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Countless little moments

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LL

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Loki did not often admit that he had made a mistake, mostly because a mistake simply meant that a part of his plan had not worked out as it ought to and, as he was highly adaptable, no one but him was ever the wiser.

It happened only rarely that he deemed the plan itself a mistake, usually when he ended up with a new hole in his body or too many enemies at his heels. When someone else was hurt... Well, he did make an effort to avoid such unpleasantness, unless hurting them was the plan.

The chaos of yestereve, however, that had certainly been a blunder.

He would like to think that all had gone well until he had dropped the cup in the kitchen and that he would have still gotten what he wanted out of his little game had he not overdone it.

Yet, having had a day to contemplate it, he now saw it for the folly that it was. Driving the damned Thunderer mad with jealousy had been immensely satisfying, to be sure, but to use Jane Foster as a means to achieve this? Now, treating a lady so shamefully was not merely beneath the standing of a prince, it was also deeply disrespectful to the lady in question.

She had not immediately been taken with him, he knew; likely because his initial greeting had left much to be desired and then he had thrown a blade at her companion. As first impressions went, he had done better with the Dvergar. That, even now, she might care for no more than the knowledge he could share with her did not perturb him; many of his acquaintances were interested only in his mind.

Studying in Vanaheimr's Hall of Wisdom generally required and exchange - one lesson learned for one lesson taught. These 'study hours' that he undertook together with Jane and her mentor Erik were very similar in nature but after a few evenings he came to realise that, for the mortals, this was no formal arrangement, no strict transaction. No, they enjoyed themselves, they regarded this as a pastime and, though he had not yet attempted this, there was the understanding that he could have asked for a lecture on Midgard without giving one of his own in payment.

That was startling and surprisingly nice. Such an opportunity had not presented itself to him for centuries, not since Sigyn. His relationship with the two scholars was different, of course; different even than the one he and Darcy maintained. Nevertheless, it would not have been far-fetched to say that he counted them among his very exclusive group of friends.

Which was why it stung most fiercely that he may have mucked it all up with not just one, but possibly both of them, as he doubted the good Doctor Selvig would so easily forgive the pain he had caused the man's ward.

Of course, if he wished to be forgiven, Loki would first have to apologize.

In his many years creating mischief throughout the Nine Realms he had gained ample experience in this act; many a time his father had forced him to beg pardon of those he had wronged in order to avoid a harsher punishment, so that now he was well versed in any of the formal rituals of this or that royal court. Midgard, unfortunately, did not have a stringent protocol for this occasion, and while that could be somewhat freeing it was, at the same time, like being asked to give a speech and only handed a blank page of paper in preparation.

"Just go with what your gut tells you," Darcy had advised him; she had also cautioned him against seeking out the other woman immediately upon re-entering the house as it was best to "let things cool off". Well, a day seemed adequate to dim the fires of anger and waiting any longer would have felt cowardly to him. Not to mention, that with every passing hour that this anger was left to linger, his chance of forgiveness was rapidly dwindling.

So, he really should stop stalling and get it over with. Although he would first have to find the right opportunity. It would be difficult enough without an audience but being bereft of one was rare in this little house. He would have to make do with not having Thor present; and that alone might prove troublesome. Oddly the revelations of the previous night had only deepened the closeness between the blond oaf and Jane; but, then, dividing them had not been the point, exactly. It was, however, slightly disturbing to watch the couple hold hands under the table.

He did not comment on this appalling show of affection; instead, he waited patiently for the two to finish their supper and for the Thunderer to bid his lady a good night. They met briefly in the sitting room - where Loki had been pouring over a historic text written by the grey-haired scholar's ancestors, in between furtive looks towards the kitchen - but neither of them spoke a word; the blond just directed a disgruntled huff at him before leaving for his own bedchamber.

"Erik should be here soon," Jane announced stiffly, to which he gave a perfunctory nod.

Only when his eyes followed her path around the table as she cleared it of the meal's dishes did it occur to him that there was no one else in the room right now. Darcy must have left at some earlier time but he had likely been too lost in his own head to register her departure. He only hoped that this situation did not make the lady uncomfortable and that this was not reason for her reminder of the other man's timely arrival.

At least, it provided the perfect moment for him to make his confession.

"Before we begin today's lesson could we, maybe, talk in private, you and I?"

She came to a halt several steps away from the sink, dirty dishes still in hand, taking a good while to compose herself as though she had been startled, until she, at last, responded with a clipped "OK", that managed to sound expectant without expecting too much.

Not letting himself be discouraged by her tone and her refusal to turn around to face him, Loki held fast to his plan, suppressing the instinct to flee. This should have been less daunting than his last meeting with Vanaheimr's High Council, but strangely it was not.

"Well, about what happened yesterday," he began and, as there was no sign of acknowledgement from her, he continued, trying to be clearer in his intentions. "I wished to apologise, Jane. For the things I said or, better, for how I said them. And, most of all, for hurting you."

Honest, emotional declarations were not really his forte and so he was gratified when afterwards his friend finally looked his way and then even walked into the adjacent room to take a seat in the armchair across from him. "Fine, let's talk about this," she said, and that would have been a promising invitation, if it were not for the too sharp look in her eyes. She was not going to make it easy for him, he realised, with no small amount of trepidation.

"To start with, I agree with you that I had a right to know about Sif, but I would have preferred to hear of his engagement from Thor himself."

That was understandable, though if the fool had already let two months go by without even hinting at his prior obligations, then it was doubtful he would ever have confessed to them.

Whether that scathing thought was mirrored on his face or Jane just guessed at the reason for his silence, she definitely was not pleased with either. "I don't care how long it would have taken or that he might never have told me at all; it was still unfair of you to hurl this at me and then to treat it like a joke."

Yes, that had been cruel, to be sure; especially his open amusement at discovering that the betrothal had been kept secret from Jane, which made him no better than the man who had actually wronged her.

"I am sorry for that, as well. It was very much unnecessary. I might not have done so, had I known of the depth of your feelings for him," he admitted and thought that was at least partially true.

He had believed the spirited mortal scholar would be too sensible to fall for the Thunderer's charms after only a fortnight of courting, but he probably would not have missed out on the chance to goad his enemy.

Sadly, she seemed unmoved by any of his words. "My romantic life is really none of your business," she replied, not too harshly and the light blush to her cheeks spoke more of embarrassment. "Anyway, you did know that Thor and Sif aren't actually going to go through with the wedding, didn't you?"

It would have been easy to lie at this point as the betrothal was officially still in effect and his interest in the other prince was limited to physical weaknesses that could be exploited or a lack of intelligence that lent itself to be outwitted and not the man's personal affairs. Yet a claim like that could earn him even more of Jane's ire, if she thought he was merely making excuses for his action.

Therefore, honesty would prove the wiser course, once more. "I was aware, yes."  Aware of the admiring ladies flittering around that golden lunk wherever he went, who cared not one bit about him being already spoken for, and equally aware that the Lady Týrsdottir - while not thronged by a mob of salivating men at all times - did not treat him like a dotting wife-to-be.

At this Jane's brown eyes lit up, her whole posture seemed to lose a great amount of tension, as though it was not only his knowledge she had meant to verify. Had she doubted Thor's account, then?

That made him ponder if he should not have lied, after all. But, no, no, no; that was exactly the kind of thinking that had gotten him into this mess. He would not use a friend to get the annoying Ás in trouble. For a second time.

You are supposed to show remorse, so focus, damn it! he chided himself, in a voice that sounded eerily like Helblindi.

"Em, what I did was meant only to humiliate the Odinson and that you were hurt by this... I regret that, truly," he affirmed hesitantly, unused as he was to such openness. With this group of mortals, however, it would work better than a carefully crafted speech, he knew. "I would regret it all the more, if my inconsiderate behaviour has tarnished our friendship for good."

Norns, he felt too much like a child, standing before his mother, about to receive a proper scolding. Though, with his mother that situation was not any easier to bear as an adult.

Jane Foster, who was certainly more kind-hearted than any one in his family, neither shouted at him nor did she scorn his apology, but he could not tell whether she was ready to forgive him.

She regarded him for a few silent moments, then offered him a small smile that made him cautiously hopeful. "Look, I'm not gonna hold a grudge because you acted a bit selfishly; that would be really hypocritical, given that I'm not mad at Thor anymore."

Did that mean he was forgiven? Oh, he liked where this was going. So far.

"But there's something I would like to ask of you," she continued and the apprehension in her voice was, unfortunately, contagious. He did not blindly agree to a bargain or to limitations, yet if this could mend what he had so carelessly fractured... Well, he should at least hear her out.

