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This isn’t right.

It feels like there are ice shards in your lungs; you’re pretty sure you’re about to die.

You’d texted your friend basically the same thing earlier that day, jokingly - why on Earth had you ever decided to vacation in Reykjavik in November? - but now, you realize that you hadn’t even known the true meaning of ‘cold.’

Iceland was cold. Iceland in November was even colder. Unfortunately, this place doesn’t seem to be Iceland. In fact, you’re relatively certain that this isn’t even Earth.

With your arms wrapped tightly around your chest in a vain attempt to maintain body heat, you try to stagger forward through the snowdrifts, vision obscured by the ice pelting down from a grey and stormy sky. It feels as if your limbs are lead, heavy and stiff and pained from the effort.

It’s a good thing that you were wearing your heaviest coat, at least. Best to appreciate life’s small mercies.

Though really, you have a pretty big bone to pick with life at the moment, because you had been minding your own business, heading to the local bakery for coffee and something sweet for breakfast, when some freakish glowing circle opened up in the middle of the crosswalk and dropped you off… wherever this was.

Maybe you’d been hit by a car or something, and this is your preview of the afterlife. If that is the case, your afterlife isn’t looking to be very promising; maybe you should’ve been a little more altruistic.

Hell hath frozen over.

Because this definitely isn’t Iceland. Bluish-grey rocks spike up from the thick blanket of snow that stretches as far as you can see (which, admittedly, isn’t very far). There’s some kind of massive outcropping not far from you, and you head towards it. It isn’t like you have any idea of where else to go.

Teeth rattling together, you hunch your shoulders, trying to tuck your head down as much as possible to shield your chin and neck with your scarf. If only you had a thicker scarf, or maybe even five more layers of coats, but the bakery wasn’t that far from your hotel, and you hadn’t expected to be out in the weather for very long.

Clearly, that had been a terrible mistake.

There appears to be some sort of cave in the side of one of the rocks, and you beeline towards it as quickly as you are able, because your eyelashes are starting to freeze and slightly stick together every time you blink, and you’re pretty sure they aren’t supposed to do that. You always liked reading adventure stories, and you know what hypothermia can do to a human body. It won’t be pretty. And frostbite… well, you like your fingers and toes right where they are, thank you very much.

Briefly, your mind flits to The Empire Strikes Back, one of your all-time favorites - you’d always been so grossed out by that little Tauntaun survival hack on Hoth. Now, you totally get it.

You make it to the cave, barely, and scramble inside. It isn’t very wide, but there’s plenty of room to stand, and it luckily seems to extend fairly far back into the rock. That’s a good thing - it’ll get you further away from the wind.

And maybe closer to some kind of creepy cave-dwelling monster, your mind whispers.

You tell your mind to shut up. It isn’t like you have any other options.

The cave bottlenecks after a point, and there’s a long, dark tunnel leading to somewhere that you’d rather not think about too much, because if you do, you’re probably going to have a panic attack. Crap, maybe you’re already having a panic attack. At this point, you’re really too numb to tell.

There’s a little crevice tucked along the back wall of the cave, and you curl up inside it in a tight ball, utterly clueless as to what else you can do. Help has to come, right? You definitely can’t go back out there - hell, even in here, even hidden away from the brutal elements, you aren’t sure how long you’re going to be able to make it.

You should’ve just stayed in bed and skipped your morning coffee.

Caffeine addiction, kids. It kills.

You blink slowly, wishing that you had night vision, because the cave is dark and you’d have to pull your hands from where they’re tucked under your arms and remove your gloves if you wanted to try to use your phone. It might not even work anymore, anyway; did technology have a freezing point?

So, you think, oddly giddy despite being in such a dire situation, I guess when I said I’d rather die than go back to work, I really must’ve meant it.

Curling up even more tightly, you try to reduce your surface area… that’s a survival trick, right? Your heartbeat is beginning to slow down a bit, and you aren’t entirely certain if that’s a good thing, or a bad thing. Probably a bad thing. In fact, it’s probably best to assume at this point that everything is a bad thing.

Before long (or maybe it’s been a while, because you can’t really tell anymore), your eyes start to drift closed. Bad. Open them. But resting feels nice, and so you don’t try to resist, the tiny warning bells in the back of your head drowned out by a warm, fuzzy glow.

Your head falls against your chest. A little rest can’t hurt, can it?

A sharp crackling sound snaps you back to reality, and you force your eyes open, though you’re far too exhausted to actually move. You blink, and then you blink again.

And then, you scream, because there’s a tall blue man with glowing red eyes standing just inside the entrance of the cave, illuminated by a light that is apparently just hovering over his open palm. There’s a dark stain across his chest - it’s blood, you realize - and you scream again, despite the sting of the icy dry air in your throat.

In his defense, he looks just as horrified as you feel, but then the expression turns to fury, and as he staggers over to where you cower in your crevice, a knife appears in his other hand.

Out of nowhere.

Magic.

Hallucinations? you wonder, trying to remember if that’s a symptom of hypothermia. You hope it is, because otherwise it looks like some blue guy with a knife is about to stab you, and you really think you’d prefer just freezing to death.

“Where did you come from?” he snarls, crouching down and bringing the light to illuminate your face, which is mostly hidden by your hood and your scarf. He doesn’t seem particularly happy about it, and you try not to move as the hand holding the knife comes close to your face, too terrified to scream again.

The blade comes within an inch of your eye as he yanks your scarf below your chin, and then he rocks back on his heels, muttering something in a language you’ve never heard before. It’s rough, and choppy, and it sounds like he’s probably cussing you out. How rude, the delirious part of your brain thinks.

You continue to peer at the knifeblade, expecting it to come into play at any moment.

“All of the realms and all of the creatures in the universe,” he spits, “and I had to be saddled with another Midgardian wench. The Norns must be mad, to test me so.”

Midgardian wench? It would be really helpful if your voice would cooperate, because you really want to know what that means. Are fantasy-novel-style hallucinations really going to comprise your last moments on… whatever this place is?

“Get up.” The knife disappears as he stands, and when you don’t move in the slightest, he glares down at you and seizes you by the collar of your jacket, attempting to haul you to your feet.

He’s strong, and you crash against him as you fly up from the ground, because your legs and feet are painfully cold and numb and hopefully they aren’t going to just shatter like broken glass, because that’s what it feels like.

“Come along, mortal. Quickly.” His voice is impatient now, dangerously so, and his eyes flash. “Else, I will kill you where you stand.”

“Can’t,” you croak, eyes wide.

“What?” The word drops frigidly from his lips, as if he is someone who does not like to be questioned.

In your mind, you tell him that you’re just an ordinary, boring data analyst who took an unfortunate vacation, and that some terrible accident has befallen you. You tell him that you’re lost and afraid and freezing, and that you’re pretty sure you’re dying. You tell him that you’d move if you could, and beg him to please not kill you.

In reality, all you manage is a strangled whine. “Cold.”

“Pathetic,” he sneers, and you kind of want to tell him that he doesn’t look so hot himself, what with the grayish pallor to his blue skin and the crusty frozen blood everywhere.

He stoops and hoists you over his shoulder, and your teeth clack and clatter together as the shivering and the fear twist and mingle. “Be thankful that I can make use of you.”

Your nose is pressed against the back of his jacket, and he smells like leather and blood and snow. Ordinarily, you might complain, but at the moment, you aren’t feeling particularly choosy.

If only he was warmer.

The light flickers out, not that you had a particularly good view of anything besides the slippery, rocky floor, anyway, and the man starts off towards the tunnel at the back of the cave, jostling your stiff joints. “Who?” you ask, voice muffled against his back. You do sound awfully pathetic, so you try again. “Who are you?”

“Loki,” he bites out, and you can feel him stumble a bit. How much blood has this guy lost? you wonder. And how much does he have left to lose? “Loki of Asgard.”

Your heart stutters, and your next words are shrill. “Loki… New York Loki?”

“Yes.”

Oh no.

But this guy doesn’t look like the Loki that had been plastered all over the news in the wake of the Battle of New York; for one thing, that Loki wasn’t blue. The clothes look similar enough, though - all that leather and metal, just like Thor, the otherworldly Avenger. Maybe that was just how they liked it on Asgard.

The blackness of the cave grows deeper the further he goes, and you can only assume that he must be able to see in the dark. You, on the other hand, cannot see in the dark, and the added disorientation as you bump along upside down only adds to your terror.

And then a rushing sound begins to fill your ears, and you realize that you are on the verge of fainting. You whimper, and a stinging smack on the back of your thigh jolts some degree of awareness back into your system. “Stay awake,” he says. “If you become too burdensome, I will leave you behind.”

Loki, you decide, has a terrible bedside manner. You just hope that wherever you’re headed now is better than wherever you were before he showed up out of the blue.

Blue, hah. Like his face. Your head swims.

He staggers again, and you’re distantly aware of something wet and sticky trickling along your cheek and towards your hairline. Wet and sticky and coppery… blood, you realize, and you nearly gag. Carrying you must’ve reopened something.

Suddenly, Loki comes to a halt, and he drags you off of his shoulder and lets you fall to the ground in a graceless heap. “We are stopping here,” he announces - a bit too late, in your opinion, now that you’ve already collided unexpectedly with the hard rock of the cave floor. “I cannot go any further until I have healed.”

The light appears over his palm again, and he leans down and takes hold of your collar again, dragging you over to the tunnel wall. There’s a small, shallow recess in the stone, and he somehow manages to fold his long frame into it, pulling you in after him.

What is happening? your panicked mind screams, because now you are in his lap, and his arms are wrapped around you. A tingling warmth seems across your skin, and though it isn’t nearly enough, it helps. Is it real, or are you imagining it?

“You are experiencing the side-effects of close proximity to healing seiðr,” he informs you, almost as if he can read your mind. “I am not going to waste anything else on you, but it should be enough to sustain you. For now.”

Great, you think sarcastically, you’re a real prince charming. But then, because you don’t want to die, you manage to actually whisper, “Thank you.”

Loki scoffs. In this close proximity, you notice that there are faint patterns tracing across his skin, which is now taking on an almost-pinkish hue. Fascinating. “I will be rid of you soon enough. Your aura will help to mask my own as I make my way back to my throne.” Something bitter glitters in his eyes as he says it, and you shudder.

“Aura?”

He glances down at you as if he’d almost forgotten you were there. “My presence is very… distinct, and I am currently in no state to mask it. A mortal displaced by the Convergence raises fewer alarms than a dead god. And there are those who will be looking.”

“Oh.” You aren’t entirely sure what half of that means, but you think it’s probably best not to question it.

His hand slides to your neck, pushing aside your scarf, and his lips part as he inhales sharply through his nose. “You are very lucky, mortal, that I found you when I did. The snærúlfar would’ve found your scent in no time at all.” He inhales again, and his eyes flutter closed, his fingers still stroking your throat. “This form heightens my sense of smell,” he comments idly, and you wonder if maybe he is delirious, too. “Interesting.”

Yeah, you think, a near-hysterical laugh bubbling in your chest as you curl up against him and try to ignore the fact that there’s a blue space-god guy bleeding all over you on some deadly alien planet. That’s definitely the word to describe today.

Interesting.

Sleep closes in on you before you have a chance to fight it, and you succumb, falling limp in his arms.

 

Chapter Text

“Wake up, girl.”

Something cold and hard slams against your face, and you are jolted into panicked wakefulness.

It’s the floor of the cave - Loki has dropped you like a sack of bricks.

You glare up at him with a baleful expression, not that it seems to phase him in the slightest. “Ouch.”

“Get up,” he sneers, “or I assure you I’ll do much worse.”

Ass, you think, but you scramble to your feet; arguing with a tall blue magical-alien-man is probably a terrible idea, even if you’re pretty sure you’re going to die soon anyway. Even though you manage to get to your feet, you stagger as soon as you do, your legs numb and tingling. The unpleasant fuzziness from the night before still clouds your senses.

This is bad. This whole situation is very, very bad.

You attempt a step, but you stagger, and now that you’re a little too far gone to second-guess yourself, you grab onto the front of his shirt. It’s crusty with dried, frozen blood, which would normally make you gag, but you’re already covered in it now, the product of a night spent pressed against his chest.

“Please,” you whine, your dignity abandoned somewhere around the same time you realized you’re probably dying. “Everything hurts.”

“Really, mortal?” His expression is sardonic, and he carefully pries your fingers from the fabric of his shirt, holding you at an arm's length. “Do tell me how painful this is for you.”

Yeah, maybe you shouldn't have complained to the guy that appears to have been impaled straight through the chest. But, he does seem to be a lot more perky now, which is both incredibly impressive and terrifying, because you don’t particularly care to be at the mercy of some maniac who can survive getting stabbed clean through.

“Perhaps I should’ve put you out of your misery. It would be the merciful thing to do, I suppose.” It’s mostly dark in the cave, though Loki’s crimson eyes manage to somehow catch a bit of light, just enough to to make the whole thing a bit more heart-stoppingly menacing.

“No, please.” You’re on the verge of tears.

“Oh, don’t worry, child. I’m not merciful.” Before you have a chance to process the implications of that, you’re upended, face once again smashed against the leather of the back of his coat. “We must move quickly,” he says, and then he starts to move forward, his steps much steadier than before. By the bouncing glow illuminating the cave floor, you assume that he must be using his magic to light his way again, and you are sorely tempted to ask if he might spare some magic to make you warm.

Instead, you ask, “Move to where?”

Please say Earth, please say Earth.

“Utgard.”

Your heart plummets. ‘Utgard’ doesn’t sound very promising.

“Utgard?”

“The capital of Jotunheim. What’s left of it, that is.”

“Why?”

“You’re horribly nosy, aren’t you?” He slaps the back of your thigh again, hard enough that it stings even though your layers, and you wonder if it’s meant as an admonishment or as an attempt to keep you conscious.

“Yes.”

The nearly-inaudible sound he makes at that might be a laugh, but you can’t be certain. “I told you already, girl. I am going to claim my throne.”

“Oh.” The buzzing in your head is just as persistent as before, and you realize that, on top of the freezing cold and the blood rushing to your head from the awkward position, you haven’t eaten in a while.

Does this guy have to eat? you wonder. Surely he does; he’s big and strong - something has to be fueling all that muscle, right? He’ll have to stop eventually.

Wait… he isn’t going to eat you, is he? It sounds kind of crazy, but you aren’t exactly exploring familiar territory, here. You reassure yourself that he probably isn’t going to eat you, not after he went to the trouble of snuggling you all night to stay warm.

Probably.

Hopefully.

He does seem like kind of a dick, though. And he says he’s the same guy who tried to destroy New York City with a brutal alien army, so you probably shouldn’t get very comfortable. If you even could manage to get comfortable in the first place; the way he’s handling you isn’t very gentle.

Loki carries you along in silence for a few moments, his rapid strides taking you further and further into the dark, winding tunnels of this place that’s apparently called Jotunheim.

“And after that?” Your voice is muffled against his back, and you feel your eyelids growing heavy again as warmth slips across your skin. Hmm, that feels nice.

“And after that is none of your business, is it?” There’s a terse, mocking sort of pleasantness to his tone, and you close your eyes. Ass, you think again. Not that you care - you just want to sleep. Sleep is nice. It’s warm and fuzzy and you don’t have to feel cold anymore or listen to him.

“Girl.”

His voice is distant, now. Actually, you might be dreaming. That’s probably what all this is - just a bad dream. You don’t bother trying to respond.

“Mortal.”

Your equilibrium spins. This is such a weird dream, you think. Your imagination is being particularly creative. And your hotel bed must suck a lot worse than you remembered, because it’s hard and flat and uncomfortable. You try to roll over, but your body doesn’t move.

There’s a faint sound that kind of reminds you of a zipper, and then you feel hands sliding against your skin, pressing into your chest; they’re cold, and you grimace. “Go ‘way,” you slur. You’ll be damned if you’re going to let nightmare-Loki freeze you.

It’s a shame you can’t move.

“Shut up, you stupid wench.”

The icy feeling spreads, digging into your heart, a contradictory sort of burning spreading through your veins in its wake. It’s incredibly painful, and you’re pretty sure dreams aren’t supposed to be painful. You force your eyes open just the slightest bit, the world around you narrowed to a tiny, dimly-illuminated slit.

Red eyes. Blue skin. A pissed-off expression.

Oh no. You begin to feel a little more alert. Maybe it isn’t a dream?

You blink slowly as the burning continues to creep through your limbs, trying to lift your head; you’re flat on your back, you realize. And the zipper-like sound you thought you’d dreamt up apparently really was a zipper, because your jacket is open and Loki’s hands are under your sweater, one placed directly over your heart. He’s worryingly close to cupping your breast, as a matter of fact.

“Hey,” you mumble, indignant. He ignores you. You’re dangerously close to bursting into tears; why won’t he just let you sleep? You close your eyes again.

“Open your mouth.”

When you don’t make any move to obey, you feel his fingers squeezing into your cheeks, and then something burning and acidic hits your tongue. Spluttering, you glare at him; whatever he just forced down your throat tastes like nail polish remover smells, and you wonder if he’s decided to kill you after all.

His hand clamps over your mouth and nose. “Swallow it.”

Your eyes sting and you can’t breathe, so as horrific as it is, you have no choice. The burning in your veins eases a little, but the aching remains. Loki removes his hand, wiping it on the front of your sweater as if he’s disgusted to have touched you. The feeling’s mutual, you think, bizarrely offended.

“A total waste of resources,” he mutters. “You’d best hope Heimdall didn’t notice me opening up one of my pockets.”

You have no idea what the hell that means.

“Did you just poison me?” Your voice, you’re surprised to notice, is a bit stronger, though it’s still pretty raspy.

“Unfortunately for me, no.”

You’re still struggling to move, and he yanks down your sweater and re-zips your jacket as he crouches over you. Glancing to the side, you finally find the source of the dim light - there’s a luminous ball floating a few feet off of the ground. Huh, you think. Your mind is having a difficult time processing all of this magical stuff.

Loki tugs off his weird leather and metal coat-vest-thing and hauls you into a seated position by your collar. “Stay,” he says, and you try not to fall back against the rocky cave floor as he wraps the thing around your torso. “Useless,” he mutters.

Apparently not, you want to snap, because clearly he needs you for something, otherwise you’d be a popsicle right now.

This time, when he lifts you, he cradles you to his chest instead of slinging you over his shoulder. It’s a massive improvement, although you don’t know really how you feel about having this guy carrying you bridal-style into the dark on a weird alien planet. At least you can see where you’re going now, and the glowing ball of light illuminates the tunnel as he presses onward, his pace becoming more and more rapid.

He is clearly in a hurry. You are, too; whatever he did warmed you up, sure, but this place is clearly not designed to accommodate human physiology, and you want to get home.

You squint up at his face. There was a pattern there when he first showed up, you’re almost certain, but now, his skin is smooth. Smooth, but still blue. “So,” you say. “Does Thor look like this sometimes, too?”

Based on the fire in his eyes as his gaze snaps down to your face, that might’ve been a bad thing to ask. “What?”

“Blue. Does Thor turn blue?”

“No.”

Even though the layers of your jacket and the leather wrapped around you, you feel his grip tighten. You lapse into silence; the more alert you become, the more you remember that you really, really need to be careful with him. He’s extremely dangerous, and the broadcasts from the Battle of New York flash across your memory. Extremely dangerous, and he has no regard for human life - just who you want to have staving off your seemingly-inevitable demise.

Unfortunately, the fact that you’re a little more clear-headed now just makes the awkwardness and the boredom of being carried along in silence that much more awkward, and you lean your face against his chest. It’s not very comfortable, what with all the leather and metal and blood, but you’re past caring.

“If you start to fall asleep again,” Loki says suddenly, “I am going to hurt you.”

“What?” you squeak. That hardly sounds fair, especially considering that you have literally nothing else to do.

“If you fall asleep, you will very likely not wake up, and that would mean I wasted my efforts for nothing. So, remain alert.”

Groaning, you turn your head to burrow further against his chest. Loki tenses. “Talk, then. Tell me the plan.”

It’s bold of you to ask, and you don’t expect a response, but after a moment of uncomfortable silence, he speaks. “Jotunheim is mine by birthright. When we reach Utgard, I intend to seize the throne.”

Yeah, good luck with that, buddy, you think, because your new travel partner doesn’t look like he’s in the condition to do much conquering. He’s probably going to get both of you killed. “Why do you want this place?”

“I don’t. I want Asgard.”

Asgard is a somewhat-familiar concept… that’s where Thor is supposedly from, right? And Loki too, you’d thought, since the word on the street was that they’re related. “Why Asgard?”

“Because it is mine,” he snarls. “Mine by legal succession, and it was taken from me.” He looks like he’s contemplating murder as he stares ahead down the tunnel.

Okay, maybe we should talk about something else. “Aren’t you cold?”

“No. I was born in this realm.”

Oh.

“We will stop and rest again once more,” Loki says, “before we arrive in Utgard. I am still mending my wounds.”

You hum in acknowledgement. “You wouldn’t happen to have food, would you?”

He sighs in irritation. “No. You’ll have to wait until we reach the palace.”

Considering he’s supposedly the inspiration for the mythological God of Lies, he definitely isn’t proving to be a very good conversational partner. For a while, you simply look up and study his face. Once you get past the strangeness of the different color scheme, you can see the resemblance to the man from the broadcasts of New York. There’s a sort of smooth sharpness to his features - he definitely has that classical handsome villain thing down.

And his hair is nice. It looks a little crazy right now, but it’s still nice. Probably soft. And his mouth is kind of nice, too, when he isn’t sneering.

Probably gonna die anyway, might as well enjoy the scenery.

Loki gives you a strange look. “What are you doing?”

“Nothing,” you mumble, cheeks crimson. Could he tell what you’d been thinking? No, of course not. He just noticed you staring for too long.

But his face is perplexed, now, brow creased in confusion; it’s almost endearing, after all of the snarls and glares. “Your scent changed,” he says carefully, almost accusatory.

What. The. Hell.

“Sorry.” If you could die of embarrassment, it would probably be happening right now, because the objectively-handsome weirdo who’s probably going to get you killed can apparently smell when you’re feeling amorous. “I don’t know why.”

“Hmm. An effect of the potion, perhaps.” But he says it stiffly, like he knows.

He knows.

Chapter Text

“So, maybe you could elaborate a little on this plan of yours,” you venture to say. It’s been a long trek in awkward, near-total silence, and you’re about to either go crazy or fall asleep in his arms. “For taking over the planet, I mean.”

Loki’s face remains stoic, but there’s a bit of a bite in his tone when he replies. “I know that you aren’t being sarcastic with me, are you, girl?”

“No.” Maybe a little. “Genuinely curious. And trying to stay awake, like you told me to.”

“Hmm.”

“Please? It’s not like I’m gonna run off to sound the alarm.”

He laughs, a short, startled bark of a laugh that bounces along the icy cave walls. “No, I suppose you won’t. Very well. The realm is currently ruled by a queen regent, until the eldest of her two sons comes of age.” A frown crosses his features. “Actually, Helblindi might’ve come of age while I was lost in the Void.”

I don’t know what any of this means, you want to scream. You’re terrible at explaining things.

Maybe he’s doing it on purpose. That seems likely.

“And you’re planning to… what? Assassinate them, or something?”

“If they do not recognize my claim to the throne, then yes.”

“Your claim?”

“I am the firstborn son of Laufey, King of Jotunheim. Fárbauti’s children will stand aside, or I will kill them.”

“That seems... harsh.”

Loki snorts. “Do not pretend that royal houses are any different on Midgard; I have witnessed thousands of years of murder and bloodshed on your world.”

“That doesn’t mean it’s okay,” you mumble, but really, you aren’t about to argue; he’s keeping you alive, for now, and that’s all you can really bring yourself to care about at the moment.

“The Jötnar are giants,” he continues, seemingly unbothered by your judgment.

“Yeah, well you’re really freakin’ tall yourself.”

“Not tall.” He almost sounds amused. “Giants. You’d best be prepared.”

You want to ask why he isn’t a giant, then, but you decide you’d rather not know - you prefer him this way, where he’s at least slightly human.

Human ish, at least.

Although, it might be nice if he wasn’t quite so attractive. It’s kinda worrying you, actually - the guy is a murderer, on top of the whole not-human thing. You wonder if maybe it’s kind of like some sort of survival mechanism, like Stockholm Syndrome.

Yeah, that’s probably it.

“So. How are these giants going to react to seeing an Earthling showing up uninvited?”

“I suspect that they would play with you, mortal. Until you died, that is.” Loki’s tone is serious, but there’s a hint of mischief sparkling in his eyes. It isn’t very comforting.

“Play with me?”

“No need to worry,” he replies breezily. “If I claim you as my pet, I’m sure you’ll be fine. The Jötnar may be a bit savage, but they do respect property rights.”

“Property?”

Your voice cracks, and so does Loki’s composure; he grins down at you, though it isn’t particularly friendly. “Of course. My very own little mortal pet. A bit of an antiquated notion, to be sure, but it is an intriguing concept.”

If he wasn’t keeping you from freezing, you might try to wriggle away in the face of such outrageous claims. Much to your chagrin, however, you find that you’d much rather be a pet than a popsicle.

“You looked displeased, girl.”

Frowning, you avert your eyes, turning to watch the ever-approaching darkness of the tunnel ahead. “I’m a person. Not property.”

“Oh? I think that your tune will change rather quickly if I decide to leave you to the elements.”

His grip begins to loosen, and you scramble to clutch at his tattered tunic, crying out in alarm. Loki snickers and pulls you back against his chest. “That is what I thought.”

He’s so damned smug. This weirdly-upbeat mood he’s suddenly in is almost worse than the temper he’d been in when he’d first found you; at least then, you kind of knew what to expect.

At the same time, you’re feeling weirdly-upbeat, too. Maybe it’s because, while you still aren’t feeling particularly great, you’re definitely no longer on the verge of freezing to death. Maybe there was something in that potion-thing he gave you to make you calm down.

You glare at him, suspicious. “What’s that even mean?” you mumble.

“What does what mean?”

Being your ‘pet,’ you want to say, but you think better of it. “Nothing.”

“Hmm.”

“I’m really hungry.” And you are - now that the novelty of simply being alive is beginning to wear off, your empty stomach is making itself known.

“I’ve already told you, it will have to wait. I have nothing with me.”

“This is the worst political coup I’ve ever been a part of,” you grumble, and Loki gives you a strange look.

“I do believe that the Asgardian mead in that potion might’ve been a bit strong for you, mortal. You’ve become worryingly bold.”

The frown on your face turns into a scowl. Stupid spoiled brat sorcerer prince. But his mention of the potion does remind you of his ‘pockets,’ and you brighten almost immediately.

“Hey, that pocket with the potion… got any more of those? With food, maybe?”

“Those ‘pockets’ are essentially interdimensional portals,” he replies, “and the amount of power required to open them is difficult to mask.”

“But you already did it once.”

“Yes, and now you will not stop talking. Perhaps I should consider muzzling you…” He actually looks like he’s considering it, and you fall silent.

You aren’t about to let yourself get muzzled by some power-tripping weirdo in a cave on an alien planet. A sexy power-tripping weirdo, though.

Stupid sexy blue man.

Loki releases a startled huff.

Oops. You might’ve said that out loud. Crap.

“What was in that?” you squeak, cheeks heating. Actually, now that you think about it, e verything is starting to feel a little warm.

“Nothing harmful,” he replies, and you can practically see the wheels in his mind begin to spin. “Nothing that would cause any significant side-effects to an immortal, at least.”

“What?”

“It is hardly my fault that you are mortal,” Loki snaps.

Your mouth gapes. “As if this is my fault?”

“Hush.”

And so you hush. But then, you notice if feels a little like you’re floating through water, and your brain decides that it’s imperative that Loki knows this.

“Hey,” you blurt out. “I feel like I’m underwater. But also flying. Kinda weird.”

“Does ‘hush’ have a different meaning on Midgard?”

“Sorry.”

“I much preferred you half-dead; at least then, you were quiet .”

Rude.

