Work Header

The Little Frost Troll

Chapter Text

Thor nearly laughed when he checked his trap the next morning.

By conventional standards, the creature was positively tiny, much smaller than Thor and even the average Midgardian. He was definitely a frost troll, the blue-skinned species of jötunn that dwelled in the cold, snowy realms of Niflheim and Jötunheim. His horns were only just beginning to curve, a sign that he was yet a juvenile. He was gangly and terribly thin, his tail a long, bony appendage sprouting from his bottom. His ribs were visible beneath his skin and he had a crazed, hungry sort of ferociousness about him. He wore only a ragged breechcloth, but this was not unusual because frost trolls were unaffected by the cold.

Like the rest of his kind, he wore no shoes; his feet were bare and surprisingly dainty, not thick and scaly as they should have been, nor were there claws on his toes and fingers. He did not possess the thick, sturdy build typical of jötnar, though he bore their distinctive markings. Faint lines ran all over his naked blue torso and limbs, circles and bevels that Thor suddenly found to be quite intricate, even pretty.

This petite specimen lacked the heavy, muscular features and large fangs that were common among his people, and his skin looked to be very soft and smooth. He had lovely hands—a bit bloodied and dirtied from his struggle—and he was not completely hairless. An oily, leaf-littered tangle of black locks hung around his face, and he also had eyebrows. Thor wondered if he might be the product of an unfortunate union between a human woman and a frost troll. If so, this creature would be the first of his kind.

The little jötunn sat on the frosty ground with his ankle caught in a snare made of indestructible golden rope, and on the other end of the rope was Mjölnir, Thor’s mighty hammer. He was stabbing vigorously at his tether with a sharp rock when Thor made his presence known, and he immediately dropped his tool and recoiled, baring his teeth.

Thor squatted on his haunches and stared at his quarry. When he spoke, his tone was calm and level. “So you are the fearsome fiend that has been terrorizing the people of Túnsberg.”

The troll drew back farther, creating furrows in the damp earth with his hands and heels. The fear in his eyes was unmistakable, much more pronounced than his scorn. Thor felt inexplicably sorry for him, so thin and small and frightened.

Did the villagers honestly believe this half-starved little mongrel was responsible for tearing a full-grown man to pieces and eating an entire herd of goats? Impossible. Their fears were clearly feeding their imaginations, which was by no means a rare occurrence.

Thor had seen it time and time again; something unusual would happen in Midgard, the mortals’ panicked prayers would paint pictures of monsters and giants and blood-soaked paths of destruction, and Thor would descend from Asgard only to discover it was nothing more than a mangy, belligerent wolverine or a howling mad drunkard who liked to run naked through the woods. Occasionally the threats were real, but most of the time it was merely a case of mass hysteria. It was both amusing and tiring sometimes, but Thor had sworn an oath to protect the Midgardians from otherworldly enemies, even imagined ones.

“Can you speak?” he asked.

“Well enough,” said the troll coldly. “Who are you?”

A surprised smile came to Thor’s mouth. What a fair voice! So clear and smooth and pleasing to the ear. Surely this was no common jötunn he was dealing with.

“I am Thor, son of Odin.”

At that, the troll’s blood-red eyes widened. “I have heard of Odinson. You are a troll killer. Lightning-maker, they call you. Thunder-bringer, the terror of all jötnar!”

He turned and began scrabbling vainly through the dirt and slush, grunting in his panic, pulling so hard on his tether that it bent his foot at a gruesome angle.

Thor reached out and grasped the troll’s ankle. His hand encompassed it easily. “Stop that,” he scolded. “You will hurt yourself.”

When the troll turned, tears were gleaming in his eyes. Thor’s heart flew to him, and he knew then that there would be no killing this day.

“What does it matter?” he sobbed. “You mean to destroy me anyway! Well, go on then, kill me! I’ve suffered in this wretched realm long enough. Put me out of my misery, for mercy’s sake!”

“What is your name?”

The troll sniffed and became quiet. “I beg your pardon?”

“Your name. Surely you have a name, don’t you?”

He looked down at Thor’s huge hand on his ankle, then up at his face. “My name is Loki.”

Thor smiled. “Loki. That’s a good name. I like it.”

Loki’s face crumpled and he began to struggle with renewed energy. Thor was quite certain he was going to pull his leg from its socket if he didn’t do something, so he shuffled forward on his knees and gently took him by the waist—his hands nearly fit all the way around, such a tiny thing!—and pulled him out of the dirt and snow. Thor could feel the lean, rabbity muscles working beneath Loki’s warm skin as he squealed and kicked and wriggled.

“No, stop, please!” he wept. “Don’t ravish me, I beg you, just slit my throat and have done with it!”

Thor was quietly horrified. He picked Loki up and sat him squarely onto a fallen tree, then took his hands off of him. Loki went silent, studying his new seat and upright, elevated position, staring eye-to-eye with his captor.

“I am neither raper nor robber,” said Thor firmly. “I want only to ask you a few questions, then I shall determine what must be done with you.”

Loki crossed his arms over his hollow belly and hunched down, scowling to disguise his terror. “Alright. Ask away.”

“How came you to Midgard, Loki?”

“I was banished here.”

“By whom?”

“By my father.”

Thor frowned thoughtfully. “Your father must be a very powerful troll if he thinks he can cast his people out to become the problems of other realms. Who is he? What is his name?”

Loki lowered his head and stared at the ground between his small, bare feet, his hands fidgeting in his lap. “His name is Fárbauti.”

Thor’s face went slack. “Fárbauti! King of the frost trolls, ruler of Jötunheim—he is your father?”

“Yes,” said Loki. His voice was meek, his shoulders slumped in shame.

“Then that would make you a prince!”

“I am no prince.” Loki lifted his face, his eyes bright with suffering. “Both my brothers are, but I have been shunned since the day I was born. The only reason my father didn’t throw me to the wolves when I was a baby was because he hoped I would eventually grow to be a full-sized jötunn.”

Thor suddenly found his heart aching for this poor, unlucky little waif.

“Only you never grew,” he finished softly. “You stayed small, and when he realized you would get no bigger, he cast you out. Is that true?”

Loki nodded his head miserably.

Thor stared at him. Of all the realms Fárbauti could have banished his son to, he had sent him to the one protected by the greatest troll-foe who ever lived, the Æsir son of Odin Allfather, who struck terror into the hearts of all jötnar with his thunder and his hammer, who rained lightning upon their armies and slaughtered them by the drove. Looking at this tiny, pathetic, starving creature in front of him, Thor wondered if he would ever be able to raise his hammer against a troll again.

He moved forward to kneel before Loki and loosened the enchanted rope from around his ankle, gently massaging away the indentations left by its cruel grip. He raised his head and saw that Loki was staring at him with an expression of awe on his thin, sad face.

“I am freeing you on one condition,” said Thor as he held Loki’s small foot in his hand and continued to rub the marks from his flesh. “That you return to Asgard with me and allow me to take care of you.”

Loki jerked his foot from Thor’s gentle grasp. “You mean to make me your pet, is that it?”

“I mean to take care of you,” Thor repeated. “Feed you, heal you, give you shelter and a place to call home.”

“I hate Asgard.”

“Have you ever been there?”

“No.” Loki swished his tail petulantly back and forth. “But I hear it’s terrible. A realm of sunshine and warmth, long days and short nights, not enough snow or ice.”

“The palace has many rooms that are cool and dark,” Thor insisted, “and the forests of Asgard are deep and green. You will love it there.”

Loki gave him a doubtful scowl.

Thor tried for a more appetizing angle. “There are streams teeming with fish. Forests filled with wild boar, stags, rabbits, small game, all the fresh blood you can drink. Mushrooms and berries, trees bursting with fruit. There are things to eat during every season in Asgard, unlike here. Won’t you at least stay for a little while and recover your strength? I will not force you to remain against your will. You will not be my prisoner. If you decide you would like to live in another realm, then I shall deliver you there myself when the time comes.”

Loki narrowed his eyes. “Are you trying to tempt me?”

“I am, absolutely.”

“Well, you’ve succeeded.” Loki stretched his thin blue arms out to Thor, his eyes wide and hungry. “Take me.”

A huge, handsome smile split Thor’s face and he reached out and picked Loki up. He felt so light and frail, like a skinny child in desperate need of care—something which, Thor supposed, wasn’t too far from the truth. Loki wrapped his arms around Thor’s neck and clung to his broad chest. He was so small that Thor was able to support him with one arm and rise to his feet, then call Mjölnir to his free hand. Loki jerked a little at the metallic toll that was often the last thing his people heard, and cringed when the weapon smacked into Thor’s palm.

Thor felt Loki trembling with fear and his heart grew even sorer. He tucked his hammer into his belt and coiled the golden rope about its handle, then drew his other arm around Loki’s slight frame, gently laying his hand upon his shivering, bony back.

“Don’t fear, Loki,” he murmured, hugging the little frost troll as he carried him from the wintry Norwegian forest. “I give you my word, no harm shall befall you so long as I live.”

Chapter Text

Loki was quite docile in Thor’s arms at first; then the Bifröst descended and swallowed them into its dazzling, multicolored vortex, and he began to struggle.

“No, no, it’s lightning! I can’t go! I’ll die! Please, don’t make me go!”

Thor held Loki about the waist, wincing as he was kicked and slapped and trounced by the troll’s flailing limbs.

“Peace, Loki! It’s only—ow—a bit of bright light, it won’t—mmf—harm you!”

But Loki continued to fight and fret, so Thor took up the edge of his long red cape and drew it around Loki like a blanket, covering him in protective darkness. The effect was immediate. Loki went still and clung to Thor like he was a tree, his skinny blue arms and legs clamped around Thor’s torso. He moaned miserably. Thor cradled him like a frightened babe as the Bifröst sped them to their destination.

In a matter of moments, Thor was stepping through the dazzling portal and into the huge spherical chamber that was the domain of Asgard’s solitary gatekeeper, Heimdall the All-Seeing. The watchguard lifted an eyebrow as Thor attempted to walk past with a wave of his hand and a nervous grin on his lips.

“Hello, Heimdall! It’s good to see you again, thank you for bringing me home, I hope all was well while I was gone, it’s quite muddy in Midgard this time of year so I think I shall just—”

“You bring back an unexpected guest,” said Heimdall flatly, for his golden gaze rarely missed anything. “I believe you were sent to dispatch a troll. Were you successful?”

Thor broke out in a sweat. He was a terrible liar and Heimdall knew it. In fact, he knew Heimdall had probably seen all that had transpired on Midgard, so lying was completely pointless. Nevertheless, Thor had sworn to Loki that no harm would befall him, and he was willing to do everything he could to keep that promise, even if it meant stretching the truth a little.

So he smiled cheerfully and said, “False alarm. Another case of mistaken identity, I’m afraid. Nothing more than a poor little elfling who needs some care.” He patted the shivering lump he carried.

Heimdall’s eyebrow went up another notch. “That elf has horns.”

“Yes, indeed, it’s a queer thing. Horny elves, whatever shall be next?”

“Horny elves with troll tails, I imagine.”

Thor’s affable front abruptly crumbled and he looked down at Loki’s long blue tail, dangling out from under his cape. He reached out and carefully tucked it away, then gave Heimdall a sheepish look.

Heimdall lifted his eyes to the unseen sky above and sighed heavily. “You may pass. I do not think one little jötunn will cause much trouble. But if your father finds out…”

“I know. I will tell him myself, Heimdall, I swear.”

Heimdall appraised the trembling bundle hidden beneath Thor’s cape. “What are you planning to do with him, if I may ask?”

“Well, he already has a name, so I suppose the next thing to do is give him some food and make him comfortable.”

“You are planning to keep him?”

“Just for a little while.” Thor began to rock absently from side to side, shifting his weight from one foot to the other as he patted Loki’s cloaked form. It was a strangely paternal sight. “Until he can look after himself, then I shall release him. Right now he is not fit to survive on his own, surely you saw that for yourself. If he’s sent back to Midgard, he will starve or be devoured by a pack of wolves. I could not in good conscience abandon him to such a fate. He has… his life has been difficult enough.”

Heimdall almost smiled at Thor’s melancholy expression. “You have a kind and merciful heart, my prince. I will gladly break this petty ordinance if it means keeping it in one piece.”

Thor beamed, and his face was as radiant as the sun.

“Go. Take care of your little ward. I will tell no one.”

“Thank you, Heimdall,” said Thor gratefully, and hurried from the chamber with Loki smuggled safely beneath his cape.

“Who was that man?” Loki asked as they made their way to the palace. It was taking a little longer on foot, for though Thor would have preferred to fly, as was his custom, Loki had shrieked the moment they left the ground and he had been forced to make a rather clumsy landing. At least he hadn’t fallen face-first upon the bridge and crushed Loki beneath him. That would have been a horrible start to this supposedly lifesaving endeavor.

“That was Heimdall, the great porter of Asgard.”

“Is he a god?”

Thor smiled down at the wide-eyed blue face peering out from under his cape. “He is one of the Æsir, like me. We are called gods by some, but we are not so mighty as the Midgardians believe us to be.”

“He seemed very nice.”

“He is a good man and a great friend. I have known him my whole life. He has taught me much.”

Loki relaxed a little. He had stopped shaking only a few minutes ago, and now he was beginning to get curious about his surroundings. He poked his head out from under his cover and stared at everything around him with wonder, a growing look of delight on his face.

“It’s not as bright as I thought it would be,” he said.

“That’s because it is eventide,” said Thor. “Rather fortunate, I think. I was afraid the sunlight might harm you.”

Loki clicked his tongue and swished his tail. “We don’t turn to stone, you know. That’s just a myth.”

“Good. I would hate for you to be petrified.”

“Oh, I am petrified, just in the figurative sense.”

Thor chuckled, marveling at Loki’s wit and words. He hadn’t thought trolls were capable of being so smart and well-spoken… not that Thor had ever sat down and had a conversation with them over a flagon of ale. His interactions with jötnar were usually more straightforward: a demand for unconditional surrender, the threat of action if (or when) that demand was refused, and then the violent, often fatal application of that action. That was his job, after all. Destroy the villains, neutralize the threat.

He never imagined those villains to look like the creature—no, the person—he now carried in his arms.

Trolls are not people, Odin’s voice echoed in Thor’s mind. They are animals, beasts, savages. An ugly, festering canker upon the fair branches of Yggdrasil. They spurn our offers of civilization and return our mercy with malcontent. They are incapable of rational thought. Everywhere they go they bring chaos, violence, and destruction. They are a blight upon all creation and I will be thankful for the day when the last troll-nest is burnt from existence.

Thor clutched Loki a little more tightly. He had never seen a troll-nest before. He wondered if they were like bird- or mouse-nests, lined with sticks and branches and bits of gathered fluff, if the troll mothers watched over their babies while the fathers went out to seek food, if the parents joined together at night—no, during the day, more likely—to cuddle up with their sleeping offspring.

Thor imagined a giant that looked a lot like his father threatening this happy, peaceful scene, shaking the troll nest from its figmental branches and casting the squirming, blind little troll babies onto the ground, paying no mind to their frightened mewing as he raises his foot over them to—

“Are you crying?”

Loki’s voice snapped Thor from his horrible vision. He gave his head a shake and realized that, yes, there were tears in his eyes. He forced a smile onto his face and gazed down at Loki tenderly.

“It’s alright. Something came over me, that’s all.”

Loki’s eyebrows angled upward in an expression of pity. “I didn’t think Æsir could cry. I was always told that they have no hearts.”

“We have hearts,” Thor sniffed. “And I believe mine just cracked.”

Loki stared up at Thor with large, glimmering eyes and said no more.

Presently they came to the palace and Thor took a meandering, clandestine route to reach his chambers. He sat Loki on the edge of his bed and assured him he would be back as quickly as possible.

Loki didn’t move from his spot. He was afraid he might touch something hazardous and be struck by a bolt of lightning or blinded by a flash of light, so he folded his arms and legs close to his body and waited for Thor to return. And he did, roughly ten minutes later, balancing a tray in one hand as he locked his bedroom doors behind him.

“I am not sure what trolls eat,” he confessed, setting the tray down beside Loki, “but I’ve never known anyone to turn down a hot bowl of bone broth.”

Loki looked up at Thor meekly. “It’s hot.”

“Yes, I’m sure you’ll—” And then Thor realized his error. He grimaced and clapped a hand to his forehead. “I am such a fool. Forgive me, I didn’t think—”

“It’s alright, really,” Loki insisted, raising his hand as if he wanted to ease Thor’s embarrassment. “What’s that in the cup?”

“It’s milk,” said Thor miserably. “Warm milk, because I’m a fool.”

“I’ll take warm over hot any day,” said Loki, and picked up the vessel with both hands. He raised it to his lips and took a long drink. “It’s good,” he said brightly, licking his lips. “I like it. Thank you.”

Thor perked up a little. “It’s not too hot?”

“It’s a little warmer than what I’m used to, but it’s fine. Really.”

While Loki sipped the milk, Thor picked up the bowl of soup and stirred it, blowing on it until it no longer steamed.

“Here,” he said, trading the bowl for Loki’s empty cup. “It should be cool enough now. Just eat slowly. It wouldn’t do to make yourself sick.”

Loki picked up the spoon and studied it blankly. “What’s this?”

“It’s a spoon. You eat with it.”

He gripped the utensil in his blue fist and looked at Thor questioningly. Thor responded with a nod and a smile.

“That’s a good start. But holding it with your fingers is easier. Here, let me show you…”

He gently eased the spoon from Loki’s grip and dipped it into the bowl. He blew on it—just in case it was still too warm—and offered it to Loki. Still appearing a bit uncertain, Loki opened his mouth and Thor carefully gave him the spoon.

“Put your lips around—yes, like that. Good. Alright, I think you can—”

Loki swallowed and immediately opened his mouth again, waiting.

Thor chucked. “Oh, no, I’m a terrible nurse. Here, you take it.”

Loki shut his mouth and looked a little disappointed, but he accepted the spoon without complaint and went about drawing up mouthfuls of the nourishing broth as Thor had shown him.

“There, you see? You’re doing fine.”

“I’d rather drink from the bowl.”

“Oh. Well, if that is how trolls prefer to eat their soup, be my guest.”

“No, this is probably better,” said Loki, blowing on another spoonful. “It keeps me from eating too fast. I don’t want to make myself sick. It’s very good, of course, but I’d prefer to only taste it once.”

Thor laughed, and Loki actually grinned in response. It was enough to make Thor’s heart glow like a warm, happy ember. What an amazing being he was, this cunning little troll prince. How could his father have rejected him so cruelly, simply for being smaller than the others? Did he not see the other qualities Loki possessed? That he had an indefatigable sense of humor, that he was grateful and smart and playful and lovely—

Lovely? Yes. Yes, lovely. Lovely and utterly worthy of love, from the tips of his horns to his clawless blue toes. Thor had never been more sure of anything in his life, and he had barely known Loki for an hour.

That was it. He was instantly determined to do right by this little jötunn. He was going to spoil him rotten. He was going to feed him the most delectable, exquisite foods in all Nine Realms, clothe him in the richest silks, adorn him with precious metals and jewels—silver and sapphire would complement him perfectly—no, wait! Gold and rubies, to bring out the red in his eyes!—and bathe him in the finest oils and fragrances that Asgard ever—

Oh, right. A bath. Loki was certainly going to need one. He still had leaves and dirt in his hair, and that tattered leather breechcloth simply had to go.

Thor rose to his feet. “I’m going to draw a bath for you while you finish your meal. No need to hurry, it will take some time to fill the tub. How cool would you like the water to be?”

Loki lifted his head from his bowl and stared up at Thor. He swallowed loudly.

“What’s a bath?”

Chapter Text

Loki crept cautiously into the bathroom, his bare feet padding across the stone floor and his head swiveling to and fro, as if there might be danger lurking in every corner. Like all the rooms in the palace, this one was extravagant to the point of vulgarity, embellished with gold and silver and ancient symbols and designs that were unique to the realm of Asgard. Those same designs would have looked just as artful carved in oak by a woodsman’s humble hand, but there seemed to be no trace of the natural world in this cold hall of metal and glass. Loki didn’t like it. It was splendid, but it didn’t feel like a place he could ever call home.

When his eyes fell upon the tub, however, terror shot through him like lightning and he turned to flee. He crashed into Thor, who had been following closely behind.

“Steady, Loki,” said Thor with a kind smile. “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

“It’s a pot,” said Loki. His eyes were huge as he glared accusingly up at Thor. “That’s where you cook your food, isn’t it? It all makes sense to me now. You’re going to boil me in that, aren’t you? Troll soup—I bet it’s a delicacy here!”

Thor tried not to laugh, he really did, but it was a vain effort. “You could not be more wrong,” he chuckled. “That is a tub of water. It’s where you wash yourself.”

Loki blinked. “Water? Are you mad? Don’t you know how dangerous it is? It’s full of spirits and beasts; nøkker and snakes and things that will grab you from below and pull you down—”

“You will not be drowned, I swear. There is nothing in that water but a little fragrance and oil.”

Loki did not look convinced. Thor turned him around and gently guided him toward the tub.

“I am going to be right here, so there is no need to worry. If anything threatens you, I will deal with it.”

“What if I get dragged under?”

“I will jump in after you.”

“You can swim?”

“Of course.” Thor quirked an eyebrow. “Do trolls not know how?”

“We’re not overly fond of water,” said Loki, leaning over to peer into the tub. He could see the bottom, which made him feel a little better. He dared to reach out, tentatively dipping his finger in. The water was neither hot nor icy, but felt the same as the air around him. Perhaps this might not be so bad. It certainly smelled nice.

“So how does one take a bath, exactly?”

“Well, you, er. You just take your clothes off and… climb in.” Thor could feel his face warming—which was ridiculous. He was a grown man and a seasoned warrior, and nudity was of little matter to the Æsir. Some of their bravest fighters were known to forsake the protection of armor and march into battle clad in nothing but the skins of mighty animals. Sometimes just their own skins. Thor had seen the sexes of all the peoples of the Nine Realms, including trolls. Why then did he find himself blushing like a lad who had yet to receive his first kiss?

“You scrub yourself with a little soap, rinse off, get out.” He shrugged. “There really isn’t more to it than that.”

For a few moments Loki meditated on Thor’s words, gazing into the tub. Then he stiffened his lips determinedly, hooked his thumbs into his breechcloth, and slid it down his thighs.

Thor averted his eyes. No surprises there. Nothing he hadn’t already seen many times before. Loki was just like any other jötunn, only on a much smaller scale.

While Thor awkwardly contemplated the patterns on the ceiling, Loki dragged himself over the edge of the tub and toppled in headfirst, creating a huge splash. Water cascaded onto the floor and he surfaced with a panicked sputter. Thor dropped to his knees and grasped Loki under his arms, holding him up as he coughed and choked.

“It went up my nose,” Loki whimpered, cupping his hands over his nostrils. “It’s in my head now. It burns!”

“It will fade, don’t worry. Just catch your breath, I’ve got you.”

Loki sniffed and stared crossly at Thor. His black hair was plastered to his head, streaming in tangled tendrils over his face and horns. He was the saddest, most bedraggled thing Thor had ever seen.

“I hope this gets better soon,” he said, “because so far I hate it.”

“It will,” Thor insisted, lowering Loki back into the water and carefully combing the wet strands from his eyes. “Here, come closer and I’ll wash your hair for you. It will feel good, I promise.”

The look on Loki’s face said that he didn’t quite believe it, but he drew close to the side of the tub, clinging tightly to its rim while Thor removed his armor and peeled off his damp tunic and undershirt. He noticed the way Loki bit his lower lip and how his cerulean-blue cheeks darkened to indigo.

Surely trolls were not shy about nakedness, were they? The fire trolls who inhabited Muspelheim wore very little indeed—mere pieces of metal and a type of gritty, non-flammable fabric—and the wood trolls who lived in the temperate regions of the Nine preferred to dress themselves in moss and ivy, if they dressed in anything at all. Bare skin was far more common among trolls than perhaps any other race. Still, it did not assuage Thor’s doubts. Loki was very different from the rest of the jötnar; perhaps he possessed different sensibilities when it came to nudity.

“Do I offend you?” he asked quietly, and Loki turned to look at him with wide eyes. “I can cover myself if you’re—”

“No!” Loki’s voice squeaked and the color of his face changed again. “I mean, no, it’s alright. You’re just”—he suddenly became interested in his hands—“very large and handsome. Like one of our champions.”

Thor was both stunned and amused. “Trolls would consider me handsome?”

“Well, I can’t speak for all of us,” said Loki in a small voice. “You are rather pink and hairy, but I think you’re quite… er, y-you said something about a hair-washing, right?”

“Oh. Yes, of course. Just a moment, let me get the bottle…”

A few minutes later, Loki sat in the chest-deep water with a drowsy, contented smile on his lips as Thor massaged a combination of liquid soap and sweet-smelling oils into his scalp. Suds dripped down the side of the tub and onto the floor, and Thor’s trousers began to get soaked from kneeling in the puddles that were already there.

“You have gentle hands,” Loki murmured, looking up at Thor appreciatively.

Thor put on a strained smile and continued to untangle the knots from Loki’s silky black hair. His hands had never touched a troll with any purpose other than to destroy. Punching, pounding, pummeling, snapping fangs and bone, wringing necks, breaking jaws, drawing blood. Gentle? No. He did not have gentle hands. Surely Loki was aware of that, even if he had never seen Thor in battle.

You are a troll killer. Lightning-maker, they call you. Thunder-bringer, the terror of all jötnar!

“You have beautiful hair,” Thor blurted, desperate to get away from his own thoughts. “I’ve never seen a troll with hair like this before. Are there many others like you?”

“None that I know of.” Loki sighed. “In truth, it’s a disgrace. My head was kept shaven for most of my life, but it grew back faster and thicker each time. Our healers and magicians tried everything—spells, balms, medicines—but nothing seemed to work. Finally my father gave up and I was locked away in the deepest cavern of our kingdom, where no one could see what an ugly child he had sired.” Loki hung his head. “That’s what my name means, you know. I would have gotten a new one had I grown to be handsome. But I never did, and so I remain Loki, the ugly shame.”

Thor was so taken aback that for several moments he couldn’t speak. When he finally found his voice again, his words were inflamed and passionate: “That’s horrible! That’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard! Being locked away and treated as if you were defective; how could your father have been so cruel? You are neither ugly nor shameful!”

“Oh, but I am,” Loki insisted bitterly. “All the things we jötnar consider worthy of admiration I have none of. Tall horns, thick tails. Heavy bones and big fangs, especially if they’re on the bottom. A troll whose teeth protrude over his upper lip is considered extremely fetching. And long, pointed ears are a blessing; the farther they stick out, the better. Big noses are also very attractive, but I’ve been cursed with these awful, elfin characteristics. There is no greater insult for a troll than to be called an elf. I don’t even have claws.” He studied his small blue fingernails with a look of dismay. “I can’t blame my father for banishing me. I am hideous.”

“You are not,” said Thor vehemently. “Your father is wrong, Loki. You are perfect just the way you are, and I’m going to help you realize that if it’s the last thing I do.”

Loki gave him a sad smile, as if he didn’t quite believe his words but appreciated his kindness.

“Fárbauti is a fool,” Thor muttered, carefully rinsing the soap from Loki’s hair. “If I ever meet him, I will have a few things to say about how he treated his son.”

“It wouldn’t matter,” said Loki. “I am no longer his son. He disowned me. My brothers pleaded with him—Blindi and Bý were always very nice to me and I wish I had been allowed to spend more time with them—but I suppose it’s for the best that I never see them again. I would hate for them to be ridiculed for associating with me.”

For a long while there were no more words between them. Thor finished rinsing Loki’s hair and took up a sponge, lathering it with soap. He gently scrubbed all of Loki’s parts that he could reach: his horns, his face, his ears—small and elfin and very cute—and his neck and shoulders. Loki’s eyes were beginning to glaze sleepily as Thor scooped up water and rinsed the suds away, and the smile had returned to his lips. It faded, however, when Thor passed the foamy sponge to him.

“Erm, here, I shall let you finish cleaning yourself. You know how it’s done now, so—”

“Oh, no, please! This feels so nice,” Loki protested, and stood up with a splash. Rivulets streamed down his glistening blue skin and joined the rest of the water at his knees.

Thor hoped his face wasn’t as red as it felt.

“Please continue,” said Loki, holding out the sponge with large, eager eyes. “No one has ever touched me so tenderly. For the first time in my life, I truly feel like a prince.”

Thor’s heart was suddenly galloping in his chest. The overwhelming innocence and trust in Loki’s voice was enough to make him cry, and he knew then that he could never refuse anything this little frost troll asked of him. He accepted the sponge back with a relenting smile and gently began to scrub the rest of Loki’s body.

Loki gave a joyful wiggle and made himself accessible to the tender ministrations.

Thor washed him as dutifully and directly as possible, reminding himself that this was only a chore, a humble task that he would have performed for one of his wounded comrades or an ill friend who could not care for himself. It was an act of kindness and mercy, not a prelude to romance. He wasn’t even sure how trolls romanced one another, or if they even believed in love. Surely they had to; some form of it, at least, otherwise Loki would not be here.

Loki squeaked and tittered when Thor dipped a soapy finger into his shallow blue navel. “Ah! That tickles!”

“Sorry,” said Thor with an apologetic look. “I didn’t want to miss anything.”

Loki held his bottom lip between his teeth and turned around, his expression demure and delighted as Thor washed his back. He gave a violent shudder, though, when Thor picked up his tail and ran the sponge all the way from its root to the flat, spade-shaped point at the end.

Alarmed by the unexpected reaction, Thor instantly let go and asked, “Are you alright? Did I hurt you?”

“N-no,” Loki stammered, peering over his shoulder at him. “It just, em. Felt very nice, if you know what I mean.”

“Oh.” A second later, Thor’s eyes widened and his face heated up a few more degrees. “Oh. I’m. Forgive me, I’m so sorry, I didn’t know that was a—”

“It’s alright. You couldn’t have known.” Loki smiled reassuringly, his tail sloshing back and forth in the bathwater. “Please do continue. I’ve never felt so spoiled. It’s marvelous.”

With a helpless grin, Thor picked up where he left off. There were no further incidents or awkward mishandlings, though Loki had giggled uncontrollably when he stood on one leg to allow Thor to wash his toes. The soapy slither of Thor’s fingers elicited a shriek of laughter from him at one point, and he slipped on the bottom of the tub. Thor caught him around the waist before he could fall, and Loki’s arms shot out to wrap around his neck.

They stared at one another for a few startled seconds, nose to nose and eye to eye, then a look of amazement came to Loki’s face.

“Oh,” he breathed. “I can feel your heartbeat. It’s so strong and… is it always that fast?”

“No,” said Thor, his voice cracking. He could think of nothing else to say. Loki’s body was smooth and cool against him, sinewy and small, sharp with bone. He could smell his wet skin and his hair, and the slick, fragrant soap that was responsible for them clinging to each other as they were now.

“How ironic,” Loki murmured. “Here I am, a troll in the arms of the Lightning-maker, and I’ve never felt so safe in my life.”

He closed his eyes and leaned forward, gently rubbing his horns against Thor’s forehead. A moment later he seemed to realize what he was doing and pulled back quickly, his cheeks flushed a deep shade of cobalt.

“I’m so sorry. I, I don’t know what came over me. I must be losing my mind. We barely know each other and here I am… fawning.” He turned his head in shame.

“It’s alright, Loki.” Thor gave him a patient smile. “We have much to learn about each other’s ways. There will be plenty of time for us to become more familiar. Come, let’s get you rinsed and dried. My parents will be retiring to bed soon and I’d like for them to meet you.”

Trolls might have been incapable of turning to stone, but that’s exactly what Loki felt like in Thor’s arms just then. He pulled back fearfully, his breath quickening.

“I am to meet the Allfather?” he piped.

“Don’t worry. He is probably in his nightclothes by now. He looks much less intimidating without Gungnir, I assure you.”

Loki didn’t look assured. In fact, he looked terrified.

Thor reached down and pulled the drain plug, and the ominous sucking sound from deep in the tub sent Loki, still covered in suds, leaping into his arms with a sharp cry.

“What is that!” he yelped, attempted to climb his way onto Thor’s shoulders. “What’s happening! Why is that thing drinking the water! You didn’t tell me there was a monster at the bottom all this time! I could have been eaten!”

“It’s only a drain, Loki! Calm down.” Thor carefully pried Loki’s arms from around his face and laughed. His hair was spattered with soapy foam. “I suppose I ought to rinse off, too. I’ve had half a bath already.”

“Well, watch out for that thing,” Loki declared, stabbing his finger toward the whirlpool of water disappearing into the drain. “Because if you get sucked into it, I will not be jumping in after you!”

Chapter Text

After rinsing Loki under a stream of fresh, cool water—which both delighted and calmed him from his earlier fright with the drain—Thor wrapped him in a huge, fluffy towel and left him to dry on the bathmat while he went into the bedroom.

“I should be able to find something for you to wear,” he said, sliding open a closet door and stepping inside. “I still have clothes from when I was a boy, if my little brothers did not steal them long ago. They should fit you.” There came the sound of rummaging and rifling from deep within the closet.

“You have brothers, too?” asked Loki, shaking the water from his ears.

“Four of them,” came Thor’s muffled voice. “Two older ones and two younger ones, two sets of twins, and I am the poor, solitary fool trapped between them. I suppose you’ll meet them all at some point. They—where in the Nine is that box? It should have been right—ah, there it is.” More shuffling noises.

Loki quirked his brow. “Do the Æsir always have such small litters?”

Thor’s laughter exploded from the closet and he poked his head around the doorframe. “Litters? No, we don’t have litters. Twins are not very common, and trios are even rarer. I’ve heard of no greater numbers being birthed in Asgard. Our women usually have only one child at a time.”

“And it’s not a shame?”

“Er, no. Not at all.” Thor paused and stepped out of the closet, his amusement fading. “Is it shameful for trolls to have so few children at once?”

“Terribly.” Loki huddled deeper into his towel, as if it might shield him from a painful memory. “My brothers, Helblindi and Býleist, and I were the only survivors of a litter of eight. Our mother died bearing us.”

Thor was quietly stunned. He opened his mouth to say something—anything, at least an acknowledgement of Loki’s pain and an expression of sympathy for him—but his tongue could find no words.

“That’s not even the worst part,” Loki continued bitterly. “Father blamed me for his death, insisted I was the one who killed him. I was the last one born, after all; never mind the seven babies who came before me. No, it was the ugly runt who stole his strength and his will to live.” He sighed. “I suppose it doesn’t matter anymore. I am no longer part of the family.”

Thor frowned as he entered the bathroom. “Forgive me, I must be misunderstanding, but when you spoke of your mother, you kept saying ‘his’. Don’t you mean ‘her’?”

“Oh—no, actually, I mean hin, in the language of the jötnar. I use your male terms when I speak because they sound very similar, but we trolls are all one sex.” Loki held up one small blue finger.

Thor stared. “You mean there are no troll-women?”

“Well, there are no troll-men, if that’s what you’re asking. There are simply trolls.”

“Oh.” Thor’s face went blank. “Well. That’s kind of… Actually, that makes a lot of sense now that I think about it. It explains why I’ve never seen what I thought to be a female troll.” He looked down at the clothes that were draped over his arm. “Come to think of it, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a jötunn in anything but armored skirts and vests. I’m not sure if any of these clothes will suit you.”

“That’s alright. I’m no ordinary frost troll, so perhaps I’ll find something.” Loki smiled gently.

Thor returned the smile and passed the garments to him. “Well, if you haven’t found anything you like by the time I’m finished in here, I will help you look for something else.”

Loki hugged the clothes to his chest. “Thank you… em.” He looked like he wanted to say more, but either couldn’t find the words or was too bashful to speak them. He tucked his bottom lip into his mouth and turned. Thor smiled as Loki trotted out the door, the tip of his blue tail poking out from beneath the edge of his towel.

Now alone in the bathroom, Thor shucked off the rest of his clothes—boots, trousers and underthings, all heaped together on the floor—and made his way to the large stone stall in the corner. As he turned on the shower, he recalled how much more comfortable Loki had been getting rinsed off in here instead of the bathtub, even though he hadn’t been too keen on the large drain in the center of the floor. Instead of watching him tiptoe nervously around the grate for twenty minutes, Thor had scooped Loki into his arms and simply held him beneath the spray. He didn’t even care that the water was cold or that the rest of his clothes had gotten soaked. Seeing Loki hold his pleased, pretty face beneath the sparkling cascade had been worth it.

In fact, that was all Thor wanted. To see Loki happy, healthy, and healed, sleek and strong, his horns and hair shining, imbued with confidence and laughter. It was such a beautiful image that Thor instantly resolved to make it a reality. The opportunity had fallen into his lap—well, into his trap, actually—and by Odin’s beard, he would see it done.

Thor’s excitement ebbed a little at the thought of his father.

He hoped Loki would be allowed to stay here. Odin was tough and steely, but he did have a heart beneath his seemingly stoic exterior. Once he heard the sad account of Loki’s life, Thor was certain he would be moved to mercy.

Well, there was the small matter of Odin despising trolls and everything to do with them, but he hadn’t met Loki yet. If any troll could change his mind, Loki would be the one. He was the perfect ambassador: polite and well-spoken, charming and humorous, attentive, cute… very cute. From his pointy ears to little blue-nailed toes—and his tail, even if it wasn’t thick and heavy like a normal troll’s—every part of him was lovely and adorable.

Thor suddenly found himself wondering just how old Loki was. His horns were too short to be an adult’s, but maybe that was a result of his stunted development. He certainly spoke as if he were an adult, but he could simply be precocious for his age. Thor would ask him at the soonest opportunity. He didn’t wish to insult Loki or say anything inappropriate to him. He was likely still growing (though apparently not fast enough for his impatient father) and perhaps someday he might even be the same size as Thor. That would—

Oh. That. By the stars above, he would be stunning, an absolute beauty. Tall, curving horns and long legs, his hair grown out and falling to his waist in a soft black curtain, his arms strong and muscular, the most handsome jötunn to ever set foot in Asgard…

Thor came back to reality with a jolt. Damn, he didn’t have time to be daydreaming like this. The hour was growing late and his parents would not be up for much longer. He quickly began to rinse off.

Meanwhile in the bedroom, Loki had laid the armful of clothes out on the broad, soft-looking piece of furniture that sat against one wall. He had guessed it was Thor’s nest, though it looked like no nest he had ever seen before. It was too flat and wide, not rounded enough, and it had too few pillows. It was merely a surface, like a table or a floor. It wasn’t cozy or intimate at all. Who could ever sleep lying stiff and straight like that, stretched out and vulnerable? Loki supposed one might be able to curl up if they wanted to, but it would be very uncomfortable on something so firm and shapeless. Did the Æsir actually make their babies on these awful things? Mercy, perhaps that’s why they had so few children. Who could enjoy making love on that?

A hot blush crept across Loki’s cheeks as his imagination suddenly conjured up several images of his gloriously naked benefactor propagating his species on his weird, flattened nest. A soft squeak escaped Loki’s lips and he shook his head to clear his mind.

He mustn’t get distracted. He was about to meet the Allfather, the most powerful being in all Nine Realms, and picturing that being’s attractive, athletic son engaged in procreative activities, however alluring, was simply unacceptable at this time. He had to stay focused.

Banishing the thought, Loki pursed his lips and studied the various garments lying before him. The only thing that really appealed to him was a dark blue tunic, short of length and sleeve, trimmed with silver. It was lightweight and conservative enough to suit his hosts, and the skirt meant that he wouldn’t have to worry about making a hole in the back of—what did they call them again? Oh, right—a trowsors so that his tail could be free. He would just have to be mindful of swinging it so that he didn’t accidentally lift the skirt and give all of Asgard a glimpse of his bottom. The Æsir didn’t seem very proud of their hind-ends, or at least they weren’t as willing to show them off. Pity. The buttocks were a fine asset, lovely to look at as well as useful.

Loki shrugged off his towel, picked up the tunic, and pulled it over his head. It was obviously tailored with a better-fed person in mind, but Loki was very pleased with how it felt, even though it was a little more clothing than what he was accustomed to wearing. The length was perfect, falling to mid-thigh, and he was idly wondering if Thor might have a belt he could borrow when the god himself appeared from the bathroom, a towel tied around his waist and his long, wet hair clinging to his muscular shoulders. Loki caught a glimpse of him and froze, his mouth falling open.

Odinson might not have the wide girth so revered by the jötnar, but by Jötunheim’s holy mountains, what a magnificent troll he would have made!

Loki was still completely mesmerized when Thor turned his head and met his eyes. He didn’t seem to realize he was being ogled; all he saw was a handsome little frost troll dressed in what had been his favorite boyhood tunic, and the color of its fabric perfectly complemented his cerulean complexion.

“You look wonderful,” he declared, then cringed at his eager tone.

Loki blurted, “So do y—” before his hand flew to cover his mouth. He blushed fiercely.

Silence fell.

“I, um, believe there is a belt that goes with that,” said Thor, breaking away from their awkward standoff to duck into the closet. “I will find it for you!” There was a clatter as something fell from one of the closet’s shelves.

“Erm, thank you,” Loki stammered. He put a hand over his eyes and bowed his head.

He had succeeded in embarrassing his host—again—as well as himself. What in the worlds had gotten into him? Barely two hours ago he had been wondering if he was going to eat today, and now he was falling horn over heel for a thundergod. Even in his banishment he was still managing to bring shame to his people. If his father could see him now, he would probably wish he had executed him instead of banishing him.

Loki continued to despair, and a short while later Thor emerged from the closet, haphazardly dressed—his trousers were twisted and his shirt was riding up on one side—and carrying a small leather belt in his hand. He approached shyly and held it out to Loki.

“Here, this is the one.”

“Thank you,” said Loki quietly, accepting the belt. The leather was soft and supple, and he fastened it around his waist with a few clever motions. After giving the tunic one final adjustment, he brushed the skirt and lifted his eyes to Thor expectantly. “How do I look?”

Thor gazed at him with a tender smile on his lips. “Like a prince,” he said, and bowed deeply at the waist, his damp golden hair spilling over his shoulders.

It was more than Loki could bear; his tail curled around his left leg and he hid his face in his hands. “Oh, please,” he whimpered, his cheeks burning against the palms of his hands. “Please, I. I am no prince. I’m—”

“Nonsense. You are the son of a king. We are both princes, you and I, which means we are equals.”

“No, you are a god. I am a troll. An ugly runt of a—” Loki lost the end of his sentence when he felt Thor’s large, gentle hands clasp his wrists and pull them away from his face. He was staring at Loki with nothing but adoration in his kind blue eyes.

“You are a prince,” he repeated firmly, “and that is how I shall introduce you to my father. Prince Loki, late of Jötunheim, unjustly exiled and seeking asylum in our fair realm. The Allfather could not deny such a moving petition.”

When Thor slid his hands into Loki’s, Loki didn’t even cower. He stared dreamily at Thor’s face, his tail going lax around his leg.

“Do you really think so?” he murmured hopefully.

“I do.” Thor smiled and clasped Loki’s small blue hands. “But it’s getting late. Come, we don’t want to miss him.”

Chapter Text

Thor and Loki walked side by side down the broad, low-lit corridors of the palace, heading for the royal hall where Odin’s chambers lay. Loki stuck close to Thor’s side, taking in everything around him with a sense of wonder and curiosity, his bare feet patting quietly on the polished floor.

Presently they came to a pair of huge, heavy doors. Like nearly everything else in the palace, they were golden and bore elaborate patterns that intertwined with one another like an endless skein of ivy. A raven was carved onto each door and a sliver of warm light spilled from beneath them, an indication that the room’s occupants were still awake.

Thor turned to Loki and smiled gently. “Don’t worry. No harm shall come to you, I promise.” He lifted his hand and rapped lightly on the doors. “Mother, Father,” he said loudly, “I know it is late but I wanted—”

“Come in, Thor,” called a pleasant voice from within, and the door opened on its own with an emerald-green shimmer.

Magic! thought Loki, his eyes sparkling with interest. A very different sort of magic, much more delicate than the kind used by trolls, but sorcery nonetheless. He gulped down his excitement as Thor ushered him inside.

The royal bedchambers were spectacularly luxurious, decorated in gold and silver and draped with intricate tapestries featuring Asgard and its many natural splendors—mountains, forests, streams, fields, all filled with magnificent birds and beasts, and bearing the figures of famous or notable Æsir. To the right was a comfortable sitting-room and more chambers beyond; to the left was an archway that gave onto a wide balcony and offered a magnificent view of the city below. Stars and moons and nebulae glowed in the night sky above.

In the center of the room, against the far wall, was another of those unusually flat Asgardian nests, though this one was broader and fluffier than Thor’s. The left side was empty but on the right reclined a beautiful woman, propped up by many pillows and comfortably settled for the night. She held a book in her hands and her reddish-gold hair draped down one shoulder in a thick braid.

This was Frigga, Queen of Asgard, the Allmother, and her radiance was as warm and benevolent as her appearance.

She looked up and smiled at her son in greeting, then her eyes settled on the stranger standing beside him. Her eyes widened and the book slipped from her numb hands.

“Mother,” said Thor levelly, “please don’t panic. I can explain ev—”

Gracious!” she exclaimed, throwing back the covers and springing barefoot from the bed. She hurried toward her son and his guest, holding up the long skirt of her nightgown so she wouldn’t stumble. “What in the Nine! Thor, who is this precious little person?”

Thor was stunned. His jaw wagged mutely as he struggled for words.

After snapping out of his own state of shock, Loki began to bow in the troll fashion—bending the left knee with tail straight out—then he remembered where he was. He quickly corrected himself and bowed at the waist, like Thor had done to him earlier.

“Your majesty,” he said, trying to keep his voice from squeaking. “I am Loki of Jötunheim.”

Frigga walked right up to Loki and took his small face in her hands, staring at him with a look of maternal concern.

“Loki of Jötunheim! My stars, you are a frost troll, aren’t you? What a handsome young thing you are! Are you hungry, darling? Have you eaten? Thor, have you fed him yet? He looks famished.”

“I, uh,” Thor stammered, “yes, Mother, I. He was. Yes.”

Frigga smiled lovingly and patted Loki’s blushing blue cheeks. “Is this your first time in Asgard, Loki? Did you—oh, no, don’t tell me you are an orphan. You poor dear! Do you need a place to stay? Is that why you’re here?”

Loki’s eyes glazed over as he stared at this lovely woman with her soft hands and kind eyes and wonderful, flowery scent. Was everything he had been told about the Æsir a lie? It must be. Every person he had met so far had been generous and patient and—

“Frigga?” came a man’s voice from out on the balcony. “Is that Thor I hear?”

Three heads turned toward the sound. Frigga straightened up, her smile fading as she took her place on Loki’s other side, framing him protectively between herself and her son. Loki’s tail clamped itself anxiously around his leg. Thor took a steady breath and held his head high, waiting.

The Allfather stepped into the room. His silver-white hair spilled loosely onto his shoulders and his beard was thick and well-groomed. His right eye was hidden behind a golden patch, his face stern and his posture regal. Though he was not as tall as Loki had expected, and his midsection had begun to grow soft and thick with age, his mien was one of immense power and wisdom. It didn’t matter that he was not clad in armor or holding his great staff Gungnir, for even in a brocaded dressing gown and slippers, Odin commanded an air of respect.

When he saw that there was a small audience gathered in the room, he stopped short. His eye flitted over each face before finally settling on Loki’s. He blinked.

“Shit,” he muttered under his breath, then heaved a tired sigh. “Thor, what is that thing and what is it doing in my house?”

Loki’s heart sank to the pit of his stomach. He heard the Allmother click her tongue disapprovingly.

“Father, this Prince Loki of Jötunheim,” said Thor resolutely. “Fárbauti’s son. He has been wrongly exiled and is seeking asylum in Asgard. Will you hear his request?”

Odin’s forehead wrinkled as he lifted his eyebrows. “This isn’t the troll I sent you to destroy, is it? Great gods, lad, why in the world would you bring it back here? Are you planning to have it stuffed and mounted? Skinned and cooked, perhaps? It wouldn’t make more than a mouthful, by the looks of it.”

Loki let out a tiny squeak and Frigga put a soothing hand on his shoulder. She glared at her husband.

The resentment on Thor’s face was plain to see, but his voice was unnaturally calm when he spoke. “Please stop calling him ‘it’, Father. Loki is not a rock or a twig, he is a living being. He is a frost troll.”

“Indeed?” Odin narrowed his eye skeptically at Loki. “Are you sure about that? He looks more like an elf than a troll. Perhaps he’s some sort of mutation, a crossbreed of a troll and a human.”

“You can ask him yourself,” said Thor. “Unless you think speaking to a troll would be beneath you.”

Odin smiled patiently. “Ah, yes. Because I am too mean and proud to converse with a scrawny little jötunn. No, Thor, I am simply afraid of wasting my breath on a creature incapable of understanding civilized speech. But since you appear to be quite taken by him, I shall humor you.”

He leaned forward and spoke to Loki clearly: “Skillur thú mik, little one? Geturr thú toladh algeng tunga, edha ertu hálfvitti?” [1] The words rolled thick and harsh from his tongue.

Loki’s cheeks burned with shame and he shrank against Thor’s side.

“What did you say to him?” Thor demanded, his whole body tensing. “Did you threaten him?”

“I merely asked if he spoke the common language,” said Odin, straightening himself again. “My trollspeak is a little rusty, and quite frankly I hate to use it. It is an ugly language for an ugly people.” He paused and glanced down at Loki. “Present company excluded, of course. Are you sure you’re not part elf?”

Loki gulped and said in a small voice, “T-to my knowledge, your majesty, I am not.”

If Odin was surprised by Loki’s pleasant tenor, his face did not show it. “I see. Then you must be considered an insult to your race, yes? An ugly pariah, cast out for your defects and abandoned by the savages you call your kin. Is that right?”

Loki bowed his head, tears burning in his eyes. “It is, your majesty.”

Both Thor and Frigga were taken aback.

“Father, how could-!”

“Odin, really!”

Odin held up both of his hands and waved them placatingly. “Calm down, calm down. It is a legitimate question. I am only trying to determine the reasons for his exile.”

“He has been exiled because Fárbauti is cruel and impatient,” said Thor fiercely. “Loki has been ridiculed and mistreated all his life for something he cannot help, and his father sent him to Midgard to die. He is in desperate need of sanctuary. He needs care and recovery and a safe place to live.”

Odin opened his arms wide in an exasperated gesture. “What does this realm look like to you, Thor? An infirmary? A harbor for every refugee who comes running to us with a deformity and a convenient story? Oh, don’t look so shocked, lad. Trolls may be stupid as a whole, but they’re capable of being clever on occasion. Some of the most cunning liars and tricksters in history have been trolls.”

He glowered at Loki, who huddled between Thor and Frigga.

“Their deception is legendary, especially among the frost species. How do you think they came to be the rulers of Jötunheim? Through divine birthright? No, they cheated the realm’s original inhabitants out of home and hill, enslaved them, ate them, and ultimately wiped them from existence. Now Jötunheim is a planet of trolls, its resources wasted or gone fallow from centuries of neglect, and its mountains are overrun with a conniving lot of inbred monstrosities like the one I’m looking at.”

Odin bent down to address Loki once more, his lips pulled into a grim smile.

Er thadh rett, little one? Excuse me: Loki prinsenn. Hm. Ljóki, the ugly one. Is that your real name or did you come up with it when you were charming my foolish son?” [2]

Loki couldn’t take anymore; he turned and buried his face into Thor’s shirt, clinging tightly to his side as he trembled with fear and humiliation.

Frigga scowled at her husband. “Now you’re just being cruel.”

“Unbearably,” Thor added, putting an arm around Loki’s shoulders and holding him close. “I brought Loki to you so he could ask for your blessing, so he could live here safely and legally, in compliance with your ordinance, Father. He has been perfectly civil and respectful to you, yet you have done nothing but insult and berate him. Is there not one ounce of mercy in your heart for him, for any person who would come to you in need?”

After a few moments, Odin sighed, his vigor fading. He suddenly looked very old and tired.

“Thor, my son, I am only speaking the truth, a virtue which, sadly, is lost on the jötnar. But they can hardly be blamed for this deficiency; they are born with it. Lying, cheating, betraying—it is in their nature. It is how they survive. Just as ravens and crows prey upon the less intelligent beasts, so do trolls attempt to seduce us with their wiles.”

Loki clenched his small hands and pressed his face even harder into Thor’s side, hugging him tightly. One of his horns was digging into Thor’s ribs, but Thor was too upset to even register the discomfort.

“So what if it is,” said Thor crossly. “I don’t care. Loki has done harm to no one and he will do no harm by staying here. He needs help and I mean to give it to him, and if you try to stop me, Father, I will—”

“Calm yourself, Thor,” said Odin, “before you say something that cannot be unsaid.”

Thor shut his mouth, pinching his lips together tightly.

Odin sighed heavily and turned, shuffling toward the bed. He sat down on the edge with a small huff and turned to look at his family, who regarded him with hurt, harried faces. He tilted his head to one side and vaguely nodded his assent.

“I will permit Loki to stay in Asgard, but I will not abide his presence in the palace. He must go live in the forest. That is the natural order of things. People live in cities, animals in the wild.”

He held up his hand when Thor and Frigga readied themselves for an argument.

“And before you say anything, let me remind you that a thousand years ago I would not have hesitated to kill this unwanted visitor on the spot. But I have grown soft in my old age and developed a tolerance for the intolerable. A troll in Asgard is something the younger Odin would never have borne.”

He stared at Loki, cowering against his son, and smiled despite himself.

“He is rather small, though, isn’t he? I don’t suppose he’ll be much trouble. Like a flea on the back of a dog. It does the dog no good—it drinks the dog’s blood and grows fat and spoiled, and the dog must endure a little itching every now and then—but as long as there is only one flea, there is little harm.”

Odin’s gaze moved deliberately to Thor. “However, if I find another flea has made its way in this realm, I will exterminate them both… and any little eggs that they may be hiding. I will not have Asgard infested with trolls. Do you understand me?”

Thor hated it, but he gritted his teeth and nodded. “I understand.”

“Good.” Odin paused, looking at his dejected family. He sighed again. “He can stay the night—just this once. He leaves first thing in the morning.”

Frigga stepped close to Thor and laid her gentle hand on Loki’s head. “Can’t he at least stay for breakfast? The poor thing should have a good meal before he’s sent away.”

Odin physically recoiled. “What? No. No, I won’t have a troll slurping porridge and sucking down eggs as I try to enjoy my morning tea. That is simply out of the question.”

He saw the deadly glint in Frigga’s eyes and his frown wilted slightly.

“Alright. Fine. He can stay for breakfast, but he will not eat at the table and he is to leave immediately after.” He stared hard at Thor. “Have I made myself clear?”

Thor clenched his fists and opened his mouth to speak, but he was stopped by his mother’s hand on his shoulder. Frigga leaned toward his ear and said in a voice barely above a whisper, “Not now, darling. You take care of Loki. I will talk to your father.”

The tension left Thor’s face and was replaced by a defeated, depressed look. He gave his mother a sad smile and turned back to his father. “Very well. Father, Mother. I apologize for ruining your evening. Loki and I bid you both goodnight.”

Odin raised his hand in farewell and released a sigh that sounded like a weary groan.

Frigga kissed her son’s cheek and gave Loki’s head a tender pat. Thor put his arm around Loki and guided him toward the door. The Allmother gave them a soft, reassuring smile as they stepped into the corridor, and shut the door behind them.

When they were halfway down the hall, Loki stopped and raised his face to Thor. His cheeks were wet and flushed, his red eyes even redder from his tears.

“Oh, Thor,” he said wretchedly, using his host’s name for the first time, “I haven’t lied to you! Please believe me, I would never lie! I know my people are known for being false, but I swear to you, I’ve told you nothing but the truth. Th-there’s no way I can prove it, but please, you must believe me. I would never…!”

He buried his face into Thor’s middle and began to sob. “Please, my lord, have mercy. Don’t abandon me. I have nothing left. You are all that I…” The rest of his sentence ended in a choked-off whine.

With his heart as sore as a fresh bruise, Thor ducked down and gathered Loki into his arms, lifting him up and hugging him close. Loki wrapped his arms around Thor’s shoulders and his legs around Thor’s waist. He sniffed wetly and nuzzled the side of Thor’s face gratefully.

“I am not your lord,” Thor murmured. “I am your friend, and I will not have you thrown into the forest to live like an animal. I’m going to take care of you, Loki. I swore that I would let no harm befall you as long as I live, and I am a man of my word.”

Loki clutched Thor even harder, tears leaking from his tightly-shut eyes. He could find no words to describe the gratitude that filled his heart. All he knew was that falling into Thor Odinson’s trap was the best thing that had ever happened to him.

Thor reached up and gently stroked his fingers through Loki’s dark hair, and carried the sad little troll back to his room.

Chapter Text

When they arrived back at Thor’s room, a strong wind had begun to blow outside the palace and lightning was flashing in the sky. The growl of thunder followed every flare and flicker, heralding a heavy rain.

It was no coincidence. Thor hadn’t been this upset in years.

Of course, he thought to himself, it was nothing compared to what Loki had just endured.

Safely inside the room now, Thor leaned over his bed and allowed Loki to crawl from his arms. Loki immediately grabbed one of the nearby pillows and clutched it to his chest, curling up with his tail tucked around his feet. He jolted as a peal of thunder ripped through the sky above, and Thor had to take a moment to shut his eyes and try to calm himself. He could not comfort Loki if the worst fear of every troll was cracking and booming right above their heads.

While Loki hugged the pillow and sniffed away the last of his tears, Thor disappeared into the bathroom. There came the sound of splashing water, and a few moments later he returned with a cool, wet cloth in his hands. He climbed onto the bed to sit beside Loki and laid his hand on his thin, narrow shoulder.

“Here,” he said softly, “lift your face.”

Loki did—his cheeks were cobalt and his eyes were like two huge rubies at the bottom of a clear stream—and Thor carefully blotted the salty tear stains from his overheated face. Loki sighed in relief and looked up at Thor pitifully.

“It seems I’m destined to be a disappointment to fathers,” he said, “even the ones who didn’t raise me.”

“Don’t say that,” Thor insisted, pressing the cloth to Loki’s forehead and dabbing it down the side of his throat. “It is not your fault.”

“But it is. I am either too much a troll or not troll enough. Why can’t I have been one or the other? Why did I have to be like this? Why does no one like me?”

Thor ceased his ministrations and touched Loki’s cheek with his damp fingers. “It isn’t you, Loki. It is everyone else. You may be different, but that doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you. Sometimes it’s good to be set apart from everyone else. The world would be very dull if we were all the same, don’t you think?” He offered up a conciliatory smile.

The corners of Loki’s mouth twitched upward. “I suppose so. But it would have been nice to be accepted by both your parents. Your mother is so kind and gentle. I see where you get it from.”

Thor’s smile faded and he lowered his head. “I have much of my father in me as well,” he said. “I am a warrior. I lead armies to victory. I fight, I kill.”

“But you also protect,” Loki insisted, setting the pillow aside and folding his legs beneath himself. “You rescue people, like you did me. You are fair and merciful.”

“You have not known me long, Loki. I’m afraid I shall one day disappoint you.”

“Perhaps not. We’ll just have to see.” He gave Thor a hopeful smile.

Thor was astounded. Even after the disastrous meeting with Odin, Loki offered cheer and consolation to someone who needed it least. If there was any doubt in Thor’s heart that Loki was not as sweet and wholesome as an innocent child, it was dispelled at this very moment.

Thor reached down and clasped both of Loki’s hands in his own. “You are so amazing,” he murmured. “I’ve never met anyone like you.”

“Nor I you,” said Loki, leaning forward.

This close to one another, Thor could see the sharpness of Loki’s eye-teeth. They weren’t as large as they should have been, but were small and dainty and white. Thor looked down at the hands he was holding.

“You have beautiful hands. It was one of the first things I noticed about you.”

“Thank you,” said Loki softly. “But they are not the hands of a troll. They are small and weak and I have no claws.”

“You may not have claws, but your nails are strong and your fingers are long and shapely. I’ll bet you are an expert at plaiting.”

Loki frowned. “Platting? What’s that?”

“It’s a form of braiding. You know, like… well, like this.” Thor pulled one of his long, golden-brown braids from the back of his head and leaned close to show it to Loki. “You see those strands? They are woven together. It’s called a plait. It is a style worn by many people across many different realms.”

Loki reached out and stroked Thor’s braid with his fingertip, staring at it intently. “So that is what these things are. Platts. I’ve seen them before and always wondered…” He lifted his face and found himself nose-to-nose with Thor. “Can you do this to my hair, too?”

“When it’s a little longer, yes. If you want.” Thor’s eyes softened as he gazed at Loki. “I think you would look very nice with them.”

A faint smile came to Loki’s lips. His eyelashes fluttered as he let out a breath. “Perhaps I should give up trying to be a jötunn and just become one of you. Your father might like me better if I were to cut off my horns and tail and just—”

“No!” said Thor fiercely, and there came a startlingly loud crack of thunder just overhead.

Loki cried out and threw his arms around Thor, clinging to him. Thor hugged him, grimacing at his outburst.

“I’m sorry,” he said as Loki shivered in his embrace. “That was my fault. The thunder, it’s… I cannot help it.”

Loki pulled back and stared at Thor in amazement. “You are doing this?”

Thor nodded guiltily.

“Then it isn’t really your hammer that brings the thunder? It’s…”

“It is me. My hammer channels my power, but it is not the source of it.”

Fear crept into Loki’s eyes. “Are you angry?”

“I suppose I am, a little,” Thor admitted. “But not at you, Loki. It was the thought of you mutilating yourself to suit my father, to suit anyone else. It’s simply horrifying. Promise me you won’t do anything like that. Ever.” He cradled the back of Loki’s neck and stroked his cheek with his thumb.

“I promise,” Loki whispered.

Thor’s eyes drifted down to Loki’s mouth, his gaze lingering on Loki’s lips before returning to his eyes one more. Loki was breathing a little faster, his eyes gleaming and full of emotion.

Thor forced a smile onto his face. “Will you be comfortable in my bed tonight?”

“Oh, yes,” whispered Loki, then he paused. “Wait, what’s a bed?”

“It’s what we’re sitting on right now.”

Loki looked down at the mattress as if he just realized it was there. “Oh, is that what you call your nests? Bed? Or beds, should I say?”

“Yes, bed for one, beds for many,” said Thor. “Though I must admit, ‘nest’ sounds much cozier.”

“Hm, nests are much cozier,” said Loki forlornly, stroking the covers, “at least where I come from.”

Thor sat back on his legs, a look of determination on his face “How can I build one?”


“A troll-nest,” said Thor. “I want to make one for you. Tell me how.”

“Oh, no, please, that won’t be necessary. I’ve been making do without one for months, you don’t have to—”

“I want to, Loki. Please. After what happened with Father, I… I want to make you as comfortable as possible.”

Loki bit his lower lip and, after a few moments of staring at Thor’s earnest, heartfelt expression, he glanced around the room. “Well, we can start by adding a few more pillows…”

The rain stopped sometime overnight and the morning dawned fresh and damp. Weak rays of sunlight peeked through the gauzy curtains in Thor’s bedroom, stretching across the floor. The bed was left in shadows, and it was much changed from its usual state. A volcano of pillows, blankets, towels, and even clean laundry was heaped in the middle of the mattress. It wasn’t the ideal troll nest, Loki had said, but it was wonderful compared to his arrangements on Midgard, sleeping in hollow logs and between the roots of trees.

In the center of this strange pile of linens lay Thor and Loki, Thor curled up on his side with one foot sticking through the wall of cloth, and Loki propped upright between two pillows, knees and arms tucked to his chest, one hand holding on to his tail for security.

Thor was the first to wake, taking in a deep breath and stretching his limbs with a quiet groan. A few inches away, Loki’s eyes fluttered open and he yawned, his little blue tongue curling.

Thor smiled at him sleepily. “Good morning, Loki.”

Loki returned his smile and gave a shy wriggle. “Good morning, Thor.”

“Did you sleep well?”

“Hmm, better than I have in a long time.” He unfolded himself and stretched, his tail going straight as an arrow before relaxing again. “Though I am rather hungry now.”

“I’d be worried if you weren’t. It will take more than soup to put the flesh back on your bones.” Thor sat up and popped a few joints, flexed his arms, rolled his head back and forth. “I’ll go and get something for us. Do trolls eat breakfast in bed? Or in nest?”

“Not usually. Only if we’re ill or have babies to keep.”

The image of the troll/bird nest came back to Thor’s mind, and suddenly he pictured Loki cuddled up around a litter of tiny blue baby trolls. It was strangely appealing. He wondered if Loki would find a mate who didn’t mind his less-than-jötunn characteristics, if he would ever have children of his own someday, either siring them or bearing them. He wondered if Loki’s little body would be even able to handle the strain of pregnancy or if—and this was horrifying to consider—he would end up like his poor mother, overloaded with a huge litter that would claim his life and the lives of over half his offspring. Suddenly the image of Loki with a half-dozen mewling babies didn’t seem so appealing anymore.

Thor snapped himself out of his reverie and stood from the bed. “Alright, I, er, you just stay here and rest,” he said, “I’ll be back shortly with some food. Is there anything in particular you would like?”

“At this point,” said Loki honestly, “I will eat anything that doesn’t eat me first.”

“So… two of everything?”

Loki waved his tail happily. “Please.”

Thor’s heart was still soaring through the clouds as he neared the large patio in the east gardens, the place where his family typically took their morning meal. Birds were singing and the air was fragrant with flowers, fresh from the rainfall. Odin, looking rather unrested and rumpled, was sipping his tea at the table while Frigga sat across from him, paging through a different book than the one she’d been reading last night. This one looked much older, its edges soft and worn and its pages yellow with age.

Not far off, a pair of ravens—Odin’s ravens, Huginn and Muninn—stood on a high, gilded platform planted at the patio’s edge, one that was built especially for them. They gobbled down their usual breakfast: bits of boiled egg, raw meat, nuts, and fruit. Ever sharp-eyed and watchful, they lifted their heads when Thor’s shadowy movements from within the palace caught their attention.

“Here comes the son,” said Huginn, and his subsequent chuckle sounded more like a croak.

“No,” rasped Munnin, bobbing her head merrily, “here comes the thunder!”

The two ravens cackled at their meteorological humor and Odin muttered something under his breath that sounded like a prayer for the preservation of his sanity.

Frigga looked up and smiled when Thor emerged onto the sun-drenched patio.

“Good morning, darling,” she said pleasantly. “How is Loki? I hope he was able to get some rest. It was rather stormy last night.” She flicked her eyebrows and tilted her head toward Odin. “Metaphorically and literally.”

Thor gave his mother an affectionate grin. “He is doing quite well. Hungry, naturally. I shall take some food back for him”—he gave his father a sidelong glance—“since he is not allowed to dine with us.”

“That’s a lovely idea, Thor. Be sure to bring him lots of protein.” Frigga lifted the book she held. The title read Know Thine Enemy: A Guide to Trolls, Thurs and Risi. “The propaganda in this thing is awful, but there appears to be some good information regarding diet and biology in the later chapters.”

“Mind the nuts, Thor.”

Frigga and Thor slowly turned to look at Odin, who was glowering blankly at the shrubbery over the rim of his teacup.

“That book focuses more on wood trolls,” he murmured. “They are the only species of jötnar that can eat nuts. Frost trolls cannot. If you give them to Loki, he will be sickened. Remind him of this before you take him into the forest. He’s probably never seen a nut in his life. His ignorance could kill him.”

Thor narrowed his eyes. On one hand he was disappointed that Odin had not changed his mind about allowing Loki to stay in the palace; on the other hand, however, he was astonished by the sudden concern for Loki’s well-being.

“That’s oddly considerate of you, Father,” he said.

“I don’t wish him ill, lad. I merely wish him gone. As soon as possible.”

Frigga sent Thor an expression that seemed to say I tried my best, darling before she closed the book and laid it in her lap. “Aren’t you forgetting something else, dear?”

“Something... oh. Yes, that. Hrmph.” Odin set down his teacup with a sigh. “Your mother has persuaded me to allow Loki to visit the city once a month. He is not to come into the palace, though. He is to remain outside. I know he is an exile of his race, but he is still a troll and I don’t want him skulking under the same roof where I conduct the affairs of this realm. Understood?”

“Yes, Father,” said Thor quietly.

“Good.” Odin made an awkward pause. “The cooks have set out a great deal of dried fish and venison. I suggest you avail yourself of it. Avoid the bread. Trolls have a low tolerance for wheat.”

Thor and Frigga shared an impressed look with one another.

“Thank you,” said Thor, almost smiling. “I will keep that in mind. I assume I shall see you again before we leave?”

“Your mother will see you off. I have more important matters to attend to this morning.”

Frigga rolled her eyes and picked up her own teacup. “Thor, darling, stop by the west garden before you leave. I have something I’d like to give Loki.”

“Of course. Thank you, Mother.” Thor gave her a respectful nod and turned to make his way to the kitchens. Odin’s quiet voice stopped him:

“And Thor.”

He turned. “Sir?”

Odin was hunched down in his seat grumpily. “They, ehm. They love honey. Just a measure of it will turn the foulest, meanest jötunn into a gentle kitten. You won’t find that in the book, but I assure you it’s quite true.”

This time when Thor glanced at Frigga, she looked both shocked and amused.

Well,” she declared, patting the Guide to Trolls, “perhaps it’s time to revise and update this archaic, ignorant book with some new material, yes? And what a stroke of luck, we happen to have an actual jötunn to advise us!”

Odin gave her a dubious, one-eyed glare. “Don’t get any grand ideas, Frigga.”

“It’s a little late for that, dear.”

Odin sighed. “That’s was I was afraid of… Thor, what the devil are you smiling about? Run along to the kitchens now, hurry. Before that troll thinks you’ve abandoned him and starts eating the furniture.”

With a broad grin on his face, Thor gave his mother a wink and disappeared into the palace.

Chapter Text

Thor stepped into his bedroom with a loaded tray in his hands. Loki was nowhere to be seen. “Hello?” he called to the seemingly empty room. “Loki?”

In the blink of an eye, Loki popped up from the center of the bed-nest like a rabbit from its hole. His eyes were gleaming. “I’m here.”

Thor lifted the tray. “Would his highness care for some breakfast?”

Loki answered by scrambling from the mound of pillows and blankets and planting himself on the mattress, legs folded beneath himself and tail flicking back and forth eagerly. Thor couldn’t help but be amused at his enthusiasm. He strode over and set the tray on the bed, then sat down across from Loki.

Loki stared down at the bounty with a look of utter rapture and reached out to grab a fistful of dried fish. He paused suddenly, remembering his manners, and lifted his face to Thor, his fingers curling with embarrassment.