With a nod that seemingly worked as a universal gesture, he motioned for her to go on; the fingers of his right hand ceaselessly drumming on his knee as he lacked magic that could have hidden his nervousness under a glamour of perfect calm.

"I realise that living in the same house as Thor isn't easy for either of you because you really can't stand each other. And that bad-mouthing him is pretty normal for you."

Ah, yes. They had been throwing insults at each other's faces long before they had become enemies in earnest. Actually, insults were what about half of their first meeting had consisted of.

"It's too much to expect that you will be nice to him, any time soon, and that's not something you can do on command. But if you could please stop trying to make him look bad or tell me stuff about him that you know he hasn't, even if you really think I or any of us just has to know, that would be very much appreciated."

Huh, now that was not an unreasonable request, for all that it was slightly unfair. On the latter notion he was swiftly corrected, however.

"Don't worry; I've asked the same from Thor and he has already agreed to do his best."

Now, what could he do but promise the same? And, to be sure, it would be no hardship not to speak of his enemy, ill or otherwise.

"I am not opposed to that idea, although it will likely take some effort to still my tongue on occasion." He had added the last part jokingly and was gladdened to so see Jane smile in response; the warmth of it on par with one she would have directed at either of their friends.

"That's OK, we'll be there to remind you," she said, in similar good humour.

The noise of a door opening and closing had their attention momentarily diverted to the hallway.

"Ah, that's gotta be Erik; he said he would bring along his lesson plans. I thought you might like to learn how we teach science to students on Earth."

Oh, that was very thoughtful.

"That sounds as though we have a splendid evening ahead of us," he replied enthusiastically and his own smile was genuine when he met her eyes, gleaming with excitement.

This act of apologising had gone much better than he had dared to hope and he had not even been required to spill a drop of his blood.

Maybe he should do this more often. He could certainly get used to being forgiven.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

fanart dooway

Chapter Text

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TO

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When Thor, on the morning after a lovely day spent with Jane, entered the kitchen - in anticipation of a good breakfast and more of the lady's wonderful companionship - he was surprised to see not only her but the other two mortals, as well. Usually Darcy would sleep much longer and Erik had been so preoccupied with his work of late that he rarely spent any time in the house. But they were all here now and something was definitely wrong for they were sitting around the empty table, with worry in their eyes and appearing not at well rested.

"Why the long faces, my friends? Has something happened?" he asked and walked around the table to pour himself a cup of coffee.

Maybe they were about to tell him that they had to leave the town and return to their lives. Jane and he had discussed this before, that she was only supposed to be in Puente Antiguo for a short time, to study the stars; that her mentor was needed to teach the next generation of scholars; that Darcy, as one such scholar, would have to attend her lessons again. He had hoped to be long gone before that time but he could not dictate their steps.

The house would feel terribly empty without them, though.

"Loki is gone," the younger woman said despondently. And bewildered as he was at this response, he was even more so at the way this seemed to upset his friends.

It was not as though the Trickster could have travelled very far on foot, not without magic. Yet the finality of the statement also showed he had not just left an hour ago to steal a handful of apples.

"He has been gone since last evening; we thought he'd be back by now," Jane explained, privy to his thoughts as she so often was. "I told you about the talk we'd had with him; that it didn't go well..."

She had spoken of the argument during their time together yesterday, and he could not say that he had expected any different. The war was an ugly topic in itself and for both him and Loki it was a rather a sensitive matter. Neither mentioned it to the other, as a rule, because when they did it usually ended with one or both of them bleeding from various wounds.

He should never have engaged in that conversation about the past.

But he did not think Laufeyson's departure was all that startling.

"It is what he does; when he has to take on responsibility for his actions, he runs away."

He would likely already be locked in Asgard's dungeon or that of another realm, but due to his penchant for running and hiding he had never been caught. That strategy might have saved him more than once but it also made him terribly untrustworthy.

As callously as he had spoken he really should have been prepared for the vehement defence by either one of the humans, for they were Loki's friends, as well. It was something he had to call to mind every day, though he had grown to accept it as an immutable fact.

"Don't talk about him that way!" Darcy ordered angrily and only when she levelled a harsh stare at him did he notice the tears in her eyes. "He could be lying in a ditch somewhere or been arrested or..."

He looked around at the others for clarification, as to him this sounded a little too hysterical; it was Erik who told him, "She fears that Shield got to him again."

Well, that was certainly grounds for worry, as the last encounter with this group of soldiers had almost resulted in the Jötunn's death. Yet there was something they were all forgetting.

"The lady Romanoff gave us her word that we would no longer be treated as a threat by her people," he stated with a shrug of shoulders as, so far, that promise had been kept to the letter. He knew, however, that oaths - no matter how solemnly given - did not count as much here as they did everywhere else in the Nine.

"Yeah, but 'accidents' happen," the young brunette countered scornfully, affirming her mistrust of the agents.

He wanted to tell her that Loki was most likely well, but he had no way to be certain. Any other attempt to reassure her, phrases like 'If he should be attacked it will be his own fault' or 'He is too clever to fall for the same trap twice' were either too accusatory or too flattering to be helpful. So he ended up with "He can take care of himself," which rang rather hollow.

Nevertheless, it was true. While Thor fought most of his battles alongside his shield-brothers and sister, the mage had no regular companions with whom to traverse the realms. It was an arrangement he seemed to favour.

 "We don't doubt that," Erik said calmly. "He's an adult, after all. But he's also more than a little reckless."

Ah, yes, that was quite an accurate assessment. Most of the trouble the other prince had gotten himself into in their youth - when they were not yet enemies and the likely cause for each other's injuries - could have been avoided if he were less certain of his own brilliance and just a tad more careful.

He could, of course, not say any of that in the mortals' presence; they would not be thankful for it. Indeed, they were far too saddened by Loki's departure to be open to criticism.

Jane seemed to have taken it more to heart than the others; she was slumped in her chair, her chin resting on both hands, her eyes downcast. Had she even gone to bed after finding the other man missing?

"The thing is, we are... Well, I am responsible for him leaving, because of that stupid argument I started. And if something happens to him, it will be my fault."

This he could not agree with, not with any of her assumptions, but he would not argue with her. Instead, he left the counter and his cup of coffee behind to join the others at the table and put a hand on his dear lady's tense shoulder.

"I could try to find him."

The words were out of his mouth before he could properly think them over; he did, however, not regret making this offer. Not only would it ease his friends' worry but he had his own reasons for wanting the Jötunn to return, as well.

"This is a quest you will have to master on your own. Or alone with Prince Loki," Baldr had told him on that fateful day and he had sounded so very confident of his conclusion as he only did when it was more than guesswork on his part. Working together on a solution to end their banishment would prove a bit complicated, though, in the other's absence.

Naturally, his suggestion was met with a healthy amount of suspicion; they knew he would not usually come to the aid of his enemy. For all that, he did think it the only logical choice.

"I, better than anyone on this realm, know how good Loki is at hiding in plain sight. He will not be found if he does not wish it. Yet, I still believe that I have the highest chance to uncover his whereabouts," he reasoned, not with pride but determination.

Over the years he had learned many a thing about the Trickster's methods of disappearing in a crowd, all of which he would have to employ now as he had no magic to make himself invisible. For one, he loved to be above others, quite literary. He would also make sure to appear as one of the locals, which he had managed to do for over a century on Asgard. And here that ought to be even easier as his dark hair was no oddity in this realm and most of his garments had been purchased by their Midgardian friends.

In short, this task might take some effort but that had never stopped him before.

"I cannot promise that I will succeed," he said, sincerely. "But I will try, if you wish it."

Jane looked up at him with gratitude written clear on her face.

She was, however, not the one to answer him.

"Alright, you go and sniff him out, buddy," Darcy agreed, somewhat mockingly. Then her tone became a little more serious as she added, "Just don't drag him here by his hair, or something. If he doesn't wanna come back, that's his choice. We only want to know that he's doing OK."

That seemed a reasonable request and preferable to the alternative. An attempt at forcing Loki to do anything would only earn him a blade between his ribs.

It was a strange idea, all the same, that he was about to seek out his enemy without the intend to fight him. But he was doing so for their friends and to return would be to his own benefit.

Thor just had to convince him of that.

.........

 

Finding Loki, it turned out, was the easy part. He had not left the town, fortunately, only relocated to the farthest side of it.

As he was sitting on the roof of a dilapidated building and not bleeding out on the road he was obviously well. That knowledge would have been enough, according to Darcy, so he could have turned on his heel and simply told the others what he had seen.

That would, however, not solve his own problem.