You may be a grown woman, but you aren’t above pouting - as much as you’ve been through the last day or so, you figure you’ve earned it. When you turn your face into his shoulder, you notice for the first time that underneath the sickly metallic smell of his bloodstained clothes, Loki’s scent is actually kind of… nice. Minty, almost. Crisp.

Do you smell nice? Suddenly, you’re self-conscious; he apparently has a wickedly-strong sense of smell… and even if he is a terrifying former-supervillian, you kind of hope he doesn’t think you smell like garbage.

That would be really embarrassing.

Though you keep your eyes open due to Loki’s earlier warnings that you’ll be in serious trouble if you fall asleep, you allow yourself to drift off into daydreams.

Most of them are food-related.

When you’re back on Earth, you decide, you’re going to eat a metric ton of fried chicken and mashed potatoes. Or maybe just a cheeseburger or three.

Ooh, or a hot cinnamon roll.

This isn’t really helping with the hunger pains.

You want to ask if you’ll even be able to eat anything at this palace Loki’s apparently planning to take over, considering his medicine has you intoxicated and sweating like a sinner in church.

Wait, you’re sweating? That doesn’t seem right.

“I’m sweating,” you announce.

“So I’ve noticed.” The disdainful curl of his lip makes you cringe, suddenly even more self-conscious than before. “I believe that you are metabolizing the ingredients of the potion differently than intended. It seems you’re experiencing something akin to arousal.”

You’re pretty sure your face turns beet-red at that.

“Sympathetic nervous system arousal,” he continues, giving you another one of those strange, half-amused looks. “You are having something like what you would call an ‘adrenaline rush.’ I am certain that it must feel quite unpleasant, combined with the sedative effect of the potion itself.”

“Very unpleasant.”

“It will pass soon enough. At least, I believe that it will.” His smile is thin. “Consider yourself a test subject.”

Oh, great. A lab rat for a mad sorcerer. That’s just how you wanted to spend your vacation.

“We are stopping here.”

You kind of expect him to just dump you onto the cold rock floor again, but instead, Loki gracefully folds himself to the ground with you still clasped securely in his arms. Impressive.

“How long?”

“Until I feel ready to continue.”

Okay, you think. That’s fair. He’s the only thing keeping you alive, so you’d prefer for him to stay in good shape. Especially if his next move is gonna be taking over a planet. “Take your time.”

Loki snorts. “It should be safe enough for you to go to sleep now. In fact, please go to sleep now, I beg of you.”

“Fine.” You suppose that in the grand scheme of things, Loki telling you to shut up isn’t that big of a priority at the moment, but it still grates on your nerves. Squeezing your eyes closed, you snuggle closer, thinking about what a weird story this is going to make for the therapist you’re undoubtedly going to need once this is all over.

You flinch slightly when Loki rests his head against yours, and you hear him inhale deeply though his nose; he’s smelling you, again. Well, at least that kind of answers the question of whether or not you smell like garbage.

Creep, you think, but you’re also just the tiniest bit… happy. That’s weird - you shouldn’t be happy that this dangerous otherworldly nutcase is sniffing your hair in the middle of a dark cave. That’s what your brain says, at least. Your body seems to be of the opinion that it’s kind of hot.

Or maybe that’s just the potion. Either way, you’re feeling warm and tingly, and some part of you is thrilled at the fact that he’s cradling you so carefully in his lap.

This is pretty messed up, you chastise yourself. Stockholm Syndrome. Or maybe traumatic bonding. Definitely one of those.

But that doesn’t keep you from releasing a sigh of contentment when his hand creeps up to pet your hair, and you’re sliding into sleep before you have a chance to second-guess why that might be.

 

Chapter Text

When you wake up the next morning (or afternoon, or night, because time has begun to lose all meaning in these endless, dimly-illuminated tunnels), Loki is already on the move, holding you clasped against his chest once more.

That was actually kind of nice of him, you muse, to let me keep sleeping like that. Or maybe he just didn’t want to deal with your conversation.

“Feeling better?” you ask. You figure you might as well suck up to him as much as possible, because you’re really starting to get concerned about the whole ‘no food for days’ thing, and it’s looking like Loki has become your meal-ticket for the foreseeable future.

“Well enough.”

Wonderful, he’s in a crappy mood again. “So, anything I should know? Maybe some background on this alien race we’re about to conquer?”

Loki scoffs. “You aren’t going to do anything, girl. Keep your head down and stay quiet. I’ll do the talking.”

“Message received.”

You’ve notice that the weird, sorcery-induced sweating has stopped; that’s a relief, but you’re still feeling pretty giddy, and now you’re kind of sticky and uncomfortable, too. You’d kill for a nice pair of fuzzy pajamas right now, fresh out of the dryer, and a huge, cuddly blanket. And you’d really like to wash your hair, too, because you’re pretty sure you look disgusting at this point - you certainly feel gross.

“We’ve almost arrived,” Loki says, and your heart skips.

“What, already?” You’re about to meet actual, living giants - giants that Loki wants to fight. You definitely aren’t mentally prepared to deal with this yet.

“Yes. Keep your hood up; we will be outside again soon, and the wind is biting.”

He isn’t lying - the moment you emerge from the tunnel, the wind feels like it’s trying to tear you to pieces, whipping at your clothes and stinging your eyes. You close them and turn your face to burrow against Loki’s chest, which is starting to become something of a safe haven in this bizarre little adventure of yours.

Snuggled up against the hot, dangerous alien god’s chest is probably not the best place to want to be when you’re feeling scared, but emotionally, that’s just where you’re at right now. Bonding through trauma, you tell yourself. Just wait and work it out in therapy.

Because right now, you aren’t about to give up anything that makes you feel even a little bit better about this whole nightmare.

And it really doesn’t seem like Loki minds the clinginess, either.

“Keep your head down,” he reminds you, and you take that literally, because when you hear the clanking of metal and the sound of rough voices calling out in a language you don’t recognize, you tense and press your nose further into the fabric of his tunic.

You wonder if you’ll ever manage to escape the smell of ice and blood.

“Laufeyson.”

That sounds familiar, and as you focus your attention, you find that the beings around you have switched to something you can understand. That’s… interesting. Fascinating, really. How does that work?

“Take me to your queen,” Loki says, his tone dripping with an impressive amount of casual arrogance. If he’s as worried as you are, he certainly isn’t showing it.

You feel him striding forward again, and there are some disgruntled mutterings around you - you make out the word ‘mortal,’ and your panic spikes up a notch or two as you remember Loki’s warning that the Frost Giants would be more than happy to do terrible things to you.

He drops you to your feet, suddenly and without warning, though he catches you by your forearm to keep you upright. You barely have a moment to catch your bearings before he continues, dragging you through a massive entryway into an enormous room that appears to be made entirely of ice.

Now you see your welcoming party for the first time, and it’s all you can do not to scream; the beings around you seem to range from about seven to ten feet tall, and they’re all blue, all crimson-eyed, and all incredibly muscular.

Soldiers, you realize. You’d thought Loki large, but he seems incredibly small in comparison to these brutes, whose reactions to your appearance seem to range from amusement to outrage.

At the end of the hall sits a large wooden throne, embedded with chips of reflective glass - or maybe that’s ice, too; it would hardly be surprising, at this point. On the throne sits a woman, incredibly fearsome, but with a striking sort of beauty about her features. Her hair is sleek and black, and she appears to be wearing a cloak and boots and not much else.

She smiles, and your skin crawls - her violet lips hide bright white teeth, and her eye teeth appear to be filed into sharp points. Or are they naturally that way? You try to glance around without drawing too much attention to yourself, but it seems like only some of the giants have pointy teeth - Loki certainly doesn’t.

In fact, Loki also doesn’t have pointed ears, but the queen and some of the other giants do… and some of them barely have earlobes at all.

Okay, you tell yourself. Keep that curiosity under control. Keep your head down. You can ask him about it later.

“Loki Laufeyson,” one of the soldiers next to you announces, and there are a few gasps and murmurs from the giants mingling in the hall, particularly those lounging about on the steps leading to the queen’s dais.

“Ah, and so the lost princeling returns to us once more.” Fárbauti’s smile remains on her face, though none of it manages to reach her eyes, and she glances at the small giant at her side; he’s only a boy, it looks like, and you’re guessing that if he were human, he’d be in his early teens. “Come to see all the destruction you’re wrought on your homeworld first-hand, have you?”

“Actually,” Loki replies, stepping past the soldiers as if he hasn’t a care in the world, “I’ve come to claim my rightful place, Queen Mother. I am the firstborn of the bloodline of Laufey, and I will have my throne.”

Her laugh rings out through the hall, and you curse Loki to hell and back in your mind. Is this seriously the best he can do? “That is true, Laufeyson, but you’ve no friends here. Do you have anything besides Laufey’s blood to recommend you?”

“Of course. There is my power, which you can feel, Fárbauti, and that is why your heart pounds with fear, because you know that I could kill your son where he stands.”

The murmur in the crowd cranks up a notch. Damn it, Loki. All he’s doing is pissing everyone off.

So why aren’t they attacking?

“And there is my sorcery,” Loki continues, smiling pleasantly, “and my knowledge of the workings of the Nine Realms. There is the fact that I was raised to be a king, and that I have many powerful allies across the worlds of Yggdrasil. There is also the fact that I can restore to you the Casket of Ancient Winters and bring Jotunheim to its former glory. I can bring this realm back from this dark age, Fárbauti. What say you to that?”

She doesn’t look particularly happy about any of it, but there is calculation in her crimson eyes, as if she’s carefully weighing her options.

“Unless, of course, you wish for one of your sons to challenge and kill me - that is the only way that the rightful-born king can be ousted from the throne of Jotunheim, is it not?”

Fárbauti now seems sullen. “We will have to consult with the Völva, of course. As with all great matters of state.”

“You’ll forgive me for saying so, Fárbauti, but I must wonder at the practicality of your seeress; surely if she were that useful, Laufey would still be alive.”

“Actually,” the queen replies, red eyes glittering with some sort of malevolent mirth, “the Völva did warn Laufey that he would die at the hand of his son - he, of course, assumed that meant Helblindi, or dear little Býleistr.” She ruffles the hair of the boy at her side, who remains impressively stone-faced. “Everyone thought you dead. Loki Laufeyson, the prodigal firstborn.”

Loki appears unfazed. “Yet he let them live?”

“Yes. Laufey always did think that he could outplay the Norns.”

“Consult the Völva then,” Loki says smoothly, though there is an undercurrent of irritation in his tone, “if that is what custom dictates.”

“Do not sound so sullen - you should be delighted, princling. Perhaps she can tell you more about your wretched mother, as she was also a Storm Giant.”

At that, Loki’s grip suddenly tightens, his fingers digging into your skin so fiercely that you want to cry out in pain, but you bite your lip instead. “What of my mother?” he says, his words as cold and hard as the rock and ice of the palace itself.

The queen’s laugh is shrill. “Ah, the boy does not know! Yet another sin of Odin Allfather.”

“Get on with it, Fárbauti. You test my patience.”

“Gunnlöð was a petite little thing,” she says disdainfully. “Most of the coastal tribes tend to be on the smaller side. Harsher climate, I suppose.”

“And?”

There’s no holding back your whimper, now, because you’re starting to feel like Loki might accidentally snap your arm like a twig. His grip doesn’t loosen.

“And Laufey, in the height of foolish youthfulness, wedded and bedded a little witch with absolutely no standing whatsoever. It was an outrage.”

Oh God, you think, Please, lady, stop talking. Loki’s on the verge of exploding - you can practically feel the energy humming off of him - and if he loses it, you don’t stand a chance. You already probably don’t stand much of a chance.

“He even refused to take any other consorts or concubines, defying our ancient traditions. And do you know why?” Fárbauti’s fingers curl around the ends of her armrests as she leans forward, eager to deliver the next blow. “For love! Imagine that, princeling - it was the seed of that love that destroyed him.”

He actually does a pretty decent job of reining himself back in - you suppose thousands of years of being in a royal court must’ve taught him some manners, even if he never bothers to waste them on you.

“If you’re quite finished reminiscing over the honored dead, Fárbauti, then I would like to be shown to my chambers.”

She snorts and leans back in her throne, evidently disappointed by Loki’s subdued reaction. “Of course, of course. Are you taking that little warm-skin with you?”

Loki almost seems taken aback at the reminder that you’re there, despite his vice-grip on your arm. “Yes. You know how mortals are; I’d best keep her close at hand.”

You’re incredibly relieved at that, because no matter how much he absolutely sucks, at least Loki needs you alive. That’s more than you can say for the rest of these… creatures.

“Skrymir,” the queen calls out to one of the towering brutes at the end of the hall. “See to it that the feast-hall is prepared so that we may welcome Loki Laufeyson home.”  Her lip curls around the word rather unpleasantly, and your stomach churns; you really hope Loki knows what he’s doing, because you don’t really want to get murdered at a giants’ feast.

It sounds so… storybook. It turns out that fairytales are much more frightening in real life.

“Skaði, escort our prince to his chambers.”

One of the women seated at the foot of the throne nods and gracefully rises to her feet; she isn’t absurdly tall, though she does stand maybe half a foot over Loki. You feel incredibly tiny and incredibly vulnerable.

The giantess brushes long, black hair over her shoulder as she leads Loki through the polished hallways, and you’re barely able to keep up. In fact, were it not for his bruising grip on your arm, you probably would’ve already fallen to the icy floor. “Laufeyson,” she says, and the playfulness in her voice instantly sets you on-edge. “You mean to take the throne?”

“The throne is mine for the taking.”

“Do you suppose the Queen Mother agrees?” Skaði’s smile is sharp, her white teeth contrasting brightly against her skin.

“I trust the Queen Mother will support whatever is best for Jotunheim,” he replies smoothly, “which is me taking my rightful place as King.”

“King Loki, heir of Laufey.” The girl seems to mull the title over carefully. “Perhaps you will give consideration, future-king, to those of us who are loyal to the bloodline.” She laughs and tosses her hair again, ushering the two of you into a large room.

Well, ushering Loki - she’s barely even glanced at you this entire time.

“The baths are down this hall,” she says. “There is a stairwell that leads down to the steam-pools below the palace. You are welcome to use them at your leisure.” She winks. “And you will have your women to attend to you, of course, once this whole matter of succession is settled.”

“Are you so fickle, Skaði, that you will withhold your attentions unless I wear the crown?”

“I am sworn to the King of Jotunheim, and you, Loki Laufeyson, are not yet king.”

She smirks as she turns to leave, her hips swaying in a way that is obviously supposed to be seductive.

You’re really starting to dislike this chick.

Loki waves a hand and the doorway seals shut behind her. It’s ice, you realize, a magically-formed chunk of solid ice.

Great. That’s a 'no' on sneaking out in the middle of the night, then. Not that you had anywhere to go, anyway.

There’s an amused sort of smile on his face, and it twists and scratches at your temper. “So,” you begin snidely, “you’re gonna try to sleep with Smurfette, huh?”

He lets out a short bark of laughter. “Consider it a good sign, mortal. If Skaði thought my claim to the throne invalid, she would not try so brazenly to capture my attention.”

You snort.

“Mind your manners. If you act this way in front of the Jötnar, I will have to discipline you. You do not want to be disciplined, do you?”

“No.”

“No, Master.”

“What?”

“Perhaps you’ve forgotten my threat to muzzle you if you keep up that horrific shrieking of yours,” Loki says, but you can see that he isn’t angry. No, he looks incredibly pleased with himself, now that everything seems to be going according to his plan.

If this was according to plan. You’re still not entirely certain that he isn’t just making it up as he goes along.

You decide that it’s best not to argue, for the time being, at least. Not while you’re scared and starving and relying on a worryingly-attractive, temperamental alien for survival.

Instead, you survey your surroundings. The room you’re in now is… odd. The outer walls seem to be some sort of blueish-grey stone, while the inner walls are a dark, opaque ice. Must make for easier renovating, you think.

You congratulate yourself for maintaining some semblance of humor during this whole ordeal.

There’s a massive bed in the corner. Well, something like a bed, at least. It’s a platform carved out of the stone itself, covered with layer upon layer of blankets and skins and furs. You’ve yet to see anything furry on this godforsaken planet, and these humongous pelts aren’t exactly good for your nerves.

They probably have some sort of freaky mutant polar bears for pets here, you think. Fantastic.

Your reluctant savior takes notice of your gaze, though he misinterprets the reason for your angst. “You are going to be sleeping there,” he says. “With me. You might as well get used to the idea.”

Great. Now you have something else to freak out about. Somehow, the idea of crawling into an actual bed with him seems much more serious than the last few nights of snuggling in the caves to survive.

“How about I take the floor?”

He laughs. “Mortal, you’re going to have much less bravado when that potion finally wears off and the cold truly begins to settle into your bones.”

Your heart drops. “It’s gonna wear off?”

“Of course. Nothing lasts forever. And even if I do spare some of my power to charm you, you are still going to be very, very uncomfortable here.”

Fan-friggen-tastic.

“I need you to listen very carefully to me, and heed my words: when we are among the Frost Giants, speak only when spoken to, and act as demure and obedient as possible. It will make your time here far more pleasant.”

“Alright,” you mumble.

Loki stares at you, brows lifted expectantly.

“... I’m not gonna say that.”

“Master or sire are your options, mortal. Choose your poison.”

“Alright, sire,” you snap. At least that one sounds a little less degrading.

“Wonderful. You are learning so quickly.” The sarcasm makes you scowl, but you keep your mouth shut. Keep your head down, you tell yourself. Survive. That’s all that matters.

There’s a scraping sound as Loki opens the ice-door again, and he beckons you forward. “Come along,” he says, a worryingly-mischievous smile on his face. “Let us bathe.”

 

Chapter Text

You keep your mouth shut as Loki marches you down the hall. He’s gripping the same part of your upper arm that he nearly crushed during Fárbauti’s earlier taunting, but you don’t dare to mention it, because there are other giants in the hall, and they’re all watching you.

You’re pretty sure he wouldn’t care, anyway.

The boots you were wearing when you’d set out on your fateful trip to the coffee shop in Reykjavik were thankfully thick-soled, but they clearly weren’t designed to handle slick, iced-over stone floors, and you eye the approaching stairwell with increasing apprehension.

This place sucks. It’s pretty, but it sucks. You’re going to end up falling and accidentally breaking your neck, assuming one of these giant blue people doesn’t decide to do it for you.

Loki releases your arm and takes hold of the back of your collar, practically dragging you down the steps; it looks rough, but he does keep you from taking a tumble, so you figure he’s just putting on a show.

God, this sucks.

And you can tell that the warm buzz of the potion is starting to wear off, and whatever bravery you’d felt is quickly fading alongside it.

The room he pulls you into has a thick, heavy-looking wooden door, which Loki easily shoves closed. Could you even open that? It’s like everything on this planet is designed to make your life miserable.

To remind you that you’re trapped.

Loki begins to take off the armor-things on his arms, and you take a moment to take stock of your surroundings. Maybe if you figure out the layout of this place, you can make some sort of… plan? Probably not. But it’s worth a shot.

This room, at least, isn’t covered in ice - no, it’s stone, shiny and polished, with intricate patterns of parallel, swirling lines carved into the floor and walls. The majority of the floor is taken up by a large, dark pool, and steam is rising gently from the water’s surface. Light streams from several sconces situated about the room, though they don’t appear to house actual fire, but rather some sort of glowing-white orbs. They’re surprisingly bright.

Maybe too bright, because Loki is stripping off his tunic now, and you have way too clear a view.

“What are you doing?” You scrunch your face down further under the scarf and the collar of your jacket, hoping to hide your blush.

“Strange. I thought modern mortals were familiar with the concept of bathing.”

He bares his teeth in a pained grimace as he rips the stained fabric from his skin, dropping it in an unkempt heap on the ground. Damn, his whole upper body is a mess. You can’t even tell what kind of shape he’s actually in, because there’s so much dried blood and weird grey ash matted against his skin, accompanied by a generous smattering of dark purple bruises across his ribs.

“What happened to you?”

“I was nearly killed,” he replies, unfastening one of the buckles on the leather belts wrapped around his waist. “While saving all of creation, as a matter of fact. You’re welcome.”

You stare at your toes; after everything you’ve seen the last few days, you aren’t even going to question that. “Thanks, I guess.”

“Come here.”

He’s pointing to the ground by his feet, and you frown. “What?”

“Come here and unfasten my boots, mortal.”

“What? No.”

“Fine,” he says, a smile on his face. “Then go wander the halls of Utgard on your own, and see how long you last. I assure you, I’ll manage quite well without you.”

Scowling, you drop to your knees at his feet and start yanking at the ridiculous leather straps on his ridiculously complicated boots. What an ass. He’d really do it, too - he’d seriously let you die just to teach you a lesson.

“Also, bending over is incredibly painful at the moment,” he adds, patting you on the head. “And as you know, I do not yet have anyone else to attend to me.”

You glance up, softening just the slightest bit. He’s been so swaggeringly confident, you’d kind of forgotten the fact that getting stabbed through the chest probably hurt like hell. “Oh.”

The boots are finally vanquished, and you sit back on your heels, trying to ignore the fact that you’re still on your knees in front of the supervillain who destroyed a good chunk of New York City. “Hey,” you say, trying to sound more confident than you’re feeling, because there’s no good way to ask this, but you really need to know. “What exactly is the… relationship between you and the queen? Your mother was… someone else?”

His hand clenches at his side; maybe it’s good that you aren’t standing, because it’s much easier to avoid his eyes this way. “I was raised on Asgard, under the pretense that I was the son of Odin Allfather and Frigga Allmother.” There’s a strange detachment in his voice, and it makes your skin crawl. “Brother to Thor. Odinson.”

“You didn’t know?” you whisper.

“No. No, I did not know. Frost Giants are abhorred on Asgard, you see. I knew very little of them, until after I discovered the truth of Odin’s folly. I began to study all that I could; my moth- Queen Frigga helped me. She thought that it would soothe me, I suppose. It did not.”

Odin. Frigga. Thor. Loki. Hell, you’re even pretty sure that you remember seeing mentions of Jotunheim in your mythology books, although it was nothing like this. Nothing could’ve prepared you for this. Your head is swimming.

Fárbauti said that the old king, Laufey, refused to take any other wives or concubines because of Loki’s mother… but he clearly had, because otherwise she wouldn’t be sitting there on the throne looking all conniving and smug.

Which had to mean that Loki’s mother was dead. And he hadn’t even known her name. Your heart twists. God, that’s brutal. How can he seem so calm? Despite nearly breaking your arm, that is.

Loki’s hand is on your head again. “I am getting in the water,” he says. “And so are you. Undress.”

Then his hands are on his belt, and you scramble to your feet, backing away. “I’m not getting naked with you,” you squeak. “No way.”

“Yes, you are. It will warm you, and besides that, you currently smell like my blood and Svartalfheim ash. I’d strongly prefer not to have the reminder.”

“But-“

“No arguments. If you don’t undress, then I will drag you into the water clothed, and you’ll have nothing dry to put on when you re-emerge.”

Your eyes are wide. “That would kill me.”

“Yes, well, that’s your choice, isn’t it?”

Squeezing your eyes closed, you fume as you wait to hear the rustle of fabric and the gentle rippling of the water.

“Do hurry, mortal. We haven’t got all day.”

When you open your eyes, you nearly scream again, because the man watching you from the pool isn’t the one who’s been carrying you around for days. No, this is definitely Loki, the guy from the news footage of the Battle of New York, pale and submerged up to his shoulders in the dark water.

“What the hell.”

Loki snickers. “I am a shapeshifter, girl. This form is much more comfortable; my birth-form is actually rather unstable.”

“I thought you were avoiding using magic.”

“Powerful magic,” he corrects. “Interdimensional magic. This hardly qualifies.”

“Oh.”

It’s the same guy, you tell yourself. No need to freak out even more. It’s just Loki. Loki is Loki.

And Loki is a freaking shapeshifter.

“Come in, little mortal,” he purrs, and now he’s clearly trying to freak you out. He reaches for you.  “The water is warm.”

Crap. Your cheeks flush even more.

“Could you turn around? Or… or close your eyes?”

“This is absurd - I am not tempted by you, girl.”

But he turns around anyway, and you let out a sharp, relieved breath. Okay, hurry and get in the water, before he changes his mind.

Your fingers are shaking - maybe from the nerves, maybe from the cold - and you struggle to unzip your coat and pry off your boots. The room is relatively warm… relatively. You tear off your sweater and undershirt next, and then your jeans and thick socks.

Now, it’s just your underwear left to go, and you stare at the back of Loki’s head suspiciously, expecting him to turn around the moment you’re naked.

But while it isn’t freezing in this steamy bath-room, it is chillier than you’d like, and so you take a deep breath and quickly slip out of your underwear and bra. Survival, you tell yourself.

Just pretend that this is a locker room. A locker room in Hell.

There don’t appear to be actual steps anywhere, because of course that would be too convenient, so you sit on the edge of the pool and awkwardly slide into the water, crossing your arms over your chest as Loki slowly turns, alerted to your presence by your less-than-graceful entry.

The water honestly feels so damn good that for a few seconds, you forget to be totally mortified about the fact that you and Loki are naked in a gigantic hot tub under some freaky alien palace.

But only for a few seconds. Sure, the water seems pretty dark, but how much can he really see?

Loki’s hand emerges from the water, pointing to a shelf that juts out just below one of the sconces. “Go fetch that. You’re going to wash me.”

“I’m not-“

“Just do it,” Loki snaps. “You are testing my patience.”

You shut your mouth and flounder over to the shelf, which is kind of awkward, because the bottom of the pool floor slopes and becomes deeper the farther in you go; by the time you reach the shelf, you’re on your tiptoes.

“This looks like a sponge,” you say, baffled. You pick it up and squeeze it - it feels like a sponge, too.

“That’s probably because it is a sponge.” God, you hate it when he sounds so snide like that. “The oceans of Jotunheim are more bountiful than many of the continents.”

“Huh.” You squeeze it again; it’s so surreal, somehow, finding something as ordinary as a sea sponge in the middle of this weird, menacing world.

Turning, you work your way back towards him; otherwise, he’ll probably just come after you, and that’s a much more terrifying concept. It’s kind of funny, in a way, that him looking like a normal (albeit incredibly handsome) man is almost more unsettling than him being blue, because blue Loki is at least familiar.

This is Loki the god; Loki, brother of Thor, Loki the supervillain… Loki, who’s looking at you now like he’s about to lose his temper. You pick up the pace. At least he’s got the decency to stay in deeper water.

“Uh… here.” You brandish the sea sponge in his general direction, and he looks at you as if you’ve lost your mind. He raises his arms, just barely skimming them along the surface of the water.

“I am in a great deal of discomfort, mortal, and I am trying to be generous enough to give you a purpose that merits all the trouble you’re certain to cause me. So please, don’t be difficult.”

Is this my life now? you think. Am I gonna spend the rest of my days giving Thor’s villainous not-brother sponge baths on a frost planet full of blue giants?

The theory that you’re having some sort of bizarre hallucinations as you freeze to death in the cave is seeming more and more likely to be true.

“Consider also,” Loki continues, “that were I in the mood to have my way with you right now, the short amount of distance you are trying so valiantly to maintain would do absolutely nothing to stop me.”

“Is that supposed to make me feel better?”

He shrugs. “Take it how you will.”

“Okay,” you mumble. “Fine.”

And honestly, once you do start scrubbing the grime and leftover blood from his skin, you also start to relax just the tiniest bit, because Loki remains incredibly still; you do your best to pretend he’s a statue. It would help if he’d stop watching you.

You wash his chest and his back under the merciful cover of the water, trying to actually touch him as little as possible, but when you finally reach the small of his back, you hesitate.

He can’t possibly expect you to go any lower… can he?

But you never find out what exactly Loki might have intended, because just as he turns slightly to say something to you, there’s a booming knock on the heavy door.

A familiar, unpleasantly-cloying voice follows it. “Prince Loki?”

Damn her, it’s the one from before - Skaði. Loki's  eyes meet yours as he glances over his shoulder, a smirk tugging at his lips.