“Oh, go ahead, please,” said Thor with an encouraging wave of his hand. “All this is yours. I helped myself on the way back.”

With a delighted shiver, Loki dove into his first Asgardian breakfast.

It was divine. He tried to control his zeal, but it had been so long since he’d had a decent meal that even things he normally didn’t care for—like raw tomatoes and cheese—tasted delicious. He demolished a cold leg of turkey, a bunch of grapes, a goblet of sweetened milk, and a small ham steak in a matter of minutes. He further surprised Thor by biting into the ring of bone that was left behind, crunching and grinding it between his teeth as easily as if it were a piece of candy.

Thor watched, truly impressed. He had been bitten by trolls before, though always through several protective layers—mercifully. The strength of jötunn jaws was legendary, and their bites had not only crushed the metal of Thor’s armor, but left terrible bruises in his flesh that took days to fade, even with special poultices.

As fearsome as this strength was, Thor was glad that Loki had inherited it, not only for the sake of his few and precious jötunn characteristics, but because it meant that at least he had some way of defending himself. He would need it when he went to live in the forest.

The happiness that Thor had been feeling was abruptly snuffed out like a flame from a candle.

Loki noticed the melancholy look come across his host’s face and he swallowed down the last of the four pickled eggs he’d been devouring.

“Is something the matter?” he asked gently.

Thor shook his head and sighed. “Father is still adamant about sending you to the wood. I had hoped he might change his mind. I don’t know how I shall look after you if I cannot be near you.”

A sullen silence fell between them for a few moments.

“Can you not come live with me?” asked Loki softly.

“If it were up to me, I would not hesitate,” Thor answered. “But I am the protector of this realm and many others, and I am bound by my duties. If the king calls me, I must be prepared to answer him at once.”

Loki wilted, his tail thumping lifelessly onto the mattress and his whole posture drooping with sadness.

“I’m so sorry, Loki. I feel as if I’ve already broken my promise to you.”

For a moment Loki sat still, his head bowed and his lips silent. Then he pushed the tray aside and crawled over to sit in front of Thor.

“When my father banished me to Midgard,” he said, “I had never even seen a forest. Pictures of them, yes, but never in real life. I was so frightened.”

He picked up his tail and began to fiddle with it, stroking the tip as if to soothe himself. Thor watched him, his heart aching.

“I don’t know how long I was there. Several months at least. Long enough to see the leaves fall from the trees and the first snowfall of winter. The days are so short there.” Loki smiled a little. “You can imagine what a shock it must have been for me, a naïve little troll who had spent his whole life inside his father’s mountain. I would have perished if you hadn’t saved me, but… I did manage to last all that time without you. I shall be able to do it again, I think, especially under your care.”

He reached out and laid his small blue hand on top of Thor’s large pink one.

“I hope I don’t sound ungrateful. Living in the forest, it isn’t so bad. It certainly can’t be as bad as what I came from. At least I shall have you watching over me, and if this realm is as fair and fruitful as you’ve said it is, then I should be fine.”

Thor stared into Loki’s hopeful, happy eyes and the heavy feeling in his chest began to disappear. He picked up Loki’s hand and raised it to his lips, pressing a kiss onto the faint blue markings there.

Loki went stiff. “Wh-what is that? What are you doing? Are you… t-tasting me?”

Seeing the suspicion in Loki’s eyes, Thor smiled gently and petted his hand. Apparently the fear of being eaten was still very real to him. He began to wonder if the tales about cannibalism among trolls were true.

“No, Loki, it was a kiss,” he said. “It’s a gesture of affection. Nothing sinister, I assure you.” He paused before asking, “Do your people not show their affection this way?”

“No, it’s. Erm, it’s just that our jaws are fearsome weapons,” said Loki, blushing a little, “and our teeth—well, everyone’s but mine—are too large and sharp for making a, a kiss, as you call it. A troll showing affection with his mouth would be odd and dangerous.” He ducked his head bashfully. “But yours is very nice. Your lips are soft, and the little hairs on your face tickle, too.”

Thor smiled.

The indigo color on Loki’s face darkened. “I would… I’d like to get used to kiss.”

Now it was Thor’s turn to blush. He swallowed dryly and licked his lips. “Well, uh. Perhaps in time… if you want.” The question he had been meaning to ask finally found the opportunity to be addressed. “If you don’t mind my asking, how old are you, Loki?”

Loki sucked his bottom lip into his mouth as a guilty expression came over his face. In a voice barely above a whisper he said, “Twelve.”

Thor paled. “Wha—twelve?”

“I know, it’s shameful. Twelve times I’ve witnessed the journey of Blárdrek across the northern skies of Jötunheim, yet I look as if I’ve only seen half that,” said Loki mournfully. “I ought to be three times as large as this, with a magnificent set of horns and great big teeth, but…” He sighed and shook his head.

Thor frowned. “Blárdrek? You mean the comet, the one with the long blue tail?”

Loki nodded.

Thor was familiar with this stellar phenomenon. The Blue Dragon, known as Blárdrek or Blådrag, if he recalled correctly, passed through the star system shared by Niflheim and Jötunheim once every thirty-three years; which (Thor quickly did the calculations in his head) would mean that Loki was nearly 400 years old—396, to be exact, making him precisely a hundred years younger than Thor himself.

The relief that flooded through Thor at this moment was indescribable. His shoulders slumped and he heaved a huge breath.

“Is everything alright?” asked Loki worriedly.

“Yes. Yes, it’s. Everything is fine. No problem.” Thor smiled wanly. “We are almost the same age, you and I. Sometimes I forget that the people of the Nine each have their own way of reckoning age.”

“So I’ve heard. The Midgardians use single years, don’t they? Is that because they are so short-lived?”

“I’m not sure if it’s because their lifespans are so brief or if it’s just the easiest way for them to remember. In any case, it seems to work for them. Of all the Nine, they age the most rapidly.”

“Hm.” Loki nodded thoughtfully. “We jötnar use the stars to measure our ages. Is that not also how the Æsir do it?”

“It is, though we use different celestial bodies. On Asgard I am nearly twenty-one star cycles old, so you would be”—he scrunched up his face—“a little over sixteen, I think? You do look a bit younger, though. That is why I wanted to ask you outright. I would not want to be, um… untoward.”

Loki smiled shyly. “That’s very decent of you. I assure you I’m an adult in the eyes of my people. My father would not have banished me if there had been any hope of me growing into a normal troll. But after eleven, much of our growing is done.”

Thor gave Loki’s hand a squeeze. “Perhaps you will grow here in Asgard. You never know.”


They gazed at one another for a few quiet, contented moments, then Thor reluctantly released Loki’s hand and stood from the bed.

“There are some things I must gather,” he said, though he didn’t sound too eager about it. “Supplies, tools, clothing, anything you may need to see you through your first few days in the wood. I swear I will do all I can to make you as comfortable as possible, Loki.”

“I know you will.” Loki smiled sweetly and his tail coiled up into a tight spiral. “Thank you, Thor. As long as I am in your hands, I have no reason to fear anything.”

By the halls of Valhalla, Thor felt like his heart was glowing with the strength of a hundred suns. If he were to open up his chest, he had no doubt the light would blind every living thing within a mile radius. Never before had he felt such a deep-seated longing to make things right, to care for and nurture and protect, to love and to lavish another with all the good things he could provide. The fact that it was a frost troll who had had awoken these feelings in him didn’t even matter at all.

He smiled at Loki’s innocent face. “Then I shall return shortly. I, uh, I did bring you some honey, though I think you might have missed it.”

Loki’s wide-eyed expression told Thor that he had; he looked down at the mostly-empty tray beside him. “Honey? There is honey here?”

“Yes, in a little pot. I thought I saw it just a moment ago.”

Loki swept his hand over the remains of his breakfast, revealing a small jar that had been hidden beneath a napkin. He clutched it to his chest and looked up at Thor as if he were the patron saint of all trolls.

“I don’t understand,” he said breathlessly. “I didn’t think anyone outside our race knew.”

“Knew what?”

“That honey is more precious to trolls than gold and gems! It’s practically sacred. We use it for healing and all sorts of rituals: mating ceremonies, royal feasts, courtships, tokens of allegiance, everything! H-how in the worlds did you know?”

“I heard a rumor.” Thor grinned helplessly and shrugged. “Go on, enjoy it. There is plenty more where that came from.”

“You… you mean it?”

“Of course. Asgard is full of honey. There is no need to be stingy. Eat as much as you like.”

With shining eyes and a weak, giddy smile, Loki opened the jar and dipped his finger inside, coating it with golden, gooey goodness. When he stuck his finger into his mouth, there was no mistaking the resulting look on his face for anything but complete ecstasy.

“Oh. Ohhh my,” he groaned, his eyelids fluttering. “It’s so. I haven’t had honey since… oh, it’s incredible. Thank you, Thor!”

Thor’s eyebrows lifted up until they were somewhere around his hairline. He cleared his throat and averted his eyes, his cheeks coloring slightly.

“You’re very welcome. I shall, uh. Leave you to enjoy it, then.”

While Loki swooned and salivated over this unexpected treat, Thor stepped into the closet and changed into his day clothes and boots, then slipped from the room to begin his palace-wide scavenger hunt.

He went to the armory first, grabbing two knapsacks from the supply room, then he visited each wing of the palace, going room by room and gathering provisions for their journey into the forest. He filled one of the sacks with basic necessities, such as dried meats and fruit, rope, knives, blankets, twine, a few small plates and bowls, and anything else he could think of. The other sack he filled with clothes and personal items: a hairbrush, some soap and oils, a little sewing kit—another thing for which Loki might have a talent, given his fingers were so slim and agile—and a few towels and cloths.

When he returned to his room over half an hour later, he found Loki draped over the edge of the bed in a happy stupor, his tail waving back and forth like a thin blue vine, his eyes glazed and dreamy.

“Thorrr, you’re back!” he sang, rolling over and pointing one of his tiny feet into the air. “That’s wonderful! You’re such a wonderful man. I’ve never met a wonderful man before. Or a man at all. Aren’t I lucky? The first man I meet and he’s wonnnderful!”

He hugged himself and giggled and rolled around on the bed.

Thor gawked at the transformation. All traces of the timid little troll he had rescued from Midgard were gone. Odin had been right; honey indeed rendered jötnar into docile, kittenish creatures. The knowledge of such a condition—some might even call it a weakness—could be used to terrible effect by their enemies, Thor thought. He wondered if his father had ever used honey as a weapon against his lifelong foes. He hoped not. It didn’t seem like a fair way to fight. If their reactions were anything like Loki’s, a honey-drunk troll would be totally helpless.

Thor set the satchels on the floor and walked over to the bed, gently moving Loki away from the edge so that he wouldn’t topple over. Loki was as limp as a cloth doll, arms and legs flopping, head lolling lazily. He was definitely relaxed—emotionally as well as physically. A less fretful version of himself. Thor hoped the effects wouldn’t last long. The morning was growing late and it would soon be time for them to leave.

“You liked the honey, I take it,” he said, and was surprised when Loki boldly climbed into his lap and hugged his neck.

“Every drop!” Loki chirped. “I’ve never had that much in my entire life. It was so good and sweet. Just like youuu…”

Thor felt his body temperature rise a few degrees. “Er, do you think you will be ready to leave in a little while?” he asked, placing his hands on Loki’s narrow waist to keep him from falling over. He seemed a little clumsy and uncoordinated. “Can you even walk in this state, or shall I carry you?”

“Oh, no. I’m fine. I’m wonderful,” Loki insisted, his words coming slow and slightly slurred. “And you’re wonderful, too. Everything is going to be wonderfully fine, I just know it.” He squeezed Thor and nuzzled the side of his head with his horns. “I can’t wait to see my new home. Can we leave now? I want to feel earth beneath my feet again. Soft, cool earth…”

Thor patted Loki’s back. “Yes, we can leave now, if you like. Everything is ready.”

Heyrahhh! Vidh adh farra!

“But first let me give you a cloak to wear. It’s bright out this morning and I don’t want you to get burned.”

“You’re so wonderful, Thor. You think of everything.”

“I try to.” Thor flashed Loki a smile. “Mother has something to give you, by the way. I’m not sure what it is, but she—”

“A gift?”

“It could be. She told us to meet her in the west gardens before we set out.”

“Excellent! Let’s go!” Loki scrambled from Thor’s lap, accidentally jostling some of Thor’s more sensitive parts.

Thor grimaced and grunted, cupping himself. Gods, did that troll have some bony knees!

“Come on, hurry, we don’t want to keep her waiting,” Loki urged, grabbing Thor’s arm and trying to pull him to his feet. He was hilariously ineffectual. Like watching an over-excited rabbit trying to move a boulder.

Thor eventually recovered from his mauling and rose from the bed with a soft groan.

“Alright, alright, just let me find you a cloak and then we—” He laughed when Loki threw a towel around his shoulders and waved his tail. “No, I don’t think that will do. You need a proper cloak, something that will keep the sun off of you.” He touched the side of Loki’s head affectionately. “I don’t want my little snowflake to melt.”

Loki smiled in response and, ironically, the only thing in danger of truly melting was Thor’s heart.

Chapter Text

By the time Loki was safely cloaked and Thor ready with the two satchels of supplies, the morning had grown late and the sun was much higher, spilling its golden light onto the city. It was a little too bright and warm for Loki’s comfort; the sunlight had a sobering effect on his honey hangover, though that could be seen as a good thing since they were to be meeting the Allmother shortly.

Loki followed Thor out of the palace, squinting his sensitive eyes against the shocking glare of the outdoors. He walked in the shadows as much as he could, but the ground was warm beneath his bare feet and his cloak was just another layer of cloth that he wasn’t accustomed to wearing. It wasn’t long before a film of sweat was gleaming on his neck and forehead.

“Is it always this hot in Asgard?” he asked weakly, walking alongside Thor.

“Not really. As a whole, this realm is quite mild. It feels hotter in the city because there are fewer trees here.” He gazed at Loki sympathetically. “I will try to keep this meeting brief. The forest is much cooler and I’d like to get you there as soon as possible.”

“I appreciate that,” sighed Loki, wiping his wrist across his forehead.

It was a proven fact that all trolls disliked sunlight, and with the exception of the fire trolls of Muspelheim, they disliked the heat even more. Wood trolls preferred damp, chilly environments and were fearful of fire, but could tolerate a little warmth every now and then, especially for the sake of growing mushrooms, their favorite food.

Of all the species of jötnar, frost trolls were the ones most affected by the heat, and while sunlight wouldn’t exactly turn them to stone, it would singe and blister their skins after many hours of direct exposure and give them a gray, ashy appearance. By the time this happened it was usually too late to save them, and like all trolls who died in this manner, their bodies became stiff and rigid, joints locked and muscles frozen, never to move again. It is assumed that this was where the myth of trolls turning to stone originated, given the similarities between their corpses and actual rock. Death by sunlight was considered by all trolls to be the worst way to die, and only the most reprehensible, unforgivable crimes carried this method of execution as their punishment.

The west gardens were still partly shaded, thankfully, and that is where Thor and Loki found Frigga waiting for them. She was not alone; two men were with her, identical in height and build and handsomeness. Both were tall and fair of face, with heads of dark, wavy hair, though one wore his beard longer than the other and his eyes were cloudy white instead of hazel, like his twin’s. He was holding a thin wooden staff and talking amongst his company when he suddenly paused and inclined his head.

“Hello, Thor!” he called from across the wide courtyard, which made Frigga and the other man turn in surprise.

Thor smiled broadly and called back, “Hello, Hodur! Baldur, Mother. How fare you this morning?”

“We fare fair enough,” answered Hodur playfully, “but we are more interested in the little guest you brought back from Midgard yesterday. Do you carry him, or is he as soft-footed as a mouse?”

Loki gravitated to Thor’s side and held on to his cape nervously.

“He walks on his own, brother,” Thor replied. “You will meet him in a moment.” Under his breath he said, “Do not fear, Loki. Baldur and Hodur are good men.”

As they began to cross the courtyard, Loki whispered, “That man with the stick. Hodur. Can he not see me?”

“Hodur has been blind since birth,” said Thor. “But he sees more with his ears and his nose than we ever could.”

“Blind?” Loki was stunned. “He would not have lasted a day if he’d been born on Jötunheim. Defective newborns are all cast out. My father wants only the strongest jötnar to be in his kingdom.”

Thor was profoundly horrified, and his expression reflected it. However, he didn’t get a chance to respond to this awful news before they reached the others. He put on a strained smile and struck the thought from his mind, if only to keep his mother from worrying.

Frigga greeted Loki with the same warmth and affection as she had the first time they’d met, smiling down at him as if he were her own child. Hodur also looked pleased, his face kind and gentle and quick to smile. Loki instantly liked him. He wasn’t sure about Baldur, though; the man stared at him with a thoughtful frown and stroked his beard, his arms crossed over his chest. Both he and Hodur looked to be the same height as Thor, but Thor was much bigger and more heavily muscled—a warrior versus a nobleman, as they clearly were.

“We were all just discussing the little bit of bad weather we had last night,” said Hodur casually. “But I trust everything is alright this morning?”

“Not all is right,” said Thor, “but it’s getting better.”

“I wish I had been there,” Baldur muttered. “Perhaps I could have persuaded him to be a little more lenient.”

“I thank you for the thought, brother,” said Thor, clapping his hand on Baldur’s arm, “but I don’t think there was anything you could have done. You know how Father feels about trolls.”

“Aye, and outsiders in general. That is one of the first policies I plan to reform when I am king. Insularity is not very diplomatic.” He turned to Loki and placed his hand to his chest in apology. “Excuse me; I do not mean to speak as if you were absent. I am Baldur.”

“And I am Hodur.”

“On behalf of this family, I would like to apologize for the king’s ungracious manner towards you last night.”

“He is old and set in his ways,” said Hodur bluntly.

“Yes, and his ways are not a reflection of ours.” Baldur reached down and clasped Loki’s forearm. “We welcome you to Asgard, Loki of Jötunheim. We hope you will be happy for as long as you stay with us.”

Flattered beyond words, Loki nodded shyly and returned the curious gesture. Though his arm was much smaller than Baldur’s and they weren’t quite balanced, he seemed to answer the greeting correctly. Baldur grinned and Loki saw in his face the same honesty and friendliness he had seen in Thor’s, and was immediately reassured.

“Th-thank you, your highness,” he said once he’d found his tongue again. “Highnesses, I mean.”

“Well met, Loki,” Baldur replied. “Or do you prefer Prince Loki?”

“Er, just Loki, thank you.”

Baldur’s grin widened and he released Loki’s arm. “It’s been my experience that those most worthy of their titles seldom choose to use them. It is enchanting to meet one of those worthy individuals in person.”

Loki blushed to the tips of his horns and performed a clumsy but endearing bow, his tail curled into a shy loop. “That’s very kind of you, your highness.”

“Please, call me Baldur. We are all equals here.”

Thor and Frigga shared a wink with one another, pleased with how well the introductions were going.

“I couldn’t help noticing what a lovely voice you have, Loki,” said Hodur, leaning forward. “May I ask if you sing?”

“Me? Oh, no, I,” Loki stammered, “I’m afraid not. My voice is too… erm, and singing isn’t really… well, it’s very different where I come from.”

“I’m certain it is, and that’s what interests me,” said Hodur. “For years I’ve been building a collection of songs of all the peoples of the Nine—the dwarves of Nidavellir, the elves of Alfheim, the humans of Midgard. I've found there is something beautiful to be heard in the music of each of these realms, and I would very much like to hear the songs of Jötunheim someday, if you would be willing to share them.”

For a moment Loki was too surprised to say anything. Finally he managed to squeak, “Of course. It would be an honor.”

“Have care, Loki,” Thor warned. “Hodur here is the greatest composer in three realms. He will have you recruited into Asgard’s choir and royal orchestra before you know it.”

“I know talent when I hear it, little brother,” said Hodur, tapping his ear smugly. “How else do you think I can discern your thunder from natural thunder, hm? By smell?”

Baldur chuckled.

At that moment, Frigga happened to glance down at Loki and notice the dark blue flush on his normally cerulean-colored skin. She put a concerned hand on his shoulder.

“Oh dear. You’re overheating, aren’t you? And here we are, making idle talk.”

“I’m fine, your majesty,” said Loki, though his skin was prickling beneath his tunic and a drop of sweat ran down the side of his face. “Thor tells me it will be cooler in the forest. I ought to be alright once we get there.”

“Of course, we won’t delay you two any longer. Here, the main reason I wanted to see you before you left was to give you this.”

Loki watched as Frigga reached into an embroidered pouch on her girdle and withdrew a simple-looking necklace: a small, iridescent white orb strung onto a thin leather cord. Perhaps it was the light getting to Loki’s eyes, but he thought the orb radiated a faint glow. It almost looked like a tiny moon.

“This is what we call a månesten, or moon stone,” said Frigga, holding it up, “one of the many precious gems forged by our friend Ægir, the steward of the sea.”

“A moon stone,” Thor murmured, his voice full of amazement. “I can’t believe I didn’t think of such a charm myself. This should be a great help to him.”

Loki’s eyes darted back and forth between them. “What’s a moon stone? How can it help me?”

“Moon stones are a type of pearl that possess a special kind of magic,” said Frigga, reaching beneath Loki’s hood and slipping the necklace around his head. “They are natural talismans used to restore balance to places that need it. By wearing this stone, Loki, you will be protected from the full force of our sun, shielded from its light and its heat.”

Loki certainly believed it. The moment the necklace settled around his collar, the blinding brightness of the outdoors seemed to diminish and the worst of the heat faded. It was still very warm, but his skin no longer felt as if it were being pricked by a blanket of needles. He looked up at the Allmother with wonder.

“I can feel it working already!”

Frigga patted his cheek. “The power of the pearls works miracles, but they do not last forever, I’m afraid. All of them must eventually return to the sea, but this one shall help you acclimate to Asgard’s temperatures in the meantime. And if you ever need a new one, all you have to do is come to me.”

Loki touched the pearl at his throat. Even after lying against his hot skin, it was as cool as if it were still sitting at the bottom of the ocean.

“Thank you,” he murmured, looking first at Frigga and then at Thor, Baldur, Hodur. “All of you. You’re all so kind…”

“Ah, bless him,” murmured Hodur, for he could hear the tears coming several seconds before they filled Loki’s ruby-colored eyes and trickled down his cheeks. Thor stepped close and put his hand on his back to soothe him.

“You are all doing so much for me, an enemy of your realm and your people.” Loki sniffed, using the edge of his cloak to dry his eyes. “I don’t know how I will ever repay you.”

“You don’t have to,” said Baldur gently, “and you are not our enemy, Loki. We are simply trying to do what is right and good. I only wish we could do more.”

“If you did, I don’t think my eyes would ever dry out.” Loki raised his tear-stained face and smiled at the four Æsir standing around him, and promptly melted their hearts.

“We should go now, Loki,” said Thor softly, giving him a pat, “before the day grows any later. I hope to find you a place to live before nightfall.”

“Yes, that’s probably wise,” Loki agreed, wiping his wet nose. “How long of a walk is it to the forest?”

“Oh, hours,” said Thor, adjusting the packs on his back. “But we’re not walking. We’re flying.”

Loki’s eyes widened and he seemed to shrink inside his cloak. “F-flying? But I can’t fly! I’m a troll, it goes against my nature!”

Thor cocked an eyebrow. “And what nature is that?”

“The one which says the only thing trolls fear more than lightning is the sky from which it falls!”

Thor looked at Frigga questioningly and she nodded her confirmation. “He’s right. According to The Guide, trolls aren’t very fond of heights or being beneath the open sky.”

“But you said you lived in your father’s mountain,” said Thor, turning back to Loki. “Mountains are both high and surrounded by open sky.”

“Yes, but we live inside them, don’t you see?” said Loki desperately. “We aren’t like the goats that gallop all over the outer sides. Trolls are born underground, we live underground—long, sane, non-airborne lives underground—and we don’t like to venture to the world above without good reason. A flying troll, whoever heard of such a thing?”

At that precise moment, the bell of a nearby tower struck out its first loud peal, and Loki, despite his earlier insistence, flew quite literally into Thor’s arms.

“What is that!” he yelped, clinging to Thor’s chest, his eyes huge and terrified. “What was that awful sound! Was it a monst—”


Frigga put her hands to her face. “Oh dear, I’ve read about this,” she fretted. “Thor, take Loki away from here at once! Trolls cannot stand the sound of bells—it will drive them completely mad!”

“What a curious phenomenon,” Hodur mused, tapping his lips thoughtfully. “I must research this. Perhaps I can find a cure or—”

Another toll sounded and Loki howled as if he were being stabbed with a red hot iron. He clapped his hands to his pointed ears and buried his face against Thor’s shoulder. Thor put one arm around him and hugged him close.

“I will bring him back in a month’s time,” he declared over Loki’s panicked shrieking. “You may all say your farewells then!”

He slipped Mjölnir from his belt and began to spin it by its strap. The great hammer whooped and hummed as it gained momentum.


Just as another of Loki’s screams pierced the air, Thor leaped up and shot away into the sky, taking the scream with him. It gradually faded until only the sound of the ringing bell tower remained.

Baldur turned to his mother. “So, when are we adopting him?”

Frigga rolled her eyes and laughed. “You have three younger brothers already.”

“Yes, but we didn’t get to choose them,” Hodur complained. “We want Loki.”

“Then you must first work on changing your father’s mind,” said Frigga. “He is the king of this realm and the head of this family, and if we wish to make Loki a part of either, we must persuade him to see Loki as something other than his enemy.”

“You could put a spell on him, you know,” Hodur suggested with a wily smirk. “Your seidh is as powerful as his.”

“Yes, I could do that,” she admitted, “or I could simply let Loki enchant him by virtue of his innocence and kindness. I can change Odin’s mind, darlings, but I cannot change his heart. Loki can, however, and I believe in time he will.”

“Yes, but who knows how long that might take,” Baldur muttered. “Father has hated trolls longer than we have been alive. I don’t see him embracing a frost troll as his son anytime soon.”

“Or anytime at all,” added Hodur dourly.

Frigga stepped between her two eldest sons and put her arms around their strong shoulders. “There is no need to be depressed, you two. In a few weeks we shall all be reunited again, and in the meantime we can try to collect as much information from your father as we can. He may consider trolls his enemies, but he knows more about them than any non-jötunn in the Nine, and I say we use his knowledge to our advantage. We may not be allowed to bring Loki inside the palace, but we shall make him feel at home nevertheless. What do you say to this scheme? Are we in agreement?”

Baldur and Hodur grinned identical grins. “Aye!” they chimed.

Chapter Text

Loki stopped screaming when the cold air of the lower atmosphere blew back the hood of his cloak and cooled the sweat on his face. He opened his eyes and sucked in a startled gasp, locking his arms around Thor’s neck and his legs around Thor’s waist. Two hundred feet below them, the city of Asgard was a swiftly-moving blur of gray stone and brown roofs.

Thor grimaced and made a strained sound in his throat. “You—nghk—don’t have to hold on so tight. I have my arm around you. You’re not going anywhere.”

He gave Loki a reaffirming squeeze, and after realizing he was indeed secure, Loki loosened his stranglehold on Thor’s neck. His heart was still pounding with fear and he kept his face pressed to Thor’s shoulder, but at least his ears were no longer ringing in pain. He wondered what kind of monster had made that terrible sound back there. He’d never heard it before, nor did he care to hear it again; his head had felt as if it were being split open by an axe.

But now there was only the calm sound of the wind rushing past his ears and the gentle flap of his and Thor’s clothing. It was cool up here, peaceful and serene. The air passed through his damp, sweaty tunic and dried it out, and eventually the queasy feeling in his stomach began to fade.

Slowly he removed his arms from around Thor’s neck and forced himself to look downward. He was amazed, his eyes wide and the corners of his mouth curling up slightly.

“Still afraid of flying?” asked Thor.

“Not quite as much as before,” Loki replied with a nervous grin. “But I think I’ll always be afraid of falling.”

Thor smiled tenderly. “I will not let you fall, Loki.”

Powered by Mjölnir’s momentum, they flew northward over the city, the wind rustling their cloaks and tousling their hair. Soon the rooftops thinned and the land between the houses widened, pastures and orchards and grassy footpaths replacing the stone roads and huge bridges. It was as if Asgard itself was relaxing, changing into something more rustic and natural.

The houses became fewer the farther they went, until soon all signs of habitation disappeared and the landscape became lush and thick with forest. The topography changed subtly, becoming steeper and full of hills, deep gorges, and thundering falls. There were sprawling valleys and rocky ridges, sparkling blue lakes and wide rivers. Far ahead in the distance, emerging from the edge of the forest, rose a jagged gray range of snow-capped mountains.

Loki leaned out to marvel at it all, no longer concerned about falling. Thor watched him from the side with a fond look on his face.

“If you see something you like, let me know and I’ll take us down,” he said.

“I like all of it,” Loki answered, and he put his arms around Thor’s shoulders again, but not because he was frightened.

After a few minutes of leisurely flying, Loki pointed to a small clearing at the foothills of the mountains and asked if Thor could take them there. They descended and touched down lightly onto the grass. Thor stooped to release Loki from his grasp, and as the little troll finally stood on his own bare feet again, Thor was suddenly aware of how empty he felt without Loki’s weight and warmth pressed against his side.

“Is this where you would like to live?” he asked, watching as Loki explored the clearing, his tail poking out from beneath the hem of his cloak in a curious “S” shape.

“No, not really,” Loki answered, shading his eyes and looking around. “There’s too much sky and not enough cover. But it looked very pretty from above.” He paused, staring into the trees expectantly. “Is it safe to go in there?”

“Of course. Here, I’ll come with you.”

Loki grinned brightly and waited while Thor strode over to join him, then they entered the forest together.

The great northern wood of Asgard was a beautiful place, carpeted with grass and moss and clover, wildflowers blooming in patches of sunlight, birds singing and calling to one another from above, does striding cautiously between the trees with their fawns. There were springs and shallow brooks in abundance, ponds and pools full of fish and leaping toads, waterfalls tumbling down staircases of slippery stone.

“You were right,” said Loki reverently, his eyes gleaming as he took in all the natural beauty around him. “This is indeed a lovely realm, like a picture from a book of fairy tales.”

“Trolls like to read books?” said Thor.

Loki winced. “Not exactly. Aside from a few symbols and runes, we jötnar have no written language. The only books we have are the spoils collected from raids on other realms.”

“Ah.” Thor nodded. Trolls were known to be indiscriminate hoarders, placing the same value on common objects like buttons and marbles and glass bottles as they did on gold and jewels. They knew the value of money, but they seemed to treasure far humbler things. The usefulness of these trinkets didn’t seem to matter. Books were certainly useless to a people who couldn’t read or understand the language written in them, but if the trolls liked them, nothing was going to stop them from amassing a library of literature, even if just for show.

“I am not the best instructor,” said Thor, “but if you like, I could teach you to read.”

“Really?” said Loki, blinking with surprise. “You would do that? Could you do that? Is it even possible?”

“I certainly think so. What could it hurt to try?” Thor smiled. “It would mean I get to spend more time with you, after all.”

“Oh,” Loki murmured, blushing a little. He folded his hands together shyly. “Yes, that would be very… I, I would like that.”

Although the sight of Loki flushed and flustered was adorable beyond words, especially when his tail curled up tight like the furl of a fern, Thor liked him a little better when he was relaxed and comfortable.

“Are there any trolls who can read and write?” he asked, going back to their original subject.

“Hm, some,” said Loki, “but not many. Most don’t care to learn. They think it goes against tradition. We jötnar like to speak our stories. Every clan has its own loremaster, usually one of the elders. There’s nothing we like better than to gather together at night’s end and listen to tales and songs and riddles of the ancient days.”

“My own people like to do the same,” said Thor cheerfully. “Only we do it at the end of the day, usually around a fire.”

“Do you eat and drink while you listen to your loremaster?”

“Almost always. There is hardly an event on Asgard that doesn’t involve food of some kind. We Æsir like to eat.”

“So do the jötnar. Only I think we prefer drinking a little bit more.”

Thor laughed. “Your people are beginning to sound a lot like my people. Perhaps they are not so different after all.”

“Perhaps not,” Loki agreed, gazing up at Thor with his large, hopeful eyes.

For a long while they walked through the forest together, a troll and a thundergod, climbing over rocks and wading across streams, talking about their realms, their people, their different customs and foods and traditions, all while keeping their eyes open for a place that might make a good abode for Loki.

The day grew warmer and, at Thor’s suggestion, Loki took off his cloak and gave it to him for safekeeping. There was little need for extra cover beneath the pleasant shade of the trees. Loki could move much more easily now, dashing ahead of Thor and peeking into hollow logs, crouching down to smell flowers, chasing butterflies, and springing up rocky façades with the grace and stamina of a young goat.

Thor followed him as best as he was able, though he was not as agile as Loki and his boots were made for protection and not long distance travel. By mid-afternoon he was beginning to feel hot and weighed down when suddenly the trees thinned and they found themselves standing before a lovely little waterfall with a wide, deep pool at the bottom. The pool fed into a shallow stream that ran a winding path into the forest. It was as picturesque as could be.

Loki seemed to think so, too. He stood on the grass and stared up at the water crashing down over the rocky hill with a dreamy look his face. “It’s such a dangerous thing, yet it sounds so beautiful,” he murmured. “It’s almost as if the water is singing.”

Thor grunted as he unburdened himself of the satchels. He stood straight, his face red and glistening with sweat.

“It could be a nøkken,” he said as he unbuckled his protective leather vest and tossed it onto the ground. “According to legend, they like to live near waterfalls and play their enchanted music.”

Loki’s eyes widened and he took a few steps backward.

“But it is only a legend,” Thor added. “I’ve never seen or heard a nøkken in real life. But if there is one in that water, I doubt it will be a match for me.”

Loki stiffened with fear. “You… you’re not actually going to swim in there, are you?” He jabbed his finger toward the dark green pool.

“I’m certainly not going to drink it,” said Thor with a grin, then peeled off his sweaty undershirt.

Loki pressed his lips together and tried not to stare at Thor’s broad chest and toned, muscular abdomen. Or his bulging biceps. Or his powerful, veiny forearms. Or that curious trail of hair that began at his navel and disappeared into his trousers. What was at the end of it, he wondered?

“B-but what about eels and snakes?” Loki sputtered, coming back to reality. “What if there’s a great fish at the bottom waiting to swallow you? What if there’s a… a drain?”

The expression on Loki’s face said he would rather face a six-headed, flame-belching dragon than be confronted by another one of those awful drain creatures.

Thor took off his belt and chuckled. “There are no drains in the forest, Loki, and if anything slimy or scaly tries to eat me, I’ll give it a mouthful of lightning.”

He began to pull off his boots, hopping from one foot to the other. “Why don’t you join me?” he asked, raising his head. “That is mountain water in those falls. It’s sure to be nice and cold.”

Loki’s tail went as straight as a pin. “Wha—j-join you? No, absolutely not, I don’t care how cold it is, I’ve never set foot into wild water before and I don’t intend…”

He lost the rest of his sentence when Thor turned aside and pulled down his trousers. Loki’s tail dropped limply onto the ground, his lips parting in awe.

Even the biggest, tallest, most conceited champions on Jötunheim would have had to admit that Thor Odinson was indeed admirable.

Loki stood gaping on the grassy shore while Thor waded into the pool, hissing as the water sloshed first around his knees, then his thighs, then his ample, beautiful buttocks. His taillessness didn’t even matter—he had the most gorgeous hindquarters Loki had ever seen. The moonstone around Loki’s neck glowed as its workload suddenly doubled.

“Alright, I’ll join you!” he blurted, fumbling with his belt. He whipped it off and pulled his tunic over his head, then bolted straight into the water, splashing and slapping and stumbling. He flung himself at Thor, who laughed and grasped his hands, threading their fingers together and pulling Loki toward him.

“Look at you!” he exclaimed happily. “Jumping into the water in spite of all the nøkker and snakes! Where did this sudden fearlessness come from?”

“I got hot,” said Loki seriously.

Thor grinned and walked backward across the bottom of the pool, taking them deeper. The water rose to Loki’s chest, then his neck, then his ears. Then his feet touched nothing and he began to struggle.

“It’s alright, don’t panic,” said Thor gently, squeezing Loki’s hands. The waves lapped against Thor’s throat and his long hair drifted in the water like strands of golden silk. “Relax. Let your body float. I’ve got you. Take a deep breath.”

Loki inhaled slowly and tried to calm himself. Thor was with him. Thor wouldn’t let anything happen to him. He hadn’t let Loki fall when they flew, and he wouldn’t let Loki drown now.

“That’s it,” Thor murmured encouragingly. “Just enjoy it. You are in no danger.”

He pulled Loki around in slow, easy circles, allowing him to get used to the feeling of being practically weightless. Then he instructed him to move his legs up and down, and soon Loki was able to power himself, the end of his tail poking up out of the water like a thin blue stick. He finally managed to smile after a few minutes of practicing.

“Am I swimming?” he asked hopefully.

“Not yet,” said Thor, “but I will teach you that, too.”

Loki let out a huff of laughter. “First flying, then reading, and now swimming. I’m going to be the most un-jötunn jötunn who ever lived! I won’t be scared of lightning or the open sky anymore, and the Thunder-bringer will be my friend.”

“He already is your friend, Loki,” said Thor. He lifted Loki’s wet hand to his lips and kissed it, his lips warm and his beard bristly.

Loki smiled and gazed into Thor’s eyes as if he were more beautiful and perfect than the moon over Jötunheim.

After a long, lingering grin, Thor turned and pulled Loki’s arms around his neck. “Want to go under the waterfall and check for nøkker? Perhaps if we catch one, he’ll teach us how to play his music.”

Loki wrapped his legs around Thor’s waist and clung to his broad, powerful back. “Nøkker are musicians?”

“That’s what the legends say. Perhaps that was their music you heard when we first arrived.”

“Oh.” Loki blinked and nibbled his bottom lip thoughtfully. “Well, if they make such beautiful music, how bad can they be?” He put on a brave face and pointed his small blue hand toward the waterfall. “Forward, Thunder-fish! To the nøkken’s lair!”

With a huge laugh, Thor did as his rider commanded.

They played in the pool for over an hour, snickering and splashing, exploring the waterfall (no nøkker, unfortunately) and talking at great length of water spirits and fish tales. Thor was instructing Loki how to float on his back—the first and most important part of swimming, he said—when Loki frowned and pointed to something at the left of the falls.

“Is that a hole?”

Thor squinted his eyes and tried to find it, but his eyesight, while sharp and clear, was not as keen as Loki’s. Loki insisted that there was some kind of opening in the rock up there and was desperate to take a look.

“It could be a tunnel to somewhere,” he said, his tail twitching excitedly. “Or even a cavern. Come on, Thor, let’s go and see what it is!”

Thor guided Loki back to shore and together they got partially dressed, then went to investigate. The rocky slope leading up was difficult to climb, but it was far enough from the waterfall that at least the stones were not slippery and damp.

Near the top of the falls, they came to a wide ledge and found the little triangular hole that Loki had spotted. Thor was too broad to enter, but Loki crawled in like a delighted mouse and disappeared from sight. The last thing Thor saw was the pointed end of his tail as it was swallowed by the darkness. He crouched down and peered inside the hole, squinting his eyes. He could see nothing; it was absolutely pitch-black. He could hear Loki shuffling and scraping and moving around inside. He sounded very far away.

“Loki,” he whispered. “Is everything alright? Can you see anything?”

There was no response. Worry began to simmer in Thor’s stomach.

“Loki? Loki!”

Suddenly Lok’s head popped out of the hole. Thor shouted and recoiled, thumping flat on his bottom.

“It’s perfect!” Loki cried, his pupils still dilated from being in the dark. “It’s deep and there are no bats or snakes, and the ground is dry and flat. I think there are more chambers in the back, but even if there aren’t, it’s a lovely cave, just the right size for one troll.”

Thor recovered from his fright and laughed to see Loki so happy. “So I take it you’ve found a home, then?”

“Oh, yes! Yes, this is exactly where I want to be. But”—Loki reached out and grasped Thor’s hand, his smile fading—“I want you to be able to fit inside. I don’t want you to have to sleep out here in the open when you come to visit me. I want us to—” He stopped himself and blushed indigo.

Thor curled his fingers around Loki’s small hand. “You want us to be able to sleep together, is that it?”

“Well, y-yes.” Loki lowered his gaze shyly. “That is how all jötnar sleep. Families share nests until the children take mates of their own. It’s how we bond and… that’s how it’s always been.” He blinked rapidly and sniffed. “But Blindi and Bý were taken away and given their own nest in a separate cavern far from mine. Father thought they were coddling me, and he wanted me to be strong, so he made me sleep alone.”

Thor’s heart was suddenly aching again. His thumb began to unconsciously rub the back of Loki’s hand. “How long ago was this?”

“Long. A long time ago, when I was still a jötling.” Loki raised his head and gave Thor a sad smile. “That’s what made last night so wonderful, Thor, for so many reasons. To sleep that close to someone again, it was… I can’t…”

Loki couldn’t finish. He swallowed roughly as the tears began to roll down his smooth blue cheeks.

For a moment Thor was too overwhelmed to react. Then he reached out and grasped Loki’s other hand and carefully pulled him from the hole and into his lap. He put his bare arms around him and hugged him close, closing his eyes and relishing the feeling of Loki against him once more.

Loki squeaked and returned the embrace with his whole body—even his tail, which wrapped around Thor’s waist like a living vine. He nuzzled his face against Thor’s neck, rubbing his horns against the side of his head and getting them tangled in his long, damp hair.

“I wish I had a family like yours, Thor,” he whispered. “Your brothers were not taken away from you for being kind and caring. You have a mother who loves you, and your father would not have cast you out if you’d been born small or blind.”

“Oh, Loki,” sighed Thor. He could feel the tears building in his own eyes. He reached up and stroked Loki’s damp black hair, petted the small curve of his horns.

“Perhaps someday you will be reunited with your brothers,” he said, his voice low and deep and rumbling—like thunder, only it didn’t cause Loki to tremble with fear. “But until that day, I want you to think of me as your family.”

Loki laughed through his tears and pulled back to look Thor in the eyes. “You volunteer to be my hairy, horn-less troll-brother, who teaches other trolls to fly and to swim and do other un-jötunn things?”

Thor nodded.

Loki shook his head in disbelief. “I would be delighted.”

Thor smiled, leaned forward, and placed a tender kiss onto Loki’s forehead. “So would I.”

Chapter Text

Since Loki wanted Thor to stay in the cave with him, the first thing that needed to be done was to make a proper doorway. Thor called Mjölnir to his hand and, with a few careful, well-aimed strikes, was able widen the mouth of the cave to a more accommodating size. Loki inspected the progress as Thor chipped away smaller pieces of rock with his hammer, fashioning a round entrance that was not very tall; the only people who would not have to stoop to enter would be elves or small children.

Loki asked him why he did this, and Thor replied, “It is a safeguard. If an attacker were trying to force his way in, he would have to lower his head to enter. Then you could easily cut it from his shoulders.”

Loki’s face paled to ashy blue.

“It—it is only a precaution,” said Thor gently, raising his hand. “I am a warrior. I cannot help but think of these things. I don’t believe you are in danger of being besieged out here, but it’s always wise to have a good defense.”

He turned to look out across the waterfall and over the clearing below, resting his hammer upon his shoulder and his boot upon the ledge. He narrowed his eyes and gazed long at the horizon, a sea of treetops and distant mountains.

“I want to make sure you are well protected, Loki,” he said. “I want to defend you and keep you safe from danger, and I will fight anything in this realm that threatens your peace. This I swear.”

Loki’s tail coiled around his ankle and he clasped his fidgeting hands together. The sight of Thor standing there, bare-chested and radiating an aura of strength and power, filled Loki with an overwhelming sense of assurance. He tried to remember the last time he felt so loved and protected.

It had been so very long ago.

Helblindi and Býleist had done all they could to shelter and sustain Loki before he had been wrenched from their arms. When Loki had been forced to eat the sludgy, bitter gruel that the apothecaries insisted would help him grow, Blindi and Bý carefully reserved portions of their own meals and stuffed their pockets, then snuck the scraps to Loki. It was perhaps the only thing that had prevented their little brother from wasting away when he was young.

And when Loki fell sick, as he often did when he was a jötling, Fárbauti would send the healers away, claiming that his weakling son would either die according to fate or survive and come out stronger for it. He had no idea that his other two sons were secretly watching over Loki in turns, giving him medicine and herbs and healing soups, snuggling up beside him to help him sleep, encouraging him, cheering him on, insisting that things will one day be better.

That day had unfortunately never come. Fárbauti had lost his patience and permanently separated Loki from his brothers, and later became harsh and abusive, his disgust at his insufficient progeny increasing to the point of cruelty. Loki’s last days on Jötunheim were miserable ones, full of despair and loneliness.

It had been decades since someone had last protected him and loved him. So long since he had felt a gentle touch or heard a kind word.

And then Thor Odinson had come into his life, the greatest troll-foe in all the Nine, and he had shown Loki more mercy and charity in just a few hours than Fárbauti had in all the years of Loki’s life. Perhaps that might explain the astonishing speed at which this seed of love was growing in Loki’s heart.

“This is good, high ground,” said Thor after a long and careful appraisal of their surroundings. “A secure position. Much can be seen from this point. I will feel confident leaving you here.” He turned and offered up a melancholy smile. “Not that I wish to leave you, Loki.”

Loki smiled back, grateful that he was under the care of such a thoughtful and powerful man… then his stomach suddenly let out a cantankerous growl. He cringed with embarrassment, but Thor laughed it off.

“I am hungry, too. It’s been a long time since breakfast. Come, let’s go down and get something to eat.” He held out his hand and Loki accepted it, though he wasn’t the one who needed help when it came to climbing down the steep, rocky slope.

“I suppose the next thing I need to do is carve a staircase,” Thor muttered after slipping for the third time and landing hard on his tailbone. He grimaced and rubbed his smarting bottom. “Even if I am the only one who uses it.”

“You would do well to take your boots off,” Loki suggested, lifting one small, agile blue foot and wiggling his toes. “Your feet can grip the rocks better.”

“But my feet are not as clever as yours, Master Troll,” said Thor with a grin, “nor do I have a tail to balance me.”

Loki smirked and gave his tail a proud little shake before scrambling the rest of the way down and landing lightly on his feet. He moved much easier since he had traded Thor’s childhood tunic for a simple sash tied around his waist, and he was certainly more comfortable. His tail stuck out between the folds, able to move freely and naturally. Though he was practically as naked as Thor had found him on Midgard, this light dress seemed to suit him. His thinness still made Thor’s heart ache—his lean, undernourished limbs and skinny chest, the bones that showed beneath his skin, his prominent ribs and his hips—but he would gain weight eventually, Thor knew. Soon he would be padded with a healthy layer of flesh again, and he’d be a plump, happy little jötunn. How nice it will be to embrace him and no longer feel the sharp angles and lightweightedness from his days of deprivation.

Thor abruptly slid down the last three feet of the slope and ripped the leg of his trousers on a sharp rock. Loki quirked his eyebrow at him.

“You could have flown down with your hammer and landed,” he said pointedly. “Why didn’t you? Now you’ve gone and torn your trow-sores.”

“Yes, I suppose I could have,” Thor admitted with a breathy laugh, “but it is more fun to crawl around with you.”

The corners of Loki’s mouth curled up sweetly and he extended his hand. Thor grasped it but didn’t really use it to pull himself up. He weighed thrice as much as Loki; he could pull his arm out of the socket or send him tumbling face-first into his chest, and that would not be good at all. Those horns might be small, but they were sure to hurt with enough force.

Hand-in-hand, they walked into the clearing. Loki picked out a shady place on the grass beneath the trees, and Thor brought over the satchel he had filled with food. They sat together and ate a late lunch of ham and apples, bread and cheese, and filled their cups with the clear, cold water from the falls. Loki didn’t care much for the bread—Thor recalled what Odin had said regarding trolls and their intolerance of wheat—but he happily partook of everything else. He got his first taste of blackberry jam, and his tail stuck out straight and shivered with delight.

“It’s so good,” he exclaimed, which made Thor chuckle. “It’s sweet like honey but yet it’s… oh, what’s the word? Like ‘sour’, but not unpleasant. Tárt is the word we use, but—”

“Tart?” Thor repeated. “We use that word as well. It is a sharp taste, like the kind berries have.”

“Yes, exactly!” cried Loki. He trembled with excitement. “Tart! This blakk-berry jamb is tart and sweet and I love it. Is it common in Asgard, like honey?”

“There are many kinds of jams and jellies,” said Thor. “I will be happy to introduce them all to you.”

“Really?” Loki said, his elfin ears twitching. “How many? Dozens? Scores?”

“Probably hundreds. Strawberry, grape, plum, currant, there are more than I could name.”

Loki’s red eyes sparkled. “I want to try every single one!”

“Then I will make sure you get every opportunity,” said Thor with a wink.

Loki grinned toothily and licked the last traces of jam from his hand, his little blue tongue darting out from between his lips to clean his fingers. He looked rather feline. Thor wondered if troll tongues were rough like a cat’s or smooth and slick, if they ever used them for anything other than eating.

That opened the door to some rather interesting notions Thor had not yet considered.

While Loki cheerfully crunched into an apple, Thor wondered how trolls made love, if it was quick and purposeful, like how animals mated, or if they took their time and tried to please each other. He wondered if Loki had ever known the touch of another jötunn. How was coitus performed among their single-sex species? Each troll needed to have both parts in order to reproduce, which meant that, aside from what Thor had already seen and recognized as a masculine organ, there had to be another thing between Loki’s legs, a special place, probably not unlike what women had. A soft, subtle cradle of power and mystery, where seed went in and new life came out.

Thor felt a sudden pang of shame. Imagining the shape and layout of Loki’s intimate biology was none of his business; his responsibility was to help him get well and healthy again, to be caring and nurturing, to show him familial love—a love he had been denied and desperately needed right now.

Loki glanced up and met Thor’s gaze, giving him a shy smile as he munched his apple. Thor smiled back and his heart filled with more affection than he had ever felt toward another person before. He had barely known Loki for a full day, and already he was as dear to him as his own family.

By the time they finished eating and Thor packed the leftovers away in the satchel, Loki’s eyelids were drooping and he began to look very sleepy. He kept yawning and sighing, and he seemed to grow more lethargic with each passing moment.

“Are you alright, Loki?” asked Thor, touching his shoulder.

“Yes, I’m just a little tired.” Loki rubbed his eyes and squinted at the sunny clearing beyond the shade. “I’m not used to being awake at this time of day. We trolls are night-folk.”

Thor patted him. “Rest here, then. I will continue to clear out the cave.”

“But it isn’t fair for you to do all the work by yourself.”

“Don’t worry. It pleases me to help you, so let me help you.” Thor smiled and rubbed Loki’s shoulder. “Rest now. I can handle this.”

“Well… alright, if you insist. Thank you, Thor.” Loki sighed again, his body sagging. “I only need a short nap. Just a few minutes…”

“It is no trouble, Loki. Sleep for as long as you need. Here, allow me.”

Loki waited while Thor fetched his cape and spread it onto a soft, shady patch of grass. It had barely settled before Loki was crawling onto it, turning in circles a few times before finally dropping down on his side. He curled up into a comfortable bundle with the end of his tail tucked under his chin.

“Hmm, it smells like you,” he murmured, burrowing into the thick red fabric and closing his eyes. “Big and strong. Safe… so good…”

In a matter of seconds his breath was coming slowly and evenly. He was fast asleep.

Thor gazed down at him, a small blue troll lying on his huge red cape, and brushed back a strand of hair that had fallen over Loki’s forehead, tucking it behind one of his horns. A sweeter, more innocent image he had never seen.

He rose to his feet and made his way back to the falls, mounted the cliff, and resumed his toil. The cave was indeed perfect, as Loki had said. It was cool and dark and dry, an adequate environment for a nocturnal, warm-natured being. It had a low ceiling and a smooth, level floor, and it only needed a few structural alterations—the removal of a few stalagmites, perhaps some windows knocked out of the front face to allow for fresh air, and a few shelves or niches carved into the walls would be nice…

Thor was so preoccupied with his destructive construction that the hours slipped by without his notice. When he emerged from the cave with the last load of rubble, he was surprised to discover that the sky was filled with the rosy, amber hues of sunset. He wondered if Loki had woken yet.

He walked out onto the cliff and peered down, and went completely still. He slowly lowered himself onto one knee, a smile growing on his face.

Down below, Loki was sprawled on his cape, still sound asleep. He wasn’t alone, though; there was a small circle of wild animals gathered around him—a doe and her two speckled fawns, three or four rabbits, a family of chipmunks, a quartet of squirrels, a gathering of various birds in the branches overhead, and one brave hedgehog that was snuffling at Loki’s small blue toes. They were undoubtedly curious about this new creature in their forest and wanted to investigate it. One of the fawns crept forward and smelled Loki’s horns, his hair, then gave his forehead a cautious lick.

Loki stirred and batted open his eyes, then let out a yelp of terror. The animals exploded, crashing into each other as they scattered in all directions, racing back to the safety of the forest.

Thor stifled a laugh with his hand and continued to watch, interested in what would happen next.

Loki sat up with a disheartened face and looked in the direction the animals had fled. “I’m sorry,” he called softly, “I didn’t mean to frighten you. You can come back. I won’t hurt you.”

He sat still and waited, staring into the trees. The hedgehog was the first to peek out from behind a rock. After a few twitches of its snout, it began trundling in Loki’s direction.

“That’s it,” said Loki, smiling and holding out his hand. “I don’t want to run you out of your own forest. This is your home, too. It’s very nice. I’m looking for a new home myself. Maybe we can share?”

A chipmunk scuttled out from between the roots of a tree, followed by one of the fawns. One by one, the animals emerged from their hiding places and crept toward this strange new creature, their eyes keen and bodies ready to bolt at the slightest sign of threat.

The hedgehog arrived first, scurrying onto Thor’s cape and sniffing Loki’s knee, its little nose wiggling up and down.

Loki was enchanted. “Oh, my. Halló, líttil frindur,” he murmured, smiling. “Ég veist eki hvadh thú art. Ert thú medh naffen? Ég heiti Loki.” [1]

The animals perked their ears up at the strange but gentle sounds this stranger was making and moved a little closer. The rabbits, not to be outdone by the chipmunks, were the next to arrive. They hopped to edge of the cape and began to pad around it, sniffing the fabric.

Loki extended his hand and let one of the rabbits smell him, its pink nostrils fluttering. “Serdhu? Allt er gott. Ég munn eki meidha thig.[2]

He touched the rabbit’s head with his fingertips, petting it delicately. It recoiled at first, but when nothing bad followed, it relaxed and permitted the caresses.

This seemed to embolden the rest of the animals; they came forward and resumed their close-up investigation of Loki’s person, staring and sniffing, licking and poking with their noses. Loki squeaked and tittered as the doe began to wash his face with her tongue, and the hedgehog, perhaps feeling neglected, clambered up Loki’s leg and waddled its way into his lap. Loki gave it a careful brush with his hand, stroking its bristles. The hedgehog grunted and stretched out its skinny little legs, basking in the attention.

Thor looked on with amazement. The woodland creatures of Asgard were known to be bold and curious, but he had never witnessed anything like this before. This was their first ever encounter with a troll, and they had no idea what Loki was or just how fearsome trolls could be.

Unless trolls were not naturally fearsome. Thor realized he had only ever seen jötnar during battles or raids, when they were at their most aggressive and defensive. He had never seen them in peaceful times, when they tended to the needs of their families or listened to their loremaster tell stories or slept in their nests. Perhaps they were really a gentle, trustworthy folk who lived in harmony with nature. Perhaps they were just like Loki.

If that were true, Thor never wanted to go to war against the jötnar ever again. Surely there was a way their people could coexist with one another, he thought. Surely there might one day be peace between Jötunheim and Asgard.

There came the sound of flapping wings and a familiar caw, and Thor turned around. Huginn and Muninn alighted on a nearby rock pile and folded their wings onto their backs.

Thor’s mouth turned into a grim line. He knew why they had come.

“How’s it going, Thunderprince?” said Huginn cheerfully. “I see you’ve lost your shirt again. Trying to impress someone, are we?” He winked and let out a croaky chuckle.

Thor didn’t answer; he gazed sullenly at the cave door and the two new windows he had carved. Normally he enjoyed jesting with his father’s feathered friends, but he was suddenly too depressed to even speak. Huginn noticed and cleared his throat with an awkward, raspy sound.

Muninn hopped over to the edge of the cliff and peered down. “Awww, look, Hugi, the little troll is making friends,” she said, ruffling her feathers. “He’s so cute. Is he a baby? I’ve never seen one that small before.”

“He is grown,” Thor murmured, “he’s just small for his age.”

“Ah, poor little guy,” Huginn clucked, sailing down to stand beside Muninn. “I feel sorry for him. Is that why you spared his life? Because he’s puny?”

“I spared his life because he wasn’t a threat,” said Thor sharply, and gestured down toward the clearing. “Look at him. In ten minutes he has tamed a dozen wild animals. Not even Mother could do that, and you know how she is with all living creatures.”

“Ah, yes,” Huginn agreed. “The legendary love of the Allmother.”

“But it’s not only the animals,” said Thor. “Loki is one of a kind. He is compassionate and intelligent and humorous, the most charming person you could ever meet.”

“He certainly seems to have charmed you,” said Muninn, cocking her head in amusement. “Are you falling in love with him?”

Thor’s face turned bright red. “N-no,” he mumbled.

“Oh, boy,” Huginn cackled, “Odin’s favorite son, in love with a jötunn! That would give your Oldfather a heart attack for sure.”

“I’m not his favorite son and I’m not in love,” Thor snapped. “I care about Loki and I want him to be happy. That is all.”

“You care about him and want him to be happy,” echoed Muninn. “That means you love him.”

“No, it—well, yes, I suppose, but it’s not—”

“I know, I know. Different type of love, I understand.”

Silence fell between Thor and the two ravens as they watched the heartwarming scene below, Loki sitting on Thor’s cape and petting the heads of the little fawns, talking to them softly in trollspeak.

“Your father wants to know if you’ll be home for dinner,” said Huginn at last. He sounded reluctant. “What should we tell him?”

“You already know what to tell him.” Thor rose from his crouch and went back to the cave, picked up his hammer. “I will return home sometime tomorrow, but I cannot leave Loki out here alone on his first night. I will not.”

Muninn sighed. “Somehow I knew that’s what you were going to say.” She spread her wings. “Alright, Hugi, come on. We’ve been flying all day and I’m ready to go home.”

“I know. Me, too. Well… take care of yourself, Thor,” said Huginn, preparing for flight. “I mean, I know you can take care of yourself. Take care of that little troll is what I really mean.”

“Yes,” added Muninn, “and shower him with your love.”

“He’ll bloom like a little blue frost-flower.”

“If frost-flowers had horns.”

“And big red eyes.”

“And sweet, charming dispositions.”

Thor swatted his arm at the two snickering ravens and tried hard not to smile. “Get out of here, both of you. I’d rather break rocks in silence than listen to your gibbering tongues.”

Still laughing, Huginn and Muninn took to the air and were gone with a flapping of their sleek black wings.

Chapter Text

Once Huginn and Muninn disappeared from sight, Thor took a deep breath and decided to go down and check on Loki. Perhaps he would be ready to inspect the progress on the cave, offer a few suggestions, make requests. He wanted Loki’s approval before going any further; there was still much to be done before the cave was truly home-worthy. If Loki found everything to his liking, he could begin moving in immediately. Even though nighttime was hardly a reason to stop work, especially for a nocturnal jötunn, Thor at least wanted to have Loki somewhat settled before it was completely dark.

He climbed down the steep, rocky slope and crossed the clearing as stealthily as he could, hoping that his presence wouldn’t cause Loki’s merry menagerie to flee. His hopes were in vain, however; the animals snapped to attention when they spotted him coming their way. A second later they turned and scattered—all, that is, except for the hedgehog, who didn’t seem to care one way or another that a large, heavy apex-predator was approaching. It was basking in the lap of luxury—a troll lap, specifically—and nothing short of a wildfire could compel it to abandon its post.

Mildly alarmed by the sudden loss of his guests, Loki turned to see what had scared them off and smiled when he recognized Thor. His tail rose up and began to curl cheerfully back and forth.

Thor was so mesmerized by the way Loki lit up that he stumbled over a clump of grass and barely even noticed. Or cared. The only thing he was aware of was how much he adored this little frost troll.

“I see you’ve been making a few friends,” he said, crouching behind Loki and peering over his shoulder. The hedgehog was snugly cradled between Loki’s thighs, lying on its back with its long, skinny legs stuck into the air, half asleep and enjoying the gentle caresses of Loki’s fingers.

“One or two, perhaps,” said Loki with a grin. “This spiny little creature is adorable. What do you call it?”

Thor sat down with a grunt and stretched out his legs, framing Loki between them. “That is a hedgehog.”

“Hedge-hog,” Loki repeated. “A little hog that lives in bushes? A shrub-swine?”

Thor’s laughter was deep and warm, and Loki felt the vibrations against his back even though they weren’t touching.

“I think they are kin to shrews, actually. I don’t know why we call them hedgehogs. It seems a bit silly, doesn’t it?”

“Not really. They do look a little piggish. Maybe it’s their noses.” He scratched the hedgehog’s furry chin.

Thor gazed fondly at the side of Loki’s face, watching him pet the small animal and smile down at it with wonder.

“Most of the other creatures were shy, but this one was very tame,” said Loki, stroking the soft fur on its underside. “I like its little belly-button.” He patted the pink nub in the center of its stomach.

Thor covered his mouth with his fist, trying to keep a straight face. “That is his penis.”

Loki froze. Thor could almost feel the heat radiating from Loki’s face, and he pressed his hand tighter against his lips, trying to stifle his laughter.

“Oh. Dear, I,” Loki stammered, “I didn’t know that was a—oh my.” And then he put his hand over his eyes and grimaced with embarrassment. “I have been fondling this poor thing for the last ten minutes. No wonder he likes me so much.”

Thor couldn’t hold it in anymore; he broke into a round of rich, deep-bellied guffaws.

Grinning despite himself, Loki politely turned the hedgehog right-side up again and set him onto the grass, then gave him a gentle nudge. “Alright, prickle-pig, I think that’s enough petting for one day. Off you go now, shoo shoo. I’m sure your mate is wondering where you are.”

The hedgehog gave Thor a disgruntled glare—as if the loud, obnoxious man-beast were the cause of all his worldly troubles—and scuttled over to a nearby tree, finding a sheltered place among its roots to sulk.

“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he was jealous,” Thor chuckled.

“Jealous? Of who?”

“Of me. Everything was fine until I came over and stole all the attention. He is probably cursing me in his little hedgehog language right now.”

Loki smiled and bit his lower lip. Thor’s breath was falling on his ear, tickling it slightly. It felt nice—very nice. His tail shivered and he leaned a little closer.

“Hedgehoggish? I wonder what that sounds like,” he said idly.

“Probably a lot of grunting and grubbing, I imagine. How would one say that in the jötunn language?”

“What, grubbing?”

“No, hedgehog.”

Loki pursed his lips, thinking. “Well, we don’t have hedges on Jötunheim, so I suppose brodgöldur would be the best translation.”

“Broad… gelder.”

Brod,” said Loki gently, rolling the R. “Göldur.”

“Brrrodd,” Thor recited, “geldoor.”

Brod. Göldur. Brodgöldur.”


Loki nodded proudly. “Frábær!”


Loki laughed and looked over his shoulder at Thor. “I was saying ‘very good’. Nothing to do with hedgepigs. Erm, hedgehogs.”

Thor stared into Loki’s bright, happy eyes and a flood of inexpressible feelings rushed into his heart, filling it with warmth and gladness. The words were spilling from his mouth before he even had a chance to think about them: “Teach me your language.”

Loki’s smile fell. “Wh-what?”

“Your language. Trollspeak. Jötnin. I want to learn it.” When Loki said nothing after a few moments, Thor began to worry. “Is… that alright?”

“Well, I.” Loki blinked rapidly, confused. “I mean, yes, of course, but. May I ask why?”

Thor didn’t have an answer right away. He had to search for it, frowning and sighing while he plumbed the depths of his heart.

“I suppose I feel that I am crowding you with all these new experiences,” he began slowly. “Flying, reading, swimming. Things uncommon to your people. I am not trying to… to un-make you, Loki. De-troll you, turn you into an Æsir or anything else.” Thor laid a gentle hand on Loki’s knee. “I like you the way you are. I think you are wonderful and I want to know more about you and your culture, your people, your ways. I want to be able to speak to you in your own tongue and… say things that are important and meaningful.”

Loki’s heart skipped a beat when he felt Thor’s large, warm hand slide down to touch his ankle, the one which still bore the marks of the rope that had snared him.

“To start, how does one say he is sorry?”

Loki licked his lips. “Fyrír giffdhu.”

“Fff—fear-ear gifdu.”

“Yes.” Loki smiled. “To which I say, samthyki. I accept. Af öllu mínu hjarta, ég samthykki.” [1]

Thor let out a breath and grinned, a look of amazement on his face. He didn’t know which was more beautiful—the jötnin words coming from Loki’s mouth or the meaning behind them. All he knew was that he loved the sound of them and wanted to hear more.

He took up Loki’s hand and kissed his knuckles, and twined their fingers together, pink against blue. “And how does one say thank you in jötnin?”

Loki turned cobalt and shyly ducked his head. “Thaka thér.

“Thocka thee-air,” repeated Thor haltingly, trying to roll the R. His tongue felt clumsy and the phrase didn’t sound half as lovely as when Loki spoke it. But he would try to get it right.

“Thaka thér, Loki. For forgiving me, and for teaching me your words.”

Thadh var ekert, Thor. You’re welcome.”

Thor squeezed Loki’s hand, and for a few moments no further words were spoken between them. At least not with the tongue. Then Thor smiled and that seemed to pull them out of the trance they had fallen into.

“I have reached a good stopping point,” he said. “Uh, with the cave, I mean. Would you care to inspect it? I’d like to know what you think of it.”

“Of course.” Loki tilted his head to one side. “Though I must warn you, after my time on Midgard, I’m not very picky when it comes to living arrangements.”

Thor grinned. “Then I hope this makes you feel utterly spoiled.”

He stood and helped Loki to his feet, and they walked across the clearing, their hands still clasped together. They parted reluctantly to mount the cliff. Loki hopped onto the rocks and crawled up as nimbly as a lizard while Thor lagged behind, searching for footholds. Loki paused halfway up and looked down at him, his tail curling into an inquisitive S shape.

“Should I wait?” he called over the rush of the waterfall.

“No, you go ahead,” said Thor, waving his hand and wincing at his own clumsiness. “I will be there soon enough.”

Loki scampered up the cliff and pulled himself over the ledge. He noticed the renovations made to the exterior—one round little porthole window on either side of the entrance—and instantly liked them. How thoughtful it was of Thor to include something so quaint and practical. It made the cave look very welcoming.

Loki wandered inside and let out a soft gasp. Though it was almost totally dark, his keen eyes could see the extent of all the work Thor had put into it. The floor was cleared of stalagmites and snags and other irregularities; now it was smooth and safe for bare feet. There were long shelves carved into the far wall—rough-hewn, not the most level, but they were charming and functional and would hold many things, like dishes and pots and—

Loki pressed a hand to his chest as he realized:

Books. Lots of books. Books that Thor was going to teach him to read. Loki could see it as clearly as if he were already happening: the two of them sitting together under that window there, Loki curled up in Thor’s lap and holding a book, not just looking at the pictures in it, but reading what was written on the pages. Reading. What power he would have. The things he would learn!

Bubbling with excitement now, Loki continued his exploration of the cave. There were several chambers beyond the main cavern that could be used as rooms or storage pantries. Perhaps they could even be turned into tunnels that would open onto the other side of the ridge. A true troll-warren.

In one of these larger chambers there was a natural hollow in the floor, ovoid in shape and about hip-deep if Loki were to stand in it. He could see where Thor had knocked away the jagged edges and polished the sides until they were smooth and round. It would make a perfect and permanent sleeping nest. Thor must have been aware of that when he had been working on it. There was no other explanation for this level of careful craftsmanship.

Loki’s heart swelled at the thought of Thor crouched in this hollow, pounding away with his hammer, building the frame of a nest that they would sometimes share together. It was—

A rush of heat flared through Loki’s body, causing the moonstone around his neck glow.

It was exactly the thing a courting jötunn would do for his beloved. Thor had no idea—how could he? These were special rites and secrets known only to trolls—but to Loki it was completely obvious. His mind reeled as his hindsight suddenly became crystal-clear:

The nest-building, the food-sharing, the giving of gifts—especially the honey earlier that day. The hand-holding, the embracing, the kind words and oaths of protection. The home-making. Even the intimate conversations. These were all ancient traditions, jötunn love overtures, things that Loki had given up on ever experiencing for himself. After all, what troll in his right mind would want him for a mate? He was ugly and hairy, thin and frail-looking, and entirely too small. Loki doubted he would be able to sire any children, much less carry them. The mere act of having sex, one of the greatest pleasures in life as far as the jötnar were concerned, would be a terrible hardship, perhaps even physically impossible; even the smallest trolls on Jötunheim were girthsome and lengthy. Even if Loki’s wish came true and he did manage to conceive, how in the Nine would his little belly accommodate a normal-sized litter of normal-sized babies? How would he birth them?

It was only a dream, Loki knew. A home, a mate, a family. Any jötnar who looked at him did so with pity or contempt in their eyes, sometimes even outright disgust, and their gazes never lingered long.

But Thor’s did. Thor looked at him as if he were beautiful, and it made Loki feel as if he actually was beautiful. He knew that he wasn’t, nor would he ever be, but something about Thor gave him hope. Hope that if an Æsir could find him attractive, so might one of his own people, someone who cared more about what was on the inside rather than the outside. This wonderful, imaginary troll didn’t have to be handsome or wealthy or even that smart; as long as he loved Loki, nothing else really mattered. They would be wed and mated and live in a nice cavern together, probably not as nice as this one, so spacious and comfortable and idyllic, but they could be happy. As long as there was love, everything would be—


Loki started and turned. Thor was standing in the passageway, his face illuminated by the ball of softly-crackling lightning he held in his hand. He smiled with half of his mouth, the blue shadows settling into the handsome contours of his face.

“What do you think? I know it’s not really fit for a prince, but—”

“No, it’s lovely.” Loki folded his hands together at the base of his throat. “It’s perfect. Better than any of the caves and caverns in Útgard, and they are beyond number.”

Thor released a breathy laugh and lowered his head. “I’m sure you’re exaggerating, but thank you.”