He also knew that his friends would not stop fretting, that their worry would live on as long as the Jötunn was not back at the house with them. After all, just because he was safe and sound today, did not mean the same had to be true tomorrow.

It was touching how much they cared, for both of them. He had not ever met people so free of judgement, so unwilling to judge anywhere in the realms. It was hard to begrudge Loki their friendship when he valued it so much himself.

And for those friends he would have to bring the Trickster back.

That plan hinged on the other prince not bolting the moment he spotted Thor on the road below him. So he would have to approach carefully, stealthily.

Not really his strong suit, that. But maybe if he neared the house from the shadowed side...

The moment that thought struck him it was chased from his mind by a high-pitched yelp that could not have possibly come from a person. Wary of an attack he swept his gaze over the land in his line of sight and it did not take long for him to notice the little creature up ahead, tugging at its leash and barking at any passers-by. Right below the house that had a man sitting atop it, which was likely not a coincidence.

Laufeyson had devised himself a guard dog. Marvellous.

One visit to the butcher and a few well aimed sausage links later the vigilant animal was suitably distracted. On the roof the Jötunn was bent over a large piece of paper, seemingly oblivious to the goings on around him.

And so, for what may have been the first time in his life, he managed to sneak up on Loki.

"Well, finding you took less effort than I had feared," he said in greeting, a part of him gleefully hoping to startle the other.

But if he was at all surprised at suddenly having company he hid it well; only a deep groan could be heard over the rustling of paper as he sat up straighter and met Thor's eyes with an angry glare.

"What do you want, Odinson?" he asked flatly.

What followed was a bit of petty banter that he really could have done without, before he actually had a chance to explain his presence here.

"I wished to know why you left the house, Loki."

Although that was not the true reason as the motive was only too easy to guess at. Indeed, the Trickster's furious retort quickly confirmed what Jane had feared, but the subsequent accusations directed at him were more than unfounded.

"You just had to boast of your father's triumph, did you not? Or put mine down as a monster to be hated," his enemy alleged, the before so indifferent tone giving way to a dark growl.

That was not what he had done, at all. He had mostly spoken of the war in general and mentioned Laufey only because Jane had asked after the incentive for the attempted conquest. Not once had he called either father or son a monster. Not recently.

Yet he did feel guilty for not holding his tongue on the matter, for frightening his dear lady as he had and for breaking that unspoken taboo between him and the other prince. It was a poor beginning for the partnership he had in mind.

As he did his best to justify himself he could not tell if any of his words were taken for truth but Loki did not see fit to argue with him, either. Unfortunately, he also seemed to have lost any interest in the conversation as a whole, quickly dismissing Thor with a flippant "You can return to your friends" and then burying his nose back in the parchment on his lap.

Now, that had not gone well. He should not have expected better, for their encounters seldom ended amicably. Compared to those in the past this one was actually quite civil for they had yet to restore to violence. Still, as the other man seemed unwilling to move from his perch and had not voiced any willingness to move back to the house, once more, it could not be counted a success.

Appealing to the Trickster's emotions was not something he had ever seen as a viable option; not because he doubted the emotions to exist but they were always so carefully guarded behind cultivated masks that it would have been like trying to catch a fish by hand, in the dark.

His affection for the three mortals was all too obvious, however. For some reason he had never made a secret of it and he treated them so respectfully, so kindly that it made him appear almost a different person. So maybe for them he would change his mind.

"I cannot return without you," he said with conviction, for he could already imagine the disappointment on their faces if he came back alone. "Our friends were truly worried for you when they discovered your room empty last night, so I promised them I would try to find you."

He had chosen his words deliberately even if they still felt strange on his tongue. About as strange as it was to hear them, he guessed.

"Our friends?" Loki asked, sounding stunned.

He admitted freely to the absurdity of that situation yet he also had to point out that this friendship had been rudely put to the test by the Jötunn's abrupt departure. A criticism that was, of course, not received well, but the fault found in it was rather illogical.

"Why should I have made a grand show of tearful goodbyes when they so clearly wanted me out of the house?"

Despite the aggressive tone with which it was delivered, the question was unnervingly sad for the sheer obliviousness that it revealed.

Was Loki truly so unaware of the fondness that Darcy and Jane and even Erik held for him? And how could he believe that he was not wanted in the house when, right now, they were wringing their hands in worry after only a day's absence?

He tried to make the other understand, all the while feeling ridiculous because the concept of friendship should not be something that had to be explained to a grown man. Was he really so unused to having someone outside of his family care for him? He felt a pang of pity at that eventuality, which he took pains not to show; if anything could put this talk to another sudden halt it would be that.

But that might happen, anyhow, because the Jötunn, it seemed, was not at all happy with the one chosen to retrieve him.

"And why would they sent you to speak on their behalf?" he asked, as though that would contradict all they had discussed before. And that could have, indeed, been true, if it had been their friends who had made this choice.

"They did not sent me; I offered to look for you," he reply. "I believed to have the best chance at finding you, although I did not think it would be that easy."

He could not fully suppress the pleased note to his voice because he really had assumed it would take him much longer to search for the illusive Trickster. During their first month on Midgard, after their last violent scuffle, he had been nowhere to be found, so that Thor had almost dared to hope he had left the town.

Today it had not required more than half an hour of looking around to locate him. A feat, he was quick to rob of its grandeur.

"There is no need to look so smug; I was not exactly hiding, Odinson," he said mockingly.

Had he looked smug? Well, maybe a little.

And it was true that this roof made for a very poor hiding place; visible as it was form the road. But he was not any less pleased to learn that Loki had not applied much effort into remaining out of sight as it revealed he was, perhaps, more amiable to reconcile with their friends than he had shown so far.

At the very least, he had yet to lose his patience with the conversation, once more, so Thor suggested they continue with it on even ground, which had the added benefit of being easier on his abused neck that had already begun to cramp from all the looking up.

For several moments silences reigned between them as the other prince pondered his suggestion but then he rose from his seat and, as slowly as was likely possible, he divested himself of the parchment and some imaginary dust on his clothing before he finally deigned to climb down from his lofty perch.

This sight was nothing new, as the Jötunn was always climbing up or down from somewhere or jumping from branches like a big black cat. He did so now, with exaggerated flourish, clearly enjoying himself.

That enjoyment was swiftly wiped from the pale face - as Thor gave bringing him back to the fold another try - replaced at first by annoyance and than by blinding rage.

What have I said wrong, this time?

"I am perfectly capable of surviving on my own and have done so under far worse conditions," Loki declared, seething and with a hand on his half-sword.

Norns, why did he always have to take everything so personal?

Placating his furious enemy was difficult and an utterly strange experience as, usually, he did the exact opposite. It worked better than he had hoped for a first attempt and even his request to be heard without interruption was granted. Well, here we go, then.

"We have been on Midgard for two months, without our powers, our immortality, our titles or any word on when we she shall regain them." He had tried to appeal to his father, had hoped for a sign but by now he had to believe that the silence, too, was part of the punishment.

"And I keep thinking on what my brother said to me, on the day we were sentenced." It had, in fact, not left his mind since the day they had agreed to a truce. "Should one of us die at the hands of the other here, neither of us will ever go home again," Loki had stated then, so very casually. What had been mere speculation then matched Baldr's intuition almost perfectly.

"He believed that we, you and I, would have to accomplish the task we had been given together." An impossible feat, if either of them was dead.

Of course, he could not expect to be taken seriously by the Jötunn, of all people. Thor himself had thought the suggestion to work with him just as laughable, after all. But now he feared he had dismissed it too quickly on his last day on Asgard and for that reason it was hard to decide what annoyed him the most in the other's question after his brother's age and talent.

His youth really should not matter, as a seer was born with his gift. And whether or not he was a true seer was irrelevant, as well, for he had always given sound advice.

Listing all the ways they had tried to bring about an end to their banishment would, he hoped, do more to convince the cynical Trickster for all that it felt like enumerating each of his failures. Worse, still, was the mention of Mjölnir, not just because he had not been successful in reclaiming her but the inscription placed on her and Loki's knowledge of it stung even now.

"Unworthy" it said, loud and clear. And it would be true for as long as he was bound to Midgard.

"I miss my family," he told his enemy and of that he was not ashamed.

They both had a family and home from which they had been parted now for two months, after all. And they both had to feel pain at this separation.

As was so often the case, the mage's face gave nothing away yet his voice was grave when he asked, "What if there is no solution, no way home?"

It was like a blow to his chest that, for a moment, drove the air from his lungs. In dismay he clung to that which he knew, without a doubt, to be true.

