“From the beginning. Go.”
“... Very well. In the beginning, there was a grand plan, by he who is the grandest of them all, Odin. The plan was to defeat the Frost Giants, save the galaxy and be home in time for victory pleasantries with the queen. It was... a good plan. However, though the Frost Giants were defeated, they were left bitter and just strong enough to be a nuisance. Odin returned with an abandoned child and, the way I have been told, there was not much room left for marital pleasantries on that day.”
“Look, if this is going to be like Asgard's version of Pride and Prejudice, we're going to need to order a takeaway or something. You like pizza?”
“Pepperoni and ham. Extra cheese.”
“... Pizza it is. Continue.”
Odin gave Heimdall a one-eyed glare. He really was becoming a little more casual in his dislike of the Jotuns in recent days. “They are savage, but I am certain they do not eat their young.”
“No,” Heimdall said, pausing for effect to the degree that a new galaxy had been born somewhere before he added, “They just leave them to perish.”
Odin held the child close, smiling at how quiet he was, that trusting innocent look of his – Odin frowned. The little devil had relieved himself in the All-Father's hand. “Heimdall, your cloak, my friend.”
“You have a cloak,” Heimdall pointed out.
Odin gave Heimdall an irritated scowl and shifted the child while bringing around his cloak to wipe and then hold the child in the cloak for any future eventualities. He shook his head as he looked at the giggling baby. “How could anyone leave such an innocent to perish?”
“The Jotuns are cruel and barbaric and have disproportionately small genitalia.”
Odin frowned. “They do?”
“I have heard,” Heimdall said with a nod. Odin chuckled quietly and stroked the child's face. Heimdall sighed. “I know what you mean to do with the child.”
Odin gave Heimdall a look. “He is a Jotun prince. He must be raised as a prince. Who knows where his destiny lies? He could be the one who unites us with Jotunheim one day.”
“The child left to perish by his own kind?” Heimdall asked flatly. “Doubtful.”
“Why must you be such a doomsayer?”
“Why must you be so blind?” Odin's eyes... eye narrowed. Heimdall shifted uncomfortably and asked, “Too soon?”
It was while she was weeping over the loss of his eye he had discreetly manoeuvred the child into her lap and said, “He is not as heavy as Thor was.”
Tears in her eyes, Frigga had laughed at Odin and said, “No child could be.”
Odin covered her hand and said, “I will find a good noble family for him, if you wish it. You do not have to tolerate something for which you did not ask.”
Frigga looked up at Odin, holding the boy close. “Children are to be loved, not tolerated. Anyone who knows the truth about this child, will only ever tolerate him.”
“And you?” Odin asked.
Frigga looked down at the child, sadness clouding her features. He knew she saw the same thing he had. Innocent trusting eyes. Odin stiffened at the memory of his hand suddenly warm and wet. Frigga was wearing a particularly fetching dress too.
Frigga gasped as the child caught her finger and gurgled. She laughed at him, which prompted laughter from the child accompanied by a furious kicking of legs. She sighed and said, “I think he is staying.”
Odin smiled and leaned forward to embrace her. She promptly pushed him back and said, “I said he is staying.”
Odin considered this. “I hope that by the time Loki and Thor are grown, Jotunheim and Asgard will be closer to peace.”
“They are Frost Giants,” Heimdall said. “Their language has no word for peace.”
“That is not so.”
“They also have no words for anything of a light or soft nature,” Heimdall said.
“These are lies,” Odin said.
“I have heard they often consume each other whilst mating.”
“I cannot do this with you right now,” Odin had said before stomping off.
“It's the stupidest thing I have ever heard,” she told him as they lay together. She had crossed her arms over her chest and wore an irritated frown.
Odin considered that if he could go back to the beginning of things, he would simply do what he wanted rather than consulting with everyone. And if anyone disagreed, he could just shout them down like his father used to do.
“We cannot simply tell the Jotun that we raised their prince and he has right to the throne. And do you mean to send Loki back there, to that wretched cold world where there is no light, no warmth? Our precious child?”
Our precious and mischievous little monkey, Odin thought, recalling the latest prank Loki had pulled involving a helmet with horns on the inside. So much mischief for such a small child.
“No,” Frigga said with that sad quiet voice, the one that promised even more uncomfortable conversation. “We have to tell them now, that we have a Jotun child and we are raising him as our own. That we see no difference between our kind and theirs. That is where true peace lies.”
Odin glared. “I do not agree. If we were the same, they would not be fighting us.”
“Are you not fighting them?” Frigga asked him sternly.