Loki took a few steps forward, until he stood within the circle of light. It made the tears in his eyes shimmer and sparkle like jewels. “I’m not exaggerating. I love it. And I love”—his voice caught, he swallowed dryly—“l-love that you did this for me. Out of the kindness of your heart. I’ve never…”

Thor smiled tenderly and the ball of light in his hand suddenly magnified to a blinding intensity, filling the entire chamber. Loki squeaked and turned away, shielding his eyes with his arm. Thor cursed and clapped his other hand over the ball, forcing it back down to its original size.

“Sorry, sorry, forgive me,” he uttered. “I’ve only just learned to illuminate and I’m still learning how to control it. I am… not sure why that happened. I hope you are not blinded.”

“I’m alright,” said Loki, lowering his arm and blinking away the spots. “Your light doesn’t feel the same as the sun’s. It’s warm, but it doesn’t hurt me.”

“That is unusual. Perhaps the moonstone is responsible?”

Loki touched the pearl that hung around his neck. He knew this protective talisman had had nothing to do with the innocuous nature of Thor’s light. Thor had sworn to never harm him. That was why it hadn’t hurt, Loki was sure of it.

It might not be true, but it was a lovely thought.

“Well,” said Thor, looking around at the empty chamber, “shall we begin to fill this hollow? Make it into a home?”

Loki’s tail shivered at the implication. He knew what Thor meant, of course—bringing in the two satchels and unloading their contents, getting a makeshift nest assembled, perhaps putting together a light meal, that sort of thing—but he couldn’t deny how truly romantic this felt.

He would not tell Thor. He couldn’t. What could be gained if Thor knew he was inadvertently performing jötunn courting behaviors? Nothing. In fact, he would probably find it embarrassing and distasteful, being part of this ridiculous charade, indulging the silly domestic fantasies of a troll.

No, this must remain Loki’s secret, his happy little fairy tale dream—for now and possibly ever.

He forced a smile onto his face and flicked his tail. “Yes, let’s.”

Thor’s empty chair at the dinner table was somehow louder and more noticeable than when he was actually present. He and Baldur were often the ones who dominated the dinner conversation, talking of inter-realm politics and war and diplomacy (or the lack of it), and the latest petitions coming to Asgard from the people of the Nine. Hodur, Frigga, and Baldur’s wife Nann liked to discuss the arts and sciences, academia, and anecdotes of a lighthearted nature, and Váli and Vídarr, the youngest members of the family, interjected with blood-soaked comments about their latest hunting expeditions or long-distance hiking trips.

They were twins, Váli and Vídarr, seventeen by Asgard’s reckoning, blond-haired and blue-eyed like the older brother they worshiped. Of all Odin’s sons, they were perhaps the closest to nature, rustic and wild in their dress and manner, devout followers of the old ways venerated by Grandfather Borr, who was as great a hero in their eyes as their own father. Like many adolescent boys, Váli and Vídarr were adventurous and enthusiastic about their interests, which included horsemanship, hunting, sports, and loud, heavy music. They thrived on tales of gore and glory, epic quests for treasure, and violent battles with fearsome beasts. They were sorely disappointed when they returned from their four-day camping trip and learned they had missed Thor’s return from Midgard, especially since he’d come back with a real, live frost troll in his keep.

“And he actually brought it into the palace?” asked Váli with a wide grin. He was eating his dinner with his hands again, and he had mutton sauce smeared on his cheek and all over the front of his tunic. It didn’t look as if he or Vídarr had bothered to wash before coming to dinner, either.

“I bet you screamed Thor to pieces, didn’t you, Father?” said Vídarr, gleeful at the thought of family drama that for once didn’t involve him or Váli.

“Elbows off the table, Vídarr,” said Frigga flatly. “And no, there was no screaming whatsoever. Thor brought Loki to us as soon as he could, and except for a few remarks from your father, the conversation was quite civil.”

“There is nothing civil where trolls are concerned,” Odin muttered into his goblet.

The twins buzzed with excitement. “Wow, so it could talk? Did it know our language? What did it look like? You said it had a name? Loki? What does that mean? Did Thor give it that name?”

He already had a name and title,” said Baldur, glaring across the table. “He is Prince Loki of Jötunheim, Fárbauti’s son, who came here seeking—oh, for goodness—Váli, wipe your chin. You’re not living among wolves anymore.”

Vídarr’s eyes widened while his twin obediently wiped his face—using the edge of the tablecloth. “Whoa, the son of a troll-king!”

“That is so awesome!” Váli exclaimed. “A big ugly troll prince! I bet he’s vile!”

“Eight feet tall and covered in warts!”

“With toenails like bear claws!”

“How many skulls has he crushed? Did he carry a belt made out of human skin?”

“I bet he’s a huge, scaly, stinking beast with dragon’s breath. That would be fantastic!”

“And the flesh of his enemies rotting between his teeth!”

“And mushrooms growing in his armpits!”

Hodur abruptly dropped his forkful of sautéed mushrooms. “Damn it, Váli…”

But the twins had already worked themselves into a froth. Their chairs could barely contain them, they were so brimming with energy.

“When can we meet him, this fearsome Loki of Jötunheim?” Vídarr asked, forgetting about keeping his elbows off the table as he leaned eagerly toward his father.

“Is he dangerous?” said Váli. “Should we arm ourselves? Is Thor the only one who can control him?”

Odin set down his goblet and gave his two youngest a long, serious look. “That troll,” he said slowly, “is the greatest fiend I have ever seen. He is completely out of control. Lethal. Insane with rage.” He bent his hand into a claw and gestured to his face. “Blood-red eyes that burn into your soul. Foaming at the mouth. Teeth like needles. Claws like daggers, a tail that could spear a man like a fish. Do not let your guard down around him for a single moment. He will tear the flesh from your bones like bark from a tree.”

Váli and Vídarr were nothing but two pairs of unblinking eyeballs and a matched set of gaping mouths. It was difficult to tell if they were more frightened or fascinated. Frigga covered her grin with her napkin and coughed to disguise her laughter. Baldur and Hodur were similarly trying to hide their amusement. Only Odin was capable of keeping his expression neutral.

“You have a month to prepare yourselves for this meeting,” he said ominously. “I suggest you plan for every eventuality. There is no such thing as being too cautious, especially when it comes to trolls... isn’t that right, Frigga?”

Frigga cleared her throat and smiled politely. “Yes, of course. Loki is very surprising, never to be underestimated. I doubt there is any troll like him in all the Nine. You will be utterly shocked when you see him, of this I have no doubt.”

Váli and Vídarr looked at each other and crowed with triumph, clasping their hands together and raising their fists into the air.

“Yeaaah, finally!” they cheered and began to talk over one another like a pair of chattering squirrels. “V and V Odinson, face to face with a frost troll!”

“I’m gonna feed him a live goat!”

I’m gonna put a saddle on him and see how fast he can go!”

“Vál! Vál! We should totally put him in a pit-fight against a bilgesnipe! Do you think Thor would let us?”

“Oh man, he’d have to! That would be so wicked!”

Hodur smiled and put his hand on his twin’s shoulder. “Baldur,” he said quietly, “I am counting on you to describe their faces to me when they meet Loki.”

“Trust me, brother,” said Baldur, leaning close, “I wouldn’t let you miss out on something that hilarious for all the gold in Nidavellir.”

Chapter Text

Night fell in the forest of Asgard. The stars and auroras that had been muted by sunlight during the day now shone brightly against the darkened sky, glowing in an ever-changing multitude of colors: greens and blues and purples, a twinkle of red, a glitter of gold.

Loki sat on the ledge just outside the cave, Thor close beside him, and stared up at the sky, his eyes wide and sparkling.

“I have spent most of my life underground,” he said softly, “living beneath stone and earth and ice, unaware that this terrible sky could hold so much beauty and wonder.” He shook his head, mesmerized by the faraway novae and nebulae. “Never have I seen anything so marvelous.”

“Nor have I,” said Thor, gazing at the side of Loki’s face. The starlight glowed silver on his blue skin, bringing out the delicate markings on his cheeks and forehead, shining faintly on his horns and in his inky black hair. Thor was unable to take his eyes off him.

Loki turned and his smile dropped when he realized Thor had been speaking about him. His cheeks flushed cobalt and he lowered his eyes, his tail curling into corkscrew.

“You keep saying such nice things to me,” he said, his hands tangling together anxiously in his lap. “Why? Do you… want something from me?”

“What? Of course not. I’m only speaking the truth, Loki. I think you are amazing.” Thor reached out and untangled Loki’s hands, holding them gently in his own.

They were so big, Loki thought, biting his lip and staring down at them. So powerful. Thor could close his fists and break every bone in his hands if he wanted. But he wouldn’t. Thor was gentle. He was merciful, he was kind. He was astonishingly handsome, even if he wasn’t jötunn. He was too good to be true. In fact, this whole situation seemed impossibly wonderful. Loki found himself wondering why would anyone treat him so well without expecting anything in return.

Perhaps he did expect something in return and simply hadn’t said anything yet. These sweet odes and soft touches were surely no coincidence.

He carefully slipped his hands out of Thor’s and put some space between them, keeping his eyes downward.

Thor frowned. “What’s wrong? Have I offended you?”

Loki shook his head. “No, it’s. I’m just, er… thinking we really ought to finish the nest. You must be tired after working so hard, and you’ll need a place to sleep tonight.”

“Actually, I’m wide awake. I don’t know where this energy is coming from. I suppose it will catch up with me eventually.” He gave Loki a warm smile. “But you’re right, we’ve admired the sky long enough. We should finish what we’ve started.”

They stood together and returned to the cave, making their way into the back chamber where the nest was currently being assembled. Earlier that evening they had unpacked the supplies from the two satchels and arranged everything neatly in the cave, then they had taken the empty bags and gone to find nest materials to fill the smooth, stony depression in the floor. The few blankets that Thor had brought would not be enough.

A trip into the forest yielded them what they needed, and soon they had stuffed the satchels with fresh green leaves and long grasses that grew beside the river.

“Every troll nest is different,” Loki explained as he and Thor had dumped their findings into the hollow, “but the basic construction is all the same: there is a thick pad at the bottom and lots of curved pillows around the sides, and loose pillows are kept in the center, to be arranged by the occupants. They’re usually stuffed with animal hair and feathers, dried grasses, anything soft, really.”

“Well, it looks like we’re off to a good start,” said Thor with a cheerful smirk.

Now returned from their stargazing break, there were only small adjustments to be made before the nest was fully complete.

They crouched at the edge of the hollow, smoothing the lumps out of the grassy, leafy mattress, packing it all down, and covering it with blankets. For the finishing touch, Thor unfurled his cape on top of the bed, almost covering it completely, like a huge red sheet. It looked very comfortable.

He smiled up at Loki. “This should get us by for now. We will have something more permanent in the future.”

Loki blushed and lowered his eyes.

As if Thor building a nest with him wasn’t already enough of a courting gesture, his repeated use of “us” and “we” seemed to solidify the permanence of his dedication. He would make an Æsir a very happy mate one day, Loki thought, and was surprised by the sudden wave of despair that washed over him.

Thor’s smile faded. “What’s wrong? You look sad. Is it the nest? Did I make a mistake?”

“No, no,” Loki fibbed. “I was, em, thinking about building a night-nest sometime. Yes, a night-nest would be good.”

Thor looked down at the comfy bed in the floor. “Is this not a night-nest?”

“We jötnar sleep during the day, if you’ll remember,” said Loki gently, “so this is actually what we call a day-nest.”

“Oh.” Thor nodded to himself. “So what is a night-nest?”

“Well, by appearance, it’s similar to a day-nest, only a little bigger. It’s where trolls lounge and nap during the night, or entertain friends.”

Loki crouched down on all fours and crept into the nest, his tail high in the air, looking very much like a cat. He began to turn in circles, seeking out a comfortable position. Thor watched, enchanted, until at last he lay down on his side and tucked his tail around his folded legs.

“But this is the most important type of nest,” said Loki with a grateful look. “Night-nests are a luxury. Sleeping nests are a necessity.” He patted the spot beside him in invitation.

Thor bent down to pull off his boots before climbing in. He moved slowly and carefully, not wanting to create furrows in the nest’s leafy layers. “Are there any other types of nests?” he asked, stretching out on his side and propping his head up with his hand.

Loki’s tail curled into a shy coil. “Well, there are sleeping nests, like this one, where families sleep together. There are night-nests for visiting with non-family members. There are sick nests—small, usually just big enough for one troll, and he will stay there until he’s well enough to join the family nest again. Then there are the, erm”—he licked his lips nervously—“love nests, for having sex. These are separate from the family nests, unless it’s a newly-mated couple just starting out.”

“Ah.” Thor grinned faintly. “So the love nest comes first, then a family nest is built for when jötlings are expected?”

Loki’s blush deepened. “Y-yes. But babies are born in brood nests, and they remain there for the first few months until they are big enough to sleep safely with the family.”

Thor’s face softened and grew melancholy. “Do you think you’ll ever have a family of your own someday, Loki?”

Loki’s gaze drifted to the side, focusing on something far away. “I’m not sure. It doesn’t seem very likely. I don’t even know if my belly works. Nothing else about me seems to work.” He pulled his lips into a thin line. “Perhaps it’s for the best that I never have babies. They would surely be runts.”

“Would you love them any less if they were?”

Loki’s eyes shined like rubies. “No. I would love them no matter what size they were, even if they were born without horns or tails. Even if they had hair. Even if they looked like…”


“I was going to say ‘elves’, but yes, if they looked like Æsir, I would still love them. They would be beautiful to me because they were mine.”

Thor smiled fondly.

“Do you have a mate, Thor?” Loki blurted, and his eyes widened as soon as the words left his lips. He put his hand over his mouth, horrified.

“Me? No, no mate yet,” said Thor with a nervous laugh. “I am unwed and unattached. Baldur, though, he’s married. The only Odinson thus far…”

An awkward lull fell. The moonstone around Loki’s neck was glowing as brightly as an actual moon. He bit his lip and squirmed.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude. It’s just that… well, if you did have a mate, I didn’t want to keep you from him—or her. You’ve spent so much time with me already and I’m sure you must have other things you’d like to do besides look after a weak, ignorant little tr—”


He reluctantly raised his eyes to Thor’s.

Thor was staring at him determinedly. “You are one of the most important things in my life right now. You are my responsibility. I swore an oath to protect you, and protect you I shall.”

Loki pressed his lips together tightly and gulped. He didn’t want to speak his next words, but he simply couldn’t bear it any longer. He had to know. “How can I repay all that you’ve done for me?”

“There is no need for that, Loki. I do this willingly.”

“But”—Loki frowned, unable to believe that someone would go through this amount of trouble—for him, a defective, pathetic excuse of a jötunn—and have absolutely nothing to show for it—“surely you must want compensation, something to make it worth your while…”

“I don’t.”

Loki was utterly bewildered. He blinked rapidly, his mind trying to comprehend this level of graciousness. “Then why? Why are you doing this? Why do you even care?”

Thor smiled, but his gaze remained serious and steady. “Because it’s the right thing to do. It’s what family would do. I did not speak lightly when I said I wanted you to think of me as your brethren. I meant every word of it.”

Loki could only stare, his lip quivering and his eyes brimming with unshed tears.

After a brief silence, Thor reached out and combed his fingers through Loki’s fine black hair, tucking a few stray locks behind his little horn.

“I’m no replacement for Helblindi and Býleist,” said Thor, “but I will do my best in their stead. Why don’t you tell me more about them? What do they look like? What are your best-loved memories of them?”

The tension and strife left Loki’s face as he thought of his littermates, and Thor knew his tactic had worked.

“Well,” began Loki haltingly, “Blindi is the bigger of the two and his skin is very light, even lighter than mine. When he was born he was so pale that it was said he could blind Hel herself. He has been called Helblindi ever since, and now I hear he is such a fearsome warrior that he could blind Hel with his maul instead of his skin.

“Now Býleist, he was called Rólgurd when he was born, until one night when Father caught him playing in the beehives high up on the mountainside. Bees hate trolls and sting them every chance they get, but for some reason they weren’t stinging my brother. Everyone in Útgard thought him a bee-charmer, and his name was changed to Býleist, the Bee-Tamer…”

Thor grinned as Loki spoke at length about his brothers, how they cared for him when their father was being mean and neglectful, the games they used to play together (when they were allowed to play, of course), the songs they would sing, the stories they would tell. These were the happy moments of Loki’s life, ones that had given him hope and courage all those years ago and now made him smile fondly at their recollection.

Thor hoped there would be more moments like these in Loki’s future. In fact, he would make certain of it.

The following two weeks were busy ones. Thor visited Loki daily, except for when there were matters on Midgard that called him away. He would typically arrive in the late afternoon and stay through the night, during Loki’s waking hours. It was inconvenient at times, but Thor wanted Loki to get a normal rhythm established as soon as possible, and if that meant keeping odd hours at home for a little while, well, that wasn’t too much to ask.

It also drove Váli and Vídarr insane with curiosity.

They knew their brother was going out to take care of “his” troll, but because of Thor’s unpredictable schedule, the only chance they had to speak with him was at dinner. Odin, however, had made it abundantly clear that the family were not going to be discussing trolls at the dinner table every single evening for the next thousand years, so the twins were forced to hunt Thor down whenever they knew he was at home. They would bounce at his heels like eager pups, begging him to tell them more about Loki.

“Baldur said he was smaller than most trolls. How much smaller?”

“Does he have big horns? What about teeth? Could you make a dagger out of one?”

“How much can he lift? Can he throw boulders?”

“What’s he like? Is he mean? Have you tamed him yet?”

“What does he eat? How much does he eat every day? Two goats? Three? Does he swallow them whole or chew them first?”

Thor took great pleasure in being deliberately vague with his answers. “You will meet him soon enough,” he would always say. “Just wait.”

But patience was not a virtue that Váli or Vídarr possessed. They would groan and moan and pester Thor with even more questions, some with unintentionally hilarious results.

“Have you mounted him yet?” Vídarr asked one day, and Thor’s ears had gone as red as his cape. “What kind of saddle would work best? Do you think he’d break easily? How fast do you think he can go? Would it be a rough ride or a—”

Thor had promptly thrown his brothers out of his room and continued packing his satchel in peace.

He typically brought more provisions whenever he came to visit Loki—a blanket or pillow, a broom, a bucket, a rug, anything that Loki requested—but most of the supplies consisted of food: dried meats, eggs, fruits, herbs and spices, and the occasional sweet. Thor knew that teaching Loki to provide for himself was his chiefest priority, and while Thor was no fool when it came to roughing it, his knowledge was small compared to Váli’s and Vídarr’s. They were the true experts.

The twins had been deliriously happy to share their survival tactics and woodsy know-how with their older brother, supplying him with fishing hooks and snares and ropes, rambling about medicinal herbs and trees and finding one’s way without the aid of stars or sun. They assumed Thor was simply taking care of his new pet out in the wilderness. They had no idea he was actually bringing this information back to Loki and teaching him to do all these things on his own.

Thor taught Loki how to catch fish using both hook and net, but Loki proved to be naturally adept with his hands. He could stalk a fish while crouched on the riverbank and then dart forward and snatch it, wriggling and writhing, from the water. 

It was all very sweet and amusing until Loki actually began to eat the fish, tearing into its belly and pulling out its entrails with his teeth and slurping them down like noodles, blood and gore and scales on his cheeks, smacking his lips noisily as he ate.

It reminded Thor that regardless of his size or mild-mannered personality, Loki was still a jötunn and possessed jötunn instincts.

It made Thor feel strangely proud for some reason. His cute, vicious little snowflake, he thought wistfully. It was reassuring to know that Loki had grit and guts—aside from the kind that were smeared all over his face.

In addition to fishing, Thor showed Loki how to gather berries, forage for mushrooms, grub for worms and snails—Loki loved snails, he would eat them whole, shells and all—how to identify and avoid tree nuts, and how to build a basic snare.

“Like the one you caught me with?” Loki asked, waving his tail back and forth mischievously.

“Yes,” Thor chuckled, “very similar, only this one is smaller, for rabbits and squirrels and—”

Loki’s face drained to lilac-blue. “I could never!” he cried. “The rabbits and squirrels are my friends! They trust me! They let me pet them and hold their little ones! How can you even suggest I kill and eat them? It’s monstrous!”

Thor calmed Loki down and reassured him that he didn’t have to add any of his furry little friends to his diet. The following day, Thor brought over an extra large ration of dried beef and salt pork from the palace kitchens. It would keep for quite a while in the cool recesses of the cave, he said, and at least Loki wouldn’t be forced to live on fish and frog caviar for the next month.

Loki had been very appreciative, and nuzzled Thor’s cheek in thanks.

Vicious little snowflake, indeed.

Loki typically slept from midmorning until the early evening, when the sun grew low and the shadows began to lengthen. Thor liked to arrive just before sunset and quietly enter the cave, tiptoeing through the dark and casting a dim glow from his hand so he could gaze upon Loki, curled up in his big nest and sound asleep. Oftentimes he looked so small and lonely that Thor couldn’t bear it; he would slip off his boots, remove his armor, and carefully crawl into the nest, settling against Loki’s back or side, and wait for him to wake up.

Occasionally Thor dozed off listening to Loki’s soft breaths and gentle snoring, which sounded like a sleeping kitten’s mews. He would be woken again by Loki snuggling tight against him, pressing into his chest as if unconsciously seeking out his heartbeat. Then he would go still again, his tail tucked between his folded legs or held in his hands. It was a sight so sweet and innocent that it made Thor’s heart ache, and he couldn’t resist placing a kiss on Loki’s head.

This particular visit, however, came after a full day of no contact. There had been business in Midgard yesterday that required Thor’s attention: farmers asking a blessing for new land they had received; warriors praying for protection in escaping from their enemies; a few weddings where his name was invoked on behalf of the couple’s future children.

Huginn and Muninn brought him the news while he was at home, and he had left promptly to fulfill his duties. He had been the protector of the humans’ realm for a few hundred years now—a relatively short time in the life of an Æsir—and he was gradually beginning to hear their voices in his heart, their prayers and petitions, their unspoken wishes. He still relied on Heimdall, Odin, and the ravens to deliver most of the mortals’ requests, but soon enough he would be able to sense their words as quickly and clearly as they were spoken.

As soon as he returned to Asgard and got changed into something less formal, Thor had flown to the forest to see Loki. The sun had not yet sunk and he was looking forward to curling up and napping with him for a little while.

But when Thor stepped into the cave, he discovered that Loki was already awake, sitting in the comfy pillow-chair in the frontmost chamber. He looked as if he had been up all day. His eyes were purple-rimmed and puffy, his face anxious. The healthy glow he had gained in his two weeks of living on Asgard was gone, replaced with a dull, ashy blue pallor.

Thor crossed the room in two strides and kneeled down in front of him. “Loki, are you alright? What’s the matter? Are you ill?”

Loki rolled his lips inward and said nothing; he held out his fist and slowly opened it.

On his palm was a single tooth, sharp and small and white.

“It had been hurting the last few days,” he began in a watery voice, “but I thought it was because of all the dried meat I’ve been eating this week. Then yesterday it got so loose that it just… popped out.”

He pulled his lips back in a grimace, and Thor recoiled.

Loki’s right fang was missing.

“My other tooth feels loose, too,” he choked, starting to cry. “My whole mouth hurts. My teeth are all going to fall out and I’m going to starve!”

He fell forward and buried his face against Thor’s chest. Thor folded his arms around Loki and tried to quiet his sobs.

“You’re not going to starve, Loki, I will not let that happen. I will… I’ll chew your food for you if I have to.”

Loki cringed and moaned, “That’s the kindest, most disgusting thing I’ve ever heard.”

Thor smiled and pulled away so he could tilt Loki’s chin up. “Here, open your mouth. Let me have a look.”

Loki opened his mouth wide and Thor lowered his head, peering inside. Loki’s teeth were indeed small, he realized. Almost childlike.

“Have you ever lost your teeth before, Loki?”

“When I was a jötling, yes,” he answered awkwardly, trying to keep his mouth open. “We lose our baby teeth and then grow our adult set. I’ve already lost mine, so this is not normal.”

Thor squinted his eyes and carefully used his smallest finger to inspect Loki’s new gap. “Are you certain of that?” He poked at the tender flesh that had been exposed. He thought he could feel something sharp and pointy beneath, like perhaps a—

Loki squeaked in pain and reflexively bit down, and Thor, who was more surprised than hurt, barked and jerked his hand back. Loki was pulled forward, the legendary strength of jötunn jaws coming into play; he collided with Thor’s shoulder, Thor felt a small pop, and then Loki began to wail.

Both of them were bleeding now—Thor from his lacerated finger, Loki from his nose.

They looked at each other and then began to simultaneously pour out their apologies.

“I’m so sorry, Loki, I didn’t mean to hurt you—”

“Oh, Thor, your finger!”

“I hope I didn’t break your nose—”

“You’re going to need stitches! I’ve ripped it open!”

“It was my fault. I am such an oaf. Forgive me, Loki—”

“I’m so ashamed of myself!”

Thor tried to wipe away the small rill of blood trickling down Loki’s lip, but Loki turned his head to the side, refusing his help.

“No, yours is worse,” he insisted, and picked up Thor’s wounded hand. “Let me fix it.”

Thor stared, stunned, as Loki pulled the torn finger into his mouth and began to suck away the blood. He could feel Loki’s warm, slightly-rough tongue lapping at the cut, his mouth contracting as he swallowed.

It made every hair on Thor’s body rise.

Trolls were blood-drinkers, he knew, and Loki was evidently no exception. No wonder he had jumped at the opportunity. He probably hadn’t had any fresh blood in quite some time. Perhaps it was a crucial part of the jötunn diet. It might even be the reason Loki’s teeth were falling out. If that were the case...

Thor shifted his weight a little, watching Loki tend to him. “You can open the wound a little more, if you like. I heal quickly. It doesn’t hurt that much.”

Loki pulled his mouth free and looked at Thor as if he were mad. “Why in the Nine would I want to make it any worse? I’m trying to heal it.”

“You… you are?”

“Of course. This is basic jötunn medicine. We lick our wounds before treating them. It helps the blood clot faster and stop bleeding.”

“It does?” Thor was impressed. He could have used this knowledge when he was battling the fire trolls on Vanaheim several years ago. All he would have had to do was ask his enemies to spit on him. And they would have, he imagined. Gladly.

“Yes. I mean”—Loki paused to lick Thor’s oozing cut—“we drink blood, but not each other’s. Not as food.” He lifted his head. “Your blood tastes very good, though. Much sweeter than jötunn blood. I can almost see why…”

“See why what?”

Loki hunched down under the weight of his shame. “Why trolls consider Æsir blood a delicacy. It’s not because you’re our enemies. It’s because you… taste delicious.”

Thor was quiet for a long while. Then he laughed and said, “Well, I’m glad your people consider us good for something, even if it’s just a beverage.”

Loki smiled, his tail wagging happily over his shoulder. His missing tooth gave him a very sweet, childlike appearance.

“Don’t worry, Loki,” said Thor, reaching out and finally wiping the blood from Loki’s upper lip. It left a blue smudge on his thumb. “I don’t think you’re destined to remain toothless. Before you bit me—”

“I’m so sorry about that.”

“It’s alright. Like I said, it was my fault. But before that happened, I thought I felt something in the hole where your tooth had been. I think there might be another tooth coming in behind it.”

Loki’s eyes widened. “Really?” He started inspecting his gap with his little blue tongue. “I ‘oo feel a li’l fumfing…”

Thor picked up the lost fang—it had fallen onto the floor during the unintended melee—and studied it for a moment. “Perhaps we ought to offer this to the fairies. Their gifts are almost always helpful.”

Loki gave him a suspicious look. “Are you… you’re really serious? Fairies? The creatures whom unbelievable tales are named after? The tiny little people who fly around and tend flowers and cause all sorts of mischief?”

“They can be mischievous,” admitted Thor, “but if you treat them with respect, they are quite beneficial. They already know and like me—I am responsible for bringing them to Asgard, after all—and you’re very nice so I’m sure they’ll—”

Loki held up his hand. “Wait, I. I’m afraid I’ve missed something. You what? You brought fairies to this realm? How?”

“It’s an interesting story,” said Thor with a shrug and a grin, “and it’s all thanks to Heimdall, really. Come, let’s take a walk in the woods. I’ll tell you all about it.”

Chapter Text

“In the beginning, there were only fairies in Niflheim,” Thor explained as they walked through the shady, sunset forest. “Legend has it they came into being when light first touched the mist, and so they were called spirit-lights or sprites. They were very small then, almost invisible to the naked eye…”

Loki padded along at Thor’s side, careful to keep his bare feet out of the way of Thor’s heavy boots.

Thor spoke of how he couldn’t wait until he was old enough to begin traveling to the other worlds by himself. He was still young, ten by Asgard’s reckoning, when he finally earned that privilege. Under the watchful eye of Heimdall, he was allowed to explore the realms for an hour at a time. Then, if he proved himself responsible, he would be allowed on longer and longer excursions.

“I was always bringing things back,” said Thor with a grin. “Fire-flowers from Muspelheim for my mother. For Hodur, a sample of the singing waters from Alfheim. For Baldur, the white apples of Vanaheim. But sometimes in my childish ignorance I brought back things that were dangerous to Asgard…”

He told Loki of the many times he unwittingly returned home with souvenirs that Heimdall had been forced to confiscate. He had a very clear memory of sitting on the dais of the Gate Chamber with Heimdall, who had removed his helm and set his sword aside to gently explain to Thor that the handful of baby rabbits he had taken from Midgard would not do well in the Golden Realm.

“Their lives are much shorter than those of Asgardian rabbits,” he said, holding three of the squirming kits in his large hands. “As a result, they breed much faster and would soon overtake the natural population—that is if they do not first starve to death. The plants of Asgard are not the same as what they are used to. Some might even be poisonous to them.”

Little Thor was understandably dejected. He loved showering his friends and family with gifts from the other worlds—regardless of how many times they had visited those worlds themselves. This was all new to him and he wanted them to be a part of his experience.

It was a well-meaning gesture, the mistake of an innocent child. Heimdall had understood that and given Thor an encouraging smile, then placed the tiny rabbits back into the prince’s hands.

“Do not despair, Thor. I am sure little Váli and Vídarr will be happy enough listening to you tell of your adventures in Midgard and of all the animals you encountered. But for now, I think it is best to leave the flora and fauna where you found them. Wild animals do not make good pets, regardless of where they come from. Allow them to flourish in their own realm, where they are better adapted to live. They will be happier there.”

Thor had to admit that that sounded best. Heimdall patted his shoulder and together they made a special trip to Midgard, returning the kits to their very frantic mother. Then they left the realm as quietly as they had come.

For many years afterward, Thor was content to visit the other worlds and bring back stories to share over the dinner table, or trinkets and gifts made by the hands of the inhabitants. From the forests and fields and mountains he took only memories and left behind nothing but footprints.

Then, when Thor was thirteen summers old, he had visited Niflheim during one of its infamous wet seasons and returned to Asgard much sooner than expected, with a small flock of half-drowned fairies cradled in his cloak. He rushed to Heimdall’s side, dripping rainwater all over the floor, his boots chirping and squeaking with every step.

“I fished them out of a river,” he blurted. His face was pale with panic and tears were quivering in his eyes. “They were all clinging to each other and it was raining so hard, there wasn’t a dry place I could leave them. I know I shouldn’t have b-brought them back but if they don’t dry off soon, their wings are going to fall off and then they’ll die—”

“Be still, my prince,” said Heimdall calmly. “Come, bring them into the light. Set them down right here. They need only a little air and time, I think. They should recover soon.”

Thor furiously wiped his eyes on his rain-soaked sleeve and sniffed. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t just leave them. I could hear them crying in their little voices. They sounded so frightened and… they’re so small, Heimdall, they didn’t stand a chance—”

He leaned his head against Heimdall’s chest and sobbed. Heimdall wrapped Thor in his golden-armored embrace and held him in silence for nearly half an hour, until he had finally cried himself out.

By then the fairies had dried off, but they remained sluggish and limp. Heimdall gave Thor permission to leave the chamber to continue caring for them.

“Be mindful that they do not leave your sight,” he admonished. “They are small and can disappear easily.”

Thor vowed that he would keep a close eye on them, and made his way to the forest with the exhausted fairies huddled together in his handkerchief.

He brought them to a sunny clearing and set them on a warm, mossy bed, then went around and began to gather various flowers to feed them: clover, starblooms, honeysuckle, lilies, anything rich in nectar. He returned just in time. A jay had landed on the moss and was hungrily deciding which winged waif it wanted to eat first.

Thor drove the bird away with a sharp cry and spent the next hour huddled protectively over the helpless fairies while they drank the nectar, ate the petals, and recovered their strength.

He sat there for so long that the stress of his adventure ultimately caught up with him; his lids grew heavy and he nodded off. When his hand finally slipped out from under his chin, he blinked himself back to awareness and realized that the fairies were gone. No animal in Asgard would have dared to approach a child, even a sleeping one, so Thor assumed the fairies must have recouped and flown away into the nearby woods.

Heimdall was going to kill him.

“But he didn’t,” said Thor, stepping over a trickling brook. “I went and told him what had happened. He wasn’t too happy about it, but he said there was nothing to be done. He really didn’t think the fairies would survive in our realm.”

“But they did, didn’t they?” said Loki, smiling.

Thor mirrored his smile, thinking of how sweet and childlike Loki looked with his missing fang. “They did. And do you know what happened next?”

Loki shook his head.

“Suddenly the gardens of Asgard exploded with flowers. Buds that used to go dormant in the colder months now bloomed in the dead of winter. Vegetables began to grow twice their size. The air of the city became sweet with the scent of roses, and new varieties appeared every season. The fairies were cross-pollinating, you see. Making new breeds of flowers. The forests of Asgard grew lush and thick, and there are some parts that stay green all year round, even in winter. An eternal summer twilight. That is how Asgard came to be known as the Realm Eternal, for none of the plants seemed to wilt or die, even in the most unforgiving seasons.”

His smile softened. “Not long afterward I saw one of the fairies I had rescued. I recognized it because it was smaller than the others and missing one of its hindwings. Well, it had made a little paper cocoon inside of a big thorny rosebush, and there were at least a dozen little fairylings all around it, no bigger than honeybees, learning to fly. They were all different colors, glowing strong and healthy, every one of them. A new generation.”

He looked down at Loki and quirked his mouth guiltily. “I cannot lie; I think I might have wept a little when I saw that.”

Loki gazed up at him with adoration sparkling in his eyes. “What a lovely end to your story.” He turned and gazed into the dusky forest. “I hope mine ends as nicely. I don’t want to be a bane to this realm… or be harmed by living here.” His tongue probed the empty slot where his tooth had been. “You said the fairies had gifts? What did you mean by that?”

“Oh, well,” said Thor with a shrug and a tilt of his head, “when the people of Asgard saw how their gardens were growing, it didn’t take them long to realize it was the work of fairies. They began to make offering stations, little pedestals where they leave cubes of sugar and things like thread, marbles, bits of broken jewelry. Anything that might encourage fairies to come visit their gardens.”

He went on to explain that fairies, like trolls, enjoyed collecting things: small, everyday objects like hairpins and thimbles, or natural items they couldn’t readily come by, such as seashells or fox hair, which they would use to make furnishings for their little tree-huts. A length of ribbon or a scrap of silk were fine gifts to these tiny, helpful sprites, who in return would pollinate plants and help young seedlings grow strong and fertile.

“I don’t know when it was or who started it,” said Thor, “but as children grew and lost their baby teeth, they began to leave them for the fairies, and soon it became something of a tradition. The fairies must find teeth very useful because the things they leave in exchange are often rare and magical.”

“Really?” Loki’s tail swished excitedly through the air. “Like what?”

“Well, like”—Thor scratched his chin, thinking—“like seeds for trees that grow rainbow-colored leaves. Bulbs for flowers that sing when the wind goes through their petals. Strange berries that no one has ever seen or tasted. I once heard that a child’s life was saved by a fairy’s gift. Somehow the fairy knew exactly what the child needed to be cured of her illness. One can only guess what kind of strange and wonderful things those little creatures are growing in their forest kingdom.”

Loki sprang effortlessly onto a fallen log, his tail raised to balance himself. “What do you suppose they’ll give me for my tooth?”

“I don’t know, but I’m certain it will be amazing. None of the fairies of Asgard have ever seen a troll’s tooth. Perhaps it might be something that helps you grow a new one, though I think you may already have one trying to come in.”

“I hope so. Em, speaking of teeth”—Loki hunched his shoulders—“how is your finger?”

Thor lifted his hand and regarded the thick scab forming on his pinky. “It doesn’t hurt at all. It seems to be healing very quickly.” He smirked. “Troll bites may be awful, but at least the pain doesn’t last long.”

“I’m very sorry about that.”

Thor reached out and touched the back of Loki’s head, stroking his shiny black hair tenderly. “Don’t worry about it. My fault for poking around in a troll’s mouth. I consider myself lucky to still have a finger.”

He gave Loki a wink, which seemed to brighten Loki’s mood and dispel any lingering guilt over their earlier encounter.

They walked through the forest for a little while longer, Loki sometimes falling behind to smell flowers or inspect trees or study crawling insects. He was fascinated by holes in the ground and hollow tree trunks, sniffing around them and peering into them, quietly asking the darkness if anyone was home. It was absolutely endearing to watch. Thor could tell when Loki was interested in something because his tail would curl into a serpentine shape and the flat, spadelike tip would flick rapidly back and forth.

Thor couldn’t remember the last time he was so enchanted by someone. Everything about Loki was wonderful. Such brightness and curiosity packed into his little body, so much energy and eagerness. Already he was looking better, Thor thought proudly. Filling out, gaining weight, his skin no longer stretched over his bones, his belly and face looking fuller. He was still thin, but his malnourished appearance had faded and his sharp features were becoming soft. Even his tail was looking thicker and stronger, like a long blue snake. He was beautiful. A handsome little frost troll, the most charming, sweet-natured person Thor had ever—

He was so focused on Loki that he walked headfirst into a low-hanging tree limb. He blurted out an oath and rubbed the side of his head, then began to laugh at his own foolishness.

Loki looked up from the pudgy green caterpillar he was petting and scampered back to Thor’s side. “What happened? Did you hurt yourself?”

“Not really. I, uh. Wasn’t paying attention to where I was going.” Thor grinned sheepishly and rubbed his throbbing temple. The salt of his hand produced a stinging sensation and he knew he had broken the skin.

“You scraped yourself,” said Loki, standing on his tiptoes to see the injury. “It’s bleeding a little. Do you want me to lick it? I can, if you want.” His eyes were wide and urgent, ready to offer his care.

Thor rolled his lips together, thinking. It was only a little scratch, hardly worth dressing, but he suddenly found himself longing for Loki’s touch. He had been gone all day yesterday, tending to business on Midgard, and now every fiber of his being seemed sore and aching, yearning for Loki’s presence. He craved the sound of his voice and the warmth of his company, for it meant that goodness and mercy and kindness was still alive and well in Yggdrasil. And perhaps Loki, who had been so deprived of care and comfort, longed for Thor’s touch as much as Thor longed for his.

Slowly Thor bent his leg and lowered himself onto one knee, until Loki was a few inches taller than him. Loki crept forward and took Thor’s face in his small hands—one cupping his chin, the other resting on his thick blond hair—leaned down, and began to wash the bloody scrape with his strong, bristly little tongue.

Thor closed his eyes and released a long, slow breath. “That feels so nice,” he said, though “nice” was a poor word to describe it. It felt incredible. The stinging pain was gone in an instant, the throbbing sensation fading under Loki’s tender ministrations.

“This is how troll mothers clean their young,” said Loki between licks. “So I’ve been told. I have no experience caring for babies.”

Thor smiled. “Maybe—” He stopped short as echoes of a previous conversation came to his mind.

Do you think you’ll ever have a family of your own someday, Loki?

I’m not sure. It doesn’t seem very likely. I don’t even know if my belly works.

“Maybe what?” asked Loki.

Out of the corner of his vision, Thor saw that Loki had shut his eyes and seemed to be in some sort of peaceful trance. His pointed ears were pressed flat against his head, and his tail, which had settled atop Thor’s bent knee, was beginning to slip around his thigh almost protectively. Anchoring him. Keeping him close. Thor wondered if this was a maternal instinct. It reminded him of a cat cleaning her kittens, how the mother would pin her youngsters in place with her paws while she diligently bathed them.

But he didn’t want to cause Loki any anguish or distress over his ability—or lack of it—to produce offspring, so he tried to rework his answer.

“Uh, maybe. Maybe I need to… keep more… focus gooder.” Thor struggled to remember what words were and how to use them. “Need to… wash where I walk…”

Loki was lapping at his cheek now, moving toward his ear, and it was awakening something deep and powerful inside Thor. His hand unconsciously settled on the side of Loki’s bare waist, fingers spread wide. Loki was so petite that Thor’s smallest finger rested on his hip while his thumb touched lowest of Loki’s ribs. He pressed his palm into Loki’s side, squeezing gently with his fingers, glad to feel the thin layer of fat forming over his strong, lean muscles.

There was something very pleasing about having palpable evidence of Loki’s good health. That he wasn’t just living, but thriving. Or so Thor hoped.

He pulled back reluctantly with a hazy, sleepy look on his face. “Are you happy here, Loki?” he asked in a gravelly voice, his eyes searching Loki’s face. “Am I doing right by you? Was it wrong of me to bring you to Asgard and make you endure the sun and heat? Would you have been happier elsewhere?”

The moonstone around Loki’s neck glowed brightly as he held Thor’s face in his hands, his tail swishing slowly back and forth. “I am very happy here, Thor. Despite all that’s happened today, losing my tooth, biting you, hurting my nose… I have never been so content.”

Thor glowed with gladness. To know that Loki was happy, to be reassured that he was treating Loki well and taking good care of him, was the greatest, most satisfying thing Thor had ever felt.

Loki returned Thor’s smile, stroking his bristly cheeks with his thumbs. He pursed his lips and leaned forward, planting them awkwardly on Thor’s forehead. He remained completely still for a moment, then pulled back with a quiet smacking sound.

“Is that how it’s done?” he whispered. “Making the kiss? Was it the right time?”

Thor was quite certain his heart melted at the sweet innocence of the questions. “Yes, Loki, it was perfect timing. It was a wonderful kiss. Thank you.” He clasped both of Loki’s hands in his own and kissed his small blue knuckles.

Loki grinned, revealing his missing fang, and Thor’s heart was rendered a warm, sugary puddle. He could kneel here like this for hours, he thought, just staring at Loki’s lovely face, holding his cool little hands. The day was fading fast, however, and soon the woods would be dark and full of shadows. With a heavy sigh, Thor rose to his feet.

“Dusk is approaching. We should keep moving.”

Loki was visibly crestfallen, but he fell into step beside Thor, his bare feet pattering quietly over leaves and grass.

“Are we going anywhere in particular?” he asked. “Or did you just want to tell me about the fairies?”

“No, there is an ulterior motive to this journey. I think—”

“Alt. All-teelior?”

“Ulterior motive. A purpose,” Thor translated. Every now and then Loki encountered a word or phrase he was unfamiliar with, but that didn’t happen very often. For someone who once claimed to hate Asgard, Loki spoke the language amazingly well. “We are looking for starblooms. They are small white flowers—five petals, like a star, with a green center. They’re part of a bushy shrub and bloom only at night. They smell very sweet. Wherever those flowers grow, fairies are usually somewhere nearby.”

“Oh. Why is that?”

“I’m not really sure. I know they like to drink the nectar, but they prefer other flowers over the starblooms. Perhaps they use them for another purpose.”

“An ulterior motive,” said Loki matter-of-factly.

Thor chuckled. “Yes, perhaps. I will have to ask Vídarr or Váli about them. They know much of the plants and trees of Asgard.”

“Your brothers’ knowledge has been very helpful these last few weeks,” said Loki. “I can’t wait to finally meet them and thank them properly.”

Neither can I, thought Thor with a wicked flash of amusement. “They can’t wait to meet you, either. Just seven more days, I believe, then I can bring you to the city again.”

“Hm. I don’t suppose it’s possible to grow a tooth back in that time, is it?”

“Not very likely.”

Loki sighed. “Wonderful. I hate to meet your brothers looking like a runty, toothless jötling. I wanted so badly to make a good impression.”

“You will, Loki. You are good. It is in your very nature. As for Váli and Vídarr, don’t worry about making an impression. You will astound them, trust me.”

They shared a smile with one another, and Loki slipped his little blue hand into Thor’s. Thor’s cheeks turned pink and he gave Loki a gentle squeeze, helping him over a tangle of exposed tree roots.

They walked hand in hand through the forest, a frost troll and a thundergod, in a twilit parallel of what they had done nearly three weeks prior, when they had first arrived to search for a home for Loki.

It seemed so long ago, Thor thought distantly. And yet sometimes it seemed like only yesterday, a handful of hours past when he had wrapped a starving little jötunn in his cape and brought him to Asgard. Strange how memory worked, bending time, blurring moments while leaving some crystal clear. Perfect portraits between long, vague smudges.

Especially when love was involved.

Suddenly Loki paused and sniffed the air, his nose and tail lifted high. “I smell something.” His nostrils quivered. “It’s sweet and flowery. Could it be the starblooms?”

Thor sampled the air but all he smelled was trees. “It could be. You lead the way, Loki. I’ll follow.”

With a shiver of delight, Loki took up the scent, turning off the little dirt path and leading them into the brush. Soon they came upon a dense wall of foliage: a thicket made of woody vines and scrappy green bushes.

“The smell is strongest here,” said Loki, pawing at the leaves. “I think they might be on the other side.”

He poked around for a few moments before he located a thin part through which he could enter. He slipped through easily, but when Thor tried to pass, the vines clung to his shoulders and he was forced to tear through them, tangled and tripping, leaving behind a gaping hole. He brushed the twigs from his hair and lifted his head. His lips parted in awe when he saw where they were standing.

The thicket formed a tall hedge, almost obliterating the trees and sky overhead. In front of them was a huge blanket of starblooms, growing on the rocky side of an exposed hill. No white could be seen yet; the flowers were shut tightly, sleeping.

“I can’t believe it,” Thor murmured. “You actually found them, and they’re not even open. I thought we were going to have to wait until nightfall.”

Loki buried his face into a cluster of buds and inhaled deeply. “Mmm. I don’t know how you can’t smell them. They’re so strong.”

“Your nose must be more sensitive than mine.”

“Possibly. Perhaps the jötnar have better sense of smell than the Æsir.” Loki tapped one of the buds with his finger. “Will they open soon? The sun is nearly down.”

“Well, if we wait a little longer, maybe they’ll—ah, look.” Thor touched Loki’s shoulder and pointed to a cluster of blooms on the other side of the rock wall. “Those over there are starting.”

Loki drew in a breath and held it, mesmerized. Slowly the moon-white petals began to unfurl, releasing their scents, encouraging the others to awaken. One by one, each little flower opened and filled the air with its sweet perfume.

“I’ve never seen a flower bloom,” Loki whispered to Thor. “We don’t have many flowers on Jötunheim. Certainly none as beautiful as these.” He grasped the end of his tail, a dreamy look on his face.

Gazing at him in the dimming light, Thor felt hope blossom in his chest. Perhaps Loki would bloom like these flowers, he thought, growing to be tall and strong, with the large fangs and powerful features that his people so admired. Or perhaps he wouldn’t. But whether he became bigger or remained small, he would always be beautiful. Because that beauty, Thor knew, bloomed from the inside out.

“All we need now is an offering pedestal.” Thor glanced around the little clearing. “I… don’t see anything that would…”

“What about that?”

Thor looked to where Loki was pointing: a rotted stump at the edge of the thicket, its center caved in and moss growing on its barkless exterior.

Thor nodded. “We could make that work. See if you can find some stones. Little ones. Or sticks, nuts, anything small and solid.”

Loki crouched down on all fours and hunted for pebbles while Thor kneeled down and sifted through the leaves and grass beside him. They collected an assortment of rocks until their hands were full, then gathered at the stump with their spoils. Thor began to arrange the stones in a circle on the dark, mossy bed that lay within the hollow.

“We’re making a fairy ring,” he explained. “The fairies will know this is an offering made to them by one of the larger folk.”

Loki sat on his knees and helped Thor place the rocks and twigs one by one. “It’s like we’re building a nest for a tiny troll,” he said, smiling.

Thor chuckled and raised his head. “It does feel that way, doesn’t it?”

After a few more adjustments, the materials were arranged in a clear, neat circle.

“There. I think that’s good enough,” said Thor. He dug into his pocket and pulled out Loki’s sharp little tooth, passing it to him carefully. “Set it in the center of the circle. This is your offering, after all. You should be the one to place it.”

With a nervous grin, Loki leaned over and set his fang in the center of the mossy mound, then pulled his hands out quickly.

“Alright. Now what?”

“We leave and come back tomorrow.” Thor rose to his feet with a grunt. “Fairies do most of their magic at night, when they can’t be seen.”

“Hm, yes. Night…” Loki suddenly yawned, his mouth opening wide and his blue tongue curling. He smacked his lips together sleepily.

“You seem to be tired,” said Thor.

“I was up all day,” sighed Loki. “I suppose it’s finally catching up to me.”

Thor didn’t waste a second: “I can carry you back if you like. You’re no burden.”

“I thought you’d never ask.” Loki stretched his arms toward Thor and smiled drowsily.

With a single breathy laugh, Thor bent down and scooped Loki off the ground, hugging him to his chest. Loki folded his arms around Thor’s neck and rested his chin on Thor’s shoulder, closing his eyes. He clamped his thighs against Thor’s sides, his tail fitting snugly around Thor’s waist.

Thor took a moment to simply embrace Loki and breathe in his scent, relishing his weight and his warmth. He rested his cheek against the side of Loki’s head, nuzzling his silky, fragrant black strands, which promptly became tangled in his beard. No matter. Loki was in his arms and nothing outside of the sweetest dream could be better.

Supporting Loki with one arm under his bottom and another at his back, Thor quietly made his way from the thicket and out onto the path, heading back to the waterfall.

Chapter Text

By the time Thor reached the clearing, the sun had fully set and the stars were beginning to appear in the violet-blue sky. Loki had fallen asleep in his arms, snuggled against his chest with his cheek resting on Thor’s shoulder. His arms and legs were limp but his tail remained firmly wrapped around Thor’s waist like a living belt.

Thor rather liked how it felt.

He lifted his eyes to the cave entrance high above his head and knew there was no way he could climb the steep, rocky slope with Loki in his arms. It was difficult enough on his own, and even then he usually slipped and tore something.

I really must carve a staircase sometime, he thought, sliding Mjölnir from his belt.

He spun his hammer as quietly as he could—there was nothing but a soft whoosh of air—and he flew up and lighted upon the ledge.

Loki stirred and woke with a sleepy murmur, batting his eyes open.

Thor hastily tucked his weapon back into its strap and returned his arm to where it had been supporting Loki.

“Are you hungry?” he asked. “I brought you some breakfast, though now I suppose it would be more of a dinner.”

“Mm, any meal is breakfast if you haven’t eaten in a while,” said Loki, rubbing his eye with his fist. “What did you bring?”

“A few little things, but mainly these savory cakes Mother made for you. She and the cooks have been experimenting with troll-safe recipes all week.”

“Your mother made cakes? For me?”

“Of course.” Thor chuckled. “She loves a challenge, especially when it comes to baking. It is one of her many talents.”

Loki grinned and squirmed, flattered by the attention. “That sounds delicious, but.” His face tightened uncomfortably. “My teeth have been hurting so badly today that I’m not sure if I want to chew anything. Are they hard, these cakes?”

He unwrapped his legs and tail from around Thor’s waist and stretched his toes toward the ground, a wordless request to be let down.

Thor bent low and set him on his feet. “They are heavy and dense, but I believe they’re quite soft. Nothing tough or crunchy. I don’t think it will hurt to chew them.”

“Well, then, I’d love to try them.” Loki took Thor’s hand and eagerly pulled him into the cave.

Normally the two round windows in the front chamber would have provided enough light to see, but as it was dusk, there was nothing but shadow and shade. After a few steps into the cave, Thor was walking in pitch darkness. He knew the layout of Loki’s cave well enough that he could navigate it with few mishaps; nevertheless, his body tensed when he lost his sight and he automatically slowed down, raising a hand in front of him to summon forth a little light.

A blue-white ball of pure electricity budded in the center of Thor’s palm, crackling and spitting sparks, wavering unsteadily. A faint glow filled the chamber.

Loki stopped and turned. “Oh! Forgive me. I forget you can’t see that well in the dark.”

“Well?” Thor laughed. “I can’t see at all.”

“I’m sorry. Wait right here, I’ll go get the lamp.”

Loki slipped into the shadows and Thor heard the faint patter of bare feet on the stone floor, followed by a metallic scrape. A few moments later, Loki emerged from the darkness holding a lantern and a book of matches. He pressed the latter into Thor’s waiting hand.

“Thank you.” Thor extinguished his lightning and blindly plucked out a single match. “Are you sure you don’t want to strike one yourself this time?” He dragged the match head against the gritty strip on the booklet. It flared to life with an orange glow and a whiff of sulfur.

Loki’s nocturnal eyes briefly reflected the light as the flame grew. He took a cautious step back, looking both fearful and fascinated.

“N-not yet,” he said. “Perhaps some other time.” He lifted the lantern up for Thor to light.

Thor gave him a sympathetic smile. Aside from the fire trolls of Muspelheim, all jötnar feared fire and flame, especially the wood trolls; everything in and about their world was flammable. Frost trolls only used fire if they had to, typically for warfare or during raids, but they didn’t like it and they certainly didn’t trust it.

In the rapidly dimming light of the dying match, Thor lifted the glass on the lantern and lit the wick. A warm, golden-red flame leaped to life and illuminated the room.

Loki winced and turned his face away, holding the lantern at arm’s length. His moonstone necklace began to glow, attempting to regulate his rising body temperature. Thor carefully lifted the lantern from his hand, and he sighed with relief. He didn’t mind the light, but the flame made him uncomfortable and it was a little too warm when standing this close.

Now armed with a more reliable light source, Thor strode over and set the lantern on the low, rough-hewn little table he had made for Loki—his first real woodworking project, something he had hastily knocked together last week so he and Loki could sit on the floor and share meals. There was still bark on its legs and it wasn’t very smooth, but at least it was level. Loki had been delighted by it and insisted it was perfect. Very rustic and comfortable, he said, the type of furniture that would be welcomed in any troll home.

Thor lifted the satchel he had brought and set it on the table, unpacking its contents while Loki sat down on a floor pillow and watched, his eyes gleaming and tail curling back and forth at the appearance of each new parcel.

“It smells delicious,” he said, accepting one of the paper- and twine-wrapped packages Thor handed to him.

Thor grinned weakly. When he had returned home after his journey to Midgard, he wondered if Váli and Vídarr had killed a wild stinkbeast and left it to ripen in the palace kitchens. However, it was only his Mother hard at work on jötunn foodstuffs. The stench was incredible, enough to make Thor’s gorge rise. Any dish that combined fish, cabbage, and hard-boiled eggs was a recipe for rankness, regardless of its supposed health benefits. But Frigga, living up to her title of Allmother, had been chatty and enthusiastic about the “troll cakes” as she called them, and paid no mind to the cooks’ nauseated, offended expressions.

“It’s got everything a young jötunn needs,” she explained to Thor, pointing to where the Guide to Trolls lay open on the counter. It was stuffed with bookmarks and additional handwritten notes, no doubt supplied (grudgingly) by Odin himself. “Protein, vitamins, lots of good fats—oh, that reminds me: Jórik, please add some chopped fish brains to this next batch, and don’t forget the organ meats.”

“Yes, madam,” Jórik, the head chef, wept.

Thor had smiled and begged his leave, wishing his mother good luck on her unconventional cooking endeavors.

“I’ll have some ready for you to take to Loki tomorrow,” she said, waving to her son as he beat a hasty retreat. “Let me know how he likes them!”

Judging by the way Loki was devouring the golden-brown muffin, he liked them very much. His tail was coiling and uncoiling itself like a lovestruck snake.

“These are delicious,” he said, quivering with delight. “They’re the best thing I’ve ever tasted! Apart from honey, of course. And strawberry jam.”

Thor smiled. “I’m sure Mother will be glad to hear how much you enjoyed them.”

“Yes, please, do tell her. And tell her I’m very grateful. It’s nice to finally… well, I’ve never really had a mother, but if I did, I hope he would be as kind and thoughtful as Queen Frigga.”

Thor felt the prick of tears in his eyes; he reached out and touched the side of Loki’s head in what was by now a familiar expression of affection between them.

Loki grinned cutely and held out one of the cakes. “Would you like to try one?”

The charmed expression dropped from Thor’s face. “No!” He winced at his own vehemence. “I mean, er. No, these are all for you. I’m not very fond of… whatever is in those things. You go ahead and help yourself.”

Loki did. He ate one and a half more cakes before he finally yawned, stretching his slender blue arms above his head and his slender blue tail straight out. “Hmm, I would like to eat more, but I’m already a little too full. And now I’m even sleepier than before…”

“Not to worry. You go get in your nest. I’ll put the rest of the food away.”

Loki smiled tiredly, his eyes half-closed. “Thank you, Thor. You’re so helpful.”

He crawled up and plodded droopily toward the back of the cave, his tail dragging behind him. Thor, meanwhile, wrapped the leftovers and gathered the rest of the edible things he had brought. Holding the lantern aloft, he made his way to one of the middle chambers in the cave and tucked everything into the cool, stony alcove where Loki kept most of his meats and semi-perishable food items. Thor was always glad to see the large stockpile of supplies. Very soon it would be completely full and Loki would need a second larder carved for him.

Good, thought Thor. He wanted Loki to have everything he needed to survive, plus a little extra for good measure. Never again would he have to do without or be deprived—not as long as he was under Thor’s care.

“Thor.” Loki’s small, melodic voice called from the back cavern. “Thorrr.”

Lantern in hand, Thor made his way down the naturally-formed hallway and entered the little sleeping den. The soft orange light threw itself over the nest where Loki lay, curled up on his side amongst a heap of fluffy pillows, ones that had lately been “borrowed” from the palace. His arm was folded beneath his head and he wore a bashful glow on his face.

“Come sleep with me?” he asked, and his tail patted the grass-stuffed mattress beside him.

There was no way in nine hundred worlds that Thor could refuse such a sweetly-voiced request. He hung the lantern from a rocky outcrop, dimming the wick so there was just the barest amount of light.

In accordance with the typical custom for entering a jötunn bed, Thor was compelled to shed a few of his outer layers and other tough, battle-ready accoutrements. He unfastened his leather vest and removed his belt—Mjölnir with it—and then took off his boots, his cape, his vambraces, depositing everything into a pile. Much comfier now, he kneeled down and prepared to crawl into the nest.

“Your shirt, too?” Loki squeaked.

Thor’s eyebrows sprang up on their own.

Loki blushed and looked askance. “It’s, it’s so I can feel your skin. We jötnar, we need… it’s the best type of contact. Nothing separating us, no cloth or cover. I don’t know why we do it, to be honest, but I sleep so much better if I… wh-when I can feel you. Your skin and your warmth. It’s soothing.”

Thor’s face softened and pity filled his heart as he recalled what Loki had told him three weeks earlier, how his father Fárbauti, in a misguided attempt to strengthen his weakling child, had separated Loki from the family nest and made him sleep alone.

That is how all jötnar sleep, Loki had said. Families share nests until the children take mates of their own. It’s how we bond and… that’s how it’s always been.

Norns forbid that Loki’s little heart should hunger for affection the way his belly had once hungered for food. Thor would see that both were filled. This he now swore to himself, by all the branches of Yggdrasil and every star upon them. He would nurture Loki’s emotional needs as well as his physical needs, for that is what family would do.

He reached down without another word and pulled his shirt over his head, tossing it onto the rest of his piled clothes. He crawled into the nest and lay down facing Loki, who wriggled closer and pressed himself against Thor’s naked chest. Loki nuzzled him, scented him, languidly rubbed him with his horns. It was strangely feline, these gestures. Like a friendly cat begging for a head rub.


Thor gently put one arm around Loki and began to stroke his hair. Loki uttered a wordless murmur and leaned into Thor’s hand, his eyes glazing.

“Do you like that?” he asked.

The only response was a mumbled, “Mm hm,” then Loki’s eyes fluttered closed. In a few moments his whole body had relaxed. He was out cold.

Thor smiled and leaned down to kiss one of Loki’s horns. “Sleep well, little snowflake,” he said, continuing to pet his soft black hair. “May fairies guide you to sweet and pleasant dreams.”

Then he shut his eyes and, in a little while, drifted off as well.

Loki woke just before dawn, when the sky was starting to lighten from black to dark blue and the first of the songbirds were tentatively calling out from the depths of the forest. The steady roar of the nearby waterfall filled the clearing with its powerful, relaxing melody. Other trolls would have been appalled by this unnatural arrangement, living in an open clearing and so close to water—especially water which produced the sound of thunder, the dreaded product of lightning. But it no longer bothered Loki, at least not this kind of thunder. The stuff that came from the skies still made him nervous, as did fire and flying, but he had no reason to fear these things as he once did. Thor was taking care of him—would take care of him, in fact, for as long as Loki wished.

How wonderful it was to be doted upon and protected. It was almost as if he were a real prince.

Loki lifted his head and yawned wide, stretching his legs and tail before settling against Thor’s chest again. He snuggled down with a sleepy grin on his face and listened to Thor breathe, his steady exhalations falling cool and gentle on Loki’s skin. The little blond hairs just below his throat tickled Loki’s nose, so he scooted farther down to find a better place to rest his head.

That was when his arm accidentally brushed over the erection in Thor’s trousers.

Loki glanced down and let out a startled yeep when he realized what it was, pulling away quickly. A hot shade of cobalt washed over his face.

It wasn’t a jötunn-sized member, but for an Æsir, it was enormous. It certainly looked that way to Loki, bulging obscenely against the front of Thor’s trousers like a fish in a too-small net. Surely it was even larger when it wasn’t confined by clothing. Why had it woken?

He stole a glance at Thor’s face. He was in deep slumber, his eyes darting back and forth behind his eyelids. He must be dreaming, Loki thought. But of what? Surely something sexual. Why else would his organ grow? That only happened when one wanted to mate, didn’t it? There was no use in it getting hard otherwise. Did the Æsir copulate in their sleep?

After a moment’s hesitation, Loki crept downward, drawing closer, until his face was hovering just above Thor’s lap. He studied the bulge, gave it a quick, exploratory sniff, and then sat back and stared, questions burning in his mind.

Helblindi had said the mannfólk who inhabited the Nine had malodorous nether regions. Like fish and rotten onions, and the bushels of hair make it even worse. But Thor didn’t stink. In fact, Loki thought he smelled quite nice. Salty and musky and strong, but not unpleasant. It was familiar but yet different, appealing somehow.

What did Æsir men look like down there, he wondered? Did they carry their penises in fur-covered sheaths like wolves? Maybe that was what lay at the end of the little hair-trail on Thor’s belly. Or perhaps they were bald and uncovered, like trolls were. Did they too have a little cloak of skin to protect the sensitive tip of their organ? Was their flesh smooth? What did their seed look like? Were they always this warm? There seemed to be a lot of heat radiating from this part of Thor’s body. Loki had sensed it a few times before when they would sleep together, but now the area seemed even hotter. Just how hot did their members become? Did they use them when they were like that, or did they wait for them to cool down first? Mercy, Loki hoped so. Otherwise Æsir mating would be terribly painful, performed on those flat, unromantic beds and with organs that produced more heat than pleasure. Was their seed just as hot? What if it was like liquid fire? By Ymir’s tail, what a positively awful way to reprodu—

Thor inhaled deeply and shifted, groaning low in his throat as he awoke. Loki startled and clambered to the other side of the nest, his heart beating against his sternum like a frightened bird.

After a long, lazy sigh, Thor opened his eyes. He smiled as his gaze fell upon Loki, then his mouth straightened when he saw how terrified he looked. And where he was looking.

“Oh. Damn,” he uttered, cupping himself and rolling over so Loki was spared the sight of his morning tumescence. “Sorry. I didn’t mean… pardon me.” He shook his head and began to chuckle helplessly. “Well, this is a fine start to the day.”

“It is?” asked Loki, a note of distinct concern in his voice.

“Not really, but don’t worry. Everything will be fine in a few minutes.”

Loki tensed. “Why? What will happen in a few minutes?”

Thor peered over his shoulder, his brow quirked. “It will, er. Return to normal.”


Thor’s forehead crinkled with puzzlement. “Time?”

“Oh.” Loki picked up his tail and began to wring it anxiously. “So you’re not going to… n-need to have sex?”

“What? No. No, this is”—Thor’s laugh was strained and high—“this is a normal thing. It happens quite often. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s not a… nothing to do with desire, I assure you.”

Loki’s shoulders slumped with relief. “Oh. Alright, then.”

“Do you not experience this same thing yourself from time to time?”

“Who, me? Never! No, absolutely not.” Loki bit his lip and looked away, his cheeks warming to the point his moonstone began to glow. He folded his legs up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, tucking himself into a defensive little ball.

“I’m sorry,” said Thor gently. “I didn’t mean to embarrass you. Or offend you. I simply assumed you knew because you have a… you’re like me.”

Loki perked up. “I am?”

“Little.” Thor winced at his slip. “A little, I mean. Er, not that I’ve been trying to look or anything. Just… from what I’ve seen. Glances, mostly. Quick, accidental glances. No staring.”

“Oh. Well. That’s… good, I suppose.” Loki picked at his fingernails uncomfortably.

Thor rolled his lips into a thin line, a blank look on his face.

An awkward silence ensued.

“I wonder if the fairies visited your offering last night,” said Thor a little too energetically. “I hope so.”

“Oh, yes. Me, too,” said Loki, who was just as eager to change the subject. “Do you think it’s too early to go check?”

“I don’t know. Perhaps. We should wait until the sun rises, just to be sure. We don’t want to scare them off in the middle of the exchange.”

“No, no, certainly not.”

Another awkward silence fell, this one even more unbearable than the first.

“Well,” Thor declared, sitting up, “I think I’ll take a slick quim”—his eyes widened—“sick whim, gods, I mean a quick swim—”

As he babbled and blundered and died a slow, humiliating death, Loki scrambled from the nest, blushing from horn to heel. “I, I will go get breakfast put together—”

“Excellent, let me grab my clothes and I’ll get off—beat off—beat it—leave—”

“—few of those cakes your mother made—”

“—water ought to be good and freezing now—”

“—some dried fruit and maybe a little—”

A minute later both the cavern and the nest were empty, the stammering, stuttering occupants having fled to their respective tasks.

Roughly half an hour later, Thor returned to the cave fully dressed, his hair damp and his skin mottled pink from his dip in the icy-cold pool. With a chagrined look, he took a seat at the table across from Loki, who seemed to have moved past their painfully awkward encounter earlier. He offered Thor a plate heaped with food, and Thor accepted with a smile. They shared a leisurely breakfast and spoke of fairies and fangs and the possibilities that might be waiting for them in the starbloom thicket. Talismans, trinkets, magic seeds, good luck charms, a new species of fruit—it could be anything.

By the time they finished eating, the sun had begun to appear through the trees and Loki was now genuinely excited about what the fairies might have left him.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been this happy to see sunlight,” he said as he walked out onto the ledge with Thor. “Do you think you could fly us there?”

Thor cocked his eyebrow. “Am I hearing things, or did a troll just ask me to take him flying?”

“It would be faster than walking,” Loki chirped, curling his tail.

“Yes, but I don’t know what the place looks like from above. We will have to walk at least part of the way.”

“That’s fine.” Loki stretched his arms toward Thor.

With a smile and a shake of his head, Thor ducked down and scooped Loki up with one arm, and used his other to lift Mjölnir from his belt. Loki held on tightly as Thor spun his hammer and then lunged from the ledge. The next instant, they were flying over the trees, the cool morning air ruffling their hair and causing Thor’s cape to billow like a full sail.

Skimming the treetops, they followed the forest trail until they found the place where they thought they had diverged from the path. Thor slowly descended and set Loki on his feet. The forest was silent but for the melodic echoes of birdsong. Beads of dew in spiderwebs caught the sun’s rays and glittered like diamonds on silver strands. Does led their fawns through the cool shadows to forage while the creatures of the night returned to their burrows and nests. It was a lovely morning on Asgard.

They had only to walk the trail for a few minutes before Loki recognized where they were.

“This is where we left the path,” he said, bounding into the brush. “The thicket is this way! Come on!”

Thor was forced to wrap his cape around his shoulders so he could move more easily through the dense foliage, but still he fell behind. Loki was incredibly fleet-footed when it came to traveling through woods. Thor wondered if all frost trolls were like that or if this was simply an attribute of Loki’s small stature.

After vanishing from Thor’s sight for the third time, Loki suddenly reappeared right in front of him, almost causing a collision. But Loki paid no mind; his ears twitched and his tail was rapier-straight. He turned to Thor and beamed, pointing ahead.

“The thicket is right over there! I can still smell the starblooms!”

Thor laughed. “Lead on, then, Loki. I’m right behind you.”

Sure enough, Loki had found the hidden thicket of starblooms, and he and Thor entered into the shady, fragrant shelter formed by the vines and trees. Loki practically danced over to the stump, his tail shivering with excitement. He crouched down beside it, peering into its hollow core.

“Did the fairies accept your offering?” Thor asked.

“Well… yes, but. I’m not sure what it is that they left behind.”

Frowning, Thor approached the stump and kneeled, staring down at the little circle he and Loki had put together yesterday evening. In the spot where Loki had placed his fang was a large white nut with a shimmery, iridescent shell. Apart from the color and luster, it looked just like an oversized walnut. It must have taken at least four fairies to transport it; it was nearly the size of a young apple.

Thor reached out and carefully picked it up. “It appears to be some sort of nut.”

Loki’s tail flicked anxiously back and forth. “Didn’t you say that nuts were bad for me? That they would sicken me if I ate them?”

“That is what Father said. But now I’m beginning to wonder.” Thor examined the white nut, turning it around, tossing it gently and catching it again. It felt heavy. The meat inside it must be dense and oily. “But the fairies have unusual wisdom and foresight. That is why their gifts are considered so helpful.”

Loki’s eyes gleamed, his gaze fixed upon the nut. “Yes, like the sick child you told me about. The one who was cured by them.”

“Exactly. They often know what is best for us big folk even before we even realize it.”

They fell silent for a moment, thinking.

“Well,” said Loki, “I suppose there’s only one way to find out.” He plucked the nut from Thor’s hand and opened his mouth.

Thor seized Loki’s wrist, halting him. “Wait. I’m not certain about this. These fairies have never seen a frost troll before. They might not know nuts are harmful to them.”

Loki’s ears poked out in disappointment. “There are frost trolls in Niflheim,” he pouted. “Not many, but I’ve heard they are there. The fairies you rescued all those years ago would surely know what a frost troll’s tooth looked like, and they would pass their knowledge on to their children.” A shadow of doubt crept into his eyes. “Wouldn’t they?”