"No, no, I do not believe that. We were told that our banishment would last until we became worthy of our titles again," he said, thinking back on the trial, though the memory did not bring him any comfort.

It did nothing to sooth Loki's worry, either. And that worry hid an even deeper fear.

"Yes, and that worthiness is determined by Odin Allfather," he spat, his voice ever more bitter with every word. "Who could easily decide that I am unworthy for the rest of my life."

He wanted to immediately call it nonsense and jump to his father's defence. Yet he had to consider that, to an enemy prince, such a manoeuvre might make perfect sense. What easier way to rid oneself of a nuisance than to imprison it on a far away realm?

Could Odin have done it? Maybe. He knew too little about seidr to understand what had been done to keep both of them here and in mortal form, to even guess if this spell work could be maintained for years or decades. Nor was he clear on Laufey's part in the sentencing; the other king must have given his acquiescence to this, surely.

But even if he could, would Father have done such a thing? He was strict as a king and parent but he was not needlessly cruel and to force a man to live out his shortened life without a chance to see his family again was too cruel for Thor's tastes, no matter the history he had with the man in question.

Trying to convince the other of the impracticality of this trick proved harder than he had thought, especially when he realised that he would have to explain his father's reluctance of waging another war. It was, quite frankly, humiliating, to speak of their last argument, one he had, until now, only recounted to his Asgardian friends.

When he pointed out that the Jötunn's family would probably not sit idly by as his banishment dragged on from months to years Loki, of course, had to turn his agreement into a threat; declaring that his father would undoubtedly come to his rescue and so would his mother.

General Fárbauti was a renowned warrior, thanks to whom many of the Asgardian soldiers had returned from the war with one fewer hand or a marred face, although he had only joined the battle once it had moved from Midgard to Jötunheimr. The tales surrounding the swordsman were so gruesome that he had been forbidden from reading them until he had reached Baldr's current age.

Thinking on this made a shiver run down his spine but it also reminded him of what the two kings had agreed on when they had parleyed after their sons' battle.

"But do you know what really makes me so certain that this is something we can overcome?" he asked, in challenge. All he got in response was a light shrug of shoulders, which was encouragement enough to speak on. "This banishment is supposed to be a lesson for us and lessons are there to be learned, no? As brilliant a scholar as you are purported to be, that should be no hardship for you."

The unveiled flattery had Loki preen like a peacock but he minded it not. This, at last, managed to sway the other man and as he dramatically declared, "Verily, if we put my brilliant head and your... stubborn one together, we ought to find a way home in no time!" Thor himself could not help laughing along, out of sheer relief.

And when he revealed that he, too, could be cunning at times - as he fed the dog the last morsels of dried sausage -, there really was no keeping in his laughter.

 

.........

 

The walk back to the mortals' house was peaceable and silent, as neither of them saw the need to speak further, after what may have been their longest conversation not interspersed with violence to date.

In the silence Thor was left alone with his thoughts, which was rarely a good thing these days. There was a particular thought that kept nagging at him, less harrowing than those connected to it, yet he found that he wanted an answer to this, nonetheless.

"Do you know, I still cannot believe that you were willing to give up so quickly. That is very unlike you."

Giving up, he thought, was not to either of their natures and he could have easily given a dozen examples of the Trickster's stubbornness. Just a few days ago Loki had even admitted that he was stills seeking that enchanted sword, which he had first tried to attain when they had been mere adolescents.

He had been careful to keep his tone light and, fortunately, he had not rekindled the other man's anger. His response was not exactly a cheerful one, however.

"I did not give up; I merely accepted it as a possibility," he said, flatly, which meant his mood could shift in either direction, but for now he continued in the same manner, "You would not have remained so positive had it been my father who ruled over our Fate."

Well, would he have preferred to be judged by the other king? Probably not. Although one good thing would have come out of that.

"Well, he could not have banished us, could he?" he remarked, for he knew Laufey had no magic.

And the Jötunn did not disagree with him on this point, but he offered an alternative punishment. "He could, however, have thrown you into an Ice Cell for a few hundred years," he said, dryly, as though it were a joke. Yet his face was too serious for it to be so.

Had he ever heard of someone being imprisoned in Jötunheimr? As he received more and more details on these cells he dearly hoped none of his people had been so unlucky. Certainly, there could have been some fanciful embellishments to this, simply to make him shudder, yet with Loki there was always some truth to the lie.

Regarding their place of exile Midgard was actually a kindness as he imagined a banishment to the other's realm would have been unbearable, in or out of a cell. Here they were surrounded by friends but on Jötunheimr only enemies would have awaited him.

Even as the Trickster laughed about somehow knowing Asgard's dungeons - when there had been no recent prisoners who could have given him information on those - Thor was preoccupied by darker matters.

How would it feel to be at Laufey's mercy? Banishment or no, that idea made him uneasy. Was Loki carrying that unease with him for months now?

It was a sobering thought. At the same time it served to strengthen his resolve to find a solution, to regain their worth. For both their sakes.

Because as he watched the reunion of the mortals with their erstwhile guest, as Darcy flung herself at him as though they had not seen each other for ages, as he heard Jane's apology and Erik's heartfelt offer of friendship there was something else he realised.

Loki might be a villain and a Jötunn and his sworn enemy but to their friends none of that mattered. They saw more in him or just a different side. And maybe, with a bit of work from both of them, Thor would be able to see this, too.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

.........

FN

.........

 

Being an uncle was fun, much more so, he would reckon, then being a parent.

Parents were supposed to raise their children, instil discipline and a respect for rules in them and, in order for that to be successful, they had to be strict. He, on the other hand, could do all the reckless things like letting one boy hunt dragons in the mountains and the other experiment with magic of a calibre far beyond his age.

Unfortunately, the fact that no responsibility for his nephews rested on his shoulders did not mean that he felt none. It was especially hard to ignore with the oldest two who, after all, spent their fair share of time on Álfheimr. And as both Thor and Loki courted trouble near obsessively he could not help but worry, even though the latter was, technically speaking, not a member of his family.

Such technicalities did not matter to him, really. He had watched the Jötunn prince grow from a rather timid and bookish child into a sophisticated, somewhat aloof young man, and a lack of shared blood could not weaken the bond that had formed between them. Furthermore, his dear Gerðr adored her brother's sons and could be as protective of them as though they were her own.

Which was why his first reaction to hearing that 'the Trickster' had been seen approaching the Council Hall on the Day of Reconciliation was to drop his head in hands, followed by a quick prayer to the Norns.

This could not possibly go well.

Usually, he did appreciate a cleverly executed prank and the wicked kind of word play that left the victim unaware of having been insulted. But here, on this day, those little amusements could spell disaster. Tempers were already flaring high because there were certain factions among the populace who, even three millennia later, either decried the war or the surrender as a terrible mistake. The last thing this explosive atmosphere needed was a mage adding his special brand of spark.

Advising Aegir to prevent the prince from entering the hall was likely a measure doomed to fail, but he had needed to try something.

Consequentially, he was not surprised when a guard entered to inform the steward that an unwanted guest was on his way, although he was startled at hearing that the servant sent to intercept him was being chased through a forest by a "horrific beast that defied all description".

Oh, Loki had to be in a poor mood, indeed, to go so far as to attack a defenceless youth.

Looking to his right he saw the same worry he felt etched onto his wife's face, so he made some flimsy excuse to leave the table with her on his arm, leading her to an alcove where they would not be overheard.

"You need to go to Jötunheimr," he said, without preamble.

Gerðr stared down at him harshly, her beautiful dark eyes filled with a mixture of disbelief and sadness. "You think there will be trouble, just because Loki wishes to attend a feast?"

Heh, that was very dangerous territory, only to be traipsed with utmost caution. Gentle as the queen of Álfheimr was on most days, she still had been brought up in a family of soldiers and was, thus, far from harmless when angered. And she was Jötunn, which meant anyone harming her kin would rue the day they were born.

And he, king that he was, would be banished from his sleeping chamber for the remainder of the year, if he did not answer correctly.

"No, dear, I think there will be trouble because of who else is here."

He looked behind them to the table of noble guests - many of whom had run afoul of a petty trick or two over the centuries-, and at the Aesir in attendance, who were bound to hate the young Jötunn regardless of a lack of crimes against them. In the end, his gaze rested on his own twin, where she sat at the head of the table - as always, the centre of attention.

"Pah, has she still not weathered the shock over that silly incident with the wall?" Gerðr asked, her opinion on the matter made only too clear by the annoyed sigh and the smirk she did not manage to hide behind her hand.

That 'incident' could not really be proven to have been caused by Loki yet, as the smith from Muspellsheimr held no magical talent to speak of and as they were few mages both skilful and churlish enough to concoct such a plan, it was almost a certainty. And Freyja was not of a forgiving nature.