“That is different.”
“It is not.”
“Very different,” Odin said.
“Not at all. It takes two sides to make war, precious husband.”
Odin glared. She always meant the opposite when she called him that. “Fine, we will tell them. What happens when they try to take your Loki from you?”
Frigga's eyes immediately began to glisten and Odin felt terrible. She gave him a hard look and said, “They cannot have that which they threw away. All they can have is the knowledge, that we are better than the monsters who would throw away a child.”
Odin smiled. Now she was talking his language. But then his smiled vanished. If the Jotuns were told of Loki, who else would have to know?
“Loki,” he whispered, his heart breaking a little. “No. We cannot tell Loki.”
For a moment it looked as though Frigga would agree and they would never have to have this terrible conversation again and Loki would never have to know his true origin. But then Frigga shook her head, as if her mind had changed at the tripping of the mildest breeze, damn the fates.
“He should know. It is better he know now than have his heart broken later.”
Heimdall didn't want to know the details because up until now Odin's plans didn't seem to go very well. The plan was to tell the Jotuns, to tell the Aesir and to tell Loki. And then, to give Loki as many gifts as it would take to make him not hate his Aesir parents.
“Look,” Heimdall said. “I am not enamoured of that imp you call your son, but he's a child. You will break the boy's heart.”
“Frigga is of the mind that his heart should be broken now than later. A child's heart is easier to mend perhaps.”
“And if the Jotuns want the boy returned?” Heimdall said.
Odin stiffened and recalled Frigga's words. “They cannot have that which they threw away. Loki is my son. I will not have my son taken from me – are you crying?”
“I have something in my eye,” Heimdall said gruffly.
No one could find him, which meant Odin had to go to Heimdall who now had the opportunity to say, “Did I not tell you this would not end well?”
Odin growled like his father used to and Heimdall rolled his eyes and told him of Loki's whereabouts.
“He has been in the Bifröst dome all this time?” Odin asked, simmering, close to boiling. “You did not think it wise to tell me?”
“You have not been responding to wisdom very well of late,” Heimdall answered flatly.
Odin made a noise and walked past Heimdall, “There is no talking to you sometimes.”
Heimdall harrumphed and turned the opposite way, muttering, “I also know you of old.”
Odin didn't see Loki at first. He was just inside the entrance, curled up to the right. From where he stood, Loki seemed almost as small as the day Odin had found him. Odin released a heavy sigh and took up a place on the floor next to Loki. Brought to the ground by a Jotun, his father would have scoffed if he were here. Good thing he wasn't.
Odin considered all the things he could say, but having grown up under the tutelage of his own father, he knew there was a strong chance of something exceptionally stupid coming out of his mouth. He did the only thing he recalled had given him comfort as a child, those times his father had thought it best to keep his wisdom to himself. Odin lay his hand on his child's head, gentle and light.
Loki let out a broken sob. “I'm not a monster.”
Damn the boy, tears burned hot in Odin's eye and they had come quicker than a breath or a thought. He swallowed, trying to keep his voice steady. “I know.”
Loki turned about, face flushed and wet with misery. Odin moved his hand from Loki's head to his face, thumbing away tears as Loki said, “Father, please don't send me away.”
“No one will send you away,” someone growled, someone who was not Odin.
Odin frowned and turned his head to find Heimdall, tears in his eyes. He swallowed, gave Odin an awkward look and marched back out. Odin turned back to look at Loki, leaning forward until they were eye to eye.
“You are my son, Loki.” He thought of more to say, to tell him he would protect him, love him, keep him from harm. But all he could say was, “You are my son.”
When Loki fell forward and hid in Odin's embrace, words didn't seem to matter.
There were also the protesters, warning Odin that this little Loki would one day grow up to usurp the throne of Asgard, turning on his so-called family and giving the Jotuns the victory they so desperately hungered after. Frigga, did not take kindly to such talk and was vocal on the matter, in regards to what she would do to certain parts of certain people if they said another word against her son.
The Jotuns? They tried to imply the child had been stolen, but faced by the rage of Odin All-Father, they became quiet on the matter only to re-emerge and state that they would not remain silent forever, not when one of their own was growing on Asgard. Laufey would come for his son, that much was certain.
Loki hid, but not in the Bifröst dome this time. This time he hid in the safety of his brother's bedchamber where they built a fort of bedlinen and feasted on apples while Thor spoke of defeating monsters and smashing Jotunheim into stardust.
“Don't worry,” he whispered inside their fort. “I will not let them take you, Brother.”