No,” you squeak, dropping into the water up to your chin. “Don’t you dare -”

“Enter,” he shouts, and you cry out in outrage as the door begins to swing open.

 

Chapter Text

You’re going to kill him.

You’re absolutely, positively going to kill him.

That’s the only thought left in your mind, because the rest are drowned out by internal screams of embarrassment and fury at the fact that not only are you and Loki naked in an underground hot spring together, but now you’ve got company.

The smarmy blue wannabe gold-digger is staring down her nose at you as if you’re pond scum.

You bite your tongue to keep from cursing him out loud, because that might actually make things worse… if that’s even possible, at this point.

You don’t care if he’s magical and villainous and supposedly-immortal… you’re going to kill him.

“What is it, Skaði?” he asks, practically purring, and you glare at his shoulder, having sought shelter behind his back.

“The Queen Mother wishes to inform you that the feast-hall is prepared, and that she would be delighted if you might join her and Prince Býleistr at the high table.”

“Inform the Queen Mother that I will be there shortly. I am also in need of clothing, as mine was ruined in my last battle. And I want you to find something for my pet to wear, as well.”

“I see.” You can hear the smirk in her tone, and you hate her just a little bit more for it. “I also see that you bring your little mortal pet into the bath with you… how positively old-fashioned of you, my prince.”

He shrugs, and you try to ignore the fact that the whole muscular, covered-in-water thing is really starting to get to you, because he sucks as a person and you definitely hate him. “Why would I not? She’s certainly much more useful to me here than she would be freezing out in the hall. A king does need someone to attend to him, after all.”

“True enough. I’ll see if any of the servants can find something… some hand-me-downs from the children, perhaps.”

If you weren’t naked and nearly two feet shorter than her, you’d almost be obliged to charge forward and chew her out for talking about you like you’re some kind of dog, but you jab Loki in the spine, instead, hidden under the cover of the water.

Get rid of her, you think, so furious that he can probably feel the heat of your temper. You absolute ass, just get rid of her.

“Be off with you then, Skaði,” he says, and it sounds like he’s on the verge of laughter. “Have the servants leave whatever they find outside the door. I will join the queen and her son shortly.”

She halfway bows and leaves, the door slamming shut behind her. “Okay, what the hell was that?” Your voice nearly cracks, and Loki turns to look down at you, apparently amused by your distress. “That was not cool. I’m naked, and you’re naked, and we’re taking a bath, which is already not cool, and you just let some weirdo sashay in here -”

Loki raises one long finger to his lips, shushing you, and your voice falters. It’s probably for the best - you were starting to babble, anyway. “Would you prefer for them to imagine that I have no use for you?” he asks, that faux-pleasantness in his voice that you’re quickly learning to dread. “Or for me to actually leave you outside? What do you suppose lovely Skaði would do, if she found you alone? I doubt that it would be very enjoyable.”

“No.”

“Sullen as ever, I see. No matter - if you want to live, you’ll do as I say. Now let’s wash you off, for we cannot keep the Queen Mother waiting, can we?”

And then, before you can respond, his hand is on the top of your head as he forcefully shoves you under the water, his blade-thin smile the last thing you see before you’re completely submerged.

You come up sputtering, red-faced and furious. “ Why?” you cry. “You could’ve just told me to wash my hair, and I would’ve done it.”

“I know. This is more amusing.”

Then his fingers tighten in your hair, and you barely manage to hold your breath before he does it again. You’re sorely tempted to knee him in the groin, but considering how well he held up against getting stabbed, you aren’t sure if it would even phase him. It would probably just piss him off, and you’re really rather not give him any ideas when he’s already practically drowning you.

When he drags you back up, he seems satisfied, and you glare at him as he releases you and pats you on the head. “There. That was not so terrible, was it?”

“Yes.”

“Well, you’d best prepare yourself, mortal, because it is going to get so much worse. I have absolutely no idea what this feast will entail, but I can only imagine that you’ll be a topic of interest for all of the Frost Giants in attendance.”

You try to smooth down the wet strands of hair clinging to your forehead. “You aren’t going to let them... do anything to me, are you?”

“No. You’re my property, and I am unquestionably possessive. But as I said before, if your actions merit discipline, then I will discipline you. I will not jeopardize my plans to become king simply because your role makes you uncomfortable.”

Your role.

Okay, you think, taking a deep breath. Find your zen. Imagine that this is a role. You’re an actor. This is all just a role. A really messed-up role that can get you killed if you mess up. Yeah. Just a role.

“Is that how you do this?” you ask, suddenly curious. “Is it all just like… a game for you? An act?”

“‘All the world’s a stage,’ little mortal.” He grins. “One of your Midgardian poets said that, you know.”

“Yeah, I know,” you gripe. “Shakespeare isn’t exactly niche or anything.”

He shrugs again, and you’re taken aback by just how young he looks. It’s weird. “I am getting out,” he says. “So if you wish to avert your eyes like a blushing maiden, now is the time to do so.”

You turn your head to the side as he surges from the water, scowling. I am a blushing maiden, you utter bastard. What a dick.

Way back in high school, you remember one of your science teachers telling you that cursing could reduce pain. Maybe venting your frustration in your mind could help keep you sane; you were much too afraid of him to actually say most of it aloud. If he could hear in your mind, he might actually drown you.

You keep your eyes averted as he prowls about naked, the sliding sound of the door against the stone catching your attention. “They’ve brought nothing for you yet, mortal, so you’ll have to redress in your old clothes.”

“Fine by me.” You don’t particularly want to wear some giant’s old clothes, anyway.

“Get out and get dressed. Quickly.”

Loki’s blue again when you finally turn towards him, floundering back to the edge of the pool. He’s wearing pants and boots, with an impressively-heavy looking cloak draped over one shoulder. “Where’s your shirt?”

He laughs, kneeling down to haul you out of the water as if you weigh nothing. You shriek - you should’ve known better than to trust him to keep his eyes and hands to himself - and as soon as he sets you down, you flee to your pile of clothes. You’re surprised to find that he doesn’t turn to watch you.

“It is apparently a sign of strength, in the Jötnar court, to wear fewer layers of clothing. That is why their soldiers go into battle practically naked and with minimal armor - it is meant to be intimidating. Believe it or not, this temperature is not particularly ideal even for me.”

You try to towel off with your scarf; you definitely don’t want your underwear and bra clinging to your wet skin and freezing you to death once you step back out into the cold. “So, the fact that I’m bundled up like this just makes me look even weaker, right?”

Nearly dressed, you zip up your jacket, lamenting your wet hair. What if it just… freezes and breaks off? Can that happen? You’re pretty sure someone told you that that’s a thing that can happen.

“Essentially,” Loki replies. “They’re very aware of how tender and soft and vulnerable you are, I assure you. I’m afraid you don’t really have any other options. In fact, I should probably renew your charm before we leave. Come here.”

Reluctantly, you shuffle to his side, entirely vexed that he’s actually doing something considerate. It makes you less inclined to despise him, and it’s a lot easier when you can despise him.

Loki puts his hand on your head again, and you shiver as a soothing sort of warmth slides over your skin. The weight of your wet hair also lightens, and you realize that he’s dried it with his magic. Which means…

“Hey,” you say, eyes narrowed in suspicion. “If you could just dry me off, then why’d I have to take all my clothes off?”

“I thought that it would be entertaining.” You swat his hand away as he snickers. “And I was entirely correct.”

He steers you out into the hallway as you seethe, not trusting yourself to say anything that won’t instantly get you into trouble. “You know,” Loki remarks, “I rather like it when you pout, mortal. It keeps you quiet, at the very least.”

Ten minutes later finds you in the grand entryway of a massive room, which is completely packed with long tables made out of some sort of dark, shiny wood. The trees here must be massive, too, even though you can’t imagine where any trees would dare to grow.

There are Frost Giants of varying sizes and states of dress already seated at many of the tables, including the one that stretches down the very middle of the room on a raised dais, which is where you’re apparently headed.

The queen is sitting there waiting, the stone-faced boy at her side, along with several other giants you recognize from the hall when you’d arrived, and many more that you’ve never seen before. Skaði’s there, too, of course, watching Loki with that calculating smirk of hers.

In fact, everyone in the room is now staring at the two of you as you make your way to the head of the table, some more blatantly than others.

Screw this. Freaking Frost Giants and their stupid frozen planet.

You trail just behind him as he makes his way to the seat that’s clearly meant for him… but it’s a single seat. There’s nowhere for you to sit next to him, and your blood seems to surge through your veins as your anxiety spikes.

But Loki seems to notice, as well, and he halts as he nears his seat. Somehow, it doesn’t seem to bother him that all eyes are on him - in fact, he seems to almost relish it. He turns and beckons to one of the giants standing behind the queen’s chair, who inclines his head so that Loki can whisper in his ear.

It’s honestly surreal how comfortable he seems to be giving orders to a being that is at least two feet taller than him.

The servant nods and quickly walks off, and Loki slides into his seat, ignoring you entirely. You stand awkwardly behind him, cold and miserable and experiencing what is probably the worst case of stage-fright in existence.

“So, Queen Fárbauti,” he says, a sly smile on his lips. “Have you consulted your soothsayer?”

“The Völva has been sent for, Laufeyson, and she journeys here to meet with you even now. Apparently such significant events require more pomp and ceremony than a single raven can convey.”

Damn, you think, slightly impressed. Honestly, even though you’re pretty terrified of the queen and don’t really care for her… you’ve gotta admire her ability to snark back at Loki so effortlessly.

“Wonderful.” He then turns his attention to the boy sitting opposite him. “Greetings, Býleistr.”

There’s something odd in his voice, almost challenging, and you remember that he’d threatened to kill the kid that very morning, and he’d done it right to his face.

Ouch. Major family issues, there.

“Greetings, Brother.” His voice is as flat as his expression, and you think you see Loki flinch slightly, though no one else seems to notice it.

The servant scurries back to Loki’s side, placing a large heap of furry pelts on the floor beside his chair, arranging them until they begin to resemble something like a nest.

It’s basically a dog bed, you realize, and you stare at the pile of furs at his feet, completely aghast. As the servant bows and retreats to his place behind Fárbauti’s chair, Loki raises his hand and snaps his fingers, then points to the pile.

He doesn’t even turn to look at you.

Son of a - Your blood pressure skyrockets. I’m going to kill him, you think once again, but at least the freaking pile of furs looks warm, and at least you’ll be out of view from most of these terrifying giants who probably want to kill you, so you swallow what’s left of your dignity and burrow into the pile.

You curl up and sneak peeks at the tables around you, trying to determine if you’re actually going to get anything to eat, because it’s been days at this point and you’re seriously starting to get worried that you’re going to starve.

Loki and the queen are sniping at each other again in that semi-polite, courtly way of theirs, and you drown them out - it’s only making you more nervous. He was right - even with your clothes and his warming charm, the room is chilly, and you pull one of the loose pelts around your shoulders.

And then Loki’s hand appears in front of your face, holding a chunk of… well, you aren’t sure what it is, exactly. Maybe some kind of alien fish? It smells kind of fishy, and you wrinkle your nose. But it appears to be cooked, at least, and that’s promising. And he probably wouldn’t feed you something that would poison you, right?

You reach to take it from his fingers, and he pulls away, glancing down at you from the corner of his eyes as he continues to talk with the giants around him. Oh, hell no, you think, realizing that he’s intending to hand-feed you like some kind of spoiled little lap dog.

Oh, hell yes, your rumbling stomach responds, and need overrides emotion as the morsel approaches your face again. You take it from his fingers with your teeth, making sure to give his fingers a sharp bite.

If he’s going to treat you like some kind of animal, then by God, you’re going to act like one.

But Loki seems unphased. In fact, he looks like he’s trying not to laugh, and a minute later, another bite of the probably-fish is in front of you. Sighing, you remind yourself that you promised yourself that you’d survive this inadvertent adventure, no matter what it took.

And apparently, that meant literally eating out of Loki’s hand. Fine. Whatever. There were worse things that could happen, after all. You can handle the indignity, playing your part. The role of a lifetime, your sarcastic inner voice provides.

And when this is all over, you’re definitely going to kill him.

 

Chapter Text

You’ve managed to put down a fair bit of the salty fishy stuff, deciding that it’s actually not that bad. Sure, you might not choose it at a buffet or anything, but it’s a hell of a lot better than it could be, all things considered.

After a while, Loki passes you a bowl of some kind of brothy soup. This, you decide, is much better; it tastes kind of like beef, it’s also pretty salty, and it’s full of little flakes of something that looks surprisingly similar to seaweed.

The monotonous voice of the young giant prince catches your attention. “- mortal. I’ve never seen one before, not in real life.”

Maybe you should be paying more attention; you’d really like to know how that train of conversation got started.

“Well, of course not, dearest,” Queen Fárbauti replies. “We stopped keeping mortals ages ago, after Odin Allfather decided to overstep himself and cut off our access to other realms. And they’re hardly worth the effort it takes to keep them in working condition.”

Oh my God. All those ancient myths about people getting stolen away by elves and trolls and giants… they must be true. These giants actually used to keep human pets. You guess that explains why no one’s really batting an eye at Loki’s decision to keep you around.

Oh, crap. That also explains Skaði’s comment in the bath chamber about Loki being ‘old-fashioned.’

“I want to look at it,” Býleistr says. “Ask it to stand.”

“She can understand you.” There’s amusement in Loki’s voice, and you wish that you had a fork so that you could maybe stab him in the leg or something. “Stand, mortal.”

Reluctantly, you clamber to your feet on top of your little nest, but then your eyes land on something on the table that nearly makes you scream, and you clap your free hand over your mouth, eyes wide.

It’s the head of a dragon.

Or… or maybe a giant snake, or something?

Whatever it is, the head alone is probably at least three feet long, and the rest of its body is stretched out along the table, skinned and cooked. The head is covered in slick scales and has weird, spiny fins sticking out from behind its jaw, and its open mouth is filled with rows upon rows of razor-sharp, pointed teeth.

A bulky giant further down the table begins to laugh. “The mortal has never seen sjøormar before, it seems.”

“There are no more sea serpents loose on Midgard,” Loki replies smoothly. “Not since Thor and I bound Jörmungandr.”

“An impressive feat, that.” This giant is on the smaller side, and he’s wearing a vest, so you assume maybe he isn’t a soldier… that’s how it works, right? You really need a study guide or something.

And then there’s the fact that you’ve been eating sea serpent. Alien sea serpent. This thing looks like it’s probably super poisonous.

You stare at your bowl, suddenly apprehensive.

Loki notices. “Drink,” he says. “You will take what is provided.”

Apparently, some of the others have noticed, too, because a pointy-toothed female from down the table is now leering at you with a decidedly vicious expression. “Be grateful that you aren’t on the table yourself, little warm-skin.”

You choke on your mouthful of broth, covering your mouth as you start to cough, attempting to maybe maintain some shred of dignity. Christ, you’re humiliating yourself. Does it even matter? These… these aliens are probably going to end up murdering you.

Most of the giants at your end of the table laugh at your shock, and even Loki snickers. Some saviour you are, you fume. God of freaking Making-My-Life-Miserable.

Býleistr cocks his head, the corner of his lip curling up in a smile. It’s the first shred of emotion you’ve seen him express. “They are playing with you, mortal,” he says. “We do not eat humans. Or at least, we have not done so in thousands of years.”

His smirk deepens slightly, and his mother scowls. “Really, my son, you should not suggest such things. None of the civilized tribes ever ate the creatures. How distasteful.”

You’re pretty sure she doesn’t think it’s ‘distasteful’ for the same reasons you think it’s ‘distasteful.’

“It is hard to enjoy a meal that can argue with you.” The giant who says this is on the taller side, and his skin is slightly more grey than Loki… a different variety, maybe? He almost sounds like he’s speaking from experience, and you shudder.

Then Loki’s hand is on your shoulder, and he gives you a subtle, gentle squeeze - a threat, or a reassurance? “Sit, girl,” he commands. “If Býleistr wishes to examine you further, he can do it after we’ve eaten.”

Your heart rate skyrockets at the thought of being ‘examined’ by any of these giants, especially without Loki around… but then he squeezes your shoulder again. “You can stop by my chambers this evening, if you wish, Brother.”

He isn’t going to leave you alone with them.

Relieved, you sink back into your nest, your bowl of broth still in hand. You aren’t going to ask what’s inside it. It’s better not to know. If ‘fishy’ means a freaking sea monster, then you can only begin to imagine what ‘beefy’ might be.

Honestly, this pet-bed on the floor is starting to seem better and better; you’re kind of hidden away, at least. And no matter how super messed-up it might be, Loki’s occasional pats on the head are actually kind of soothing, like a nice little ‘hey, I’m not gonna go off and let giants eat you’ reminder. It’s nice that it’s warm, too.

You think about what Loki told you, that the Frost Giants aren’t totally immune to the cold, either. Watching him from your place on the floor, you decide that he’s a pretty amazing actor - he looks totally at-ease, smiling and taunting and laughing as if it’s just another day for him.

Being royalty must suck, if this is the kind of dinner party he’s used to, you muse.

There are about a million questions swirling around inside your brain, and you’re itching to get back to Loki’s bedroom and see if he’ll answer some of them… if he can. It sounds like he might not exactly be an expert on Jotunheim, himself, which is pretty worrying. It’s not like you can just whip out your phone and start Googling everything.

“Hey, Siri, are Jotunheim sea monsters poisonous to humans?”

And then, you’ve also got to deal with the possibility of Loki’s kid brother coming by to take a closer look at the exotic little pet, and that kind of puts a damper on things. So far, you haven’t been able to get a good read on Býleistr - he doesn’t seem quite as aggressive as some of the others, but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t just as dangerous. You also can’t tell how old he actually is… he’s only around the same height as Skaði, but he looks kind of lanky, which leads you to believe that he isn’t finished growing.

Damn, if he’s over seven feet tall now, how tall is he gonna get?

Hopefully you’ll be long gone before you have a chance to find out. A giant prince’s angsty teenage phase isn’t exactly something you want to stick around to see.

Although, that brings up another question: how old is Loki, relatively? Because he looks pretty young, too; if you’d seen him in his human-looking form just out on the street one day, you’d’ve guessed he was maybe in his twenties.

Must be one of the perks of being immortal.

They’re talking about this Völva lady, who’s apparently on the way with an entire entourage. From what you can gather, she’s some kind of oracle, and it sounds like she’s a really big deal, to the extent that they might legitimately make Loki king if she says that’s what’s supposed to happen.

This is crazy. But then, you know of countless cases in human history where one relative murdered another to take the throne and everyone in the kingdom just went along with it - it isn’t exactly like Loki’s breaking new ground here.

You also wonder if it has less to do with what the Völva actually says and more to do with Loki’s powers, because aside from all of the weird ice-doors and frozen weapons, you haven’t seen any of the other Frost Giants do anything even vaguely magical. Maybe the queen just needs an excuse to save face, to hide the fact that she’s afraid that Loki will really kill her and Býleistr if they get in his way.

You really don’t want to be in the middle of all this drama. If he gets himself assassinated, you’re toast.

“Would you like for me to escort you back to your chambers, my prince?”

“But of course, lovely Skaði.” Scowling, you glare up at him - she isn’t that lovely. And she has a terrible personality. “Come, mortal.”

Silently, you deposit your now-empty bowl on the table and scurry to keep up with their long strides, because there’s no way in hell you’re getting left behind.

As you follow them down the icy halls, trying not to slip, you turn a critical eye to Skaði’s form. She’s wearing a fair bit of clothes, though the cloth seems kind of thin; her dress is essentially just a long, straight tube with open-shoulder sleeves, belted to show off her waist. You notice for the first that there’s a knife tucked in her belt, carved out of what appears to be jade, and you blanch - as if you needed more to worry about.

So what’s her social ranking, exactly? Whatever it is, she’s clearly looking to improve it.

“You must go hunting with me sometime, future-king,” she says as she reaches the door. “If you are around long enough, of course.”

Loki grins. “I am certain that I will be.”

I am so sick of this.

He actually gets rid of her pretty quickly, and you heave a sigh of relief when the door closes behind her. Geez, you never thought you’d be relieved to be trapped in a room with him, but here you are. Loki stretches, reminding you somewhat of a cat, sighing deeply.

Maybe he’d been more tense than he’d let on.

“You might as well get on the bed,” he says. “Keep it warm for me. I have no doubt that Býleistr will come calling, if he can manage to give his mother the slip. It seems you’ve already managed to find an admirer.”

“Great.” You’re too tired and stressed out to argue with the whole bed-warming jab, so you climb onto the heap of fur covers and pull a heavy woolen blanket around your shoulders. Does it still count as wool if it doesn’t come from sheep? You’re pretty sure it does. “So, do you plan on letting me actually eat like a normal human being at some point, or…?”

Loki snickers, which is an immediate bad sign. “No.”

“You’re gonna keep hand-feeding me.”

“Yes.”

You can almost envision a vein throbbing in your temple from your frustration, just like a cartoon character. “Why?”

“I find it entertaining.”

Eyes narrowing, you glare at him suspiciously. “You’re… are you getting off on this? What the hell, Loki!”

He just laughs and unfastens his cloak, letting it drop to the floor in a heap, then goes to rummage in a trunk at the foot of the bed that must’ve been placed there while you were gone. “I am glad to see that dinner has revitalized you so greatly, mortal. What a shame it would be if you were to die.”

Your jaw clenches at the not-so-subtle reminder that he’s your only lifeline, and you keep your tirade internal. Stupid arrogant kinky bastard. You’re going to bite him harder next time.

With his cloak and the belts that had held it in place now gone, his wounded chest is on full display, and you frown. “Why did you go like that?” you ask. “You look like you’re half-dead, you know. Won’t that just make it more likely for them to take you out, while you’re in bad shape?”

“I am going for the opposite effect - if I can survive this and have the power and confidence to stroll in and demand the throne mere days later, then how likely is it that any of them can finish me off?”

“Oh.” That makes sense, actually.

There’s a knocking sound from outside, and Loki waves the door open. Býleistr steps in, and it looks like he’s gone to the effort of changing into casual-wear, because he’s wearing a tunic and leggings made out of some kind of leather, his hair unbound and falling around his face.

In fact, it almost looks like he’s snuck out after he’s supposedly gone to bed, and you start to wonder if the queen keeps him on a tight leash. At least he doesn’t have any knives… that you can see.

“Býleistr,” Loki greets. “You wished to see my mortal? Stand up, pet.”

Bastard, you chant in your head as you force yourself to stand on shaking legs, the blanket still clutched around your shoulders. Bastard bastard bastard. Why does he have to be so terrible?

The younger giant steps closer to you, a look of fascination in his red eyes. Wonderful. Mr. Apathy finally shows interest in something, and it’s me. Of course.

“She is so small,” he says. “Are all mortals this height?”

“Most of their women are near to her in height, though she is slightly on the shorter side. I would be considered tall for a mortal man, though not unnaturally so.”

Býleistr glances at Loki, as if he’s somehow forgotten that his elder brother is practically a foot shorter than him. “I see. How long can they live?”

“No more than a century.”

His brow furrows. “That is longer than I thought. This one looks young.”

“She is, but she is fully-grown.”

Part of you is insulted and annoyed that they’re discussing you right in front of your face, but another part of you is grateful that Loki is doing all of the talking.

He leans closer, and you tremble as he reaches out and touches your cheek. “They truly are warm,” he says, slightly surprised, “and soft.”

Oh, God, you think, your stomach churning, the waves of panic beginning to rush through your veins. This is too much attention - you weren’t prepared for him to actually touch you.

Býleistr takes a deep breath, cocking his head to the side - it’s weirdly reminiscent of Loki, considering they’re only half-siblings and they’ve never met before, but it makes you wonder what he’d look like in a more-human form. “She smells frightened.”

Damn it, you’d completely forgotten the whole scent thing.

“She is frightened,” Loki replies, finally moving closer to you. “Humans are weak creatures, ill-suited for this climate. One must be careful to keep them alive.” There’s a slightly hard edge to his voice, and Býleistr’s hand drops away.

“Are they alike to us in form? Underneath all of this?”

Okay, wow, you think. Rude.

“They are,” Loki drawls, “though I will not disrobe her. It is cold, and I do not want her to get frostbite.” He grins at you, and you’re overwhelmed by the urge to punch him right in his smug, handsome face.

The younger giant nods thoughtfully. “We have depictions of them, of course, but this is much different, actually seeing one in the flesh.”

“Queen Fárbauti was alive during the days of human thralldom - you should turn your questions to her, if you find the mortals so interesting.”

Apathy smooths back over Býleistr’s features. “Mother does not like discussing the old days. It makes her bitter over what we’ve lost.”

You suppress a snort. Like she’s a ray of sunshine the rest of the time?

“You say you have depictions of the humans - is there an archive in the palace, Býleistr?”

“There is. I can show you in the morning, if you wish.”

“I would be extremely grateful.”

That’s apparently meant to be a dismissal, because with one more long, curious look at you, the prince turns and leaves. You realize that you’re still shaking, and you sit heavily on the bed as Loki kicks off his boots, fading back to human-paleness, the patterns on his skin smoothing over. You’re never going to get used to that.

“Take off your boots. And your jacket, as well. You will not need it in the bed.”

“About that…”

Loki crouches in front of you, staring you down, and you freeze like a deer in the headlights. “Very well,” he says after a moment or two of tense silence. Grabbing you by the ankle, he stands suddenly, and you fall onto your back.

“Hey!”

He tears off one of your boots and drops it onto the floor, then captures your other flailing foot and does the same. “Do I need to treat you like an unruly child?” he asks pleasantly, one of your ankles still caught in his grip, “or will you be a good girl and do it yourself?”

You huff, putting every bit of spite you can muster into your glare, but your fingers find your zipper anyway. “I’ll do it myself.”

Your ankle is released, but before you can feel relieved, he leans over you, his hands on either side of your head. “I knew you would make the smart decision.” His smile is smug, and your face heats. He’s so freaking big, and he’s all up in your space, and his eyes are sparkling like he’s about to do something you probably won’t find nearly as entertaining as he will. “You are such a good little pet, after all.”

And that’s when you finally snap and slap him across the face.

 

Chapter Text

Loki’s head jerks sideways as your palm connects with his cheek; you must’ve caught him off-guard. For a moment, he just looks at you, expression indecipherable.

Oh, God. Why did I do that? What the hell was I thinking? He’s going to kill me - he doesn't even have to kill me himself. He can just toss me out into the hallway and let one of the others do it for him. Or let me freeze. He’d probably enjoy that. Christ, I’m going to die.

And then he slowly smiles. Somehow, your stuttering heart finds that even more frightening.

“Oh, not a good girl, I see. You are the second mortal woman to ever raise a hand to me, pet. The first escaped unscathed because she was under the protection of Thor. Who are you under the protection of, again?”

Eyes wide, you struggle to respond. “You.”

“What was that? I cannot hear you.”

You take a deep breath and clench your fists into the blankets beneath you, some unconscious drive urging you to stay still and look as unthreatening as possible. “You.”

“That is correct. Me. I decide your fate, I am your master, and you’ve just lashed out at me like some sort of feral animal.” Loki’s grin flashes as he leans even closer. “And you’ve even bitten me, mortal. If you want to act like an untamed little beast, then I will treat you like one.”

He stands, snatching you up by your collar, and your world spins. “Wait,” you squeak. “Where are we going?”

Loki doesn’t break stride as he drags you across the room. “You’ve made it very clear that you have no intention of behaving yourself. You’re going to sleep outside my door. You can serve as my watchdog.”

“What? No!”

He pauses, one hand raised in front of the door. “No?”

“No!” you sputter, outraged. “Please, I’ll freeze! Or one of those giants will get me. Please, Loki.”

And then, much to your eternal shame, you burst into tears.

“Oh, dear. Are you actually crying?” He gives you a bit of a shake, pretending to be perplexed.

Or maybe he actually is perplexed; Loki doesn’t exactly seem to have the best understanding of human emotions.

“Do you want to stay in the bed?” he asks, hand still raised to the door, as if he’s ready to toss you out at a moment’s notice.