"No, she has not," he said, regretfully. At times he wished that his two sisters could be a bit more alike; undoubtedly, Frigga would never have called for a boy's head just because she came close to being tricked into marriage. Though, in terms of husbands, the smith would have actually been an improvement. "Neither have others whom he has wronged," he went on, his eyes sweeping the crowd while his mind tallied the potential enemies his nephew would face in this hall.

Someone of his age should not have so high a number of people who wanted him dead or, at the least, incarcerated but for the Trickster that was probably a source of pride.

"Go to Jötunheimr," he repeated his entreaty, cupping his wife's cheek with a hand when the sadness in her eyes overcame the righteous anger in her heart. "Fetch your brother or his brother, it makes no matter, as long as Loki has someone here to save him from his own hubris."

Resigned she met his gaze, put a hand over his and replied, "I will go, if that is your wish," in a tone too hard and formal to put him at ease, which was likely intentional as her next words were anything but a suggestion. "But, in turn, you will make sure he stays safe, until help arrives."

Norns, why had he ever opened his mouth?

"Of course, my love; I will do all I can," he responded, for he truly did not relish spending lonely nights on that uncomfortable settee in the royal receiving room. Again.

He placed a kiss on Gerðr's lips, feeling her shift under his hand into the form she had been born to.

Now even taller, the queen smiled down on him, "I shall try to be quick," she said with a troubled look at the other end of the hall, then she turned on her heel and left in the direction of the courtyard where their own personal guards stood waiting.

And as one Jötunn exited the feast, the other entered.

This was going to be a long night; Freyr had never yearned so much to be home.

 

.........

 

The moment Loki sat down at the dais he realised two things: The boy was drunk and he was poised for a fight. Waves of fury were practically radiating off of him and that he emptied cup after up of wine in quick succession was not at all comforting.

Yet the unusual consumption of liquor by the otherwise so sensible prince became the lesser concern when he heard a lady's spiteful voice ring through the room.

Sif had been one of the people whom he had predicted to disturb the peace once she spotted an enemy in their midst. The shield-maiden was dutiful and an impressive fighter; despite that, he would have hoped for better a companion for his sister's son. Thor could have used a calming, judicious influence and not one who ever shared in his violent, brash approaches.

Still, it was better than having his thunderous nephew present, instead; the two rivals occupying the same space often resembled a natural disaster. Literally, at times.

It seemed, though, that there was enough rivalry between Týr's daughter and Laufey's son, as well, for a heated argument to begin between them almost instantly. He could not hear all the vitriol they exchanged but he could see the intent to wound on both their faces and he was not the only one whoes attention was drawn to the bickering pair.

Bragi was the first to intercede on the lady's behalf; an action that Freyr deemed to be as unnecessary as it was foolish. If there was one woman who needed no man to defend her honour it was Lady Sif. And in a battle of wits Asgard's steward had no chance to come out the victor against the Silvertongue.

He had trouble keeping his own satisfaction hidden when Loki called out the other man's cowardice; even in their youth he had never liked the pompous Às, who thought himself above the displaced prince merely because his father held a minor position on the king's council. Now, his arrogance was likely due to the renown of his wife.

And Idunn did manage what no one else in the room would have - she forced the Trickster to yield, with nothing more than a look and a request to "cease this squabble".

Hm, so the boy still had some sense, then. Thank the Norns.

The grateful prayer felt like ash on his tongue when the challenge for battle was issued for all to hear.

If it was interpreted as such by the young warrior he would have no choice but to fight or lose face. Álfheimr was the only place among the Nine where these rules of valour did not apply and maybe he ought to suggest to hold the feast there next time, for everyone's sake.

As drunk as he was Loki appeared to have no interest to prove his mettle against such an unworthy opponent, so he only fought back with words.

This time the king did not even try to hold back the laughter that bubbled up from his chest as he watched Bragi's face turn purple after having been called cowardly and lazy and everything in-between. His amusement was further heightened when he witnessed Idunn reasoning with her husband, who continued to react like a sleep deprived child as he was talked down from entering a fight that would likely get him killed.

He stopped laughing, though, when Aegir decided to make matters worse.

"Truly, we had such a pleasant evening ere you arrived."

Had they? In his opinion, the whole day was an awkward, painful affair. The peacefulness, the friendly attitude towards the Aesir, the cheerful feast - it was all a sham, an act put on to curry favour with the Allfather. It was disgusting, really, and he was only too glad to play no part in it. The only reason he was even here was that his father had asked him to.

He could maybe have ignored the brazen insult against Vanaheimr; after all, he owed no loyalty to those who had shown none to him. But he knew it would be foolhardy to stay his tongue once Odin was mentioned. Were he to let this continue, it could far too easily turn into a political nightmare of Jötunheimr's prince sullying the honour of Asgard's king.

Damn, how was he supposed to keep the boy safe, if he so recklessly put his head on the chopping block?

"Enough!" he shouted, at once rendering the entire feast hall silent. It was a tactic that only worked because he used it so sparingly. Another helpful manoeuvre that he had learned to perfect over the centuries was to place the blame evenly onto everyone's shoulders. Therefore, he pointed out the irrational pettiness of the other guests before he addressed the prince directly.

"And, Loki, your cup is refilled regularly as you wished, now do as you promised and keep quiet."

He had hoped for some form of acquiescence, for no other reason than the familial ties they shared; he had not expected for his command to embarrass the young man.

"My apologies, Your Grace. It was not my intent to cause a scene," he said sheepishly, not even able to meet his eyes. That he had not intended this conflict was doubtful; while he was not an overly aggressive, violent person he sometimes just created mischief for mischief's sake. When he also agreed to keep his silence only to continue drinking at an alarming rate Freyr knew he had done well to send for help from Jötunheimr.

Something was clearly troubling the usually so stoic mage, that he would now show his anger openly and risk losing control by imbibing more mead and wine than he thought even Thor would manage in one evening.

He was about to walk over to his quarrelsome nephew and steer him towards a guest chamber, where he could sleep off his drunkenness and whatever was on his mind that had let him here, when the Ásynja spoke up again.

She, too, was obviously inebriated and her words only more vicious because of it.

As he listened to the accusations levelled at the prince - filled with Asgardian prejudices about 'manliness' and 'honour' and the use of magic - he had to bite back the comment that those words could have just was well been meant for him.

And Frigga had wondered that he would leap at the first opportunity to leave that ghastly realm.

Yet, as the argument turned more and more ugly and personal insults were exchanged for slander against each other's people, he began to worry anew.

What was taking Gerðr so long?

Unable to stay out of the conflict but unwilling to stir the flames the king pushed back his chair and - without making any excuse for his departure to the other guests - he made his way to the door and the remainder of his retinue. He had promised to protect Loki and though he was no warrior he could only hope the best of Álfheimr's small fighting force would be sufficient to discourage anyone from staging an attack.

Once he had reached the courtyard, however, he was met with not his own guards but Laufey's. Quite a lot of them, in fact. And at the head of the troops walked no other then their captain.

Even had he not known the man, it would have been all too clear who he was by the way the other Jötnar were following his every move. It was impressive that he could garner such respect at his young age, but, of course, he was not only the second-in-command of the royal army but also their prince.

That he was raised at court showed when he stopped at a distance of three paces of Freyr and bowed his head deeply. "Your Grace," he said respectfully, his expression earnest but friendly enough. "We have received word that Loki is in danger."

It was not a question but he felt the need to answer, anyhow, and explain why he had sent his wife in search for aid. "Yes, I do believe he is. Many people within this hall are ill-disposed towards him and your brother himself is not of a... diplomatic mind this night."

It was as vague as he could put it to convey the very real threat, without shaming the prince in front of his subjects. Helblindi understood him well enough, it seemed.

With some gesture only meant for the other soldiers he had his men moving, once more. "Then we will have to free him from the poor company and make excuses for his terrible manners," he replied with a wry grin.

He was already beyond the hall's doorway, from where the sound of a plethora of furious voices filtered out into the peaceful night air, when he turned his head and said, "I thank you for alerting us, Freyr King," so solemnly as though it had been a matter of life and death.

Well, knowing Loki's luck, that might well be true.

"There is no need to thank me," he responded honestly, for he had not done this only for Gerðr and her family but also for himself. "He may not share my blood but I am still quite fond of Loki and I would not want him to come to harm."

Unlike any other of the royal house of Jötunheimr, Helblindi looked pleased at that assurance. "That makes two of us," the captain remarked jovially, his grin turning into a heartfelt smile.