Thor was quiet, meditatively rubbing his jaw. “I cannot say, Loki. You are the first troll to ever set foot on Asgard. There is a good chance the fairies might actually be wrong for once.” He gazed at Loki concernedly. “I wouldn’t risk eating it before we’ve first identified it.”

Loki’s expression wilted, his tail dropping to the ground like a limp worm. “You mean I’m never going to be able to eat the present they’ve given me?”

“I didn’t say that. You might, perhaps.” Thor straightened his back. “Let me take it to my father. He is unusually knowledgeable when it comes to the weakness of frost trolls, so perhaps he—”

Loki covered the nut with his hands and clutched it to his chest. “But. But it’s mine. The fairies gave it to me.”

“I’ll return it to you as soon as possible, Loki.”

“But what if your father takes it away because he doesn’t like me? What if you drop it while you’re flying? It might be something that will help me grow, and you could lose it forever.” Tears flooded Loki’s ruby-red eyes. “I’ve never gotten a gift from anyone before. Oh, please don’t take it away!”

Thor sighed and ran a hand through his still-damp hair. “Alright. But I can’t very well bring you with me, especially to meet my father.”

Loki seemed to fold up around his cupped hands, protecting his precious present, even with his tail. “So just leave it here with me. I’ll keep it safe and I won’t eat it until you get back.”

“You won’t eat it until we know what it is.”

“Alright, until we know what it is. Then I’ll eat it.”

“If it’s safe to eat.”

“Yes, if it’s safe.”

Thor smiled patiently. “Can I have one last look at it? I will need to describe it accurately to Father.”

Reluctantly, Loki stretched out his arms and opened his hands. He allowed Thor to look at the nut for a few seconds before he covered it again and refolded himself into a tight, anxious bundle.

Thor couldn’t help but laugh. In many ways Loki was exactly like a young child, possessive of his belongings and leery of sharing his toys—or treasures—with others. But Thor could hardly fault him; if he were in Loki’s situation, having been unloved, neglected and mistreated for most of his life, he would be cautious with this present, too. Especially since it was most likely magical.

“Good enough,” said Thor with a sideways smirk, and he rose to his feet and took Mjölnir from his belt. “I will return as soon as I can.”

“Have a nice flight.”

“Do not eat that nut, Loki.”

“I won’t.”


“I promise.” Loki smiled, his missing fang making a cute gap in his otherwise perfect white teeth.

Thor flicked his eyebrow dubiously and began to spin his hammer. “Alright. I will meet you back at the waterfall in a little while.”

“Right. Waterfall in a little while. Understood.” Loki stepped back from the gusts that Mjölnir was generating and raised his hand, wiggling his little blue fingers in farewell.

With one last look of warning, Thor leaped up and streaked through the leafy canopy above, disappearing into the pink and gold sky.

Loki waited a minute or two after Thor had gone before dashing from the thicket and back toward the trail, an excited grin on his face.

He couldn’t wait to return home. He wasn’t going to eat the nut, no. Certainly not. He had promised Thor he wouldn’t, and that was a promise he was going to keep.

But Thor hadn’t said anything about opening the nut. Or smelling the nut. And he especially hadn’t said anything about tasting the nut.

With a giggle and a mischievous flick of his tail, Loki scampered down the tree-shaded path, his mouth already watering.

Chapter Text

The waterfall shimmered and sparkled in the morning sunlight, gushing pleasantly over the rocks and crashing into the pool below. The clearing was bathed in warm golden hues, the dew on the grass long since dried, and birds sang to one another at the forest’s edge.

It was the perfect place for a secret picnic.

Loki sat himself down in the shade of an elm tree, the large white nut cupped in his hands. His tail flicked back and forth with excitement as he studied it closely.

How was he to open it? He didn’t want to smash it with a rock. That might destroy whatever was inside. He noticed there was a ridge in the shell, a kind of seam that divided the top part from the bottom, much like a clam. Perhaps he could weaken it until it split in two.

He attempted to wedge his blunt little fingernails into the ridge, but it was useless. Even if his nails were long enough to pierce the tough outer hull, his fingers were too weak to pull the halves apart.

He sighed and slumped down, feeling the full weight of his defectiveness. A real jötunn would have been able to make quick work of this nut, using his claws or his fists or his fangs.

Loki frowned, thinking. His tongue gingerly probed the gap left behind by his missing tooth. He wondered if he might be able to squeeze the nut open with the sheer power of his jaws. He was simply not strong enough to do it with his hands.

The only problem with his idea was the persistent ache in his three remaining fangs. They might be on the verge of falling out like his first one, but they were the only things small and pointy enough to fit into the seam.

Perhaps he would be better off finding another way. But what other ways did he have? Even the little ivory-handled knife Thor had given him would destroy the nut’s contents if he were to use it.

After a few minutes of pensive pondering, Loki made a determined face and raised the nut to his mouth. He began to gnaw and gnash at the shell. It was too large to even fit in completely. He turned it every which way, trying to find just the right position where he could set his fangs into the ridge and gain enough leverage to bear down. He finally managed to pin the nut securely between his teeth, and clamped down on it hard.

The nut squeaked and squealed as it began to split at its seam. Loki was encouraged, even though the force was causing his lower left fang to hurt terribly. He relaxed a moment, took a breath, then began to bite with renewed vigor.

A bluebird flitted down from the branches to perch on a nearby rock, blinking its black button eyes at him in bewilderment.

Loki grimaced and growled, applying even more pressure. The nut made a tiny cracking sound, its thick, iridescent exterior giving a little. Loki’s tooth burned with pain, but he persisted.

A sweet smell issued from the broken shell. Whatever was inside was wonderfully fragrant and strong.

Loki screwed his eyes shut and gave it all he had. Just a little more. Almost there…


The bluebird sprang from its perch as two objects went flying from Loki’s mouth. One was the nut. The other was his bottom-left fang.

Loki clapped both hands over his lips and released a muffled howl, his eyes flooding with tears. Warm, bright blue blood filled his mouth and began to drip down his chin. It tasted raw and coppery, not sweet like Æsir blood. He spat onto the grass, which was already flecked with his blood. Lying among the droplets was his tooth, with tiny pieces of flesh still clinging to the root. The nut—still in one piece, but the seam was split open more than halfway now—was right beside it.

Loki spent the next several minutes sniffing and moaning quietly, spitting out a slimy mix of saliva and blood. At least his saliva was helpful, numbing some of the pain and staunching the blood flow to a trickle.

He felt miserably sorry for himself. What a failure he was. He couldn’t even bite open a wretched nut. He was the weakest, most incompetent and deformed troll who had ever lived. Ljóki the Ugly. Ljóki the Shame. How deserving he was of his titles now.

He glared hatefully down at the nut.

The irony of losing another tooth because of a gift he’d received in exchange for a tooth was not lost on him.

He reached out and picked up both the nut and his displaced fang. He tucked the latter into the little pouch he wore on his loincloth, while the former he carefully pried open with his fingers.

Loki’s eyes widened with awe, and for a moment he forgot his pain and frustration.

The inside of the shell had a golden sheen to it, and nestled within was a kernel of white nutmeat about the size of a small boiled egg. Loki sniffed it cautiously and his eyebrows leaped up in surprise. It smelled sweet and rosy, like a piece of fruit, even though it resembled a—oh, what were those delicious things Thor had brought him last week? They came from the sea and lived in shells. Shallops? Shellups? He couldn’t remember their name, but he had loved them and…

Suddenly Loki was salivating, recalling the briny taste and the cool, juicy texture as they had slid down his throat. Before he even realized what he was doing, he had stuck out his tongue and licked the kernel.

It tasted as sweet as it smelled! Almost like a pear. Thor had introduced him to pears early on and it was a fruit that Loki adored. This mysterious thing the fairies had given him didn’t seem to be like any of the nuts Thor had warned him about. He said the meats were oily and sometimes had bitter skins on them, and none of them were described as having a nectarish flavor. Maybe this wasn’t a nut at all. Maybe it was actually some sort of fruit, like what Thor had mentioned. He said the fairies were known to leave strange fruits that no one had ever seen before; perhaps this was one of them. And if it was a fruit instead of a nut…

Loki couldn’t help it. He carefully nibbled off a piece of the kernel. Just a tiny scrape with his front teeth, barely noticeable. Thor wouldn’t even know it had been touch—

Oh. Oh.

Loki’s red eyes rolled upward as he held the morsel on his tongue, savoring its exquisite and refreshing flavor.

It was indescribably delectable. Like eating a flower, the richest, juciest flower that had ever sprouted from soil.

He couldn’t resist. He took another nibble, this time scraping off a bit more of the kernel, though still not enough to tell that it had been sampled. What a unique flavor it had! He had never tasted anything like it before, and his mouth continued to water as he swallowed the scanty little appetizer.

It wasn’t enough. He needed more. He was trembling now, fighting the urge to pop the entire thing into his mouth, knowing it would be pure bliss. His body craved this fruit—or vegetable, or mineral, or whatever it was—and the thought of waiting to eat it until Thor returned was unbearable. He simply had to have more.

Well… he had already opened it. Perhaps the kernel would dry out and get stale if he didn’t eat it now. Thor would understand that reasoning, wouldn’t he? He might be a little cross when he found out, but once he saw that his fears had been unfounded—because it wasn’t a nut, Loki was positive of it now—then all would be well again.

Loki contemplated his dilemma for a few more seconds. Then he lifted the kernel and took a huge bite out of it.

It was the most delicious thing he had ever tasted. Better than blackberry jam. Better than the cakes Queen Frigga had made for him. Even better than honey. Oh, it was simply—

He stuffed the rest of the nugget into his mouth, his tail wagging with glee.

He chewed slowly, crunching through the delightfully thick flesh whose flavors seemed to grow more complex and numerous the longer he chewed. When he finally swallowed, he felt it move down his throat and into his belly with a warm, satiating fullness. He heaved a happy, contented sigh.

The consequences of his impulsive act didn’t come to him until several moments later, when he was thinking what a shame it was that there were no more of these delicious things to eat. Then his eyes flew open and his heart began to pound wildly.

What was he going to tell Thor?

Loki bit his lip. He grasped his tail in both hands and began to wring it worriedly.

Perhaps he could stick something else in the empty shell and act as if he hadn’t eaten it. Thor didn’t have a clue as to what was inside it anyway, so Loki could use anything. A bit of smoked fish folded into a ball. A piece of cheese. A mussel dug from the warm mud of the riverbank.

A guilty look flashed across his features and he cowered down, his ears drooping.

It meant he would have to lie to Thor. Loki didn’t want to lie to him. Thor had saved him from death and brought him to Asgard for a new life, a new start, and the last thing he wanted was to prove that the Allfather was right. That all trolls were false and could never be trus—

Loki shivered suddenly, and the moonstone around his neck began to flicker.

That was strange. He was starting to feel a little cold. He couldn’t remember the last time he was cold—at least since he was wandering lost and hungry through the wintry forests on Midgard. But that was in the bitterest of icy snowfalls. This was Asgard. The sun was shining and everything was green and flourishing. There was no reason for him to feel cold.

He looked down at his hands. His fingers were ashy blue, pale and abnormally cool, as if his blood were slowly leaving his extremities.

Perhaps he should get up and move into the sun. That would warm him up quickly.

Loki rose to his feet, but he never got the chance to take a single step. He wobbled unsteadily, his head reeling and his breath coming short—too short. He gasped for air, his heart beating rapidly.

What was happening to him?

A shudder raced through his body and he felt the hair on his scalp stand on end.

This was all wrong. Something was terribly wrong with him.

The nut. He knew he shouldn’t have eaten it. It was doing something to him, he could feel it in his belly now. The pleasant warmth had faded and now it felt as if he had swallowed a heavy, icy rock. His fingertips were growing numb. His hands were slow to respond. His toes, the tip of his tail, everything was—

With his last conscious breath, Loki whimpered, “Thor!” and tumbled to the ground, his motionless arm just inches from a patch of warm, sunny grass.

It was roughly thirty minutes—as the raven flies—from Loki’s cave to the heart of Asgard, but Thor’s trip took a little longer since he had departed from the starbloom thicket, located farther westward. Once he arrived at the palace, he spent the better part an hour in search of his father, who was nowhere to be found.

He first checked the patio in the east garden, where the family typically took their breakfasts together and Odin was wont to linger afterward, sipping his tea and listening to Huginn and Muninn gossip on their nearby perch. The only person there today was Hodur, the efforts of his latest musical composition spread out before him on the table. He alternated between humming, drinking black coffee straight from the carafe, and making careful perforations on a thick scroll of parchment with a special stylus. There were easier ways of composing music, but Hodur preferred to do it by hand, one staff at a time.

When asked if their father had come and gone recently, Hodur said he had no idea. “I was up all night with the klaver,” he sighed, and ran a hand through his dark, unkempt hair. “I’ve been so focused on this third movement that I think a small army could have passed through here and I wouldn’t have noticed. Sorry, little brother.”

Thor gripped Hodur’s shoulder amicably. “That’s alright. I’m sure he can’t be far. I will find him eventually.”

He thought for certain Odin would be in his study, poring over the latest political happenings within the Nine, but instead he found Baldur behind the broad wooden desk. The sight brought an immediate smile to Thor’s face.

“I see the future king is hard at work,” he declared, sauntering in. “How do you find the real throne, brother? Tedious and uncomfortable, I’m sure.”

Baldur snorted. “Well, we can’t all be lightning-slinging meatheads. Someone has to keep an eye on the affairs of the realms.”

“Or two eyes, since you have elected not to sacrifice one of yours for the glory of Asgard.”

“You say ‘glory’ but all I hear is ‘gory’.”

The two sons of Odin shared a chuckle.

“Speaking of which,” said Thor, “I don’t suppose you’ve seen Father around, have you? I need to speak with him about an urgent matter.”

Baldur frowned and set down the handful of papers he’d been skimming through. “What sort of matter? Is it serious? Does it have anything to do with the quarreling kingdoms on Alfheim?”

“No, this has to do with Loki.”

“Ah.” Baldur’s face softened as he smiled. “How is our dear little guest doing? Have you made him comfortable? Is he enjoying Asgard?”

“He is adapting to it better than I thought he would. And the woodland creatures seem very fond of him. But a question has arisen recently that can only be answered by a troll expert.”

“I see.” Baldur leaned back in his chair. “I’m not quite sure where Father is at the moment; I think Mother said something about him riding this morning. Go to the stables and see if Sleipnir is still there. If he isn’t, you’ll have your answer.”

Thor gave Baldur his thanks and departed, but when he landed at the horse barn a few minutes later, he discovered Sleipnir in his stall and Váli and Vídarr shoveling manure.

Thor grinned lopsidedly and hung Mjölnir back on his belt. “Alright, what did you two rapscallions do this time?”

“It was all Váli’s fault,” Vídarr muttered, not even raising his head.

“Was not.”

“Was too.”

“Was what?” said Thor.

Váli leaned on his shovel and glowered, tossing his blond hair out of his eyes. “I asked Dad when he was going to let us go to Jötunheim.”

“Which was a mistake,” said Vídarr.

“Which was a mistake,” Váli echoed.

“We weren’t gonna go to Mount Útgard or anything—”

“—we just wanted to see the glaciers.”

“And the tundras.”

“And the frost trolls,” Thor finished.

The twins feigned innocence. “Only if they crossed our path,” said Váli airily.

“We weren’t gonna cause trouble or anything,” said Vídarr.

“It was just gonna be a short trip.”

“Like the ones you used to go on, Thor, remember?”

“But Dad said no.”

“Yeah, and then Váli just had to bring it up again at dinner last night.”

“Aw, c’mon, you know he sometimes gives up after a while—”

“Only like once in a hundred years. And you know what he said about mentioning trolls at the dinner table—”

“I didn’t say anything about trolls!”

“You said Jötunheim, and that’s just as bad.”

“I was trying to be subtle.”

“Well, Vál, you weren’t. So”—Vídarr rolled his eyes and turned back to Thor—“Dad and Váli got into it, and then Dad lost it and—”

“You were there, too, asshole.”

“Yeah, but I wasn’t the one who called him a boring old knob.”

“I didn’t call him a boring old knob. I said he was acting like a boring old knob.”

“Which means you called him a boring old knob!”

“I said he was like one, not actually one!”

“It doesn’t matter!”

“Yes, it does!”

“No, it doesn’t! It’s what we all heard, and more importantly it’s what Dad heard, so if you—”

“It’s not my fault that none of you can appreciate nuance.”

“This wasn’t nuance, Vál. You called Dad a dick, and now I’m out here shoveling mountains of horseshit when it should be you who’s—”

Váli dropped his manure-caked shovel and leaped at Vídarr, and the two began to throw fists and knees into one another’s bodies.

Thor sighed and reached out, grasping both of them by their collars and yanking them apart. They continued to swear and claw at one another, and he lifted them up until their boots left the floor completely. Only then did they cease their bickering and realize how much they were disappointing their big brother. They hung from Thor’s fists like a pair of guilty kittens.

“You may resume beating what’s left of your brains out in a moment,” said Thor, “but first I need to know where Father is.”

Vídarr wiped his bloody nose on his sleeve. “He came by just a little while ago.”

“To check on our progress,” said Váli, licking his bleeding lip. “I think he was on his way to see Heimdall.”

“Probably to tell him we’re banned from ever going to Jötunheim,” Vídarr muttered, “thanks to knuckle-nuts over here.”

Váli gave his twin brother the middle finger. Vídarr reached out and bent it backward. Váli screeched in pain and Thor dropped them both. The two landed in a scratching, kicking, biting heap, rolling around in clumps of dried manure and piss-fermented hay.

Thor lifted his hammer and gave it a spin, leaving the stables behind as he flew to the Gate of Asgard.

Heimdall was alone when Thor arrived, sitting on the steps of the dais that led up to the pedestal. His helmet was sitting beside him on the step, along with a tray of fruits and fancy biscuits and other tasty-looking baked items. He was sipping from a hilariously tiny and flowery-looking teacup—pinky out, of course—that could have only been delivered from Frigga’s personal cupboard. And he was apparently savoring every drop.

Thor had barely taken three steps before Heimdall said flatly, “You just missed him.”

Thor rocked his head back and let out a long, exasperated growl.

“He is arriving at the library now. He will be there for some time, I believe.”

With a heavy sigh, Thor raised his hammer and took to the air again, sailing back toward the palace with utmost haste.

Two minutes later he thudded onto the portico just outside the library and burst through the doors, roaring into the vast space, “Father! Are you here, Father! Hello!”

His echoes were like thunder, rattling the multicolored glass windows in their frames.

From the second-storey balcony, Frigga appeared. Her face was stern as she leaned over the wooden rail and hissed, “For Valhalla’s sake, Thor, lower your voice before you break the windows again!”

“Sorry, Mother,” Thor whispered. The acoustics in the royal library amplified his breathy response to an easily audible level. “It’s just that I have spent the entire morning looking for Father, and if I do not find him soon, I’m going to—”

Frigga raised her arm and pointed toward the south wing of the library. “Reference section. Map room. And please try not to make a mess, son.”

Thor nodded his assent and made his way through the towering pillars of book-laden shelves, his boots echoing loudly on the polished floor. He entered the reference section and strode toward the huge room at the end of the wing. There he finally spotted Odin, laying out what looked like an ancient map of Alfheim’s territories on the broad table in the center of the room. He wasn’t alone. There were three attendants with him: one perched on the bookcase ladder, another perusing a cabinet that held drawers of flat files, and a third who was handing a tightly-rolled map to her king.

Thor hastened to the table and said, “Father, I must speak with you.”

“I hope it’s important,” Odin replied, not looking up from the lines he was studying. “I am dealing with a very delicate situation between the rulers of Alfheim, so unless it—”

“Loki lost a tooth,” Thor blurted, and Odin raised his head. “We took it to the fairies and this morning they had left a nut for him.”

“A nut?” Odin straightened his back, intrigued. “Are you certain?”

“Not really. It doesn’t look like any nut I’ve ever seen before.”

“Hm.” Odin clasped his hands behind his back and blinked. “Interesting.”

Thor continued, “You know how fairies are. Their gifts are—”

“Usually beneficial, yes.” Odin frowned. “Odd that they would leave a nut for a frost troll.”

“Do you think they know they are harmful to them?”

“The Niflheim fairies do, certainly. But as for Asgard’s fairies, one can only guess.” Odin smiled grimly. “They loathe trolls, you know. Can’t stand them. I wouldn’t discount the possibility of them bestowing Loki a poisoned gift in order to get rid of him.”

Thor’s heart froze in his chest.

“They probably see it as a form of pest eradication,” Odin went on, turning back to his maps. “Nature trying to balance itself out, perhaps. Show me this gift of theirs, I should be able to tell you what it is.”

“I don’t have it.”

All amusement disappeared from Odin’s face as he raised his head once more. “What?”

Thor struggled to form the words. “I, I left it. With Loki. He was afraid I might lose it, so I let him keep—”

“Thor, you fool!” Odin moved quickly around the table, agitated. “Don’t you know that trolls are insatiably curious?”

Thor’s stomach twisted with dread. “Th-they are?”

“Of course! How in the worlds has that escaped your notice?”

The three attendants shrank back at the vehemence in the Allfather’s voice.

“They can’t leave anything alone,” Odin snapped. “They’re always getting into things and making a nuisance of themselves. And as for self control, well! They haven’t any, believe me. Loki probably ate that nut the moment you turned your back.”

Thor looked as if all the air had just been punched out of him. “No. No, he promised he wouldn’t. He told me he—”

“Promises mean nothing to trolls, boy. Don’t you know that? Bor’s beard, how naïve can one be!” Odin sighed forcefully and massaged his wrinkled brow.

Thor was already drawing Mjölnir from his belt. “I will go to him now. If he has eaten the nut, what should I do?”

“Well,” said Odin heavily, “if he isn’t already dead, try to induce vomiting. If he cannot purge, then give him milk. As much milk as you can. Do not give him water—that will only hasten his death. Now fly, hurry!”

Thor spun his hammer and blazed through the south wing like a red comet, his gusty wake pulling books from shelves and rattling the windows. Frigga’s piercing cry rang off the library’s ceiling: “Thor, how many times have I told you not to fly in the library!”

Odin stared at the aftermath of his son’s departure and soberly stroked his beard. After some time he said, “Gilla.”

The young woman who had been fetching maps stepped forward. “Yes, my lord.”

“Prepare the healing room to receive a possible casualty. Young adult, mixed sex, small stature.”

“A Vanir, sire?”

“No. He’s a…” Odin frowned, trying to accurately place Loki’s biology. “A special case. Elven. That is probably the most similar.”

“Yes, my lord. And what would we be treating?”

“Severe allergic reaction. An internal, ingested poison.”

“Understood. Shall I summon Lady Eir?”

“No.” Odin’s face softened. “The queen and I shall tend to the patient, if he is not already beyond our help.”

Gilla’s eyes widened. “Yes, my lord,” she uttered, and hurried away.

Thor flew as fast as he could, streaking over the trees with Mjölnir held out in front of him. His pulse pounded in his temples and he clenched his teeth, hoping and praying that his father was wrong. That Loki was not so deceptive and reckless. That he hadn’t eaten the nut the moment Thor had turned his back. That the fairies did not see him as a threat, that they wouldn’t try to poison him out of existence. Loki was only one small troll. He could never be a threat to them. He didn’t even want to eat squirrels or rabbits. He called them his friends.

Tears leaked from the corners of Thor’s eyes as he thought of how innocent and caring Loki was, how harmless and kind. How his past misery had likely made him that way, a sweet flower blooming from the ashes where a cruel fire had burned and raged. The wind blew the tears down the sides of Thor’s face and into his hair.

Many people on Midgard prayed to Thor for miracles. Now Thor prayed for a miracle of his own.

Less than a league ahead, a break appeared in the trees. The clearing. Thor could see the rocky ridge over which the waterfall flowed, and he immediately began to slow down, though not fast enough. He came in hot, unable to control his momentum. He landed hard on his feet and stumbled, tripped, and rolled over his shoulder.

He hadn’t done that since he was first learning to fly.

He pulled himself back up, his hair dangling over his face and bits of grass and dirt clumps falling from his shoulders. He glanced around the clearing frantically.

“Loki! Loki, where are you! Don’t eat the nut! I spoke with Father, he said it might be dange—”

The rest of his words died on his lips when his gaze fell upon a small group of woodland creatures gathered at the edge of the trees: a doe and her fawn, three rabbits, a pair of chipmunks, a band of bluebirds in the lower tree branches. They were all crowded around a small blue body lying facedown in the grass.


Mjölnir thudded to the ground from Thor’s limp fingers.

No!” he roared, and his cry was accompanied by a crack of thunder from the clear sky above.

The animals bolted, tails raised and feathers flying.

Thor charged across the clearing and slid to his knees beside Loki, feeling as if his heart had been torn from his chest. His gaze settled upon the remains of the nut, the shell split in two, its contents missing.

“Oh, no, no, please, Norns, no,” he uttered hoarsely as he pulled Loki into his arms and cradled him. He was completely limp, his eyes shut, his little body cold as stone.

He was too late.

“No, Loki,” Thor choked. He touched Loki’s unresponsive face with his fingertips, petting the lines of his cheek. “You cannot be gone. Wake up, Loki. Please.” He bent down and kissed his cool forehead, holding his lips there as he continued to speak. “Come back. Don’t leave, don’t leave…”

The animals watched from the trees as the big man-creature crouched over his little troll mate and wept. Thunder rumbled and dark clouds began to build in the sky. A drop of rain landed on Loki’s brow, rolling down into his soft black hair.

Thor buried his face against Loki’s neck and began to moan brokenly, rocking Loki back and forth like a sleeping child.

A raindrop landed on Loki’s arm. Then another on his leg.

Over the soft sound of Thor’s mourning, there rose a frail voice: “Th-Thor…”

Thor lifted his head, stunned, and saw the wet gleam of life between the tiny slits in Loki’s eyelids. “Loki!” he cried, cupping his cheek. “You’re still alive!”

Kalt,” Loki mumbled, trying in vain to lift his arm. “Svo kalt... Hita mig, Thor.”

Thor only knew a few words of Jötnin so far, but these were among the ones Loki had taught him.

He was cold. Very cold. And he was telling Thor to warm him.

Thor reached up with one hand and ripped his cape from its fastenings. There came the sound of tearing fabric; he paid no heed. He bundled Loki into his cape, tucking him into a ball. Loki’s tail flopped out limply between the folds.

“Don’t worry, Loki,” said Thor as he stood from his crouch. “I will take you someplace warm. Stay with me, Loki.”

Loki didn’t answer, didn’t move at all. He had fallen unconscious.

Thor held him close in one arm and called Mjölnir to him with the other. The hammer sang as it traveled through the air, the handle smacking into his palm. He grasped it tightly, the tendons bulging in his hand.

He didn’t give a damn about his father’s orders anymore. Loki was dying and there was only one thing that could save him now.

Thor took to the air and flew southeast, toward the palace, with all of the speed and energy he possessed.

Chapter Text

Odin knew Thor was on his way back before his son was even inside the city walls. The snarl of rapidly approaching thunder in the west was all the evidence he needed, and it also told him that Thor was in a very turbulent emotional state. With these two things taken into account, the reason for his speedy return from the forest was clear: that nut-eating little nuisance was in critical condition, and Thor was bringing him to the palace for emergency treatment.

The Allfather sighed, set down his map, and turned to his two remaining assistants. “Keep looking for those First Age plats of Alfheim. When you find them, bring them to my study immediately.”

“Yes, sire,” they chimed.

Odin made his way from the reference room and into the south wing, his rapid footfalls echoing loudly as he entered the heart of the library. Another rumble of thunder broke, closer this time.

Frigga appeared on the balcony, her head tilted to the side, listening. She spotted her husband striding across the floor below. “What’s happened? Are you and Thor quarreling?”

“Nay, my dear, this is an entirely different matter,” said Odin, raising his face to her. “One that I think will require a mother’s healing touch.” He extended his arm and beckoned to her. “Come, I will tell you along the way.”

With a puzzled frown, Frigga set down her armful of books, gathered her skirts, and hurried downstairs.

The rain was starting when Thor burst through the west entrance of the palace. He was soaked, his fair hair matted to his head and his armor streaming rills of water. His face was twisted with grief and his tears were indistinguishable among the raindrops wetting his cheeks. In his arms he carried Loki’s damp, bundled form.

He had not shivered once during the flight. That was not a good sign. He seemed to be slipping deeper into a state of senselessness. Only seidh-medicine would be able to bring him out of the darkness and back to the waking world.

As Thor plowed down the corridor toward the healing hall, he was met by both of his parents coming from the opposite direction. Frigga’s long golden-red hair was gathered behind her head and pinned up out of her way, and she carried her apple-wood wand, Helbryseg. [1] Her face was tight with concern. Odin wore a similar stern expression, though his features were harder and radiated an ominous mien. In his left hand he held Gungnir, the powerful golden spear which had, in its day, spilled more troll blood than Thor’s own hammer.

Thor set his jaw bravely and continued forward, preparing to meet—and defy—his father’s wrath.

“I know very well what you’re going to say,” he started, glaring at Odin, “and I don’t care. I’m not going to let—”

Frigga’s horrified gasp cut him off. “Loki!” she cried, darting over and trotting alongside Thor, pulling back the cape that hid Loki’s face. “Merciful Norns, he’s already febrile. Just look at his color. The poor thing is burning up.”

“Burning?” Thor glanced down at Loki and saw that his mother was correct; Loki’s cheeks were a dark, feverish cobalt and he was panting quietly through his parted lips. “Impossible. How can this be? He was freezing when I found him. He was cold and pale. The last thing he said to me was to keep him warm.”

“Oh, dear.” Frigga frowned. “It sounds as if his body’s thermoregulation has been completely disrupted. Come, your father and I have made ready a healing room. Take my arm; I’ll bear us hence.”

Thor came to an abrupt halt and turned to stare blankly at Odin. “I don’t understand. Aren’t you going to—”

“We haven’t the time for this, Thor,” said Odin, gripping his son’s shoulder. “It may already be too late. Now heed your mother and complete the circle.”

Perplexed, Thor did as Odin instructed. Frigga reached out and grasped Odin’s forearm, forming an unbroken circle with her husband, her son, and the sick little frost troll he was holding.

They vanished in a shimmering flash of green and gold light.

Thor couldn’t remember much after Frigga spirited them away to the healing room. It was all a confusing blur of action and agonizing helplessness. Someone, either his mother or one of the attending seidh-women, carefully pried Loki from his arms and laid him out on the glowing table. Thor watched several pairs of gentle Æsir hands ease Loki’s head down and unwrap him from his red cocoon. He looked so tiny and vulnerable on the table now: his narrow, naked blue chest, rising and falling in shallow, rapid beats; his clever little hands and feet, limp and cold to the touch; his tail, normally so animated and expressive, now utterly still.

It was like he was already dead.

“Out of the way, Thor,” someone—probably Odin—said to him. “We cannot work with you standing there. Either help us or leave us.”

After a muddled moment, Thor’s legs numbly walked him backward until he bumped into the wall. Two seidh-women moved into his empty spot and began to run analyses on the shimmering, transparent light fields that surrounded the table.

He couldn’t tear his eyes from Loki. He didn’t want to. If he looked away for so much as a second, he was sure Loki would die then and there. It was irrational and illogical, but a crushing sense of guilt had been building in Thor’s heart that made it difficult to believe anything else.

Loki was in this situation now because of Thor’s own negligence and naiveté; he had let Loki out of his sight and hadn’t been there for him when he needed him most, and now he may be dying. It was all Thor’s fault.

He sniffed and dragged his sleeve across his wet eyes, watching his parents and the healers work to undo what a wiser man could have prevented. Frigga held her wand a few inches above Loki’s body, moving slowly from head to toe while Odin laid his age-weathered hand on Loki’s belly and meditated upon something that could not be sensed with mortal faculties. He and Frigga spoke to one another using ancient terms of magic and sorcery, some which Thor had never heard before.

“It is not seidh-forgiftnin,” Odin muttered. “His blood is clean, not a single toxin. His vitals have a normal metabolic radiance.”

“I noticed that as well,” said Frigga. “What could be ailing him, then?”

“If it’s not an internal issue, then it must be external. An outside force is affecting him. It’s almost as if he is experiencing a blodsvinge. His extremities are cold but his core is overheating.”

“And it’s not breaking. There isn’t a drop of sweat on him.”

A series of glittering runes appeared on one of the light fields, red and angry-looking.

“My lady Frigga,” said the attending seidh-woman, “the patient’s temperature is approaching crisis-level. His cells are beginning to break down.”

Her words put a dagger of ice through Thor’s heart, and in that same moment an earth-shaking crack of thunder exploded in the sky above, causing everything in the room to rattle.

Thor heard his father say to one of the attendants, “Get him out of here,” and the next instant he was being pushed toward the door by a very determined, hard-handed woman. He looked over his shoulder, trying to catch one last glimpse of Loki, and saw Odin grasp the moonstone necklace Loki was wearing—the very thing that was keeping him from overheating, its flickering pearl fighting against the fever consuming him—and rip it off.

“No, don’t!” cried Thor. “He needs that! He—”

He was pushed outside and the door slammed shut behind him. He stood in the dark, eerily quiet corridor, dripping rainwater onto the floor, baffled and stricken and useless.

Loki’s precious life now lay in the hands of the Allfather, a man who happened to be an unrepentant troll-killer—as well as the greatest seidh-master in the Nine Realms. How easy it would be for him to fix his little troll problem now, Thor thought wretchedly. He could see it as clearly as if it were already happening: Odin emerging from the healing room with feigned disappointment, wiping his bloodstained hands on his robes matter-of-factly.

I did all that I could, but he was beyond our help. I’m sorry, son. It simply wasn’t meant to be. You there, servant. Fetch me some ale, I’m quite parched. Putting trolls out of their misery is thirsty work.

Thor leaned in and thumped the door with his fist, dragging his hand down the intricately-carved wood. He shut his eyes tightly, bowed his head, and allowed his tears to fall.

Outside, the black clouds opened up and poured rain onto the city of Asgard.

It was a dark day in the Golden Realm, the wettest and dreariest that many could recall. Rooftops shined, gutters gurgled, and the streets turned to swamps. Merchants and peddlers hawked their wares from the cover of their tents while pedestrians ducked beneath awnings to get out of the rain. Taverns saw an increase in patrons; damp, disgruntled folk who drew to the hearth to dry their skins and ordered tankards of warm mead to cheer their spirits.

Morning turned to afternoon, and afternoon aged bitter and gray, punctuated by groans of thunder and sighing winds. As with most days when the weather was rotten, time seemed to crawl by, the hours stretching themselves out to thrice their normal length. It made waiting an agony.

Inside the palace, word had quickly spread that a person of interest had been delivered to the Allfather. Anything beyond that was left to rumor and speculation. Soon a small crowd of whispering, wide-eyed spectators had formed at the end of the corridor, hoping to catch a glimpse of the mysterious stranger. He was said to be many things: dangerous; dying; a criminal; a child. No one was certain. Theories fluttered left and right from wagging jaws.

Thor sat on the floor outside the healing room, his back to the wall and his arms resting on his knees, only vaguely listening to the quiet, querulous voices. He didn’t bother correcting them. At this point, he couldn’t care less what they thought. Sound and air, that’s all it was. Meaningless mist that amounted to nothing.

“I heard it’s a wounded prisoner. A troll, of all things.”

“Aye, Prince Thor captured it and brought it to the king to be interrogated.”

“It must have important information for Odin himself to be questioning it.”

“A troll in Asgard! What a horror!”

“I hope it doesn’t escape. Just think what would happen.”

“Blood and murder, for sure.”

“Nay, the Allfather would protect us from that. It is plague that worries me. Goodness knows what diseases a creature like that might bring into this realm.”

“You’re all completely wrong. That’s no troll in there, but some kind of elf. Raudhi saw it with his own two eyes.”

“Well, I heard it from Gilla personally that it is not an elf. It’s some kind of interspecies child, a frail, feeble little thing who was poisoned by a witch.”

“Gilla never said anything about a witch.”

“It’s an elf, I tell you. Raudhi swears on it—”

The muttering and milling continued for a long while. Some of the spectators became bored or were forced to return to their duties, and a new watch would take their places, asking the same questions and arguing the same theories. In this way the crowd replenished itself over the course of many hours, and everyone in the palace was kept abreast of the latest news from the healing hall.

Baldur and Nann appeared around mid-afternoon. With a few crisp orders, they broke up the gathering and sent for guards be posted at each end of the corridor to keep away gossiping onlookers. Then they sat down with Thor as they had originally intended and offered him their solace.

“Take heart, little brother,” said Baldur kindly. “Father would be a fool to try and hurt Loki now. Mother is with him, after all.”

“Yes, she will keep him safe,” said Nann with a smile and a nod. “Tell me more about him. Baldur says he is a tiny thing. Is he a child, or is he simply small for his age?”

“He is a young adult,” said Thor hollowly, “though for some reason he is losing his teeth as if he were a child.”

He went on to explain how Loki’s teeth had been bothering him and how he had lost his fang the previous day. Baldur and Nann sat on either side of him, listening intently.

“I cannot be sure,” said Thor, “but it looked as if he had lost another tooth while I was gone today. I don’t know what is happening to him.” A tear slid from his eye and he quickly wiped it away. “I wish I had never told him about the fairies. Then none of this would be happening.”

A messenger came for Baldur some time later and he was forced to take his leave. He promised to return as quickly as possible.

Nann stayed with Thor, her arm hooked in his, and tried to keep his mind occupied with matters other than his immediate crisis.

A half hour later, one of the seidh-women finally came out into the corridor with an update on Loki’s condition.

“His temperature is still fluctuating, but the worst seems to be over,” she said. “He has been placed in an induced sleep to prevent further damage to his brain. We won’t know the extent of his impairment until he wakes.”

Nann squeezed Thor’s hand and looked over at him. His face was twisted with anguish.

“Brain damage?” Thor repeated, his voice thick with emotion. “Impairment?”

“Queen Frigga is monitoring his waves now, and King Odin is using søvnseidh to heal him.”

Søvnseidh,” Nann murmured. “That’s the same magic he uses for sleep regeneration, isn’t it?”

“Yes, your highness. The same as the Odinsleep.”

“Could I see him?” Thor pleaded.

The seidh-woman shook her head. “I’m sorry, your highness, but the Allfather has requested that you remain here. No one is to enter the recovery room. It is delicate sorcery they have woven and the patient must not be woken prematurely. His sleep cycle must be allowed to complete itself naturally.”

Thor dropped his gaze to the floor. There came a soft rumble of thunder overhead. He said no more.

“Thank you for the news,” Nann interceded. “Please keep us updated, even if nothing changes. We will be right here.”

“Of course, your highness.”

Thor fell into a long, mournful silence. Nann held his arm and hoped that her presence was at least some comfort to him.

Hodur appeared not long afterward, his walking staff skimming the floor before him as he moved.

“I heard you’re having a bad day,” he said with a lighthearted grin. “Literally. I’ve been listening to it for the last hour.” He gestured toward the ceiling, where the rain was steadily drumming on the roof outside. “The whole palace is buzzing like a beehive. Did you really bring Loki here? Is he sick?”

Nann was about to answer for Thor when he finally lifted his voice: “He has been poisoned. He ate a nut that the fairies left for him and now his brain might be permanently damaged. All because I was foolish.”

Hodur sat himself down in Baldur’s vacant spot and listened to his younger brother recount the details of the past few hours, including the update they had just received.

“The søvnseidh is very strong magic,” said Hodur, leaning on his staff. “Father and Mother know what they’re doing. Loki will be fine.”

Thor didn’t say anything.

Until he saw Loki alive and well, he wouldn’t believe it.

In a dark chamber off the main healing room, a small patient was returning to the world of the conscious.

Loki woke slowly, taking a deep breath and blinking open his eyes. He rolled over with a sleepy groan and curled up on his side, nestling deeper into the soft, warm blankets.

His eyes shot open a moment later and he bolted up, looked down at himself. He was lying in a flat Æsir bed with a thick, fluffy pillow under his head and several layers of blankets on top of him. He had been dressed in clothes, a kind of loose white shirt with long sleeves. It was soft and flowy and very comfortable, though it seemed a bit oversized. He pushed down the covers and saw that the garment was long, covering his feet and even the end of his tail. He was naked beneath it, his loincloth nowhere to be found.

Loki blushed and drew the covers over himself again, then glanced around anxiously. He was in a dim, narrow room with a high ceiling, completely alone. A strange-looking lamp on the nearby table glowed a serene shade of green. It was the only source of light. The floors were a type of smooth, polished stone he had seen before, and the designs on the walls looked familiar. Asgardian. Royal.

Loki jolted at the realization and gripped the blankets tightly.

He was in the palace. The one place in Asgard where his presence was strictly forbidden. How had he gotten here? Had Thor brought him? Did he—

Suddenly it all came back to him. Memories crashed over Loki like a wave; he recalled waking up in his nest with Thor that morning, the awkwardness that followed. A breakfast of dried fruits and meat and the cakes that Queen Frigga had made especially for him. The trip to the starbloom thicket. The discovery of the nut. Thor’s departure. The promise Loki had made—and then broken.

“Oh no,” he whispered, remembering his irresistible temptation, his voracious desire, how it had overpowered him. Just one little taste was all it had taken to drive him to utter madness.

Things became blurry after that. He had been cold, he knew, and then he fell down. He thought he remembered Thor picking him up, the sound of thunder, the feeling of rain on his skin. And now he was in some kind of Asgardian sick nest, feeling perfectly alright while everything else he cared about was completely and utterly ruined.

Loki buried his face in his hands and began to whine.

Thor was never going to trust him after this.

Just then there came the sound of a door creaking open. Loki’s head snapped up in terror and he shrank even deeper into the covers.

In a doorway to his right stood Queen Frigga. She smiled at him kindly and glided over to the bed. She appeared tired but pleased.

“I thought I heard you stirring. How are you feeling, darling?”

“V-very well, your majesty.”

“That’s good.” She held up a small white crystal. “May I?”

Loki nodded, unsure of what she was going to do with it. She leaned over and gently pressed the crystal to Loki’s temple for a few seconds, then pulled away. The crystal had turned a soft pink, which gradually faded back to its original color.

“Your temperature is normal,” she declared. “That’s a good sign. We were all so worried for you, Thor especially. It’s been raining and thundering here all day.”

Loki cringed, his ears drooping. “I’m so sorry, your majesty. I didn’t mean to cause so much trouble. Please don’t send me back to Midgard!”

“Why, Loki! Dear, we would never do that.” Frigga sat down on the edge of the bed, frowning. “This realm is now your home. You’ve done nothing wrong.”

“But I have!” Tears began to flood Loki’s eyes. “I promised Thor I wouldn’t eat the nut, he told me not to, and that’s precisely what I did. I don’t even really know why I did it. I, I just lost control of myself. I never intended to break my promise, I swear. I only wanted to see what was inside. But the shell was hard and I”—he swallowed roughly and a tear tumbled down each of his cheeks—“I tried to bite it in half and ended up losing another tooth, and by then I was so angry that I… when I finally did get it open, it smelled so good I just…”

“Just couldn’t help yourself,” interrupted a new voice. “Apparently the fairies were counting on that.”

Loki’s face drained to pale blue as the Allfather stepped into the room.

The last time he had seen Odin face-to-face was one of the most terrifying and unpleasant experiences of his life. The most powerful being in the Nine Realms had expressed nothing but contempt for Loki and all his kin. He’d made that absolutely clear.

Odin didn’t look very pleased right now, but he didn’t appear to be angry or disgusted, either. He stood with his hands clasped behind his back, gazing down at Loki with one eyebrow quirked.

Thú ert heppinn, little one,” he said gravely, “very lucky indeed. If Thor had brought that nut to me, I would have told him to toss it into the ocean, and you would not be here in my palace now, enjoying my hospitality.”

“I’m sorry, Allfather,” Loki squeaked and threw back the covers. “I’ll leave at once. Please forgive my intrusion—”

“Get back in that bed, Loki. You’re not going anywhere.”

Loki scrambled back into bed and stared at Odin fearfully from the covers. He looked to Frigga for help.

“It’s alright, darling,” she assured him, patting his shoulder. “Stay and rest. You’ve been through quite an ordeal.”

“But I feel fine, really. Please, I don’t want to cause any more trouble than I already have. I just want to go home.”

“Home?” Odin snorted. “Your home is a frozen rock on Jötunheim, and as much as it would please me to send you back there, I don’t think Fárbauti would enjoy seeing the refuse he threw out returned to him.”

Odin.” Frigga’s voice was dagger-sharp. Odin winced as if he’d been nicked.

“Er, well. In any case, it pains me to say that you must remain here in the palace overnight. Perhaps tomorrow as well.”

Loki huddled against Frigga’s side, his eyes huge. “Why? Am I going to be punished?”

The Allmother petted his hair. “No, dear. We just want to make sure that your temperature is stable. We wouldn’t want to send you home until it is done adjusting.”

“W-what do you mean? What happened to me?”

“To put it succinctly,” said Odin, “the fairies gave you a nut that altered your metabolism.”

“Matab. Tablo. M-my what?”

Efnaskipti,” Odin repeated, using the jötnin term. “Your body temperature. Have you not noticed that you are clothed and covered in blankets, and yet quite comfortable?”

“Yes, sir. But my moonsto—” Loki reached up to touch his necklace and found his neck bare. “Oh no! Where is it? What happened to it?”

Frigga said gently, “As soon as you ate the nut, your body began to alter itself. The moonstone was interfering with the process, and that is what made you ill.”

Loki blinked. “So I… don’t need the moonstone anymore?”

“I should say not,” said Odin gruffly. “It almost killed you. Fairy magic and seidh do not mix well.”

“Odin was the one who realized it,” said Frigga, casting a knowing look in her husband’s direction. “Once he removed the moonstone, your fever came down and you began to normalize.”

Loki’s expression shifted from dismay to amazement. “So the fairies…?”

“They undoubtedly recognized you as a frost troll from the tooth you offered them,” Odin said. “And for some illogical reason, they decided to bless you instead of exterminate you. Perhaps you are too small to be seen as a threat to them.”

“Or perhaps Thor had something to do with it,” Frigga said with a merry sparkle in her eye. “You know how much the fairies adore him.”

“Yes, yes, I know.”

Loki gulped, glancing between the king and queen. “Does that mean I’m like one of you now? An Æsir?”

“We don’t know yet,” Frigga confessed. “All we know is that you suddenly seem to be doing quite well in our climate, and we want to observe you for a little while to see if the effects are permanent. Hopefully they will be. Wouldn’t that be lovely?”

Loki was silent for several long moments, absorbing this astonishing news. Being able to live comfortably in Asgard without the aid of moonstones or magic—it seemed like a dream come true. And it also meant that the fairies didn’t hate him; on the contrary, they had given him a welcome present, the best welcome present a frost troll could ever hope for: the ability to live in the golden realm of Asgard without being harmed by its warmth. Oh, Loki couldn’t wait to tell Thor—

Frigga saw the veil of dejection suddenly fall over Loki’s face, and she put her comforting arm around him. “What’s wrong, darling? You look troubled.”

Loki fiddled with his hands. “No, your majesty. It’s just that I… well, I lied to Thor and I’m afraid he won’t be happy to see me.” He lowered his head and added, “If he even wants to see me again.”

“Oh, Loki, of course he wants to see you! He’s been waiting outside in the corridor ever since you arrived. Baldur and Hodur and Nann, all of them have come to show their support. He is going to be overjoyed to see you, darling, of that I’m certain.”

“Yes,” Odin glowered. “My son, the thunderer, overjoyed to see a troll. This is my legacy. Fraternizers and troll-lovers.”

Frigga smiled archly before turning to Loki. “Would you like to go see him? I’m sure he’s been counting the minutes.”

“Oh, yes, ma’am! Very much. But, erm. I believe these clothes might be a little big for me.” Loki was right. The neck of his nightgown was so large that it fell off one of his little blue shoulders, displaying his markings.

“Of course, I shall assemble an outfit for you myself. Something suitable for a prince.”

“Thank you, Queen Frigga. And”—he smiled sheepishly—“if it’s not too much trouble, I think I’d like to have a bath. I feel as if I’ve been sweating for hours.”

“You were,” said Odin flatly. “And you smell like it.”


“What? I was merely agreeing with him. Go on, then, give him a bath. Dress him in silks and jewels, make a doll out of him. In the meantime I shall be dealing with more important matters. Hmph. And do send for me before you bring him out, Frigga. I wouldn’t want him to suddenly destabalize and start melting all over the floors. They’re difficult to replace, you know.” He turned and walked out the door.

Loki waited until he was out of earshot before he looked up at Frigga. “He doesn’t like me very much, does he?”

“Don’t worry about him,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Odin is a man who likes to hide his feelings behind many walls. It is how he guards himself. A king can be many things, but weak is not one of them.” She smiled at Loki and took him by the hand. “Come now, darling, let’s get you cleaned up.”

Evening was approaching, though the cloud cover made it difficult to tell what time it truly was. A dusky dimness had settled over the entire city.

Baldur returned from his errands and resumed his vigil with his wife and his brothers. They took breaks in shifts, coming back with chairs and a bit of food and drink to share amongst each other. Normally Thor’s appetite was hearty, but he had no interest in food now. The others didn’t fault him, nor did they try to force him to eat; however, Baldur was finally able to persuade Thor to leave for a few minutes to go get changed out of his clothes, which were still damp from his panicked flight that morning. He returned wearing a civilian outfit and soft leather boots to replace his more rugged, battle-ready pair.

They were all beginning to nod off in their chairs when Hodur suddenly lifted his head. “Father’s coming,” he announced. “Mother, too.”

The king and queen were nowhere to be seen, but anyone who knew Hodur more than five minutes trusted his hearing, which was almost supernaturally keen.

“Is anyone with them?” Thor asked.

“I don’t think so.”

Thor swallowed his dread. Baldur reached out and steadied him.

Presently Odin appeared at the north end of the corridor, striding slowly, his face an unreadable mask. A short distance behind him came Frigga, the hem of her skirts brushing along the floor. The four siblings rose to their feet and watched their parents approach.

They stopped a short distance away—another ill omen—and when Odin heaved a long, weary sigh, Thor’s blood ran cold.

This was it. Any minute now his father would say the words. I’m sorry, Thor. We did everything we could but

Frigga turned her head to the side and whispered, “You can come out now, dear.”

From behind Frigga’s skirts emerged someone Thor thought he’d never see again.

Loki. Warm and alive, his eyebrows bent into worried little arches beneath his short, nubby horns. He was dressed like the child of an emperor, the beloved son of a decadent monarch. He wore a long light-blue jerkin trimmed with silver, its buttons made of pearl and abalone, and a long silk sash over his shoulder. His undershirt and leggings were satiny white and his belt was soft, pale leather with delicate tooling crafted into it. A pair of beautifully brocaded slippers covered his small feet. He wore a silver circlet on his head and his hair looked like it had been washed and trimmed, for it shined glossy black and all the blunt edges were gone. His cheeks were a healthy cerulean blue, though his ruby eyes were full of unmistakeable guilt. His tail curled nervously around his left ankle.

Baldur leaned close to Hodur and described Loki’s appearance in a rapid murmur, smiling, using the special language that only they two shared. Hodur kept nodding his head, a faint grin on his lips.

Nann folded her hands over her heart. “Bless me,” she murmured. “I’ve never seen such a darling prince in my life. He’s twice as handsome as you said he was, Thor.”

Thor’s lips were parted in awe. He hadn’t blinked once.

Loki ducked his head as he approached and wrung his small hands.

“I’m sorry, Thor,” he began shakily. “For lying to you and eating the nut. For making you worry. Please forgive me. I didn’t mean—”

Thor fell to his knees and threw his arms around Loki, burying his face against his shoulder. Loki made a startled sound and went stock-still, his tail sticking straight out.

“I thought you dead,” said Thor raggedly, lifting his head to look Loki in the eyes. “I thought I had killed you.”

The fear melted from Loki’s face. “Oh, no, Thor, you weren’t responsible for any—”

“I left you. You could have died. It is I who should be begging your forgiveness, Loki.”

“But,” Loki sputtered, “but I was the one who broke your trust. It was my fault. I was greedy and—”

“No, I was ignorant.”

“But I was impatient.”

“And I was oblivious.”

“Ob. Blivvy…?”

“Oblivious,” Thor repeated gently. “It means I did not see what was right in front of me.” He reached up and brushed his fingers through Loki’s hair, tucking the shiny black strands behind his pointed ear.

“What do you mean?” said Loki. “What was right in front of you?”

Thor gently laid his hand on the back of Loki’s collar and gave him a tender, tearful smile. “That you are wonderfully curious and inquisitive, and I should not have left you with something so dangerous. Only a fool would take such risks.”

“Oh, but it wasn’t really dangerous,” Loki insisted, brightening a little. “You were right about the fairies. Their gifts are helpful, and this one was not only magical, it was miraculous!”

Thor looked to his father, who rolled his eye and nodded grumpily. “Yes, that does seem to be true,” he admitted. “Whatever was in the nut seems to have cured Loki of his heat intolerance. It appears the fairies have decided that they like this particular frost troll and want to help him. For the life of me I can’t figure out why. Who knows when it comes to fairies. Daft, silly creatures. Flitting around, sprinkling all over the local flora, introducing new species every season. I would like to know how they got into Asgard in the first place.”

Thor and Loki met each other’s eyes. Loki covered his grin with his hand and snorted cutely while Thor pulled his mouth into a frown to keep from laughing.

Baldur put his arm around Nann, smiling at the happy reunion before them.

Then Hodur’s voice rose up in alarm: “What in Hel is that?”

It was another few moments before the rest of the family registered the sound of approaching footsteps. It sounded like a small army was making its way toward them. The tramping of heavy boots, the jingle of chain mail and the clank of armor, wooden shields thudding against leather—and, strangely enough, the bleating of a goat.

Baldur let out a cackle before he hid his grin behind his fist. “Ene jainko. Hau da, Hodur. Hau itxaron zenuen une honetan. Váli eta Vídarr Loki elkartuko dira. Prest al zaude?

Hodur grasped his twin’s shoulder and laughed. “Prest nago, neba.” [2]

Thor stood and put a protective hand on Loki’s shoulder.

A few seconds later, Váli and Vídarr Odinson rounded the corner, clattering and clanging in full battle armor. They wore helms on their heads and scowls on their faces, and they carried their personalized shields that had yet to see any real action. Nevertheless, they were groomed for war, their faces painted and their eyes lined with kohl. Vídarr carried his sword and axe, Váli his bow and knives. They would have made a fearsome sight on any battlefield, but here they looked simply ridiculous.

Especially with a small goat trailing after them, a rope tied around its neck.

They drew to a halt before the doors of the healing room and beat their shields against their sides.

“We’re ready, Father,” said Vídarr determinedly.

“Yes,” snarled Váli, “we’ve been preparing all day to meet the Troll Prince of Jötunheim.”

“We brought him a snack.” Vídarr shook the rope he was holding, which was currently being chewed on by the goat. “It won’t hold him over for long, but it should keep him off our backs for a little while.”

“Yeah, we might just escape with our lives.”

“But not without getting clawed.”

“Maybe maimed a little.”

“Yeah, like on the face.”

“So we can get some really wicked scars.”

“Girls love guys with face scars.”

“Open the doors, Dad!” cried Váli, so inflamed with bloodlust that he forgot his manners. “We’re ready to meet this Loki!”

A brief silence ensued. Baldur whispered to Hodur, who was trying his damnedest not to burst out laughing.

Odin arched his eyebrow and drawled, “If you wish to meet Loki, he is right here.”

The twins stopped glaring at the doors and turned their heads. “Huh?”

Unable to suppress his grin, Thor stepped to the side and gestured to Loki, whom Váli and Vídarr had completely failed to see. Loki put his hand to his waist and bowed politely in the Asgardian fashion.

“Váli, Vídarr,” announced Thor, “I present to you Prince Loki of Jötunheim.”

“How do you do,” Loki chirped. He grinned up at the youngest of Odin’s sons, revealing his two missing fangs. “Oh, is this for me?” He scurried past them and over to the goat—it was small, less than a year old—and stroked its soft hair. “Thank you! I’ve always wanted a pet. I promise I’ll take good care of it.”

The goat bleated and Loki bent to hug its neck.

The twins’ mouths dropped open at the same time, a look of horror on their faces.

“Wh-what.” Váli struggled. “But he’s.”

“He’s pretty.”

“Thank you,” said Loki, his eyelashes fluttering bashfully.

“He’s polite,” Vídarr squawked.

“Well, I do try to be respectful to those who—”

“He speaks good!” Váli looked up at his family accusingly. “You knew. You all knew!”

“And you led us to believe he was a beast!” Vídarr cried. He looked as if he might already be crying.

Baldur smirked at his little brothers. “You fooled yourselves for the most part. You let your imaginations get the better of you. We never said anything about what Loki looked like.”

Váli and Vídarr simultaneously threw their arms toward their father. “He told us that Loki was a fearsome fiend! Big red eyes!”

“Claws like daggers!”

“Teeth like swords!”

“Like needles,” Odin corrected.

“You said he’d tear the meat off our bones!”

“And stab us with his tail!”

Váli and Vídarr glared at their father accusingly, as if they had been robbed and insulted in the worst way. Baldur used those exact words to describe their faces and Hodur promptly cracked up. It caught, and soon the whole family was laughing.

Vídarr dropped the goat’s rope and squatted down with a defeated moan. Váli let his shield hit the floor and cradled his head in his hands, mumbling “I can’t believe this,” over and over.

Loki padded over to him—the goat followed, it liked him already—and clasped his hands together politely. “Excuse me, Prince Váli?”

Váli uncovered his face. His kohl was running down his cheeks in wet black streaks. “Yeah, what?” he snapped.

Loki cleared his throat. “I’d like to thank you and your brother for all your help. Because of you, Thor has been able to teach me many things these past few weeks—how to fish, tie knots, tell time with the sun and the stars. It’s helped me tremendously and I want you to know that I’m very grateful.” He smiled.

Váli and Vídarr shared a glance with one another, then looked down at this princely little troll before them. “Uh. You’re… welcome?”

Loki’s tail gave a happy shake. He extended his hand to Váli, as Baldur had done to him when they first met. After a confused pause, Váli grasped his forearm, and Loki grasped his.

Thor watched this meeting of two different worlds, and thought his heart could never be so full of love and pride as it was right now.

Outside the palace, the rainclouds broke, revealing a gorgeous sunset.

Chapter Text

Once Váli and Vídarr had gotten over the initial shock of meeting the troll prince of Jötunheim, their cautiousness transformed into curiosity. They gathered round and studied Loki with thoughtful expressions and eyes that gleamed with interest.

“So you’re a real frost troll,” Vídarr mused. “I’ve never seen one in person before. Wow. You look kinda cool, actually.”

Loki smiled. “Oh, no, I’m really quite comfortable. I’m not cold or hot at all.”

“It’s just a saying,” said Váli absently. He was mesmerized by the end of Loki’s tail, following every wag and curl with fascination. “When something’s cool, that means it’s excellent.”

“Yeah, it’s a good thing.”

“Really?” Loki looked over his shoulder at Thor. “So the lower the temperature, the better something is?”

“I don’t believe temperature has anything to do with it,” said Thor, smirking. “It is only an expression of approval.”

“Oh.” Loki turned back around, his cheeks flushed dark blue. Thor’s little brothers approved of him! This was better than he had hoped for.

“Do your markings mean anything?” Vídarr asked, picking up Loki’s hands and examining the fine lines on them. “Were you born with them? Or did you have to grow into them?”

“Can you pick things up with your tail?” Váli added, still staring at Loki’s hindmost appendage. “It looks pretty handy. Like, literally handy, I mean. Can you hang upside down from a tree or anything?”

“I, em, well, it’s—”

“Are you gonna grow claws when you get older?”

“Hey, you’re missing a few teeth,” said Váli, suddenly alarmed. “What happened?”

“Oh, damn, you are missing teeth. Did they get knocked out in a fight?”

“Did you win?”

“Do we need to kick somebody’s ass?”

“Hey, how old are you anyway? You’re like a kid, right? A baby troll?”

Too many questions. Loki was so overwhelmed that he could only address the latest one. “Er, no, I’m actually—”

“Wait, are you a boy or a girl?”

“He’s a boy, Ví,” said Váli, rolling his eyes. “He’s called Prince Loki, not Princess Loki.”

“That doesn’t mean anything. Queen Nalior is a man.”

“Yeah, because he’s married to a king.”

“Boys,” said Frigga kindly, “there will be plenty of time later to ask Loki all the questions you like. He’s had a long and stressful day, as have we all, and I’m sure he could do with some food. Loki, dear, would you like to join us for dinner?”

Odin opened his mouth to protest and was suddenly mugged by Baldur, who threw his arm around his father’s shoulder and proclaimed loudly, “An excellent idea, Mother! I’m sure Father in his infinite grace would be honored to have such a fine guest at his table.” He gave Odin a hearty shake. “And what better way for Loki to show his appreciation than by accepting the invitation? His presence would be a delight to all of us. What say you, Loki? Will you join us at the Allfather’s table?”

Thor crossed his arms over his chest and tried to hide his grin by pretending to scratch his beard. Baldur’s swift, politic thinking had managed to ingratiate both Loki and their father, as well as make it clear that any opposition would mean disappointing (and likely incensing) the entire family. He was truly a natural diplomat.

Loki put his hand to his chest, flattered beyond words. “Gladly, your majes—er, I mean your highness. Thank you.” He bowed his head respectfully.

“Splendid!” Baldur clapped Odin on the back, who currently appeared to be suffering from a bad case of indigestion. “Isn’t it, Father?”

“Oh. Yes. Splendid.” Odin smiled as if he were in terrible pain. “A troll at the dinner table. Why not. May as well bring the goat. It can have its own seat, too, since we’re allowing anyone in now.”

“Really?” said Loki. The goat behind him bleated cutely. “Thank you, your majesty. That would be splendid.”

Something half groan and half whine escaped Odin’s throat. Whatever it was, it was certainly a sound of defeat. With a blustery sigh, he turned and began to trudge toward the dining hall, muttering to himself about the decay of hierarchy and the virulent strain of egalitarianism that had apparently infected his brood.

With smiles on their faces, the family of Odin—and one elegantly-dressed frost troll—followed him down the corridor.

It was the jolliest, most animated dinner the family had had in quite some time, at least since Nann had married Baldur, or Váli and Vídarr had been wriggling babes in their highchairs, eating with their hands and smearing food all over each other’s giggling faces. They had outgrown their chairs, but their messy habits still remained.

The goat—a young female, as Thor had pointed out earlier—was given her own little bowl on the floor beside Loki’s chair. She munched hungrily on a serving of vegetable scraps from the kitchens, and every now and then Loki would reach down and stroke her neck. Each time he did she would make a happy little meh-eh-eh-eh and give her tail a shake.

For Thor, this was wonderful beyond words, having Loki at the table with the rest of his family, making them all smile and laugh, keeping the conversation rich and engaging. He spent most of dinner gazing at Loki dreamily, unable to take his eyes off of him. He looked so handsome and regal in his silken, pale blue attire. Like a royal snowflake, a pretty winter prince. Whenever Loki caught him staring, Thor’s grin would widen and Loki would turn his gaze bashfully downward before lifting it up again, a playful gleam in his ruby eyes.

Odin witnessed these coy little exchanges and took a huge gulp from his goblet every time one happened. His rate of consumption would have had any Midgardian man falling out of his chair by the end of dinner, but many centuries of practicing seidh as well as his vigorous Æsir blood prevented him from becoming completely intoxicated. As it was, he put on an indifferent façade while his family paid extra special attention to the guest of honor, offering Loki dish after dish until his plate was piled high with more food than he could possibly finish. He gave it his best attempt, though.

The only thing that came close to spoiling the cheerful mood was the silverware. Loki struggled with the strange Asgardian utensils, trying to balance them in his small hands. His face glowed hot with embarrassment each time he dropped his fork or sent a piece of food tumbling into his lap.

Thor came to his rescue when it became apparent that Loki was determined to eat after the manner of his hosts or starve trying. He cleared his throat—sweeping away a chunk of mutilated potato that had been catapulted onto his sleeve from Loki’s latest blunder—and offered a gentle explanation:

“Loki’s people are not accustomed to using silverware when they dine. They traditionally eat with their hands and drink their soup straight from the bowl.”

“Really? Well, that’s no problem,” said Baldur amicably. “Váli and Vídarr do that all the time. You don’t have to worry about matching our customs, Loki. Eat as you normally would.”

Loki squirmed in his seat. “Thank you, but… well, I am a guest at your table. I thought I should at least make an effort.”

“Noted and appreciated, but no longer necessary.” Baldur pointed across the table with his cup. “Besides, you cannot possibly be worse than those two.”

Váli and Vídarr were hunched over their plates like wild men, shoveling meat and vegetables into their mouths and tearing off chunks of bread with their bare hands. With warpaint on their faces and most of their battle leathers still on, they looked even more barbaric than usual. They paused their gorging when they realized that every eye was focused on them.

“What?” Vídarr demanded. “This is how everyone used to eat.”

“Yeah,” said Váli defensively, “Grandpa Borr said they would eat off their knives and throw the bones on the floor.”

Loki brightened. “Trolls do that, too! But only if the bones are old and the marrow is dried out.”

“Whoa, really?”

Vídarr wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “Awesome.”

“Hardly,” Odin snorted. “Thankfully those primitive practices have been replaced by more sanitary measures. Only animals leave their food remains on the floor.”

Váli and Vídarr ignored their father’s critique of jötunn customs and grinned at Loki, delighted to finally meet someone who shared their appreciation for the simple and rustic. They inundated him with questions about the jötnar, what they ate and drank, what their feasts were like, what they did for fun. Hodur asked about Jötunheim’s music and folklore, and Nann inquired about the social structure and family traditions of trolls.

Loki responded enthusiastically, chattering his answers while he picked at his meal with his bare hands, tearing off small pieces of roasted pheasant into bite-sized morsels and eating them neatly. He licked his fingers clean with his bristly blue tongue afterward, forgoing the napkin completely. He didn’t need one; he was quite tidy. Váli and Vídarr tried to emulate him, and it actually seemed to curb the hellacious mess they were making of the tablecloth.

Frigga, Thor, and Baldur shared knowing looks with one another across the table. Truly this was a magical occasion.

Of course, they had the fairies to thank for it. Anything in which they played a part was bound to be enchanting.

After dinner, the family retired onto one of the many terraces overlooking the gardens. The goat followed them like a dog, her hooves clacking on the stone floor. Very little remained of the sunset; a few lingering rays struggling to pierce through the thick purple clouds, the only evidence of that dark, stormy day.

They were all getting settled on the couches and chairs—dried off with a quick flourish of Frigga’s sorcery—when the last beams of sunlight suddenly broke through the clouds and bathed Loki in harsh, piercing light.

Loki gasped and pressed his face against Thor’s side, and Thor automatically went to reach for his cape, forgetting that he wasn’t wearing one. He stepped in front of Loki and eclipsed his body with his own, shielding him from the harmful glare.

Váli and Vídarr were both perturbed. “Is he really that sensitive to light?”

“All trolls are,” said Odin flatly, “even fire jötnar. The moonstone pendant helped him to tolerate it, but as he can no longer wear it, I expect this is quite a shock.”

Thor cupped the back of Loki’s head, careful not to disturb the silver circlet he was wearing. “Perhaps we should move to the eastern terrace. There will be less light there.”

“Wait, Thor.” Loki cautiously peeked out from around Thor’s side, narrowing his eyes as the light touched his face. “It feels different now. I think it’s…”

He stepped out from Thor’s cool shadow and fully into the light. Shades of amber and orange washed over him and his pupils narrowed into tiny points, but he seemed no more affected than a typical Æsir.

He smiled and held up his hand, turning it back and forth in wonder. “It doesn’t hurt anymore! There’s no more prickling or pain. All I feel is warmth.” He looked up at Thor, joy sparkling in his eyes. “It’s like when you illuminate, or when you lie beside me in the nest and touch me with your bare skin. It’s that same kind of gentle heat.”

A not-so-gentle heat rose to Thor’s cheeks.

Baldur’s eyebrows sprang up.

Frigga raised her hand to her smiling mouth and tittered. “Oh, my.”

Odin’s eye gave a few spastic twitches. “Thor, I would have a word with you, please. In private.”

“Yes, Father, perhaps after—”

Now, Thor.”

“Yes, sir.”

Loki frowned, puzzled, as Thor stiffly excused himself and followed his father off the terrace and into the palace. Behind them, the rest of the family came together and began conversing pleasantly with Loki.

Once they were out of earshot, Odin turned to Thor with a long, weary face. “Walk with me, son.”

Thor swallowed his anxiety and obediently followed his father down an adjoining hall. He waited for him to speak, bracing himself for the worst. Loki’s innocent comment had surely given him the wrong impression, but it wasn’t Loki’s fault. He simply wasn’t familiar with Asgardian sexual taboos. A perfectly innocuous gesture for a jötunn could have an entirely different connotation for an Æsir.

When Odin at last spoke, his tone was surprisingly mild. “So you have been sharing a nest with a troll. May I ask how long?”

Thor kept his eyes trained on the floor in front of him. “A few weeks. Ever since he’s been living in the forest. But it’s not a regular—I mean, it helps him sleep better.”

Odin nodded. “So you are sleeping together. Splendid. Are there any other activities going on in his nest that I should know about?”

Thor turned even redder than he’d been a few moments ago. “Father, it’s not like—I, I am aware of how it sounded, but there is nothing obscene between Loki and I. We are friends. He has no family here and—you see, trolls need physical touch. They are miserable without it and Loki has been so neglected that he’s—”

“Yes, yes, I know trolls bond through skin contact. Family nests and sleeping together like a pack of dogs, I understand. I have no doubt that the Cruel Striker neglected his runt in the many years leading up to his exile. From what little I’ve heard, Fárbauti is a villain worthy of his title.”

Thor was completely taken aback. It sounded as if Odin might actually be agreeing with him. This wasn’t merely miraculous; it was inconceivable.

“Yes!” he blurted passionately. “He separated Loki from his littermates. He made him sleep alone and didn’t care for him when he was ill. The only reason Loki is alive at all is because of the mercy of his brothers. The ones that survived, at least. Their mother died trying to birth eight children, and Fárbauti even blamed Loki for—”

“Alright, Thor, alright. I don’t need to hear his entire family history. I believe you. Loki has been persecuted all his life by his beast of a father and your heart bleeds for him. You have taken it upon yourself to care for him, and you want nothing more than to make him happy.”

Thor blinked, astonished. “Wh… yes. Yes.” A wide grin almost split his face in half. “That’s exactly it!”

“Well, Thor, you can’t.”

His grin plummeted. “What?”