You nod, frantically scrubbing the tears from your cheeks. The floor is much colder with only your socks as a shield, and your qualms about sharing the bed with him are quickly fading.

“Are you going to try to murder me in my sleep? Or are you finished with this little episode of defiance?”

“No. I’ll… I’ll be good.”

“Excellent.” Apparently satisfied that he’s terrorized you enough, Loki hauls you over to the bed and pulls back several layers of blankets and furs, then shoves you onto it. “Get in. You’ll be sleeping next to the wall.”

You do as he says, burrowing into the giant nest of a bed in search of warmth. “So that I can’t run away?”

He snorts. “Yes, and also so that anyone who might come calling in the night won’t be able to kill you without first going through me.”

That’s not an answer you were expecting. “Oh.”

“Yes, ‘oh.’ Ungrateful little wench - you act as though I am not putting forth an irritating amount of effort just to keep you alive.”

You lie frozen as he climbs in beside you, and the lights in the sconces on the walls go out as he pulls the heavy layers of covers on top of you.

“Come,” he says, dragging you into his arms. “I wish to feel your warmth.”

Okay, adding his voice to the list of things I hate. Why does he have to make everything sound so inappropriate?

“Hey, Loki?” You wiggle around, trying to get comfortable - to be such a standoffish brat half the time, he sure as hell gets clingy when he’s about to go to sleep, and he’s got his face pressed against your hair. Great.

“Yes?”

“I have questions.”

His weary sigh ruffles your hair, and you expect him to tell you to shut up… but he doesn’t. “Go on.”

“Why do some of them so… different -looking?”

“There are many varieties of Jötnar. ‘Frost Giant’ is used to refer to the entire species, for all Jötnar can manipulate ice, but it also refers to a specific tribe: the tribe of Laufey. They are large and fearsome in form, and native to the lands surrounding Utgard, where everything is bitterly cold and harsh year-round. Supposedly, they were the first giants of Jotunheim, and all others came from them.

“I do not know much about the others; there are few records of the Jötnar on other realms, particularly after they lost the war against the Æsir. Apparently, my mother was a Storm Giant - if Fárbauti can be believed.”

“Huh.” You’re kind of shocked that he’s being so forthcoming. Maybe it makes him feel a little less lonely, having someone to talk to who’s even more clueless about the situation than he is. “So do you know what Fárbauti is, then?”

“I believe they are called Skógr-Jötnar. Forest Giants.”

“There are forests here?”

“Further south, yes. They are known for their many exalted huntresses, Skaði being the foremost among them. She is known even on Asgard for her skill with the bow.”

Great. So if she doesn’t stab you or strangle you, she can always shoot you.

“Is that why they have the pointy ears? Like elves?” Forest elves, you’ve heard of before… forest giants are a new concept.

Loki chuckles, though it quickly morphs into a yawn. “I would not let one of the Light Elves hear you say that. They detest the Jötnar almost as much as the Asgardians do.”

“Elves are real?”

“Of course. You’ll likely meet one, sooner or later. Now, sleep.”

Elves are real. Woah. It shouldn’t be that surprising, you guess. Not after everything else you’ve seen. “Loki?”

“What?” he mumbles.

“Thanks. For talking to me, I mean. It makes me feel less afraid, I guess. So... I appreciate it.”

He doesn’t say anything, and you realize he’s fallen asleep.

“I’m not sorry that I slapped you, though,” you whisper under your breath. Warm and full and exhausted, it doesn’t take you very long to fall asleep, either.

 


 

He’s already awake when you open your eyes in the morning, and he’s staring at you.

Okay, you think. Creepy. Really freaking creepy. “Morning,” you say, your voice still carrying a slight rasp of sleepiness.

“You are an odd creature, did you know that? You sleep as if you haven’t a care in the world.”

Uncertain of how to respond to that, you simply shrug. You’re definitely not going to tell him that he’s pretty comfortable, or that you feel (relatively) safe when he’s around. Nope. He’d only use it against you.

“One of the servants brought clothing for you, as well as food. There are only two actual meals per day, but I thought that we could both use something to tide us over.”

“Someone’s been in here already?” Your cheeks heat at the thought of some strange giant coming in and seeing you cuddled up in Loki’s bed, but he doesn’t seem overly bothered by it.

“Yes, and you did not even stir.” The familiar smirk appears. “You would make a terrible watchdog. I suppose it’s for the best that I kept you in the bed with me.”

You frown, irritated. Trust him to be his usual, insufferable self first thing in the morning.  “Can we just eat?”

“Change into your other clothing, first.”

“Yeah, whatever. Fine.” Shoving the covers aside, you hop to your feet, a little startled when Loki stretches out on the bed and throws his forearm over his eyes.

Huh. You hadn’t even asked him to look away. Maybe he’s just tired, and it’s a coincidence.

“So where are these clothes?”

“On the trunk.”

You change as quickly as possible, one piece at a time - there’s no way you’re going to get totally naked and lose all your body heat. The clothes they’ve brought for you are… interesting. There are thick, knee-high socks and a long-sleeved shirt that reminds you of a turtleneck, both made from the same wooly material as your blanket. On top of this you layer a thick pair of leathery leggings, followed by a heavy, floor-length tunic dress-thing that has slits running up to your hips.

There’s a fur-lined cloak, too, and you decided that’s your favorite part of the whole ensemble, because man, is it ever cozy. It even kind of matches your hat, which has nifty little ear-flaps. Yes, you think. This is amazing. You aren’t even overly concerned about where all these furs come from anymore; you just care that they’re warm.

“I’m dressed,” you announce, shoving your own boots back onto your feet. “No boots?”

“Apparently, those will have to be made.”

“Oh.” They’re gonna make things for you? That’s… surprising.

You go peer at the tray that’s on the table by the door, wondering if sea monster’s on the breakfast menu. There’s a big wooden bowl filled with some kind of chunky soup, and… is that some kind of bread? They kinda look like little biscuits, but they’re green.

“Bring the tray over, mortal,” he says. “Let’s see what we have.”

It’s heavy, and you’re kind of afraid that you’re going to drop it and make a huge mess - you’ve never been particularly graceful. But you make it to the bed without any upsets, and you set it down between you and Loki, retrieving your blanket and tucking it around your lap.

Any extra layers are a good idea right now, you reason. Once you leave the room, you’re going to be missing this nice little furry nest. “Any idea what this stuff is? And if it’ll kill me?”

He takes the spoon from your hand and pokes at the soup experimentally, flashing you a surprisingly genuine smile. “What a terribly tragic death, to be killed by soup.”

If it wasn’t such a genuine fear, you might’ve even laughed. “Hey, I’m actually worried here.”

Loki takes a bite, chewing thoughtfully. “I believe this is some sort of tuber,” he says. “Similar to your potatoes. It is not unpleasant.”

“And these?” You tap one of the green biscuit-things, frowning.

He passes you the spoon and then carefully selects one of the biscuit-things from the tray, taking a large bite. You sample the soup while he polishes it off - it’s actually extremely similar to potato soup, but there’s that familiar salty-fishiness from last night, which makes you suspicious that there is some sea monster in it.

“I have no idea what is in these,” he finally announces. “But they taste like bread. Slightly bitter, but edible.”

“Bitter bread and fishy potato soup. Breakfast of champions.” But you shove another spoonful in your mouth, anyway, and then follow it up by cramming one of the biscuits into your mouth. You grimace - he was right, they are bitter.

Snickering, Loki takes the spoon from you and continues to eat, and you try to ignore the tiny flicker of something you feel when his fingers brush against yours. He isn’t making you eat from his hand, you realize… in fact, he’s acting almost normal, like there isn’t some weird power dynamic at play.

Should you ask about it? Probably not.

“I am hopeful that Býleistr will come soon and show me to the palace archives,” Loki says. You wish he wouldn’t make eye contact with you like that while he’s licking the spoon clean; it feels almost indecent. “The Queen Mother will want to keep me in her sights as much as possible, so we will likely spend most of the day in the throne room.”

“Do I have to come?”

“Yes.” He grins. “You are my pet, after all.”

Welp, there it is. At least he’d managed a few minutes of not being completely horrible.

“I know you aren’t entirely stupid,” Loki continues, “so keep your eyes and ears open; there is a very good chance that the Frost Giants will let things slip in front of you that they would not dare to mention in my presence, or in close proximity to Queen Fárbauti.”

“Wait. Does that mean that I won’t be in close proximity to you?”

There’s a bit of an odd smile on his face. “I won’t let you out of my sight.”

You’re relieved. Unfortunately, he knows you’re relieved, and he seems delighted by it. Ass.

Býleistr appears at the door just as the two of you finish off the contents of the breakfast tray, and Loki pats your head as he stands, shifting back into his blue-form; his brother watches the transformation with an expression of discomfort. You can relate… it’s weird.

“I thank you for your time, Býleistr,” Loki says, fetching his cloak from the floor and swinging it around his shoulders. “Fasten this for me, will you, pet?”

Let the show begin, you think, fighting the overwhelming urge to roll your eyes. Even so, you try to be fairly gentle as you pull the belts tight through the buckles - his chest is still all bruised up, and you don’t want to give him any excuse to be even more of a diva.

And maybe part of you just genuinely doesn’t want to hurt him, too.

“I thought it might be entertaining.”

Damn, they even sound kind of similar. It’s weird.

Prince Býleistr casts his crimson eyes on you, and you stand stock-still at Loki’s side. “Your mortal has changed into our clothing. How strange it looks on her.”

You almost feel like he’s baiting you. That can’t be it, can it?

“Her Midgardian clothing is filthy. I could not allow her to stay in such a state.”

Loki keeps a firm grip on your upper arm as Býleistr leads you through the shining hallways and up several flights of stairs. Part of you wonders why he doesn’t just hold your hand, if he’s going to drag you around all day. Part of you wants to try it, just to see what he’d do. He would probably lose his mind.

You smile faintly at the thought.

The doors that you finally halt in front of are made of the same heavy, dark wood as the banquet-hall tables, decorated with highly-stylized carvings of terrifying-looking animals. A depiction of one of the sea serpents from last night’s dinner can be seen curving up the side of the door. The reminder that even the animals here are completely different from those on Earth makes you feel a little ill.

Býleistr shoves open the doors, and Loki pulls you along into a massive, rounded stone room - a tower, maybe? There are windows, though the glass in them is bubbled and thick. All along the walls are mosaics, pieced together from what looks to be brightly-colored glass.

It’s kind of beautiful, you have to admit.

And there’s a fireplace, which seems kind of weird. Maybe this is where the Frost Giants go when they aren’t trying to show off how tough they are.

There’s a particularly large mosaic over the fireplace, and Loki releases your arm and goes to stand before it, staring. There’s an odd look on his face, and you cross your arms, slightly uncomfortable.

“Gunnlöð,” Býleistr remarks, that characteristic flatness back in his voice. “Queen of Jotunheim, when she still lived.”

Gunnlöð. You’ve heard that name before, and you search your memory; you definitely remember Fárbauti saying it…

Loki continues to stare up at the mosaic, seemingly stricken.

And that’s when you remember.

Gunnlöð was his mother.

 

Chapter Text

The giantess in the mosaic is pretty, with a thin, willowy sort of frame - a far cry from the towering strength of Fárbauti. Her hair falls around her shoulders, and her eyes are a solid, gleaming emerald-green; in fact, those might actually be emeralds. In one hand, she holds a trident, and in the other, a golden goblet. Green and golden rays radiate from behind her head, and her feet seem to hover just over a line of crashing waves.

And Loki can’t seem to look away.

You wish you could say something, or maybe even go put a hand on his arm, but that would probably be a terrible idea. Acting out of character in front of Býleistr might get you in trouble.

“She holds skáldskapar mjaðar.” Býleistr glances at you. “The Mead of Poetry. I suppose that is how you came by your serpent’s-tongue, Brother.”

Loki doesn’t respond.

Býleistr seems unbothered, and he steps in front of you. “Mortal,” he says, “can you read?”

You blink up at him, heart racing - Loki told you to speak when spoken to, but he didn’t tell you what to say. The guy’s a prince, you reason. If you met a human prince, you’d probably call him… what? Your Highness? Sire?

“Yes, sire.”

Come on, Loki. Snap out of it.

The younger giant seems a bit startled to hear you actually speak, and he goes to one of the shelves nearby, plucking down a thin, weathered-looking book. He returns to you, holding it open in front of your face, watching you expectantly.

You look at the page, then back at Býleistr, baffled. What am I supposed to do, a trick? These are runes. You don’t know runes. And even if you knew what sounds they stood for, it isn’t like you know their language.

“Can you not read these?”

“No, sire,” you reply, weirdly embarrassed by your lack of understanding. You guess it’s because you’re the only representative of humanity these giants have seen in at least a thousand years - you feel a sort of duty to be impressive. “It’s a different language.”

He frowns down at you. “But this is the script of the Æsir. Is this not what Odin gifted to mankind?”

Loki finally seems to take notice, and he turns away from the mosaic. “The mortals have evolved many languages over the centuries, and many forms of writing to accompany them. She will not be able to recognize anything here.”

“Hmm.” He flips through the pages, then holds the book out again; there’s a painting of what you assume is a human woman on the page, kneeling at the side of a towering blue giant. “A mortal girl,” he says. “Taken from Midgard, during the Golden Age.”

Not the Golden Age of Midgard, from the looks of it. You imagine being an ancient human, having to worry about one of these guys popping up out of a snowdrift and grabbing you, and your skin crawls. Why is he even showing you this?

“Are there any accounts of the tribes of Jotunheim?” Loki asks, and Býleistr closes the book.

“Yes. I suppose that it is only sensible that you’d try to learn about the people you intend to rule.”

You’re afraid that a fight is brewing, but Loki simply laughs. “Indeed it is.”

Býleistr shows Loki to a shelf on the far side of the wide tower-room, and you keep your feet planted firmly, unsure if you’re supposed to follow. While you wait, you check out the other mosaics on the wall; most of them depict giants and crazy-looking gigantic animals, though there are a few that seem to show battles with beings in golden armor.

Asgardians? you wonder. Or elves, maybe? Since those apparently actually exist.

Loki is quickly enthralled with scanning through the books, and his brother wanders back over towards your side of the room. He doesn’t say anything - he just looks at you.

It must be a family trait.

A female giant you don’t remember seeing before appears in the doorway, bowing; you assume she’s a servant. Býleistr goes to speak with her, and you can’t make out any of what they’re saying, though he does gesture at you a time or two, and you think you make out the words ‘ in unga.’

Whatever the hell that means.

The giantess bows again and leaves, and Loki continues reading, as if he hasn’t even noticed that you’d had company.

“Mother summons me,” Býleistr announces. “I will take my leave.”

“Please inform the Queen Mother that I will join you shortly.”

Loki finally looks up at you once the door has firmly closed. “Be wary of him,” he says.

“I’m wary of everyone here.”

“Yes, I suppose you are. Still, you should endeavor to keep your distance. I can assure you that striking him would not be a very effective deterrent.” It almost sounds like he’s teasing you, and you’re kind of weirded out by it.

Then he sticks his nose back in his book. You’re getting major Belle vibes here - but then, if he’s Beauty, then who’s the Beast in this scenario? Your face scrunches up. Wrong fairytale, I guess.

“Hey.”

“Yes, mortal?”

“Didn’t you say there was another brother? Hell-something?”

“Helblindi. You were not paying attention at the feast last night; the queen says that he is on a hunting trip in the southern forests.”

“Tough name,” you remark. If he’s going to respond, then you’re gonna keep talking; you’re kind of almost enjoying it. Maybe you should’ve slapped him sooner. Or maybe you shouldn’t have done it at all; you’re kind of shocked that it didn’t end in your untimely demise.

“Hel-blinder. It suggests one who can defy Death itself.”

“Hmm. What does ‘in unga’ mean?”

“Who said that?”

“Býleistr. He pointed at me when the giant lady came in.”

Loki snorts. “Congratulations, mortal. It seems you’ve gotten a name.”

“I already have a name,” you snap. Not that you ever use it.

“It means ‘The Young One.’ You should be thankful - it could’ve been much, much worse. The giants are fond of their bynames.”

“Yeah?”

He grins at you over the book in his hands. “They call me Ormstunga. Serpent-Tongue. On other realms, I am Silver-Tongue. My tongue is well-renowned, it seems.”

Then, he actually has the audacity to wink at you, and your face flushes as Loki snickers.

“And after my little stunt with the Bifrost,” he continues, “I am also Inn-Illi - ‘The Evil One.’”

“Bifrost?”

Loki looks startled for a moment, as if he’d honestly expected you to know what the hell he was talking about, and he beckons you forward. “That,” he says, and then he points to the mosaic behind you, “is the Bifrost.”

You turn - it’s a gigantic beam of rainbow-colors, and there’s a city at its base.

“It bridges the realms,” he says. “I turned its power against Jotunheim, once. It destroyed much of Utgard.”

He doesn’t sound very regretful, and your mind spins. “Wait - you tried to torch the whole planet, and they still might make you king?”

Shrugging, Loki shelves the book. “I suppose conquest must be in my blood. Come along; we should go join the court. Appearances are everything, after all.”

Your heart plummets. “Do we have to?”

“You will be fine, girl.” He seizes your arm and guides you towards the door, giving you an odd sort of look out of the corner of his eye. “You have spirit.”

Wait… is that a good thing? You thought he wanted you to be meek and obedient and all that jazz. They should call you ‘The Fickle One,’ you think.

It seems like there are more giants out and about in the palace today, and you wonder if it’s because you and Loki have made such a stir. You can practically feel the tension in the air, and you try to stay calm, reminding yourself that they can apparently all smell when you’re panicking.

Well, you think guiltily, panicking or turned-on. Because Loki had definitely noticed when you were turned-on that time in the cave.

Ugh.

And you know that’s gonna happen again, an insidious voice in your head whispers. You sneak a furtive glance at the god at your side, instantly on-edge. He might be nuts, but he’s also hot, and you’re basically stuck with him 24/7. Or however long the days are around here. And that includes bedtime and bathtime, apparently.

That’s going to be a problem.

Then he looks down at you, and as soon as your eyes meet, you feel that increasingly-familiar fire flush across your cheeks.

Loki smirks.

Of course, you think, that’s probably why he’s so arrogant - he’s used to being ogled all the time. Embarrassed, you turn and stare down the hallway; you’re just giving him more ammunition.

The throne room is full of Frost Giants, and without all of the massive soldiers crowding around you, you see that there are benches and cushions spread around the edges of the room, almost all of them occupied. The queen sits on her throne, and her son is seated in a smaller (but still pretty impressive) seat on her right. There’s a conspicuously-empty seat on her left.

Now that you know to look for the similarities, you notice that all of the giants lounging on the steps of the dais have the same pointed ears as Fárbauti and Skaði, and the same lean-but-muscular bodies. A group of the female giants near the foot of the stairs laughs at some unheard joke, and you’re close enough now to see that they all have those same pointy teeth.

It looks like she must keep her clan close. That’s probably smart, considering that the giants don’t seem to mind murder all that much. You’d surround yourself with lackeys if you were the queen, too.

Except, what lackeys is Loki going to surround himself with, if he ends up becoming king? You?

God, you hope he makes some friends soon.

There’s a familiar-looking nest of furs at the base of the dais, which is a good twenty feet from where Loki is presumably going to sit, and you are none too pleased when he shoves you onto it; you guess that’s what he meant when he said you might not be in close proximity.

But you are in eyesight, like he’d promised, so that’s… good, at least. You guess. There are dozens of pairs of crimson eyes on you, and you try to ignore them, wrapping yourself in your cloak as you settle into your cushioned seat. Become a burrito, you tell yourself. Just like when you’re curled up on the couch at home. A nice, warm, content little blanket burrito.

Except this isn’t home.

You’re trying to keep your gaze downcast, because the last thing you want is to make awkward eye contact with one of the giants, but then two pairs of legs appear in front of you, bare to the knee.

Don’t look up, don’t look up.

But you don’t have to, because they simultaneously crouch down in front of you. You blink - they’re identical twin giantesses, and your heartbeat spikes, because they are both staring at you with a worrying amount of curious fascination. Both of them wear long-sleeved, knee-length tunics, and both have their raven hair pulled into single braids - though one’s hair is braided on the left side, and the other’s is on the right.

“Just look, Greip,” says the one on the right, smiling excitedly, “In-Unga, Loki’s mortal.”

I have an actual name, you want to snap, but you keep your mouth shut.

The one one on the left - Greip, apparently - taps her chin thoughtfully. “Prince Býleistr spoke truly, Gjálp; see how small she is.”

“You speak, mortal, do you not? The prince says that you speak.”

They both have a sort of childlike glee radiating from their features, and you begin to suspect that they’re probably no older than Býleistr. You swallow, mouth suddenly as dry as cotton. “Of course I do.”

Gjálp claps her hands together, delighted, and you flinch. “Of course she does! How precious!”

“How did Loki come by you, little one?”

Greip has a slightly-huskier voice, you note, and her braid is on the right, which is… something distinguishing, at least. You groan internally - you’re never going to remember their names.

“I… I fell through something. On Ear- on Midgard. A portal.”

The twins turn towards each other, appraising.

“The Convergence?”

Greip nods. “Likely so.” She smiles at you, and while it’s teasing, it isn’t necessarily cruel. “How unfortunate for you, mortal, to fall into the grasp of Loki Inn-Illi, God of Lies.”

“Yeah.” You lick your lips, wondering what you should say. “Bad luck.”

They both burst into laughter. The blood rushes from your face - should you not have said that? But Loki isn’t rushing in to save the day, so either he hasn’t noticed or doesn’t think you’re in danger. You hope it’s the latter.

“She is bold,” Gjálp declares.

You don’t feel very bold.

“Can you work seiðr, In-Unga?”

Seiðr? That sounds vaguely familiar; did Loki mention it? “No.”

“Hmm.” Greip is tapping her chin again, scrutinizing you carefully. “Can you fight?”

I took a kickboxing class, once, you want to say. That probably doesn’t count. “No.”

“Hunt?”

“No.”

Her brow furrows. “Well, what can you do, mortal?”

Your mind goes blank. Is there anything that you can do that would impress them? You’re pretty smart - or at least you like to think so - but they won’t think so - you have no idea how anything on their world works, and you can’t even read their books. You’re an okay cook, but you doubt that your fillet-of-sea-monster would be up to par.

You lead a pretty modern life; you doubt that Frost Giants are going to care about your extensive knowledge of pop culture trivia, or your schooling, or your boring Earthly hobbies.

“Not much,” you finally say, and the twins start giggling again. You pull your cloak tighter around your shoulders, humiliated. Yeah, well, I bet you guys couldn’t use an iPad, so...

“I am going to touch you,” Gjálp announces, reaching out slowly, like you’re some kind of skittish animal. You guess that’s a pretty fair comparison. At least she gave you a warning - that was more than you could say for Býleistr.

Her cool fingers brush your cheek, and she lets out a huff of surprise. “Warm-skin,” she says. It’s the first time you’ve heard it said where it doesn’t sound like an insult. “You are very delicate?”

This is so weird. “I guess so.”

Gjálp’s hand drops away, and she turns towards her sister. “Such a fragile thing… Loki must be very gentle with her.”

Greip snorts. “Loki Laufeyson is gentle with no one.”

You’re strangely torn - some part of you almost wants to defend him, while another part of you is pretty sure that it’s better for the both of you if the giants think he is just a cold-hearted monster. They don’t seem to have much respect for supposed ‘weaknesses.’

Maybe you’re supposed to make him sound mean and tough and unfeeling - that kind of seems like the vibe he’s going for, right?

Earlier, you’d resented the way he was telling you how to act… now, you’d be grateful if he’d written you an entire freaking script, because worrying over everything you say to the giants is way too stressful.

Greip rummages around in the pouch on her belt, then holds her hand out to you. It’s full of some kind of reddish-pink… seeds? Or maybe tiny berries? You stare at them, perplexed. Are they… are they trying to feed you, like people feed ducks at the park?

Or maybe they’re trying to poison you.

Or, even if they’re genuinely trying to be kind, they might poison you accidentally; just because you can eat some of the food here, that doesn’t mean all of it is safe. But, you also don’t want to piss them off by refusing…

“Eat, In-Unga,” Gjálp says, smiling.

Your mind races. “I…” You glance over your shoulder, anxious. “I don’t know if he’d approve.”

“Ah.”

You expect for that to be the end of it, but it isn’t - Gjálp seizes one of the berries and springs to her feet, practically skipping up the steps of the dais to Loki’s makeshift throne. You blanch; you can’t imagine that he’ll be happy about being disturbed with anything regarding you, especially after he told you to keep a low profile.

Twisting, you watch anxiously as the girl says something inaudible to Loki, then holds out the berry. He shoots a quick look your way, bemused, then takes it and pops it into his mouth. He’s making sure it won’t kill me, you realize, and the thought makes you weirdly… happy.

Loki nods after a moment, and Gjálp bounds back to you, smiling brightly. “Your master says that you may have them, mortal. Eat!”

You hold out your hand, trying to still your slight tremor, and Greip drops them into your palm - at least they aren’t trying to hand-feed you. The berries (or whatever they are) are sweet and tart, reminding you slightly of oversized pomegranate seeds. “Um, thank you?” you manage to say, eyes darting between the eager faces of the two young giantesses.

Gjálp pats you on the head, chuckling. “Precious little thing.”

“Greip, Gjálp. What is this?”

Well, there’s a familiar voice, and you twist your neck around to find Skaði standing a few steps behind you, a frown on her lips.

Greip looks slightly abashed. “We are only feeding the mortal, Lady Skaði. Prince Loki said that we might.”

“Come. Queen Fárbauti has sent us to escort the Völva into Utgard. You can play with Loki’s pet later.”

“Of course, Lady Skaði.”

They both rise as she comes to stand at the foot of the steps, and you’re startled to see that they’re slightly taller than Skaði, though they’re also a good deal lankier - you assume it’s because they’re still young.

With one last glance at you, Skaði strides away, and the twins follow after her. Part of you is relieved to see them go, but another part of you is almost… sad. They talked to you, at least.

And they didn’t mention eating you.

The Völva.

If she’s almost here, then big things are about to go down, one way or another.

You aren’t entirely sure that you’re ready.

 

Chapter Text

There’s a lot of tension in the throne room, and it’s getting more and more crowded by the minute; it seems like everyone in the palace knows that something big is about to happen, and whatever it is, they want a front-row seat.

You, on the other hand, have a front-row seat that you’d be entirely happy to forfeit.

The way you figure it, this is going to go down one of two ways: either the Völva says Loki has no claim to the throne, and everyone immediately tries to murder him, or she says that he does have a legitimate claim… and everyone immediately tries to murder him. You can’t really imagine a scenario where no one tries to kill the usurper that they literally call “The Evil One.”

Everyone seems to be moving towards specific positions in the throne room, and you can only assume that they’re getting formal in preparation for what might end up being the announcement of their new king.

Many of the lithe, pointy-eared giants in the queen’s entourage stand and move from the steps of the dais, their spots soon occupied by giantesses and children of various ages. Loki seems to be ignoring them entirely.

You turn forward again, but staring at the massive entryway is doing terrible things to your blood pressure; every time a new group of giants enters the room, you assume it’s going to be the Völva and start panicking all over again.

There’s a new group of what you guess must be the ‘true’ Frost Giants hanging out in a pack not far from where you’re bundled up, because they’re tall and honestly kinda rough-looking. Laufey’s kids must take after their moms, you decide; Loki is objectively hot, and Býleistr honestly doesn’t look half-bad either, even if they are both creepy as hell. You wonder what this Helblindi guy looks like.

A lot of the giants are blatantly staring at you, and you try to ignore the sensation, peering over your shoulder once again to see if Loki’s making sure no one is going to do anything painful to you, but he’s busy surveying the room. Several of the giantesses seated on the steps of the dais are openly gawking at him, some with disgust, some with fascination, some with a mixture of the two.

Staring must just be a thing here.