Once the soldiers had left the yard for the feast hall he noticed Gerðr walking in their wake. As she spotted him her from rippled until her skin was dark, her statue smaller, her eyes a shade of deep, deep brown, instead of red. She hurried over to him, her hands clasping his near frantically.

"Is he well?" his wife asked and her tone suggested that she feared otherwise.

"He was when last I saw him," he answered truthfully for he was not one to make empty promises.

Relief washed over her very being and he felt it warm his own heart, as well.

That was, until he heard the thunder booming far too close for comfort.

Hel, so much for the Day of Reconciliation.  If they were not careful, then another war would break out very soon; though not between Asgard and Vanaheimr.

Thankfully, no matter the parties involved, none of that was his responsibility.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

.........

TO

.........

 

"I've never done anything like this before! Have you ever done anything like this before?" Jane Foster asked, seeming both excited and nervous.

Had he done what before? Undertaken a quest? Brought back that which had been stolen? Reclaimed his chosen weapon? In any case, the answer was the same.

"Many times," he said with pride. "But you are brave to do it."

He spoke sincerely for he thought it took great courage to go against such villains as these "Feds". The lady was no warrior, so even ferrying him to the place where Mjölnir had landed was a risk to her person, and he was truly grateful for any aid she was willing to render him. The journey in the Midgardian metal carriage was certainly more enjoyable than a walk through the desert would have been. It also gave them the chance to talk, which he savoured, as well. Almost as much as her bright smile.

There was no smile on the lady's face now, however, and her voice bore a touch of anger when she replied, "They just stole my entire life's work. I really haven't much left to lose."

Well, he knew not of what her work entailed, though she had been awfully curious about the Bifröst earlier. Whatever it was, surely she could just start anew.

"Ah, but you are clever. Far more clever than anyone else in this realm."

She did not look at him as he said this and he assumed it was because she was embarrassed by the compliment.

"Realm? Realm?" she asked, clearly confused.

Argh, he would have to remember that the mortals lived in ignorance of their world being one of the Nine. It was no fault of theirs, of course, yet it meant he had to be careful what he said. Thankfully, the lady Jane was not perturbed by the, to her, unusual phrase. In fact, she laughed rather charmingly at his own question.

"You think me strange?"

This he had inferred by the looks she directed at him; they were not exactly admiring but nor were they disapproving. Thor was a curiosity to her, which he did not mind at all.

"Yeah, I do," she answered, her smile reaching her kind brown eyes now.

But just to make sure he asked "Good strange or bad strange?", as the word held several meanings in this language.

Her impression of him could not be too bad because her tone was full of humour.

"I'm not quite sure yet," the lady said and then their eyes met.

What secret she found in his he could not tell but her intense gaze might not have left him for quite a while, if in that moment the carriage had not decided to swerve off course. At least he had already found something the two of them had in common; Thor himself was not a very proficient pilot, either.

Soon enough the mortal regained control over her transport, her light-hearted "Sorry" accompanied by a flush to her cheeks that, he thought, stemmed from the thrill of the near accident rather than from shame.

Unfortunately, they could not forever stray from more serious matters.

"But who are you? Really?" Jane Foster inquired.

The question did not come unexpected as he had realised before now that his name sparked no hint of recognition in any of the people he had met here so far. However, he was of the opinion that a long-winded explanation would be of less help than a simple demonstration of his powers, once Mjölnir was his again.

"You will see soon enough," he said, utterly confident in the truth of that statement.

His reply did not please the lady in the slightest.

"You promised me answers," she declared, more than a dab of accusation in her voice.

Indeed, Thor had made a promise to that extent, in exchange for her aid. And despite his father's decree, which dictated that the Midgardians were to be left unaware of other life on Yggdrasil, he was loath to break his word. Surely it could do no harm to offer her some information when she had reached the right conclusions all on her own.

"What you seek - 'tis a bridge."

It was vague enough not to breach the letter of the decree, even if it might go against the intent. And it served to make the brown eyes gleam in fascination.

The excitement was even more obvious as she asked, "A bridge? Like an Einstein-Rosen-Bridge?"

Huh. “Einstein Rosen” - was that a craftsman? Or a place? No matter which, she would not be able to guess at the truth, either way.

"More like a rainbow bridge," Thor told her, grinning.

And his mood was not dampened by the ensuing silence or the look of bewilderment on the lady's lovely face. For the Bifröst, too, might be something he could show to her soon.

"God, I hope you're not crazy," she said and all he could do in answer was laugh.

.........

 

When they arrived at Mjölnir's supposed landing site he immediately assessed that it was more heavily guarded than when last he had lost the hammer. He could only hope that there was no magic involved, this time.

The very sight of the fortifications had the unexpected benefit of convincing his new friend that at least part of his tale was true.

“That wasn't a satellite crash,” she said, sounding offended by the lie. “They would have hauled the wreckage away, not built a city around it.”

Well, he doubted anyone on this realm could simply “haul” his family's heirloom away, though it would probably have been amusing to watch them try. But the hammer was his to reclaim and as he watched dark clouds gather at the centre of the bastion it was as though he could almost hear her call to him.

Even without his powers he felt the oncoming storm and so he shook off his coat in order to drape it over the lady's shoulders. She was lying flat on her stomach on the dusty ground, a pair of primitive magnifying glasses pressed to her eyes to better see into the enemy stronghold. Yet she turned her head to him when he commented, “You are going to need this” and even in the encroaching darkness the blush on her face was evident.

Clearly confused she went on to ask, “Why?” but just then the first rumblings of thunder echoed through the valley.

The correct prediction of the weather earned him an amazed stare, which made him grin in triumph. Usually, he would be the cause of the thunder but being close to its centre was good enough for now. Not that he would have to make do with this situation for much longer.

“Stay here,” he advised the Midgardian, unwilling to involve her in the battle that was likely to follow. “Once I have Mjölnir I will return what they stole from you.”

He ought not have mentioned the earlier theft by the soldiers of shield for now Jane looked ready to reclaim what was hers, as well. For a scholar she really was possessed of an impressive amount of courage.

Yet the thought of putting her life at risk left him uneasy; so, recalling her own tactic of sealing a bargain, Thor cocked his head and asked, “Deal?”

A suggestion, that was quickly rebuffed.

“No! Look what's down there! You think you can just walk in, grab our stuff, and walk out?”

Now, that sounded ludicrous, for sure, but with the help of a few adjustments it was not a bad plan, at all.

“No,” he said, to her obvious relief. Only to add brashly and with conviction, “I'm going to fly out.”

Before she could voice any objections he walked toward the fortifications, the thunder not yet back in his veins but already singing in his heart.

Rain began to fall onto the dried earth; Thor chose to take that as a sign that his quest would be victorious.

 

…......

 

Once he was standing on the other side of the metal fence, which had easily bend under his hands, he took stock of his opponents, form a safe vantage point behind a line of crates. The soldiers wore no armour; instead, they were garbed in flimsy fabrics that seemed to offer no true protection. Each had at least one weapon in hand or sheathed at their belt. What troubled him most was that they all looked the same, black from head to toe, which would make infiltrating their ranks difficult.

But, then, he had never much cared for subterfuge.

He waited for the right moment, until he could approach one of them alone. As a transport vehicle passed him by – smaller than the one he and Jane had ridden in and, as his luck would have it, open on both sides – he seized his chance and the man, and pulled him from his seat. The second man reached for his weapon but Thor was quicker; he turned the strange staff-like thing he had pilfered from his felled adversary and brandished it at the other's exposed neck. He chuckled in satisfaction as sparks flew from the staff and the mortal collapsed in a heap.

A fool who thought to attack him with lightning.

Though, sheepishly he reminded himself that the lady Darcy had been successful at this once before. Maybe he should not discount the threat the elements could cause him, at least not ere he was restored to his full power.

As a partial disguise he borrowed a hooded coat from one incapacitated opponent and thought about arming himself, as well. However, the weapons the mortals used apart from the lighting staff were strange to him and he had not the time to puzzle out their functions. Truly, he was not troubled by walking into this battle unarmed; he was quite proficient at hand-to-hand combat, after all.

Eager to claim once more the title of Thunderer he observed his surroundings for only one more moment, before simply rushing toward the entrance of the enemy fortress.

Within the milky-white tunnel he was met by yet another adversary, a fool clearly lacking in experience. He ran right toward Thor with his weapon held aloft at an angle that would have cut a whole in the roof were he a head taller. Using the man's momentum he easily threw him over his shoulder to the metal grating beneath his feet, then kept on walking without bothering to confirm that he was not being followed.

Which might have been a mistake.

