite warmth, both literal and not, lingering long enough for Thor's hair to slip over his shoulders. Long enough for Loki to lose breath.
It was the gentlest moment of his life.
And then he looked at his hands.
He wasn't shocked or scared when he first saw the pinkish hue of Aesir skin flake off and vanish in the air, piece by piece revealing him. He wasn't worried or nervous when he saw that familiar and hated blue creeping up from his knuckles to the back of his hand, dappling across his skin and slinking ever closer to his wrists with a pale hiss of magic that only he could hear. He expected to feel all of those things, and they came soon enough, but the first thing he felt was heartbreak.
He glanced up at Thor, the prince's eyes still shut, and Loki let the moment hang, brow pinching with pain. He didn't want to break it and let go. He didn't want this to end. And as he struggled to catch his breath, he let himself indulge in just one last second.
Then he pulled away.
He threw his hands behind his back as swiftly as he could, Thor raising his head and eyes opening at the initial withdrawal. Loki shivered as the heat vanished and the fear crept in, but it wasn't how he expected it to be. He wasn't afraid of being caught out and killed now, the fear of death mundane and everyday to him. He was afraid of seeing the warmth in Thor's gaze go out. He was afraid of the disgust he'd see written there when Thor realized just what his lips had touched and the ugly names that would then spill from those lips before death came. Names as cold as Jotunheim itself.
"I'm-- Sorry. I'm sorry," Loki stumbled out. "I have to go."
"Go? Where?" Thor's brow furrowed in confusion. "If I over stepped my bounds, please--"
"No. No, you were--... This was perfect." And Loki meant it. "You were wonderful."
"Then why do you have to leave? And so suddenly!" Thor reached for him again, but Loki was nothing if not quick, and Thor brushed only air.
"I have places to be," Loki answer enigmatically, a sad smile tugging at his lips.
"What places? Surely, this can wait--"
"It can't. I can't. But...thank you. For this. For the terrible dancing lesson." It wasn't at all the night that Loki had been expecting and nothing like the one he'd dreamt up as the years had passed. It was something so much messier and more real.
It was, perhaps, the only treasure that Loki would ever own.
He slipped by Thor, feeling the prince grab for him, but already the illusion was crawling up his arm, the shimmering cloth of his outfit soon to be no more than rags. And worse, the peach of his skin soon to be blue and marred with scars and patterns. A horned monster, for the picture perfect Aesir to hunt down and hang on their walls.
He heard Thor shout for him, heavier footsteps loud behind him, but Loki had survived by his ability to dance away, to dart in and out and evade, and staying ahead of the Asgard prince was trivial.
It wasn't until they were on the steps of the palace that he heard Thor yell to him:
Loki was well aware that he shouldn't stop. It was the witching hour, and he could feel Asgard's magic coming to a swell, like a tide coming in. He could feel it, waves running in and out but each time closer, greater. He could feel it all over him, under his skin. It was rising now, and pushing back his own Jotun sorcery. He was far from his world and her cold power, and he had nothing to fight back with as Asgard began to peel him bare and show him for what he truly was.
He should have just kept running, but the word recalled his own plea to Thor, to wait, to listen, and he couldn't help but repay the favor. He turned on the steps, looking up at the prince. Thor came to a pause as well, the two of them separated by little -- only two worlds apart.
"I don't--" The prince shook his head, looking strangely distressed. His mouth opened and shut, and damnit, Loki didn't have time for this. His heart was beating in his throat and he was about to run, regardless, when Thor finally found his voice. "Your name. I don't even know your name."
Loki had every reason to lie, then. To let his silver tongue spill something easily given and easily lost. Names were powerful things, even without the danger of his secret being revealed. It was foolish enough to stop, but now to give away something that deep, that true...
But Thor had given him something true tonight, and Loki knew the steep demands of magic. A favor for a favor. A gift for a kindness. A name for a kiss.
"...Loki," he said, staring up at his dalliance, the realization of some childhood dream. And then he was gone, flitting down the stairs and skipping them two at a time. He heard shouts behind him but listened only to the rush of the wind and the dissolution of his spell, threads coming undone rapidly now, at first one at a time and now five and now twenty, vanishing -- melting in the heat of this world.
By the time he reached the edge of that glittering sea, Loki was horned and blue, tattered clothing hanging off his bony body and bare feet slapping against the loose stones at the water's edge.
His branch was there, a thin twig of the World Tree reaching out of the waves to him and receding, slipping from where he'd pulled it. He reached out, blue fingers grasping it, and just as he felt it spring back, pulling him through the universe and past the stars, he sees the uncomfortable orange gaze of Heimdall.
Then the path closed behind him, and he landed in a crumpled heap in the snow, just the way he'd left. He coughed and spluttered, pushing himself to all fours as he brushed the snow from his mouth, his long hair, braided with ice gems, slipped over one shoulder. He glanced back behind him, at where he'd come back, afraid he'd see Heimdall's eyes there again, watching him, but all he saw were the endless snow planes of Jotunheim, desolate and dark. The snow crashed through the air, the wind whistling with ferocity, and far away the dim, flickering lights of the once great city, and those who lived in her ruins.
Loki was home.
For a second everything in him went tight, leaning over on one arm and shutting his eyes, drawing air that burned and scoured his lungs, too weak for this realm. He was shaking, shivering, and only the return of his magic, Jotunheim's cold touch, to comfort him.
It was a good night, he reminded himself. It had always been only one night. He'd known that from the beginning.
He sat back on his haunches, bring snow wet hands to his face and running them up and over his hair.
It had been a good night, the best he could have possibly hoped for. More than what he deserved. And soon enough the fair prince would forget all about him. Loki would become merely a good story to tell over mead and meat, to roar in laughter as they told their tales. To Thor, it would be just another feast, just another night, just another Aesir face. But Loki would remember. He had nothing to do here but remember.
To think of the warmth he'd taken, that he'd tucked close and carried between worlds, and the single, small token given in return, amidst all his lies and trickery.
The single truth he'd left behind, at the footsteps of the palace.