As if on cue, Býleistr makes eye contact, and it must catch Loki’s attention, because he turns and looks at you, too, frowning slightly. Damn it. You turn scarlet and huddle down into your blankets. Maybe you should start putting some of your energy towards coming up with an exit strategy for when things start to inevitably go south.

You can’t really think of anything viable, though - even if you give the giants the slip, the climate will kill you, and quickly. And even if you somehow managed to survive the freezing temperatures, there are clearly a lot of wild animals that would be delighted to find a tasty little snack like you wandering around all alone.

There’s also the fact that the freaky magical space-portal that dropped you here was apparently a one-time thing; from what you can gather, Loki is your only ticket back to Earth. Ugh.

You can still feel his eyes on the back of your head, and you pull your cloak more snugly around your shoulders. You’re screwed. That’s all there is to it - you’re at the mercy of a superpowered shapeshifter who likes plotting hostile takeovers of entire planets. Fantastic.

There’s an unpleasant wailing sound that kinda reminds you of a bugle, and all of the giants in the throne room seem to perk up and turn their attention to the open doorway. Oh, God. You honestly feel a little lightheaded, and perversely enough, you suddenly wish that you were at Loki’s feet, his reassuring hand on your head.

Messed up, you think. It’s only been a few days, and I’m already messed up.

Skaði and a group of similarly-attired giantesses appear first through the doorway, the twins Gjálp and Greip among them… though you’ve already forgotten which is which. There are some of the usual burly-soldier types in the little processional as well, and they step to the side and form a pathway to the dais. It’s all very showy, and your teeth clench in anticipation.

But the giants that walk towards the throne then are… not really what you expected. They certainly don’t seem as fearsome as their escorts, at least. First in the line are a boy and a girl, likely around the same age as you (well, relatively). They look young, at least, and they’re slightly small and lithe, their blue skin a few shades lighter than that of Fárbauti and her kin.

Perhaps most startlingly, both of them have hair that is platinum-blond, almost white; you haven’t seen any giants with anything other than black hair so far, and some of them don’t even have hair to begin with. They’re also wearing plenty of clothes, and they don’t seem very worried about how ‘weak’ it might make them look - in fact, if anything, they look completely oblivious to the stares of the crowd.

Following along behind them is probably the oldest giant you’ve seen so far, shoulders visibly stooped from age, her fingers wrapped around a long, shining silver staff. Her hair is just as white as the boy and girl in front of her, though hers is cropped short.

Geez, you think, if most of these giants are thousands of thousands of years old and don’t look a day over twenty… how old is this lady? A million?

A few more giants follow behind her, and you realize that none of them are over seven feet tall. Must be a Storm Giant thing - hadn’t the queen made some snide comment about Loki’s mother being petite? They’re still pretty terrifying, even if they’re relatively small compared to the rest of the room, and you notice that most of them are armed in one way or another.

The boy and girl walk to the foot of the dais, and the old giantess who can only be the Völva comes along with them, while the rest of the giants in their party blend into the crowd. The girl throws her head back, her hand on her hip. “Loki Laufeyson of the Stormr-Jötnar has summoned the Völva before him to bear judgment. Here stand I, Heiðr, daughter of Hrímnir, and I speak for the Völva.”

“And here stand I,” the boy beside her declares, “Hrossþjófr, son of Hrímnir, and I speak for the Stormr-Jötnar.”

You feel, yet again, like you’ve fallen into some kind of medieval fantasy novel, and you risk a glance over your shoulder to see how Loki’s taking this latest development. He’s sprawling on his makeshift-throne, a small smile on his lips. Of course, you think. Nothing ever gets the freaking God of Chaos down.

Except maybe getting stabbed through the chest. He’d definitely been pretty furious about that.

“Here I sit,” he replies, his smooth, cool voice surprisingly loud in the silent throne room. “Loki, son of Laufey, God of Mischief, rightful King of Jotunheim, and I speak for myself.”

There are some murmurs in the crowd, so you assume he’s being intentionally rude… but you also think you see the Völva crack a small smile. God, Loki, please don’t start a riot.

Her escorts seem less amused. “The Völva sees the threads of Fate, Laufeyson,” the girl says, and there’s a slight hint of admonishment in her tone. “She sees that you are the firstborn son of King Laufey, and your birthright is the throne.” The crowd in the throne room grows louder, and it isn’t exactly a happy sort of loudness. “The Völva wishes to know if you are prepared to accept the trials of kingship, Loki Laufeyson.”

He leans forward in his seat, his bright teeth gleaming. “I am.”

“There must be a blood-sacrifice,” Heiðr replies, “one made by your own hand. The Völva will consult with the Norns to learn if you will be a worthy king. Are you prepared, Loki Laufeyson, to make this sacrifice?”

“But of course,” Loki replies easily. The queen looks irritated; she must’ve planned on doing all of the talking. Býleistr simply looks bored, though you catch him glancing at you for just a second or two.

Fárbauti finally speaks. “What is it,” she says, “that Loki Laufeyson must sacrifice in order to prove his worthiness for the throne?”

The boy at the foot of the dais smiles. “A hunt is a traditional demonstration of strength, Queen Fárbauti. Is that not so?”

A voice slides out from the edge of the crowd, sweet and sharp. “How fortunate for Loki Laufeyson,” Skaði says, “that he has already brought a blood-sacrifice along with him.”

And your blood runs cold as she points directly at you.

If the Frost Giants had somehow managed to forget about your existence during all of the excitement of the Völva arriving, they certainly remember now, and the room is filled with excited chatter (and more than a few unkind laughs).

Holy Hell. They’re going to sacrifice you?

The newcomers look surprised to notice you sitting there in your heap of furs, save for the Völva. You guess that it’s probably difficult to surprise someone who can supposedly see into the future. Trembling, you turn back towards the thrones; he’d really do it, wouldn’t he? Loki’s already told you that you’re just there for him to use while he takes over everything… and this is going to make it easier for him to take over everything.

Loki scoffs. “While I admire your efficiency, Lady Skaði, I will not be making a blood-sacrifice of my little mortal. For one thing, she has very little blood to spill.” There are actually genuine laughs at that, but you’re far too relieved to care.

“Show the Völva and her kin to their chambers,” the queen declares. “Then we shall feast and await her instructions for the making of the future-king.”

One of the massive giants that you remember the queen talking to when you’d first arrived at the palace steps forward and bows, and the Storm Giants follow him from the throne room, the buzz in the crowd swelling in their wake.

That… went better than expected, honestly. Or at least, it seems to be going pretty well, so far. You’re still alive, and Loki’s still got that stupid arrogant smile on his face, so maybe it’s all going according to plan.

The hall falls back into gossiping groups of giants, and though it’s much louder than before, it seems like the show is mostly over, for now. You squeeze your eyes closed and try to drown it all out. As some of your fear recedes, you become increasingly pissed that Skaði actually suggested sacrificing you.

C’mon, you tell yourself. Daydream about something nice. Something light and pleasant. Instead, your stupid brain conjures up the image of Loki in the steam-pool, his stupidly-pretty hair curling slightly around his stupidly-perfect face. Damn it. This place isn’t good for your sanity.

When you give up and open your eyes, you’ve got company; Greip and Gjálp have returned, and the white-haired girl and boy from the Völva’s entourage are with them. What are their names, again? Something with an H? They’re all staring at you, apparently captivated.

You’re honestly getting pretty tired of being so captivating.

“By the Ginnungagap,” the girl remarks, eyes wide. “It truly is a mortal.”

Up close, you realize that the boy and the girl look almost identical, save for his short hair. They did name the same father, didn’t they? You peer up at them, suspicious. “Are you twins, too?”

The boy crouches down, grinning. “She speaks,” he says. “We are, mortal. This surprises you?”

“It’s just… twins are rare. Where I’m from. Earth, I mean. Midgard.”

“Not so on Jotunheim.” He reaches out and pulls back your hood - what is it with the giants just touching you whenever they want? - and his smile widens. “What an interesting fate you have.”

His twin crouches at his side, cocking her head, her fingers skimming over your leg. “Loki Laufeyson has charmed her.” Her voice is matter-of-fact - can she do magic, too? “Can you feel it, Hrossþjófr?”

He nods, and you shiver as he tucks a strand of hair behind your ear. “It is a strong charm, Heiðr.” There’s a faint stinging where his fingers rest behind your ear, and your arm suddenly burns. Hrossþjófr tuts. “He has injured her, also, Heiðr.”

Gjálp frowns. “Has he?”

The girl - Heiðr - seizes your hand and pushes up your sleeve, revealing a dark purple bruise. Your stomach churns; it’s where Loki had crushed your arm so tightly when Fárbauti first mentioned his mother. With all of the chaos and adrenaline, you must’ve blocked it out.

“He has,” Heiðr says. “How cruel - he could heal her with his seiðr, if he wished.”

“Come, In-Unga,” Greip says. “Loki Inn-Illi says that we might take you to the kitchens. There is a fire and food, and the children of Hrímnir require something to eat after their travels.” The terror in your eyes must be evident, because she pats your head. “You will not be punished,” she reassures you. “He wants you out of the way while the sacrifice is discussed, I believe. You are a distraction, and it is a serious occasion.”

“Oh… okay,” you whisper, and you aren’t entirely certain how you manage to make it to your feet, but you do. If something is sketchy about this, you assure yourself, then Loki will swoop in and stop it. But he doesn’t, and you grit your teeth as the two sets of twins escort you around the edge of the throne room and towards the doorway. Lying bastard said he wouldn’t let me out of his sight.

But then you think about the way Skaði’s eyes glittered as she offered you up as the royal blood-sacrifice, and you decide that maybe he’s actually looking out for you. Maybe.

They guide you through the hallways, which are mostly empty at the moment, and before long, you find yourself in a small stone room with a large fire at one end and a round table in the middle. It’s completely covered with food, though it all looks a little… odd.

“This is where the servants sometimes eat,” Gjálp says, “but I thought that you may find it comforting, In-Unga. Does it remind you of your home?”

You blink up at her. Does she… does she really think you live in a place like this? Maybe if you’d lived in the Middle Ages…

Part of you wants to correct her, but another part of you appreciates the gesture. And at least there’s a fire. “Thanks. The fire is nice.”

“You may sit by the fire, little one.” Greip slides into one of the seats around the table, and you curl up against the stone hearth. The floor isn’t exactly what you’d call comfy, and you kind of almost miss your nest. And the bed. You actually miss Loki’s bed. Ugh.

The rest of the young giants settle in around the table, and it doesn’t take long for them to tear into the food. You wonder if it’s safe for you to eat.

“Here, mortal.” Heiðr holds out a bowl to you, and you take it, though it’s mostly to be polite - you aren’t planning to eat anything without Loki there to check it. Her lips quirk up in a smile. “It is safe for you to eat, In-Unga. Loki Laufeyson himself had it sent here for you.”

“Oh.” The bowl is full of some kind of thinly-sliced meat, and there are some more of the tubers from breakfast in there, too. It smells pretty good, all things considered.

You’re apparently supposed to eat this with your fingers, and you try your best, though you’d really kill for a fork. As you shove food in your mouth, you glance up at the two sets of twins at the table, examining their features. The boy notices.

“What are you searching for, mortal? You may speak.”

Great, thanks for the permission. “I just… I just was wondering why you look different. All of the tribes, I mean. The pointed ears, the pointed teeth… all that.” You shrug. It’s an awkward finish, like most of your other interactions with the giants, and your cheeks flush.

“Curious little creature, are you?” Hrossþjófr laughs, pushing his plate aside. “The females of the Skógr-Jötnar and some of the other tribes sharpen their teeth to show that they are ready to find a mate. Is that not so?”

Greip nods; her sister is busy in a whispered conversation with Heiðr on the other side of the table. She bares her teeth for a moment, showing off their smoothness. “My sister and I are young,” she says. “We are near to the age for it, but we are not ready to find husbands yet.”

Ah. “Is there a reason for it being, y’know, your teeth?”

“There is always a reason for everything.” Leaning forward, Hrossþjófr smiles, and the firelight sparks in his eyes. “Mating is a primal expression of dominance, little mortal. Our women are strong, but our men are far stronger. It gives them a fighting chance. The women of the Forest Giants dig their teeth into their men to show that they are strong enough to bear their children.”

Greip puffs up in a temper. “It is symbolic,” she huffs. “And all Jötnar bite, it is the way of things.”

“Not all Jötnar snap and claw when they consummate their unions quite like an íviðja in heat.” Snickering, Hrossþjófr artfully dodges her hand as she swings at him from her side of the table. “Peace, peace,” he says, holding up his hands in surrender. “Peace, O mighty warrior-maiden. I mean no offense.”

“You are an honored guest of Queen Fárbauti,” Greip mutters. “Else I would see you repaid for your cheek.”

It suddenly hits you that you’ve essentially been left in the care of oversized teenagers, and you frown. As opposed to… what? your mind argues. An oversized twenty-something? Isn’t that essentially what Loki is? It doesn’t make much sense to try to judge their maturity against that of a relative human lifespan, you suppose.

“I thought you guys spoke for the Völva,” you say. “Don’t they need you in the throne room?”

“In official circumstances, yes.” Heiðr snorts and rolls her eyes, brushing her pin-straight white hair over her shoulder. “It is part of my training. Though in practice, the Völva speaks for herself.”

You kind of like teenaged giants, you’re starting to decide - or at least, you kind of like these guys. Sure, you’re still terrified, and you don’t want to push your luck or anything, but they’re pretty kind. A little patronizing, maybe, but kind.

“So… I’m not gonna be sacrificed, right?”

Every giant in your entourage laughs. You fail to see the humor in it; everyone here is constantly reminding you of how tiny and weak you are… being sacrificed seems like a pretty legitimate concern.

“A mortal would be an unfit sacrifice for the making of a king, In-Unga,” Heiðr says. “There is no challenge in it.”

Hrossþjófr nods decisively. “Sister is right. Skaði likely just wished to tease Loki Laufeyson.”

“And you are the only mortal on Jotunheim,” Gjálp adds. “You are a prize, and Inn-Illi would not wish to give up one of his treasures so easily.”

Fantastic. So I’m laughably weak, but one-of-a-kind. At least that combo seems to be working in your favor.

Your heart nearly bursts from your chest when the door suddenly swings open, admitting a massive Frost Giant woman with a frown on her face. “It has been decided,” she says to the others, entirely ignoring your presence. “Loki Laufeyson is to be king.” Her voice curls sourly around the title, and her eyes finally flicker down to you, only for a tense moment .

“It will be announced to the assembly,” she continues. “Children of Hrímnir, your presence is required in the throne room.” The giantess scowls back at you as she turns to leave. “And bring Loki’s mortal.”

Chapter Text

“See how our lady Angrboða frowns, Sister; why could that be, I wonder?”

“Could it be, Brother, because Loki Laufeyson will be king?”

“Or could it be because she was sent from the court to fetch the children of Hrímnir, like a common thrall?”

“Perhaps,” Heiðr replies, a mischievous smile on her lips, “it is because the lady Skaði is already closest to becoming the First Wife.”

“Ah, perhaps. Perhaps I am to blame, Sister - surely my ghastly powers make the lady uncomfortable.” Hrossþjófr wiggles his fingers playfully, and a lumescent green glows from his fingertips.

Well. That’s certainly something to ask about later.

You glance at the Forest Twins for guidance; the walk back to the throne room is proving hellishly awkward so far, and you’re pretty sure the huge giantess leading the way would’ve already throttled the Storm Twins, were they not some sort of ‘special guests.’

Gjálp and Greip both look pretty uncomfortable, too, though you think you see a look of surprise flicker in Greip’s eyes when Hrossþjófr shows off his magic. She quickly looks away, tucking a wayward strand of hair back into her braid.

Interesting.

Heiðr grins at her brother. “It may be that Lady Angrboða simply finds herself ill-at-ease in the presence of the Stormr-Jötnar.”

“Honored Speaker for the Völva,” the woman called Angrboða practically snarls, “perhaps you should hold your tongue.”

Hrossþjófr turns and winks over his shoulder, and you could swear you see Greip’s cheeks turn the faintest shade of lavender.  

Hah, you think, weirdly smug about the observation. So Frost Giants can blush, after all.

Maybe this is the kind of stuff that Loki was talking about you overhearing, all this weird tension between tribes. If he likes the gossip that you bring in, will he reward you? Probably not. But maybe he’ll be a little more pleasant, at least.

You decide to pretend that you’re a spy, working deep undercover. Maybe that’ll help you get through all of this ridiculous pet nonsense. It does seem like the giants are willing to say almost anything at all in front of you, probably because they think you’re too stupid and scared to do anything with what you overhear.

The dull roar of the crowd in the throne room is audible even before you reach it, and some instinct is really, really urging you to just turn tail and run. You don’t have the best sense of direction, but hey, maybe you could find your way back to Loki’s room, right?

Except you’d probably get all of two steps before a giant snatched you up. You might kind of like your twin-guards, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re still essentially guards. Plus, Angrboða looks like she’d be pretty happy to snap you like a twig.

A hand rests on your shoulder as you follow the Storm Twins and Angrboða into the massive hall, and you look up to find Gjálp smiling down at you. “I have never seen a new king made, In-Unga,” she whispers, “but I expect that this part will not take long; once the announcement is made, there will be an uproar, and the royal family will likely want to retire from court for some peace.”

That’s the best news you’ve heard all day. Well, except for the ‘not becoming a sacrifice’ thing. And the ‘Loki is actually legit so probably don’t kill him for claiming the throne’ thing. Although, the uproar part sounds a bit sketchy… today is just a rollercoaster of emotions, you decide. It seems like things are probably going to stay that way for the foreseeable future.

Loki honestly looks a little bit like a maniac when you risk a glance up towards his throne as you’re making your way to your nest; there’s a thin smile on his lips and a gleam in his eyes, and he looks massively entertained, despite the fact that the general vibe of the room suggests there’s been some fighting.

Maybe that’s why he looks so massively entertained.

“Go to your place, little one,” Greip whispers, and you’re a more than a little concerned by how tense she seems.

Still, it clearly isn’t the time or the place to start an argument, and you tuck your head down and shuffle towards your little refuge as quickly and as inconspicuous as humanly possible, avoiding most of the crowd of giants like the plague.

Unfortunately, as you reach your place, you notice that quite a few of the giants are actively staring at you now, and you wonder what, exactly, it was that the court had been discussing.

And you can’t help but wonder, too, if maybe the whole ‘sacrifice the mortal’ topic was revisited in your absence.

You dig your teeth into your lip, biting down so hard that it nearly bleeds; what will you do, if they try to kill you? Would any of the twins help you run? Would Býleistr?

No, of course they wouldn’t.

They’ve got to be vulnerable to something… would it be in one of those books in the archive, maybe? Something that will weaken them, or… or something?

Yeah, your inner voice chimes in, maybe there is. In one of those books you can’t read.

Heiðr’s clear voice rings out, breaking your mind free from its panicked ramblings, and you curl your hands into fists, wishing you weren’t quite so small, quite so soft, and quite so alone.

“The Völva speaks,” she loudly declares, and you’re a little surprised by the blunt simplicity of the announcement, “and Loki Laufeyson will be King.”

There’s absolute silence. You can hear your heart beating.

Her brother stands beside her. “The Stormr-Jötnar claim Loki Laufeyson as the rightful King of Jotunheim.”

The giants in the crowd are all looking to each other, as if they’re all expecting someone else to start screaming about how all of this is insane and they’re not going to stand for it - but no one does.

After an uncomfortable pause, a few whispers breaking through the throng, Queen Fárbauti rests a hand on her son’s shoulder, her face perfectly blank. You can barely make out just how tightly her fingers are digging into his skin, but Býleistr doesn’t flinch. “The Skógr-Jötnar claim Loki Laufeyson as the rightful King of Jotunheim.”

There’s that uproar you’d been warned about. Apparently, the court was not expecting the queen to throw her clan’s weight behind Loki, and while there are - shockingly enough - quite a few giants that look more entertained than displeased, a lot of the Jötnar-proper look pissed. Since they’re some of the tallest and strongest-looking, you find that… concerning.

Loki doesn’t look surprised.

“Tonight,” she continues, “we feast to welcome the honored Völva, and tomorrow—” Fárbauti glances towards Loki for only a moment, expression indecipherable “—tomorrow we crown Loki Laufeyson as King.”

Then she stands abruptly, Loki and Býleistr joining her, and save for the old Völva and the Storm Twins, everyone else falls to their knees. It’s honestly a pretty spectacular sight, and you feel a bit awestruck, easily imagining some grand orchestral number sweeping to life in the background.

The moment doesn’t last long, because as the royal family begins to make their way down the steps of the dais, you suddenly become terribly worried that you’re about to be left behind, and being left behind in a room full of giants who are clearly very on-edge is probably about the same thing as a death sentence.

Crap.

But when Loki reaches the foot of the dais, he pauses for a moment, almost as an afterthought, and turns to you, crooking his finger. Your cheeks heat - is he trying to draw as much attention to you as possible? You thought you were supposed to be keeping a low profile.

He’s crazy, you remind yourself. Chaos personified.

And so, even though you’re shaking so hard that your teeth are chattering - and this time, it’s not from the cold - you push yourself to your feet and scramble after him. You’re almost relieved when he seizes your arm and drags you alongside him from the hall full of giants.

Servants and guards are waiting outside the throne room to escort everyone to their respective chambers, and you suppose that security is a little more high-alert at the moment, considering all of the important guests (and the political upheaval).

The hallway that you’re led down is near to the one where you’ve been staying, but you’re pretty sure it’s on a different level; honestly, with all of the small staircases and unusually-sloping floors, you’re having a hard time telling how many levels the palace even has.

When you finally come to a halt, it’s in front of a pair of massive wooden doors, carved to rival those of the archives. The only difference, as far as you can tell, is that these appear to be inlaid with gold.

Damn. It’s pretty impressive.

The doors swing open with a wave of Loki’s hand, and the servants look slightly unsettled. Oh, you think, that’s right - it doesn’t seem like regular magic is much of a thing here.

‘Regular magic.’ What kind of ridiculous world have you fallen into, that you feel the need to distinguish between ‘regular magic’ and other types of magic?

The room Loki yanks you into is much larger than the one where you’d spent the night, and you’re still trying to take it all in when he sends the servants away, the solid sound of the door swinging shut grabbing your attention.

“Behold,” he says, sweeping his arm out grandly, “Jotunheim’s royal chambers.”

He sounds way too flippant for your liking, considering that there might very well be a riot brewing outside. “Did you just kick the queen of the planet out of her bedroom?” you ask in disbelief, because honestly, you wouldn’t really be that surprised at this point.

“No, don’t be stupid. Fárbauti has her own chambers, of course. What sort of king shares his private chambers with a woman?”

Huh. It’s kind of interesting that that’s a thing on this planet, too; it seems really medieval. But at the same time, you aren’t terribly surprised, because you aren’t sure if marital romance is even a concept here. It seems like the circumstances surrounding Loki’s parents’ relationship are pretty much universally reviled.

“So, where am I going to sleep, then?” You peer about as you take off your cloak, looking for a door to a servant’s chamber, or something else predictably archaic and ridiculous.

There’s a large stone fireplace in the middle of the outer wall, surrounded by a few large, plush cushions, and there are more windows made of the bubbly-looking glass, stretching from the floor to the ceiling. A dark wooden desk sits to one side, and on the other, there is a large, polished table that almost looks to be made of some sort of cream-colored marble. There’s an open doorway not far beyond the desk, and you see what you’re pretty sure is another fur-covered bed behind it.

Pretty sparse furnishings, all in all, for a king.

You turn back to Loki, who’s giving you a strange look. “You will sleep in my bed, of course.”

“But you just said—”

“You are a pet, not a wife,” he scoffs. “There is a difference.”

Okay, freak, you think. Whatever you say.

Loki flings himself down on one of the cushions, groaning, and you assume he must’ve irritated one of his injuries. “You did well, girl.” It’s almost insulting how comfortable he seems around you, like he’s rubbing it in your face that you can’t do anything to him. “The children of Hrímnir seem rather taken with you.”

“Is that a good thing?”

“It is an interesting thing. Had the Völva and her kind seemed more keen on the idea of sacrificing you, it would’ve been terribly bothersome.”

You feel cold. “So that wasn’t just… a really bad joke?”

“No.” Loki props himself up on his elbows and waves you forward. “Come here.”

You eye him suspiciously, but you edge closer anyway, knowing that it’s probably for the best if you keep him in a good mood. “Why?”

“Because I am your master, now your king, and I wish it,” he replies with a snide smile, and once you’re only a few feet away, he lunges forward and captures your wrist, yanking you forward.

Spluttering in outrage, you fall across his lap, and Loki artfully splays you over his body, your back pressed against his chest. He sighs contentedly, his arms wrapped around your waist, pinning you to him. “I cannot imagine what you hope to accomplish by wiggling about like this, but I would advise against it.”

A fire springs to light in the hearth, and you give up and fall back against him. Asshole.

He tosses your nice little furry hat aside and nuzzles your hair, and you suddenly realize, both horrified and fascinated, that you’ve become some sort of comfort object.

Loki’s cool hands slide under the slits in your tunic-dress, somehow managing to work their way past your layers to find your skin. You stiffen, but he doesn’t go any further than that - he just leaves them there, on your belly.

“You are terribly warm,” he says.

“Are you… are you using me as some kind of human blanket?”

“Yes.” His amused little huff ruffles your hair. “I suppose that I am. I may have a Jötunn’s form, but I was not raised here - I am not acclimatized, I suppose. Asgard… well, the shining Realm Eternal is a very sunny, warm place. I almost find myself… craving it.”

He sounds wistful, and maybe a little confused, and you can’t help but feel… pity. He’d probably be angry if he knew. You try to relax against him. It’s super weird, but this whole situation is weird, so you might as well enjoy the peacefulness while you can.

When his hands stir, you flinch slightly, but you don’t try to push him away - he’s simply stroking your skin lightly, absentmindedly, and it honestly feels nice.

You realize that you’re really, really tired, and he probably is, too. You’d spent days half-dead in a cave, and he’d been in rough shape even before that.

This could’ve been nice. It’s a little uncomfortable to consider, but if only Loki was some normal human man, instead of a crazy magical space-prince - well, make that ‘space-king,’ now - you could’ve… enjoyed this kind of closeness.

Or at least, maybe your enjoyment wouldn’t have come along with such a terribly guilty conscience.

You’ve only just begun to truly sink into Loki’s strangely-comforting embrace when someone bangs on the door, causing you to jump.

Feeling embarrassed at being caught, you try to scramble away, but his large hands on your belly keep you soundly in place. “Don’t,” he murmurs. “Stay. It’s better this way.”

You aren’t really sure what he means by better, but you go slack as the door swings open; it’s probably a bad idea to have any giants see you trying to wrestle away from their new king.

Especially since he just magnanimously declined killing you.

It’s Býleistr. You should’ve guessed. He’s watching you both with a mixture of horror and fascination, as if he’s seeing something he knows he shouldn’t find interesting, but he does.

Heat floods your cheeks; you guess this does probably look pretty suggestive and scandalous, particularly since you’re a human.

The door swings closed, but not before the guards outside manage to sneak a peek. Wonderful. If Jotunheim had gossip magazines, you’re pretty sure you would’ve just made the front cover.

“I come to offer congratulations, Brother,” Býleistr finally says, stepping closer. Beneath you, you think you feel Loki tense slightly, but he doesn’t budge.

“Do you intend to challenge my claim, Býleistr?”

“I will do what honor demands.”

Loki’s laugh is harsh, and the fact that it’s right in your ear causes you to cringe. “Don’t try speaking in riddles with me, boy. We may be kin, but only I am the God of Lies.”

“Very well.” He sits on one of the cushions, leaning his forearms on his knees. “Let me speak frankly, then, with the God of Lies. I do not care what happens to the throne, Brother -mine. I do not covet it, as you do.”

“However...?”

“However, my elder brother Helblindi does.”