From behind him a solider roughly grabbed at his borrowed disguise, turning him around in a parody of a dance step. He quickly divested himself of the coat and used it as an impromptu sling to tangle up his opponent. Thus disoriented, he pushed the foe into the first one, who had just been about to rise from his prone position.

Further along the tunnel he came upon a group of guards that was climbing up a ladder. There were at least four of them; a number which would have put him at a disadvantage, if he had not rushed passed them too swiftly for any of them to reach him in time.

His blood was thrumming with the thrill of battle, the smell of a storm hung in the air, and with his goal firmly in mind he darted through the narrow passages, uncaring of the enemy soldiers hot on his trail.

He grinned as he saw the next batch intend on confronting him; three men making their way to him on the rungs of a metal stairwell. It was the simplest of moves to kick out at the first in the row who then stumbled into his companions, all of them crumbling into a heap like a stack of children's building blocks.

Out of the three only one man heaved himself up from the floor again; swinging his foot forward Thor aimed for the mortal's right hand, which held another of those odd Midgardian weapons. He heard bones grind as his boot met an unguarded wrist; with a shout of pain the soldier dropped to the ground.

But even as this fellow was dealt with others followed in his wake. None of them truly proved a challenge to him, yet he was careful not to linger and to dispatch his opponents quickly. As he drove one into the wall of the tunnel he realised that this, too, was made of weak material. Whatever the bastion's purpose was, it was clearly not made to last the ages.

Through the shredded wall he could see the heavy rain falling from a pitch-black sky.

Not much farther now, he thought. As he turned right he avoided the newest opponents coming up ahead; too focused on regaining what was his to let himself be dragged into every little scuffle.

He raced the passages for what felt was a rather long time, although the fortifications had not looked that large from a far. But at the next bend the tunnel opened up to the centre of the complex and it was there that he finally caught sight of Mjölnir.

She was embedded in the rain-soaked ground; the heat of impact must have melted the sand around her, which now served as a solid plinth.

So much of his attention was spent on the hammer that he entirely missed the outstretched arm to his left, barrelling into it at break-neck speed. His back hit the metal flooring with a loud crash, but he managed to push himself up on his elbows in a heartbeat.

Before rising fully he eyed his foe, a man near his own stature, maybe a bit broader even, barring his teeth in anticipation of their fight.

So this was to be the true test, the last line of defence before he could claim his prize.

Well, this would be fun.

“You are big,” he pointed out mockingly, “Fought bigger.”

Trolls, for one. And, just recently, a horde of Frost Giants.

Compared to those, a mere mortal should not prove much of a hindrance yet after his punch to the man's face failed to fell him and after receiving a rather punishing blow to his ribs he decided to reserve his judgment for after the battle was over.

Especially as it was Thor himself, this time, who was pushed through the white barrier into the muddy ground. The big soldier landed on top of him and wasted no time to punch and kick out at him. Soon they were both wrestling, trying to gain the upper hand, and this might have made him feel as though he were back on the training grounds on Asgard, if he were not so sure that this was anything but a friendly match. He would have definitely been abused of that notion when one broad arm was slung around his neck from behind, squeezing out what little air was still making it into his lungs.

For the first time since the start of this quest he was reminded of his limited strength. He was surely the more formidable, more experienced fighter yet that alone would not guarantee his victory. If his opponent overpowered him...

In a desperate attempt to get free he repeatedly rammed his elbow back into what he hoped was a vulnerable part of the other man's body. It elicited a serious of pained grunts from the mortal and finally loosened the hold on his neck. To get this over with he delivered a series of punches to the other's face, meaning to beat him into unconsciousness. But the warrior was hardier than expected; he pushed Thor off of him with enough force to knock him back into the mud.

They struggled to regain their footing in the slick ground; the heavy rain, that he had welcomed so before, was making it difficult to see; his heart was thudding loudly in his ears. He felt exhausted, but he could not stop now.

With a good amount of his remaining strength he jumped into the air, bringing both legs forward and slamming his booted feet into the chest of the oncoming soldier, which made the two of them fall onto their backs again, hard. Though he hoped his adversary was left in a worse condition than he himself. Certainly, when he approached him next the Midgardian only managed to raise himself to his hands and knees, and after receiving a few decisive kicks to his exposed ribs he finally dropped to the ground, defeated.

As Thor wiped the mud off his face and let clear air fill his lungs once more he spotted his hammer, only a handful of paces away from him, through the milky transparency of another arm of the tunnel.

This time he would not waste his efforts in finding his way through the fortress; instead, he walked up to the wall and ripped it aside with ease, revealing the crater behind it.

Like he had seen before, Mjölnir rested on a plinth of stone, as she once had rested on a pedestal in Asgard's Vault, and now nothing stood between her and her master. He would reclaim his treasured weapon, regain the title of Thunderer and leave this wretched place behind.

The only thing dampening his spirits was that he could not feel the power imbued in her, but he ascribed this to the sorry fact that his father had severed their connection by banishing him. Once she was his again he would feel it - the thunder in his veins, the storm in his heart, the lighting at his fingertips.

He closed his eyes for a moment, to savour the thought of returning home as a prince, a hero, a son of Odin.

Then he stepped forward, reached out, curled his right hand around the familiar handle and tucked.

And nothing happened.

The hammer did not move, not even a fraction. Believing that he simply had to put more strength into his grip he pulled harder, struggling to make the molten sand let go of its embedded treasure. Frustrated by his lack of successes he used both hands to lift the inexplicably heavy burden, but that, too, proved useless. He put his entire strength into this, his muscles pulled taught and burning with the effort, yet he would have had an easier time moving the realms from their ordained position than to move the hammer from where it had landed. Where it had been thrown. By the king who had disowned him.

Thor was not of a nature to surrender but he knew when he was bested. With leaden heart he looked up at the sky from where he was sure his father was watching him. He could not fathom that this was supposed to be his punishment, to be so close to regaining his power and his place in Asgard but be denied the triumph of claiming either, like a starving beggar dying one step away from a full feast table.

He wanted to ask why - why Mjölnir had been left here, when he was not meant to have her; why he had been left with the strength to do battle with mortals but not with any power to win back his birthright; why he had been banished when he had only followed the teachings of his father. He gave voice to none of that for he knew he would receive no answer.

So he simply let out a roar directed at the heavens, filled with all of his rage and pain. Tears were trailing down his cheeks, mingling with the rain and as his wordless yell turned into a sob he let himself slump to the floor; his knees hitting the solid ground of burned sand, his head bowed as if in preparation for prayer.

Though he feared the Norns would not hear his entreaties, just as Odin would not. No, he had to assume his Fate was sealed.

And that became all the clearer the moment a bolt of lighting illuminated Mjölnir, showing to him an inscription that had been newly etched into the metal.

Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor."

The words stung more than the original sentencing, more than the hammer's refusal to his call.

When more soldiers came to fight him he ignored the lot of them, even as two men stepped up behind him to bind his hands. His eyes remained fixed on the damning enchantment, until he was lifted to his feet and led away from the sight of his defeat.

Although he had valiantly fought against uncounted opponents, risked his very life to reach the hammer once gifted to him by a proud father, with that writing the king of Asgard declared for everyone on Yggdrasil to see that his inability to lift Mjölnir confirmed him to be unfit for the throne. Unfit for the powers he had inherited. And, worst of all, as the Protector of the Realms and as a son, he had been found unworthy.

 

 

 

 

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With one nod from him and a clasp of forearms it was done, the war was over. The surrender still tasted bitter on his tongue, but he knew it had been the only true option. It was not an action his father would have taken, nor any of the kings before him, yet Laufey had not hesitated to accept when Odin offered him a way out, in exchange for the Casket of Ancient Winters and further terms to be agreed upon later.

He had acquiesced not for himself but for his people, who could not have possibly endured one more day of this senseless slaughter. Already, too many lives had been lost to Asgard's superior fighting force.

Weapons forged by dwarven hands, imbued with strength far surpassing ordinary steel; ships that allowed them to attack from above, nullifying any advantage the Jötnar had due to their height; and the helish threat of fire. The tools the Aesir had been hesitant to make use of on Midgard, loath as they were to harm the fragile mortals by accident. They did not share the same compunctions about harming the monstrous Frost Giants, however.

And while his men vastly outnumbered those of Asgard, this was also their home; inhabited not only by soldiers but also by fisherfolk, traders, herdsmen, priests and children. None of them would have been trained to fight back against their enemies yet they would not have been spared.

Odin was back, now, on his golden realm, and so were his warriors. All they had left behind was death and destruction.