“It’s impossible.” Odin drew to a halt and turned to him. “Loki is a troll. You are a man. You can never replace his family or be a substitute for authentic jötunn companionship. That is something he can only get from living amongst his own kind.”

Thor scowled. “You mean his monstrous father who cast him out to die? All the trolls in Útgard who despise him simply because he’s small? You would send him back to—”

Odin held up his hand. “You misunderstand, Thor. I am not saying that Loki must be sent anywhere. As little as I care for it, he may remain in Asgard for as long as he wishes. But the fact of the matter is that soon he will grow restless to be among his people again. There are things he will long for that you will be unable to give him. In which case, I think the frost trolls of Niflheim might be willing to take him in.”

Thor shut his mouth. His heart suddenly felt like it was being squeezed by a giant’s hand.

“What things?” he said bitterly. “The Niflheim trolls cannot provide for him as I can. I can get Loki everything he needs, anything he wants. I can take better care of him than any stranger. I am his friend, I will—”

“But you cannot be his mate,” Odin snapped. “You cannot love him. You cannot bear his offspring, and by the looks of it, I doubt he is capable of bearing any of his own. He would be better off being adopted by a family of trolls on Niflheim than remaining here by himself for the rest of his life.”

“But he’s not by himself. He has me—and Mother, Baldur and Hodur, all of us. He’s already made friends of his own in the forest. The animals adore him. He is happy here in Asgard. He told me himself.”

Odin let out an amused squawk. “And you believed him? Have you learnt nothing of trolls in a month’s time, Thor? That they are duplicitous, inarticulate, introverted creatures who never reveal their true intentions? I suppose not. You are blinded by… whatever it is you feel for him. You are thinking only of your own happiness, not Loki’s. You cannot see that he is cut off from his people. Here he is, isolated in a foreign realm, a solitary outcast desperate to be accepted by other jötnar. It is only a matter of time before he grows weary of Asgard and wishes to leave.”

For the second time that day, Thor experienced an overwhelming feeling of utter helplessness. It was so acute that it bordered on panic. “But. But he might not. He might want to stay and—”

“It would be extremely selfish of you, Thor, to keep Loki here and deny him the opportunity to satisfy his natural urges. And they will come, lad. According to the results of his physical examination, he has only in the last few decades passed adolescence. He has much growing yet to do before he becomes a fully-functioning adult, if indeed his body is capable of it, being stunted like it is. You must be prepared to let him go. Let him grow.”

Thor was devastated. His shoulders sagged, the flames of his fervor sizzling out in the frosty rain of his father’s depressing statements.

After a moment, Odin softened. He reached out and laid a hand on Thor’s shoulder. “It is not my intention to rob you of joy, my son. I am only trying to prevent you from any unnecessary future heartache. Do not become attached to Loki more than you already are. He is not a pet. He is not an adopted sibling or a surrogate child. He is a troll, a jötunn, a completely different species. Your relationship with him is already”—he shifted from one foot to the other, his eyebrows knitting together in a disconcerted frown—“somewhat indecent.”

“Indecent? How is being—”

“Do not think me so naïve, Thor. I saw the way you two were carrying on during dinner this evening. I may have one eye, but I’m not blind.” Odin sighed and rubbed his face tiredly. “I should not even have to tell you this, but I think I must. I cannot direct your heart, but perhaps I can appeal to your common sense and dignity.”

Thor pinched his lips together, waiting for it.

“I understand you are smitten with Loki. He is small and rather handsome by our standards, and his nature is more akin to an elf’s. He seems to reciprocate your feelings, though I cannot tell if they are genuine or simply because he is a needy, neglected little thing and you are the first person who has paid any attention to him. There is nothing I can do to change how either one of you feels towards the other, but I tell you this now, Thor: you will not bring shame upon this family by fornicating with a frost troll. Is that clear?”

Thor blushed furiously, though his embarrassment was mixed with equal parts anger and angst. He looked away, his eyes stinging. “The thought has not entered my mind.”


Thor raised his head and glared at his father miserably. “No.”

Odin seemed to relax a little. He nodded as if to himself. “Alright. Good.” Pause. “Because he is very small, you know.”

“I know.”

“You could hurt him.”

Thor put a hand over his eyes. He wished the floor would open up and swallow him. “Yes, I know.”


An excruciating, awkward silence followed.

Odin cleared his throat. “Right, then. I, em, have some unfinished business that requires my attention. Pressing matters whose progress was interrupted by all the goings-on today. Give the family my regards and wish them a good night for me. Loki, too.”

“Yes, Father.”

Odin nodded again and, without further ado, shuffled away at a hasty clip. Apparently he had found this little talk as unbearable as Thor.

Alone in the hall now, Thor took a deep breath through his nostrils and pinched away the tears gathering in the corners of his eyes.

He didn’t know why he was so upset. He knew how his father felt about trolls. He knew his relationship with Loki—even the platonic, innocent one he’d been upholding—would never meet his approval. He was notoriously difficult to please. Thor had been aware of this for years.

But he still wanted his father to like Loki. It was surely a vain hope. Odin barely seemed to tolerate him, and his concern for Loki’s well-being probably extended more from a desire to not upset his family than any genuine charity.

Regardless of his father’s feelings, it still wouldn’t solve the problem of Loki’s natural instincts eventually coming to bear. If they ever did. Not for the first time did Thor wonder how in the Nine Odin had come to know so much about trolls. Was what he said true, or was he passively trying to get rid of Loki by pretending to be sympathetic toward his species? It would not be the first falsehood Thor has heard from his father’s lips—or silence where truth should be spoken.

But it did not ease the tight, heavy feeling in Thor’s heart.

The thought of Loki’s instincts being stronger than their friendship, than his need for Thor, was a mortal blow to Thor’s pride and his peace. Despite what Odin had said, he did feel robbed of joy. He wanted Loki to want to stay with him, but he also wanted Loki to be happy. Those two things might be mutually exclusive of each other, simply incapable of occurring together.

Well, then, Thor decided, he would just have to do his best. He would do everything he could to make Loki happy and content, and if a day came when he wanted to leave…

Won’t you at least stay for a little while and recover your strength? I will not force you to remain against your will. You will not be my prisoner. If you decide you would like to live in another realm, then I shall deliver you there myself when the time comes.

The words which already felt like they had been spoken a lifetime ago, a promise made in a snowy Midgardian forest to a sad, starving little jötunn.

Thor blinked back fresh tears.

If Loki wanted to leave someday, he would not protest. He would help him settle in a new realm, and he would watch over him as faithfully as he did now—perhaps even more so. He would support Loki in his search for his heart’s desires. He would be kind to any future mate he took. And if a miracle occurred and Loki was able to produce children someday, Thor promised he would be like a second father to them. He would do this for Loki. Because he loved him.

Yes, Thor thought determinedly. He loved Loki. And no one, not even the Allfather, was going to tell him he couldn’t.

He sniffed one last time, turned, and began to make his way back toward the terrace.

Chapter Text

No one seemed to notice Thor’s subdued mood when he rejoined the family. Loki was the center of attention, smiling and blushing and sitting politely on the wicker couch with his ankles crossed and his tail curled neatly in his lap, listening to Váli and Vídarr energetically recount one of their hiking adventures in the mountains. Thor put on a tight, strained smile and took a seat beside him, keeping himself at a modest distance.

The goat sprang up onto the couch and attempted to climb Thor’s back. He gently removed her from his shoulders and held her securely, which kept her from wandering off and making a further nuisance of herself. Once she realized it was no use struggling, she folded her legs and settled on his lap, contentedly chewing her cud.

The Æsir spoke openly and laughed and told merry family stories to their jötunn guest. Loki was delighted at the similarity of this occasion to the talasögur of his own people, when they would gather just before dawn—bedtime to the nocturnal frost trolls—and listen to tales, songs, and legends spun by their loremaster.

The evening waxed cordial and pleasant. Night fell and the lanterns along the terrace wall magically sprang to life, casting the surrounding area in a golden glow, framing it with deep shadows.

Soon it became apparent that Loki was growing quite sleepy, evidenced by the increased frequency of his yawning and how he seemed to be slowly melting into the arm of the couch. His elbow slipped once or twice and he came awake with a blink, smiling drowsily and trying to pay attention to Hodur’s tale of when he went to visit the dwarves of Nidavellir. But he was far too polite to interrupt and beg his leave, so Thor once more interceded on his behalf.

“I think our guest has listened to all the stories he can for one evening,” he said, gently clasping Loki’s shoulder. “Perhaps we can continue the conversation at breakfast tomorrow.”

“A wise idea,” said Frigga, gathering her skirts and rising from her seat. “Loki must be exhausted and here we are, keeping him awake with our chatter. He’s probably looking forward to bedti—excuse me—háttatími, I’m sure.”

Loki brightened at the familiar word, but Váli and Vídarr groaned in disappointment and began to wheedle.

“Aw, but Maaaa!”

“I’m not even tired.”

“Can Loki sleep in our room?”

“Yeah, we’ve got a whole pile of furs he can sleep on.”

“We skinned them ourselves.”

“He can show us how to make troll nests.”

“And I wanna show him my knife collection. You’d like that, wouldn’t you, Loke?”

Frigga clicked her tongue. “Some other time, darlings. Loki more than any of us needs his rest, and I fear you’re both going to keep him up until daybreak. Come, now, give us a kiss and then it’s off to bed with you.”

The twins groused and whined but glumly accepted their mother’s goodnight kisses on the tops of their heads.

Thor felt a small hand slip into his, and he turned to see Loki smiling up at him sweetly. Thor couldn’t help it—he smiled back and the gloom in his heart seemed to ebb a little.

The royals bade goodnight to their guest on the terrace, Váli and Vídarr thumping their fists to their chests and bowing in warrior fashion, Frigga bending to kiss Loki’s cheek, Baldur and Hodur clasping his arm warmly, and Nann hugging his neck and expressing her relief at his miraculous recovery. Then they all went their separate ways. Thor guided Loki toward his bedchambers, the little goat plodding sleepily at their heels. Apparently she had already decided who her new herd leaders were.

Thor opened the doors to his suite and the lights in the ceiling automatically came on, casting the room in a low, subtle glow. The goat ambled in and began seeking out a place to sleep. Loki followed her, a nostalgic grin forming on his lips.

“I remember when you first brought me here,” he said, wandering around the room and taking it all in. “You set me down right here”—he padded over to the bed—“and fed me soup and warm milk. Then you gave me my first bath. I was so frightened by everything then!” He turned and gazed at Thor with large, tender eyes, his silver circlet catching the light and glittering in the shiny black strands of his hair. “But I’m not frightened anymore.”

Thor shut the door, a melancholy smile tugging at one corner of his mouth. “No. Your knowledge has given you courage, and you are much wiser now. I would hope that I am as well. It wasn’t until I took you in that I realized how little I really knew about trolls. Sometimes I still feel that way.”

“That’s alright.” Loki grinned, his eyes crinkling warmly. “As you said before, we have plenty of time to learn each other’s ways.”

Thor wondered if that were really true.

Loki must have seen the woeful thought as it crossed Thor’s mind, for his grin faded and he clasped his hands together timidly. “You seem troubled. Is something wrong?”

“No, no. Everything is fine.”

“You’re not disappointed in me?”

“Disappointed? Of course not! Why would—? Never. No one was to blame for what happened with the nut. That was… it is all in the past. The river flows and the tree grows; everything is behind us now.” But his forced smile wasn’t quite as believable as his words.

“Not that. I mean.” Loki began to wring his hands. “Wh-when your father took you aside after dinner. Was it because of me?”

“Oh, that? No, it was only, uh.” Thor wished he were better at lying, even little white lies like the one he was trying to weave now. “Father had some concerns about your health and wanted to remind me to be extra careful with you.”

Well, it wasn’t a complete falsehood.

Loki relaxed, his whole body releasing its tension. “Oh. Well, that’s very kind of him.”

“Yes, I was a little surprised myself.”

Loki reached out and idly smoothed a wrinkle on the rich blue duvet. “Do you think one day he might like me?”

Thor’s jaw stiffened. “Perhaps. But even if his heart never changes, it would make no difference. I still love you.”

Loki turned to stare at Thor. He took a slow breath inward, his tail going motionless. “You love me?”

Thor crossed the room and took Loki’s little blue hands into his own, then knelt on both knees before him, a gesture of complete surrender, one reserved for swearing fealty to one’s king—or beloved. He looked up at him with a face full of raw, tender honesty.

“Yes. I love you, Loki. You are more than simply a guest or a visitor here. You are my friend. My neighbor. A dear companion whose face I am always glad to see.” He smiled and reached up to cup Loki’s cool cheek, which suddenly warmed beneath his touch. “Nearly losing you today gave me the courage to finally speak these words, though they should have been spoken much sooner. I beg your forgiveness for my delay. I will not make the same mistake again. Life is too short to sit quietly by when the people we love can be taken from us in an instant. And I”—Thor’s voice snagged, becoming rough—“I would not want you to leave this world without knowing that you are loved. That you would be missed. That I would mourn you. That the sun would not shine on me again if you were to…” He could say no more. His last words crumbled in his mouth and he swallowed them down, his eyes gleaming wetly.

Loki’s bottom lip trembled. “Oh, Thor.” He threw his arms around Thor’s neck and pressed full against him, hugging him tightly. “I love you, too. More than I can say in your language. Even more than in my own.”

Thor folded his arms around Loki’s tiny, trembling body and engulfed him in a warm embrace, reassured by his strength, his shape, his scent. Bath oils, laundered silk; a touch of fragrance behind his ear, some lovely mix of flowers and grasses and magic that could have only come from the Queen’s personal collection. How Thor wished he had been there to see his mother spoiling him as if he were one of her own dear children.

He drew a long, deep breath and pulled back to gaze upon Loki’s face. “And how would one say I love you in jötnin?”

Loki’s pupils were wide and dark, his eyes glittering like garnets. “Ég elska thig.”

“Yeg… ég elska thig.”

.” Loki smiled and nodded, then leaned in to rub the blunt points of his horns against Thor’s forehead in a jötunn gesture of affection. “And ég elska thig líka, Thor. Even though…”

“Even though?”

Loki retreated with an apologetic grin and a wrinkle of his nose. “Your, em. Your scent is very strong right now. I’m so sorry, I don’t mean anything by it. It’s my fault. My nose must be too sensitive—”

“No, Loki, don’t apologize. It’s not your fault. You do have a better sense of smell than me.” Thor lifted his arm and gave himself an investigative sniff. His face bent into a look of profound disgust, which caused Loki to cover his mouth and laugh. Apparently stale rainwater and hours of marinating in nervous sweat had combined to form a perfectly sour, unpleasant aroma. Bleeding Hel. If he found his own body odor this offensive, he could only imagine how much worse it was for the keen nose of a troll.

“My apologies, Loki,” he said, still grimacing. “I did not realize I was this foul. I will go wash myself immediately.”

He rose to his feet but Loki reached out and grabbed his hand.

“Wait! Why don’t you let me give you a bath? Just like the one you gave me the first time.” His eyes sparkled and his tail moved back and forth in excitement. “Yes, please, Thor! Allow me to bathe you!”

“I, uh, erm.” Thor couldn’t speak for the images that were suddenly playing through his mind. Warm, wet, sudsy images. Naked skin and wet clothes that would have to come off. Splashing and snickering, unintentional tickling. Small blue hands squeezing a soapy sponge across his belly, his chest, combing through his hair—

Indecent, muttered Odin’s memory.

Thor flinched. “I, ah, think a quick scrub under the shower will be best. It’s late and I… yes, very late. But I will take up your offer some other time, Loki. It sounds wonderful.”

Loki’s tail drooped. “Oh. Well, alright, then.”

Thor hated seeing Loki so discouraged, but there was no other way around it. He was simply looking and smelling too lovely tonight, and it was causing Thor’s mind to wander into warm, dark places that weren’t ready to be visited yet. If ever. He had no right to even be thinking such things. He was a man, after all, and Loki was a troll.

A very small troll, Odin’s memory reminded him. You could hurt him.

A scene detailing exactly how that might happen began to unfold in Thor’s imagination, and the brazen explicitness of it startled him to the core of his heart.

Without another word he launched past Loki and into the relative sanctuary of the bathroom. As he peeled his shirt over his head, he decided that a cold shower would be the best thing. Perhaps it would cool the heat on his cheeks—and clear the fog in his brain.

He yanked off the rest of his clothes and hissed when he stepped under the cold spray. Somehow bathing in the falls in Loki’s clearing felt less frigid, even though Thor knew that water came from the high, snow-capped mountains in the north, pure and icy and clear as glass.

“Pure and clear…” Thor repeated the words as he scrubbed himself directly with the cake of soap, not even bothering with a sponge or cloth.

Pure and clear. Decent and wholesome. Good things. Noble things. Lovely things. Like Loki’s small, happy face looking up at him, so sweet and trusting. Like their friendship. Their affection for one another. Their love. Pure and clear. Pure and clear…

Once he was sure he had thoroughly washed the stink off of himself, Thor stepped out of the shower and fastened a towel around his waist, then grabbed another towel to dry his upper body. This wasn’t part of his usual post-shower routine; he typically walked around naked both before and after bathing, and he much preferred air-drying to toweling off. However, he had a guest tonight, so he was obligated to be modest. He didn’t want to do anything that might come across as…

Indecent, Odin finished.

Thor winced, wondering if this was going to happen every time he thought of Loki. Leave it to his father to take something good and beautiful and twist it to fit his own distorted, disfigured image of what trolls were. What did he know of their relationship? Did he know how delicate and gentle Thor was being with Loki? Did he know how important Loki was to him, how Thor had learned his age at the earliest opportunity so he would know how to conduct himself appropriately? No. Odin didn’t know, nor would he ever understand. He hated trolls, even small, innocent ones like Loki. The idea that an Æsir could be friends with a jötunn without any perverse, prurient motives was beyond the scope of his wildest imagination. Thor was certain of it.

He made his way into the vestibule of the bathroom and discovered Loki leaning on his tiptoes before the wide vanity, cleaning his teeth for bedtime (Howta-teemi, Thor thought, wasn’t that what they called it?) and gazing absently at his reflection in the mirror. He had taken off his princely attire and lain each garment to the side, tunic and leggings and undershirt all folded neatly and carefully, with the tiny pair of blue brocade slippers tucked beside them. The circlet lay atop the pile, sparkling like frost on a bed of pale blue silk. He wore nothing but his smallclothes now, a skimpy pair of silk braies with a specially-tailored hole in the back to allow his tail through. There was a button-and-loop closure above the hole for quick and easy removal. They appeared to fit him quite well, though they were short enough that a sliver of Loki’s cerulean-blue cheeks peeked coyly out of each leg hole. Thor suddenly found himself staring at the attractive crease they made in Loki’s thighs, admiring his markings and the flawless tone of his skin, the plumpness of his buttocks—

INDECENT! roared Odin, and Thor jolted as if he’d been slapped on the cheek.

Loki turned when the movement caught his eye and nearly swallowed the mouthful of salty, minty water he was swishing. He gagged and spat into the sink, coughing a little. He wiped his face and began rinsing his mouth out under the faucet. Thor could see the dark flush on Loki’s cheeks and wondered if he had been having “indecent” thoughts as well.

He suddenly didn’t want to know.

“I’ve never thought myself ugly before,” he said with a lopsided grin, “but this is the first time I’ve ever made someone retch just by looking at me.”

Loki lifted his head, the expression on his face clearly indicative of how insane he believed Thor’s comment to be.

Thor’s grin turned into an awkward grimace. He decided to dispense with the humor; now was simply not the time. “Er, how are your teeth? Do they still pain you?”

Loki hesitated for half a second before he finally found his tongue. “Th-they’re alright. My two other fangs still hurt a little, but the rest of my teeth feel fine. I think I’m probably going to lose them. My fangs, that is. It seems I’m becoming less of a troll with each passing day.”

He picked up a tiny white object from the vanity and held it out to Thor. It was a tooth, pointed and narrow, almost exactly like the one he had shown Thor yesterday. Thor pinched it between his thumb and forefinger and studied it closely, his eyes narrowed.

“This is the one I lost when I was trying to bite open the nut,” said Loki. “I had put it in my pocket and Queen Frigga gave it back to me before we went out to meet you. She said I should offer it to the fairies, like I did with the first one.”

Thor carefully passed the tooth back to him. “That would probably be wise. Perhaps they will give you another helpful gift.”

“What do you think it will be this time?”

“I don’t know.” Thor smiled, his cheeks pink and shiny. “Hopefully not another nut.”

Loki giggled softly and set his fang on top of his folded clothes, inside the silver circlet. “I wouldn’t mind if it were, actually. Maybe if I keep losing teeth, I’ll eventually have enough fairy gifts to turn myself into an Æsir.”

Thor’s smile faded.

“That would be nice, wouldn’t it?” Loki looked up at him hopefully. “If my skin were pale like yours and my eyes blue instead of red. Your father wouldn’t have a reason to hate me if I looked like one of the mannfólk, and we could be even better friends than we are now.”

Thor shook his head. “We would have to be married to become better friends than we are now.”

Loki blushed indigo and looked away, biting back a smile.

Thor reached out and touched Loki’s head, sifting his fingers through his fine black hair, lightly brushing one of his horns. “No, Loki. I would rather you remain as you are. I would miss your lovely blue skin. These elegant lines”—he ran his thumb along one of the marks on Loki’s cheek—“and your eyes, your horns. But I think I would miss your tail most of all. It is a handsome tail, and wonderfully unique. Much like its owner.”

Loki’s cheeks darkened even more as he bowed his head. “I would give it all up if it meant I could be accepted.”

Thor sighed heavily and gave one last stroke to Loki’s cheek. Then he stepped past him and disappeared into the closet just beyond the bathroom door. “If it is Odin’s acceptance you seek, you will have to get in line. I have spent half my life fighting to win his approval, but in the end, the only approval that matters is one’s own. Accepting yourself for who you are is more important than trying to fit yourself into the mold that someone else has made for you.”

Loki sucked his bottom lip pensively, ruminating on Thor’s words. There came the sound of rustling and rummaging from within the closet, followed shortly by Thor’s voice, which was considerably brighter now:

“But as for the rest of my family, well, you already know how they feel about you.”

“Oh, yes. They are all wonderful,” Loki agreed, wandering past the closet and out into the bedroom. “I’m so glad Váli and Vídarr like me.”

”I knew they would. Ever since you arrived, they’ve done nothing but pester me about when they would get to meet you. They are your biggest fans, I would say. Aside from me, of course.”

Loki laughed and climbed onto the bed, plopping down on his bottom and bouncing lightly, testing the mattress. He stretched out his legs and wiggled his toes, trying to see them through Thor’s eyes instead of his own. He’d always thought his legs were embarrassingly skinny and shapeless, his knees knobby, his feet too small and ugly.

“How old are they, your youngest brothers?” he asked, thinking about how Thor had wrapped his hand around his entire ankle when they first met. It still made his stomach flutter.

“Seventeen,” came Thor’s voice. “Which is, uh… a little over twelve by Jötunheim’s reckoning, if my numbers are correct.”

“Really?” Loki’s face lit up. “Then they’re not much older than me!”

“That is true. Though I wonder why you seem so much more mature than them.”

Loki rolled over onto his belly and propped his chin in his hands, his tail wagging slowly to and fro. “We had very different childhoods,” he said solemnly. “When there is no love and little happiness, one is forced to grow up before one is ready.”

A few moments later Thor emerged from the closet, dressed in a pair of loose, soft-looking linen pants. His chest was bare, as were his feet; he wore nothing else.

Loki’s tail dropped bonelessly onto the bed. He stared, breath held and eyes full of admiration, appreciation—complete and utter adoration for this tragically un-jötunn man who was also the handsomest creature he had ever laid eyes on.

Suddenly he found himself remembering the day Thor had flown him out to the forest, when they had discovered the clearing with the waterfall and the cave, and Thor had taken off his clothes to swim in the pool. The sight of his bare buttocks, pale and pink and tailless but so beautifully formed, so perfectly muscled and fleshy, was an image that had stayed with Loki ever since.

He wouldn’t mind seeing it again, actually. Not at all. Oh, curse those ugly trowsors, they were always spoiling the view!

“Shall I begin making a nest for us?”

Loki snapped to attention and blinked rapidly, as if trying to flit away that pleasing, self-indulgent memory. He blushed hotly. “Oh. Right. Yes, er, well, I was thinking we might try sleeping Asgardian style. I, I don’t mind. Really. I am a guest here, after all.”

“Hm.” Thor frowned. “I suppose. But I want you to be comfortable. That is always my first concern.”

“I’ll be fine.” Loki smiled insistently and rolled over until he was in the middle of the mattress. “Is this how we lie?”

“Not exactly.” Thor walked over and sat down on the edge. “We sleep toward the head, that big part against the wall.”

“Oh. So if that’s the head, then that”—Loki pointed in the opposite direction—“must be the tail?”

“We call it the foot.”

“The foot. And one never sleeps with his head at the foot?”

“Not usually.” Thor smirked. “Though I have gotten quite drunk and fallen asleep in some strange positions.”

Loki grinned, his tail playfully curling and uncurling behind him. “I bet you’re fun when you’re drunk.”

“I’m afraid I’m more loud and obnoxious than fun,” Thor chuckled. “But yes, that is something we must do together someday.”

“Do your people dance?”

“We do. Not as well as the Vanir or the Light Elves, but we enjoy ourselves.”

Loki wriggled with excitement.

Thor pulled back the covers and climbed into bed. Loki copied his movements and soon they were settled side by side together, facing one another, a pillow beneath each of their heads.

There was silence.

“So… this is how Æsir sleep,” said Loki flatly. “Lying on their sides like stranded fish, staring at each other all night long.” He opened and shut his mouth a few times, his lips making a hollow glop glop sound like that of a gasping fish.

Thor’s face split into a huge grin and he wheezed with laughter, his shoulders shaking and shuddering.

Loki began to snicker uncontrollably, and for the next several moments they chortled and guffawed like a pair of overexcited young children.

“No. No, this is not how we sleep,” said Thor once he’d finally caught his breath. “Most of the time we sleep on our backs, sometimes our bellies.”

“Stretched out flat? That sounds terribly uncomfortable.”

“Not if you get in the correct position, it isn’t.”

“But how can you breathe with your face in the pillows?”

“We turn our heads.”

“And that doesn’t hurt your necks?”

“Eh, sometimes.”

Loki sat up with a weary sigh and studied the headboard for a few moments. “Isn’t there anything we can do about… Can’t we put a few pillows up against this thing and maybe lean against them?”

“Of course. Many people sleep like that.”

“The poor wretches.”

Thor chuckled. “It’s not so bad. Here, I’ll show you.”

Loki moved aside and observed the proceedings. Thor plucked a few throw pillows from the foot of the bed and added them to the small number at the head, then he began to arrange them into a fluffy slope upon which they could recline. He demonstrated its use by leaning back against it and folding his hands behind his head.

“There. Come and see if this is to your liking now, little prince.”

Loki flushed at the sweet epithet and crept forward across the mattress. He sat down beside Thor stiffly. “How do we, em…? Do I just lay down on my back beside you?”

“You can, but I imagine you’re probably most comfortable on your side. You tend to sleep like that more often than not, I’ve noticed.”

“Most trolls do.”

“Then here, put your head on my arm and put yourself right—yes, like that.”

Loki lay down on his side beside Thor, a nervous smile on his lips, and rested his head against the inside of Thor’s meaty bicep. It was as adequate as any pillow.

“Good,” Thor instructed, smiling, “and now we pull the covers over us like this…”

He lifted the duvet up over their legs to their waists—or chest, in Loki’s case. After a few moments of settling, Loki went still, apparently satisfied with the arrangement.

“This isn’t so bad. It’s like sleeping in a one-sided trollnest.”

“A little. I must admit, your people have a much more comfortable way of sleeping. I think soon I might trade this bed in for something a little more jötunn.”

Loki giggled and shyly tucked his lips between his teeth. He stretched his slim blue arm across Thor’s chest and folded his leg so that it rested against Thor’s waist, his little foot pressed to Thor’s thigh.

“Is this good?” Thor asked quietly.

“Oh, yes. Better than good, actually.” He looked up at Thor, blushing when he realized how close their faces were. “And… thank you. For being so kind to me.”

Thor gave him a little smile and placed a kiss to Loki’s crown, right between his horns. “You are very welcome, Loki. Always.”

A comfortable silence fell between them. The lights in the ceiling grew steadily dimmer every few minutes until soon they went out completely and darkness settled in the room. The little goat lay curled on a rumpled rug beneath one of the windows on the far wall, her ears occasionally flicking as she slept.

Aside from Thor’s almost inaudible breaths, there were no other sounds in the room. The whole palace was still and silent. There was no rustling of trees in the wind or chirping of insects in the grass. No twittering birds or trickling streams. Loki suddenly missed the sound of his waterfall, the rushing and roaring that would fill the clearing and lull him to sleep every day with its soothing, natural melody.

His waterfall? No, not his. He owned nothing. This was Asgard, the realm of the Æsir. Nothing here belonged to him, nor would it ever. Even the air in his lungs was borrowed.

But perhaps someday, with the Allfather’s blessing, he could become more than an inhabitant here.

Someday, maybe, could even be an Asgardian.

“Do you think I’ll ever be part of your realm, Thor?” he murmured, staring through the darkness.

“Hm? Oh, no doubt.” Thor’s response was quick, which told Loki that he was not yet sleepy. “Father has already said you may stay here as long as you like. I see no reason why you couldn’t call yourself Asgardian someday. Or even now.”

Loki tucked himself into a cozy little ball, a distant smile on his lips. “Hmm, Loki of Asgard. That sounds nice.”

“Yes, it does.” Thor petted Loki’s fine black hair. “Prince Loki, the first Asgardian troll.”

Loki snuggled against Thor’s side and shut his eyes. “Tell me a story, Thor. Tell me the one about how you brought fairies to Asgard when you were a boy and how they made the flowers bloom and the gardens grow. Tell me about the little one with the broken wing that had babies in the rows bush. But tell it like a magic tale. Galdur-saga.”

Thor didn’t understand the first word, but he recognized the second, for it was the same word in the Asgardian language. He laughed breathily. “I am no jötunn loremaster, but I will try. Be gentle with me, this is my first time.”

Loki purred happily and nestled against the side of Thor’s body, laying his head against his broad chest.

Thor wet his lips and began to speak in a low, even voice, as steady and deep as the waterfall that Loki so sorely missed.

“Once there was a boy who lived in a realm called Asgard, and it was as fair as could be except for one thing. There were no fairies… which I suppose means it wasn’t really as ‘fair’ as could be, now could it?”

Loki giggled.

“Anyway, the boy loved to travel to other realms, and he was always bringing back things to show to his family. Then one day while he was visiting Niflheim, a storm suddenly blew down from the mountains. The sky opened up and it began to pour and pour…”

Loki fell asleep listening to the beat of Thor’s heart and a tale of rescue that was not unlike his own.

Perhaps his happy ending would be written somewhere here in Asgard, too.

Chapter Text

The sun rose on a cool misty dawn and shed its rays upon the gleaming golden towers of the palace of Asgard. For the first time in many years, the entire royal family turned out on the east patio to take breakfast together. Thor and Loki were the last to arrive; a bright chorus of smiles and good-mornings greeted them from all around the table.

Well, almost.

Odin, who had previously expressed his displeasure at breaking fast with a troll—“slurping porridge and sucking down eggs” was his precise complaint—made no comment as Loki took a seat in a too-large chair and happily helped himself to a meal of poached eggs and fruit and cured meats with the rest of the family.

Frigga offered Loki his first cup of tea, sweetened with a small spoonful of honey and cooled with a piece of ice. Loki carefully accepted the delicate little cup and saucer—a child’s teaset, Thor realized, and it fit in his hand perfectly. One sip later, Loki’s tail curled in delight and a lifelong fondness of tea was born.

“Can I make tee myself once I return home?” he asked earnestly as the Queen poured him another cup.

“Certainly!” she answered. “I think you’ll find it’s quite easy, and I’m sure Váli and Vídarr have a camp kettle and spare teapot you can use until you have one of your own.”

“Thank you, I would like that very much!”

Across from Loki, the youngest of Odin’s sons were huddled over the table, their clothes wrinkled and their blond hair tangled and disheveled. Typically their late night shenanigans and disdain for “new-age etiquette” meant they seldom joined the family for breakfast, but this morning they had dragged themselves from their rough, hand-hewn beds solely because they knew Loki would be present. They both looked quite hungover.

“How much mead did you two get into last night?” Baldur asked archly, passing them a carafe of water.

“Enough,” they mumbled blearily.

Loki’s eyes widened and he hastily gulped down his mouthful of ham. “You have mead here, too?”

“Huh? Oh. Yeah,” said Vídarr, still fuzzy from sleep. “Me and Vál make our own.”

“We’ve got like a dozen different brews going right now,” said Váli.

“I didn’t know trolls drank mead.”

“Oh, yes!” Loki exclaimed. “It’s the most prized drink of our people because it’s made with honey, and honey is very hard to come by. Only the most important trolls are allowed to drink mead.” His grin remained but a distant sadness veiled the brightness of his eyes. “I’ve only had a small taste once before. My brother Býleist became a beekeeper shortly before our father separated us, and he secretly brewed a small batch of mead and shared it with me and Helblindi. It was wonderful.”

Vídarr looked pained. Váli glowered. “Your dad sounds like a knob.”

Odin put down his teacup. “Váli—”

“I said his dad! Not you!”

“Váli, dear,” Frigga interjected, “try not to be so crass. You are insulting our guest.”

“Yes, Mother,” Váli grumbled. “I’m sorry, Loki. It’s just… your dad is mean and wrong for sending you away. But I’m kinda glad he did, ‘cause at least now you’re here with us.”

“Yeah,” Vídarr chimed in, “and here you can have all the mead you want. In fact, I’ll go grab a few bottles now so you can—”

“Sit down, Vídarr,” Odin ordered, “and take care of your head. It’s bad enough that you came to the table in such a state. At least try to remedy it before hurrying to your next binge.”

“I’m getting a hangover just listening to him,” Hodur murmured to Nann, who giggled into her napkin.

Huginn and Muninn were in attendance, naturally, as they were every morning. They winked and nudged one another as they stood on their perch, observing the royal gathering.

“Who would have thought that a troll would bring this family together?” Muninn clucked.

“No kidding,” said Huginn, “I can’t remember the last time I saw them all at the breakfast table.”

“That’s because memory isn’t your area of expertise, Hugi. It’s mine.”

“Right, right… what was mine again?”

The two ravens cackled and chuckled.

After breakfast, Frigga led Loki—accompanied by Thor and Odin—to the healing chambers to examine him. Loki climbed up onto the table and sat patiently while Frigga measured his temperature with a crystal. Odin checked his metabolic condition on the glowing light field, his hands moving rapidly and methodically. Loki was shocked to see his entire circulatory system mapped out in glowing dots on the transparent display above.

“That’s my heart?” he asked, staring at the steadily pulsing cluster of lights.

“Indeed it is,” said Frigga, “and it seems to be quite healthy.”

Loki gazed at the screen, marveling at the beating muscle with a vague sense of sadness. “Strange,” he murmured. “It doesn’t look like it’s been broken at all.”

Thor reached out to clasp Loki’s small hand, and Loki turned to him with a smile and an answering squeeze.

“His hypothalamus is still exhibiting a disturbed pattern of signals,” Odin muttered, “though outwardly he appears to be fine.”

He took Loki’s face in his hands and shined a light into each of his eyes, making him wince. Then he stood straight and leveled his gaze at Thor.

“Watch him for signs of overheating. Make sure he drinks plenty of water today. If he starts to become irritable, put him down for an hour or two. Treat him as you would a sick infant. Remember, his body is adapting to an environment in which it was never meant to survive. Do not leave him alone for any reason.”

“Yes, Father. I will keep a close watch on him.”

“Good.” Odin’s wrinkled forehead relaxed a little. He glanced sidelong at his smirking wife before turning his eye back to his son. “I know you all are obsessed with him at the moment, but he needs rest or else he risks undoing all of the progress he’s made. Try not to overwhelm him; I don’t want to extend his stay any longer than necessary. Understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

Odin nodded and suddenly caught Loki staring up at him with large eyes and a worried bend to his brows, his little fingers laced together.

The Allfather tilted his head and rolled his eye. “Óttast ekki, barn. [1] You are in no danger of dying, and worrying about it will do you no good. I am certain my son will provide a distraction from your fretting, so I shall leave you now in his… good care.” He gave Thor a stern look before turning and leaving the healing room.

Thor helped Loki down from the table—Loki clung to his hand even after his slippers touched the floor—while Frigga cleared the lightscreen and shut everything down. When she was finished, Thor offered her his free arm. She accepted with a smile and together the three made their way out of the chamber and into the corridor.

“Is there anything you would like to do today?” Thor asked, looking down at Loki. “I know you are to be resting, but there must be more enjoyable ways to recuperate besides lying in bed and staring at the walls all day.”

“Why don’t you give him a tour of the gardens,” Frigga suggested. “Take him to the orchards, show him the trees. Let him walk among the flower rows and play in the fountains. You used to love doing that when you were a boy.”

“I still do,” Thor admitted, and Frigga laughed. “What do you think, Loki? Would you like to see the gardens?”

“Yes, of course,” said Loki, his eyes sparkling and his tail bouncing back and forth. “Are there any rows bushes? I don’t think I’ve ever seen one before.”

“The palace gardens have many rose bushes,” said Thor. “I will take you wherever you wish.”

Loki beamed and gave Thor’s hand a happy squeeze.

Roses, as it turned out, were almost as irresistible to frost trolls as honey. Loki took off his slippers and scampered barefoot on the grass from bush to bush, sticking his nose into each flower and inhaling deeply. His tail curled like it always did when he found something he really liked, and Thor smiled for so long that his cheeks began to hurt.

“Remember you’re supposed to be resting,” he cautioned as Loki finished sniffing the white roses and darted over to the pink ones.

“Yes, yes,” Loki answered with an absent wave. He stood on his tiptoes before an especially tall bush and gently brought a stem down so he could sample its flowers. He was careful to avoid pricking his fingers on the thorns.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, and when he opened them again, his pupils were wide and dark. The red of his irises and the pink of the rose against his blue cheek struck Thor as incredibly beautiful. He suddenly wished he was an artist. He would love to capture Loki in this exact moment, at his happiest, handsomest, and most sweetly innocent.

“Such lovely things, roses. How did I ever live without them?” Loki sighed dreamily and turned to Thor. “Do you think I could have a rose bush at my cave someday? A big one like this?”

“Absolutely,” Thor said, sauntering over and kneeling down beside Loki. “Mother taught me a lot about gardening when I was younger. Mostly vegetables and herbs, but she said I have a gift for growing things.”

He reached over Loki’s shoulder and carefully snapped one of the roses free. Loki watched as Thor removed the thorns and a few of the leaves, then shortened the stem a bit more, his fingers moving with the natural ease of someone who did this regularly. When he was finished, he reached up and tucked the rose behind Loki’s pointed ear. His touch lingered at Loki’s cheek for a moment, his gaze becoming soft and fond.

“I would be happy to help you start a garden of your own, Loki.”

Loki blushed and smiled. “Are there any blue roses? I’ve seen every color here in these gardens but that one.”

“No, sadly. We have purple ones thanks to the magic of fairies, but none blue. Yet.” Thor grinned. “Perhaps that is something they will give to the first frost troll of Asgard. It would be fitting, don’t you think? We could even build a pedestal so you can attract fairies to your garden.”

Loki’s face radiated delight. “Really?”

“Yes. And I will help you build a little pen for your goat so she doesn’t get into your garden and eat your flowers.”

“Oh-!” Loki was vibrating with energy, his hands curled into fists and his toes digging excitedly the grass. “Can we do it now? I’m feeling fine. Really! I don’t need to stay here any longer. I miss my nest and—er, not that your bed isn’t nice—but you did such a good job of making it for me, and besides, I’m sure Grumble is wondering what happened to me, so I really ought to get—”


“The hedgehog—I ought to get back home so I can offer my tooth to the fairies—oh, and finish organizing that closet you carved for me last week, and get started on—”

Thor pressed his fingertips to Loki’s lips, gently damming the high-energy babbling. He gave him a tender, patient smile. “In time. You can’t do anything if you’re bedridden, so let us first make certain you are fully recovered. Agreed?”

Loki drooped as if all the air had been let out of him; ears, tail, shoulders, eyebrows, his whole body slumped. He stared glumly down at the grass.

Thor gently lifted his chin, brushing his thumb affectionately across the raised lines there, admiring them for a moment before looking the dejected little troll in the eye.

“You will have your garden eventually, Loki, and it will be splendid. Just be patient. Good things seldom happen overnight.”

Loki pushed his bottom lip out in a perfect, princely pout. “What about fairies? They make good things happen overnight. They do it all the time.”

Thor somehow managed to nod and shake his head at the same time, as if he’d just heard a bad joke. “Apart from fairies. For the rest of us big folk, good things take time.”

Loki sighed as if this was the most tragic, unfair, torturous thing that had ever happened to him. He raised his head to gaze wistfully up at the rose bushes before turning back to Thor. “Alright. I suppose I can wait. I don’t have much of a choice, really.”

Thor laughed and rose to his feet. “Cheer up, Loki! It’s not so terrible being here at the palace, is it?”

“No,” Loki admitted. “But I do miss my cave, and the waterfall and the trees.”

“Well, then, think of this as an opportunity to decide what you want in your garden. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a few vegetables in it as well. What are your favorites?”

Loki’s hand automatically slipped into Thor’s as they began to walk. “Vegetables? Well, I like radishes, carrots, onions, lots of things. I’m not overly fond of tomatoes, but I don’t mind the Asgardian ones. I wouldn’t mind having a few, er… I don’t know the word for them in your language, but on Jötunheim we called them hvítkál. Round, heavy things with big green leaves? Sometimes they’re blue or purple?”

Thor raised his eyebrows. “I think you might mean cabbage, but I’ve never seen a blue one before. Perhaps that is something particular to Jötunheim.”

“Hm. Well, what about apples? I like apples. And plums. Oh, and pears and cherries and blackberries—could I grow strawberries? I like those even more than blackberries.”

Thor chuckled. “It might be easier if you told me what foods you don’t like. Your garden might one day rival the palace’s!”

Loki giggled, his tail wagging in rhythm as he swung his and Thor’s clasped hands in an idle, carefree way. “And I live much closer to the fairies than you, so there’s no telling what kinds of wonderful things they’ll do to it. Oh, I can’t wait to have an offering pedestal!” He skipped his feet suddenly, apparently too excited to stay attached to solid ground. “I want it to be the biggest one in all of Asgard! I’m going to give the fairies all sorts of things. After what they did for me, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to give them enough.”

His enthusiasm dwindled suddenly and he looked up at Thor. “Much like how I feel with you. I don’t know how I can repay you and your family for being so kind and helpful, especially with everything that happened yesterday.”

Thor squeezed the small blue hand he held. “You owe us nothing, Loki.”

“But your father saved my life. If he hadn’t removed my moonstone, I would have died.”

“But that does not mean you are bound and beholden. I am sure he knows you are grateful. He would probably die before accepting your thanks, but the rest of us know you appreciate our efforts, and… we all love you and care about you, especially Mother and I.”

Loki hummed contentedly and pressed himself against Thor’s side, careful to keep his feet out of the way of Thor’s large leather boots. They weren’t the sturdy ones he wore to battle, but they looked heavy and huge beside Loki’s bare little toes.

“I love you,” said Loki quietly, his tail rising to wrap loosely around Thor’s leg.

A sense of absolute peace flared up in Thor’s heart, as warm and golden as the sunshine that spilled onto the rose bushes and brought their sweet, heady scent into the air. “Ég elska thig lika, Loki.”

Loki lifted his head, a surprised smile on his lips. “You said that perfectly!”

“I’ve been practicing. Mostly in my head and under my breath, but…”

An indigo blush crept to Loki’s cheeks and he crooned softly, like a small animal settling into its nest. It was the most endearing sound Thor had ever heard. “I am so happy right now,” he sighed. “It feels like my heart is filled with honey.”

For a moment Thor was startled by the similarity between his previous thoughts and Loki’s current ones. Then he relaxed, accepting the coincidence as simply the product of two people being finely tuned to each other’s emotions. 

Such is the way when it comes to love.

Together they meandered down the grassy paths of the rose garden, hand in hand and hearts aglow.

Loki ending up staying two days and nights at the palace to ensure he was fully recovered. It was one of the loveliest and most peaceful times of togetherness that Thor could remember their family sharing. Every day felt like Jól or an anniversary celebration, when work duties were laid aside and they would all gather together under the same roof and there was much eating and drinking and telling of stories.

If it weren’t for Odin’s tepid presence at meals and constant excuses that he had important meetings and matters elsewhere to attend, this might have been the happiest period in Thor’s memory.

By the time Loki was ready to leave after breakfast on the third day, he was laden with gifts and supplies given to him by the royal family: four more tailored outfits and seven fine, well-made breechcloths of varying colors; an array of seeds, bulbs and cuttings from the gardens; a spade and other tools specially sized to fit Loki’s small hands; many belated housewarming gifts; a woodland cloak made of soft, supple leather that Váli and Vídarr promised was waterproof, sunproof, and camouflaged its wearer very effectively; a little wooden beginner’s flute from Hodur; pencils and paper from Baldur—the Odinson with the neatest handwriting, naturally—for when Loki began his writing lessons; a lovely hand mirror from Nann; and a fresh batch of trollcakes made by the queen herself.

To the family’s great surprise, Odin stepped forward with a gift of his own to bestow upon their jötunn guest. It was a book. Thick and wide, with a soft leather cover and no words within—only colorful illustrations of the fauna and flora of Asgard’s forests. The images, which were printed onto the page using special magic, shifted in form and changed colors to show the progression of the seasons and the growth cycles of animals.

Loki was so stunned that his mouth fell open and his tail went limp. He looked up at Odin, speechless.

“It’s, em, for your own good,” the Allfather muttered, clasping his hands together behind his back and trying to appear indifferent. “Since you intend to remain in Asgard for the time being, there are many poisonous plants and dangerous creatures you should know about. If anything were to happen to you at this point, I don’t think my family or Muninn would ever let me forget it. Educate yourself, jötunn. And remember: ignorance can be cured. Stupidity cannot.”

Standing beside him, Frigga grinned with especial smugness and gently cleared her throat.

It took Odin a moment to register the sound. “Oh. And, er… hmph. It was also decided that you are henceforth permitted to stay three days when you come to visit instead of one, so that everyone may have a chance to enjoy your company.” He glowered grumpily while the rest of the family beamed. Váli and Vídarr winked and gave Loki a double thumbs-up, but Loki had no idea what the gesture meant. He simply smiled and tittered before directing his attention back to Odin.

“Thank you, Allfather.” He hugged the book to his chest and bowed low.

Odin rolled his eye and waved his hand. “Alright, enough of this. Get him home safely, Thor, and I trust we’ll see you tomorrow.”

Thor, laden with several knapsacks, nodded his acknowledgement. “Yes, Father.”

“You packed your bedroll, of course?”

Thor’s cheeks colored. “Yes, Father,” he muttered.

“Excellent. Then I bid you both good—”

The little goat—who had been named Rosebud and now wore a red leash around her neck—let out a sudden loud “Meeehhh!”

Odin scowled at her. “...I was going to say ‘day’, but I think ‘riddance’ might be more appropriate. Especially after enduring that noisome little pest for the last two days.”

The noisome little pest lifted her tail and deposited a fresh sprinkle of little bean-turds on Odin’s terrace.

Odin sighed and massaged his brow.

Thor and Loki bade farewell to everyone and set out for Loki’s cave on foot. Little Rosebud probably wasn’t too fond of flying, and while Thor was certainly strong, juggling a goat, a troll, and four stuffed satchels while keeping his grip on a magic flying hammer was a stunt he was not ready to try just yet.

It was a pleasant enough day for a hike. The breeze was cool and the sky was full of puffy white clouds, the sun peeking out only occasionally. They made their way down through the city streets, Loki marveling at the buildings and bridges and rivers, and the glittering ocean to the south, where the Bifröst glowed in ever-changing rainbow hues.

Everywhere they went they were met with curious looks and confused smiles. People recognized the Prince of Thunder easily, but the little blue elf who walked beside him—who was he? What was he? He had a tail and horns and a child’s charming grin, and he was far too cute to be a goblin or an imp. Had Prince Thor adopted a child from one of the races of the other realms? He wasn’t even wed yet! Or was this child actually a small adult? Could he be an ambassador of his people? What red eyes he had! Didn’t trolls have red eyes, too? But this little darling couldn’t be a troll—he was too handsome and tiny. Perhaps he was from one of the outer realms? 

The citizens of Asgard were left puzzled and scratching their heads, but they hailed Thor and his little guest with equal respect. Loki had practically blushed himself purple by the time they reached the edge of the city.

They trekked across the countryside, past fields of crops and wide green pastures dotted with lowing cows, before eventually entering the deep, shady forest. They talked as they walked, Thor telling Loki about gardening basics and goat care, and Loki taught Thor a few more words in jötnin.

They stopped around midday to have lunch beside a clear, babbling brook. Rosebud nibbled grass and then lay down to chew her cud while Loki sat on the mossy bank with Thor. After they finished eating, Loki took off his slippers and stuck his feet in the brook, sighing as the water lapped cold and refreshing around his ankles. He dug his toes into the sandy bottom and watched the tiny silver minnows swimming to and fro.

Thor played with the sprig of mint between his lips, gazing at him tenderly. “It seems you’ve been cured of your fear of water.”

“This isn’t so bad. At least I can see the bottom.” Loki glanced over his shoulder, his tail curling coyly. “Maybe we can go for a swim under the falls once we get home. I mean, em… once you take me home.”

Thor blinked slowly, his smile softening.

Loki carefully pulled his feet from the water and stood on the bank, then began to unfasten his belt.

“Are you hot?” Thor asked, watching him drop the belt and pull the jerkin over his head. “Or does the outfit not suit you?”

“Oh, no, they’re beautiful clothes. It’s just that there are too many of them.” Loki combed his hair back into place with his fingers. “So many layers. I’m not used to wearing this much.”

Soon he had peeled off the rest of his royal attire and was down to his braies. Two days of almost constant feasting had put a little more meat on his bones, Thor noticed. His ribs were only visible when he stretched his arms above his head, and his legs were beginning to lose their skinny, knock-kneed appearance. It even looked like he was beginning to develop some muscle tone.

Thor hoped that whatever the fairies gave Loki in exchange for his second fang would be as helpful as the first. Maybe now that his body wasn’t constantly fighting to survive in this warm environment, it could grow as it should.

They reached the clearing at sundown. Red and orange light hit the waterfall while shadows began to deepen around the forest’s edge. Loki was eager to make it to the starbloom thicket before nightfall, and Thor had barely gotten the satchels off his back before Loki was pulling at his hand.

“We can unpack the supplies later,” he insisted, and waved the tiny pouch in which he had stowed his fang. “Let’s go give the fairies my tooth so my gift will be ready by morning!”

Thor laughed. “Alright, your highness. Let me get Mjölnir since you’re in such a terrible hurry.”

Loki shivered excitedly and danced on his toes. Thor made sure the goat was safe and secure in the cave before latching his arm around Loki’s waist and leaping from the ledge. Loki yelped in glee instead of surprise this time, and in less than a minute they were touching down just outside the starbloom thicket.

Thor hung back and watched as Loki, brimming with energy, set his fang inside the fairy circle within the hollow stump. He bounded back to Thor’s side and practically climbed up his trunk like a squirrel scaling a tree.

“Done!” he declared in a hushed whisper. “Alright, let’s go back to the cave. I’m hungry and I feel like I’ve walked off everything I’ve eaten for the past two days.”

“Walking is good for you. Builds your leg muscles.” Thor grasped Loki’s calf and gave it a mischievous squeeze. Loki screamed with laughter and sent several birds fleeing into the air.

“I hope we didn’t scared off any fairies,” Thor chuckled, swinging Mjölnir again.

“If we did, it’s your fault. You shouldn’t have tickled me.”

“You shouldn’t have squealed like a piglet.”

Loki gasped. “A piglet! Why you—”

Thor clutched a handful of Loki’s thigh as they sailed into the air, but they were already above the trees by the time Loki released a very shrill, swine-like squeal. It echoed over the treetops and blended with the hearty rumble of Thor’s laughter.

They landed back at the cave entrance with smiles on their faces and playful, untroubled moods. Here they didn’t have to worry about maintaining polite impressions or being cautious with their words and affections. Here Thor could hug Loki and cuddle him and speak honestly and openly to him—even kiss him if he wanted—without fearing Odin’s damning verdict of IMPROPER.

The night was so mild and pleasant that Thor built a small fire beside the pool and laid out a blanket where they could sit and eat dinner and gaze at the stars. Usually Loki was wary of fire and avoided its heat, but, as Thor had anticipated, the fairy nut had corrected that intolerance as well. Loki was delighted that he could sit beside Thor and watch the flames at this close range without suffering or sweating. He even poked the fire with a stick, stirring the coals as Thor had showed him.

“I’m so glad I can share this with you now,” he said, turning to Thor with firelight dancing in his dark red eyes. “It makes me feel like I truly am a part of your world.”

Thor put his arm around Loki’s shoulders and kissed the top of his head. “You already are, Loki.”

They stayed up late, lying on their backs and gazing up at the stars, talking softly while the waterfall rushed and rumbled in the background. When the fire had dwindled to faintly-glowing embers, Thor sent Loki up to the cave for háttatími while he stayed behind and doused the coals with water.

When he met Loki in the nest chamber a short while later, Loki had unwrapped the glowing crystal lantern that Frigga had given him and set it on a nearby shelf. It filled the room with lovely pink and magenta hues. “It won’t make the air smoky,” she had told them, “unlike traditional lanterns. And Thor, dear, do carve a few chimneys at the earliest opportunity. I don’t want you and Loki smothering yourselves to death in that cave.”

Thor smiled as he watched Loki slink into the nest like a cat and plop down amongst all the fine pillows. He rolled over onto his back and smiled, snuggling into the deep, squishy mattress. “Hmmm, how I missed this nest!”

“I have to admit, you do make it look comfortable,” said Thor, leaning down and picking up the satchel that contained some of his personal effects—including his separate bedding.

As if reading Thor’s mind, Loki propped himself up on one elbow. “Before we left, your father said something about a… bed-roll?” The skin between his horns wrinkled as he made a puzzled expression. “What is that? Is it a pillow? Is it something you eat while in bed?” He perked up suddenly. “Is it a muffin? Did he mean ‘bread roll’?”

Normally Thor would have chuckled at the adorable ignorance of Loki’s words; now, however, he could only think of Odin’s blunt question, which wasn’t really a question at all: You packed your bedroll, of course? The unspoken being, I don’t want you sleeping naked with that troll anymore.

Thor stared quietly at Loki for a moment, then down at the satchel that held his bedding roll, blanket, and a single small pillow. The items of a chaste, respectable man, of an obedient son… of a fearful child still desperate to please his father and king. Absurd. Here he stood—Thor Odinson, God of Thunder, Prince of Asgard, a grown man—and actually believed his father held dominion over the things he did in the privacy of his own bedroom.

Thor lifted his face to Loki once more. “It is a joke.”

He tossed the satchel to the floor and pulled his shirt over his head. He made his way toward the nest, shedding belts and boots and trousers until he was down to his smallclothes. Loki grinned and moved aside so there was room for him to enter. Thor dropped himself into the nest and Loki screeched as pillows of all shapes and sizes popped into the air from the force of his impact.

“Oh, Thor, you’ve pulled up the lining! Look, you’ve gotten grass everywhere!”

Thor smiled broadly and shrugged one muscular shoulder. “Oh well.”

Oh well? That’s all you can say? Dásamlegt! [2] We’re going to be tickled by grass all night long and I’m going to have to—”

“Tickled all night long? Very well, if you insist.”

Thor rolled over and dug his fingers into Loki’s ribs, and Loki suddenly shrieked and exploded with laughter.

Augh haha! No, stop, Thor! Stop!” he gasped, trying to squirm away from Thor’s hands. “You’re going to get hur—haha ahahaha heee—I could ha-hurt you!”

“No, you couldn’t,” Thor promised, sticking his tongue between his lips and tickling Loki’s armpits.

“Yes, I cou—hahhh! Thor, stop it, I mean it! For your own—eeeek! Aughhh! PLEASE! I’ll gouge your eyes out!”

“I’d like to see you try!”

“You won’t see anything once I’ve—heeeeee!”

Thor went for Loki’s bare belly—face-first, snarling playfully and pressing his mouth to Loki’s skin and blowing wet air until his lips rippled from the force.

“AAHHHH! THORRR!” Loki was no longer having it; he wrapped himself around Thor’s head, slapping and guffawing and pulling at his hair and ears. “Thú hryllilegur dýr! Thú skrímsli —” [3]

“Such beautiful words! So lovely—ouch!” Thor squawked when Loki bit his ear. Not hard; certainly not enough to deter him.

He cackled and tickled Loki without ceasing, Loki howling with laughter and cursing in jötnin until his face was almost purple. They rolled and wrestled and behaved like a pair of young weasels, tussling and scrapping and testing each other’s strength. The nest they had so meticulously put together weeks ago was ripped apart by their struggles. Pillows and grass and fragrant leaves filled the air and soon littered the floor of the cave.

Then Loki sucked in a startled gasp and ceased fighting. Thor immediately went still and looked down at him worriedly.

“Are you alright?” he asked, panting. “Did I hurt you?”

Loki’s bare chest rose and fell rapidly as he lay in Thor’s shadow. “N-no, I”—he gasped for air as if he’d been held underwater—“I just need to catch my breath. I feel so hot. Is it hot in here to you?”

“No. But I can fetch you a cup of water if you like.”

Loki nodded. “Yes, please, water sounds good.”

Thor smiled and pecked a quick kiss on Loki’s right horn before pushing himself up and climbing out of the nest. Loki blushed and bit his lip.

Thor trudged into the little hallway leading from the nest chamber while Loki stared at the thick straps of muscles on his bare back, the swing of his powerful arms, the spill of his golden hair between his shoulders, the ample swell of his buttocks, before all that loveliness melted into the shadows. If he only had a tail—a heavy, girthsome tail to match the rest of him—oh!

Loki grabbed the nearest pillow and clutched it to his chest, burying his grinning face into its pliant softness and rolling over, tail and toes curling.

They would be nice embellishments; a tail, horns, a huge set of fangs. But they weren’t necessary. They would only enhance Thor’s already-present handsomeness. He was perfect the way he was. And… oh, what was this fluttering in Loki’s belly? This giddy, euphoric feeling of absolute contentment? Was it love? The romantic, passionate love he had always hoped to one day feel? Or was it simply the product of his current happiness and his appreciation for Thor’s beauty?

Loki didn’t know. All he knew was that he loved Thor, and Thor loved him, and so many wonderful things were in store for them now. Gardens and books and writing lessons. Long evenings filled with food and laughter. Hugs and honey, lots of snuggling together in the nest, and three-day visits to the palace every month. Even if the fairies left him only useless trinkets from now on—or nothing at all—it would have no effect on Loki’s joy. He was already happier than he had ever been in his life.

There was no useless trinket or empty spot waiting for Loki at the offering stump the next morning, however. He gasped and let go of Thor’s hand, bounding over for a closer look.

“What is it?” Thor asked, crouching down beside him.

Loki picked the gift up carefully.

It was a tiny glass bottle, probably a medicine vial that an Asgardian had offered to the fairies in exchange for horticultural blessings. It was filled with a thin white liquid and stoppered with a small cork. Loki held it between his thumb and forefinger and gave it a light shake.

“It looks a little like milk. Do fairies give milk?”

“Well, they’ve given you this, and if this is milk, then—”

Loki rolled his eyes and flicked his tail, grinning despite himself. “You know what I mean, Thor. Do fairies feed their babies with milk?”

“I honestly don’t know. Fairies are mysterious, reclusive beings. This might not be milk at all. It could be some kind of ointment or a… what’s that attached to the neck there? It looks like a leaf on a string of spider’s web. May I?”

Loki passed the bottle to Thor, who squinted his eyes and poked at the leaf.

“I think they’ve scratched something on it,” Loki said, pointing to the other side. “It almost looks like a word. Can you read it? What does it say?”

Thor turned over the leaf and discovered that Loki was indeed correct; the fairies had scrawled a five-letter word onto the pale green underside. Odd. He didn’t know fairies could write. The lines were faint and small, but he could just make it out:


Thor and Loki both turned their heads at the same time and looked at each other.

“I think they want you to drink this,” said Thor, passing the bottle back to him.

Loki gazed at it warily. “Do you think I’ll have a reaction?”

“Without a doubt. I believe that is the ulterior motive.”

“Ulterior motive,” Loki repeated in a quiet murmur. “A purpose.” He sent Thor a serious look. “If anything happens to me, you’ll take me to the palace, won’t you?”

“I will fly you there as fast as I can.”

Loki nodded to himself and contemplated a moment longer, gathering his resolve. Then he gave Thor a flighty grin and uncorked the bottle.

Thor watched as Loki raised the vial to his lips and tilted it back. The contents barely made a mouthful, but he swallowed it down and even shook the last drop out onto his blue tongue.

“Well? How did it taste? Do you feel anything?”

Loki smacked his lips, frowning thoughtfully. “Nothing yet. It didn’t have much taste to it. A little hint of flowers and salt, but not much else.”

He put the cork back in the empty bottle and returned it to the fairy ring. He sat back on his legs and waited for any symptoms like the ones he’d experienced last time.

Thor anxiously stroked his beard, his fingers rasping against the coarse hair.

At last Loki shrugged and stood to his feet. “I feel fine,” he said, putting his hands on his hips and shaking his tail.

“You certainly appear to be fine,” said Thor with a relieved grin. “What now, little snowflake?”

Loki growled and attacked Thor from the side, landing on his back and hugging his arms around his neck. “Little snowflake!” He snorted with mock indignation and squeezed his victim like a snake squeezes its prey. “You just wait, thunderfish. Someday I may be even bigger than you!”

“Hm, maybe.” Thor smirked and stood up, leaving Loki’s legs dangling a good distance from the ground.

Loki let out a surprised “Meep!” before Thor’s arms locked together beneath his bottom, giving him a place to sit.

“Oh! This is nice,” he chirped, studying his new height with delight. “Yes, this is very nice. I think I’ll stay this size just so you can carry me around.”

“You can climb onto my shoulders if you want,” said Thor. “It would be easier on my arms, and you would be up even higher.”

“Really?” Loki scuttled up Thor’s back and awkwardly straddled his head. He wobbled precariously for a moment, clambering for purchase in Thor’s hair, until Thor grasped his thighs and steadied him. “Oh. Yes, this is much better.”

“You like that?”

“Yes!” Loki’s tail wagged happily back and forth. “I only wish you had horns so I had something to hold on to. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about pulling your hair.”

Thor chuckled as he made his way out of the starbloom thicket. “And you could steer me as well. Ah, but then I would have to give up my title and inheritance and become troll transportation for the rest of my life. A beast of burden, a servant to my jötunn master!”

Loki laughed, the sound sweet and bright in the forest. He hugged Thor’s head and curled his bare feet against his chest. “No, I prefer you as you are,” he murmured, patting Thor’s bearded cheeks. “A prince like me.”

Thor smiled and gave Loki’s thighs a little squeeze. “Then where shall we go, your highness?”

“Hmm, back to the clearing. I want to pick out a place for my garden. You, Prince Thor, can fix the nest you destroyed last night.”

“Of course,” said Thor with a laugh. “And I will make it fit for two princes.”

Chapter Text

Six weeks passed since Loki’s misadventure with the nut, and in that time he began to develop as quickly as a young spring sapling. His new fangs emerged three days after he drank the mysterious fairy milk, and his horns and hair rapidly increased in length. Pale blue rings of keratin became visible at the base of his horns, and his wavy black hair soon bridged the gap between his jaw and shoulders.

This sudden growth spurt had taken Loki by surprise, but Thor was especially stunned. It seemed that each time he saw Loki—whether going to visit him in the forest, picking him up for his monthly stay at the palace, or waking up beside him in his nest—his appearance had changed slightly. He was still the same little frost troll Thor had found on Midgard, but now he was a new, different person—a much happier, healthier version of the same smart, playful, sweet-tempered jötunn he had always been.

There could be no doubt that whatever had been in that bottle was helping Loki grow. And grow he did, in almost every way. He now had a thin, protective layer of fat all over his body and no longer looked like a skinny child. His hair shined and his skin glowed, his horns lost their dry, flaky appearance, and he began to build some muscle tone. They weren’t large muscles, nor were they very thick, but they complemented his naturally slender frame—which Thor suspected would forever remain thus—and lent some weight to his small stature.

Loki was eager to begin growing vertically, of course, but so far there was no sign of any noticeable change. A quarter of an inch, maybe, but that could be due to the increasing thickness of his hair or even his posture when Thor measured him. Thor had marked his starting height in chalk against one of the flat walls inside the cave, and once a week Loki lined himself up to see if he had gotten any taller.

“Nothing yet,” Thor would say, and then give him an affectionate chuck beneath his chin to bring back his smile. “Be patient, Loki. It takes longer to grow up than it does to grow out. Just ask any middle-aged Asgardian.”

But Loki was pleased with the other aspects of his progress so far, and remained cheerfully optimistic about eventually gaining some height.

“Perhaps it’s just taking longer than the rest of me,” he would muse, running his fingers up and down the gentle curve of his horns. He was as proud of them as he was his newer, bigger fangs—even though they dwarfed his two remaining ones and made his smile look uneven. Thor found it to be quite endearing, like a child going through the awkward stages of adolescence. He entertained Loki with many stories of Váli and Vídarr’s journey into adulthood, how clumsy they had been growing up, and how they were only now outgrowing their “ugly baby bird” stage. That always brought a smirk to Loki’s face.

“Maybe I’ll outgrow my ugly baby-ness, too,” he said.

Thor could only smile and shake his head. “You were never ugly, Loki. Not as a baby, and certainly not now. You can only become more handsome.”

Loki’s response, like most of the compliments Thor lavished on him, was to blush and bow his head and bite his grinning lips, then look up at Thor with absolute love shining in his bright red eyes. Thor loved that look almost as much as he loved Loki.


Thor came to visit him regularly, often staying for two or three days at a time and returning to the palace for the same number of days, sometimes longer if he had duties to perform in other realms. As much as he enjoyed being with Loki, he was unable to stay with him for long periods of time. His home was in the palace, and Loki’s was in the forest. But absence makes the heart grow fonder, as the saying goes, and this seemed especially true in their case.

The time they spent in each other’s company was never boring or dull. There was always something to do or to make or to explore. True to his word, Thor helped Loki pick out a small plot of earth between his cave and the little river that flowed from the waterfall’s pool, and he showed Loki how to turn up the soil and spread fertilizer and plant seeds and bulbs. He also built a rough pen out of some split pieces of timber and constructed a small shelter for Rosebud to sleep in. About time, too; she had been temporarily housed in the cave and was slowly eating Loki’s nest right out from under him. It was a happy occasion for all when she finally had a place of her own. A few more days and Loki would be sleeping on nothing but a thatch of withered grass.

As promised, Thor rebuilt Loki’s nest and indeed made it fit for two princes. He brought sacks of goose down and cotton fluff and fragrant cedar chips from the palace, along with bolts of fine, strong fabric and some sewing supplies. Together he and Loki measured the hollow in the floor, cut out a rough pattern, and spent a rainy afternoon making a lovely mattress that would be the pride of any jötunn nest. They even had enough materials left over to make a few pillows, and Loki demonstrated his natural aptitude for handling a needle and thread. Thor, on the other hand, was clumsy and often put the needle through his fingertips instead of the cloth, and a few drops of his blood had already stained the fabric by the time the project was finished.

Relief came unexpectedly that night when he and Loki lay down to sleep in the finished nest. Loki shyly picked up Thor’s hand and nursed his sore, tender fingers until the pain was gone entirely.

Thor watched as Loki tended to him, and could scarcely believe that the greatest treasure on Jötunheim had been cast out for being too small. The realm was much poorer now without him.

Loki was eager and inquisitive about every aspect of Asgardian life. He asked questions about gardening, raising goats, cultivating flowers, and the seasons, fully engaged in this new chapter of his life. He was a precocious pupil as well as a patient instructor; Thor’s jötnin was improving, especially his pronunciation, and he was now learning to build sentences while Loki was learning how to read and write Asgardian letters. He had written his first sentence after only a week of lessons, and he was so proud of it that he asked Thor if they could hang the paper on the wall. Thor had happily agreed, and now in the front parlor of Loki’s cave, beside the built-in shelf that held all of his blank notebooks and writing supplies, was a single leaf of paper declaring in new, unlearned scrawl:

I am Loki

The fact that the two of them were now spending waking day-hours together instead of staying up all night was a relatively new development. Only in the last three weeks had Loki begun to adopt Asgardian sleeping habits, gradually waking up earlier and going to bed later. He still loved the night, the quiet coolness and the twinkling stars, the multicolored auroras that glowed in the sky, but he loved Thor’s company more. By aligning his daily routine with Thor’s, it made their visits less inconvenient and much more productive.

Thor had expressed his concerns about disrupting Loki’s natural biological rhythm, and asked him if adapting to a daytime schedule was going to have detrimental effects on his health, physical or otherwise. “I would not want to force you into a way of life that causes you misery,” he said.

But Loki had shaken his head and smiled. “I assure you, Thor, I’m fine. And if it means I get to spend more time with you and neither of us is grumpy and sleep-deprived, then I’m all for it. I know you have responsibilities to the other realms. This really is the easiest way for both of us.”

And thus Loki slowly shifted from a nocturnal lifestyle into a more diurnal one. Now that the sun no longer overheated or blinded him, he began to appreciate the warming golden rays, and even enjoy them. Napping in a patch of semi-sunny grass became a much-loved afternoon treat, especially if Rosebud or some of his wild animal friends joined him. It did, however, come with a few unexpected consequences.

One morning Thor had flown in to visit Loki and found him sitting beside the pool with the little silver mirror Nann had given him, holding it in one hand and poking at his cheeks with the other. By the look on his face, he was clearly distressed.

Thor landed and Loki jumped up at the sight of him, dashing over to his side and crying, “Oh, Thor! Thor, there’s something wrong with me! I’m sick! I have spots all over me! Am I going to die?”

Thor knelt down and calmed Loki, rubbing his arms and murmuring reassurances. “Shh, slow down, Loki. Breathe. Everything will be alright, I swear. If you need healing, I will see that you get it. Show me these spots you speak of.”

With tears in his eyes, Loki pointed to his face, his shoulders, his chest, even holding up the end of his tail. Thor leaned in close and discovered that Loki now bore a smattering of tiny blue freckles on his skin, just a little bit darker than his natural skin color. He bit back the urge to laugh; the poor jötunn was practically sick with worry and he didn’t want to seem condescending in the face of his terror.