Loki’s fingertips dig into the soft skin of your stomach ever so slightly; it’s the only reaction he shows. “So, then, what am I to expect, Býleistr? You and your brother will attempt to overthrow your rightful king?”

The younger giant steeples his fingers, and you marvel at just how casual they’re being about what essentially amounts to treasons and assassinations.

Creepy-ass Laufeysons…

“Mother has pledged you the fealty of our clan, and I will abide by this, but who can know what Helblindi will do? He has always been quite ruthless. Father favored him for it.”

He stands, rolling to his feet with a grace that you’d never expect from someone so tall. “If Helblindi challenges you, Loki Laufeyson, then I will stand with my brother. My true brother.”

“How touching.”

“It is not a matter of sentiment; as I said, I will do as honor demands.”

“Let us hope, then, that our brother Helblindi can be made to see reason.” Loki’s voice is cold and sharp, and you try to pretend that you’re invisible. “Lest blood be shed unnecessarily.”

The young giant’s gaze falls to rest on you for a moment or two, then, and you try to resist the urge to burrow back against Loki. “Yes,” he says, and that seems to be the end of it. “Let us hope.”

Hesitating, Býleistr turns back at the door, his expression a blank mask. “Brother… the Lesser Sons of Laufey might consider your presence as an opportunity to advance themselves. You should be wary.”

Loki appears taken aback, though he recovers quickly enough. “I am grateful for the warning.”

The younger giant simply looks at the two of you for a moment, gives a slight shrug, then leaves.

“What does that mean?” you hiss. “Who are the Lesser Sons of Laufey?”

“Laufey had other children, with his other women. Helblindi and Býleistr are the sons of Laufey’s queen consort, so they are considered legitimate heirs to the throne, as I am. The rest are relatively far-removed from the line of succession.”

You stare at him over your shoulder, dumbfounded. “You’ve been doing a lot of studying since we got here, huh?”

“Necessity is the greatest motivator.”

“So basically, you’ve got a bunch of half-siblings who probably think that murdering you is the best way to climb up the social ladder, is that right?”

“To murder both of us,” he amends. “And that is correct.

“Wonderful. Great. And why did he tell you?”

Loki scoffs, pressing his nose into your hair once again. “Býleistr might not covet the throne, but that does not mean that he does not covet.”

Your head is throbbing, and you squeeze your eyes closed and lean into the crook of his neck. Freaking space giants can’t give a straight answer to anything…

“So, what does that mean? What does he want?”

“You,” he replies. “Is it not obvious? Rare things are meant to be envied, and you are Jotunheim’s only mortal. If I am murdered by someone else, you will likely die alongside me.”

...what?

“What?” you manage to whisper after a moment, horrified.

“Calm yourself, girl. I am notoriously difficult to kill, if you’ll recall.”

Yeah, you want to say, but I’m not.

 

Chapter Text

You’re staring in the shiny polished mirror in front of you, Gjálp and Greip hovering expectantly at your side. Honestly, you aren’t… entirely sure what to think. They’ve kind of made you look… well, you look grey, for lack of a better description. They’ve cooled your skin tone and darkened your eyelids, and now Gjálp is painting your lips an interesting shade of violet.

“Um,” you begin, but she shushes you and frowns as she brings a bright white crayon-looking thing to your forehead.

Greip rolls her eyes. “The mortal does not need that,” she tells her sister. “She has no markings to highlight.”

“I know,” Gjálp replies, frowning in concentration as she traces down past your eyebrows. “I am going to invent some for her. Inn-Illi’s chin looks like this, yes?”

She leans back, and Greip peers over your shoulder. “Yes.”

“I’m… you’re making me match the… the king?”

“Of course. You are his mortal, after all.”

“Oh.”

Gjálp taps the white makeup-stick to her chin as her eyes rake down your face, and you blush. But hey, at least maybe with all this weird grey powder on your face, your blush will be hidden. That’s a good thing, right?

“We could sharpen her teeth.”

“What?” you squeak.

Her bright red eyes are amused. “You have reached… ah, how to say it? You have reached sexual maturity for a Midgardian, have you not?”

“Of course she has.” Greip plucks the white makeup stick from her sister’s fingers and leans closer to the mirror, beginning to trace along the ridges on her own cheeks. You’re kind of surprised - she doesn’t particularly strike you as the type to get dolled up for a feast. “The king keeps her to warm his bed, after all.”

Heat bleeds across your face at the casual implication, but you’re too distracted by Gjálp’s cool fingers on your jaw, pulling open your mouth to examine your teeth. “So we could.”

“Do not be ridiculous, Sister; In-Unga is neither Jötunn, nor is she able to court.”

It’s super surreal to see a giant pouting, but that’s definitely what Gjálp is doing now.

“Well, In-Unga does not need to court,” she argues. “And--”

“If she presumes to bite the king,” Greip cuts in, “he might kill her.”

What?

Gjálp appears suddenly sobered. “That may be so, Sister.”

“What?” you finally manage to ask aloud. Your back is stiff, and your muscles are probably going to ache like crazy in the morning just from the tension.

They both seem almost surprised at the reminder that you can speak. “I thought that I had heard you speak of this with Hrossþjófr. Among the Skógr-Jötnar, as well as some of the other clans, the sharpening of the eye-teeth signals--”

“I know that part,” you blurt out, too horrifically embarrassed to remember that interrupting giants is probably a terrible idea, even if these twins seem relatively chill. “I mean, why would something like that make him kill me?”

Greip tsks. “A mortal pet attempting to mate-mark a king? And not just any king… Loki Laufeyson is wicked and temperamental. He would snuff you out--”

“--like a candle,” Gjálp finishes. “Even Skaði fears him.”

“Sister! Your tongue will get you in trouble.”

“It is the truth.”

“Wait,” you say, deciding to push the whole ‘mate-mark’ thing into some dark recess of your mind to mull over later, “if she’s so afraid of him, then why is she all over him all the time?”

The twins exchange a look, and you wonder if there’s some conversation happening there that you aren’t privy to. “Skaði is meant to marry the king, In-Unga,” Greip finally says, almost gently. “She had her sights set on Prince Helblindi, but now that he has been removed from kingship…”

“She needs Loki if she still wants to be a queen.” Your chest is doing something weird, and you focus on your reflection in the mirror.

“Yes.”

“And the first wife,” Gjálp adds, “is usually the most influential, so it would do her well to move quickly.”

“Like Loki’s mom?”

An awkward pause follows your question, and you think that maybe you shouldn’t have asked; after all, they’re part of Fárbauti’s clan, and Fárbauti definitely had issues with Loki’s mother. But she was the old king Laufey’s first wife, so that has to be significant, doesn’t it?

Clearing her throat, Greip hands the white stick to her sister. “We are much younger than the king, of course. We were not alive when Gunnlöð was Queen of Jotunheim.”

Well, it doesn’t look like that line of questioning is going to get you anywhere. “Why does Skaði hate me?” you ask instead. That’s a fair question - she did just suggest that you be used as a human sacrifice. Your stomach twists and churns at the memory.

“Lady Skaði is old enough to remember fondly the days of human thralldom,” Gjálp says. “Most Jötnar were alive during those days, In-Unga. Odin Allfather decided that Midgard was to be the playground for the Æsir alone, and he stole our ancient treasure and cut us off from the rest of the Nine.”

“It is truly the fault of the Æsir, not you little mortals,” Greip adds, patting you on the head. “But the fact remains that many would like to see you suffer for it.”

“And there is the fact, also, that Skaði is jealous that you share Inn-Illi’s bed.”

“Sister!” Greip looks appalled, but Gjálp simply snickers.

Okay, so maybe the makeup isn’t heavy enough to hide your blush. I don’t share his bed, you want to say. At least, not in the way that you’re suggesting. But maybe it’s for the best; at least everyone thinks that Loki doesn’t want you dead.

For now.

 


 

The twins deposit you at the door of the king’s new chambers when they’re finished dolling you up, and you step into the main room, feeling incredibly uncomfortable. The looks that the guards sent your way as they’d opened the door to admit you hadn’t been exactly friendly.

Loki is seated at his dark wooden desk, a scroll held in front of his face. His hands, you notice, are pale. Must not be feeling very blue today, you think. He also doesn’t appear to have noticed your arrival, though you guess it’s more likely that he simply doesn’t care.

You shuffle around, wondering what you’re supposed to do. This ‘pet’ thing didn’t exactly come with an instruction manual. Then, you sneeze, and the sound echoes in the nearly-silent room.

Loki glances over the top of the scroll, and you’re startled to find that his eyes are crimson; it’s a weird in-between of the forms you’re used to, and you wonder if maybe he’s having a hard time keeping up with which body he’s supposed to be in.

Weird shape-shifter identity issues.

His eyebrow elegantly arcs in an expression of aristocratic bemusement, and the scroll lowers slightly. “What in the Nine is all this?”

It’s not a tone that suggests overwhelming approval, and a lump forms in your throat. “The twins decided to… well, to decorate me, I guess. Make me look more Jötunn for the celebration tonight.”

“You look like a corpse,” he comments, his eyes flickering back down to the scroll. “Dreadful.”

Well, damn. That stings a hell of a lot more than it has any right to; it wasn’t like you picked out this look in the first place, and even if you had, why do you care what this asshole thinks? Blinking furiously, you try to suppress your tears. Don’t cry, don’t cry.

“I think the idea was to make me look less human.”

“Yes, I can see that.”

“They mentioned sharpening my teeth.”

That gets his attention, and he carefully places the scroll on the desktop, leaning back in his seat with an expression you can’t quite read. Honestly, those eyes make him look like a freaking vampire. Unfortunately, it’s a good look on him.

“They did, did they?” His long fingers curl around the ends of his armrests, and you suddenly feel like maybe you shouldn’t have said anything, because now that you have his attention, you aren’t entirely sure what to do with it. “And why, one must wonder, would they suggest such a thing?”

You swallow, your nerves cranking up a notch or two. It’s clear his convoluted mind is racing towards some conclusion, though you have no idea what it might be. “I guess they think maybe you’ll be nice to me if I look… good.”

He laughs, and it isn’t very friendly. “Or, perhaps, they wish to make you look more pleasing to some other Jötunn male. Perhaps they think that someone might save you from me, pitiful little thing that you are.”

“You sound paranoid,” you whisper. “I’m just ‘Loki’s mortal,’ remember?”

You flinch when he stands suddenly and stalks towards you. God, you need to learn to just keep your stupid mouth shut.

“That’s right,” he says, tipping your head back with a finger under your chin, and you realize that his eyes are scanning the marks Gjálp has traced across your face. “You are just Loki’s mortal.”

Breathing is forgotten, somehow; maybe you’ve been hypnotized. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time. He angles your head to the side, frowning slightly, and your heart stutters as he leans close to examine the lines running around your eyes.

“Interesting,” he says. At least ‘interesting’ is better than ‘dreadful.’ “Little Gjalp did this, did she? It is a surprisingly accurate recreation.”

You nod.

“Hmm.” Loki’s hand drops away. “Go get in the bed, girl. I have business to attend to before the festivities begin.”

“Can I… can I stay in here?”

He pauses, halfway turned back to his desk. “Why?”

The lump in your throat is still there, and you try to swallow it down. “I don’t like being alone.”

Loki sighs, dramatic as always, and a fire roars to life in the stone hearth with a wave of his hand. “Very well,” he says. “But do not dare to complain of your discomfort.”

You curl up on one of the large cushions by the fire, a little bothered by how relieved you are. But really, even Loki is better than being completely alone with nothing but your own thoughts to keep you company.

 


 

“What are you doing, girl?”

He was bound to ask, you guess - it isn’t like you’re a master of stealth, and it would be pretty hard to miss you slipping up closer and closer to the desk. In fact, you’re honestly a little surprised he’d let you peer over his shoulder as long as he had.

“I’m trying to figure out these characters,” you say. No point in lying to him, after all. “Those don’t look like any runes I’ve ever seen.”

His handwriting is exceptionally neat and blocky, and the runes he’s writing look kinda familiar, but they’re more spindly, with too many lines and dots to match up with anything you’ve ever seen on Earth.

“That is because this is a script used in the court of Jotunheim; the runes you are familiar with correspond more closely to the True-Speak of the Asgardian peasantry.”

“Huh.” You watch him for a few more minutes. He’s a fast writer, and you wonder what it is that he’s so eager to finish before the feast.

“Do you need something?” Loki doesn’t look up from his work as he says it, but the politeness in his voice is blatantly forced.

“Can you show me how to write my name?”

He pauses, sitting back in his chair and turning to look at you, tapping his pen against his lips. Apparently, something about that is funny, because he looks like he’s about to laugh.

Your eyes narrow. “You don’t remember my name, do you?”

“No,” Loki replies. “I confess, if and when I do give any thought to you, you are simply ‘mortal’ or ‘pet.’”

Bastard.

But even though you’re careful not to actually say it aloud, he grins, like he knows.   “What a fearsome temper you have, and for such a little thing.” Glaring, you turn to stalk back to the fire, but a hand on your arm stops you; it’s where the bruise is, hidden beneath your sleeves, and you flinch. “Go on, then, mortal. Tell me your name.”

And so you do, even though you’re pretty sure he’s just going to use it to tease you.

“Here,” he says. Keeping hold of your arm with one hand, he takes the pen and scrawls something on the bottom of the page. “Your name, pet.” He taps the pen on each rune, sounding it out for you, and you feel a faint heat rising to your cheeks.

“I… can I keep it?”

“I hardly have any use for it, now do I?” Letting go of your arm, he tears off the scrap of paper, dangling it in front of your face. “Now, how badly do you want your name, mortal?”

Is that supposed to be some kind of innuendo? You bite your lip, blush deepening.

“I need something from you,” Loki continues, a smirk on his face. “Since Geirröðr’s daughters seem so terribly taken with you, I want you to find out everything you can about these many siblings of mine.”

Oh. Not innuendo, then. That shouldn’t be disappointing, right? “Can’t you just order someone to come tell you everything you wanna know? You are the king now, I mean.”

“Precisely. I am the king, and I do not want to make it seem as if I’m concerned about such things. It will be taken as a sign of weakness.”

“But… are you concerned?”

“Not unduly. As I said, it is nigh impossible to kill me. Now, what say you, pet?”

“Okay,” you mumble, snatching the paper from his hand.

At least it’s something to do, I guess. And you had already been planning to report everything to him anyway, because for better or for worse, it looks like you and Loki are a team.

What a terrifying thought.

 

Chapter Text

“Anything else you’d care to mention?”

“Um… well, there was one giant lady who seemed super pissed. Ann… anger…”

“Angrboða, I assume.” Loki snorts, sinking back into his cushion. “Unsurprising.”

“Why is it ‘unsurprising?’ Other than the fact that basically everyone here hates you, I mean.”

You catch yourself too late, but fortunately, he looks more entertained than offended. “This is why mortals are so widely regarded as one of the most foolhardy races in the Nine,” he says, extending a hand. “I allow you some small measure of independence, and you are so emboldened that you’d dare speak to your master this way.”

Oh, great. There’s the M-word again. “I’m just trying to be realistic,” you reply, holding up your hands in a gesture of innocence. You can never be entirely certain if his smiles are masking that ruthlessness that seems to always be bubbling away inside of him, so you figure it’s best to try to soothe him, just in case. “If we’re in this together, then… y’know, I should know what to look out for.”

He gives you a pointed look, hand still extended, and you take it with a sigh, not entirely certain if it’s good or bad that you aren’t surprised at all when he pulls you into his lap.

At least it isn’t sexual, right? That’s probably something to be thankful for; other than the teasing that’s clearly meant to unsettle you, Loki’s seemed to make it pretty clear that he isn’t interested. What was it that he’d said in the bath? Oh, right; it was, “I am not tempted by you.”

Rude.

Although, at least that would be less bizzare than being some sort of… therapy pet, or something. Or maybe it wouldn’t be, because the non-romantic nearness is already confusing enough, and you can’t imagine what it would be like if he actually tried something…

And there’s the tricky fact that, when you don’t consider all of the complications - the fact that he’s crazy, that he tried to take over Earth, that he’s basically holding you prisoner in the freaky ice palace that’s now technically his, to name a few - you might actually be attracted to him.

Loki gives your cheek a light pinch. “Are you even listening to me, girl?”

“I was distracted.”

“Of course you were.” You try to ignore the way his thumb idly strokes your cheek as he says it; it probably isn’t intentional, anyway. “I said that Angrboða is likely appalled that she’ll have to wed a runt if she wants to solidify her position in court. I am hardly the ideal Jötunn male.”

I strongly disagree, your mind whispers.

Oh, no. That’s not what you should be thinking right now, and especially not while you’re in his lap...

“I thought Skaði was supposed to be marrying you.” Internally, you cringe; you feel like an idiot for blurting it out like that, like you care. You don’t care.

“Oh? Did you somehow miss the fact that a Jötunn king is expected to take many wives?”

“I didn’t miss it,” you mutter, pulling one of the fur blankets up to your chin. You hope that you manage to melt him. “I just didn’t expect you to suddenly start following tradition.”

The new king snickers. “Norns help me, you are a mouthy little wench. Were you not so terribly irritating, I might almost find it endearing.”

“Thanks.”

“Don’t pout, mortal. Your condition could be much worse, you know. You could’ve frozen in that cave, or been devoured by wolves…”

“I get the idea.” Sighing, you wiggle slightly to get comfortable, and Loki suddenly clears his throat. “And I’m grateful,” you bite out. “Is that what you’re waiting for? I’m glad you saved me from dying in the snow. Thank you. I hope you keep it up.”

“Hmm.” Loki is silent for a moment, and you watch the fire crackle, wishing you were in some nice little log cabin, tucked away somewhere pretty and picturesque on Earth. Hell, you wouldn’t even mind having to share it with him, at this point. Your standards have dropped significantly.

“I have to slay some legendary creature,” he says suddenly. “A vargr, a tremendous wolf by the name of Mánagarmr. That is my sacrifice, in your stead.”

He sounds surprisingly serious, and you twist to look up at him, though his expression doesn’t give much away. “I… I didn’t realize it was that close of a thing.”

“Mortal blood,” he says simply, as if that explains anything.

“How is the wolf-slaying thing gonna go down?”

“We will travel to Járnviðr, the Iron-Wood.” Loki smiles, glancing down at you. “On the outskirts of Skaði’s domain, in fact. I think she was pleased to be so included.”

“We?”

“Would you prefer to be left behind, mortal? All of your new little friends will be traveling with me. Save for Býleistr - I am certain that he would be happy enough to stay behind—”

“Okay, okay. I’m going on the trip, I get it. I hope you know what you’re doing.”

“And I hope that you know that I’m only allowing you to be so free with me right now because of how cross and frightened you surely will be at the banquet tonight.”

“Cross and frightened?”

“Yes. The feast last night was relatively tame; I expect this one to be a bit more… raucous. As you’re my little treasure, I’m certain that you will be a topic of much conversation. And no,” he continues, shooting you a warning look as you open your mouth, “you will not be absent from the feast. You will sit at my feet and do as you’re told.”

You clench your teeth, squeezing your eyes closed as you fall back against his shoulder.

“Understood? In-Unga?”

“Yeah, Inn-Illi,” you snap, knowing full-well that if you did open your eyes, he’d likely be grinning. “I understand.”

 


 

A really, really stocky giant sitting at one of the lower tables with Angrboða keeps making awkward eye contact. You aren’t really sure what to do about it. Close your eyes, maybe? But then you’ll just look like an idiot.

Plus, since Loki’s just handing down bites of food whenever he damn well pleases, you don’t want to accidentally end up with soup spilled on your head, or something else predictably humiliating.

No, probably best to just try to ignore the ten-foot-tall, beady-eyed slab of blue granite who keeps looking right at you.

Since Loki’s sharing the head of the high table with the queen now, your nest is awkwardly off to one side of him - you aren’t really as sheltered as you’d like. At least you have your hat again, and that kind of hides your face. The hat is a definite plus.

You’re definitely keeping it as a souvenir; you deserve a souvenir.

“Here,” Loki says suddenly, thrusting a mug in your face. “Only a sip.”

The mug is fancy - you guess it must be his, which means it probably isn’t poisoned. Or does that mean it’s more likely to be poisoned than any other mug in the room?

Probably the second one.

Smiling slightly, you realize that you’re the exact opposite of a traditional royal food taster; the king is checking the food to make sure it’s safe for you. The thought flusters you slightly, though you reassure yourself that it’s likely just because of the fact that he spent the entire afternoon holding you in front of a fire.

In his palace.

Loki didn’t bother to look down or explain what the drink is, but it’s dark and reddish, and it smells incredibly sharp and spicy. Okay, you think. Here goes nothing.

Whatever it is, it’s warm - you feel heat curl through you almost instantly, and it’s a happy, pleasant sort of warmth. In fact, it makes you realize how cold you’ve been during this whole adventure, even when you’re snuggled up with Jotunheim’s most eligible bachelor.

So, deciding that it’s a sensation worth chasing, you take another sip.

And another.

His hand rests on your head, and you blink slowly as he glances down at you. “Better...?” he begins to ask, but then he sees that the mug is now half-empty, and he pauses for a moment.

Oops.

“Oh, dear,” he says, deftly plucking it from your hands. “Such a terrible lack of restraint. I do hope that doesn’t kill you.”

He’s such a drama queen. You scoff, languidly tilting back your head so that you can see him better. “I’m warm,” you announce.

“You are besotted.”

As soon as he turns back to the table, his hand still resting on your head, you risk a tiny eye-roll. Stupid Loki. You don’t actually drink, but you’re pretty sure that isn’t how it works. It’s only been like… five minutes. Right?

That one troll of a giant sitting with Angrboða makes eye contact again, and you’re starting to feel a little pissed about it. “Hey,” you whisper, tugging on Loki’s pant leg - not very easy, by the way, since they’re tight - “that guy over there is creeping me out.”

You see his jaw clench. Oops again; that’s a violation of the ‘only speak when spoken to’ thing, probably. But it is a nice view of his jaw from down here…

He keeps up whatever conversation he’s got going on up there for a while, and in the meantime, you continue to tug on the material of his pants, trying to figure out what exactly it is. It’s gotta be some kind of leather, surely, but its super soft and sleek. His hand leaves your head after a moment or two, and as he leans down slightly, frowning, his fingers curl around yours.

“What?”

“That giant. The one with the angry lady. He’s staring, and I don’t like it.”

Norns,” Loki hisses. “Everyone is staring, mortal. I’m the king, and you’re the only human in the realm.” He sends a searching look towards the table holding Angrboða’s group, then lets out a resigned sigh. “Alright, then.”

And with that, he grabs you by the back of your tunic and hauls you into his lap.

There’s a slight lull in the conversation in the hall, but you barely notice. His kingly chair is pretty roomy since he isn’t insanely massive, and you curl up pretty easily.

Hah, you think, feeling slightly smug, suck it, angry-face. Can’t get me now.

He’s chilly, but since you’re all warm and fuzzy, the contrast almost feels nice. Refreshing, kind of, like a breeze on a sunny beach. Hah. Loki’d die if he heard that. It’s enough to make you giggle, and you eventually doze off with a small smile on your lips.

 


 

“Bring her,” you hear, and while you don’t bother opening your eyes - the dark fuzzy warmness is just too nice, honestly, and you’re pretty sure Loki would try to wake you if you were dying - you feel your body being jostled, the background noise soon fading away.

A girl’s voice comes next, slightly amused. “She is very light, sire.”

“Small and foolish - a dangerous pairing. She is to have no more spirits.”

“Yes, my king.”

There’s silence for a while, then a light scraping sound. “Put her on the bed. I will deal with this.”

You aren’t moving anymore, and there’s a nice softness cushioning you. A contented sigh slips out. Perfect.

“Is there anything else I might do for you before you retire, Your Majesty?”

“It has not gone unnoticed, Geirröðardóttir, that you choose to address me as the king before my coronation.”

“Of course, sire; if you are to be the King of Jotunheim, then the King of Jotunheim you shall be.”

“Poetic. You and your sister will keep an eye on my pet when we journey to Járnviðr. Do you accept the task?”

“I do.”

“Good. You may go.”

 


 

There’s something soft around you, and something hard beneath you; groaning, you turn your head away in a desperate attempt to avoid the light that’s managing to seep through your eyelids.

The smooth surface pressed against your face stirs, and you force your eyes open as your head practically screams in protest.

Oh. It’s Loki’s bare chest.

You groan again.

His arm wraps around from behind you, his hand covering your eyes. “Wishing you’d listened to me now,” he mumbles, “aren’t you, mortal?”

“Mmm.”

“Pathetic.” Loki sits up, and your head falls against the furs beneath you. You yelp - even that hurts. “I did not even get to bathe last night, since you drank yourself into a stupor. I suppose it might’ve been a good opportunity to drown you.”

Being drowned right now sounds pretty good, actually. Pressing your fingers into your eyes, you roll onto your stomach, trying to burrow away from the daylight. “Go ahead,” you whine. “Kill me.”

Loki laughs. “Don’t tempt me, girl. You can stay in the bed for now, but when I leave my chambers, you’re coming with me.”

Twisting slightly, you peek up at him through your fingers. “Magic?”

“Absolutely not. I have no inclination to waste any more magic on you. And I did warn you. Here.” He plucks a crystal-clear cup from the table by his new massive bed, then drops something in it. “This should make you slightly more bearable.”

Sitting up, you take it from his hand, frowning as the bitter taste creeps down your throat. You feel like you’re going to vomit, and you can only imagine how that would go. Last night is… spotty, at best.

Oh, God.

“Did… was I in your lap? In front of everyone?”

Loki crouches beside the bed, grinning in earnest now. “Why, yes, mortal, you were. I also thought it prudent to abandon my efforts to continue feeding you after you licked honey from my fingers.” He snickers as the blood drains from your face, clearly delighted. “Had you forgotten?”

“Liar.”

“Oh, no. I’m afraid my memory of the evening is all-too-perfect. Ask your little guardians, if you must.” His eyes sparkle. “Ask my brother. I’m certain he noticed.”

The pounding in your head seems to spike. “Oh, God.”

“Yes?”

“Stop smiling like that. Please? What was in that?”

He stands, mercifully, and crosses over to a massive trunk on the other side of the room, which he promptly begins rummaging through. You realize then, much to your embarrassment, that you’re only in a few of the many layers that you’d started with last night.

Wonderful. It just gets better and better.

“I believe it contains some sort of tree sap,” he says. “And a distilled berry from the south, perhaps? I don’t particularly recall - it’s nothing I’ve ever had before.”

You’re about to go on a tirade about him giving you something when he doesn’t even know what’s in it, but he starts to strip off his pants, so you settle for awkwardly averting your eyes and silently burning in mortification.

“At least it warmed you for a time, I suppose. You did mention that in bed last night. Repeatedly.”

He’s just screwing with me now, you assure yourself. No way I was babbling like an idiot in the middle of the night. While snuggling up to the god-king bastard who’s keeping me trapped here. Nope. Didn’t happen, and he can’t prove me wrong.

“Today will be taxing,” he says. You risk a peek and find that he’s already dressed. And blue. “I’ve tasked Geirröðr’s daughters with keeping an eye on you.” Loki seems to spot the confusion on your face. “Your little Forest Twins, as you call them. Really, girl, you must become better with names if you’re going to be any use to me.”

“They’re tricky names.”

“I know.” He rests his fingertip on the rim of the glass for just a moment, and you watch in fascination as it refills itself. “Drink that,” he says, “and lie down. I’ll fetch you when I need you.”

You feel way too crappy to argue, and you’re practically asleep by the time you bury your face back against the bed.

In fact, you almost entirely miss the way Loki pulls more of the blankets over you before he leaves the room.

 

Chapter Text

You wake up before Loki comes for you, and your mouth feels like cotton. Your head kind of feels like cotton, too, all fuzzy and dry and scratchy… The crystal water-glass on the table by the bed is full again, and you grab it and drain it.

Big mistake - there’s more of the bitter stuff in it, and you gag. He’s definitely just torturing me for not listening to him, you decide. But you do feel a little better than the first time you woke up, so you manage to choke the rest of it down.