Loki considered Thor's promise unlike anything he had ever given a moment's thought. Thor was All-Father's son, his real son, everyone said so. He would be king and he was the only one who mattered. The one Loki would need. Imploring Thor with his eyes, he said, “Do you promise?”
Thor nodded vigorously, scowling as he did so, taking the oath most seriously. “I promise.”
Loki breathed easier than he had in days. He picked up an apple, polishing it until it shone even in the dark of their secret den. He handed it to Thor with a smile. Thor looked at it, looked at Loki and grinned.
“No,” Frigga had said. “Absolutely not.”
“You must trust me,” Odin told her. “I know Laufey.”
Frigga cried, shaking her head, distraught at the idea of Loki with those creatures. In the end, she turned from Odin and nodded, promising only to leave her chambers again when he would bring her Loki back.
It was with guilt and fear he then took Loki to meet the Jotuns.
“I found a Jotun child and I took him into my arms and called him my son. I did not call him Jotun, prisoner, child of my enemy. Would you have done the same had you found an Aesir child?”
Laufey's head tilted at Odin, red eyes blinking thoughtfully. Coldly honest as ever, Laufey replied, “Never.”
Odin nodded. “I have taken from you, yes? Let us forget that what I have taken was discarded by you, let us just say I have taken. So, I will give you something of mine. We will be equal then. Yes?”
Laufey's face twisted with contempt. “We will see.”
Odin nodded to one of the guards, stepping away from the table. Moments later, the doors of the meeting hall opened and a child entered, flanked by two large guards. He looked up at Odin with his trusting eyes, face pale with fear and uncertainty. Odin held out his hand and Loki took it, never saying a word. Odin looked at the still seated Laufey.
“I took your son. You take mine,” Odin said.
Laufey was eyeing the petrified boy who appeared dumbstruck by the Frost Giant. “And what am I to do with this boy? It does not appear he will make even an Asgard warrior, let alone be of use to me. You know what I want, All-Father.”
“The casket?” Odin asked. He shook his head. “No.”
“Then there is no peace,” Laufey said, standing up and towering over both father and son. “Your pitiful gift is rejected.”
“Are you quite sure? I will not offer to make amends again, Laufey,” Odin said.
Laufey snorted and told Loki, “It appears your father is eager to cast you off, Prince.”
“What now?” Odin asked, stepping in front of Loki, shielding him from the Jotun.
“Keep your boy,” Laufey said. “Give me what you owe me.”
“And what, is that?” Odin asked gruffly.
“The casket. Or my offspring,” Laufey said menacingly.
Odin nodded, clapping his hands twice. The doors opened and the guards ushered in a group of children. “Very well. Your child is in this room. If you can pick him out, you can take him with you. If you cannot, then you leave here, glad to be in one piece.”
Laufey growled. “You mock me.”
Odin growled back. “You are the one who has made a mockery! I brought you here to make peace. To let the boy who is child to both of us be the one to unite us. But you want only to make more war, to make chaos. You want the boy only because I call him son.”
Laufey's red eyes narrowed at Odin before turning on the children who had been lined up, Asgard soldiers standing guard next to them. “Trickery. You would not bring the child here.”
“By my word, he is in this very room,” Odin said. “The child you threw away.”
Laufey looked at the children. Odin watched red eyes going from face to face, height to height. Odin watched children shiver and shake as Laufey passed them by, whilst considering that people were not going to like him very much for at least some time, bringing this creature into Asgard to haunt their children's dreams.
Laufey stopped by a boy who was scowling at the Frost Giant. The boy was strong for his age, his eyes were an ice blue and his usually unkempt hair had been tied back to reveal sharp features. The boy shared a look with Odin and returned to angrily scowl at the Jotun.
Laufey noted the look which passed between Thor and Odin and smiled, straightening up and pointing at the stupidly fearless boy. “This one.”
Odin said, with some amount of pride, “He is Thor. Son of Odin and Frigga.”
Laufey's icy features morphed into a scowl of confusion. He began to question Odin, but then his eyes lowered to the boy who was peeking out from behind Odin.
Odin reached back to put an arm around Loki's shoulders. “This is my son Loki. The one you have already refused to take and to whom you can now make no further claim.”
Laufey turned with such swiftness the move seemed to leech the warmth from the room. “You tricked me.”
“I gave you choices, you refused them all,” Odin said. “And what Jotun king would accept the gift he has already rejected? Surely, not Laufey.”
“This is how you make peace?” Laufey snarled.
“No,” Odin said. “This is how you wish to make war.”