“It would appear that your fondness for sunshine has given you freckles, Loki.”

Loki sniffed and wiped his eyes, blinking. “Frackles?”

“Freckles. Rhymes with speckles. That is what they are, really. Sun-speckles.”

“Are they dangerous?”

Thor chuckled. “No, they are quite harmless. I have a few myself. See?” He pointed to his own face.

Loki leaned in until he could see each of Thor’s individual eyelashes and the tiny crinkles in the corners of his eyes. That was when he noticed Thor did indeed have the same type of flecks on his skin as he had.

“Oh,” he murmured, relieved. “But I thought… I thought that was simply the way your skin looked. And your freckles are brown, not blue.”

“Yes, they vary according to one’s skin color. Some people only have a few, some people are covered with them.”

Loki picked at his hands anxiously. “Are those people considered ugly?”

“What? No, not at all. Only an ignorant fool would think that. One cannot help how their skin reacts to the sun.” Thor’s tone softened. “But if you don’t like them, there are creams you can apply to make them fade, or spells to rid yourself of them altogether. But I think you look fine with them, Loki. In fact, I think they make you even more lovely than before.” He reached up and lightly tweaked Loki’s cheek, eliciting a giggle. “When I was a little boy, I discovered my freckles much in the same way you did. Mother told me they were kisses from the sun.”

Loki contemplated Thor’s words for a few moments, then the corners of his mouth twitched upward.

“What?” Thor asked, grinning. “What are you thinking?”

Loki’s tail curled around his bare ankle and he shrugged his shoulders, clasping his hands behind his back. “I was thinking I’d rather be kissed by the storm than the sun. Do you think if you kissed every one of my freckles, they would go away? Like the storm drives away the sun?”

Thor’s eyebrows sprang up. “You have many freckles. It would take a long time to kiss every single one.”

“We have all day,” said Loki in a teasing, playful tone, his eyes sparkling with mischief. “If you start now, you might be finished by sundown.”

Thor laughed loudly and then pitched himself forward, tackling Loki around the waist and smothering him with noisy, smacking kisses. Loki screeched and wriggled in his grasp, giggling and guffawing and trying to hold Thor’s head away from him.

The freckle-eradicating mission quickly devolved into a tickle-fight, and being tickled was something Loki both hated and loved at the same time. At least he knew Thor would cease and desist as soon as he shouted “Nóg,” meaning “enough”. This high-energy wrestling and horseplay was a perfect way for Loki to work his developing muscles, and Thor was always very mindful of Loki’s size, repaying the attacks with just the right amount of force so as not to hurt him.

Loki was growing stronger and hardier by the week, and more than once he had succeeded in locking his arm around Thor’s neck and using his leg to pin Thor’s arm behind his back. Then his tail had gone to work, poking and prodding at Thor’s ribs until he was roaring with laughter. Thor had beat the ground with his free hand and cried, “Nóg, nóg!” until there were tears streaming down his face and fist-marks in the ground.

Loki had been very proud of himself that day. It wasn’t often he got the better of Thor in these little games, especially where physical strength was involved. But today was not his lucky day, and as soon as he had yelped the magic word, Thor obediently abandoned his attack and they lay together in the grass, catching their breath and smiling.

Such were the memories they made together, happy moments marked by laughter and love, affection and appreciation, and a fondness that grew deeper and more powerful with each passing day.

It was now the beginning of Loki’s third month in Asgard, and after a busy morning spent working in his garden, he was dozing in the dappled shade of the trees that bordered his clearing. It was a lovely day, just shortly after noon, cool and dry and sunny, like many of the days in this fair realm. Birdsong and the sound of tumbling water from the nearby falls filled the air with a steady symphony of natural music. Grumble the hedgehog lay sprawled on Loki’s bare belly, also enjoying a little nap. He too had been helping in the garden, digging up grubs and slugs and munching on fat, juicy snails. Tiny little whistles and snorts rose from his snout in a slow, regular tempo.

Suddenly there came the familiar sound of flapping fabric and Loki popped upright, sending Grumble rolling into the grass. He looked to the sky and his face lit up.


He sprang to his feet and dashed out into the middle of the clearing to greet him, a huge smile on his lips.

Thor touched down on the grass and didn’t even have time to put Mjölnir on his belt before Loki was airborne, sailing into his arms. He dropped his hammer and caught Loki with a laugh, spinning him in circles until the centrifugal force had his tail standing straight out.

“Eeeeek! Alright, alright, enough!” Loki squealed between fits of giggles. “I have something to show you!”

Thor slowed to a stop, leaving Loki clinging dizzily to his neck. “Something to show me? Well, then, let’s see it.”

Loki drew himself up nose-to-nose with Thor and grinned wide, revealing empty spaces where his remaining two fangs had once been.

“Your last two eye-teeth fell out!” he exclaimed. “That’s what I get for being gone for three days. All of the excitement happens when I am away. When did you lose them?”

“Just in the last day. One fell out late last night and the other fell out this morning at breakfast. And look”—Loki opened his mouth wide and pointed to the holes—“you can already see the new teeth coming in!”

Indeed, the blunt white points of new fangs were sprouting from the raw flesh of Loki’s gums, and they looked as if they would be the same size as the ones he’d already regrown. It reminded Thor of how wolf pups would lose their needle-sharp milk teeth, which would then be replaced by thicker, fuller adult fangs.

He beamed and engulfed Loki in a full-body embrace. “That’s wonderful news, Loki! I am very happy for you.”

Loki crooned and nuzzled the side of Thor’s head with his horns, which were almost an eighth of an inch longer now. Soon the tips would be pointing backward instead of upward as they continued in their natural growth.

Thor set Loki back on his feet and tucked his shiny black hair behind his ears with a fond grin. “Look at you. I think your hair has grown an inch for every day I’ve been away. You’re going to need a haircut soon. Unless you plan on growing it long?”

Loki nodded. “Oh, yes, yes, I mean to let it grow. I’ve spent most of my life having it shaved off and plucked out, my scalp rubbed raw and chanted over. It was as if I had a horrible sickness. It used to make me so ashamed, but I’m through with hiding. I’m never going to cut it again. Well, maybe every now and then. But I’m actually starting to like it. It is rather pretty, don’t you think?”

He reached behind his head and gathered his slightly-wavy strands over one shoulder, giving Thor a sweet, wide-eyed look.

“Not rather pretty, but very pretty,” Thor murmured tenderly. “Are you still liking the oils Nann gave you?”

“Oh, yes. They’re all lovely, but I especially like the rose oil. Here.” He tugged on Thor’s tunic and pulled him downward, inviting him to smell his hair.

Thor bent down and obliged him, taking a deep breath. Loki’s hair indeed smelled like roses, and was shiny and healthy-looking, too. Thor pulled back, his face barely able to contain his smile.

“It is official. Asgard has its first blue rose, and here it stands before me. Its bright, lovely face”—he cupped Loki’s cheeks and squished them together—“and these are its leaves”—he tickled Loki’s arms, eliciting a giggle—“and look at these good, strong stems”—he clasped the backs of Loki’s knees, which made Loki squeal and fall forward, laughing—“oh! The little jötunn rose has sensitive stems! I must be extremely careful, then. After all, it’s such a delicate flower, I wouldn’t want to bruise it.”

“I’m na-ha not delicate! I’m a troll!” Loki chortled, pulling away. His face was flushed dark indigo and his red eyes shone like gemstones. “I knew you would be coming today,” he said shyly, blinking his long eyelashes “That’s why I used the rose oil. It’s my favorite scent and I know you like it, too.”

“I like you no matter how you smell, Loki.”

Loki rolled his eyes. “I know, but… oh, you know. ” He darted out and poked his finger into Thor’s belly, quick as a flash.

Thor let out a surprised squawk. “Careful! You know what happened the last time you tickled me, you wicked thing!”

“I’m not scared of lightning anymore,” Loki declared. “Besides, that wasn’t real lightning crawling all over your skin. It was more like little electric worms.”

“It still frightened you.”

“I wasn’t frightened,” Loki insisted with an impudent flick of his tail. “I was merely surprised because it made my hair stick out.”

“You screamed, as I recall. Shrilly.”

“I was very surprised.”

Thor smirked and picked Mjölnir from the ground, tucking it into his belt as he straightened his back. “Well, your courageousness, what do you have planned for us to do today?”

“Oh, lots of things,” said Loki in an enthusiastic rush, “but first I was wondering, do you think it would be alright if we went and left my teeth at the starbloom thicket?”

“Of course. We can fly there now if you like.”

“Are you sure? Because”—Loki’s face twitched slightly—“I was thinking that they might be stolen or disturbed. You know, leaving them this early. Something could happen to them before the fairies find them, and then I won’t have any new gifts. You don’t think an animal would take them away, do you?”

After an odd look, Thor shook his head. “I can’t think of any animal that would have a use for troll teeth. I think they will be fine.” He finished with a thumbs-up—Loki knew what that gesture meant now, and that was all the assurance he needed.

“Alright!” he chirped. “The bag I keep them in is up in my cave. Wait here, I’ll be right back!”

Thor stood and watched as Loki dashed across the clearing and, with astonishing speed and agility, scuttled up the rocky ridge as quickly as a lizard. His clever hands and feet, always bare, carried him up in a matter of seconds. He disappeared through the open door of his cave—a proper door, with a latch and a little peephole just at Loki’s height—and emerged a few moments later with a tiny leather pouch in one hand. He hung the pouch on his tail and crawled down the cliff headfirst. He jumped the last few feet and scampered over to Thor.

“Alright, I’m ready!”

Thor stared. The entire process had only taken about 40 seconds.

Loki’s grin faded. “What?”

“Nothing. Only I think you have just put Asgard’s best rock-climbers to shame. Is every troll as gifted at climbing as you?”

Loki frowned. “I’m not sure. All jötlings like to climb and cling to things, but I think once they grow up and get big and heavy, gravity gets the better of them.”

“Well, I hope you don’t get so big that it affects your climbing. That was one of the most impressive feats I’ve ever seen.”

Loki beamed and ducked his head bashfully. “Thank you.” He reached out and grasped Thor’s hand, urging him toward the forest. “Here, let’s walk to the thicket today. The wood is so pretty.”

Thor cocked his eyebrow. “A stroll with a troll? Why not.”

Loki laughed, the sound as bright and sweet as the ringing of icicles on a pine branch, and together they disappeared into the trees.

They took their time meandering down the forest trail, Thor reciting his jötnin to Loki and comparing the similarities of some jötunn words with Asgardian ones. Eventually they arrived at the starbloom thicket, and Thor waited patiently on the path while Loki, who moved more easily through the thick tangles of vines and branches, entered the thicket and left his precious fangs in the hollow stump. He rejoined Thor a minute later, grinning and full of anticipation for the gift that would hopefully be waiting for him in the morning.

“I wonder what it will be this time?” he wondered aloud as they began to walk. “The nut changed my insides. The milk is changing my outsides… maybe I’ll get a special fruit that allows me to fly.”

“Or breathe underwater,” Thor suggested.

“Or grow ten feet tall.”

“Or shapeshift…”

Instead of going back the way they had come, they decided to take the long route and tour some unexplored parts of the forest. They had already found many wonderful things on these little excursions: a damp, shady grotto where a colony of mushrooms—a favorite snack of trolls—was growing; a massive oak with thick, low branches that they had climbed all the way to the top and gazed out across the whole forest; and a spring where the sweetest, purest water bubbled out in a cold, continuous stream.

After an hour of roaming and finding nothing particularly remarkable, they decided to head for home. They had only just begun to walk in that direction when suddenly Loki stopped in his tracks and perked up, his tail going straight as a pin and his nostrils flaring. Thor continued several paces, still carrying his end of the conversation, before he realized he was alone. He turned and saw that Loki had scented something, and barely had time to ask, “What is it?” before Loki bolted off the path and disappeared into the trees.

“Loki, wait!” Thor crashed after him, stumbling over tree roots and getting tangled in bushes. He tried to keep his eyes on him—he was so quick, darting easily through dense shrubs and leaping over rocks and brooks, sometimes on all fours—and Thor was quite certain he had lost him when suddenly the trees thinned and the smell of sulfur hit him. He winced and fanned the air distastefully.

It smelled like rotten eggs and wet earth, and the reason was plain enough: he was standing at the edge of a great slough of slimy, sludgy clay. Fumaroles oozed and burped out thick gouts of gray mud, no doubt fed by an underground hot spring. There was little heat being produced anymore; Thor guessed that whatever geothermal force had fed it was either dormant of very close to it. The butterflies liked it, at least. There were at least three dozen of them perched on islands of mud, probing for nutrients with their curly tongues.

Loki was not far away, staring at the scene before him and vibrating like a tightly-strung wire.

“So this is what you smelled,” said Thor, stepping over to him, taking care to avoid the odiferous clay. “Look like the remains of an old mudpot. Strange for one to be this far south. Most of them are in the north, along the mount—”

Ledhja hola!” Loki crowed.

Before Thor could ask what that meant, Loki had ripped off his breechcloth, dashed forward, and thrown himself right into the middle of the pit. Butterflies took to the air in a multicolored cloud as he landed with a gloppy, gooey splat. He rolled and laughed and wallowed, covering himself from horn to tail in slick gray mud until barely any of his blue skin was visible.

“I take it you have found a good thing,” said Thor with a quirk of his eyebrow, and Loki sat up with a smile, his face dripping wet clay.

“Oh, yes! Yes, this is a ledhja hola, a mudhole, exactly like the kind we have on Jötunheim!” He gathered up a handful of squelchy muck and clapped it onto his chest, smearing it all over. “This is how frost trolls like to get clean. The mud is very good for our skin, and we let it dry before we scrub it off with snow and ice.” He plopped another handful on top of his head and began to paint his horns with it.

Thor smiled, glad to see Loki so pleased. “Well, I’m afraid we don’t have any snow nearby, so I suppose a rinse under the waterfall will have to do.”

“Hm, yes, I suppose…” Loki sat on his legs and smiled, his sludge-covered tail curling slightly. “Would you like to join me? There’s plenty of mud for us both.”

Thor hesitated. Slopping around in a pit of sulfurous mud was not exactly his idea of a good time, and it would mean walking back to the waterfall wearing nothing but a thin layer of clay… but Loki looked so hopeful and happy, so excited and willing to share his culture with him.

Oh, why not.

“Alright,” said Thor with a laugh, and peeled his lightweight leather vest over his head. “Move over, little piglet, the big boar is coming in!”

Loki clapped his wet hands giddily and slid over to give him room. Thor yanked off his boots and discarded his undershirt, but the moment he began to unfasten his trousers, Loki turned his head and pretended to be interested in one of the nearby butterflies. His curiosity was overpowering, however, and he couldn’t resist stealing a glance back. He caught a glimpse of Thor’s nakedness and blushed fiercely, turning away before he could be seen.

So that was what Æsir males looked like. Now Loki understood why trolls referred to them and the other mannfólk races as half-goats. The hair between their legs and their heavy, dangling pouches were certainly goat-like. He wondered if the rumors about men bleating during sex or pissing on their beards when their females were in season were true, too. By Ymir’s tail, he could never ask Thor such questions. They were simply too embarrassing.

But he was quite intrigued by Thor’s size. He was small—indeed, compared to an adult troll, his organ would be an embarrassment—but for a mate of his race, he was surely adequate. Perhaps even above average, being that Thor was taller and broader than most of the Asgardian men Loki had seen.

A big man and a small troll. Loki wondered if he and Thor would fit together.

The thought was so unexpected, so shocking and wild, that Loki felt something like gentle lightning race through his body and strike a place deep and low in his belly. Every inch of his skin prickled as this lightning sensation awoke a warm, heady feeling that bloomed from within to without. His heart pounded, his ears grew hot, and the flat, spade-shaped end of his tail thickened and went stiff. It had never done that before.

Loki grasped his tail and dunked it under the mud, blushing an even darker shade of blue. He clamped his lower lip between his teeth, hoping the pain would clear his head.

He couldn’t believe it. He had been thinking about having sex with Thor. Mating with a man, of all creatures. How depraved could he be, imagining himself coupling with Thor, wondering if his penis would fit inside his… his… oh, but what was that curious, dreamy throbbing in his loins? Why was he suddenly aware of the things between his legs, his redhur, his slidhur? What in the world was happening to—

Thor plopped down into the mud and stretched out his long legs in front of him. Loki snapped out of his trance and turned to give him a shy, strained smile. He tried to keep his eyes on Thor’s face and his thoughts away from the rest of Thor’s body—which was very difficult. He was just so handsome and… and there was so much of him to look at.

“Well”—Thor awkwardly cleared his throat—“I’m here. Now what?”

“You, erm. You pack mud onto yourself. H-here, I’ll help.”

Loki rose to his knees and waddled through the mud toward Thor, taking up position behind him. He lifted up handfuls of the wet clay and dropped it onto Thor’s broad, muscular back, then spread it around, covering his skin. Thor joined him, picking up gobs of the clay and painting his chest and arms with it.

“It’s rather funny,” said Thor, speaking over his shoulder. “We Æsir consider this getting dirty while your people consider it getting clean.”

Loki stroked his wet fingers through Thor’s hair, watching the golden strands slowly disappear as they became coated with mud. “You want to know what’s truly funny? That now I’m cleaning you troll-style as you cleaned me man-style in the bath that first night.”

“You’re right. I suppose we have come full circle now.” Thor twisted around to face him. “When my father sent me to Midgard on that day, I had no idea I would find someone as special as you, Loki.” He reached out and thumbed Loki’s chin, staring at his lips for a moment before finally lifting his gaze. “You have brought such joy to my life. Everything you are teaching me, the words and ways of your people, it is wonderful. Thakka thér, Loki, for sharing these things with me. I am honored.”

Another one of those tingly, trembly sensations flared through Loki’s belly, and he couldn’t help but wonder if Thor might be interested in sharing more than just words and ways one day.

He tucked his tail behind him and carefully sat down, grateful that at least his blushing cheeks could not be seen through the layer of mud on his face.

Verdhi thér adh gódhu, Thor.”1

Chapter Text

They wallowed in the mudpit for a while longer, speaking at length about frost troll cleansing rituals and practicing a few more jötnin words for Thor to add to his growing vocabulary. The butterflies were a constant presence. A few of them lazily drifted over to land on Loki’s arms and head. He grinned and giggled at the novelty, allowing the pretty little creatures to wander all over his clay-covered skin and bat their delicate wings. There were no fidhrildi on Jötunheim as large and lovely as these, he told Thor.

“I wonder why they like me so much,” he mused, studying one with black wings and bright blue markings.

“They know a flower when they smell one,” Thor answered playfully. “Even mud couldn’t hide your sweetness.”

Loki gave a shy smile and nestled deeper into the clay.

Thanks to Loki’s careful instruction, Thor had succeeded in properly coating himself in mud—every crevice and intimate inch of him. It was certainly one of the most peculiar feelings he had experienced in his life, probably not something he wanted to do all the time. He fully expected Loki would, however, especially now that he had the means to bathe himself in the more familiar, traditional jötunn way.

Soon the mud on their faces began to dry and Loki suggested they start heading for the waterfall.

“You don’t want to leave it on too long,” he explained, wobbling back to solid ground and picking up his discarded breechcloth. “It can get very uncomfortable if it dries out completely.”

Thor didn’t doubt it. Having his tender parts encased in several layers of dried sediment was not something he imagined he’d enjoy.

If bathing in mud had been a strange sensation, it was nothing compared to the nude, barefoot trek back through the forest. Thor had never walked unclothed through a forest in broad daylight before, and he was surprised by how simultaneously vulnerable and liberated it made him feel. Of course Loki wasn’t bothered by it; he spent much of his time nearly naked anyway, though he seemed unusually diligent about keeping his eyes forward as they walked. He also spoke without making eye contact, which Thor noticed was unusual. Perhaps he was shy about Thor being naked in front of him, for Loki was seldom concerned by his own lack of clothedness. Maybe he was actually blushing underneath all that clay. Thor certainly was. It was a wonder the mud on his face wasn’t baked into pottery pieces by now.

Surely this little adventure would earn his father’s stamp of disapproval.

Thor’s mood darkened as he considered his father’s perspective. He could practically hear his stern, predictable verdict of “indecent”. He abruptly tossed the thought out of his mind like a sack of rubbish.

He didn’t care, he reminded himself. He wasn’t going to spend the rest of his life trying to win his father’s approval, especially at the expense of his relationship with Loki.

He squared his shoulders and straightened his back, feeling suddenly more confident and sure of himself than he had in a long time.

They strode down the forest trail, leaving drops of wet clay on the path behind them. Loki was unusually reserved, so Thor kept the conversation going, chattering about butterflies and bare skin in a halting mix of jötnin and common tongue.

Mér lídhur… er, how would one say ‘natural’ in trollspeak? Sorry, I mean”—his voice became slow and deliberate—“hvernig segir madhur natural á jötnin?”

Loki perked up at the opportunity to focus on something other than trying to keep his eyes off of Thor’s body. He pursed his lips, his pointed ears twitching as he thought. “Hm. I think the word you’re looking for might be edhlilegur, which means a normal sort of natural. But if you mean natural literally, then use náttúrulega.”

“Ah! That sounds very close to our language. Now-tooru-legga.” Thor tried out the new word. “Náttúrulega. Natural. Mér lídhur náttúrulega. I feel natural.”

Já! Mjög gott, Thor!”

Thakka thér, Loki.”

After a few minutes they finally reached the clearing, stepping through the trees with their clothes in hand, looking like a pair of long lost, nature-loving wanderers who had rejected civilization to live off the spoils of the forest. The waterfall thundered steadily over the rocky cliff, water droplets catching the golden afternoon sunlight and casting a faint rainbow at the bottom of the falls. Rosebud bleated hello to them as they passed her pen, and Loki gave her his promise that he would let her out to forage later.

Thor tossed his clothes onto a rock beside the pool while Loki scampered around to the deep end and dove in headfirst—an excellent dive indeed. Thor watched his distorted blue image moving several feet down in the clear water, arms tucked by his sides, legs kicking and tail swishing back and forth. A silty cloud of clay followed in his wake.

Learning to swim had been an imperative part of Loki’s education. Thor didn’t like the thought of him being alone and accidentally falling into the pool and drowning, so swimming lessons had preceded all other teachings. This had been nearly three months ago, not long after the incident with the fairy nut. Within a fortnight, Loki had become an adept swimmer. He could float, he could dive, he knew how to keep the water from going up his nose, and his tail proved to be very useful in propelling him and keeping him buoyant. Now that he knew water was simply an element and not a medium for harboring wicked, troll-murdering spirits—and that there was no drain at the bottom of the pool waiting to suck him into oblivion—he was able to relax, enjoy himself, and grow more confident in his abilities.

Thor entered the pool, the water sloshing around his waist, just as Loki surfaced with a sputter. He smoothed his hair behind his horns and gracefully treaded the water with his arms and legs. Most of the mud had already washed off of him; only a few stubborn flecks remained in the creases of his skin. He grinned at Thor and beckoned for him to come out deeper.

Thor smiled and collapsed into the water with a huge splash. He swam out to Loki, dipping beneath the surface and washing as much of the mud off himself as he could. He resurfaced with a shake of his head, slinging water from his long blond locks. When he opened his eyes, Loki was almost nose to nose with him, his fresh, clean cheeks practically glowing. Now Thor understood why mud was the preferred bathing method for frost trolls; Loki’s cerulean skin looked smoother and healthier than ever. Thor found himself mesmerized by the lines on Loki’s face, the smattering of indigo freckles across his nose and cheeks, the many shades of red and brown in his eyes. His gaze lingered on the lovely bow of Loki’s lips, marveling at how soft they appeared. He wondered what they tasted like, if they were as sweet and tender as he imagined.

A pink flush suddenly sprang to Thor’s cheeks and he reprimanded himself for thinking such things. Loki had shown no romantic interest in him, nothing to indicate that he desired anything more from Thor other than friendship and chaste affections… oh, but he was so beautiful this close up. Thor could feel the warmth radiating from him, a heat more pleasant than the sunlight that was spilling down on them both, sparkling on the water droplets that hung on Loki’s lips—but not for long, because his small blue tongue flicked out to lick them away, and Thor gulped as he lost complete control of his thoughts, imagining how Loki’s tongue might feel against his own lips or even his—

“You keep staring at my mouth,” said Loki warily, and Thor snapped his gaze back up to his eyes. “Is there mud on me?”

Thor fumbled for words. “No, I—I was simply admiring your li—fa—uh, your… everything. Your complexion. Hair. The mudbath seems to have done you well, that is what I mean.” He smiled. “Your skin looks so soft and lovely now, like a flower’s petal.”

Loki laughed, blushed, and shyly slipped his arms around Thor’s neck.

Thor’s heart began to thump loudly in his ears.

“You always say the sweetest things,” Loki purred, and tipped his head to nuzzle Thor’s brow with his horns. “You must have a tongue made of honey.”

Thor closed his eyes and let out a shaky breath. Under the water, his hands instinctively settled on Loki’s waist, his fingers sinking gently into the soft, squishy padding Loki now carried on him. He was still so small despite all of his recent growth; Thor could almost span his waist with his hands, just as he had when they had first met. So many changes, and yet he remained the same.

Thor nuzzled Loki back, even though he had no horns to reciprocate this affectionate jötunn gesture.

It didn’t matter, he thought absently, his mind growing hazy with fertile images of honey and flowers, butterflies and soft, warm things—skin, mud, rose petals. Nothing really mattered. Nothing except the feeling of Loki against him, his body radiating heat in the cool, refreshing water, his nose brushing against Thor’s cheek and breath whispering across Thor’s lips…

It was an impulse. An unconscious, instinctive urge fed by a deep, irresistible desire. Thor tilted his head and leaned in, pressing a full, warm kiss to Loki’s lips. He felt Loki go stone-still against him. Thor broke the kiss and pulled back.

Loki was staring at him with wide eyes and flushed cheeks. He wasn’t alarmed, wasn’t frightened. His pupils were wide, his lips parted. He was breathing quickly. He looked inquisitive, intrigued.

“I,” Thor stammered, “I beg your pardon. I did not mean to be so rude.”

Loki blinked, and the intensity of the moment seemed to dissipate. “Rude? What do you mean?”

“Well, it’s.” Thor’s face went through a series of calisthenics as he searched for words. “A kiss on the lips is very different from a kiss on the hand or cheek. It is more meaningful. More intimate.”

Loki’s eyes glittered with interest. “So it’s a deeper expression of love?”

“Er, yes. Like”—Thor suddenly realized his hands had wandered down to Loki’s thighs, and he quickly brought them back up to his waist—“like how parents will sometimes kiss the lips of their children, how children will kiss each other. That depth of love.”

“Oh.” The bright gleam in Loki’s eyes vanished. His ears drooped as he lowered his gaze to the water. “So you love me like a child. That’s… good.” He forced a smile to his lips that looked almost painful.

Thor opened his mouth to speak and only managed a weak, strangled grunt.

“Nothing is purer than a parent’s love,” Loki went on, trying to sound cheerful. “So I’ve heard. I wouldn’t know anything about that. The only parent I ever had hated me, so it’s nice to finally be… loved in that way by someone, I suppose.” He carefully unlatched his hands from around Thor’s neck and began to paddle away.

Thor’s stomach twisted. “Loki, that’s not what I—I did not meant it like that. I love you as a—as…” His jaw wagged, his tongue trying to speak the words that his brain could not supply.

He loved Loki in many ways. As a child who needed protecting and nurturing. As a friend he enjoyed spending time with. As a sibling whose upbringing he was dedicated to. As an adult who delighted him with his wit, his charm, his beauty. He was drawn to Loki. He wanted to be around him, always. He liked it when they touched, when they embraced, when they held hands and wrestled and tickled each other; when Loki cuddled up beside him at night, his little body tucked snugly against Thor’s, and when he pressed his small hand to Thor’s chest so he could feel his heartbeat as they fell asleep. Thor loved Loki’s warmth, his scent, his laughter, the sound of his voice. He loved his company. He loved his culture, his beautiful language that he was sharing with him.

It hit Thor like a bolt of lightning:

He didn’t just love Loki. He was in love with him.

Something went off inside Thor like a firework then, soaring high and exploding in a bright, dazzling burst. But the glittery rain of sparkles faded as reality and common sense cast their cold, heavy shadows upon them.

Loki was young, naïve. He knew nothing of Æsir courtship or romance, and surely nothing of sex. He was small. He was losing his teeth like a child. He was most certainly underdeveloped—not mentally or emotionally, but physically. Was he even sexually mature? Thor had no idea. Odin had said that Loki had only reached adolescence in the last few decades, but there was no indication that Loki had experienced the hallmarks of adulthood—at least not in the way mannfólk did. No morning arousal. No mention of a monthly blood cycle—did trolls even have them? They had the organs for it, so unless they were like deer and rabbits and other mammals, they ought to menstruate. And even if Loki’s body was indeed mature, his tiny frame would be an issue if he and Thor ever…

No, Thor told himself firmly, shaking his head. Not now. It wouldn’t be right, and it certainly wouldn’t look right: he, a grown man, romancing this very small, young-looking person. There was much that remained to learn about each other, and perhaps he was misreading Loki’s affections, thinking them romantic gestures instead of familial ones. And Thor’s own thoughtless actions, like the kiss a few moments ago, surely were not helping. He might be giving Loki the wrong idea.

Merciful Norns, he didn’t want to do anything to ruin this friendship—or worse, break Loki’s heart.

Thor surged through the water after Loki, who was slowly making his way toward the rocky shore from which he had jumped.

“Loki, wait,” he said. “I need to ask your forgiveness for what I did earlier.”

“Why?” said Loki over his shoulder. “Was the kiss that awful?”

Panic shot through Thor’s whole body. He swam up beside Loki and gently grasped his arm. “No, it wasn’t awful. It was wonderful, but I should have asked your permission first. I am afraid I might be misconducting myself regarding my… how I feel towards you. I don’t want there to be any confusion between us.”

Loki looked away, on the verge of tears. “There is no confusion. Everything is perfectly clear. Thank you, Thor. I appreciate your candidness. I, em”—he pulled his arm free from Thor’s hold—“I think I’ll get dried off now and go let Rosebu—yeeek!”

He shrieked and sprang back against Thor with a splash, scrambling to wrap his arms—and his legs, and his tail—around him tightly. “What are those!” he yelped, pointing to the shore.

Thor folded his arms protectively around Loki and followed his finger. He blinked, stared.

Six giant snails, each with gray-brown shells as big as an apple, slowly slithered between the wet, mossy rocks not far from where Loki had left his breechcloth.

“Bleeding Ymir, they’re monstrous!” Loki cried, clinging to Thor’s chest and quivering with revulsion. Thor could feel the raw heat of Loki’s body—especially the soft, unseen parts between his legs—as he pressed himself against his bare skin. “Look at them, they’re giants!”

“It’s alright, Loki,” said Thor, holding him securely. “They are only summer snails.”

Loki dug his fingers into Thor’s shoulders, his face wrinkled with disgust. “S-summer snails?”

“Yes, giant Asgardian snails. They are native to this realm, though several species of this size exist in Midgard and Niflheim. In summer they begin to migrate up rivers and waterways, searching for mates. They breed at the end of the season, then the females lay eggs in the autumn that hatch in the early spring. Sometimes in late winter, if the weather has been mild.”

Loki stared at the snails and squirmed as he clung to Thor. “Are they bad?”

“Bad? No, they’re mostly harmless, neither poisonous nor venomous. Some seasons, though, their numbers explode and they wreak havoc on people’s gardens.”

“Oh, no,” Loki whimpered, clambering around to Thor’s back, effectively putting a very large, muscular barrier between himself and these uninvited guests. “Not my garden! What will I do? They’re almost the size of Grumble! He couldn’t possibly eat them all!”

“Don’t worry. There are other ways to control them. A little salt poured around the edge of your garden might keep them out, and I know birds like them. Maybe you could invite Huginn and Muninn over for lunch every day.”

His attempt at humor was lost on Loki, who was simply too worried right now. “But what about my flowers? What about the rose bush you just planted? I don’t want these nasty things anywhere near them!”

Thor shook his head, at a loss. “I… suppose you can make a sport out of knocking them across the clearing with some kind of bat?”

Loki grimaced. He watched the gigantic gastropods creep over the rocks, leaving oozing, silvery trails in their wake. Their eye-stalks waved to and fro like short, slimy tentacles. “That’s a tempting idea, actually. Yech. They’re so huge and hideous. Nothing at all like the little snails I’m used to eating.” His look of loathing abruptly vanished and his eyes took on a hungry, interested gleam. “Do you suppose they taste good?”

Thor arched his brows. “I couldn’t say. Váli and Vídarr like to eat them, but they would eat anything that didn’t eat them first. They fry them and dip them in some sort of hot sauce, claim it tastes like chicken.” He turned his head and looked at Loki over his shoulder. “Dinner?”

By the time evening was upon them, Thor had a campfire crackling not far from the pool and Loki was seasoning a batch of skewered snails with an herb paste he was fond of using on his smaller snails. Like most of the fresh meats he harvested—fish, frogs, and clams—he preferred to eat snails raw, but now that fire no longer terrified him, he had begun to experiment with light cooking techniques. He was getting quite good at it, too. A little jötunn chef in the making.

The dinner preparations were a welcome distraction from the embarrassment of their earlier encounter. Loki stuck the long skewers into the ground beside the fire, turning them occasionally so that the meat roasted evenly. It smelled delicious, and Thor was pleasantly surprised by how good snail—snigill in jötnin—actually tasted. Add a few vegetables and a mug of ale courtesy of V and V Odinson Brewery, and it made a fine dinner. Thor expressed his enjoyment of the meal in trollspeak, practicing his sentence-building.

This is very good,” he said, setting aside his cleaned skewer. “Another, please.”

Loki smiled and passed him a fresh stick with a sizzling snail on it.

Thor thanked him and blew on the morsel to cool it. “Your snail is delicious, but very hot. If I eat it now, it will burn my tongue.”

Loki choked on his ale and began coughing.

Thor reached out and patted his back. “Are you alright?”

“Y-yes, I’m fine,” Loki stammered. “It’s just”—he cleared his throat uncomfortably—“in jötnin, you don’t want to use a possessive word when speaking of a snail, especially to a troll.”

Thor frowned. “Why not?”

“Because, erm.” Loki anxiously raked a hand through his hair, then took a short breath. “Because snigill is another word for slidhur, which is the… place where jötnar join when they mate. Where babies come out.” When he glanced over at Thor, his cheeks were dark blue with embarrassment. “We call it a snigill because it… looks a little like a…” He gave up and simply pointed to the raw snails marinating in the bowl beside the fire.

Thor’s eyes widened.

The shape. The rippling, wrinkly edges. The moist, slick texture. Tender flesh. Mild flavor. He suddenly understood, and a heat rose to his face that would put the fire to shame. His own words played back in his head, filling him with horror:

Your snail is delicious, but very hot. If I eat it now, it will burn my tongue.

Holy halls of Valhalla, he had been talking about eating Loki’s—

“I—I am so sorry.” They were unfitting words. Thor wanted to die. He covered his face with one hand. “Forgive me. I did not mean to be vulgar. It was a… I…”

“Oh—no, Thor, it’s alright.” Loki tittered and drummed his fingers against the sides of his mug. “You didn’t know. It was a simple mistake. Rather funny, actually. I mean, whoever heard of eating a slidhur? Ridiculous. How does one eat a sheath? There’s nothing in it. You can’t eat something if it’s made of nothing. It’s like a hole. One can dig a hole and one can fill a hole, but one cannot eat a hole. So silly!” He finished with an awkward, strained laugh.

Thor lowered his hand, an expression of quiet shock on his face.

Loki had no concept of oral sex whatsoever. Was that type of physical pleasure not practiced among trolls? Could it be because of their sharp, dangerous fangs? Loki had said that jötnar did not kiss for that reason. Perhaps all oral affections were ruled as risky. Or was he simply young and inexperienced, unlearned in the sexual practices of his people?

The words tumbled from Thor’s mouth before he could stop them: “Is that what slidhur means? Sheath?”

“Em. Yes.” Loki bit his lip, staring into the fire over the rim of his mug. “Wh-what do your people call it?”

Thor rubbed his beard. “Well, ah. We call it the same. Sheath. But we have many other names for it. Some of them are a little offensive. Is snigill considered profane?”

“No. It’s more of a cute word, a yoofer—euphemism. I’ve heard it called a snigi, but I don’t…” He hunched himself into a ball, his tail curling around his bare feet. “I’ve never had sex before, so all I know is what I’ve overheard. Blindi and Bý never really talked about it with me. I think it was because they knew I would never find a mate. They probably didn’t want to hurt my feelings by talking about… all the things I would never experience.”

Thor’s mouth went suddenly dry. He took a few swallows of ale—mostly to keep himself from saying things he had no business saying. Things like: don’t despair, you may find a mate here in Asgard or it’s alright if you’re still a virgin. Thor honestly wasn’t surprised about that; he had suspected it from the beginning. Some of the things Loki had mentioned seemed to indicate that he had never been in a relationship with another troll before. It must have taken a lot of courage for him to admit such a personal thing—and all because of Thor’s ignorant blunder.

He set down his mug and slid closer to Loki, until their hips bumped. He put his hand on Loki’s back, gentle and supportive.

“I don’t know as much as your brothers,” he said quietly, “but I want you to know, Loki, you can talk to me about anything, ask me as many questions as you want. I will do my best to answer them, and if I do not know the answer, I will search for it until I find it. There are many people here whose business it is to know things. I know Father is rude and unkind to you, but he knows much about frost trolls, and Heimdall has been watching the realms for thousands of years. His wisdom rivals my father’s. And Mother, she is one of the greatest healers in three realms.

“I suppose I’m trying to say that these are… important matters. Sex, reproduction. Development. I know they can be embarrassing to speak of at times, but it could mean the difference between being healthy or becoming ill.”

Loki turned his face up to Thor’s, the firelight dancing in his dark, hopeful eyes.

Thor smiled down at him. “I swore an oath to protect you from all harm, and that includes your body, your heart, your mind, every part of you. Whatever you are feeling, whatever things you are wondering about, I would have you tell me so there is nothing standing between us. Never be afraid to ask me something, Loki.”

Loki nodded his thanks, his eyes darting to the side. He picked up the end of his tail and began to play with it nervously. “Well… there is one thing I’ve been wondering.”


“Would you”—a grin tugged at the corner of his mouth as he met Thor’s gaze—“could you kiss me on the lips again? Er, gently, though. Your beard is a little prickly.”

Thor gave a breathy laugh. “Since I have your permission this time, of course.”

Loki straightened up and went still, readying himself. He kept his eyes open while Thor closed his own and leaned down, pressing a warm, careful kiss to Loki’s lips. When he pulled back, Loki’s eyelids were drooping dreamily and his freckled cheeks were blushing with heat.

“Oh… my, I. It feels like there are Asgardian butterflies in my belly right now!”

“I thought you were going to say Asgardian snails.”

Loki snickered, his eyes twinkling merrily. “That, too.”

“Hm, butterflies and snails,” Thor mused. “That is quite a bellyful!”

They shared a chuckle for a moment, all of the day’s tension melting away like ice in the spring sun. They paused, gazing upon one another’s smiling faces in the amber firelight.

Loki leaned a little bit closer. “Another?” he asked sweetly.

“Of course,” Thor murmured, and shut his eyes.

This time, he let Loki come to him.

It was raining ice on Jötunheim. Mount Útgard stood against the elements like a giant, dwarfing all other mountains in the realm. The great stratovolcano—now dry and dormant—stood alone, surrounded by miles of tundra in all directions, bordered on all sides by impassable ranges whose gaps were guarded day and night. It was a snow-capped palace of stone, an impenetrable fortress of rock and ice. It was the kingdom of the frost trolls, the capital of their realm.

Only during the summertime, which came once every thirty-three years, was the ground visible in this cold, wintry world. The snow would recede for a time and the glaciers high in the north would sweat life into the lowlands, forming pools and rivers where fish awoke from their torpid states and spawned. Grasses would sprout. Lichens would bloom red and yellow, and the air would be filled with the buzz of bees and other industrious pollinators. Stony crops of rock were revealed, and the bones of buried animals who had died the previous winter shone white and bare on the colorful landscape. The frozen carcasses would thaw and the skies would fill with carrion birds. White-furred foxes and bears, jötunn wolves and lions, would emerge from their dens to scavenge or prey upon other animals—hares, reindeer, trout, eels. They gorged themselves, knowing that this time of plenty would not last long and soon the dying days of autumn would be upon them. Indeed, a successful summer feeding was a matter of life and death. Only the fittest survived in this icy, inhospitable realm.

Jötunheim hadn’t always been like this, a winter wasteland where the sun emerged for only a few months every three decades. No; it had once been a temperate place of beauty and abundance, full of magic and wonderful things. It had been the largest of all the seven realms of Yggdrasil, before the Great Sundering. It had been called by another name then: Tröllheim, the home of all trolls, ruled by a single king who was both wise and merciful.

But that was long ago. Tröllheim existed only in legend now, an old story told to jötlings to comfort them in the bleakest, barest days of winter and give them something nice to dream of, while all around them their people struggled and scraped to survive.

Býleist and Helblindi had spent many dawns telling these stories to their sickly little brother, making up fantastic details of richness and splendor just to see if they could bring a smile to his tiny face.

In the entrance to the cavern that had once belonged to the smallest son and greatest shame of King Fárbauti stood the broad figure of Helblindi, captain of Jötunheim’s army. He watched with sorrow on his fierce face as his brother Býleist wept over a nest too small to hold even a single half-grown jötling—a nest that had once cradled their tiny, lonely littermate.

“It still smells like him,” Býleist sniffed, lifting his wet face from the little pillow he had clutched to his chest. He turned to regard Helblindi, the only brother left to him now.

Býleist was a handsome troll, even wracked with grief as he was now. With his long white tusks and high cheekbones, and pointed ears that stretched well past his hairless, tattooed crown, he was considered one of the most attractive trolls in the kingdom. It almost seemed impossible that he was the sibling of one of the ugliest jötunns to have ever been born. So ugly, some whispered, that his mother had taken one look at him and died of shame.

But Býleist the Beautiful had defended his unfortunate brother, snarling and snapping at anyone who mentioned his ugliness or dared to call him runt, and refusing any suitor who spoke ill of him. This was something he had done long ago and still continued to do now, even though most of the kingdom no longer knew Loki’s name.

“Eleven months he’s been gone,” Býleist murmured in a deep rumble, “yet I can still hear his voice. I believe he is alive, Blin. He must be, otherwise I would have forgotten him by now.”

After a few quiet moments, Helblindi sighed and lowered his head. “Loki lives only in our hearts now, brother. That is why you still hear him.”

Fresh tears flooded Býleist’s red eyes. “Don’t say that. He may yet live. He is clever—more clever than any of us, and fast. Perhaps he—”

“He is gone, Bý. He was sick when Father cast him out. If he did not die of exposure or starvation, he was either torn to pieces by wolves or killed by those wretched, cowardly mannfólk. Do not forget that Midgard is the realm protected by the Thunder-bringer. They probably prayed for his lightning to burn him to ash or that damned hammer to smash his skull like so many of our—”

“Stop it, stop it!” Býleist roared. “Why would you say such things! What is wrong with you!” Wet snarls of anguish echoed in the cavern. “You are sick, Helblindi. Father's vengeful attitude is turning you into a beast, just like the rest of his followers.”

Helblindi softened, his posture slumping in defeat. He trudged into the room, his clawed feet thudding on the stone floor and the metal rings on his breechcloth jingling. He crouched down beside his brother and gazed into Loki’s empty nest.

“I am sorry, Bý. I only said those things because they have been torturing me as well. Every dawn when I lay down to sleep, I think of the many ways Loki might have met his end, either slowly and painfully, or quickly and”—his voice cracked—“and terrified, crying and begging for mercy. It sickens me to the core of my heart.”

He rested his large, clawed hand upon his brother’s shuddering back.

“But we cannot dwell on the past forever. We must move on. That is what I have done, and what you must do also. You have an honorable occupation, a respected station. You have a chance to be happy. Our champions would beat each other senseless for the opportunity to win your heart.”

“My heart is worthless,” Býleist growled. “It is broken. It was broken the moment our father threw our innocent brother to his death. Loki had done nothing wrong. He was guilty of no crime, yet he was cast out to die simply for existing. For that reason alone you should hate our father—to speak nothing of what he has done and is still doing to this kingdom! He is no parent. He does not deserve the title.”

Helblindi was silent. “You are right,” he admitted finally. “He is not worthy of the title, but it is his nonetheless. And even if you do not call him Father, you must call him King. You may not like it, but we must obey him, Bý. We have no choice.”

“I know.” Býleist blinked and looked up at his brother, his face contorted with sorrow. “I just pray that wherever Loki is, he is at peace.”

Helblindi swallowed hard, his ruby-red eyes watering in the dim light of the glowing mosses. “So do I.”

Chapter Text

Loki woke before Thor, rolling lazily over onto his back and gazing up at the skylight Thor had put in last month. The wooden shutter was propped open, offering a view of the black sky and twinkling stars. The moon had set and the sun would be rising soon, but for now, the realm still slept.

Loki sat up and yawned and stretched, his toes spreading and his tail going straight before relaxing again. He looked down at the man lying beside him, one thick arm tucked beneath his head and the other draped across his bare stomach. His golden hair spilled across his pillow in wavy tendrils, and Loki couldn’t help running a light finger over the edge of Thor’s small, rounded ears. A wistful smile crept to his lips.

He loved this man. His smell, his warmth, the sound of his voice. His strength, his gentleness. The feel of his skin. His beauty. His kindness. Everything about him. No one in the Nine Realms could fill the impression that Thor Odinson had made in his heart, nor did Loki want any other to take his place. This was his mate, his beloved. Loki had chosen him. Even though they came from two different worlds and would never be recognized as a true jötunn couple, this life they were sharing was no less sweet. As long as they were together, that was all that mattered.

Loki leaned down and laid two feather-soft kisses on Thor’s forehead, approximately where his horns would have been if he were a troll. Then he nestled up against Thor’s side again and rested his arm across Thor’s chest. He did the same with his leg, stretching it over Thor’s belly and relishing the contact of skin upon skin. 

Everything was good.

Loki shut his eyes and entertained himself with pleasant thoughts of the previous day. The discovery of the mudhole. The butterflies. Seeing Thor naked for the first time, the excitement that had stirred inside him. Washing off in the waterfall’s pool. The mouth-on-mouth kiss. The awkward conversation that followed, which was nothing compared to their later talk about snails and jötunn sexuality. But in the end, everything had been fine. Thor had kissed Loki on the mouth again, and Loki had done the same to Thor, and it had felt so good, as if something had just been completed and made real and permanent. Loki didn’t know why he felt this way, but it was lovely.

He drifted off thinking about Thor giving him more of those special mouth kisses, and kissing him in other places Loki liked—his belly, his feet, parts where he was dangerously ticklish—and hugging him close. Maybe Thor would kiss the end of his tail someday, or better yet, the root of his tail. He wondered how Thor’s beard would feel on his bottom, if it would prickle and poke or if it would feel nice, like the hairbrush Nann had given him. What if Thor nibbled his cheeks? Would it tickle? What if he turned Loki over onto his back and rubbed his belly with his beard? And then playfully nipped his navel? What if he— 

The alluring, addictive images flowing through Loki’s half-sleeping mind suddenly rose to a powerful swell. He opened his eyes, fully awake now, and stared into the darkness.

What if Thor were to kiss him… down there?

A rush of excitement surged through him as he imagined Thor hovering above him on his hands and knees, as powerful as a bear but as gentle as a fawn. And naked. Yes, completely naked, just like he’d been in the mudhole, only now he didn’t care if Loki saw his sex because he would unfold Loki’s breechcloth so he could look at Loki’s sex, too, and Loki wondered what Thor would think of his body, if he would find his parts attractive and desirable, if he would want to kiss them. And if he did, how would it feel?

Suddenly Loki was able to imagine with astounding clarity exactly how it would feel to have Thor’s warm head between his legs, kissing both of his sexes, maybe even opening his mouth and using his tongue to—

A wave of something potent and exceedingly pleasurable flowed through Loki, a dark, beautiful bud blossoming deep in his core and giving off sensation instead of scent. It felt wonderful. He wanted to keep thinking about it, to keep feeling these things. There was a gentle throbbing in his genitals now, and the flat, spade-shaped tip of his tail began to swell again, just as it had yesterday in the mudhole. 

Is this what happens before mating? Loki thought nervously. Is my body getting ready to… to…  

To fit together with Thor’s, his memory finished, and a tingling effervescence swept across his skin from horn to heel. 

Thor’s organ was small enough. It might not hurt too badly. It might even feel good. Of course, that was if he even felt any attraction to Loki. He was a man after all; he might find the idea of mating with a troll repulsive. Or perhaps he thought Loki too small and inexperienced to be a good lover. Surely he would want another male—or female, the mannfólk have two separate sexes, couldn’t forget that—who wasn’t so small and anxious.

Loki propped himself up on his arm and gazed down at Thor. So many feelings stirred inside him, awoken by a desire he had never felt before in his life. Was he torturing himself by fantasizing about mating with this man, something that could never happen? Perhaps it was wrong to be thinking about such things. It would only bring him sorrow.

He glanced down at the vague outlines in Thor’s smallclothes before looking away, a dark blush staining his cheeks.

It was impossible. They would never be able to fit together. He was still too big, even soft and flaccid as he was now. There was no way Loki’s body could possibly accommodate such a member. Now he understood a little better why Helblindi and Býleist had been so reluctant to discuss sex and mating with him. Their knowledge would be of no use to him. He could never apply it. It was just trivia, useless information, no different than the fairy tales they used to weave for him at háttatími

Despair and frustration suddenly overtook Loki, dousing the embers of his newly-awoken desire. Tears sprang to his eyes.

If only the fairies had given him something to make his body truly grow bigger. The “milk” they had left last time hadn’t done much other than add an inch to his height and some length to his horns and hair. He needed real growth, not paltry little— 

Loki stiffened, his eyes going wide as saucers.

The fairies. He had completely forgotten about the two fangs he had left at the starbloom thicket yesterday. Another gift was surely waiting for him now. Maybe it would be the thing to finally make him bigger!

He reached down and began to shake Thor awake. “Thor. Thor! Wake up, it’s almost morning. We have to go back to the thicket. Thor?”

Thor cracked open one bleary blue eye and shifted, grunted. “Ngh. Still dark.”

“The sun is on its way. The sky is already getting lighter. By the time we get there, it will be morning.”

Thor smiled wearily and lifted his hand to touch Loki’s cheek. His lids were beginning to droop. “Few more minutes. This’s my… favorite part of the day.”

A confused smile formed on Loki’s lips. “Your favorite? Why?”

“Because you’re here. Like feeling you beside… your body and mine. Fit together so…” He trailed off, his eyes shut and his mouth slightly open. He was asleep.

Loki sat blinking in the dark for a few moments, his heart throbbing in his ears, and told himself it was just a coincidence that Thor should mention their bodies fitting together. He didn’t mean it in a sexual way. Not like what Loki had been pondering just a few minutes earlier. And yet it was too deliberate to be anything else.

Loki had known all his life that trolls who shared nests formed bonds with one another. He always assumed they were emotional bonds. Physical connections. Being deprived of contact with his littermates from a young age and never having a mate himself, this was the first time Loki was experiencing these things. What if the bonds trolls formed went deeper than just skin and emotions? What if there was a mental bond? A spiritual bond? Did this mean he and Thor were already a couple?

Loki didn’t know, and it hurt his head to think about it. He lay down beside Thor and snuggled against his side. Thor lifted his arm—or maybe it lifted itself—and wrapped around Loki’s narrow shoulders, holding him close.

Maybe they do fit together, Loki thought as he placed his hand over Thor’s beating heart. Not in the way he expected, a physical sense, but a much more permanent, profound way. One that preceded and complemented all those fleshly desires and affections Loki was starting to feel. He and Thor might never be able to have sex in the traditional troll fashion, but that didn’t mean there weren’t other ways to give each other pleasure. He had only to wait, allow the bond to take its natural course, and in the meantime enjoy the myriad good things that were to be found in the moments leading up to it. Moments like these, where their hearts seemed to fit together far better than their bodies ever could.

Loki closed his eyes and slid his tail around Thor’s thigh. 

A few more minutes. He could do that.

When the two princes finally stirred and rose from their nest, the golden sun was peeking above the treetops and painting the sky in hues of pink and orange. They performed their morning ablutions and shared a hurried breakfast, though Loki was almost too excited to eat. Then they set out into the forest.

The starblooms were shut and sleeping when they entered the thicket. Loki waited for Thor with his tail impatiently flicking back and forth as the big man clambered through the hanging vines and clinging branches. Once Thor disengaged himself from the last obstacle, they made their way over to the offering stump, Loki bounding and bouncing like a lamb. He let out a happy cry when he saw that his two fangs were gone and something new sat in the circle of stones.

It was a jar. A small round pot, light brown in color, made of some sort of clay. It had a lid on top, and, like the last gift, there was a leaf attached to it with woven lengths of spiderweb. There was something scrawled on the leaf, but Loki was baffled by the tiny text. He frowned as Thor crouched down beside him.

“For wuh—wow—woob? These letters don’t make any sense. Here, you look at it.”

He passed the pot to Thor, who studied the writings on the leaf:

Forr wounb

“Hm. I don’t think fairies are very good at spelling,” he said at last with a lopsided grin. “At least not in Asgardian. And they did misspell the last set of instructions they gave you.”

Loki leaned forward eagerly, his tail curled up into a tight knot. “But what does it say?”

“I believe it says for wounds. At least, I think that’s what they meant.” Thor wrestled with the lid. “I can’t seem to… oh, it twists open. Clever. It must be some kind of safeguard.” He lifted the lid and peered inside. “Well, that’s curious. It looks like quicksilver.”

“Quicksilver!” Loki exclaimed, then his enthusiasm abruptly faded. “What’s quicksilver? Fast jewelry?”

Thor handed the pot back to Loki. It fit in the palm of his little blue hand. “Quicksilver is a type of liquid metal, but I don’t think that is what they have given you. Here, inspect it for yourself. Your senses are keener than mine. Does it have a smell?”

Loki held the pot beneath his nose and inhaled. A smile came to his lips. “It smells like honey!” He carefully dipped his finger inside and brought up a small sample. He rubbed it between his thumb and forefinger. “It almost feels like honey, too. Dense, but not as sticky. Look at how much it spreads. Just that small amount, it’s nearly covered my whole finger.”

“That might make sense if it’s for wounds,” said Thor thoughtfully. “A little medicine sometimes goes a long way. Although I don’t know why the fairies would have given you a wound-healing salve. They must not know I am here to fly you to the palace should any injury befall you.”

“But you won’t always be here, will you?” Loki raised his head. His ruby red eyes were round and sorrowful. “Not every waking moment. Perhaps this is for emergency use only.”

Thor ruminated on this a short while before nodding, his mouth drawing downward in an impressed bow. “Indeed. It would be very wise and thoughtful of the fairies to give you such a gift. They have already healed your body and helped it to grow, and now you have received something to protect it.”

“That would make sense,” Loki agreed. He released a quiet sigh. He couldn’t help but be a little disappointed that this wasn’t more of the magical growth liquid like he’d gotten last time. He had been so hopeful. But nevertheless, it was still a gift from the fairies, and so far they had demonstrated an uncanny attunement to Loki’s specific needs. They knew best. He had only to trust them.

Perhaps what he needed most right now was patience. A pity they couldn’t bottle that and give it to him. 

He looked down at his finger, still painted with the silvery, honey-like substance, and gave it a cautious lick. His face went through a variety of perplexed and curious expressions as he smacked his lips.

“What does it taste like?” said Thor.

“I don’t… it’s not really…” Loki blinked rapidly, baffled. “I can’t describe it. I’ve never tasted anything like it before. It’s a strange flavor. Sweet, but not as sweet as honey.”

“Most medicines aren’t. You’re lucky it hasn’t turned you green.”

Loki held out the pot. “Would you like to try some? Maybe you can tell what it is.”

Thor shook his head and smiled. “No, Loki. That is your gift, not mine. There isn’t very much of it. I think it would be wise to ration it, use it only for your own needs.” He passed the lid back to him. “But thank you for the offer.”

Loki hunched his shoulders. “Oh. Well… very well, then. You’re probably right. It must have taken the fairies a long time to make all this, as small as they are. I won’t waste a drop of it.” He set the lid back on the pot and turned it until it locked into place. “It’s a great comfort to know that the fairies are looking out for me whenever you cannot.” He smiled at Thor, and Thor mirrored his cheerfulness.

“Indeed it is. I’ve often wondered what might happen if you were to hurt yourself while I’m away in one of the other realms.”

Loki licked the rest of the salve off his finger. “Well, maybe you can take me with you sometime. I’d really like to see the other worlds, especially Niflheim. I’ve heard there are other frost trolls there. Perhaps they’re nicer than the ones on Jötunheim.”

Thor’s smile faded. His father’s words came back to him, an unpleasant reminder that this sweet, blissful arrangement he had so carefully built for Loki in Asgard was destined to end.

Soon he will grow restless to be among his people again, Odin had said. There are things he will long for that you will be unable to give him. You cannot be his mate. You cannot love him. You cannot bear his offspring, and by the looks of it, I doubt he is capable of bearing any of his own. He would be better off being adopted by a family of trolls on Niflheim than remaining here by himself for the rest of his life.

In the long silence that followed, Loki’s ears drooped. “Do you… not want me to travel with you, Thor?”

Thor jolted to attention. “No! I mean, yes, but it’s—it can be dangerous.” He seized upon that idea, which wasn’t that far from the truth. “Yes, very dangerous. I am often called to battle beasts and quell conflicts. There is violence and bloodshed, cruelty, death. Fire and flames. People at their worst. Terrible machines of war.” He reached out and clasped Loki’s smooth blue shoulder. “It is no place for a little frost troll.”

Loki pressed his lips together and meekly nodded his head. “I see.”

Thor’s heart ached to see Loki so dejected, and he slid his hand up to cradle his neck. “But perhaps I can find a more peaceful reason to visit the realms when time and duty allows. Then we will go together and I will show you their beauty.”

Loki perked up. “Really? Oh, I would like that!”

Thor did his best to appear happy even though his heart had already gone cool and dark, like a sputtering ember.

If our days together are numbered, he thought, then let us make the best of them. Let no moment be wasted, no tender word left unsaid.

Without a second thought, Thor pulled Loki to him and embraced him tightly. Loki squeaked in surprise, then returned the hug with equal force, purring and nuzzling Thor’s neck, burying his face in his long golden hair.

“So would I,” Thor murmured. 

It was astounding how quickly Loki forgot about the silver honey-salve. He brought it back to his cave and tucked it into the nook where he stored herbs, balms, and roots of a medicinal nature. Many of them had been given to him by Frigga and treated the most common ailments: headaches, sore throats, wet noses, burns, and scrapes. But Loki was and continued to remain in very good health, so there was little need for him to visit his medicine cupboard.

Out of sight, out of mind. 

Twelve weeks went by in a lovely blur of warm, sunny days and mild, star-strewn nights. Loki’s teeth grew in at last, and now his smile was full and mature and pointy—but not very intimidating. All of his new fangs were larger than the ones he’d had when Thor had first brought him to Asgard, though they were still smaller than the average troll’s.

“But that’s alright,” he said as he studied his teeth in the mirror while Thor proudly looked on. “I’m not an average troll.”

“No,” Thor agreed. “You are an exceptional one.”

Having a full set of teeth again meant that he could tear into a raw fish or rip off a bit of dried meat much more easily, and Loki did both with glee. He even enjoyed chomping into soft wood like fir or pine just to see the four huge holes he would leave behind. He liked doing this so much that one day Thor brought him a thick piece of scrap leather from Váli and Vídarr’s little tannery shop, and Loki promptly and joyfully mutilated it. A pack of wolves couldn’t have done better.

Thor made a mental note to be very careful not to arouse Loki’s wrath. He didn’t want to think how easily those sharp teeth would puncture his flesh.

But Loki did not bite indiscriminately, and he was always very gentle when he and Thor had their little mock fights. Æsir had much more delicate skin than trolls, and if he drew blood, it was always by accident. When that happened, no matter how loudly Thor protested, Loki would force him to sit still while he licked the wound until it clotted. 

These accidental injuries healed very quickly, and Thor was grateful for that. He wasn’t too keen on the idea of returning to the palace covered in troll bites. It was already bad enough that he was coming home past dark, half-dressed and barefoot, with sloppy braids in his hair from Loki practicing his plaiting on him, and the sweet smell of troll nest saturating his rumpled, barely-worn clothes. 

Odin caught him returning one evening after a seven-day stay in the forest, and he lowered his eyebrows and glared at his son from head to toe.

Thor just smiled and said in perfect trollspeak, “Halló, Fadhir. Hvernig hefurdhu thadh?” (Hello, Father. How are you?)

Odin muttered something under his breath, turned, and shuffled away. Thor watched him and tried not to be too delighted. If his father disapproved, that meant he must be doing something right.

Loki made three trips back to the city of Asgard during this time, and since he was still forbidden from entering the palace—except for great emergencies, such as his near-death experience with the nut—he stayed in one of the little cottages just beyond the orchard, where some of the people who were members of the palace staff lived. They were lovely little houses made of brick and stone and wood, and Loki much preferred sleeping where he could hear the natural world as opposed to the heavy golden silence of the palace. The chirping crickets and croaking frogs, the rustle of the wind in the leaves, the trickle of the nearby waterwheel, this was what Loki adored. Nature and the natural.

Váli and Vídarr were in complete agreement. 

“I can’t sleep unless I’ve got one foot in the dirt,” Vídarr said as he and the rest of the Odinson brood sat around a crackling fire on one such evening, swapping stories and jokes with Loki. 

“Víddi,” Hodur quipped, “you’ve always got one foot in the dirt.”

“Yes,” Baldur added with a chuckle. “Perhaps if you’d wash your socks more often…”

Everyone laughed at that, even Vídarr.

It wasn’t just the royal family that Loki spent time with during his sanctioned three-day visits; he was also introduced to some of Thor’s fellow warriors.

At first, Loki was hurt and terribly jealous to discover that Thor had other people he called friends, and he was instantly determined not to like them. Then he thought about how sad that might make Thor, who was so excited to introduce him to his companions, and how unreasonable it was to expect him to shun all of his other friendships just because Loki was a part of his life now. Of course Thor was going to be close to other people. He was a wonderful man, someone whom others could not help but like. And he had his own life. He was an adventurer, a warrior, a prince. He hadn’t spent the majority of his years locked away in a cavern and deprived of meaningful relationships. The mere fact that he wanted Loki to meet his friends was proof of his good intentions and kind heart. Loki vowed to be more mindful of his envy and possessiveness. It would be easy to let them get the better of him.

“I have known these four since I was a young warrior first learning the art,” Thor told him as they made their way to the appointed meeting place. “Like me, they have spent more time fighting trolls than befriending them, but I don’t think they will have a problem with you.”

“Because I’m small?” said Loki irritably. “Because I’m not a real troll?” He was still wrestling with his jealousy, and illusions of his own inadequacy were not making things any easier.

Thor just smiled. “Because you are you.” And then he had kissed Loki’s hand, and that settled the matter as far as Loki was concerned.

Lady Sif and the Warriors Three had been stunned speechless the moment Thor appeared with a pint-sized, princely-looking frost troll at his side. Then Fandral had clapped his hands to his beaming face and cried, “Oh my gods, he’s precious!” But he had always been the most dramatic member of their quintet.

Hogun the Grim was a man of few words and even fewer facial expressions, but he had looked down at Loki without blinking and a thin smile had threatened to form on his mouth. “You have… adopted a troll child, Thor.”

Sif asked, “How many heart attacks did your father have? Three? Four?”

Thor laughed. “This is not my adopted son. We are almost the same age. My friends, may I introduce to you Prince Loki of Jötunheim, the banished son of the Cruel Striker himself. We met on Midgard nearly six months ago, and now he is here to seek asylum and a new life.”

“So this is what has been keeping you busy!” Volstagg exclaimed, and gave a hearty laugh. His great belly bounced jovially. He was as tall as Thor but much heavier, and his beard spilled onto his chest in bushy red curls. Loki instantly liked him. He smelled like food.

One by one, Thor introduced the Warriors, and after an evening spent dining and drinking at one of their favorite taverns, Loki had four new friends himself.

“He’s very handsome,” Sif had whispered to Thor when Loki was out of earshot. She arched one dark eyebrow coyly. “And more entertaining than the last one you brought home.”

Thor almost choked on his beer. He set down his tankard, coughed, and chuckled uneasily. “It’s not like that, Sif. We are merely friends. He’s only—”

“No, Thor. We are your friends. That one”—she gestured to Loki, who was currently playing a drinking game with the others—“is special. The way he looks at you, and the way you look at him?” She gave him a look of her own. “Please.

Thor’s cheeks, already flushed from several rounds of beer, grew even redder. “I’m not sure if he loves me quite in that way, Sif. Years of neglect have left him stunted and naïve about… many aspects of adult relationships.”

“Well, then, you ought to find out how he truly feels, oughtn’t you?”

Loki screeched with laughter at something Fandral said, then everyone raised their mugs, cheered, and downed them at the same time.

If only it were that easy, Thor thought.

The silver honey, like most things that get tucked away into cabinets and cupboards, remained forgotten until Loki had need of it. That need came on the day of his eight-month anniversary in Asgard, though he wasn’t aware it was his anniversary at all.

Thor was away in another realm, not on a mission of war, but one of politics. His least favorite. As heir to the throne of Asgard, Baldur was obligated to attend the diplomatic meeting on Alfheim, and considering the nature of the meeting, Odin had insisted that Thor accompany him in case things got out of hand. It was a three-day affair, and Thor was expected to return home tomorrow.

In the meantime, Loki stayed comfortably busy. He played with Rosebud, and his garden continued to blossom and grow. The rose bush at the base of his cave was lush and thick, but had yet to produce any blooms. Rows of vegetables sprouted from the soil and young flowers budded nearby, filling the air with their sweet, fertile aromas. Butterflies and honeybees and tiny, colorful birds that Loki had never seen before were now frequent visitors, feeding and pollinating and creating a thriving little habitat. Grumble grew fat on the steady supply of grubs and beetles, and Loki had made sure to plant extra lettuce and clover for his animal friends to eat. The rabbits were as tame as housecats and the deer as friendly as dogs.

The giant Asgardian snails had not been much of a problem since Loki found out they made excellent appetizers. He dispatched them quickly whenever he caught them in his clearing, and if he wasn’t in the mood to eat snail, he shelled the pests, diced them into bits, and left them for the birds. And once the crows and kites learned that there was a good meal to be had in this part of the forest, the snails learned to avoid the area completely.

One of the centerpieces of Loki’s garden was the offering pedestal for the fairies. He and Thor had built it together using stones and wet clay from the river, and he left offerings for the fairies as often as he could. Sometimes if he woke up in the middle of the night, he’d creep out onto the ledge to see if he could spot the tiny glowing lights moving between the rows of his garden. He had only caught them at it once or twice and was so enthralled that he could barely go back to sleep again. Fairies! In his garden!

It wasn’t just gardening and goat-keeping that kept Loki occupied while Thor was away. He also continued to practice his penmanship, paint, sew, whittle, and invent songs on the little wooden flute Hodur had given to him. He read children’s books in the shade, swam in the pool, and drank roughly two pots of herb tea a day. So far he hadn’t met a tea he didn’t like.

All of these pastimes were fun and rewarding, but lately Loki’s mind was prone to wander whenever Thor was absent. He grew restless, anxious for Thor’s return. He longed for his company. Book-reading soon developed into cloud-staring and daydreaming. He thought about how much he loved Thor and how he might be able to express that love in ways he would understand—meaningful ways, deep ways, like what he felt in his heart. And his body. Everything he did lately felt so childish and inadequate, as if he were lacking the tools he needed to properly communicate. Perhaps he was.

That afternoon, while counting the hours until Thor returned from Alfheim, Loki was feeling particularly restless and decided to go and find his favorite tree, a giant storblomst about a league to the south. He was intent on spending a good hour or two climbing among its thick branches and snacking on some of the crunchy, delicious beetles that often scuttled there.

It was a grand old tree, at least a thousand years old by Thor’s estimate, and its leaves were broad and dark green, shiny on the top side, and they never fell in winter. It grew massive pink flowers that were almost as big as Loki’s head, and they smelled beautiful in the early morning. Loki liked to lick the dew that collected on the petals overnight, for it was the sweetest water he had ever tasted.

Today he didn’t visit Old Stori until mid-afternoon, so the dew was long dried by the time he got there. Its limbs were low and its leaves thick, creating a verdant cocoon all the way down to the ground. Loki slipped through the foliage and into the cool, shadowy interior. 

Unlike most trees in Asgard, Old Stori had smooth, thin bark that made for treacherous exploration. Loki’s hands and feet were clawless and likely to remain so, but that was part of the fun in climbing this particular tree. It was an exercise in agility and reflexes, and Loki found that slipping was actually quite thrilling. His squeals and laughter often startled nearby birds right out of the area. He wasn’t too concerned about hurting himself, though. There were plenty of wide limbs that he could grab hold of if he fell, and the ground below was soft—if he could avoid falling on one of the thick roots. That might hurt.

After a few minutes of hunting for beetles and finding none, Loki was drawn to a shiny little lizard with scales like an iridescent rainbow. He wanted to pick it up and admire it at a closer range, but the creature was extremely fast and shy, and Loki ended up chasing it around branches and through leaves in an epic game of hide-and-seek. It was wonderful fun trying to keep up with it, and Loki was giggling and talking to it like a dear friend as he scrambled from one limb to another, his tail waving to and fro to keep him balanced.

The lizard dived into one of the tree’s pink flowers and Loki jumped after it, unaware that the branch on which it lay was broken partway through. There came a chilling crack as it snapped under his weight, and he fell with a bark of surprise. 

Perhaps it would have been better if he’d fallen from higher up, for it would have given him time to grab hold of a limb instead of hitting the ground—which he did, landing with his left ankle folded beneath him, and directly on top of a protruding, rock-hard root. 

The pain that shot through his leg was so intense that he couldn’t even scream. He gasped and rolled onto his back, taking the weight off of his foot. He sat up in the mess of dead leaves and clasped both hands around his ankle, his eyes filling with tears. 

For several minutes he sat in silence, forcing himself to breathe while rocking gently back and forth, praying that he hadn’t broken a bone. He hadn’t heard any snaps, so that was a small comfort. His skin, however, felt hot to the touch, and it looked like his foot was starting to swell. He’d hurt it somehow, but he didn’t know to what extent. 