God, you’d kill for a hot chocolate right now.

As you rub your aching eyes, you realize that there should be weird gray makeup smeared all over your hands… but there isn’t. Maybe it’s just melded into your skin - that would be just your luck, wouldn’t it?

The room needs a mirror; you feel like you probably look pretty wild at the moment, and even without looking, you know your hair has seen better days. Whatever. It isn’t like you’re here to impress. Except, you wouldn’t totally mind if you managed to impress Loki a little, if you’re being completely honest with yourself.

Ugh. And what did he do with my clothes, anyway?

Your outer layers are nowhere to be seen, and even though leggings and an under-tunic might be plenty on Earth, it certainly isn’t ideal here. Though… it’s warmer in his room than you remember it being yesterday - still a bit cool, of course, but not as frigid as the rest of the palace.

Hmm. Maybe you’re just getting used to it.

Apparently being king means that you get rugs on the floor, which seems like a pretty fantastic perk, considering how cold and unforgiving the floors in this place tend to be. You pull one of the blankets off of the bed and wrap it around yourself, padding across the floor in your thick socks. The room sways, and you throw out your hands to steady yourself, though it really doesn’t do much for your balance, so you end up just feeling like an idiot.

Taking a deep breath, you look around the room, waiting for your stomach to settle. There’s honestly not much to look at; other than the trunk against the wall and the side-table, there are a few shelves carved into the walls (mostly empty), some tapestries of strange animals, and not much else. Did the old king have more things, and they just cleared it all out when he died? Or are the Frost Giants really just this spartan about their personal rooms? After all, the library’s pretty grand, and so is the rest of the palace.

Once you get your balance under control, you head out into the main room, grimacing at the heaviness of the bedroom door as you shove it open; it looks like wood, but it feels like stone. Freaking Jotunheim. Nothing is normal.

“Feeling better, little girl?”

Condescending ass.

Loki’s back is to you as he sits at his desk, and since he doesn’t turn, you stomp around in front of him. “What happened to the rest of my clothes?”

“I removed them. You’ll have new ones made before we leave for the Iron Wood.”

He doesn’t look up from his book, and you’re sorely tempted to try snatching it from his hands. Maybe you can blame it on this tree-sap hangover or whatever it is you’ve got going on right now. “Am I still gray?”

The corner of his lip turns up slightly. “No.”

Frowning, you look at your fingers again, feeling a little suspicious. If it didn’t all just smear off during the night, then he must’ve washed it off himself, which is… Well, you don’t know what it is, but the mental image of this giant, arrogant, (handsome) villain washing your face carefully enough not to wake you makes your heart do funny little flips.

Don’t be stupid, you tell yourself, trying to force you blush away. I was so out of it last night he probably could’ve slapped me and I wouldn’t have noticed. Maybe he did. Maybe that’s why he’s smiling like that.

“No more makeup from now on, I’m guessing?”

He laughs. “The lines are acceptable,” he says, and he puts the book down, leaning on one arm as he regards you with bright red eyes. “And some of the court did seem to find it intriguing, so I believe little Gjálp was rather proud of herself.”

Crap. How much of the night had you entirely missed? Enough to not even know that you’d been discussed at the dinner table, apparently. “What happened?”

“Quite a bit. My dear brother was rather distant last night. Knowing, as I do, the plight of jealous younger brothers, I can only assume that he was sulking because of the callous way I’ve been flaunting my mortal in his face. It isn’t as if he can say anything - Fárbauti would be appalled. I don’t believe your charms have had any effect on her yet, pet.”

“My charms? You make it sound like I’ve got some sort of plan.”

“Even you are clever enough to know that your best chance of a comfortable life here involves winning over as many of the Jötnar as possible, mortal. So, yes, I do think that it’s planned.”

You keep your mouth shut. It isn’t like the thought hasn’t crossed your mind… and it is one of the reasons you try to talk with the twins as much as you do, to make them realize you’re an actual person…

“Tell me this,” Loki says. “If another Frost Giant - Býleistr, perhaps, or the as-yet-unseen Helblindi - were to come to you and offer to return you safely back to Midgard, if only you would help them to be rid of me, would you not take the chance?”

You tense; is this a trick? Freaking Trickster God… “No,” you say, almost surprising yourself, “I wouldn’t.”

“Why?”

You can’t tell what he’s thinking, and knowing him, it’s probably a dangerous toss-up between amusement and anger. It’s a good question, too; why wouldn’t you jump at any chance to make it back home? I kind of almost like you, from time to time, you think. I don’t want you to actually die...

“You saved my life. I figure that deserves some loyalty.”

Loki grins. “Then you’re a bigger fool than I thought, mortal.”

Yeah, your mind whispers. You’re probably right.

 


 

He’s kept his distance for most of the morning, for which you’re extremely thankful. Really, with all of these uncomfortable feelings you’re having at the moment, the last thing you need is to have him start petting you again.

Would you really not turn on him, even if it meant giving up a chance to go home? And why - just because he’s beautiful? No, it’s more than that. It’s because of the fact that he’s keeping you alive, and you can’t trust any of these other giants any more than you can trust him. Really, there’s no reason to think that they’d keep up their end of any bargains.

That’s a reasonable excuse. But there’s also the fact that you truly do feel some kind of loyalty to him, and it goes beyond whatever you might owe him for saving your life. If you didn’t know any better, you might even think that you were developing a crush.

Bad. Very, very bad. And stupid. Stockholm Syndrome.

“You really need to eat something.” Loki’s voice is startling after a long period of silence, and you jump slightly. “Finish your porridge, and I’ll give you a treat.”

You frown down at the unappetizing-looking bowl of ground-up something in your hands. “I’m not hungry.”

“Yes, you are. Your stomach will only pain you more if you go without food any longer. Do it.”

Sighing in resignation, you shove a spoonful in your mouth, surprised that something that looks so bland actually turns out to be a little spicy. It’s honestly not too bad. If only you had a camera, you could write a killer food-and-travel blog about this whole thing.

When you’ve scraped it clean - and you actually do feel a little better, though you’d never admit it to him - you get up and go to the desk, holding it in front of you like a prize. “Finished.”

“Good girl. Where is the paper I gave you?”

Flushing slightly, you reach down the front of your tunic and fish the folded-up little slip of paper out of your bra. Where else were you supposed to keep it safe? Loki’s smirking slightly as he plucks it from your fingers, and it only makes you feel more awkward.

He starts scrawling something next to your name, and you lean over the desk, even though it’s upside-down and in runes you don’t understand. “Come here,” he orders, and you move around to his side of the desk, peering over his shoulder.

“What’s the rest of it say?”

“In-Unga, Lokakona.”

Your eyes narrow. “I know what the first one means. What’s the second?”

Grinning, he hands you back the paper. “Loki’s woman.”

“What?”

“In case I ever misplace you,” he says. “You would want to be returned safely to me, wouldn’t you?”

And though you glare at the paper in your hands, you are kind of fascinated by it. You have always had an interest in languages. “‘Loka’ is possessive?”

He seems startled. “Yes.”

“Hmm. Could you write the sounds underneath? With my alphabet?”

“Next time, perhaps.”

Bribing you with knowledge - truly evil. You decide to change subjects, trying to seem casual and not-awkward as you carefully fold the little scrap and tuck it back into your shirt. “When are we going to the woods with the monster-wolf?”

“Tonight.”

Your heart begins to hammer in your chest; you’ve kind of gotten used to being hidden away by the fireplace, you guess. “Tonight?”

“Must you question everything I say? Yes, tonight. I suppose that was something else you missed while you were drunk out of your mind. The Völva insists that this sacrifice must be made as soon as possible, otherwise my kingship will be doomed.” Loki rolls his eyes. “The whole ordeal promises to be entirely miserable.”

He touches your cheek suddenly. “You are trembling, mortal. Are you cold? I’d thought that the charm—”

“No,” you bluster, heat bleeding into your cheeks, which he’s certainly going to notice, “I’m just… you know, the last time I was outside here, I almost died. And now we’re going back out. And I’d rather not die yet.”

Loki’s hand drops away. “I see. While I can assure you that it won’t be comfortable by any means, I’ll keep you alive. Never fear.” Then he stands, a mischievous look in his eyes. “The journey will be long,” he says, “and arduous. We should enjoy small comforts while we can.”

With him standing so close to you, you have to tilt your head to meet his gaze, which does absolutely nothing to help your blush. “Meaning…?”

“Meaning, girl, that we’re going to the baths, and I intend to enjoy it fully, for in a few days’ time I’ll likely be battered and covered in wolf-blood.”

“Oh,” you reply. “Uh… have fun.”

“When I said ‘we,’ I meant you and I, and you know it. Now, come along. It isn’t far from the king’s chambers, so I doubt you’ll catch your death of cold along the way.”

Reassuring, you think sullenly, but you shut your mouth and follow him from the room.

 


 

“Must we go through this every single time?” His expression is predictably dramatic, his brow raised, as if he’s some sort of long-suffering martyr.

“Yes.”

“Fine,” he sighs. “Go call for Skaði, then. Perhaps she and some of her women would be happy to tend to me.” You sit on the edge of the pool, still entirely-clothed and glowering, and he glides closer to you in the water. “Go ahead, mortal. I’d thought you’d prefer to be alone, but…”

Damn you, Loki. “I’m keeping my underwear on this time.”

“No, you aren’t.” He smiles up at you cheerily, and you take note of the fact that his eyes have stayed crimson this time, even while the rest of him has shifted back to human - or Asgardian, technically. It’s kind of weird to think about, all of the shapeshifting stuff. If the eyes are the window to the soul… Loki’s soul must be pretty bloody.

“Yes.”

“No. Is it not said on Midgard that cleanliness is next to godliness? Undress and join me, before I lose my temper.”

There’s a slight hint of a bite in that, though he’s still smiling, and you feel your resolve crumple. “Okay,” you mumble, “but please don’t look.”

The look he gives you says something along the lines of, “Why would I, idiot?” But he slides entirely under the water, anyway, and while it’s kind of freaky to think that he’s just lurking down there in the dark of the pool, you guess it’s all the privacy you’re going to get.

You carefully stash your piece of paper with the rest of your clothes, far from the water, then brace yourself as you shimmy out of your underwear, just knowing that he’s going to pop up and start laughing at any moment. Your life has basically become the real-world equivalent of waiting for the jump-scare in a horror movie.

When you slide into the pool, it’s no more graceful than the last time, and you can’t hold back a yelp when Loki pops up directly in front of you. “You remember where to find the sponge, I assume?”

Lips pressed in a thin line, you nod, floundering over to the shelf. Why does it have to be placed on the deeper end of the pool? But then you remember that you and Loki are very much on the shorter side of the Frost Giant height spectrum, so it probably isn’t that inconvenient for the others.

Maybe if I suck up enough, you think, I can convince him to do some renovating.

There’s a little crystal bottle of something next to the sponge, and you snatch it down, too. You give it a sniff, and decide that it smells a little bit like cinnamon, but more… flowery, maybe? Interesting. Maybe it’s shampoo?

He’s doing the staring thing again - you can feel his gaze on the back of your head. It almost makes you afraid to turn around, but you force yourself; after all, you were just considering the perks of getting on the king’s good side.

Loki’s staying near the edge of the pool, and you make your way towards him, holding up the little bottle. “Is this… a hair thing?”

“Yes,” he replies, amused. “I believe so.”

Coming to a halt about a foot away from him, your chest just barely concealed under the water, you look up at him with a perplexed frown. “I don’t know how this is gonna work,” you gripe. “You’re tall. I can’t reach.”

He scoffs as if you’ve said something ridiculous, but sinks down until the water is up to his shoulders. It’s weird being taller than him for once, and it also brings his eye-level closer to everything you’re hoping is hidden by the darkness of the water, so you decide to get this over with as quickly as possible.

The cinnamon-smelling stuff doesn’t really lather up very well, but you assume it’s supposed to be like that, reaching to work some through his dark hair. At least he has nice hair…

But your heart nearly leaps from your chest when Loki suddenly surges up to his full height, taking hold of your wrist. He twists it carefully, examining your arm. “When did this happen?” he demands, and you realize that he’s talking about the bruise that’s now had time to fully form.

“Oh. It’s from when we first got here. Remember? The queen was insulting your mom and you…” You don’t finish the thought, because Loki looks irritated. Probably shouldn’t mention his mom, you belatedly remind yourself.

“Why did you not tell me? This is deep.”

Seriously, dude? “Didn’t think you’d care,” you reply, trying to tug away.

Loki says nothing, just studying you with a perfectly-blank expression for an uncomfortable moment or two. “I suppose you’re right,” he finally says, releasing you, and then he sinks back into the water. “Continue.”

Oookay, you think. Awkward.

You quickly decide that moving behind him is much more conducive to reaching his long hair, and it has the added benefit of hiding you from those eyes that seem to see way more than they should. When you announce that you’re finished, he ducks under the water, then turns to you as soon as he surfaces. “Yours, as well. Unless you want me to do it for you.”

His sly smile reminds you of the way he practically drowned you last time he ‘washed your hair,’ so you’re quick to do it yourself. Still, some part of you can’t help but wonder what it would be like to have his long fingers working against your scalp.

In fact, despite not having much experience with this sort of thing, you can only imagine that those hands would feel nice everywhere, particularly if he took the time to be gentle...

Christ, you’ve got to learn to chill. Squeezing your eyes closed and holding your nose, you plunge under the water, hoping that maybe it’ll also rinse some of this stupid desire away, too.

But when you open your eyes, Loki’s face is right there, and you’re so close to the edge of the pool that there’s really nowhere to go. “What were you thinking, mortal?” he says, his voice like silk. “Just now. I am terribly curious.”

Damn it. Caught red-handed. You wish you could just die on the spot. “Midgard,” you blurt out. “I mean, Earth. I was thinking about someone on Earth.”

“Were you?” he breathes, and your can hear your heartbeat rushing in your ears. Those hands you’d been checking out so shamelessly are suddenly on your waist, though he doesn’t actually pull you any closer. “Who might that be?”

“A friend.”

His eyes narrow slightly as he smiles, and think you know now what a rabbit feels like right before it’s caught in the jaws of a fox. “You were not thinking of a friend, little liar. Does my thrall have a paramour left behind on Midgard?”

Say yes, you tell yourself. That’s the best thing to say, right? If you tell him that you’re just daydreaming about some non-existent human boyfriend, then maybe you can hide the fact that you were really daydreaming about him.

“Yes,” you whisper.

Loki looks slightly surprised for a moment, but then the predatory look returns, his fingers digging lightly into your skin. “More lies. You have no lover on Midgard, mortal; I can see the deceit in your eyes.”

That’s really not fair, you decide. Why does he have to be the God of Lies? But one of his thumbs is stroking the skin of your side, now, so you just dig yourself deeper into the hole with another attempt to mislead him. “But there’s someone I like. A guy I know. On Earth.”

“I see. Does this mortal man have a name?”

For God’s sake, Loki, you think, just let it go! Please. Naked interrogation really isn’t fair, and neither is his freakish sense of smell that can apparently pick up on feelings. But Loki isn’t really the type to just let things go, and your mind races to come up with something reasonably convincing. “Chris?” you venture, cursing yourself for making it sound like a question. “Chris.”

“What a dull name.”

“Well… I like it.”

“I’m sure you do.” One hand leaves your waist, coming to rest on the ledge behind you. He’s got you trapped, even more so than usual.

Oh my God, you think, pressing yourself against the stone. What is he doing? Loki’s gaze is hypnotizing, and you’re entirely lost. Should you try slapping him again, maybe?

He takes a deep, slow breath, and his lips part, an almost-eager look gracing his features. “What are you thinking now, girl?”

On the verge of choking from the tension, you almost let out a sob of relief when someone knocks on the door. I don’t even care if it’s Skaði, you decided. I don’t care who it is, as long as they distract him.

He sees your relief, too, and he smirks, not budging even a single damned inch as he calls for whoever it is outside the door to enter. At least whoever it is can’t see your face, which is surely flushed to a ridiculous degree.

“Sire?”

Damn it, it’s Greip. You sink further into the water, wishing you could just die right then and there. At least Loki finally breaks eye contact.

“Leave them on the floor, and pack the rest. We will be going directly to the throne room from here.”

You hear the door close again. It wasn’t much of a reprieve.

But Loki looks almost confused as he examines you now, his brow furrowed. “What are you playing at, mortal?” His hand doesn’t leave your side.

“Me? What the hell are you doing?”

Your voice cracks, but you can’t be bothered to care, too busy processing the fact that you basically just shrieked in his face. While naked. And if memory serves, Loki doesn’t particularly care for shrieking.

“You—“ Stopping abruptly, Loki shakes his head, and his eyes bleed back to that interesting shade of blue-green. He takes a deep breath, then finally lets go of your waist.

Now if he’d only back up a step or two...

“It is your scent,” he accuses. “How are you doing this?”

Your mouth falls open. How am I…?

The big icy idiot doesn’t know, you realize then. He hasn’t figured it out - he knows that your scent is occasionally changing, and he might have some vague sensation of the feelings inspiring it, but…

He doesn’t understand it.

Loki’s frown deepens. “Well, mortal?”

Poor guy, you think. It must be a new thing for him, like some sixth sense he never knew he had. Or seventh sense. Dude already probably has a sixth sense.

“I’m not… Loki, I’m not doing anything.”

“Sire.”

“Sire, then, I’m not doing anything. I’m just… existing. I don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s some giant thing, I guess.” His expression isn’t changing, and you’re getting more and more flustered.

“I’m a human!” you cry. “I can’t magically alter my smell. You’re the superpowered one here, okay?”

His head cocks slightly to one side, as if he’s mulling it over. “I do not care for this,” he says after a moment. “Spending so much time in this place. In my birth-form.”

There’s a little bit of a snarl in there, and it makes you jump, but it’s not like you can back up any further. “It is altering me,” he continues. “And you, mortal, you—”

But he stops himself abruptly once again, his lips pressed into a thin line. Without another word, he steps back and sinks under the water. You gape, staring at the ripples on the surface, afraid to budge even an inch.

Oh, fantastic, you think. He’s cracking up. Losing it. The pressure’s getting to him, and the whole ‘finding out he’s a different species’ thing isn’t helping. You can’t let him have a meltdown, though - he’s your ticket out of this frozen hellhole.

Teamwork makes the dreamwork.

And so, by the time he pops back up out of the steaming water, a faintly pink glow to his pale skin, you’ve decided to try to delicately steer him in a more stable direction. Apparently, though, it isn’t necessary, because the smug king-of-everything look is back on his face.

You wish you were that good at hiding your feelings.

“No matter,” he says lightly. “I am, above all else, adaptable. These primitive sensations are a minor distraction, at most.”

Yeah, okay, buddy, you think. Like you didn’t just look like you were about to take a bite out of my neck like some kinda bad Twilight reboot. Maybe the earlier observation about him having a kind of vampiresque flair was a little too spot-on. Freaking space giants and their creepy-ass red eyes and talking about biting people—

“Get out. We need to prepare.”

The guy’s gonna give you whiplash. “Prepare?’

“Yes.” Loki glides over to the ledge and hoists himself out of the water with no warning, splashing you and giving you a good view of his… back. Yeah, his back. That’s definitely all you saw. You sink up to your nose in the water. Can today get any worse?

And your freaking tree-sap-hangover-headache is still lingering, too.

“I need to ensure that you’re well-charmed before we leave Utgard,” he says from somewhere behind you. "We will be making few stops along the way, and I’d rather ensure that you aren’t simply a frozen corpse by the time we arrive in Járnviðr.”

“How long will it take? The trip, I mean. How long will we be on the road?”

“According to Skaði, it should only take four days. Give or take, depending on the conditions.”

“Four days?” You risk a peek over your shoulder; luckily, he’s got his pants on already. “I can’t… I mean, I don’t think I could survive four hours out there, much less four days.”

Crouching by the poolside, Loki pats you lightly on the head, smiling like he didn’t almost just have a major identity crisis in the middle of bathtime. “Not to worry, pet,” he says. “I shall keep you warm.”

He rises and makes his way to the door, and you turn to watch him. “I will be outside the door,” he says. “You have five minutes.”

That isn’t much time at all, and as soon as the door shuts behind him, you scramble from the pool, heart pounding in your frantic race against the clock.

 


 

The coronation is surprisingly low-key. Maybe it’s because all of the Frost Giants are kind of unenthused about their unexpected new king. Maybe they’re hoping that the monster-wolf is going to eat him (and you), and that they can just resume with their normal routines next week. That’s not to say it isn’t grand, or stressful… but at this point, maybe you’re just too tired to really take it all in.

Greip and Gjálp are both glued to your sides, because your usual pet-bed arrangement isn’t there. Apparently the whole ordeal involves a lot of alternating standing and kneeling, and Gjálp’s hand on your shoulder lets you follow along with the whole thing without really understanding any of it.

Because whatever language is being spoken now isn’t one you can understand. All you know is that there’s a good bit of rhyming going on, and people talking in booming, rhythmic verses. You kinda feel like you’re watching a bizarre interpretation of Shakespeare.

The royal family stands at the foot of the dais with the Völva and the Storm Twins, and the large throne and the two smaller ones beside it are conspicuously empty. Geez, you think. Sucks for Helblindi, coming home and finding out that his seat’s been taken.

And then you remember that Helblindi is supposedly hunting in the south, which means you’re apparently going to be heading straight towards him. Him and a monstrous, giant-eating wolf.

It becomes very difficult to pay attention to anything after that - your odds of survival seem like they might be dipping once again.

Fárbauti herself eventually puts the crown on Loki’s head. It must be ceremonial or something, because you haven’t seen it before, and it looks like it’s made of stripes of ice and gold. They really seem to like their line-work, you muse, glancing at the carved walls. Must be because of their skin. You also decide that the crown is surely made of some kind of glass or crystal… even Frost Giants wouldn’t actually wear a crown of ice, would they?

The queen says something and everyone falls to their knees, and you get dragged along with them. Loki turns and stalks up the steps, a new fur-trimmed red cloak billowing behind him. He does look pretty impressive, you have to admit. Regal. It’s honestly kinda doing things for you, you’re embarrassed to note, and you’re pretty glad that he’s a good distance away.

But Gjálp does give you a strange look, and you wish you could just melt through the floor.

And then tables and cushions and food are brought into the throne room after a few more impassioned (but completely incomprehensible) words by Heiðr, and Gjálp steers you from the room, her sister following close behind.

“The king wishes for us to feed you well away from the others, In-Unga,” she whispers. “The royal caravan will depart once the feasting is done, and you are to be safely packed away in our sleigh to await His Majesty’s convenience.”

Oh, am I? you think snidely, though you keep your mouth shut. Loki hadn’t really bothered to tell you much of anything about this stupid trip, other than demanding you put on a few extra under-layers. You kind of feel like a marshmallow, bundled up in fabrics and furs. At least that’s a positive, you guess - even if you do slip in the icy halls and fall flat on your ass, you’ll be well-cushioned.

The twins lead you back to the little side-chamber where they’d taken you before, and the fire is already roaring along in the hearth. All of the food on the table is familiar (well, familiar for Jotunheim cuisine, that is). Loki must be trying not to get too experimental with your tolerance for foreign foods right before he drags you out into the wilderness. How considerate.

You decide to be daring and actually sit at the table like a normal human being this time, and though Greip and Gjálp share a slightly-bemused glance that doesn’t go unnoticed, they don’t say anything. Instead, they sit down beside you and start eating with a ferocity that is honestly a little impressive.

Gjálp slurps down a bowl of broth, wiping her mouth on her forearm, and Greip appears slightly exasperated. “I do hope that you remember not to demonstrate such an atrocious lack of manners in front of Mother and Father,” she says.

“I am more a lady than you, Sister, when the situation calls for it.”

Scoffing, Greip turns to you. “Are you recovered from the night, mortal?”

“Um.” You stare at her for a second, spoon frozen in your hand, totally mortified. You’d hoped that the stares and smirks from some of the giants in the throne room was the only reference to the previous night’s transgressions that you’d have to endure. Apparently not.

“I mean your intoxication,” she clarifies, “and falling asleep in the lap of Inn-Illi.” Her look is one of wide-eyed curiosity, like she genuinely believes you didn’t understand the question, and not that you’re just too horrifically embarrassed to answer.

You shove a spoonful of tuber-soup in your mouth to give you a second or two to stall, but now both of them are watching you. Can’t catch a break.

“The king did not punish you too harshly, did he?” Greip asks.

What an awkward question. Are you supposed to say that he did, or that he didn’t? Apparently it’s something he’s expected to do, and it’s not like he hasn’t threatened it before… And as far as they know, that bruise on your arm was entirely intentional on Loki’s part.

Maybe you should be vague.

“Nothing too bad,” you mumble.

The twins exchange a look, but they don’t ask you anything else as you finish your soup, and before you know it, it’s time to pack up on your sleigh and ride off into the snowstorm.

You really hope Loki’s charm continues to hold.

 

Chapter Text

When the twins mentioned a ‘sleigh,’ you weren’t entirely prepared for this… thing. For one thing, it’s so massive that it almost reminds you of a train car, and for another, it’s entirely enclosed.

More pressing than its sheer size, however, is the fact that the thing appears to be pulled by two terrifyingly-large, white-furred wooly rhinos. You freeze just inside the entrance to the courtyard where the sleigh is parked, your knees shaking.

“Is that…” you begin, but you falter as the twins both turn to stare at you. “Are those rhinoceroses?”

You can tell from the expression on their faces that they have no clue what you’re talking about, and Greip steps up to pat one of the beasts on its flank. It kneads its feet against the ground like an excited cat, and you notice then that the thing has claws. Big ones.

Oh, God. Not a rhino, then.

“This is Hornburi,” she says proudly, “and beside him you see his brother Vámúli. I have reared them since they were small. They are very loyal.”

The thing makes a loud bellowing sound, and you jump, fighting the urge to go flying back into the palace to look for Loki. You’re pretty sure he won’t let some freakish prehistoric rhino-tiger hybrid eat you, and right now, that’s the kind of reassurance you need.

“There is no need to be frightened, In-Unga,” Gjálp is quick to reassure you, steering you towards the door of the sleigh-carriage. “Poor little thing. I told you he should keep her in the palace, Sister.”

“Without the king here to keep her alive, how long could she survive the court?”

Please stop talking over my head, you think. Especially about me dying. Not really helping.

Gjálp sighs loudly. “We could stay behind.”

“Lady Skaði would never permit it.” She cocks her head slightly. “Get her inside; I can hear stirrings. The feast is likely ending, and the king does not want her out in the chaos of the leave-taking.”

You have to be practically hoisted up to reach the step into the sleigh, and you don’t make a very graceful landing. Everything is made of dark wood on the inside, though it’s filled with mats and cushions. In fact, even the inner walls are covered with thickly-woven swaths of fabric. There are a few windows, but they have that same bubbly, thick glass as some of the ones in the palace, so other than letting in some light, you can’t imagine that they’re very useful.

Gjálp clambers in after you. “This is very exciting,” she says. “I have never travelled in such a large convoy before, and we have never had an entire sleigh to ourselves.”

You find a nice little nook in between some boxes and baskets that presumably hold some kind of supplies, and once you’ve snuggled in, she drops a massive duvet-like blanket in your lap. “No one else is riding in here?”

“No one else,” Greip calls from the door, “unless one of the riders tires of the elements and decides to shelter with us. If we do not reach a resting-post before the party decides to halt for the night, we may have company, but I am hopeful that we will not be disturbed.”

The doorway is fairly wide, and over her shoulder you see several giants start to trickle into the courtyard, carrying bags and shields and all sorts of other interesting-looking things. You’re so distracted staring behind her that you almost miss the flash of bright-white fur that appears by her knees.

“My,” she gasps, “wherever did you come from?”

Gjálp moves forward for a better view, but you stay firmly where you are - no more freaky alien creatures for me, thanks, you think.

“What is it, Sister?”