Laufey approached Odin, looking down at him with visible disdain. “Making a Jotun into one of your own is no great feat. I will wait for the day you put him on the throne of Asgard. Until then, he is no more than a prisoner here.”
“The throne of Asgard will go to my son. Which one, I cannot say yet, but it will be one of the two princes of this realm. Thor. Or Loki.”
Laufey laughed slowly. “Will your people accept him as one of their own? Will an Aesir take his hand one day, to make him their mate? Would they lie with a Jotun? Tell me, who would take this boy into their family a second time? One day, he will return to me of his own accord. To make war against Odin himself.”
“No.” Odin looked down at Loki who had moved to his side, hands clutching at his father's tunic. “I won't go with you. ”
Laufey stared at the boy, icy features strangely relaxed, something strange and troubling at the corners of his mouth. Thor broke Odin free of his musing then by walking purposely to his father and brother. He stood next to Loki and straightened up as if already a man before grabbing Loki's wrist.
“And I, Thor Odinson, would take Loki as my mate.” He turned to Loki to grin and shrug. “Then we can be both be kings.”
Odin frowned at Thor, noting that Loki was not shaking him off and both were not wrestling on the ground to gouge each others eyes out as they usually did when one lay a hand on the other. It was a relief. Odin could either watch over the realms or spend his time sending his sons to opposite corners of a room. He turned to face Laufey, finding the Jotun to be rather pleased.
Laufey bent down so he was close to Thor and said, “Will you now?”
Thor nodded, defiantly answering, “I promised. I will not let you take him.”
Laufey was grinning and then quietly laughing. He turned to Odin and said, “So, it is peace you seek, is it?”
“It is all I have ever wanted from you,” Odin replied.
“And you want to prove that you see no difference between Jotun and Aesir. That we are of equal import on the tree of life.”
Odin gave a stiff nod. That was more Frigga's crusade to be honest. The Jotun weren't exactly the easiest neighbours on the tree. But still. “I do.”
Laufey was looking at Thor who was still holding Loki's wrist. He grinned. “Very well, All-Father. Let us talk of an Aesir and Jotun alliance. A true alliance, like the old days, the old ways.”
Odin narrowed his eyes and nodded. “Very well.”
“Because you have promised that neither Loki nor Thor will ascend the thrown until one has been given to the other as a consort.”
“It is the promise on which the truce has been made.”
“And you are drinking my mead because...”
“A king has no idea of where mead comes from,” Odin said, downing the contents of his tankard. “One simply calls for mead and mead arrives.”
Heimdall frowned. “And you are staying in my home because...”
“This is where the mead is. And in the name of Valhalla, are you not my friend?”
“Of course,” Heimdall said, slurring a little. “But, your queen, she is a formidable woman.”
Odin smiled and nodded. “Striking too.”
“Oh yes,” Heimdall agreed. “Very striking.”
Odin pointed his finger at Heimdall and scowled. “You keep your eyes off my queen, you hear?”
Heimdall laughed, deep and heartily. “Odin All-Father still feels pangs of jealousy?”
Odin sat back with a smile of satisfaction, thumping his chest like an Asgard warrior telling a battle tale. “My friend, these are pangs of love.”
Someone sighed and Odin looked around from the couch where he was sat. Frigga stood in the arched entrance to the room, wearing a hooded cloak and look of reproach.
“Pangs of love, indeed,” she scoffed, walking up to the couch. Odin smiled up at her and held out a hand. She shook her head and took his hand, sitting down beside him.
“Have you forgiven me?” Odin asked.
“You've sacrificed the choices of our children for an alliance,” she said with a frown. “How do I begin to forgive you for laying such a burden on innocents? They were to be brothers, not betrothed. You have taken Asgard back into old ancient ways that are better long forgotten.”
Odin held a hand to his chest. “They are not brothers, or betrothed. They are the princes of realms. Let them be the ones to usher in peace. Let them be the ones who will never have to fight a war. Be away from their beloved. Lose an eye. They are roots of the same tree, my love, if they twine together, then our foundations grow only stronger. Laufey wants this to see us fail, but our sons will prove him wrong.”
Frigga sighed and turned to Heimdall. “I will need a tankard. I fear our king is about to start reciting poetry.”
It was Heimdall who had noticed a strange look of longing in Laufey's red eyes, in the direction of Loki who never left Thor's side for even a moment. Laufey appeared thoughtful and then something like a sad smile tugged at those cold hard features. Heimdall chose not to think of it any longer and closed his eyes, listening to the hum of a blooming universe.