This was definitely going to require a trip to the medicine cupboard, he thought morosely.

Biting his lip and wincing, he managed to crawl to his feet and test his ankle. Putting weight on it hurt ferociously. He would need some sort of crutch to help him walk home. A quick scan of the area provided him what he needed: a broken branch that was hard and sturdy, able to support him. He tore a few of the smaller twigs and leaves off of it and then, gritting his teeth, began the long limp back home.

It took Loki almost two hours to reach his clearing, and then he had to crawl up the little stone staircase to enter his cave. The stairs were the worst part. He wondered what he would do if he’d actually broken his ankle—or worse, his leg.

“I’m such a fool,” he mewled, sniffing back his tears as he took one stair at a time. “A reckless, foolish jötling.”

He finally pushed open the front door of his cave and hobbled inside, heading for the small nook where he kept his medicines. He opened the door and scanned the shelves for what he needed.

Gauze? He wasn’t bleeding. Bandages? Perhaps. Váli and Vídarr had mentioned something about stabilizing injured limbs in one of their wilderness survival lessons. Loki set the roll of cloth aside and kept looking.

Anti-nausea biscuits? The pain had made him a bit queasy, but he didn’t have a stomach sickness. Itch cream? No. Fever stone? Not necessary. Suture kit? No, thank goodness. Wound ointment? He hadn’t broken any skin. Purifying salts? That might help with the pain. Burn balm? No. Ah, the bark tea might be useful. It tasted awful, but it reduced swelling and inflammation and— 

Loki moved aside some more bottles, and the little clay pot was revealed. He froze, suddenly remembering everything.

Fairy gift. Silver honey. Forr wounb.

I don’t know why the fairies would have given you a wound-healing salve. They must not know I am here to fly you to the palace should any injury befall you.

But you won’t always be here, will you? Not every waking moment. Perhaps this is for emergency use only.

Loki snatched up the pot and limped into the den, and sat down on one of the pillow cushions. He stretched out his injured leg.

His foot and ankle were swollen and livid, tender to the touch. Loki unlocked the lid and dipped his finger into the syrupy silver liquid.

“A little goes a long way,” he murmured and began to spread the medicine onto his ankle. It took only a minute or two to apply it; he stopped and studied his work, wondering how long it would take to go into effect. He felt no tingling or coolness on his skin. In fact, he felt nothing.

Could it be that this medicine was meant to be taken internally?

Loki puzzled over it for a few minutes. If it was meant to be swallowed, wouldn’t the fairies have written “drynk” on it, as they had with the strange milk they’d given him? And wounds were typically something one received on the outside… but all of the gifts he’d received from the fairies had been edible, so why shouldn’t this one be? There wasn’t a lot of it, though. If it was medicine meant to be ingested, shouldn’t they have given him more? Surely it wasn’t a one-dose miracle that would prevent him from ever getting wounded again. Was it?

“Alright, fine,” Loki muttered. He dipped his entire finger into the pot and then stuck his finger in his mouth, sucking the mild-flavored medicine off until it was clean.

He put the lid back on the pot and locked it closed, and leaned back with a heavy sigh.

“There. Now it’s external and internal. It’s bound to work somehow.”

He waited expectantly. Nothing. Maybe it takes a while, he thought, flicking his tail back and forth. He looked out the window. The sky was turning orange as sunset approached. He sighed and stood up with help from the storblomst branch. It was a good branch. Perhaps he could whittle on it tonight and make it into a proper walking stick. It was something to do, at least. He didn’t want to go down to the river and catch a fish for dinner, not if it meant navigating those stairs again. Luckily he had plenty of preserved foods in his pantry. That would get him by until Thor returned tomorrow, hopefully before dusk.

He let out a sigh and hobbled in the direction of his pantry.

After a meal of dried meats and fruit and savory biscuits, Loki decided to go to sleep early. There was no improvement to either the pain or swelling yet, so perhaps rest was the best thing.

He poured out a little water from the pitcher in his nest room and washed his face, cleaned his teeth, and brushed his hair, the latter being his favorite bedtime ritual. It was very relaxing and helped dispel some of his subconscious tensions. Sometimes he even brushed his arms and his legs and his back, though he couldn’t reach that too well. It just felt good to be brushed.

He wondered if this was because troll mothers bathed their babies with their tongues. But his mother had never bathed him. He had died shortly after Loki had been born. At least, that’s what Loki and his brothers had been told. It was likely that their father had bathed them, but Loki had a difficult time believing that his father had ever been so gentle and loving toward him. After all, what troll in his right mind would want to lick an ugly, deformed runt?

Loki stared at his reflection in the mirror and put the hurtful words out of his mind. He ran his hands through his wavy black hair and smiled, displaying his brilliant white teeth.

He wasn’t deformed or ugly. He was handsome and beautiful. He liked his hair and his freckles and his small stature. He was just right. And Thor was going to come back tomorrow and probably bring him a gift from Alfheim, perhaps candies or a pretty stone, and kiss his face and tickle him and call him lovely, sweet things, and tell him how glad he was to be home and how much he had missed him.

Loki sighed dreamily and crawled into his nest, clutching Thor’s pillow to him. He buried his face into it and inhaled deeply. This was the smell of the man he loved, the man who loved him also. 

Everything is going to be fine, Loki thought as he drifted to sleep. Everything will be fine.

Morning dawned cool and overcast. A heavy dew lay on the grass and the sun was hidden behind banks of thick gray clouds. The clearing had taken on a misty, enchanted appearance, the waterfall thundering as it always did, framed by dark rocks and blanketed in fog. 

Loki liked mornings like these, especially if there was the promise of rain or a small thunderstorm later in the day. Thunder reminded him of Thor, and Thor was the embodiment of all that was good and kind in the world.

But when Loki batted open his eyes and stretched, the first thing he became aware of was the still-present pain in his ankle. 

The second was the slick, slippery sensation between his legs.

He sat up in alarm and looked down at himself. There were dark stains on his breechcloth as if he’d been splashed with water. His inner thighs glistened with some kind of clear moisture; it was slightly sticky where it had dried, and the mattress beneath his bottom was soaked. He crawled up and stared at the spot, which was at least three hands wide.

He began to tremble. “Wh-what…?” 

His first thought was that the skylight had leaked. A quick glance upward revealed that the little window above his nest was shut tight. This wasn’t rain—of course it wasn’t. The whole nest would be soaked otherwise. 

Had he accidentally wet himself while he was sleeping? He had experienced this embarrassing problem when he was younger, but that had been centuries ago. And this fluid wasn’t urine. It was something much different. Where exactly had it come from?

Pinching his lips into a thin line, Loki reached beneath his loincloth and immediately got his answer.

He was familiar with the topography of his intimate body parts, and his redhur—his penisfelt normal. But the outer flesh of his slidhur, the place where babies were delivered, at least for normal trolls, was unusually warm and swollen. And it was sensitive. Just a small swipe of his fingers made Loki’s belly flutter in an odd but pleasing way. He did it again for no other reason than to experience it one more time, and the sensation increased twofold, bringing with it a satisfying throbbing.

Why did his snigill suddenly feel so good, and why was it weeping? What was it weeping? What was the purpose of this moisture? 

He drew his hand away and inspected it. His fingers gleamed wetly with the same slightly-transparent fluid that was on his thighs. Was it some sort mucous? Was he sick? But if he were sick, surely it would have an odor—wouldn’t it? There was no unpleasant smell to it.

Ymir’s blood, what if something inside him was broken? What if the fairy medicine had done this to him? He had eaten it; perhaps it was only meant to be applied to the skin. What if he had poisoned himself?

Just as the fear began to set in, Loki heard the flap of heavy fabric outside his cave, followed by the soft thump of boots at his front door.

Thor was here.

Loki was simultaneously relieved and terrified. He scrambled to bury the wet spot on the mattress beneath pillows and blankets, but it didn’t do anything for his breechcloth, the back of which was almost completely soaked. He would need to change into something else quickly, and he couldn’t move fast with his sprained ankle.

He was clambering out of his nest just as Thor called, “Good morning, Loki, it’s me! Are you home?”

“Yes!” Loki piped up. His voice echoed through the cave. “Erm, I’ve just woken up and—”

“May I come in?”

No!” His voice was a panicked shriek.

“No? Loki, is everything alright? You sound distraught.”

“Everything’s fine!” Loki shrilled as he hopped one-legged toward his wardrobe. “Just… getting dressed! Er, you can come in, but just stay in the—” 

The rest of his sentence was lost in the rattle of the front door flinging open and the rapid thud of boots making their way toward the back cavern. 

“Wait, Thor! Just a moment, I’m not—”

“Loki, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing! I’m—oh, damn it.” 

Loki worked with shaking hands to slip off his soiled breechcloth, toss it aside, and dig through the drawer of his wardrobe. He was completely naked when Thor burst into the room and slid to a halt. 

Thor was dressed in leathers and linens of varying shades of black, and he wore an armored vest that was similarly dark, trimmed in gold. His arms were covered in mail, his red cape replaced with a black one, and his typically plaited hair hung free and long, spilling down his shoulders and around his face in untamed blond strands. He was an intimidating, formidable sight.

But that fearsome impression faded the moment he caught sight of Loki’s naked blue buttocks. He broke into a grin and a flush sprang to his cheeks. “Oh. Excuse me. I didn’t—” 

“I told you I was getting dressed,” Loki snapped, his back turned to Thor. He pulled on his new cloth and struggled to feed his tail through the little hole in the back. “Might I have a little privacy, please?”

Thor winced at his sharp tone. “Er, yes. Of course. My apologies.” He retreated and stood just outside the door, staring up at the stalactites on the ceiling and listening to the rustle of cloth and Loki’s annoyed utterances.

It was unlike Loki to be shy about his body. Thor couldn’t remember him having ever asked for privacy before. 

“The, ah, conference with the Elves did not go as well as we had planned,” Thor offered. “There are some old property disputes between rival kingdoms, and now the Dwarves are being pulled into it, and no one thinks the Æsir should be involved in such matters. Baldur tried his best, but he does not yet command the same respect that our father does. Actually, I think they respect him more than Father, they just don’t fear him. We left shortly after the last meeting.”

More rustling and muttering. Loki probably hadn’t even heard him.

Thor shifted his weight and looked down at the bouquet of wildflowers in his hand, a fine mix of Loki’s favorites: bluebells and avens, dryas and buttercups, a rainbow of small and pretty blooms. Pity they had no smell to them. Thor idly wondered how these flowers attracted bees and other pollinating insects to them if they gave off no scent. Or perhaps they did have scents that were detectable only to certain insects. 

Wait. What was that smell?

Thor frowned and drew a deep breath. He exhaled and took another, his face relaxing. It wasn’t the flowers. It was something else. It smelled a little bit like Loki. Thor was familiar with his natural scent, his hair, his sweat, the oils of his skin. But it was also different, somehow darker and richer. Muskier. He liked it. And the longer he smelled it, the more attractive it became.

“It smells very nice in here. What did you do?”

On the other side of the wall, Loki, who had finally gotten his breechcloth on, froze. 

“Did Nann give you some new oils while I was gone? Whatever it is, it’s amazing.”

A cold feeling settled in Loki’s belly. It wasn’t dread or terror; it was embarrassment.

Thor could smell him. Could smell it. The whatever-it-was that had leaked out of Loki’s snigill last night. And he liked it.

Loki’s cheeks darkened to indigo as his heart began to hammer in his chest. “It’s, erm, you’re probably just smelling the fresh air. M-maybe there’s something flowering nearby. The air is quite thick this morning. That sometimes makes things smell… more. More strongly.”

“No, this isn’t flowers. It has a sweet aroma like flowers, but it’s more… I have no idea. Keep wearing it, whatever it is.” 

The sound of Thor inhaling deeply and earnestly was all it took to snap Loki out of his mortified trance and into action. He snatched his walking stick from the corner and limped out of the cavern. Thor turned and gave him a joyful smile that vanished the moment he saw the stick and Loki’s swollen ankle.

“Loki! What happened? What did—here, these are for you”—he thrust the bouquet into Loki’s hand and promptly fell to one knee before him—“what did you do to your ankle? Is it broken?” He gently and carefully guided Loki’s foot onto his thigh.

“I”—Loki gulped dryly—“I was climbing Old Stori yesterday and a branch broke beneath me. I fell with my ankle twisted beneath me, and it’s been hurting ever since.”

“Can you move your toes?”

Loki wiggled his toes in answer.

“What about numbness? Can you put any weight on it?”

“No numbness. I can put some weight on it, but it hurts. I think it might be what you call a sprain.”

“It certainly sounds that way.” Thor looked up at Loki with wide blue eyes. “Forgive me for not being here to help you.”

“Oh, Thor.” Loki turned his head. “You couldn’t have known. It was an accident. And what’s more, I don’t think the medicine the fairies gave me is working. Perhaps it’s gone off or I didn’t use it correctly, but I applied it to my ankle and foot and I even ate a little for good measure, and nothing has changed.”

Well, almost nothing.

“Fairy medicine?” Thor paused as it came to him. “You mean the quicksilver honey? That stuff in the little brown pot they gave you for your last two fangs?”

“Yes, that. It did nothing for the pain or swelling.” It did do something, though, and was apparently still doing it; Loki had dried himself thoroughly down there, but now he felt new slickness issuing from his sheath, and with his foot propped up on Thor’s thigh, he was completely open and exposed. At any moment the fluid was going to gather into a thick droplet and run down his leg, and then Thor would see it and ask what— 

An unusual expression moved across Thor’s face at that moment. His worried brow relaxed and his lips parted with a soft click. A strange depth settled in his eyes, causing them to darken.

“It’s you,” he murmured. “You’re what smells so good, Loki. Are you… are you sure you’re not wearing any new fragrance?”

Loki gulped. “No. I…” He struggled to form words and couldn’t. He stared at Thor’s handsome face and tightened his grip on the bouquet.

He suddenly wanted to lean forward and bite Thor’s lips, not hard, but gently. And he wanted Thor to kiss him between his legs, to bury his head down there and cover his face in the slippery liquid that he thought smelled so wonderful and oh— 

Loki’s knee buckled. Thor caught him as he toppled. The walking stick clattered to the floor and the bouquet tumbled from his hand. Tiny wildflowers scattered across the smooth stone as Loki raised his head and found himself nose to nose with Thor, who was staring at him just as breathlessly. He could feel Thor’s arm around his waist and his other hand grasping the back of his thigh, nearly covering it, right below the fleshy part of his rump.

Loki’s mouth fell open and he let out a startled “haa” when he felt a powerful wave of desire course through him. His snigill throbbed and clenched up, and that’s when he felt a rivulet of warm fluid dribble down the inside of his leg.

Oh, Ymir. 

“I don’t feel so good!” Loki blurted, which was a lie. He felt incredible, but his body was reacting in some very worrisome ways. “I, I’ll go take a different medicine. Maybe that will help. That and some more sleep. Yes, I’m very tired and I probably need to—”

“I will take you to the palace at once. Come.” In a single quick movement, Thor scooped Loki into his arms and stood to his feet.

Loki clung to his neck with wide eyes. “The palace? B-but I was just in the city two weeks ago. It hasn’t been a month yet and your father might—”

“Father can hang himself. Again. You need healing, and there is a palace full of people who will defend your right to receive it.”


“Say no more, we’re going.” 


He turned and carried Loki out of the cave.

Loki squirmed and wriggled, but there was little he could do in Thor’s muscular arms. His struggles were only half-hearted, though; a healing room in the palace would do a faster job of fixing his ankle than whatever medicines he kept in his cupboard. That was really the best solution. He just hoped his snigill stopped leaking before they arrived. He had enough things wrong with him for the moment.

And being this close to Thor wasn’t exactly helping.

Thor emerged onto the ledge and shut the entrance to Loki’s cave behind him. He transferred Loki to one arm, drew Mjölnir from his belt, and launched toward Asgard with a flap of his black cape.

Chapter Text

They landed gently on the west terrace of the palace, still gray and shadowed in the overcast morning. Out of habit, Thor bent to set Loki on his feet before he remembered the state of Loki’s ankle. He quickly straightened back up again.


“That’s alright,” said Loki, and tightened his grip on Thor’s shoulders.

Thor gave him a sheepish grin and returned Mjölnir to his belt, then slipped his free hand beneath Loki’s knees and carried him into the palace.

Loki pinched his lips between his teeth and tried not to squirm. The loose, wet feeling between his legs had not gone away, but it didn’t seem to be getting any worse. He had come to the conclusion that the silver honey-salve was not to blame; surely the fairies wouldn’t give him spoiled medicine or something that didn’t work correctly. He was beginning to think that falling out of the tree had knocked something loose inside him. He had heard tales of jötunn warriors being struck on the head or belly or some innocuous place during a battle, shaking it off, and then dying the next day because of a horrific, unrealized internal injury. His concern over his leaking snigill greatly overshadowed his concern for his sprained ankle. Tendons would heal. Ligaments could be reattached. They were on their way to an Asgardian healing room where all sorts of maladies and mishaps were fixed in a matter of minutes. No, Loki wasn’t worried about his ankle at all.

“Can we, em…” he stammered, “would it be possible for you to look inside me—wh-when we get to the healing room, that is—and make sure nothing is… that everything is alright?”

Thor frowned. “Do you think you’re injured elsewhere?”

“No, I… well, I don’t know. I want to be sure, though. It was rather a long fall.”

Thor nodded. “Alright. I shall perform a complete scan, then. I don’t know much about operating healing fields, but I should be able to do something as simple as that. If you need anything more advanced, though, we will have to fetch a healer.”

Loki hoped it wouldn’t come to that. He hadn’t been inside the palace since the incident with the nut that altered his—what was the word? Ah, yes—metabolism. But that had been months ago, long enough that being here felt new again.

He was a little surprised at how unattractive the palace seemed to him now. It had been so impressive the first time Thor had smuggled him inside, but now it felt entirely too big, sharp and cold, unfriendly. Nothing at all like his humble little cave and his soft nest, a natural home where everything was made of stone and wood and grass. Here there was only gold. Vulgar, nauseating gold, a precious metal that lost its value because of its sheer abundance.

“How can you sleep in this place?” Loki asked, the skin between his horns wrinkled with displeasure.

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t you miss the smell of grass and trees? The sound of water and birds?”

Thor smiled down at him. “I do. Which is why I’ve begun sleeping in your cottage whenever I’m not staying at your cave.”

Loki’s eyes widened. “You have?”

“Aye,” Thor chuckled. “But don’t tell Father. Anything that puts me closer to you puts him closer to apoplexy.”


“Apoplexy. It means internal bleeding, but in this case, it’s more of a bloody fury.” He finished with a wry grin.

“Oh.” Loki blinked his ruby eyes and hugged Thor’s neck a little tighter. “Yes, let’s not give your father either one of those. It sounds terrible.”

After a few more turns, they reached one of the healing rooms. The corridor was empty, all the chambers thankfully unoccupied. Thor carried Loki inside and carefully set him on the table, then stepped back and activated the field by pressing a series of thimbles—or what looked like thimbles to Loki.

“I’ll perform the scan first,” he said as he began swiping commands onto the sparkling light screen. He gave Loki a smile. “Lie down and relax. This will only take a moment.”

Loki lowered himself onto his back and took a few breaths to calm his nerves. A shimmering copy of his physical form rose up above him. First it was a vague outline of his body shape, then came the bones, vessels, organs, connective tissue, muscles, each layer building upon the other until the workings of his entire body were mapped out. Thor carefully studied the data for each set as they propagated.

The end of Loki’s tail twitched restlessly, and he reminded himself to keep it still. He wondered if the fluid leaking out of him was going to show up on the screen. He hoped not. What would he say? That he’d woken up like this and somehow being near Thor made it worse? What would Thor think of him? This was his most private place, where Loki had once fantasized about putting Thor’s—

Something down there pulsed at the thought, and Loki, blushing terrifically, forced it out of his mind. He thought of flowers instead. Nice, lovely roses, and cabbages and gardens and snails—no, no, not snails! Anything but snails! Birds. Birds and butterflies. Yes, that was better. Butterflies on a rose bush, lazily flying from one bloom to another… 

He drew a deep breath and lay still, staring blankly up at the lights.

At last Thor raised his head. “Everything looks fine,” he said. “No broken bones. No bleeding or internal injuries. Just a few bruises and one very sprained ankle.”

“Oh.” Loki was overwhelmed with relief—for a moment. “C-could you please look one more time? Not that I doubt you or anything, but… just to be sure?”

Thor stretched an eyebrow. “Is everything alright, Loki? You seem very… odd right now. As if you’re embarrassed about something.”

“Embarrassed?” Loki laughed a little too forcefully. “Well, falling out of a tree is very embarrassing, isn’t it? Really, it was awfully clumsy of me. I should have known better.”

Thor wasn’t entirely convinced, but he didn’t press further. He dutifully performed another scan, this time more slowly and thoroughly than the one before. Loki stared in wonder as his internal organs were mapped out again. So many parts. So many systems, all working together—and working correctly. He may be small and strangely-shaped, but at least he wasn’t malfunctioning. Or so he hoped.

At the end of the scan, Thor declared the same result.

“Your body temperature is a little higher than normal,” he said, “but it could be because of the sprain. Injury sometimes does that. Shall I proceed with the healing process now?”

“Yes, please.”

“Alright. You can sit up now, but keep your leg still for a few minutes. You might feel a little cold.”

He entered a few commands and the light nodes hovering above the table changed from yellow to blue. A beam spilled down and focused upon Loki’s left leg. Loki stared up at the image of his swollen ankle on the screen while tiny dots of blue light passed through his inflamed tendons. There was indeed a cold feeling as invisible waves of radiation penetrated his skin and began to repair the minute tears in his sinew. His toes curled, and Thor glanced up and saw he was biting back a grin.

“It tickles,” explained Loki meekly.

Thor smiled patiently. “I know. But try to hold still. It won’t be much longer.”

The cold sensation reached its peak just before the beam retracted and the light turned back to yellow again.

“All done,” Thor announced, and turned off the screens one by one. “You ought to be back to normal in another hour.”

“Can I walk?” Loki asked, pointing his foot and carefully rolling it in a circle. There was no pain now. Only a lingering chill.

“In another thirty minutes or so, yes. But for now”—Thor leaned over and scooped Loki into his arms again—“I’m afraid I must be your sole means of transportation.”

Loki was afraid of that. He concealed his anxiousness with a weak laugh and slid his arms around Thor’s neck. 

A half-hour. That wasn’t long. He should be able to make it until then… if he didn’t leak all over Thor, and if Thor didn’t see the glistening, silvery film that no doubt covered the seat of his breechcloth. Perhaps that was another reason the slang word for slidhur was snail; it left a residue in one’s underclothes much like a snail’s tracks.

Loki’s face went slack.

Ymir’s tail. Could it be a coincidence? If Loki was the first to be experiencing this sort of thing, then why did the sheath have such an appropriate nickname? What if there wasn’t anything wrong with him at all? What if this was supposed to happen? What if, because of being born so small, he was simply developing late? Perhaps this was something Helblindi and Býleist had been too ashamed to tell him about. Was something waking up inside him? The mating urge he had overheard other trolls talking about?

Loki was so lost in his own thoughts that his silence began to worry Thor.

“You seem a little distracted this morning,” he said as he carried Loki out of the palace and in the direction of the servants’ cottages. “Did you sleep well last night? I don’t imagine you did, with your ankle in such a way.”

“Hm?” Loki’s ears perked at the question. “Oh. No, I. I was just thinking about my body and, erm. The light fields. It’s wonderful magic. I wish we had something like that on Jötunheim. Perhaps it would have shown my father that I wasn’t as defective as he believed. I might have spent more time healthy than sick.”

Thor gazed at him with a sad, tender look in his eyes.

“I… am healthy, aren’t I? If there was something wrong with me, the scan would have revealed it, right?”

“Of course. The last one I performed was to identify illnesses as well as physical injuries. You are fine, Loki. Everything inside you is healthy and working. Even your blood was normal.” He paused. “Your sugar was a little low, though. I take it you’ve not yet eaten breakfast?”

“Not yet.”

“Then that’s the first thing I shall do once we get to your cottage. Or perhaps the second. I’m ready to get out of these clothes. They’re ugly and cumbersome.”

“I think you look very handsome,” Loki blurted, and his face suddenly turned cobalt blue.

Thor’s eyebrows sprang up. He chuckled. “Very well, I’ll keep the vest and trousers. But the armor is coming off no matter your opinion, little snowflake.” He ducked his head and kissed the end of Loki’s nose.

Loki tittered nervously and shifted in Thor’s arms, and he felt fresh dampness between his legs. Merciful fate, how much longer was this going to last? He was going to be drenched if it didn’t stop soon. And what if it soaked through his breechcloth and he needed to find something else to wear? He wasn’t supposed to be in the city for another two weeks, so it wasn’t as if Thor could bother his mother or brothers to lend him some clothes. This situation was getting worse by the minute.

Presently they arrived at the little cottage that was Loki’s home away from home. They entered the sparsely-furnished main room, and Thor strode across the wooden floor and carefully lowered Loki onto the little couch. Loki crawled out of Thor’s arms and immediately grabbed a throw pillow and the small blanket nearby, and discreetly covered his nether regions under the guise of making himself cozy. 

Thor smiled fondly and ran his hand over Loki’s hair, kissed the top of his head. Then he stood and trudged to the other side of the room, his boots thudding heavily, and began the series of complex-looking maneuvers required to remove his armor. His cape went first, followed by his bracers, greaves, pauldrons, the buckles on the breastplate, and finally the breastplate itself. 

Loki hungrily watched as Thor slowly emerged from his protective outer layers like a butterfly from its cocoon. When he shucked off the black chain mail and bared his arms, Loki bit his lip and stuffed a pillow over his lap. Everything between his legs was throbbing and warm, stimulated by the sight of this gorgeous man undressing. The tip of Loki’s tail stiffened, his nipples tightened, and his ears tingled with warmth. He released a slow, hot breath and hoped he wasn’t as flushed as he felt.

When Thor had at last stripped to a more comfortable state—black leather trousers and boots, and a sleeveless under-vest of matching color—he unbuckled his belt, Mjölnir with it, and set it on a nearby table.

“There. Finally.” He raked his hand through his loose blond hair and turned to Loki with a lopsided grin. “Now I feel like a man again instead of a war-tortoise.”

It was meant to be a joke, but Loki didn’t laugh. He stared at Thor without blinking, his mouth pulled down at the bottom of his face in a tiny “O”. 

The god of thunder was a vision of incredible beauty, more gorgeous now than he had ever been before. His bulging, powerful arms. His thick, muscular thighs. The golden strands framing his handsome face. Loki’s fingers sank into the pillow like a cat’s claws. His toes curled. His tail twisted into a spiral. Everything inside him went tight and taut.

It had to be Thor’s attire. Surely. There was no reason for Loki to feel so painfully attracted to a man. It was all wrong, wasn’t it? They weren’t even the same species, but here he was, eyeing Thor ravenously while his sheath leaked and his heart galloped and depraved thoughts ran through his mind, images of himself mounting Thor’s lap and squatting over his erect member, sinking down onto it, forcing it into his sheath, performing little rabbit hops to get it all inside him, sliding onto it inch by inch—

Loki’s eyelids fluttered and he listed to one side. Thor saw this and hurried over, kneeling beside the couch and placing a concerned hand on Loki’s shoulder.

“Are you feeling alright?”

“Y-yes.” Loki forced himself to smile. “Er, just hungry.”

“Ah, right. I promised you breakfast, didn’t I? Well, what would you like? One of everything?”

“Ham and eggs,” said Loki without hesitation. “And strawberries. Or any berries. Lots of them. And some cheese, the hard yellow kind. And a pot of tea, please.”

“With honey?”

Loki almost said yes, but then he imagined himself honey-drunk and totally uninhibited, climbing Thor like a tree and babbling all of his sexual fantasies to him.

Perhaps he ought to forgo the honey this time. Oh, but tea was so much better with it!

“Just a little,” he said finally. “I don’t want to get… erm…”

“I understand.” Thor smiled and stood. “So: ham and eggs, strawberries, hard yellow cheese, pot of tea, little bit of honey. Correct?”

Loki nodded.

Thor bowed at the waist with a flamboyant turn of his hand. “Very good, your highness. I shall return shortly. Try to stay off your ankle for another twenty minutes or so. I ought to be back by then.”

“I will,” said Loki shyly.

Thor gave him a wink before turning and leaving the cottage, the front door creaking shut behind him.

Loki waited until Thor’s footsteps had faded from hearing, then he threw off the pillow and blanket and stood, mindful to keep as much weight off his healing ankle as he could. He hobbled with clumsy, unseemly haste toward the washroom just off the main room.

When he was first granted permission to stay in this cottage, he had been surprised to learn that running water was a common feature of all Asgardian households and not just a singular luxury of the rich. Some of the houses even had indoor toilets, which Loki found distasteful. He had to explain to Thor that trolls did not relieve themselves where they dwelled, and were, in fact, repulsed by the idea.

“We go outside, like civilized folk,” he had said crisply, his tail and nose high in the air. “Only the sick or invalid are given nest-pots, and those are emptied in vatn-skurdhir.” 

Thor was unfamiliar with the vatn-skurdhir or “water trenches” Loki spoke of, which were flowing gullies deep in the mountain. Offal, food scraps, and other waste was deposited into these creeks, Loki explained, where it was broken down and diluted, and finally dispersed outside. The trolls who did not live in mountains typically dug holes and buried their excrement. All jötnar were especially persnickety when it came to personal cleanliness. 

“There is nothing more humiliating and insulting for a troll than to be called skítugur by his kin,” Loki had said. “That implies he is too lazy to clean himself after going to stool, which makes him the worst kind of disgusting.”

Thor was left wondering how trolls had ever gotten a reputation for being odious, repugnant creatures who wallowed like pigs in their own urine and feces. The jötnar were cleaner and more fastidious than half of the people in Asgard, and most of the people on Midgard. If it weren’t for the fact that trolls were so universally hated and feared, they might teach the mannfólk how to live more hygienically.

This cottage was thankfully equipped with an outdoor toilet, so Loki didn’t feel the reflexive urge to grimace when he entered the washroom. There was only a sink and a mirror on one wall, and some towels hanging on a nearby rack. Loki hastily unfastened his breechcloth and pulled it down to his knees.

As he feared, the seat of his cloth was covered with a brittle, drying film of clear fluid. It gave off a sweet aroma, tangy and fleshy and ripe, familiar in a way that the smell of one’s own sweat or scalp might be. There was nothing alarming about it; no metallic tinge of blood or sickly odors. It was simply another natural bodily scent.

Loki nibbled his bottom lip and measured his options.

It wasn’t too bad. It hadn’t soaked through—yet. He could run the towel under the faucet and wipe his breechcloth clean, and perhaps find some paper napkins or a handkerchief, create a sort of pad to keep himself dry until he was able to return home. Surely Thor would take him home after breakfast. Then he could change into a fresh breechcloth, or perhaps put on some smallclothes and one of the outfits that had been tailored for him, and enjoy the rest of the day with Thor. No one would know he had broken the rules, and everything would turn out fine.

Loki took the towel from its rail and dampened it with warm water, then applied it to his messy breechcloth. It worked perfectly. The slick stains were lifted, and for the first time that morning, Loki was truly relieved. 

After he finished cleaning his breechcloth, he rinsed the towel again, wrung it out, and proceeded to clean himself. It felt good, the wet and textured warmth between his legs, and every time he refolded the towel and passed it across his vulva, a tingling, pleasurable sensation bloomed through his lower body. It reminded him of túnfífilar, what the Asgardians called dandelions, the fluffy, weedy white flowers whose seeds rode the wind like little star-wands. Stars were flowing through Loki now, but they were neither the ones of the earth nor the ones of the sky. 

He decided to inspect himself again as he had earlier that morning, just to be sure that nothing hurt or was somehow getting worse. He set the towel aside and reached down between his legs, moving his penis out of the way. The outer folds of his sheath were still sensitive, and the smaller ones surrounding his opening were firm and slick, swollen tightly and hot to the touch.

Loki’s brow wrinkled with concern as he continued to feel around. His sex, which was normally unresponsive and therefore quite easy to forget about, had become a puffy mound of highly-sensitized flesh. How in the Nine could anything possibly penetrate it now, as tumid as it was? If this was indeed sexual arousal he was experiencing, it didn’t make any sense. One would think that the slidhur would become bigger instead of smaller, to allow an erect redhur inside.

Out of curiosity, Loki slowly, carefully curled his middle finger and pushed it into his opening.

He had done this once or twice before, just to see what it felt like, but it had felt nothing like this.

He took a breath and gripped the edge of the sink, his tail hovering behind him in a stiffly-shaped “S”. 

He was engorged on the inside, too, warm and slippery. It didn’t hurt. There was no pain or discomfort. His padded, cushiony walls hugged his finger tightly. Suddenly all those sultry fantasies of Thor mating with him seemed impossible now. There was no way he could ever fit. Loki didn’t even have the room to put another finger inside him, and babies were supposed to come out of these? Impossible! If it weren’t for the fact that Loki had seen pregnant trolls with his own two eyes, he would have sworn that jötlings were grown in gardens like potatoes. 

Perhaps it was just him. Maybe he was more severely deformed than he previously suspected. 

The thought abruptly dispelled any remaining feelings of pleasure that weren’t already gone. Loki removed his finger and washed his hands in the sink, gazing blankly at his flushed reflection.

Who could he talk to? Who in Asgard could answer his questions? There were no other trolls in this realm, none who could examine his body and tell him if he were hideously malformed or not. None of the mannfólk knew these private things, for none had ever been intimate with a troll.

Perhaps Thor could help him. He was surely more experienced in these matters. He had likely had sex, and if Loki’s parts were anything like Æsir females’—he did have many things in common with the race of men, at least physically—then Thor would be able to tell him if there was something wrong with him. It would mean showing Thor his slidhur, but they had shared a great deal of intimate information with each other already. Loki loved and trusted Thor with his life. It was only his body. This was a matter of health. Thor had said months ago that if Loki had any questions about sex, he would gladly answer them.

He would ask him, Loki decided. And if Thor couldn’t help him, surely he would know someone who could.

He thoroughly rinsed the towel to remove all evidence of its use, including scent, and hung it up to dry. Then he dried his hands and pulled his breechcloth back up. It was a bit damp yet, but at least it wasn’t the slimy, sticky mess it had been. He limped out of the washroom and then went from one room to another, searching for something he could use as padding. 

There were two bedrooms in the cottage. The main one was the larger, and this was where Loki slept whenever he came to visit. In the closet of this room he found a handkerchief with a flowery, cursive F embroidered on it. He recalled Fandral had lent it to him the last time he had been in Asgard, probably to dry his tears. He was always laughing around Fandral and Volstagg.

Loki paused and held the handkerchief indecisively, a strained look on his face.

There was no way Fandral was going to get it back. Not after today.

“Sorry, Fandral,” Loki muttered, and folded it and stuffed it into his breechcloth.

That was much better. If he began to leak again, at least it wouldn’t saturate the only clothes he had.

He hopped back to the sitting room in better spirits, climbed onto the couch, and made himself comfortable while he awaited Thor’s return.

A light rain had begun to fall just as Thor returned to the cottage. He entered with his hair hanging in stringy, damp waves and he carried a large basket on his arm. “Your breakfast is here!” he announced, and Loki sat up with a sleepy blink.

Thor dragged a short table over to the couch, set the basket on it, and began to unpack it.

“Strawberries, blackberries, ham, eggs—careful, that carafe is hot—here’s your honey…”

“Thank you,” said Loki as he swept an errant lock of hair out of his face and tucked it behind his ear. 

Thor set down the teacup he was holding and reached out to tame another strand of hair that had gotten tangled around Loki’s horn. He gave him a fond look. ”I think soon you’ll be able to wear your hair up. It looks to be long enough now.”

“You think so?” Loki gathered his hair behind his head and lifted it up experimentally. A few wavy tendrils hung down, brushing against the lines on his long, elegant neck. “Something like this?”

Thor stared. Swallowed thickly. “Yes, something like that.”

“Maybe you can do that for me when we’re done here.”

“I… would find that very agreeable, yes.”

Loki smiled shyly and let his hair down.

Thor tightened his lips and focused his thoughts on breakfast.

He unpacked the rest of the basket and sat down beside Loki, who asked why he had not gotten anything for himself. Time was different on each of the Nine Realms, Thor explained, leaning back in the cushions. On Alfheim, he and Baldur had not long ago finished a dinner meeting of elven lords and nobles, and while the food and wine were excellent, the company was not as enjoyable.

”I would much rather have a picnic with you, Loki, than sit at any king’s table,” he said with a smile.

Loki hummed and nestled into his blanket, a piece of hamsteak in his mouth.

They talked about the vegetables Loki was growing in his garden, the beans and carrots and onions that would soon be ready to harvest, and Rosebud’s antics and adventures. Thor spoke of the haughty elf lords he’d had to meet with and how glad he was that Baldur would be the next king of Asgard. It was a job he did not envy in the least. Sometimes they slipped into trollspeak, the conversation flowing comfortably and effortlessly between them while the rain chattered on the roof and dripped from the eaves. The window panes grew foggy, the warm moisture of the outside contrasting with the cool dryness inside.

Loki finished his breakfast and helped Thor pack the dishes and utensils into the basket again. Then Thor took off his boots, sat cross-legged on the couch, and pulled Loki’s left foot into his lap. He began to massage his ankle, his strong, warm hands working the lingering stiffness from Loki’s tendons.

“Was this the ankle that got caught in my trap?” he asked.

Loki’s eyes, which had fallen closed, flitted open. “I think it was the other one.”

Thor smiled and continued his kneading. “You have such small and pretty feet.”

They were indeed small; if Loki curled his toes, Thor could hide his entire foot in his cupped hands. He bent down and kissed Loki’s sole, which produced a gasp and a giggle. He looked up to see Loki hiding the lower half of his blushing face with the edge of the blanket.

“Shall I tend to your other foot, my prince?” he cooed, lightly tickling Loki’s toes.

The tips of Loki’s pointed ears darkened to cobalt and he shivered giddily. “Yes, please,” came his muffled whisper.

Thor moved to the right foot and began to give it the same treatment. Loki’s eyelids drooped. He slid lower and lower onto the couch, almost melting against the cushions. 

Rain drummed on the roof while Thor silently continued his ministrations, gazing sweetly at Loki’s face while Loki gazed back, the air between them growing increasingly warm and intimate.

”I missed you, Loki,” he said quietly. ”I couldn’t wait to come home.”

”I missed you, too,” Loki answered, clutching the pillow in his lap.

Thor finished the massage with a kiss to Loki’s foot, but he didn’t stop there. He placed a kiss to his ankle, then his calf.

Loki’s eyes threatened to roll back. ”Th-Thor…”

Thor sat up and leaned forward, pulled aside the blanket hiding Loki’s upper legs, and pressed his lips to a round, dainty kneecap.

Loki trembled as Thor worked his way upward, tugging the blanket away so he could reach Loki’s smooth, warm skin. Thigh. Hip. Belly. They were gentle, chaste kisses, but Loki’s mind was miles away from chaste. This was how all of the fantasies he’d been having for the last several months began. Thor kissing him just like this, heel to horn, before ending up between his legs. Already his snigill was throbbing and leaking again, but he had a difficult time caring when Thor was hovering over him like this, delivering a shower of sweet kisses, his long hair falling over his shoulders and brushing against Loki’s skin, tickling and titillating, the smell of his leather garments strong in Loki’s nostrils.

Finally Loki couldn’t take it anymore. He grabbed Thor by his ears—there wasn’t much to hold, but he established a firm grip—and pulled him upward, closer.

Thor crawled clumsily forward until he was nose to nose with him, and then Loki shut his eyes and moved forward.

He clamped firmly onto Thor’s bottom lip, teeth pressing into his skin but not piercing. For a few wild seconds, Thor was too stunned to react. What was Loki doing? Biting him? Was he… was he trying to kiss him? Did he want this? Did he know what it meant?

Thor relaxed, opened his mouth, and brushed Loki’s upper lip with his tongue.

Loki reacted instantaneously, locking his arms around Thor’s shoulders and going after his tongue, nipping and nibbling. Thor pressed forward, bringing their lips together, and planted his knees on either side of Loki’s hips. And he kissed Loki as he had been wanting to kiss him for the last four months, when this friendship had somehow blossomed into romance.

Loki had no idea what he was doing, but he did it with all his heart. This was some kind of kiss, he suspected. Not like the little closed-mouth ones he and Thor always shared, but something much more powerful. It was arousing and exhilarating. It made him want to do and say strange things, and rub against Thor’s body. Thor licked his mouth and sucked his tongue, his beard prickly, his familiar scent enveloping him. A fresh spring of moisture began to seep from Loki’s sheath, slick and hot and more abundant than it had ever been before. Loki whimpered when he felt a thick drop ooze out from between his lips and smear against his breechcloth.

It was too much. He had to stop. His head was pounding, his snigill weeping. He was breathing too quickly, getting too hot. Thor was the cause of all this, but it wasn’t his fault. He didn’t know. Loki had to tell him. He would tell him… in a moment. Just a few more seconds of Thor’s mouth on his. Just… a little bit…

Thor slid his hand up Loki’s thigh and squeezed. Something fiery and amazing flashed through Loki’s belly, and he jerked away with a gasp. Lips parted with a wet smack. Thor stared at him, breathing heavily, his eyes a dark, stormy blue and his pupils dilated.

“Are you alright?” he asked gently.

To say the words in Asgardian would have given it too much power, made what was happening all too real. So Loki used his native tongue when he said, “Thor, my sheath is leaking.

Thor’s eyes lost their hazy quality as they came into focus. He blinked. A confused line formed between his brows. “What?”

“My sheath,” Loki repeated. “It’s… there’s something coming out of it. Some kind of fluid. It’s been doing that since last night.”

Thor paled, his eyebrows lifting in alarm. “Is it blood?”

“No. This is clear and slick. It’s…” He thought it would be more difficult to talk to Thor about this, but something about his kind eyes and large, warm body made Loki feel so comfortable and safe. “Falling out of the tree yesterday, I think it’s done something to me. I think it might have un-broken something inside me, but I'm not sure. All I know is that I love you and I feel…” His voice fell to a low hush as he nuzzled Thor’s cheek. “I want to keep doing this. I want you to kiss me all over and touch me, but when you do, it makes my snigill leak. It’s very… swollen right now.

Thor’s alarmed expression relaxed and color rose to his cheeks. 

“I don’t know why it’s like that or what it means,” Loki continued. “It doesn’t make any sense. I’m worried that I’m deformed, that my parts aren’t what they ought to be, and I was wondering if you… would you please look at me?”

“I am.”

“No, not”—Loki smiled briefly—“I mean, would you look at my body? At my snigill?”

For a few moments, Thor completely blanked out. Eventually his mind returned to him, relaying the last thought that had gone through his head before everything had crashed.

Loki wanted him to look at his genitals. His sheath. The place where jötnar joined when they mated. Where babies came out. 

“Of course,” said his mouth before his brain could actually consider the negative outcomes of this scenario.

Relief washed over Loki’s face and he smiled gratefully. “Thank you. Thank you. Just give me a moment.” He began to unfasten his breechcloth.

Thor sat back on his folded legs and took a deep breath. He reminded himself to keep his face neutral no matter what he saw, be it a hideous, warty cavern or a slimy, cilia-covered pocket. This was Loki, his beloved friend. Whatever he was uncovering would not change how Thor felt about him. This was simply a clinical examination. Nothing romantic or sexual about it at all. Thor didn’t know how much his input mattered, being that he had no idea what a troll vagina was supposed to look like, but Loki was surely already aware of that and just wanted Thor’s opinion. Loki wasn’t an average troll, after all. Perhaps his anatomy was more human-looking. In any case, a quick peek and it would all be over, and then… oh, gods, then what? Best not to think of that now. Just focus on the moment. But not too intently. Bloody Hel, he needed to calm himself before— 

His cock stirred in his pants.

Too late.

He began to sweat.

Loki pushed his breechcloth down his legs and slipped it off completely. A little toss of his foot and it landed on the floor in a crumple of dark gray linen. Thor’s eye caught a flash of white folded inside the crotch, and he saw that it was a handkerchief. It looked wet. Shiny.

Then the scent hit him, thick and rich, and it almost made him salivate.

Warm. Fleshy. Damp skin. Deep, secret parts. It was a familiar smell, one to which Thor was no stranger.

It was the scent of an aroused woman.

His pulse quickened and another wave of excitement flared through him.

Do not act upon it, he told himself, balling his hands into determined fists. Do not ruin this. Do not ruin what you have with him. Resist. Refrain. Do not ruin this.

He took a slow, steady breath and watched Loki lie back on the couch, draw up his legs, and timidly spread them open.

“Don’t be afraid to tell me if it’s… if I’m deformed,” he said softly, turning his head to the side. “I need to know.”

Thor went stock still and stared between Loki’s legs.

He was beautiful. His parts neatly laid out, healthy and clean. His penis lay to one side, in the crook of his thigh, small and soft and blue, for all the world identical to a human appendage. No scrotum hung beneath his organ, but in its place was a plump, cloven mound of flesh, dewy lips glistening in shades of indigo. Deeper within the folds was more flesh, delicate, rippling lips that were much prettier than any snail. Beyond these labia was a small hole, partially covered by a thin membrane that was lighter in color than the flesh around it—hymen, thought Thor numbly, he was looking at Loki’s hymen—and it was here that Thor beheld the source of Loki’s concern: a slick, whitish-clear fluid oozed from his vagina and dripped into his crevice, making the crinkly skin around his anus shine wetly.

It was a perfect blend of male and female sexes, a body that lacked nothing, all of its parts whole and warm and undamaged. It didn’t take an expert on jötunn anatomy to tell that there was nothing wrong with this picture at all.

Thor swallowed and said very slowly and quietly: “You are not deformed. You look very… normal. And healthy. I am no healer, I cannot tell what is inside, but from what I see, you are quite”—don’t say beautiful, don’t say cute, keep it objective, keep it proper—“everything looks fine.”

He lifted his gaze. Loki stared back at him with jewel-red eyes that glittered and gleamed. He released his plump, shiny bottom lip from between his teeth and let out a quiet breath.

Thor’s cock bulged hard against the laces of his trousers. His face twitched. And then he watched Loki’s eyes drift downward and go wide.

“Oh, Thor,” he murmured, his hand rising to his lips. “You’re… you’re—”

“I know. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I swear it’s. I-I’m not…”

They stared at one another for several wordless seconds. Rain pattered steadily outside the cottage.

Loki brought his legs together again and pulled his knees to his chest, tucking himself into a ball. Thor noticed the end of Loki’s tail seemed unusually swollen. Was that also a symptom of…?

“How much do you know about sex?” he asked after a lengthy pause. “Sex as in mating, not bodies.”

“Not much,” Loki whispered in a small voice. “My brothers didn’t think I would ever…” He trailed off, the unspoken being clear enough. 

Thor shifted position and sat on the couch properly. He placed his hands on his knees, a subtle way of pulling the legs of his trousers down so there was a little more room in his crotch. Space was currently very scarce at the moment.

“Surely there is something in that troll book about jötunn sexuality.”

Loki glanced up. “The troll book? Doesn’t your mother have it?”

“Yes, but I’m certain she will let us borrow it for a little while.” Thor reached out and gently took Loki’s hands into his own. “More importantly, I think you and she need to sit down and have a talk.”

“A talk?” Loki echoed. “What for? What about?”

“Things I am”—he laughed dryly—“probably not qualified to instruct. You see, Loki, you are… you appear to have a few things in common with womenfolk. I think Mother could tell you what is happening to your body better than I could.”

“Oh.” Loki blinked, nodded. “Alright. You get the book and I'll talk to your mother. Then you can take me home and… and you can braid my hair.”

“That sounds good.” Thor smiled warmly and gave Loki’s hands a squeeze, then he leaned down and picked his discarded breechcloth off the floor. “But first, let us get you some new clothes.”

Chapter Text

Thor searched all over the cottage for something Loki could wear, but in the end it proved useless. There were only towels, bedsheets, pillowcases, and window dressings. All could be fashioned into something wearable if needed, but it wasn’t really practical. Loki thanked Thor for looking nevertheless.

“I think I can get by for now,” he said, sitting awkwardly on the couch while Thor continued to ransack each room like a marauder in search of gold. “This talk, it won’t last long, will it? Then you can take me home and I can change into something there.”

Thor paused his hunting and looked up. “Well, it depends. The less you know, the longer it will take. It’s possible you might not get home until late afternoon.” With one last glance around the room, he abandoned his search with an airy sigh and returned to the couch, and sat down beside Loki. “But if you think you can manage, then perhaps we ought to go ahead and leave. I’m sure Mother can give you something to wear if you continue to… uh.” His eyes inadvertently drifted down to Loki’s lap. He snapped them back up and smiled tightly.

Loki nodded, his cheeks warming.

Thor stood and extended his hand. “Come, then. The sooner we do this, the sooner we will have you home and comfortable again.” Loki slipped his small hand into Thor’s large one and slid off the couch.

It was still raining outside. Thor bundled Loki in his black cape and carried him so he wouldn’t get his feet wet. Loki huddled inside the cloth like a swaddled infant, warm and dry and surrounded by the scent of Thor and the lingering smells of his visit to Alfheim: parchment and wood, foreign upholstery, some kind of wine, spices Loki was unfamiliar with. He laid his head against Thor’s shoulder and listened to the splash of Thor’s boots as he strode through puddles. 

Surely the Allmother would be able to tell him what was happening to his body, he reasoned. She was wise and kind, always seeking to be helpful. And she was a healer. After Odin, she was the most powerful magic-wielder in Asgard. And once she was able to identify Loki’s problem, he would be given a cure, Loki had no doubt of that.

He wondered if Thor might be the one to administer the remedy like he had earlier that morning in the healing chamber. Images came to Loki’s mind then, lovely pictures of Thor massaging poultices into his skin or spoon-feeding him medicine and tucking him into his nest. Taking care of him. Helping him. As he had sworn he always would.

Loki smiled to himself and snuggled a little bit deeper into his cape-cocoon.

The thought that Thor might actually be the cure itself never occurred to him at all.

They found Frigga in a room off the hall of tapestries, and she wasn’t alone. Nann sat beside her at a large loom, currently in the middle of receiving her weekly seidh lesson. The queen was naturally gifted in both magic and textile arts, particularly weaving and loomwork, and she was happy to instruct her daughter-in-law in these timeless skills.

When Thor approached, however, he found them laughing at the image of an outrageously deformed sheep in the tapestry; some mistake in Nann’s pattern-casting, most likely. It had them both in stitches.

“Look at its legs!” Nann guffawed, holding her stomach. “They’re bending in the wrong direction!”

“He can only run backwards!” Frigga gasped. “I say we leave it.”

“Oh, yes, leave it!”

“Make an entire flock of backwards-running mutton—”

Nann bawled and collapsed against her mother-in-law. They sat on the bench, shaking and sobbing and wiping their eyes.

Thor couldn’t hold back his grin as he and Loki entered the room. The sound of his mother’s laughter was one of his favorite things, and it never failed to cheer him up.

“Excuse me, ladies,” he said gracefully, “we don’t mean to interrupt.”

Frigga turned and waved her son in. “That’s alright, Thor, we were just—why, hello, Loki!”

“Loki!” Nann lifted her head and dried her cheeks on her sleeve. “What a nice surprise!”

Thor suddenly found his hand was empty: Loki had darted over and collected a hug and a kiss from both of them.

“What brings you here so soon, darling?” asked Frigga, petting his hair.

“I, erm, well.” Loki fidgeted with apparent unease.

“Don’t worry,” said Nann secretively, “we won’t say a word.”

“No, we certainly won’t.” Then Frigga noticed the anxious tic on Loki’s face. “Is everything alright, dear? Has something happened?”

“Ehm.” Loki glanced over his shoulder at Thor, pleading with his eyes.

Thor took a breath and stepped forward. “Loki fell from a tree yesterday and sprained his ankle.”

“Oh, no,” Nann uttered, and her smile fell from her lips.

“I take it you went to the healing room?” said Frigga, peering down at Loki’s legs.

“Yes, your majesty,” said Loki. “Thor tended to me. I’m much better now.”

“Excellent. I’m glad to hear that. Would you like to stay for tea? Nann and I were just about to call for some.”

“Yes, do stay for tea, Loki!”

Loki’s mouth twitched. “Thank you, but I…”

Frigga and Nann went quiet, expressions of matching concern on their faces.

“The fall isn’t the only issue Loki is dealing with at the moment,” Thor explained gently. “He is also experiencing some… changes. Bodily changes that perhaps you ladies might understand.”

Frigga glanced up at her son, a knowing look settling in her eyes. “Oh. Oh. Indeed?”

Thor nodded. “Yes.”

Nann ducked her head and whispered to Loki, “Is it heavy? Do you need to change your underthings?”

Loki nodded, suddenly relieved beyond words. His eyes shined with fresh tears.

“Oh, dear,” Frigga muttered. “Nann, go and get Loki some wadding. I have clean clothes if the stains have already set—”

“It’s not blood.”

Frigga and Nann stared up at Thor.

Thor’s face went pink. “It’s, uh. He needs to talk—I mean, he needs to learn about, uhm… things he wasn’t taught on Jötunheim. Reproductive things. But not so much the act as what, what goes along with it.” He didn’t know what to do with his hands. He clasped them, put them on his hips, swung them uselessly at his sides. “Desires and emotions. He’s experiencing certain feelings for the first time and it’s… bewildered him.”

Nann’s eyebrows leaped up. “Oh.”

“That’s fine,” said Frigga in a calm, cool voice as she took Loki’s hands in her own. “You can talk to us about anything, dear. We will be glad to answer your questions. Would you be more comfortable talking with me or with Nann? We won’t be offended if you ask one of us to leave.”

“Oh, no, please, you can both stay,” said Loki, looking between them. “I think it might be better with the two of you.”

“What about Thor? Would you like him to be here as well?”

Thor’s face shifted from pink to red. “I, I think my presence might upset the dynamic,” he said shakily. “I wouldn’t, em, I don’t want to hamper the conversation. Besides, I need to do some reading.”

Frigga cocked her head. “Reading?”

“Yes. The troll book. Book of trolls. The, uh, guide, you know. That. Do you have it?”

“It’s in the library, in my study,” said Frigga. “Don’t misplace my notes and bookmarks, that’s all I ask.”

“I won’t.”

“And don’t try to tidy anything. I know exactly where everything is, I assure you.”

“Yes, Mother.”

“Alright.” She put her arm around Loki and smiled. “We will come and fetch you when we’re finished here.”

Loki’s eyes sparkled with interest. He stared up at the queen in awe. “We… we’ll go to the library?”

The library was off-limits to Loki as it was technically a wing of the palace. He had been wanting to see it ever since he had learned to read. Books, it seemed, were his chosen hoard. Some trolls chose gold. Others chose nicknacks, coins, beads, or baubles. Loki wanted a cave full of books. When Thor was away, he kept two or three books in his nest to read before he went to sleep. He liked thinking about the stories and characters in his head as he drifted off, imagining other adventures that might take place. They were simple tales meant for older children and adolescents, but they encouraged him to think and they filled him with joy and excitement. To visit the great library of Asgard, which Thor had said was four storeys tall and packed wall-to-wall with books, sounded like a dream come true.

Frigga regarded Loki affectionately. “Of course. And if you want to borrow a few books, I won’t breathe a word to anyone.”

Loki beamed, practically vibrating with excitement.

Thor began to back toward the door. “Well, it sounds like you’ve got everything handled. I’ll just leave you three to, uh…” He made a useless gesture with his hands. “And all that.”

Loki looked over his shoulder at Thor, his tail curled into a happy S-shape. “Thank you, Thor,” he said, and his voice radiated every ounce of his love and gratitude.

Thor softened like a pat of butter on a slice of warm bread. “You’re welcome, Loki,” he murmured.

Frigga and Nann met each other’s eyes briefly and tried to conceal their sly smiles.

“See you in a little while, son,” said Frigga with a wave of her fingers.

Thor nodded awkwardly and shut the door behind him.

“Now then.” Frigga let out a breath and cupped Loki’s plump cheeks in her hands. “Let’s get you some fresh underclothes first, darling, then you can tell us about what happened yesterday. How does that sound?”

Loki smiled tearily. He wondered if this is what having a mother felt like; having someone who was always there, nurturing and guiding, warm and loving, whom he could talk to about anything and to whom he could pour out his heart’s worries anytime he felt like it. Soft yet strong, tender and protective, a bond tempered with care and compassion. 

How lucky Thor was to have known this all his life.

Loki sniffed and wiped his eyes with the back of his small hand, nodding. “That would be perfect.”

The queen’s study was located on the second storey of the library. The room was a well-contained disaster that smelled of cinnamon and hickory and apple. A huge, thick rug stretched across the floor and was barely visible with all the furniture on it: cozy, worn-out chairs draped in knitted blankets, couches with crushed velvet cushions, overused chaises, and low tables stained with tea rings. Framed artwork, most of it made by her children, covered all eight walls. Books, quills, parchment pads, baskets, potted plants that liked the dark, pencils and sketchbooks occupied every surface. It was chaotic good personified. Much of Frigga’s spirit was present in this room.

Thor removed his boots before entering and carefully made his way inside. He found Know Thine Enemy: A Guide to Trolls, Thurs and Risi sitting on her desk, as if it had been laid out for him. Knowing his mother’s witchy ways, he didn’t doubt the possibility.

The book was in the process of being heavily amended, he noticed; the pages were stuffed with bookmarks and notes, handwritten markups were attached with clips throughout, and cross-references—and scathing commentary—were jotted in the margins.

He opened the guide to its index and slid his finger down the page, searching for the topic he needed. Compared to risi, thurs, and other huldufólk [1], the subject of trolls occupied the larger portion of the book, but the chapters listed under its heading mostly dealt with appearance, behavior, and where they lived. He selected the chapter on behavior, hoping he would come across something about biology or reproduction. 

What he found instead was a lot of misinformation.

Highly aggressive, trolls will attack without provocation even the most harmless animals… in packs like wolves, but with a less organized hierarchy…

Communication is limited to spoken language as they are an illiterate species and lack the intellectual capacity to develop a writing system...

...hate the sound of bells and will be driven into a murderous rampage…

They never bathe, preferring instead to allow dead skin and filth to accumulate into a hard shell on their bodies, which is why most wounded trolls die not from their injuries, but from infections caused by their uncleanliness… 

The more Thor read, the angrier he became. Had the author ever seen a living troll? What were his sources? Fairy tales and folklore? Legends to frighten young children into behaving? 

The worst thing was that it wasn’t all lies. There was just enough truth sprinkled throughout to lend the author credibility, and that was the most dangerous part of all. People who knew no better—and there were many in the Nine who had never dealt with trolls firsthand—would simply assume these outrageous lies were the truth and never allow a troll the opportunity to prove otherwise. It wasn’t ignorance; it was the breeding of prejudice and contempt, and the consequences were surely deadly. After all, why would anyone hesitate to kill a troll if they believed them to be vicious, filthy, disease-spreading beasts?

At least his mother was trying to correct this ignorance. With the massive amount of notes and inserted commentary, she seemed to be planning to make good on her promise of stripping out the lies and rewriting the book with newer, more correct material. Thor wondered how many copies of this book were already in circulation. The thought troubled him.

For the next two and a half hours, he sat quietly and read. Time slipped by without his notice. Late morning became noon, and the rain poured steadily on the roof of the palace, thunder rumbling faintly every now and then—perhaps it was Thor’s doing, perhaps not. He turned the pages, sometimes several at a time. He scanned his mother’s notes but found nothing on the subject he needed. He returned to the index and tried other sections, and flipped to the back to look at the glossary.

There were only two paragraphs on jötunn sexuality to be found, and most of it had to do with the violence of their breeding and their “indiscriminate lust”. The fool who wrote this rubbish didn’t even know that trolls were a single-sex species. Thor scowled, scoffed, and shook his head as he read.

Trolls are most dangerous when in rut and will kidnap women, men, children, and livestock to appease their desires. Naturally, none survive the brutal encounters…

The outer reproductive organs of both sexes are enlarged and grotesque, the males having tough, thick-skinned members to withstand the odourous and unsanitary cavity of the female… 

Mating is perfunctory and often violent. The male will select a female from the tribe and forcibly and repeatedly copulate with her while she is in season. After roughly a year’s gestation, the she-troll will birth her litter in a nest of mud, twigs, and dried excrement...

Trolls have cannibalistic tendencies even towards their own offspring, and while mothers occasionally eat their young, any male who happens upon an unguarded nest will raid it without hesitation…

Hestaskít [2],” Thor muttered.

“Your formal critique, I take it?”

Thor lifted his head to see Frigga, Nann, and Loki entering the study. Loki was looking around himself in delight, eyes twinkling and tail bouncing back and forth. He wore a fresh set of clothes, Thor noticed—a youth’s tunic shirt over a pair of short trousers that ended just above the knee. A cinched satchel dangled from the crook of his elbow and he was clutching a small stack of books to his chest; apparently he had already been taken to browse the library and had made his selections. He looked happy and relaxed, his face bright and smiling, like a young boy who had just come from the lecture hall and was anticipating the freedom of a sunny afternoon. The sight of him drove away all of the ugly imagery that had been assaulting Thor’s mind for the greater part of the afternoon. 

When at last Loki set his eyes upon Thor, his smile widened and a warm glow radiated from him like sunlight. He padded over to the desk, his bare feet soundless on the rug, and Thor had to resist the urge to scoop him into his arms and kiss him with pure abandon.

“It’s probably pointless to ask,” said Frigga, “but did you learn anything?”

Thor sighed and shut the book with a heavy thump. His hair fluttered from the displaced air. “No,” he grumbled. “Only that the author ought to pray he never meets me in person.”

“That’s assuming there’s anything left after I’m through with him.”

Thor chuckled. “What about you three? Was the talk… successful?”

Loki winced. “Well…”

“Not entirely,” said Nann, and folded her arms over her waist. “There are certain biological traits all the people of Yggdrasil share in common, but I’m afraid Loki will need the advice of an adult frost troll in order to fully understand the changes he’s going through.”

Thor slumped. “I was afraid of that.” He sighed and set his hands on his knees, and looked at Loki mournfully. “I’m sorry we couldn’t have been of more help to you.”

“That’s alright.” Loki put on a brave smile. “Your mother and sister were helpful enough. At least I have some idea of what’s… what I’m going through. I know more now than I did earlier. That’s an improvement, isn’t it?”

Thor took Loki’s hands into his own and raised his head to his mother. “Will he be alright?”

Frigga nodded matter-of-factly. “He’ll be fine. Nothing out of the ordinary. He just needs answers, but he won’t find them on Asgard.”

“Could Heimdall be of any help, you think?” Nann asked. “Perhaps he’s heard the jötnar speak of these things.”

“Heimdall is all-seeing, but he is not all-hearing,” said Frigga. “Even if he understood trollspeak, anything other than the voices of men does not reach his ears.”

Almost reflexively, Thor began to rub Loki’s back in long, soothing strokes. Loki’s eyes fell half-closed and a dreamy, contented look came to his face. His tail rose to attention and curled with every downward stroke, and he lifted up on his toes whenever Thor’s hand was closest to his bottom.

“Do you think Father might know?” said Thor, oblivious to Loki’s reaction.

Frigga frowned and shook her head. “I would have to find an indirect way to approach him about it. This is a very sensitive and complex subject.”

“Indeed,” Thor agreed, and sighed despondently.

“I appreciate everything you’ve all done for me,” Loki suddenly said, his cheeks flushed and his smile a bit trembly. “For sharing your knowledge and trying to help me. Thank you.”

Frigga and Nann smiled at his politeness. “You’re welcome, Loki. We only wish we could have done more for you.”

Loki bashfully turned his face downward before lifting it to Thor. “I think I’m ready to go home now,” he said urgently, and Thor noticed how wide his pupils were. They made his normally bright red eyes darken to a shade resembling thick, arterial blood. “I have chores to catch up on and Rosebud needs to be fed, and, em… I have new books to read. Lots of things I want to get done, so…” He gulped and grinned nervously.

“Of course, we’ll not waylay you any longer,” said Frigga, and came forward so she could bend down and kiss the top of Loki’s head. She cradled his face in her hands and smiled at him lovingly. “I will continue to search for answers. Don’t worry, darling.”

“Yes, everything will be alright,” said Nann, leaning down to give him a hug. “Don’t ever hesitate to come see us, Loki, no matter the time. It’s always wonderful to see you.”

Thor watched his mother and sister-in-law bid Loki farewell and whisper things to him under their breaths, and for the first time since he’d met Loki in that wintry forest on Midgard eight months ago, he felt distanced from him. Left out. Loki had shared something special with Frigga and Nann in the last few hours, bonded with them, perhaps discovered he had something in common with them. And Thor had learned nothing and helped no one. He felt utterly useless.

He rose from the desk and suddenly became the tallest person in the room, even though he thought himself quite small at the moment.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” said Frigga. “Will you be having dinner with us tonight, son?”

Thor balked. The thought of talking Alfheim politics and listening to his father’s latest grievances about the Elves was intensely unappetizing to him. But he couldn’t very well say that he would prefer to spend the night with Loki. Not after the subject of this afternoon’s visit. It might look…


The corners of Thor’s mouth bent downward as that abhorrent word passed through his mind.

Frigga laughed. “Oh, my. That terrible a thought, is it?”

“No, Mother, it’s. I only…”

Surprisingly, it was Loki who came to his rescue. He slipped his hand into Thor’s and turned to the queen with a smile. “I was actually hoping he could stay with me this evening. Thor’s been teaching me how to make plaits and, and I might need someone to help me in the garden. And with my goat. On account of the rain and all.”

“That’s a wise idea,” Frigga conceded. “It wouldn’t do to have you slip on those wet rocks and end up in the healing room again. Besides”—she smiled at her son—“I’m quite sure Thor would much rather have dinner with you than listen to Odin interrogate Baldur all evening.”

“Much,” Thor admitted, which provoked a round of chuckles from everyone present. “I will return first thing tomorrow morning, Mother.” He leaned forward and kissed Frigga’s cheek. “And if Father asks—”

“You were never here.” She winked. “Understood.”

Thor looked down at Loki and gave his hand a squeeze. “Do you have everything you need?”

Loki nodded eagerly, hugging his books to his chest. “Yes. I’m ready.”

“Very good. Mother, Nann.” Thor nodded to each of them. “Thank you again for your help.”

The two women bade Thor and Loki farewell in the study, and Thor put his boots back on outside the door. He led Loki through the library and out into the cool, rainy afternoon. Loki was bundled into the cape again, then Thor called Mjölnir to his hand and leapt into the heavy gray sky.

They punched through the low-hanging rainclouds and began the northwesterly journey back to Loki’s home. The sky was blue and clear up here, the air dry and the sun shining brightly. It was like being in another realm entirely.

“Did the book mention anything about my condition?” Loki asked as the wind whipped his hair to and fro.

“Nothing,” Thor glowered. “And what it did mention is too upsetting to repeat. I’m tempted to hunt down the author and drag him to Asgard’s highest court for libel.”

Loki quirked a brow. “Lie-bell? I assume that has something to do with lying?”

“Indeed it does.” Thor turned to give him a smile. “Clever troll.” 

Loki grinned, his fangs white and sharp.

“Did the talk go well, aside from its lack of help?”

Loki’s grin flickered. “Yes. It was, em… educational. I learned more about the courting and mating of mannfólk than anything else.”

Thor’s eyebrows sprang up. “You did? Ah. Well. That is good.” Pause. “I hope you do not think less of me.”

“What?” Loki laughed brightly. “Why would I think less of you?”

It took Thor a moment to gather his thoughts into words. “Because men are guided more often by their bodies than their brains,” he said quietly. “We do selfish, idiotic things in the pursuit of our own pleasure, and we make fools of ourselves in the process.”

“Well… at least you don’t piss on your beards.”

They either hit a pocket of turbulence or Loki’s statement was so unexpected that it jarred Thor’s concentration. They jolted a little before resuming their steady course. 

“We—what?” Thor laughed incredulously. “Who told you that?”

“It’s an old troll tale,” Loki explained, an apologetic look on his face. “Sometimes we refer to men as goats because of your beards and, erm… the… way your testicles hang between your legs.”

Thor’s face went blank with shock, like a truth he’d known since childhood was just proven to be false.

“And also your flat teeth,” Loki added. “And your narrow legs and faces. And the way you yell sometimes. No one could prove it, but it was rumored that men urinated on their beards during their rut, like bucks do.”

Thor’s brow wrinkled even more, his mouth falling open.

“But your mother corrected all that misinformation for me,” said Loki hastily. “She told me that men don’t have a rut and they don’t bleat when they have sex, though they do make some strange noises.”

A brittle laugh bubbled up from between Thor’s lips. “I suppose I should be thankful that Mother dispelled those notions. I would hate for you to go on thinking men are even more base than we already are.”

“You’re not base,” Loki insisted fiercely. “Fandral isn’t base. Nor is Hogun or Volstagg.”

Thor’s expression softened as he gazed at the little troll he supported in his left arm. “All men have weaknesses, Loki. Women, too. None of us is immune to the call of our baser instincts. Some just have better control over them.”

Loki fell silent.

He wondered how much control Thor had over his instincts, and what might happen if he ever lost his ability—or desire—to control them.

It was raining hard at the clearing. Thor descended through the clouds to the cliff ledge, soaking both himself and Loki in the process. They tramped through the cave entrance and spent a few minutes in the front chamber, shaking the water from their clothes. Loki pulled his books out from under his damp tunic and set them on the table, then proceeded to shake himself dry, a great shudder running from head to tail. Thor could only wring out his cape and squeeze the water from his drenched hair.

“Home at last,” he said, gazing around the cave fondly. He closed his eyes and took a deep, long breath. He said nothing more, but his body language was clear enough: he could still detect the mysterious scent permeating the cave since that morning, and he still liked it. 

Loki tensed and hugged the little cloth satchel closer to him, an unconscious reaction that did not go unnoticed.

“So what’s in the bag?” Thor asked, peeling off his soaked leather vest, baring his torso. “Something Mother gave you?” Locks of long blond hair slapped wetly against his collarbone. He turned and hung his vest on a nearby rope, his sodden trousers riding low on his hips and clinging to his every nook and crevice.

Loki stared at the handsome contours of Thor’s body and fidgeted restlessly. “Oh, ehm, it’s nothing. I mean, nothing much. Just some cotton wadding and… things to…” How had Frigga worded it? “Help me explore my feelings,” he finished in a breathless rush.

“Oh. Well.” Thor nodded crisply. “Wonderful! I hope they will be a great help to you.”

Loki cringed. His cheeks and ears were nearly purple from the strength of his blush. “Right, then. I’ll just, er, go put this away now.” He folded his arms over the satchel and began to sidle toward the nest chamber. “Until I… need it, of course.” He turned, tail high, and fled.