Laufey took one long look around, at the ruins, and knew there was a lot of work to be done; he would not get much sleep tonight nor for many nights after.

Before he even began to tally his losses, though, he had to find his family.

The palace was a mess of rubble; it was doubtful any of them would be hiding out in there. He surveyed his surroundings for any building still intact and, lacking those, his gaze wandered over the caves to his left. Storage facilities; entirely uninteresting as targets went. Apart from the Vanardýr lying lengthwise in front of the entrance. His consort was remarkably adept at taming the wild beasts. In their youth he had even managed to ride one.

"Oh Ancestors, please let him be well", he prayed under his breath as he made his way over to the cave. He had caught glimpses of the general during the battle but in the chaos they kept losing sight of each other.

Certainly, he could have asked any of the soldiers who passed him by, but he doubted he would have been able to keep his composure if he received a negative answer or even, Norns forbid, condolences.

Instead, he walked slowly, steadily, one foot in front of the other, even if he would have preferred to run.

When he reached the entrance, the enormous animal lifted its head, sniffed the air, then lay back down, content. Definitely one of Fárbauti's.

The cave was quiet as he entered but he came upon a familiar figure moments before the man turned around and he felt a sword at his neck.

"You know, this kind of greeting has become almost as normal as a kiss between the two of us," he remarked, smiling and blinking back tears.

The other's features softened; he sheathed his weapon and smiled back.

"You are far from stealthy," he quipped back, though they both knew he had been startled, for once. Not because Laufey had suddenly become better at sneaking up on the soldier but because his return had been uncertain, as well.

Proclamations of "The king is dead!" would have reached even those hidden away from their enemies, but confirmation of his survival could only be made in person.

Like a fool he just stared at his beloved; drinking in the sight of him, unharmed by the battle aside from a few cuts and bruises. He only looked away when he felt a weight bumping into his legs.

"Father!" a small voice called out and at once his heart lightened as though it had grown wings.

Oh, Ymir, I thank you.

"My dear boy," he said as he crouched down and wrapped his arms around his sweet, brave son.

"I missed you so," Helblindi told him, tears trailing down his cheeks. "The general said you would come back but it has been so long and we did not know where you were and..."

"It is all right, it is all right," he assured his son, holding him close and rubbing his back until the sobs subsided. "We are well, all of us."

He had not dared to hope for this, not after he had seen the carnage the enemy had brought to his realm, that he himself had brought here in his pursuit of power.

But he had been lucky, so very lucky; he would have to hold onto that thought when he learned of what his decision had cost his people.

Him it might cost the throne yet that was a laughably small price to pay, if it meant his family was with him.

He looked around for a place to sit, suddenly aware of every bruise he had received in battle and looking over his son's head he noticed the sole detail that was out of place in his dream of a happy reunion.

His consort's stomach was flat, which he had known before, and which was logical as the man would not have entered the battlefield still pregnant, no matter his skill and courage. Somehow, though, the implications only registered with him now.

"Fárbauti, what about the babe?" he asked, voice tight with emotion.

There had been no wailing at his entrance, after all, nor was his husband holding the child in his arms. For a moment fear gripped him, a fear so intense and oppressive that it drowned out all other worries. Fear that the ancestors had deemed him unworthy of being a father once more; that he would never even lay eyes on his second son. Fear that this, too, was something Odin had taken from him. But his dear, beloved general must have seen on his face that which he could not put into words and so he took a step aside to reveal a shallow crib in which, bless Ymir, a child was sleeping peacefully. A tiny child.

Laufey looked up from the boy to meet his husband's eyes and what he saw there almost made him stumble backwards. It was a look which clearly stated "Say one wrong word and it will be your very last" and though he would have been a fool to interpret it as but an empty threat it nonetheless filled him with an endless bout of affection.

Already he loves the little one so much, he thought and knew - no matter what other evils might befall them on this dark day - their child would be safe.

Cautiously he moved out of Helblindi's embrace and crossed the distance between him and his second son, then with even more care he reached down to lift the babe and cradled him in his arms. "He is perfect, my love. Simply perfect."

He would have missed it had he not been listening so intently for any possible noise from without, which could signal a threat. But as it was, he heard the sigh Fárbauti gave in response. A sigh of relief.

It was only then that he realised that the other man had actually been afraid, as well. Such a foreign concept, really, in regards to his general but there it was. Had he thought Laufey might reject the babe because he was... well, flawed? Maybe reject his spouse himself for bearing him an inadequate heir? It would have been his right, of course, as a husband and especially as a king, but his love ran too deep for his consort. And for this child.

"I thank you," he said, therefore, while pressing the little bundle to his chest. I thank you, for this one good thing after so much pain; for this little glimpse of hope in this devastation; for the joy I feel in my heart. "I thank you, for our son."

"You should not thank me, but your eldest," the general said with pride. For both their sons, he thought.

And then he heard the gruelling tale of how a little boy of seven hundred had faced the king of Asgard to bargain for his brother's life. He was torn between respect for his child's courage and hatred that could only be sated by ripping Odin's other eye out, as well.

But as Helblindi finished his account and trailed off into stammered apologies, his anger dissipated.

"I am sorry; I know I was supposed to stay hidden and that it was not right to disobey the general. I just... The walls were falling down and I thought the temple might, too. And I could not leave him there."

Walking over and taking him into a half-embrace, with the babe still nestled in the crook of his left arm, Laufey assured the young prince, "No need to apologise, Son; you did well." When he moved back a bit so that their eyes could meet, he saw surprise on the child's face. "You did as any good brother should and protected the little one."

He had never wanted any of his sons to have gone through this, would never even have started the damn war had he known it would follow him home. A small part of him could not help but feel triumphant, though; knowing that Odin had not won every battle today.

"Does that mean we are going to keep him?" his eldest asked, shocking him into silence.

Keep him? Well, how could they not? Oh.

"There will be time to discuss this later," Fárbauti replied flatly yet his eyes betrayed his emotions.

Because he was of higher standing, the one with noble blood, the child would carry Laufey's name. He had no doubt that his dear consort would raise their son on his own, if he did not receive the king's blessing. But the general could not make the boy a prince nor welcome him into the family he had married into.

"It can wait until the morrow," he said and what he meant was "Let me have this day before you reject him."

Fárbauti would not plead with him, would likely not even ask for his acceptance. He had already made his decision and seemed sure of his husband's, as well.

Their little hero was not ready to give up, though.

"But we have to keep him," he said almost sternly, marred only by the tears in his eyes. "He is strong and clever and he can shapeshift already. It does not matter that he is small; he can still be a good son to you, Father."

Oh, how very right he was.

"Helblindi..." the other Jötunn began to object, yet the king simply talked over him.

"Of course, we are going to keep him." As tough he could have possibly rejected this gift he had been given. "He is ours, after all."

Looking up from one pair of shining red eyes into another he saw his beloved stare at him in shock. Fárbauti Jarason was not a heartless man, even if he could appear so due to his stoic manner; he was not one to express his feelings outwardly, however. In all their millennia of friendship and partnership he had witnessed the general cry less than a handful of times. The day that both their fathers had died was the last such incident to his knowledge.

But he was crying now, letting the tears run their course, not even bothering to wipe them away.

"People will call you weak," he pointed out, not because he truly wished to argue against them raising their son together but because he was also the king's advisor, and had to regard the matter objectively.

"Let them," Laufey replied, as he had never been any good at detaching himself from his own feelings and saw no sense in trying now. "They will already call me much worse for handing over our realm's freedom to our enemies."

"He will not have an easy life."

Or, and that was a possibility he had to face, a long one. Children like this often did not make it to adulthood.

"Not without our help, no." There were steps he could take to make sure it would, at the least, be a happy life. "It will be difficult," he admitted, doubly so because, by agreeing to a truce with Asgard, he might yet lose the throne. It certainly would be hard to hold against the mass of quickly forming opposition.

But that was a worry for the future. Right now, all he cared about was to keep his family together.

"You are certain?" the mother of his new son asked; offering one last chance for the king to change his mind, which he would accept as calmly as he accepted a wound in battle. There was hope in his voice, though, if one knew how to detect it.

Filled with almost overwhelming affection Laufey got up from his crouched position, ushered his eldest son along with a hand on his back, holding the youngest to his chest, and took the last few steps that separated him from his dear general.

"Yes, I am certain," he said, and knew he had made the right choice as he felt the little heart beat next to his own. He had not met the babe before now, should be a stranger to him and yet his son slept peacefully in his arms, trusting him unconditionally.

The path onwards would be stony but the four of them could get through this, of this he had no doubt. And though he had lost a war this day, with his family by his side, he felt victorious.