Thor watched his retreating backside with a cocked eyebrow and a befuddled twist of his mouth.

The crystal lamp in the nest chamber came on automatically as Loki bounded in; it cast a pinkish-orange glow over the room. He darted to his wardrobe and opened the top drawer, and tucked the cloth bag under a stack of folded breechcloths. 

He could still hear Frigga’s calm, sensible tone as she attempted to alleviate his embarrassment:

There is no reason to be ashamed, darling. People have been using phalluses for thousands of years. They are a safe, enjoyable way to help you explore your feelings and satisfy your urges. And if you don’t want to use one just yet, that is fine, too. Better to have one and not need it than to want one and not have it, I always say. But using it is entirely up to you.

Warmth radiated from Loki’s cheeks as he recalled the particulars of that conversation, and how Frigga, so patient and understanding, had shown him a picture-book filled with different kinds of such items—a catalogue, she had called it—and asked him to pick the two he liked best. Loki was fascinated and a little overwhelmed by the variety of shapes and sizes of some of these intimate toys. Most of them had a distinct shape modeled after the members of mannfólk, but a few were smooth and nondescript. After careful consideration, he finally made his selection and Nann had been kind enough to go and fetch his order from a nearby shop. Now he was the owner of two small toys that he still thought were too big for him, even though they had been the smallest ones available. 

He wondered what Frigga would do if she knew her son was responsible for fueling these sexual desires and reactions, the very things which prompted the lesson he had received earlier that day. Would she still be kind and supportive? Or would she be shocked and dismayed? 

He shut the drawer and hurried from the chamber, and almost crashed face-first into Thor’s bare chest in the hallway.

“Oh! I beg your pardon,” Thor laughed, holding Loki’s shoulders to steady him. “I just came to ask if you… if you…” His face relaxed in the dim light, his eyes tenderly searching Loki’s face.

Loki’s heart leaped into his throat. He gulped it back down, acutely aware of the heat rolling off of Thor’s body. “You came to ask me…?”

Thor blinked. “I. Came to ask if you wanted me to tend to Rosebud. Spare you from falling down those rocks. The rain is coming hard—down hard, coming down, it’s pouring and it’s… very slippery. I don’t want you to hurt. Get hurt.” He winced for the third time in ten seconds. 

With great effort, Loki forced his lips to bend into a polite arch. “Yes, please. That would… yes, thank you.”

Neither of them moved. Thor stared listlessly at Loki in the dim passage, and Loki stared back with mute anticipation. The rain pattered on the rocks outside, adding a lighter melody to the heavy rush and rumble of the nearby waterfall.

How Loki wished that Thor would lean down and kiss him, but kiss him like they had kissed that morning, with their mouths open and their tongues licking each other, Thor’s beard scratching his upper lip and chin, his big hands on Loki’s body, his masculine, familiar scent all around him. And, oh, how he wished this would end. The waiting, the awkward silences, the hesitation, this safe distance that existed between them, physically and emotionally. His heart was sick of it. He knew what he was feeling now. The talk that morning had all but confirmed it. He was in love with Thor and he wanted to—what was the word? Foarplay? Yes, he wanted to foarplay with Thor, and maybe someday even have sex with him. Or try to. But right now he just wanted Thor to pull him close and rub up against him and kiss him all over, kiss him down there, and touch him with his hands, hold him and stroke him and—

Thor blinked suddenly and pulled away as if breaking free from an enchantment. “I will be back in a few minutes,” he blurted, and practically jogged to the front of the cave.

Loki remained where he was for a moment or two, still half lost in his foarplay fantasy, his tail in a tight coil against the back of his thigh. Then at last a rational thought broke through the thick haze of lust that had enveloped his mind:

Thor was going to be completely soaked when he returned. He would need towels and a warm fire to sit beside and dry himself, and he would need to take his wet clothes off.

Loki’s eyes went wide, and he sprang into action.

He dashed to the storage niche in the middle of the cave, where his pantry and medicine cupboard were located, as well as his firewood supply. He selected a few small logs and ran back to the nest chamber with his arms full.

Thor had recently put in two fireplaces with chimneys—one in the main chamber, and one in the nest chamber. Loki had gotten much more confident about building fires in the last few months, though he still only made them when Thor was present. He had little need of them when he was alone as he still preferred to eat most of his food raw, though they certainly created a romantic mood with their low light and their pleasant warmth.

Loki crouched at the little hearth on the far wall, arranged the wood like he’d been taught, and after a few quick strikes with a spark lighter, a smoky snake rose up from the bundle of fatwood and kindling. He tended to the little flame, blowing on it gently and feeding it carefully for a while until it was strong enough to burn on its own. 

He sat back and studied his work for a few moments, contemplating the dancing flames and thinking about what might happen once Thor returned, wondering if he would still be shy and distant, treating Loki as if he were a sick jötling. After what happened in the cottage that morning, he might still feel ashamed for becoming aroused. But now Loki knew more about the physiology of mannfólk, and he wasn't so nervous anymore. Knowledge had that kind of power, he supposed.

He straightened up and pulled his damp tunic over his head, tossed it aside, and slid his shorts and smallclothes off. The wadding in his underwear was practically dry, he saw. For the first time since he’d woken up, he wished it were otherwise. He wanted more of this loob—what was the word? Lubrij. Lubrij-cup? Lubrij-cunt? No, cunt was a crude word for vadgina. Nann had said that was what women called their slidhur. Whatever the word for that slick stuff was, Loki wanted his body to make it again. He wanted Thor to smell it and become aroused by it. He wanted Thor to lose control and… and… do something about this hungry, desperate flame burning between them. Loki couldn’t take the tension much longer. If only Thor knew how much he desired him, how he wanted to kiss Thor and touch him all over—

A shiver coursed through Loki, but it wasn’t because of the warmth of the fire on his cold skin. He released a slow breath as he felt it begin. Arousal. Not as strong as it had been earlier, but enough to make his skin tingle and his tail throb, and send a warm pulse through his lower regions.

He rubbed his arm and shoulder to dispel some of the tingling. Lost in thought, his hand slid down to his chest and absently toyed with his nipple, adding more fuel to the fire building inside him. His eyes fell half-closed as his mind drifted back to Thor, thinking about how handsome he would look glistening and naked in the firelight, his hair cascading onto his broad shoulders and his skin flushed pink with his red Æsir blood. Wondering if his lips would be cold or warm. Imagining how his beard would feel brushing against his inner thighs. 

Another wave bloomed through Loki, stronger than the first.

He still had things to do, he reminded himself as his hand started to slip lower. He needed to hang up his damp clothes. Fetch a few towels. Make a soft, comfortable place where he and Thor could sit in front of the fire. Or lie down.

His hand paused just below his navel. 

Thor, reclining on his side before the fire, naked, with Loki lying on his back beside him, was a picture so clear and powerful that there was nothing Loki would not do to see it come true.

With this thought alone propelling him, Loki scrambled to his feet and raced for his linen drawer.

Thor returned to the cave soaking wet and leaving puddles wherever he trod. His boots squished and squeaked with every step.

“I’m back,” he announced. There was a slight echo in the cave, but no answer. 

Loki was probably hiding somewhere. Thor couldn’t blame him, not after those humiliating slips earlier. He bent down with a sigh and began to remove his boots.

At least the rain had cooled his arousal and cleared his head. But being back in the cave with that sweet, seductive scent all around him was doing him no favors. Already he could feel a stirring in his trousers. 

Gods, why was this happening? Why couldn’t he control himself? What was wrong with him? He loved Loki, yes, but his feelings for him had changed only a little since he’d first met him; he had already been enamored with him from the start. They had been enjoying this playful almost-romance for the past few months, but now Loki’s scent had suddenly changed and it was turning Thor into a sweaty, horny, throbbing mess.

He swiped his hair out of his eyes and dragged his hands over his dripping face and beard.

It was a bad situation. There was no place else he could go, no realistic way to excuse himself. The rain had him trapped. He would just have to confess to Loki that his body odor was arousing him for some bizarre, inexplicable reason, beg his pardon, and let come what may. Hopefully the lesson in sex education hadn’t soured Loki’s feelings for him. Thor was already doing his best not to ruin their relationship completely, and he was willing to give Loki as much time and space as he needed to acclimate to the changes he was going through, but his cock seemed to have a mind of its own lately. A very dirty mind, at that. He prayed Loki hadn’t been too mortified by his reaction in the cottage that morning. Thor couldn’t help it; he had never gotten that hard so quickly. He hadn’t even been looking at Loki for very long, less than a minute, surely, but the sight and the smell of his body had been too much to—

It hit Thor like a lightning strike. He clapped a hand over his eyes.

What a fool he was. How had he not recognized it sooner? The smell in this cave, the one coming from Loki, was the same as the one he had detected when Loki had spread his legs on the couch that morning. It wasn’t just any body scent, like sweat or oil or saliva; it was the moisture from his quim. His juices, the darker part of Thor’s mind murmured, his virgin nectar. Does it taste as good as it smells? Will he let you sip from his sweet little well?

Thor shook his head violently, as if that would clear his mind. 

Why was the scent of Loki’s discharge arousing him? Thor wasn’t a troll. It shouldn’t be affecting him, should it? This was surely a prelude to jötunn coupling. Pheromones, body chemistry, sex stimulants, something. And Loki had been oozing since early that morning. The cave would be saturated with his smell. And it was—

In spite of his better judgement, Thor sucked in a slow breath through his nose and held it.

Gods. Norns. He loved it. It smelled incredible to him. It pleased him, made him want to do things. Animal things. Like take out his cock and pull on it. Prowl around naked and hard. Howl his urgency to the forests and mountains, and hunt down the soft, sweet source of that smell and dive into it tongue-first. And after he’d eaten his fill, he’d take himself in hand and press into that tiny little slit and—

Thor collapsed against the wall with a grimace on his face and a hand between his legs, squeezing himself brutally. “Ssssss,” he hissed. “Sssstop. Stop it. Don’t. Please don’t…” His voice fell to a weak whine. “Norns, I beg you. Don’t let me hurt him, please don’t let me hurt him…”

His flesh throbbed defiantly beneath his own hand. 

No one was listening. He was helpless, overruled by his own lust.

Pictures of what he’d read that afternoon came stealing back to him: beasts in rut, bent on appeasing their urges without a care for who or what they harmed. Brutal sex-crazed beasts who satisfied themselves in spatters of blood and semen. Growling, snarling alpha males. Thor was none of these. He would never in a thousand years—

“Thorrr?” Loki’s faint voice carried from the farthest chamber.

Thor raised his flushed face and croaked, “I’m here.”

“I made us a fire. Come and dry yourself.” 

His voice was so sweet. So warm and musical, light as spring flowers and smooth as honey. Unsullied. Innocently naïve.

Thor’s face crumpled as if he were going to cry. He tried to keep the thoughts out of his head, but it was useless. They came anyway. Thoughts like what Loki’s groans might sound like, if he would moan and clench up when Thor breached him. If he would plead in soft whispers for more, or beg Thor to be gentle, go slow, take his time—

“Coming,” Thor called, and then he laughed. There was a ragged, hysterical note to it. “I’m coming,” he repeated, this time more quietly, like a sob. He pushed himself upright, straightened his back as much as he could, and made his way to the rear of the cave like a drunken man, one hand on the wall to steady himself. He shivered and sweat simultaneously, a marrow-deep tremble taking hold of him.

The scent became stronger the farther into the cave he ventured, until he finally stood in the doorway of the nest chamber. When he looked at the scene before him, a powerful wave of excitement surged through him. He began to breathe through his mouth, almost panting.

Loki sat on a clean, fluffy towel in front of the glowing hearth, legs folded and tail tapping slowly back and forth at his feet. He straightened up when he saw Thor, his face eager and eyes wide. 

He was naked, and the most beautiful, desirable thing Thor had ever seen in his life. The firelight danced over his cerulean skin and cast cool shadows over the faintly-raised markings all over his body: supple thighs, soft belly, the tiny indigo buds of his nipples, his slim, lightly muscled arms. Half of Thor’s willpower shattered right then and there. The rest of it followed when his gaze settled on Loki’s face. 

His hair had dried in soft black waves, the ends cascading onto his narrow shoulders. His eyes shone brightly in the fire’s ambience. His cheeks were flushed dark, as if he were quite warm. His brows were bent with vague concern, but a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. 

“You’re soaked,” he said, looking Thor from head to foot.

“I…” Thor grappled for words. “Y-yes.”

“I have more towels over here. Come.” He motioned for Thor to join him and changed positions, scooting over to make room. Thor tried not to stare at Loki’s lap, but his eyes inexorably strayed downward and would not budge. Loki’s member was flaccid, he saw. No indication of arousal or even the slightest interest. It made Thor feel like a mindless beast, being as hard and ready as he was now.

Loki smiled and patted the space beside him in invitation. “Come,” he repeated, this time more insistently.

This was not going to go well, Thor thought. Nevertheless, he swallowed down his uneasiness and strode across the room, his bare feet slapping heavily against the cold stone floor. He fumbled to untie the laces of his wet trousers as he went, his hands moving clumsily. After two paces he grasped the loosened waistband and rolled them down his thighs. He sprang free from the cold wet fabric, fully erect.

Loki didn’t hide his face, didn’t blink, didn’t shy away. He gazed earnestly, his eyes roaming all over Thor’s body and glittering darkly. Thor could almost feel the intensity of his gaze, and his heart began to beat faster. 

Perhaps Loki wasn’t as shy as he had believed. Perhaps he was as excited as Thor himself was. But why then was he still so soft?

The trousers became tangled around Thor’s ankles and he stumbled once before kicking them off. His erection bobbed stiffly with every motion, and Loki watched, tail sashaying back and forth. At last Thor freed himself from his troublesome garments and left them in a sopping pile on the floor. He sank down onto the towel beside Loki. Even on his knees, he loomed over him like a giant.

But Loki was unbothered; he smiled at him warmly. “Thor,” he whispered, reaching up and touching his bearded cheek.

Thor shut his eyes and grasped the cool, small hand. Turning it, he kissed its palm. The scent on Loki’s fingers was fresh, the most powerful he had yet smelled. He trembled as he inhaled, dragging them across his lips.

They were still damp.

Unable to control himself, he stuck out his tongue and licked them, panting as he finally got a taste of what he so desperately wanted.

Loki quivered as Thor parted his lips and drew his fingers inside, and began to suck them steadily and gently. And when Thor opened his eyes and stared at him hotly, a quiet, tremulous breath escaped Loki’s throat.

Thor released the fingers and reached out to cup Loki’s cheek, caressing his markings with his thumb. Loki leaned into the touch, moving forward until their brows met. He nuzzled Thor with his horns. Thor closed his eyes and returned the gesture, and for the first time in his life, he wished he’d been born a troll. Perhaps then he would know exactly what to do. As it was now, though, he was lost, ignorant of all things—except one.

“Loki, I love you,” he uttered in a deep, throaty voice. “I have loved you for as long as I have known you, and I… I want you. I want to…” He exhaled heavily through his nose, his voice falling to a whispered growl. “I want to kiss you. I want to taste you. I want to have you.”

Loki smiled sweetly, his fangs showing long and sharp and white. “Ég elska thig líka, Thor,” he murmured. “And I have dreamed of you making me yours for far too long. Please don’t make me wait any longer.”

Thor shook his head, a grin appearing on his lips. “I won’t,” he said, and slid his arms around Loki’s small body, pulling him close.

Loki was already completing the embrace; he latched his arms around Thor’s neck and brought their mouths together, lapping and licking ardently at Thor’s tongue, his tail flicking back and forth behind him like an excited snake. He practically crawled into Thor’s lap and pressed full against him, and Thor’s member became pinned between their bellies, hot and hard.

They kissed deeply, tongues moving like serpents, moist clicks and hot huffs rushing through their nostrils. Thor traced the sharp points of Loki’s fangs with his tongue while Loki’s small and bristly one shyly explored Thor’s mouth. They parted with an audible smack and stared at one another breathlessly.

“What shall we do first?” Thor panted, running one hand down the length of Loki’s back, ending at the root of his tail.

Loki’s bottom perked up at the touch and his eyes fluttered with delight. “Keep doing that.”

“What, petting you?” Thor smiled and gave him another stroke, firmer this time. Loki’s tail rose up when Thor’s hand reached the root. 

“Mm, yes,” Loki hummed. He gripped Thor’s shoulders and began to rock with every pass of Thor’s broad, warm hand down his spine. “You did this same thing in the library today, but I don’t think you realized it. It feels so good.”

Thor blinked in surprise. “Normal-good or sexy-good?”

“Hm, both,” Loki tittered. “But I think it’s more of the latter now.”

Intrigued, Thor continued to stroke, one hand holding Loki’s thigh and the other delivering the arousing ministrations. Loki’s rear popped upward every time Thor reached it, his tail rising and twirling. Thor wondered if this was a jötunn form of foreplay. Loki was growing more and more breathless with each passing moment. His rocking certainly felt very good against Thor’s erection.

He reached around with both hands and grasped Loki’s buttocks, giving the flesh an appreciative squeeze before gently grasping the base of his tail.

Loki’s eyes flew open and he uttered a startled, “Oh!”

“How does that feel?” Thor asked. “Good?” He ran his fist loosely down the length of Loki’s tail, ending at the pointy, swollen tip. He rolled the firm bulb of flesh between his fingers, and Loki’s eyes nearly rolled back white.

“Oh! Ohh…!”

“Lie back, love, I have an idea.”

Loki practically threw himself onto his back. He spread his legs and stared up at Thor with dark eyes and a heaving chest.

Thor took a moment to admire the incredible sight of Loki in the firelight—the way his hair framed his flushed face, his pebbly nipples, his soft belly—offering himself so completely, his beautiful body on full display. He could have dived face first between his legs and begun to satisfy his own needs, but Thor had a different plan. It was something he’d been wondering about for a while, ever since that first night he brought Loki to the palace and bathed him.

Her grasped Loki’s tail, which lay beneath him between his legs, raised it up, and put the end into his mouth.

Loki gasped, squirmed, and clutched the towel beneath him. “Oh! Oh, Thor, oh Ymir—”

Encouraged, Thor began to suckle the spade-shaped flesh, feeling its muscular power writhe on his tongue. He stroked the middle section of Loki’s tail with his hand, rubbing up and down. 

For a short while he attended to Loki in this manner while Loki squirmed and squeaked below him, creating furrows in the towels from where he grasped with his hands and dug with his feet. Thor wondered if he might be able to bring Loki to climax this way, but as much as he seemed to be enjoying the attention to his tail, Thor knew there had to be other erogenous zones he could explore, perhaps even more sensitive than this one. Mindful that this was Loki’s first time and being extra attentive to his responses, Thor gave one last stroke before pulling off and kissing the hot wet tip of Loki’s tail.

“What shall we do next?” he asked, stretching out over Loki and kissing the corner of his mouth.

Loki’s lips curled into a wicked smirk.

Thor laughed. “Oh no. What dastardly plan do you have in store for me?”

Pinning his bottom lip between his sharp white teeth, Loki placed his hand on top of Thor’s head and pushed him downward.

Thor’s grin widened, and he obeyed. He kissed a path down Loki’s neck, and gave a lick to each of Loki’s nipples, wondering what would happen. Loki moaned and buried his hands in Thor’s thick, damp mane, arching under the wet caress of Thor’s tongue.

“Oh… ah, Thor. Thorrr…”

Thor opened his mouth and gave an experimental suckle to first one nipple and then the other before lifting his head. “You like this?” he asked huskily. “Does it feel good?”

“Oh, yes,” Loki gasped with a smile. “Yes. Please keep doing that. It feels wonderful.”

Thor lowered his head again and resumed his task, leisurely toying with each nipple, alternating between using his fingers and his mouth. He pinched and plucked, nipped and sucked, until Loki was squirming and moaning and heaving beneath him, digging his nails into Thor’s shoulders rocking his hips upward against Thor’s chest.

Thor’s cock throbbed and sent out a large quantity of pre-spend. It soaked into the towel beneath him and left a cooling wet spot that he continued to rut into. He was eager to satisfy himself, but this was not his first time being intimate with another person; it was, however, Loki’s, and Thor wanted it to be exceptional. He had waited this long. A few more minutes were no matter.

He continued his descent. He kissed Loki’s belly and played with his navel for a little while, just long enough to get a few good giggles out of him, before proceeding. He ran his tongue along every line his lips encountered. Loki stretched and arched beneath him, earnest whimpers and whines squeaking out.

When Thor at last reached his destination, he found that Loki’s penis still had not hardened. Perhaps there was a problem. Surely this couldn’t be normal, but Thor didn’t want to ruin the moment by drawing attention to it. So he simply took Loki into his mouth and sucked him gently, hoping that perhaps the stimulation would bring him to completion.

His organ was small enough to fit wholly in Thor’s mouth, and there seemed to be an abundance of excess skin. It was as soft as the petals of a rose. He explored Loki’s foreskin, slipping his tongue inside and stroking the underside of his crown, hoping to elicit a reaction. But after two full minutes, he was still flaccid, and the encouraging hums and purrs from above had gone quiet. Thor pulled off and lifted up on his elbows. Loki was looking down at him fearfully, his lip between his teeth.

“Is everything alright?” Thor asked, reaching out and rubbing Loki’s thigh comfortingly. “I’m not hurting you, am I?”

“What? No. No, you’re fine. It’s just that I’m…” He trailed off, and his eyes shone with unshed tears. “My snigill is wet, but my redhur isn’t hard. I think it’s supposed to be. It’s how trolls mate, and I’m feeling”—his ears twitched shyly—“aroused but I’m not… I, I don’t understand.”

Thor went still, his lips forming a tight, thin line. 

He knew what he had to do. It had been obvious to him for quite some time now, but he feared to do it because there was a very real chance that he might lose Loki in the process—not to death, but to one of his own kind, to a troll who could give Loki all the things Thor never could. 

Loki was his. Fate had willed it so the day Thor found him on Midgard. He was a gift, precious, priceless. The Norns had deigned to bless Thor with this sweet, smart, wonderful little frost troll, deliver him into his care, and Thor intended to keep him for as long as he was allowed. He refused to believe that Loki was destined to be a part of his life for such a brief time, and yet… 

The disappointing conclusion of that day’s fervent search for answers was written all over Loki’s face. If Thor had the opportunity to change that, to make Loki happy—truly happy and thriving, living a full life with no gaps in his knowledge of himself or his people—then he would rearrange every star that hung on Yggdrasil’s branches to see it done.

He continued to massage Loki’s thigh in soothing strokes, though he also needed comforting right now. His heart sat in his chest like an old, cracking anvil.

“We will go to Niflheim,” he said quietly. “We will visit the trolls there and ask them what they know. You will have your answer, I give you my word.”

The tears of shame threatening to spill from Loki’s watery eyes were suddenly blinked away. He sat up on his elbows and sniffed. “Really? You’d do that for me?”

Thor nodded and tried not to be too dismayed by Loki’s eagerness. “Mm.”

A smile split Loki’s face. It was enough to break Thor’s heart in half and yet lift him up to the very gates of Valhalla. He knew then that he would do anything for this little troll, even if it left him utterly bereft of joy. His peace was worth the price.

“Thank you,” Loki creaked. “Thank you so much, Thor. This means so much to me.”

Thor forced himself to grin and hoped it wasn’t too pained-looking. “I know. And it means much to me, too. I am happy when you are happy, Loki. I love you.”

Trembling with inexpressible joy, Loki sat up, curling himself almost in two, and kissed Thor’s lips. After several long, unhurried moments, they parted with a nuzzle and a tender smile to one another. 

“I know the one part of me isn’t working right now,” said Loki in a hushed murmur as he trailed his finger down Thor’s collarbone, “but I’m quite sure the rest of me is.” To emphasize, he opened his legs a little wider.

Thor breathed deep, his eyelids drooping as the tantalizing scent of Loki’s wetness filled his nostrils and reignited his hunger. His cock awakened from its half-hard state with a throb, a clear drop of slick pre-spend bubbling from the tiny slit.

Are you inviting me to taste your little snail?” he asked in jötnin, and ducked his head to lick the tender flesh of Loki’s inner thigh. His bearded cheek brushed against a much warmer, wetter place.

A tiny gasp escaped Loki. His tail curled and curtsied in the air. “Oh yes,” he said breathlessly. “Yes, please. Please, Thor!

With a sly smile, Thor went down.

Chapter Text

The light was flickering and the shadows were deep, but Thor was able to see the soft, wet valley beneath Loki’s member, and it was just as lovely as it had been that morning. The outer parts were flushed almost purple, the lips smooth and hairless, as plump as a cloven plum. Using his finger, Thor carefully explored the exterior folds first, then the inner ones. He marveled at the soft texture, drawing slow, exploratory circles around the winking little hole in the center. A spring of clear, slick mucus leaked from its opening.

Loki quivered and quavered. “Ah! Oh, please, Thor, more. More, I need it…”

Thor continued to feel around in the warm, humid folds of flesh. He discovered that Loki lacked a clitoris, but there was a seam in his skin that ran from the base of his penis to the top of his vulva. Loud, lusty moans were produced when he trailed his finger along the length of it. But it was nothing compared to the noise Loki made when Thor lowered his head and repeated the gesture with his tongue. 

Loki threw his head back and moaned, his body going as tight as a bowstring. Encouraged, Thor pressed a gentle kiss to the soft inside of each of Loki’s thighs. Then, with ever increasing increments, he kissed his way back between Loki’s legs, and ended his journey with a long, slow lick at the epicenter of Loki’s need.

An elated cry echoed off the walls of the chamber. Loki reached down and seized Thor’s head with both hands, his back arching and his toes and tail curling. He thrust against Thor’s mouth.

Thor smiled and continued to stroke with his tongue, placing his hands on Loki’s inner thighs and spreading his legs wide. His body opened like a blossoming flower, petals parting and revealing his tiny entrance with its virgin caul. More fluid drooled out, running into the cleft of Loki’s buttocks. Thor’s nostrils flared as the heady, intoxicating scent enveloped him. He began to tremble and salivate profusely. A thin stream of spittle escaped the corner of his mouth and dribbled into his beard. He clapped his hand to his chin and wiped it away. 

Norns! Why was Loki so irresistible to him? He was no troll. He should not be affected; unless the scent of an aroused troll was just alluring to other species as their own?

Whatever the reason, Thor was lost. Gladly, hopelessly lost. He pressed in for a deeper taste.

Loki’s eyelids fluttered as Thor’s slippery pink tongue entered him. “Oh. Oh my. Oh, Thor!” He squirmed and gasped, knees bent and legs up, open wide in invitation.

Thor propped his shoulders under Loki’s hips and slid his arms around his thighs. He grasped Loki’s soft, tiny penis and held out of the way while he set to his task. 

Loki shivered against his mouth. “Ahhh, Thorrr…!”

He tasted like a fresh, raw oyster; both sweet and salty, slightly coppery, with a richness to his issue. It was smooth and incredibly slick; it coated Thor’s mouth and tongue with its vaguely alkaline aftertaste. The only difference was that he wasn’t cold like an oyster, but warm and full of life. Thor breathed in his aroma and continued to sip and suck at the warm, velvet-soft skin. He nibbled and kissed, twisting his tongue first one way and then the other. He could feel the rougher texture of Loki’s hymen, taste its slight salinity. He stroked it, brushed his lips against it gently, and wondered how much longer it was going to last; if it would be stubborn to fade or if it would disappear in a streak of blood after the first penetration. The thought excited him, and his cock throbbed impatiently.

Loki was very small, though. Perhaps it would be too much to attempt to make love to him right now, especially given his inexperience. But Thor was a creative man and an attentive lover; he would find a way to satisfy both Loki and himself.

“How do you like this?” he asked between licks. “Is it good?”

Loki rolled his head to the side. His eyes were shut, a smile was on his lips. “Oh, yes,” he breathed. “Yes. Keep… ah, just like that, please, yes…”

He stretched one arm above his head and grasped the towel, the other caressing a handful of Thor’s hair. He placed his feet flat on the towel and rocked his hips upward in time with Thor’s skilled mouth.

His body sang with delight, full of sensations it had never known before. His insides were wound up tight like one of those Asgardian clawks, sprockets and springs coiling with mounting tension at every turn of the key. His head was dull and dizzy, drunk with feeling. He was breathing too deep, too quickly. His heart was beating so hard that he could almost feel its tempo in his head. Even with his eyes shut he sensed that there was light, some kind of glow radiating through the entire room that did not come from the fire. It burned like fire, but it was something that could only be felt in one’s heart.

Thor gave one last lick and then rose up, crawling forward and completely eclipsing Loki in his shadow. Loki opened his eyes and beheld him, backlit by orange firelight, breathless and dark-eyed, his lips glossy and red from being used. The individual whiskers of his beard glistened like wet gold.

Loki reached up and grabbed Thor by his ears, pulled him down, and kissed his mouth hungrily. He sucked Thor’s tongue and nipped his bottom lip with his sharp teeth—gently. 

Thor lowered himself and his erection jabbed awkwardly into Loki’s thigh. He carefully lifted his hips and repositioned himself, and a moment later he slid between Loki’s legs, his cock gliding longways in the slippery folds of Loki’s quim.

As if by reflex, Loki clamped his legs together and sheathed Thor between the firm, supple flesh of his thighs. Thor broke the kiss with a grunt and lifted his head, sucked in a breath.

“Oh! Sorry!” Loki cried, opening his legs. “Did that hurt?”

Thor laughed, a deep, warm sound. “No. No, quite the opposite. It felt too good.” Indeed, being completely enveloped in Loki’s flesh had brought him dangerously close to completion. He lifted his hand to Loki’s cheek and stroked it with the backs of his fingers. “I don’t want to climax too soon. I want this to last.”

A quizzical frown came to Loki’s face. “What do you mean? Do men only climax once during mating?”

“Er, one instance of mating, yes, usually. We can mate for hours, but it takes time for us to become aroused again after we spend. Do you… are your people different?”

“I don’t know. Perhaps we are. Why must you wait? You mother didn’t mention anything about men having to wait to have sex after they’ve already mated.”

“I… am not sure why.” Thor blinked as if perplexed by his own lack of an answer. “Men are simply like that. Perhaps it’s to keep us from spending all of our seed too quickly at once. We must recover, give our bodies time to make more.”

“More spurm, right?”


Loki’s eyes glittered in the firelight. “I want to see it. I’ve never seen a troll or a man have a… an organ-sum before. Is that how you say it? Organ-sum?”

“Orgasm,” said Thor with a gentle smile. 

Or-gaz-um,” repeated Loki. 

“Haven’t you ever…?”

Sucking his bottom lip between his teeth, Loki shook his head.

Thor made a slightly pained expression. “Oh. Well, I am sure it, uh… the trolls on Niflheim will know how to help you.”

“I hope so.” 

Thor ran his hand up and down Loki’s side, gentle and comforting.

After a few quiet moments, Loki reached up and clasped his hands together behind Thor’s neck. “How much time does it take for you to become aroused again after you orgasm?”

“Ten or fifteen minutes perhaps. Sometimes longer.”

“Oh! Is that all? I thought it might be hours.”

“Norns forbid,” Thor laughed.

A coy look came to Loki’s face and his eyes flickered downward. His tail rose up between Thor’s legs and began to rub sensually along his thigh, then his scrotum, then the cleft of his beautiful, tailless buttocks.

Thor’s eyes shot wide open, his lips parted, and his cock gave a noticeable throb.

“Then we have plenty of time,” Loki purred. He reached down between their bodies and gently wrapped his small, cool hand around Thor. “Touch me. Taste me. Spill your seed. I want to make love all night long.”

It was a challenging order, but Thor had no doubt that his stamina would last. Especially with Loki’s scent so rich and tantalizing in his nostrils.

“As you command, my prince,” he said, and ducked his head to capture Loki’s mouth in a passionate kiss.

Late afternoon gave way to dusk, and dusk gave way to evening. The rain ceased for a little while just before the light failed, then it returned to a steady drizzle as darkness settled on the forest.

Thor and Loki abandoned the fireside for the greater comfort of the nest, which Thor found was much more conducive to sex than the flat beds of mannfólk. The nest was recessed in the stone floor, so he was able to brace himself against it, prop himself up with it, or sit upon it with his legs spread. This last position worked out quite well for Loki, who, at his own insistence, repaid the oral attention Thor had lavished on him earlier. He knelt between Thor’s hairy thighs and never stopped smiling as he licked and fondled and cupped Thor’s genitals in his small hands. After eight of the dizziest, most delirious minutes of his life, Thor climaxed with a shudder and a shout, toes curling and eyes rolling. 

Loki had been utterly fascinated—and quite proud of himself.

The nest was also abundant in pillows which could be placed under hips and bellies, allowing for easier access to parts that often required severe angles to reach. Loki spent a fair amount of time draped over a velvet pouf with his legs spread and his bottom in the air, moaning and shivering as Thor worshiped his tail from root to tip. The base was especially sensitive, the underside being the most sensitive of all, and the constant stimulation of Thor’s tongue soon had him wetter than he’d been when he’d woken up that morning. It was then that Thor, with exceeding caution and delicateness, slipped his middle finger through the tiny opening in Loki’s hymen and entered him.

It was the smoothest, slickest, warmest thing Thor had ever touched, like fire wrapped in flesh, not consuming and destructive, but yielding, life-giving. Silky and exceedingly tight, the channel was slightly narrower from top to bottom than from side to side. Thor wondered if troll cocks were a perfect complement to the sheaths of their partners, more oval-shaped rather than cylindrical, like men were. He hoped his organ wouldn’t be uncomfortable to Loki when (if) the time came.

Loki gasped at the penetration and turned to look at Thor over his shoulder. He was disheveled, his pupils huge and his hair draping over his horns in wavy strings. “Is that… your—?”

“It is my finger,” Thor murmured. 

Loki blinked, astounded. “It’s. It feels so big.”

“Does it hurt? Are you uncomfortable? I can remove it if you don’t—”

“No, no. It’s fine. It’s.” Loki rolled his hips experimentally. “It’s just big, that’s all.” He gave Thor a shaky smile. “Like you. I will get used to it.”

Thor smiled back. “I will be gentle.”

And he was.

He hovered over Loki and kissed the back of his neck—Loki enjoyed that very much, sighing dreamily at the scrape of Thor’s teeth at his nape—and he reached up underneath and played with Loki’s nipples, alternating his hands so that they both received attention. The wet little crease between Loki’s legs wept and oozed, and soon Thor was coated with slick almost to his palm.

Thor had already climaxed twice earlier, and he was determined not to spill again until Loki experienced his own release. There had been several instances where he thought it was imminent, but Loki had plateaued each time and Thor was compelled to try another technique. This one he was sure would bring him bliss.

When Loki was fully relaxed and comfortable, Thor began to move his finger in and out—slowly at first, then steadily increasing the movements until he achieved a moderate pace. Loki panted and arched and ground himself back onto Thor’s hand. Thor’s knuckles smacked and squished and squelched as Loki rocked against him at a greater speed. But it was when Thor grasped the base of Loki’s tail and pulled it gently that Loki came undone.

He threw his head back and gave a startled cry, shuddered, and then the satiny heat of his sheath locked onto Thor’s finger and gripped it with a strength that astonished him. A wave of contractions followed, each one more powerful than the last, almost seeming to suck his finger in deeper. 

Milking, Thor realized distantly. Holding the penis in place and drawing the semen closer to the womb.

The thought sent a flame of lust licking down into his belly. He imagined feeling this pressure around his manhood, the hug of that strong, determined little pussy clenching and coaxing the seed from his balls, and before Thor knew it, he was coming for a third time—this time completely untouched. He watched his issue spatter onto Loki’s bottom in thick white strings. Then he let out a garbled moan, his head dropped, and he collapsed on top of Loki.

It wasn’t a complete loss of consciousness; he was vaguely aware of Loki squirming and wriggling beneath him, and he had enough sense to roll over and free him, but after that, he was senseless for close to ten minutes. When he finally came to, Loki lay stretched out beside him, glowing and purring as he played with Thor’s flaccid cock.

It didn’t stay flaccid for long.

The fire died to embers and the night stretched out in one long, warm tangle of naked skin and rhythmic movements. The pouring rain and the croaking frogs provided a complementary harmony to their sighs and soft whispers. They left the nest chamber only during brief excursions to relieve themselves and to get something to drink. Neither was very hungry; the only appetite they had was for each other. 

They returned to the nest after each break and continued to explore one another’s bodies—not always with the intent of arousing, but often simply to learn. They went slowly and sensually, asking questions quietly in the fading light, kissing, caressing, nuzzling, until finally exhaustion claimed them in the wee hours.

They woke at dawn’s first light, lazily untwining themselves from around each other’s bodies and stretching, groaning with satisfaction. The nest was a wreck again, saturated with the musky smell of their nocturnal activities—not an unpleasant odor, but Thor knew he could not return to the palace reeking of sex. Not when certain people knew he had spent the night with Loki.

After pressing a kiss to Loki’s naked hip, he rose up and made his way out onto the ledge, staring into the gray, misty forest, unconcerned by his own nudity. A moment later he was joined by Loki, plodding out of the cave door with a yawn and a sleepy grin. 

“Good morning,” he purred, slinking over to Thor’s side and hugging him. 

“Good morning,” Thor answered as he put his arm around him.

“Thinking about taking a bath?”

“You read my mind. Care to join me?”

“Do you really have to ask?”

Thor chuckled.

The water was colder than normal on account of all the rain and the lack of sunlight, and Thor gasped as he plunged in up to his neck. His skin sprouted bumps, his nipples shrank into hard little beads, and everything between his legs seemed to crumple and recede up into him. 

By contrast, Loki walked into the water as if it were a warm bath, the smug look never leaving his face.

“S-still a frost troll,” Thor chuckled through his chattering teeth. “Come here and warm my frozen skin, little brazier!”

Loki grinned and paddled over to clasp Thor’s neck. A pair of strong arms locked around his narrow waist and held him close. 

“Oh, my poor Thor!” he laughed. “You’re shaking like a mountain during an avalanche! Tell me where you’re the coldest and I will try to warm you.”

“C-cold everywh-where.”

Loki clicked his tongue in pity, laid his warm hand on Thor’s cheek, and brought their mouths together.

Soon Thor forgot all about being cold. They made love again in the rushing, misty pool; Thor put his finger inside Loki once more and tried to find the place inside him that had been so responsive last night. He ducked his head and sucked on Loki’s nipples until they were flushed a deep blue color, rising in soft, prominent points on his chest. Loki held Thor’s cock, which had been coaxed out of hiding, against his belly and encouraged him to thrust.

They both climaxed thinking about the same thing: how much better it would be if their parts were joined with one another as they ought to be. But size was still an issue, especially in Thor’s mind. For now he was content with less risky methods. They would find a way, he was sure. In time.

They cleaned themselves off afterward and wallowed up onto the sandy bank. It was even colder out of the water than in it. Thor leaped up the stone staircase in record time—Loki laughed at his resemblance to a buck goat, especially with certain parts of his anatomy swinging comically between his legs—and returned to the warmth of the cave. He didn’t bother to dry himself completely before he got dressed; luckily his clothes had dried where he had left them beside the fire last night.

Loki tried to entice him back into the nest for one last cuddle—just an innocent cuddle, nothing more, he couldn’t let him return to the palace half-frozen, after all—but Thor could tell by the mischievous glint in his ruby-colored eyes that if he gave in now he wouldn’t be leaving until well after noon.

“I don’t want to go,” he said mournfully, holding Loki in his arms and kissing his lips as he made his way toward the door, “but I must. I promised Mother.”

“I know,” said Loki, licking the tip of Thor’s tongue. “And I have—mmf. Books. And things to…”

They made it out onto the ledge. Thor set Loki on his feet and pulled Mjölnir from his belt.

“I will ask my father for permission to take you to Niflheim.” He bent down for one last kiss. “As soon as possible.”

“Do you think he’ll agree?” Loki held him by his hair and gave him another kiss.

“I don’t see why not.” Kiss. “Then I shall come back and”—kiss—“we will stay in the nest for a week.”

“Mm, yes.” Kiss. “The love nest.”

“It is? Oh. Yes, you’re right. It was just a sleeping nest before, wasn’t it?”

Loki snickered and nuzzled Thor with his horns.

Thor smiled and cupped the back of Loki’s neck. “Should we make a new nest just for sleeping? I can carve out another one.”

“There’s no need.” Loki’s smile suddenly dimmed. “You only need separate nests if there’s… if you have a family.”

Thor paused his next kiss, aware that they had reached a sensitive topic. He recalled what Loki had told him about the various types of troll nests. Standard sleeping nests, where families slept; night nests for guests who came calling; sick nests for the ill and invalid; love nests for the obvious; and brood nests, where litters were birthed.

Every time the subject of babies arose, a solemn mood always took hold of Loki. Thor wondered if it stemmed from unpleasant memories as a jötling or if Loki secretly longed to be a father—or mother. He prayed it was the memories, for there was nothing he could do about the longing. Not without the involvement of another frost troll.

He kissed Loki’s cheek and stood straight. “I will try to return this evening. If by some chance I cannot, I will come first thing in the morning. Hopefully with a date of when we will be able to leave for Niflheim.”

Loki nodded and pulled his little blue dressing gown tighter around himself, though not because of the chill air. The smile on his face was tired and forced. “Thank you.”

Unable to restrain himself, Thor bent down and soundly kissed Loki’s mouth. He pulled back and gazed into his eyes. “I love you.”

Loki blinked and the warmth came back to his face. “I love you, too, Thor.”

Feeling better now, Thor slowly stepped back, spun his hammer, and took off into the sky.

The fog had burned off in the golden light of morning when Thor arrived at the city. He went straight to the Bifrost gate to find out from Heimdall exactly where Odin was; he didn’t want to waste time running through the corridors of the palace.

“At the training grounds,” Heimdall answered, his amber eyes staring straight ahead. “But you should first change your clothes, highness.”

“What fo—” Thor’s jaw snapped closed. His face went red, his heart pounding in sudden panic.

If Heimdall knew anything, if he had seen anything—like perhaps if his universe-traversing gaze had wandered to a little cave in the northwestern forest of Asgard last night—his face did not reflect it.

“Your hair is wet and your cape is wrinkled. Also, you have been wearing the same outfit for four days now.”

Thor laughed weakly. “I suppose it’s time for a change then, isn’t it?”

“It would not hurt.”

Thow bowed his head. “Thank you, Heimdall,” he said, the soft tone of his voice conveying every ounce of his gratitude.

If there was anyone on Asgard who could keep a secret, it was Heimdall the All-seeing.

A smile tugged at the corners of the gatekeeper’s mouth. “You are welcome, Thor.”

The detour to his room took only a few minutes; he pulled off his black leather outfit—Heimdall was right, it was long past its expiration date—and grabbed a new one from his closet. His hair he didn’t worry about. It took care of itself for the most part. He threw on a bit of light armor over his tunic and trousers before deeming his appearance acceptable, then hurried in the direction of the garrison.

The Allfather stood on a short platform overlooking the training yards. Squads of Einherjar, Asgard’s elite fighting forces, sparred under the scrutiny of their commanders. The ring of steel on steel and the barking of orders filled the air. There were quite a number of men present today, but Thor was unconcerned as he strode past on the flanking walkway. 

What did concern him, however, was the sight of old Tyr standing beside his father.

Tyr Hymirson, former general of Asgard’s army, was Odin’s blood-brother. Nearly the same age as the king of Asgard, Tyr was scarred from head to heel from his many years of military service, and he wore the marks proudly. His black hair was plaited and adorned warrior-style, just as Thor always remembered, though his long mustache was now beginning to turn silver. His right hand was missing, lost in battle with a monstrous wolf many centuries ago. His wrist terminated in a rounded stump covered with pale, shiny skin. Váli and Vídarr had been fascinated and terrified by their uncle’s missing appendage when they were younger, and Tyr had delighted in perpetuating that terror with a variety of gruesome stories. He had no sons of his own, nor had he ever married, but he counted the children of Odin as dearly as if they had come from his own loins.

It had been a long time since Thor had last seen “Uncle Tyr”. He wondered what the venerable old warrior would think if he knew his nephew was a troll-lover. Unless his mind had changed in the last few years, Tyr hated trolls with an intensity that rivalled Odin’s. His presence here was unexpected.

The old warrior beamed when he spied Thor, and went to him with arms open wide. “By my eyes, if it isn’t the god of thunder!”

Thor put on a smile. “Hello, Uncle. It’s good to see you again.”

Tyr laughed and threw his arms around Thor in a mighty embrace. “Look at you!” He pulled back and gave his nephew a bone-jarring shake. “The little colt has grown into a handsome stallion, haha! The last time I saw you you were but skinny, awkward lad full of fairy tales and daydreams.”

“The cover of the book has changed,” said Odin, approaching from the side, “but not its pages.”

Tyr growled gleefully and knocked crowns with Thor, an antiquated gesture shared among warriors of old. Thor winced a little at the impact. Tyr had always been hard-headed—probably the reason he was still alive. “How goes it with you, lad? Still protecting the mortals of Midgard?”

“As much as I can.”

“Good! They will need our help most if—since they are so short-lived.” He covered his blunder by clapping Thor on the shoulder. “It is an honorable thing you are doing, Odinson. A noble thing, protecting those who need it most. Lending your power to the weak and helpless. Your father sings your praises. Why, he was just telling me not five minutes before how proud he is of you.”

Somehow Thor truly doubted that; all he could think about suddenly was Loki squatting on his face last night, the sound of his moans as Thor did with his tongue what he couldn’t do with his cock—yet. Perhaps soon. He wondered what the best position would be: Loki beneath him, or straddling his lap, or lying on top of him and riding him like a— 

“I try my best,” Thor said with a false smile. “I was hoping I might steal him away for a few moments.”

“Of course! Of course. I need to finish my review of the troops anyway.” He grinned, slapped Thor’s cheek affectionately, then turned and stepped off the platform. He roared at the nearest Einherjar just to get the poor man’s attention and began to bray out critiques at a volume just shy of deafening.

Thor sidled closer to his father. “What is he doing here? Is war on the horizon?”

“Hopefully not,” said Odin. “But it never hurts to be prepared.”

Thor narrowed his eyes. “Does this have anything to do with the Alfheim affair?”

“Somewhat. You and your brother’s visit was less about diplomacy and more about finding out exactly how bad the situation is. From what Baldur told me last night, it is not well with them. Alfheim is growing more unstable by the day. The kingdoms are not as united as they once were. If their allies know this, surely their enemies do, too. I fear the Dark Elves might take advantage of Alfheim’s weakened state and invade it, try to take back their lands from the Light Elves.”

Thor frowned. “Why would they do that? The Light Elves outnumber them a hundred to one, and that is just their warriors.”

“The Dark Elves are determined. Or foolish, one or the other.”

“But why fight for their old lands? They are barren and inhospitable, aren’t they? And did not the Dark Elves wish to leave the Light Elves and establish a new land?”

“That depends upon which side you ask.” Odin drew a long breath. “The Light Elves say the Dark Elves wanted to leave; the Dark Elves say they were driven out. All we know for sure is that the Dwarves resent the Dark Elves taking up residence in Nidavellir, and hostility between their races is worse now than it ever was before. But something else is going on. Heimdall cannot see it, but I can sense it. A threat moves in the shadows; a deadly serpent beneath still waters. Strange happenings have been reported in the other realms. Animals fleeing the forests as if before a wildfire. Increased activity among marauders. A lack of activity among trolls, even the fire trolls of Muspelheim. The Dwarves have not reported an attack from them in nearly a year. It is unusual.”

Thor was silent.

Odin shook his head. “I fear war may soon be coming to the realms—all of them. How and when I do not know, but this I do know: our army has grown spoiled by many centuries of peace. That is why I called Tyr out of retirement. I want to be prepared in case this fear of mine proves to be correct.”

This was not what Thor wanted to hear right now—or at any time, really. But now was an especially inconvenient time.

“Speaking of realms,” he said carefully, “I was hoping you would give me permission to take Loki to Niflheim.”

Odin turned with his one remaining eye wide. “To Niflheim? Already?”

“There are questions he has that I cannot answer. He must speak with his own people.” The words were bitter in Thor’s mouth. He turned his gaze downward. “It would only be for a few days. Then we would return.”

Neither father nor son said anything for a few moments. The sounds of spears and shields clattering filled the silence between them.

Odin clasped his hands behind his back. “You have my permission.” After a pause he added: “I am sorry, Thor. I thought it would be at least another year before he wanted to leave.”

“He doesn’t want to leave,” said Thor a little too insistently. “He just needs to speak to a frost troll. Then he wants to come home. Home here.”

“Of course. Yes, I understand,” said Odin, but he sounded unconvinced. “As I said, he is welcome to stay for as long as he wishes.”

Thor gritted his teeth and tried not to think that his father might be enjoying this; that he was probably relieved to hear Loki had an interest in Niflheim, the place where he had once suggested Loki would be better off. He probably thought this whole matter would be resolved in a few more years, and then he wouldn’t have to worry about a troll polluting the purity of Asgard any longer.

“However, there is one… small thing.” Odin gave his son a grave look. “Do not bring him back to Asgard pregnant. If he drops a litter here, I will expel him and his offspring permanently. Is that clear?”

Thor flushed. Partly with embarrassment, mostly with anger. His eyes flashed like blue steel. “Yes, Father,” he said icily.

Odin nodded. “Good.” He turned back to the yard. “Dress warmly. It is winter in Niflheim. I’m sure Loki will enjoy the snow.”

Without a word of thanks or farewell, Thor turned and stormed away.

Chapter Text

Though he wanted to return to Loki’s clearing that evening, Thor was obligated to remain at the palace. Uncle Tyr was here after all, and his absence would be difficult for the rest of the family to explain. At least he might be able to learn more about this supposed “war of the realms” that was beginning to take shape.

For once Thor had no such luck. The dinner conversation that evening was easy and light, full of Tyr’s booming laughter and the excited clatter of tableware. Váli and Vídarr were in especially great spirits with their beloved uncle in attendance. Much ale was drunk and adventures recounted over roasted meats and freshly-baked sweetbreads, but the festive mood of the evening was promptly ruined when Tyr brought up an encounter he’d had a few weeks ago with one of the elusive forest trolls.

“It was a small buck,” said Tyr, “not much taller than me but more than twice my girth. It gave me a good fight, but in the end I subdued it.”

A hush fell over the table.

“It wouldn’t answer any of my questions,” Tyr continued, oblivious to the altered atmosphere of the dinner table. “It just kept bellowing and bawling and struggling, and I didn’t want it to bring every troll in the forest down on me—not that I couldn’t have taken every last one of them, of course—so I cut its throat and made my way back to camp. But not before I collected these.”

Beaming, he reached into his pocket and leaned forward to drop four pointy white objects onto the table in front of his two youngest nephews.

Troll teeth.

“I know you rascals have been dying to get your hands on some,” he proclaimed with a jolly laugh, “so these ought to do until you manage to slay your own someday. Hopefully that day will be soon, right, Odin?”

Odin sat frozen with his goblet in hand.

Every person at the table likewise went still, all eating and drinking ceased. Nearly every eye was wide and many faces were slack with horror. Baldur leaned over and whispered to Hodur what had just taken place. Hodur’s lips, which had already lost their smile, tightened against his teeth as something unpleasant took up residence in his mind.

Tyr’s chuckles faded as he finally noticed his audience. “What? Why is everyone so grim?”

Nan placed her napkin over her mouth and made a strange sound in her throat. Frigga handed her a cup of water. The tendons stood out in Thor’s cheek as he clenched his jaw. Thunder rumbled distantly in the sky. Váli and Vídarr stared at the teeth as if looking at the bones of a beloved friend.

Tyr frowned. “What’s the matter? Was it something I said?”

“My apologies, Tyr,” said Odin finally. “We are not accustomed to… having a troll at our dinner table.”

Tyr laughed. “Ah! Then I beg your pardon. Next time I will ask for an invitation!”

Odin smiled indulgently but there was no warmth in his eye.

Nan pushed her chair back with a screech and stormed away. Frigga excused herself and hurried after her. Baldur rose to follow his wife, but Odin rested his hand on his son’s arm and gave an imperceptible shake of his head. Baldur let out a huff and sat back down.

From over his shoulder, Tyr watched the queen and her daughter-in-law disappear into an adjoining hall. He turned back with a sheepish face. “I see now that my tale of blood and gore has frightened off our fair company. Do forgive my coarseness, Odin. It’s been many years since I’ve been in the presence of fine noblewomen such as yours.”

Odin waved his hand. “No need to apologize. Váli, Vídarr, thank your uncle for his generous gift.”

“Thank you, Uncle Tyr,” came the soft, feeble voices that sounded more like two young boys than soon-to-be men.

Vídarr reached out and collected the troll teeth, folding them into his napkin so that he didn’t have to touch them with his bare hands. Váli’s face was red and flushed, as if he might be fighting back a heartbroken howl threatening to burst from his lungs. 

Baldur and Hodur sat quietly in their seats, the looks on their faces stating that they wanted to be anywhere but here.

Lightning flickered in the evening sky. Thor unclenched his teeth and set down the fork he had been holding. It was bent so badly as to be rendered unusable.

Odin emptied his goblet and coughed. “Well! I hope everyone has saved room for the last dish. Our head chef Jórik has prepared an elven fruit pudding topped with the finest dwarven chocolate. Truly delightful. Dwarves and elves might not be able to stand one another, but they make quite a pairing when it comes to desserts. Wouldn’t you say so, Tyr?”

Tyr laughed and the conversation changed its course, but the sons of Odin were sullen for the rest of the evening.

Thor struggled to find sleep that night. He tossed and turned in his bed, his mind haunted by images of Tyr killing that poor, frightened forest troll. What had been his name, Thor wondered? Had he a family? A mate? Children? Could he have been pregnant when he was brutally slain? What had been his final thoughts before the darkness closed in around him?

Thor then began to think of all the trolls he had killed in his ignorant youth—smashed by his hammer, stricken by his lightning, broken under his fists. And for what? Because the mannfólk feared and hated them? Because they sometimes stole from farmers to feed themselves and their families? Because they terrified villagers in order to keep them from encroaching farther into their territories? Because all they wanted was to be left alone and live their lives in peace? 

Thunder boomed and lightning flashed above the palace. Wind swept through the courtyards, scattering leaves over flagstones, but no rain fell. Thor turned over onto his other side and stared at the shadows on the wall.

He had been taught all his life that battle was glorious, that it was honorable to slay monsters like trolls and dragons and orcs and other ferocious beasts, that blood was the ink with which a warrior wrote a record of his bravery. Now he wondered if there was any truth to it.

He thought of the troll teeth lying on the dinner table tonight, teeth from a once-living being. He thought of Loki’s tiny fangs that he had held in his hand months ago, his gap-toothed smile, his round cheeks and sparkling eyes, the bright sound of his laughter. Laughter that ended in a shocked gurgle as someone, a shadowy figure that might have been Tyr or even Thor himself, drew a knife across his throat and let loose a waterfall of blue blood. And Loki’s eyes, so confused and afraid—why was this happening? What had he done? He didn’t want to die—glazing over as the life bled out of him.

If I didn’t know him… if we had met on the battlefield… would I have even hesitated?

Thor threw off the covers and bolted from his bed. He wrenched on his trousers and boots with shaking hands, not even bothering with a shirt, and took a running leap at the open floor-to-ceiling window. He shot into the black sky, his body glowing blue from the ionization of the turbulent, lightning-filled sky around him.

On the little table beside his empty bed, Mjölnir sat untouched.

The clearing was bathed in blue shadows, the sky full of stars instead of clouds. All was well here. Shards of moonlight leaped and danced in the waterfall like silver trout, and Thor breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of it. Sanctuary

He landed on the ledge and knocked on Loki’s door with his fist.

“Loki? Loki, are you home? I’m sorry to wake you at this hour. I only”—his face twisted as he tried to control his anguish—“I really need to see you right now. Loki?”

There came the whisper of swiftly moving bare feet over stone, and then the door swung open. Loki, wearing only his naked skin and a smile that Thor would give his life for, barely stopped himself from leaping into Thor’s arms when he saw the expression on his face.

“Thor?” he asked, his smile disappearing. “What’s wrong? You look… is everything alright?”

Thor tried, but he could no longer hold back his tears. They began to roll down his cheeks one after the other.

“I have good news,” he choked out, feigning a smile. “Father has given me permission to take you to Niflheim. We can leave whenever you like. Tomorrow, perhaps. If you like.” He sniffed, wiped his nose on his arm. “In fact, it might be better if we left as soon as possible. My uncle Tyr is on Asgard and he’s a troll-killer—just like me, just like my father—so the sooner we get you away from my family and amongst your own people, the better off y—”

“Thor, where is your hammer?”

Thor stopped talking and blinked. He looked stupidly down at his empty hands.

Loki stepped forward and grasped those empty hands in his small blue ones. “Thor,” he whispered reverently, “did you fly here without your hammer?”

An incredulous laugh, little more than a puff of air, escaped Thor’s lips. “I… suppose so. I didn’t even realize…” 

He shook his head and gently wrapped his fingers around Loki’s. They felt much better—cleaner—than Mjölnir’s handle.

“May I come inside?” he croaked. “I want to… I need to be close to you.”

His brow wrinkled with concern, Loki pulled Thor into the cave and shut the door behind him. 

They made their way back to the nest-room in the dark. Thor scraped off his boots and toppled into the nest. Loki curled up beside him, wrapped his arms around Thor’s head, and began to stroke his hair.

Thor quietly released his tears against Loki’s chest. He wept out of guilt, out of shame for himself and his family, for carrying on the long, unquestioned tradition of monster-slaying set down by his father and his father before him, never giving a thought to the humanity these creatures possessed.

He also wept out of fear: fear that this upcoming journey might awaken Loki’s desire to return to a more familiar climate; fear that the frost trolls of Niflheim might be friendlier to Loki than those of his home world; fear that they might even accept him, that one of them might capture Loki’s fancy, be able to give him everything he ever wanted, and then… Thor would be nothing but a fond memory.

Perhaps it was for the best. Loki was safer away from Asgard and the troll-murdering legacy that Thor had been born into. Perhaps Odin had been right all along. Loki was better off with his own kind.

“I’m so sorry, Loki,” he repeated over and over again. “I’m sorry for what I’ve done to your people. I understand if you can never forgive me, and if you want to leave Asgard for a safer realm, I will not stop you. I swore I would keep you safe whatever the cost, and if that means I must get you away from here, I will gladly—”

Loki shushed Thor with a kiss to his lips. Thor ceased crying and allowed himself to be calmed. Loki pulled back slightly, kissed Thor again, and stroked his beard with his finger.

“And why would I want to leave Asgard, hm? It’s my home now. It’s where you are, and I love you, Thor. I will not leave you. Sleep now. You’re exhausted. Things will look different in the morning, I assure you.”

Thor doubted that, but he wiped the snot and tears from his face and tried to make his body relax. Loki cradled Thor’s head in his small arms and stroked his hair—and his face, massaging the tension from his forehead until the lines smoothed out—and at last Thor fell asleep.

Then Loki closed his eyes, wrapped himself around the man who was worthy of both his love and his forgiveness, and joined him in slumber.

The morning dawned bright and cheerful, like most mornings at Loki’s clearing. The dew was heavy, the air full of the sound of singing birds and the smell of flowers and green things in Loki’s garden. 

Standing on the ledge and looking across the waterfall and into the misty treetops, Thor wondered if Asgard truly did contain little pockets of paradise like this one here. Places that were protected from the everyday troubles of the world, from the malice and cruelty of its rulers. Maybe it was fairy magic that made Loki’s clearing so special. Or maybe it was all in Thor’s head. Whatever it was, Thor hoped it would endure for as long as Loki dwelled here.

That thought led to another, more unpleasant string of thoughts. Thor was still untangling them when Loki poked his head out of the door and announced that breakfast was ready. 

Thor drew a deep breath of fresh morning air, sighed it out, and tried to leave his worries behind as he followed Loki back into the cave.

Over a breakfast of smoked fish and cheese and fruit and tea, which Thor hardly touched, he quietly told Loki about the unexpected visit from Uncle Tyr and what had taken place at dinner last night. Loki listened solemnly and held his teacup in both hands while Thor poured his heart out to him. He finished with a heavy sigh and scrubbed his face wearily. He looked utterly drained. 

Loki reached across the table and placed his hand on top of Thor’s.

“You are not your uncle,” he said softly, “and you are certainly not your past. Your family has been very kind and understanding towards me… perhaps with that one exception, of course. We both know who he is. But times are changing, just like you once said. Perhaps soon these old notions about trolls will fade away and the mannfólk will forget we exist… unless we can learn to exist together. I don’t see that happening anytime soon, but… maybe once Baldur becomes king, things will be better between our people.”

Thor turned Loki’s hand over and held it with both of his. “I would do anything to make that so.”

Loki smiled. “Then it will come someday, I’m sure of it. All we must do is wait.” He gave Thor’s hand a comforting squeeze.

Thor relaxed. Loki poured him another cup of herb tea—chamomile and mint from his own garden, mixed with just a hint of starblooms—and the smell of it alone almost seemed to melt the tension from Thor’s body. Not all of it, but it slowed his rapid pulse and allowed him to think more clearly without a fog of existential misery blinding him. 

They began talking about making arrangements for the trip to Niflheim. Loki tried to hide his excitement and keep his expression neutral, but Thor could see how his eyes shone and his tail twitched and twirled. He was practically humming like a bumblebee in his eagerness to leave.

Thor smiled and attempted to remain positive—this was only an educational expedition, he reminded himself, a quest for knowledge, sure to last no more than a few days—but the shadow of fear had already taken root in his heart, and it was a difficult weed to eradicate. Perhaps it was wrong—Thor certainly felt terrible for wishing it—but he hoped the trolls of Niflheim would find Loki as ugly and undesirable as the ones on Jötunheim. Let them answer his questions but take no interest in him. That was what Thor prayed as Loki began to make a list of things to bring on their journey. 

“Do you think I should dress warmly?” he asked, tickling the end of his feather quill against his nose as he frowned down at the parchment. “I’m a little worried that eating the fairy nut might have made me sensitive to the cold. I can bear the heat as well as the Æsir now, but I haven’t touched snow ever since you brought me to Asgard.” 

Thor didn’t have time to respond before Loki set his quill to the paper and began to write. 

“I’ll wear warm clothes. Better to have them than not. Let’s see, dried food, nest—er, bed roll, knife, rope, spark lighter, walking stick, what else?” He pursed his lips and rubbed the feather against them as he continued to think. His tail bounced back and forth over his shoulders. He was in his own little world, completely absorbed by his own thoughts.

Desire flared through Thor’s lower body. Suddenly he wanted Loki. He wanted to wrap his arms around him and carry him back to the nest, lay him down, and touch him, taste him, make him moan and mew and gasp his name. He told himself it was out of love that he wished to do these things and not the fear and possessiveness preying upon him.

But now was not the time. Loki was far too preoccupied with planning to think about sex right now. Perhaps that was why Thor wanted to make love to him, to remind Loki that he was still here. He was feeling quite forgotten at the moment. They were silly thoughts, Thor knew, the thoughts of a frightened, insecure man, so he directed his mind away from the sensual imagery and his erection eventually wilted.

He too had important things to think about. Like his unexpected flight last night without his hammer. He had tried to repeat the act earlier that morning to no avail; whatever force or power had lent him this ability had gone, and he was unable to fly unassisted. That meant he would have to walk home. He could call Mjölnir, of course, but he didn’t want to risk tearing up both the palace and the forest, for the hammer always took the most direct route to Thor’s hand whenever he called. Besides, a solitary stroll through the trees and fields might help soothe his frazzled mind.

After they’d finished discussing their arrangements, Thor kissed Loki farewell—Loki returned the kiss several times over, which did bring a smile to Thor’s lips—and set out just before noon. The forest was beautiful, a balm on Thor’s wounded heart. Something about the color green just absorbed stress like a sponge. 

Perhaps I need to spend less time in the city and more time here , he thought, gazing up into the trees, the sunlight sneaking through leaves and branches and painting his face with glowing golden dapples.

By the time he arrived at the palace, it was nearly dinner time and he almost felt normal again. Almost. It would be some time before he could shake the memory of those teeth clicking onto the table from Tyr’s proud hand.

He found Váli and Vídarr in their workshop at the edge of the palace grounds, griping at one another like a pair of crabby old men. They ceased their bickering when they laid eyes on their older brother. They didn’t have to say anything; Thor could tell what they were thinking just from the matching worried expressions on their faces. He decided to get straight to the point. 

“I have come to ask a favor.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “Loki will be traveling with me to Niflheim tomorrow and he needs someone to look after his goat and his garden.”

The twins stared for several moments, frozen in the middle of their work, before they suddenly reanimated.

“Why are you going to Niflheim?”

“Yeah, what’s in Niflheim that’s so important?”

“Wait, are you actually smuggling him out of Asgard?”

“What? Why would you do that?”

“Because he’s afraid Uncle Tyr is going to kill him, Vídi. That’s it, isn’t it, Thor?”

“Oh gods, you really think Uncle Tyr would kill Loki?”

“We won’t let that happen! We’ll protect him.”

“How long is he going to be in Niflheim?”

“He’s coming back, isn’t he? He’s not gonna stay there forever, is he?”

“Oh, please, Thor, don’t let him leave forever!”

“We haven’t even taken him up to the mountains yet!”

“Or gone to the beach!”

“And he hasn’t met Uncle Aegir!”

Thor held up both hands. The twins ceased their bleating. “This was taking shape long before Uncle Tyr decided to visit us. There are certain things Loki never learned as a young troll that he must know, and we think the trolls of Niflheim will be able to—”

“What things?” asked Vídarr.

“Like growing-up things?”

“Is he going through puberty or something?”

“Oh, no. He’s gonna get The Talk , isn’t he?”

“Yikes. I’ve got secondhand embarrassment for him already.”

“Ugh, poor little guy.”

“How do trolls… y’know, do it?”

Thor narrowed his eyes. For a couple of knucklehead Vikings, his little brothers could be astoundingly intuitive sometimes. “Never mind that. Will you or won’t you look after his goat?”

The twins straightened up and began nodding. “Of course, yeah, sure, no problem. We can stay in the woods for a few days.”

“You are not to kill anything in that forest,” said Thor, raising a finger in warning. “Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You can fish in the stream and eat all the snails you want, but the deer and rabbits are not to be harmed. They are Loki’s friends.”

Vídarr cocked his head and grinned a goofy, lovestruck grin. “Aw, really? That’s so sweet.”

“Don’t worry, bro,” said Váli, “we won’t let anything happen to all the furry little woodland creatures.”

“We’ll go vegetarian as long as we have to.”

“For Loki.”

“For Loki.”

They both nodded firmly.

Thor looked back and forth between Váli and Vídarr and was quite certain that if he were to die today, these two would carry on caring for Loki with as much love and devotion as he himself did.

Well… at least that was one less thing he had to worry about.

Thor spent the rest of the day gathering supplies and mentally preparing himself for the journey ahead. He had been to Niflheim often enough that he was comfortable with the terrain and its creatures, but he never recalled ever seeing frost trolls on his visits. They were very elusive beings, though, even more elusive than the fairies. Perhaps they could even sense the presence of the dreaded god of thunder. It was for this reason that Thor decided to leave Mjölnir in Asgard. He would miss the convenience of flying, but it might also be easier to spot trolls on foot than from the air. 

He remained at the palace that night. Tyr was once more a guest at the dinner table, but he refrained from speaking of carnage and bloodshed. Everyone was very appreciative of this and did their collective best to keep the conversation from veering anywhere near the subject of trolls. Váli and Vídarr shoveled food into their mouths until their cheeks bulged and they couldn’t speak, and therefore nothing was mentioned of Thor’s impending journey to Niflheim.

After a fitful night’s sleep, Thor woke at dawn, picked up his hammer once more, and flew Váli and Vídarr out to Loki’s clearing. The twins launched out of his arms before Thor had even touched ground and sandwiched their favorite little frost troll in a tight embrace. Loki laughed and hugged them back even though they smelled like a tannery shop. They eagerly expressed their amazement at Loki’s “awesome garden” and swore to “defend Castle Jötunn” at any cost, followed by thumping their chests with their fists and bowing at the waist.

Both Thor and Loki had to hide their smirks behind their hands and thank Váli and Vídarr for their discretion in this very serious matter.

“We hope you find what you’re looking for,” said Vídarr, waving farewell along with his brother.

“Yeah, come back soon!” Váli piped up as he flung his arm into the air.

Thor told them to try not to burn down the waterfall while they were gone, gathered Loki into his arms, and soared back to the palace. Once there, they dropped off Mjölnir, picked up their satchels, and set off toward the Bifröst.

Thor was dressed in the winter garb of a common Asgardian. Absent was his red cloak and the distinctive armor he usually wore; now he wore an outfit of leather and linen in shades of brown and blue, and a fur-lined cape with a hood. He carried a large pack on his back containing the heaviest of their supplies.

Loki was dressed more lightly but still probably much warmer than a frost troll needed to be: tunic and pants and soft leather boots, a belt with his little knife on it, and the woodland cloak Váli and Vídarr had made for him. Loki also carried a pack, but it was smaller and lighter than Thor’s. He was the scout of this expedition, and he needed to be quick on his feet.

If Heimdall was surprised to see his favorite Odinson and his little troll friend in his observatory that morning, his face didn’t show it. He did crack a smile at them, though.

“And to what realm shall the two princes be traveling?” he asked, his gaze moving from one to the other.

Loki blushed at the royal address, but Thor’s face was more solemn.

“Niflheim,” he answered. “To speak peacefully with the frost trolls there.”

Heimdall’s golden gaze drifted to Thor’s empty hands. “Is that why you have left your hammer behind?”

Thor nodded as if his head were extremely heavy. “I do not want to frighten the trolls or give them any reason to fight. We want only to learn from them. I leave behind my name and title for Loki’s sake… and the sake of all trolls who have no quarrel with Asgard.”

Loki slipped his hand into Thor’s and looked up at him sympathetically.

Heimdall drew a deep breath and nodded. “Very well. Niflheim it is.”

He planted his great sword Höfudh into the pedestal, turned it a few degrees to the right, and the walls of the observatory began to slide and overlap as they aligned to the coordinates of the ancient, misty realm.

Loki anxiously inched closer to Thor’s side. The last time he had traveled via the Bifröst he had been frightened nearly to death. Much had happened to make him braver since then, but Thor could see his nervousness. He put his hand upon his shoulder and held him close.

“Enjoy your stay,” said Heimdall. “I shall await your call to return, highness.”

“Thank you, Heimdall,” said Thor.

“Yes, thank you, Heimdall,” Loki echoed shyly, and the normally stoic watchguard of Asgard smiled once again.

A few moments later they disappeared in a flash of rainbow light.