“A melrakki.” She stoops down and hefts the thing in her arms, and it makes an obscenely loud purring sound. You’re almost shocked by how familiar it looks - it’s a fox. A worryingly-large, fluffy, suspiciously-feline looking fox, but still… the thing is definitely some kind of fox.

“Where is your collar?” Greip coos, and the fox - melrakki, or whatever it is - purrs again, its narrow, shiny-black eyes giving off a look of supreme satisfaction.

“Do you suppose he is feral?” her sister asks.

“He does not seem feral. In any case, they are said to be auspicious. I say we bring him along.”

Hell no, you think. Like, sure, he’s cute and all, but this isn’t some little earthly Arctic fox - the thing’s the size of a sturdy wolf, and you can see its sharp little teeth as it yawns.

But it looks like you’re overruled, because Gjálp claps her hands in excitement and hefts the giant furball into the sleigh, and Greip climbs in after, pulling the door closed. The twins both settle cross-legged onto the floor near you, and you keep a wary eye on the toothy interloper that almost seems to be grinning at you.

“What shall we call him?” Gjálp asks, scratching the melrakki behind one of its large ears.

“Hvítaský,” Greip declares.

Yeah, no, you decide. That thing’s a Snowball if you’ve ever seen one. “How about ‘Snowball?’”

They both look amused at that. “It is a very strange name, In-Unga,” Gjálp says.

“A strange name for strange times,” Greip remarks. The creature pads over and climbs into her lap, curling up with its tail under its chin. “I like it. Snowball he shall be.”

You can’t help but laugh a bit at that; she says it like it’s some sort of grand, exotic title. “It’s fairly common as a name for pets, where I’m from.”

It’s good that you have something to talk about to distract you, because there’s a lot of noise outside of the sleigh now, and it’s making you tense. Part of you almost wishes Loki would just sling you over his shoulder again; at least you know he’s capable of magicking up miracle cures when you’re about to die of hypothermia.

Greip seems incredibly taken with her new pet, which already seems to be on the verge of falling asleep in her lap. “Mortals have pets?” she says, slightly surprised.

You blink. “Of course,” you say. “I mean… humans are the top of the food chain on Earth, you know. On Midgard, I mean. We have all kinds of pets.”

“I should like to visit Midgard, someday,” Gjálp declares. She’s kneeling by one of the trunks now, digging around for something. “Father says that there are many interesting plants that grow on Midgard, and that even the winters are mild.”

“He’s… he’s been there?”

“Yes, many Jötnar have been there, though we have never had the opportunity, as we were born after Odin’s War.”

“Oh.”

Gjálp pulls a heavy-looking tome out of the trunk and places it in your lap. “Prince Býleistr thought that this might entertain you for a while, mortal. There are pictures, even if you cannot read it.”

That’s… interesting. “What’s it about?” you ask, flipping open the cover. The pictures are brightly-colored and gilded, and the first page shows a massive tree.

“It is an account of the Nine Realms,” she replies, glancing over the page. “And its peoples.”

“Oh.” You flip to the next page, and there’s a portrait of a young, white-haired young giant with a smirk on his face. His eyes are green. “Who is this?”

“I am not certain.” She plucks the book from your hands and holds it up so that her sister can see, and you watch Greip quickly scan over the page.

“It is the Witch-King Hveðrungr,” she says, wrinkling her nose slightly. “Of the Stormr-Jötnar. He wrote it, in ancient days. It is said that he traveled all the worlds, in the days when Borr, son of Búri, ruled the Realm Eternal. He was an Æsir-friend and elf-friend alike.”

From the tone of her voice, he isn’t a very well-thought-of historical figure on Jotunheim, but that sounds to you like a pretty impressive resume. “He has green eyes.”

“The mark of a sorcerer.” There’s a little bit of awe in her tone, mixed with the disapproval. “And a shapeshifter. The Stormr-Jötnar are rife with them, and always have been.”

The fox in her lap makes an irritated little yelp, and she continues petting him. What an attention hog, you think.

“Mother says that they mixed with the Vanir in the old days,” Gjálp helpfully adds. “But I have also heard it said that they have Ljósálfar blood.”

You aren’t entirely sure what all of that means, but it’s clearly not a good thing. “Ljósálfar?”

“The Light Elves of Alfheim. They are known for their skin-changing.”

Skin-changing makes it sound even creepier, you decide. “And he’s… dead now, I guess?”

“Killed in battle,” Greip says. “They say he went mad.”

Gjálp places the book back in your hands, and you smooth your finger over the runes at the bottom of the page, wishing you could read them. The witch-king on the page… well, you can’t deny that he looks a lot like your own favorite blue sorcerer - it’s something in his eyes, like he knows some big, secret joke.

Maybe you can ask one of the Storm-Twins more about him. Greip and Gjálp seem to think of magic-users in general as pretty scandalous, and you doubt they know much beyond the fact that the guy went crazy and had to be killed.

There’s more bellowing outside only a few minutes later, and you can only assume that more of the rhino-things are being brought in to load up for the trip. Nerves on-edge, you flip to another page, wishing that Loki would make an appearance. He promised he’d keep you safe.

Someone knocks sharply on the door, and then it opens to reveal a pointy-eared giant wearing a surprising amount of layers. I guess no one wants to be completely miserable for a road trip that might last almost a week.

“We are ready, my ladies,” he says to the twins, giving a slight bow. “We will be near the head of the convoy. Is there anything you require?”

“No,” Greip says. “We are ready to depart.”

He closes the door firmly, and you try to ignore the rapid pounding of your heart as the sleigh lurches into motion.

 


 

You aren’t sure how long it’s been, though it’s been dark outside for quite some time now, the sun fully set and only a bit of moonlight making it through the whirling snow and in the thick windows of the sleigh. One of the benefits of being relatively tiny, you’ve decided, is that you can move about pretty easily inside the sleigh, while the twins have to duck their heads anytime they want to stand.

You’ve gotten pretty restless.

Greip has been asleep for a while with the purring Snowball curled up in her lap - you’re still getting a kick out of that name - and Gjálp is reading something by lamplight. You’re tempted to try asking her a bunch of questions, but… things are kind of weird, and you aren’t really sure how chatty you can get before they decide that you aren’t being very ‘pet-like’ and get annoyed.

But you have noticed that Gjálp seems to be the more sentimental, excitable of the two of them, so maybe you can get her to share some interesting gossip. You are supposed to be Loki’s spy, right?

And then you remember the whole ‘Lokakona’ thing, and you grimace. I’m not his woman, you think, pulling your quilt tighter around your shoulders as you try to make out what lies beyond the window at the front of the sleigh. I’m not ‘his’ anything. Ass.

Unfortunately, with nothing to distract you, your mind begins to wander, and where it decides to wander is right back to the steam-pool where Loki’d looked at you like he wanted to devour you.

Kill me now.

Heat burns through you, and you peek over your shoulder to make sure Gjálp isn’t giving you any knowing looks. You’re relieved to see that she still has her eyes glued to her book. For a minute, you almost consider asking her about the scent thing, because human senses definitely aren’t that advanced, but you’re too afraid that she’d figure out why you were asking.

You can’t blot out the phantom sensation of his thumb stroking the soft skin of your side, or the way his dark hair clung to his neck from the steam of the bath, or the rasp in his freaking voice…

Gotta get a hold of yourself, lady.

“Hey,” you ask, “when do you think we’ll stop and eat, or take a break?” Hopefully, you sound casual - you really don’t want anyone to figure out that you’re just really wanting to see Loki.

Gjálp looks up. “I doubt very much that we will stop for hours yet, In-Unga,” she says. “It is best if we travel as far as possible, while the weather allows. There is food here, if you are hungry. I would also suggest that you sleep, if you are tired; it will be a long night.”

“Oh, okay.” You return to your spot and curl up with the book again, hoping that maybe you can at least let the whir of the wind outside lull you to sleep.

 


 

“Sire!”

Greip’s startled, sleepy voice wakes you suddenly, and you open your eyes to find Loki perched in the open doorway, his cloak whipping in the wind. Snow filters into the sleigh, and you realize that it’s still speeding along.

You stare at him. So how…? Did he just leap onto the side of a moving sleigh?

Loki slips inside and pulls the door closed behind him, dusting snow from his clothing. “I tire of the wind,” he announces, his lips turned in an imperious frown. The twins exchange a look, but he ignores them, carefully selecting a large cushion at the front of the sleigh, upon which he promptly sprawls.

Once he’s settled in, he raises his hand, pointing one long finger at the fox-creature in Greip’s lap. “What,” he says slowly, “is this?”

Its long tongue lolls as it appears to grin at him, and you notice that Greip leans forward, slightly protective. “This is a melrakki, sire. We found him in the courtyard, and—”

“And naturally,” Loki drawls, “you decided that he should be brought along on this expedition.”

Gjálp clears her throat awkwardly - at least you aren’t the only one he intimidates. “They are good omens,” she offers. “And he is clearly domesticated.”

“Hmm.”

The melrakki ducks its furry head under its tail as Loki continues to glower at it, but then he suddenly breaks into a smirk. “Auspicious, indeed,” he says. “Come here, mortal.”

You stare at him. Is he really going to make you come… cuddle with him? In front of the twins?

He crooks a finger, his eyes dark in the dim light. Apparently so.

Full of apprehension, you flounder your way to your feet and shuffle to his side. Oh my God, you shriek internally, what is the matter with you, Loki? Can he not see how horrifically awkward this is for everyone?

Loki spreads his legs slightly as he settles back against his cushions, and your face feels like it’s catching fire. What…?

“Sit, pet.”

You try to gingerly perch on his knee, despite the sleigh jostling along, but Loki is quick to wrap his arms around you and drag you back against him as he lounges. Body stiff, you do your very best not to melt when you feel his breath against your ear.

“After last night,” he whispers, “you can hardly pretend to be bashful, can you?”

Damn him. Closing your eyes, you try to force your muscles to relax. It’s not like you can throw a fit in front of the twins, because knowing Loki, he’d probably lose his mind and actually punish you for it. And even if Greip and Gjálp are weirded out by their new king popping in for a surprise sleepover, they’re both too afraid of him to actually say anything about it.

“Your king is going to sleep.” Loki tucks the quilt around you both, as if he hasn’t a care in the world. “I suggest you all do the same.”

 


 

You wake up some time later, not even having realized that you’d fallen asleep. The inside of the sleigh is dark, only one hanging lantern left swaying at the other end. Gjálp is slumped over with her book in her lap, and Greip is curled up on a cushion not far from her, the aptly-named Snowball nestled against her side.

And Loki… well, you don’t know how you managed it, but you must’ve rolled over to get more comfortable at some point, because you’re laying flat on top of him now, chest to chest, your head tucked under his chin. His breathing is so steady. Peaceful. Loki isn’t someone you’d typically describe as peaceful.

He makes a sleepy humming sound, and you cringe as you realize that your stirring must’ve woken him. Or maybe it didn’t, because instead of the half-awake grumbling you anticipate, you feel one of his large hands rub a few light circles on the small of your back.

Almost like… almost like he’s trying to soothe you back to sleep.

You aren’t really sure what to make of that.

But it feels nice, and you don’t have much time to fret over it all before you slip back into dreams.

 


 

The fox-thing is right in your face when you wake up again, peering down at you with a toothy grin. Your heart nearly stops, and you’re pretty sure it’s laughing at you. Greip’s face appears above it only a moment later, blinking sleepily.

“We’ve come to a halt, In-Unga,” she says. “There is a small lodge by the river here, and the king has called for a rest. The animals need to be fed and watered.”

You sit up; Loki is nowhere to be seen.

Thank goodness, you think. I really need to pee. For a so-called ‘primitive’ race, the Frost Giants seem to have pretty high standards as far as the whole interior-plumbing situation is concerned, so you’re hoping that holds true even for whatever medieval version of an econo-lodge you’ve stopped at now.

“Can I get out?” you ask.

“Of course. We shall all go inside and refresh ourselves. Because we are near the head of the convoy with the royal party, we will be first.”

Gjálp slings a large bag over her shoulder and opens the door, hopping out into the snow. It’s daylight now, but it still looks cold as hell, and suddenly you’re kind of second-guessing your eagerness to get out of the carriage. “Come, mortal,” she calls, holding out a hand. “We must move quickly; I do not imagine the king will wish to stop for long.”

You let her help you out of the sleigh, immediately sinking into snow up past your knees. Great.

“Goodness,” Greip says, laughing as she jumps out behind you. “Such short little legs you have! Carry her, Sister.”

“Oh,” you begin, flushing, “you really don’t have to—”

“Nonsense.” Gjálp kneels down, apparently unbothered by the snow. “You will be terribly slow if you try to push through this. Come.”

And so you climb onto her back, accepting the fact that you’re pretty darn useless outside on this stupid planet. At least they’re being nice about it, you guess.

Snowball bursts out of the sleigh behind Greip and starts bouncing off through the snow with unbridled exuberance. “Wait!” she cries, but the fox-thing has already disappeared into the snow-covered brush alongside the roadway, and her face falls.

“I am certain he will come back,” her sister reassures. “It is the nature of wild things to run, after all.”

“You are right,” Greip agrees, but she still looks pretty crestfallen.

While it would probably be wise to keep your head down, your curiosity gets the better of you, and you peer around from your vantage point. Once Gjálp rounds to the other side of the sleigh, you spy the so-called ‘small lodge,’ and surprise, surprise, it isn’t really all that small.

I guess everything’s bigger on Jotunheim.

The lodge is round, with a large, domed roof, and save for the doorways, the entire stone structure is covered with a thick layer of dark ice. Cool, you think. Like a crazy giant igloo.

There are a lot of Frost Giants milling about outside, some that you kind of recognize from the palace, some that you’ve never seen before. One particular cluster seems to have caught notice of you, and from the way they’re staring, you guess they didn’t get the memo about Loki’s mortal.

“...frá Miðgarði,” you hear one of the men say as Greip and Gjálp pass by them. Hey, you think, Midgard! I know what that means. Then you realize that they’re probably saying something pretty unsavory about you, and some of your excitement fades.

Once you enter the lodge, you find that almost the entire structure is made up of one large, open room. There’s a huge fire burning in the center, and stone tables and benches are set up all around it. In some ways, it almost reminds you of a cafeteria, or like… a really sparsely-decorated event center.

Heiðr and Hrossþjófr are already seated at a table, and they wave you over. Gjálp settles you carefully onto one of the benches, and you try to ignore the fact that a ton of giants are watching you with apparent consternation.

Welp, it seems like humans at the dinner table must be a pretty big faux-pas.

“How fares our mortal?” Hrossþjófr asks, crossing his arms across his chest. “It seems that you’ve survived the night in one piece.”

“Of course she did,” his sister says. “Fate wills it so.” And then she smiles at you, eyes sparkling. “And so does Loki Laufeyson.”

You aren’t entirely sure why, but that makes you blush. They must’ve been traveling with him at the front of the caravan - do they know that he snuck away during the night to snuggle up to you like some sort of fickle, bad-tempered cat? Probably.

“I don’t think that Fate really likes me all that much,” you say softly, surreptitiously searching the room for Loki. Where is he? You’d actually kind of hoped you’d get to be with him for a little while, considering he’s… well, you aren’t sure what he is anymore. Not a friend, of course, but…

Something.

“Nonsense,” Greip says. “Fate shines on you, In-Unga. You have a place and a purpose. What more could a mortal desire?”

Oh, boy, you think. There’s so much I could say to that.

Hrossþjófr beams at her, teeth bright. “And you, íviðja? Are you enjoying the journey?”

“Call me that again, seiðberandi, and I will string you up by your ears once we reach my Father’s forest.”

“I only wish that you would dare attempt it.”

Is she blushing again? She’s definitely blushing again. “Come, mortal,” Greip says brusquely, taking the bag from her sister. “Let us go bathe and change, and then we will eat.”

It’s kind of nice to have someone else’s drama to mull over as she steers you through the crowded room, because it lets you pretend that you don’t have your own issues to deal with right now. Once you’re alone with her in one of the bathing-rooms, you figure that it’s safe to speak.

“What’s íviðja mean?”

She huffs. “It is what they use to refer to the giantesses from the forest. It implies that we are troll-like.”

Of course trolls are a real thing. Of course. You take a breath. “And seiðberandi?”

“Seiðr-bearer,” Greip says, rummaging in the bag and pulling out a bundle of assorted fabrics. “A wizard.”

“Oh, like Lok— like the king?”

She gives you a strange look, like she can’t believe you almost said his name. “Yes,” she replies, “like the king.”

“And that’s… an insult?”

“For most of us, yes.”

Huh, you think. You’ll have to remember to listen out for that one. The bathing-room you’re in now pales in comparison to the one in the palace; instead of a fancy pool, there are several long trough-like sinks along the wall, flowing with water that (fortunately) appears to be steaming.

“Go relieve yourself,” she says. “That room there.” She points to a door near the back, and you bolt for it. Don’t mind if I do. You’ve always hated that about road trips - the bathroom situation can get pretty sketchy.

When you come back, she’s stripped off already and is scrubbing herself down with a sponge. Oh, great, you think. More naked giants. “Quickly, In-Unga, come and bathe; we are not in the palace, and the water will not stay this scalding for long.”

Scalding water is too tempting to resist. Okay, so this is happening. At least you aren’t having to take another bath with Loki, so that’s… good.

Whatever charm he’s put on you is impressive, but you still feel like you’re gonna freeze your butt off when you start washing off, and so you speed through and pull on your new clothes in under five minutes. Good enough, you tell yourself. Who cares if I smell a little funky? They’re the ones dragging me across the wilderness. They can deal.

 


 

Loki’s sitting with his brother when Greip finally brings you back through the lodge common room, and other than a hint of that blade-thin little smile of his, he doesn’t seem to take any real notice of you. Whatever, you think. At least that means less attention will be on me, maybe.

A bowl is placed in front of you at the table - Loki-approved, you assume - and you’re honestly pretty hungry, so you try to dig in. It’s shredded meat of some kind, and more of the suspicious green biscuits.

I just want a salad. A nice salad, some fresh fruit, and maybe a soda.

Both sets of twins are teasing at each other, and you honestly aren’t really following most of it. Teenage giant insults must be in their own class, you guess. The Storm-Twins are definitely a lot less dignified when they aren’t standing up in front of everyone making speeches.

But then Heiðr looks up at something behind you, and you can see the playfulness smooth from her features. “Prince Býleistr,” she says, “how may we serve you?”

You don’t turn; you don’t have to, because you can feel his stare. “I am starved for entertaining conversation,” he replies. “I wish to join you.”

Gjálp is beaming, but her sister looks slightly tense. “Of course, sire. We would be honored.”

“Good,” Býleistr replies, and you do your best to keep your eyes fixed on your lunch as he slides into the space beside you.

And when you do risk a glance towards the fire, the king’s red eyes are staring right at you.

 

Chapter Text

You’ve started to notice that sometimes the giants’ eyes seem to glow a bit more than others, almost like they’re catching every bit of light in the room. Considering that their eyes are mostly varying shades of red, it’s a pretty terrifying effect.

Loki’s got that going on right now. Instinct is telling you to run. Running is probably a bad idea.

Apparently, no one else at the table has noticed, and you cram one of the bitter, crumbling biscuits in your mouth. Ugh. Okay, so now is probably a good time to evaluate the situation. First up, you’re basically a glorified lap dog here, and you aren’t supposed to be sitting at the table… but you are. Secondly, one of the planet’s terrifying princes has decided to sit down right next to you, which probably makes the whole thing a lot more scandalous.

Thirdly, that prince’s nutty, jealous older brother looks like he’s pretty pissed about it.

Well, Loki, you think sourly, maybe if you’d kept me a little closer, I wouldn’t be stuck at the table with your brother…

And then you mentally slap yourself; what are you thinking, wishing that you were at his side or on his lap, rather than sitting at a table like a normal person? But his lap, you concede, is certainly much more comfortable. And he does smell really nice.

And he did sneak away to hold you during the night, which honestly was probably just him being selfish, but… he’d known you were afraid, and he’d known that you were worried about the trip, and some part of you can’t help but hope that part of the reason he showed up was just to check on you.

“Did you show the mortal the book, Gjálp?”

“I did, sire. She has been enjoying the illustrations.”

“A book for a mortal, Prince Býleistr?” Heiðr asks lightly. “And what sort of book might that be?”

“The Annals of Hveðrungr.”

Heiðr shares a quick look with her brother, and Hrossþjófr leans forward, a slight, almost-conspiratorial smile on his lips. “Truly? I did not know that Býleistr Fárbautason had any interest in the history of Hveðrungr Úlfgrennir, renowned seiðr-master.”

The apathy in Býleistr’s voice doesn’t waver in the slightest, and if you were brave enough to risk a look at him, you’re certain that he’d be doing that weird little head-cocking thing that must be a family trait. “It is the business of princes to be well-learned, is it not? Besides, despite his many faults, the witch-king was a masterful painter, and as the mortal cannot read—”

“I can read.”

Your eyes widen in shock as you realize that you’d actually said - well, snapped, really - that out loud, and every giant at the table turns their attention to you. That’s exactly what you wanted to avoid… why can’t you just keep your damn mouth shut?

Greip seems pretty tense, too, so you can only assume that this is another one of those situations that might merit the ‘punishment’ you keep hearing about, and you’re pretty sure you’re starting to get a little lightheaded. Oh, crap, you think. I’m gonna die for my pride. I guess that’s my mortal sin.

“Can you now, In-Unga?” the prince asks. “But nothing of our world, correct? Nothing useful.”

Christ, he’s just as condescending as his brother. Maybe even more. Is Loki still watching you? Probably. Blushing, you think of the little scrap of paper tucked away in your bra. “I’m learning,” you hurriedly reply, not taking quite as much time to consider your words as you should.

Oops. That definitely did not help with your ‘not seeming interesting’ agenda, apparently; the next thing you know, there’s a finger under your chin, and Býleistr’s twisting your face around so that he can look at you.

“You are learning?” He almost sounds surprised, so maybe teaching a human pet to read is some kind of scandal, too. Loki doesn’t seem to particularly care much about being scandalous.

You decide to keep your mouth shut.

“Well, mortal?”

“Yes,” you manage to bite out. “Sire.”

There’s a slight shift in his expression as he seems to come to some kind of understanding. “And masterfully instructed by none other than my exalted brother, no doubt. He certainly spends more than enough time with you.”

It’s then that you notice the ever-so-slight flare of his nostrils, and you realize that he’s scenting you like some kind of bloodhound. Great. And you can only assume, based on the very vague sense of irritation you’re picking up from Little Brother here, that you must smell strongly of the king.

Maybe that’s a good thing.

“Why would he not?” Hrossþjófr asks in-between tearing bites of some kind of meat from an oddly-curved bone. He doesn’t seem nearly as concerned about propriety as the others, and you wonder if it’s because of his special status as part of the Völva’s little entourage, or if he’s really just that careless.

Maybe both.

“The lords of old kept mortals to warm them at night,” he continues, “and some of the ladies were said to, as well.” Grinning, he looks around the table. “It is practically a tradition. You truly cannot criticize the king for that.”

If possible, your cheeks flush even hotter. Oh, wonderful, you despair. Everyone thinks I’m banging Loki, that’s just—

And then you flinch as a hand suddenly squeezes your shoulder, and Býleistr releases your chin, looking instead to whoever it is that’s now standing behind you.

Except… you already know who it is, even before you hear the silk of his voice. You’re starting to notice that you can smell him, too. Damn. That’s probably not a good thing.

“How true, Hrossþjófr,” Loki says. “In fact, one might even say that it is unwise to criticize the king at all.”

His thumb presses into the muscle at the juncture of your neck and back, and you realize then just how tense you’d become. It hurts a bit, but it’s also almost… relaxing. Across the table, poor Gjálp’s blue skin has paled slightly, though the Storm-Twins are apparently unconcerned about the decidedly-malevolent presence hovering behind you.

“Ah, King Loki joins us,” Heiðr says.

“I come to tell you to make ready to leave. Lady Skaði claims that a storm is brewing to the east, and I would like to make as much progress as possible before we are trapped here.”

Hrossþjófr’s smile is sly. “I might’ve thought that you’d wish to rest longer, sire, after riding out in the snow all through the night.”

You don’t miss the confused look Gjálp and Greip exchange at that, but it seems like they aren’t going to question it, and you certainly aren’t going to risk saying anything else, either. But does that mean that he somehow… snuck away from the head of the convoy without anyone else noticing? How?

And why would he go to that much effort - just to avoid looking weak for needing a rest?

“Yes, well, seiðr is useful for many things, isn’t it? Get up, mortal.”

I’m not finished with my freaking lunch, you internally gripe. Or breakfast, or… whatever this is. You’ve kind of lost track of time. Being surrounded by a pack of giants had kind of stifled your appetite, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be hungry later - you’re probably burning calories like crazy just to stay warm.

Still, this is definitely one of those don’t-argue-with-Loki moments, so you awkwardly scramble off of the bench, trying not to kick either Býleistr or Greip in the process. It isn’t exactly easy, and the fact that the bench is really too tall for you just makes the whole thing worse.

You’re kind of expecting Loki to bark out some kind of orders once you’re on your feet, but he doesn’t; instead, he seizes hold of your arm and drags you towards the door. Or, at least, he makes it look like he’s dragging you away - you can’t help but notice that his grip isn’t actually all that tight, this time.

The snow is deep outside, and he pauses for a moment on the threshold, almost as if he’d forgotten that you’re even shorter than he is and you can’t exactly speed-walk through it. You realize that he’s just being impulsive, then, and you fight the urge to roll your eyes. Idiot.

Loki sighs, and that should be your clue to expect something ridiculous, but he moves before you have a chance to react, slinging you over his shoulder.

And then he stalks forward, the snow simply melting away in his path. If you were to close your eyes, you could almost pretend you were back in the cave - except, of course, you aren’t currently dying, and Loki doesn’t smell like blood.

So, all things considered, you guess it could be worse.

Some of the giants outside are watching with open fascination, particularly the ones that seem to be local to whatever this particular place is. What a show they’re getting, you think. Their new surprise-king and his pet human, all at once. One of the older-looking men actually has the nerve to point at you, and you’re pretty sure you hear the word ‘Midgard’ drifting through the wind.

“Take a picture,” you mutter. “It’ll last longer.”

Loki lets out a surprised little huff. Was that a laugh?

You don’t dare say anything else until he’s hauled you into the sleigh and shut the door firmly behind you, dropping you carelessly onto one of the piles of cushions. “You just caused a scene,” you hiss. “Everyone probably thinks—”

“I don’t particularly care what they think, mortal. Those in power are always afforded their eccentricities.”

Whatever. You curl up under one of the blankets, determined to sulk. “Why did you do that? You told me not to draw attention to myself, but you keep drawing attention to me.”

“Whims of the king,” he says dismissively. But then he hesitates as he turns to leave, coming back to crouch before you, a puzzled sort of frown creasing his brow. “You were frightened.”

“Well, yes, I—”

“It angered me.”

You aren’t really sure how you’re supposed to respond to that - and in fact, Loki almost looks surprised that he said it. Instead, the two of you just stare at each other in silence for a moment or two.

“You could just keep me with you, next time,” you finally say, “but I guess I wouldn’t be very good at collecting gossip that way.”

“No,” Loki replies, “I suppose you wouldn’t.”

Clearing your throat, you finally force yourself to break his gaze - you’re kind of worried that he’s hypnotizing you. It would probably be a good idea to ask someone if that’s a thing sorcerers can actually do here, because Loki’s definitely got something unnatural going on with his eyes, and you aren’t entirely certain how to combat it.

“Speaking of gossip, is it against some kind of law for me to learn to read? No books for lowly humans, or something?”

Loki cocks his head. “I neither know nor care,” he says. “I am above the law, and if I want to show you runes, then I will.”

A tiny prickle of excitement sparks in your chest at that. Being able to read some of the books on this stupid planet would be so, so incredibly wonderful. It would give you something to do other than sitting around simultaneously bored and panicking, at least. “So… you’re going to show me more?”

Whatever strange mood he’s in finally seems to break, and he grins. “Of course, mortal - if you earn it. Was that not the bargain?”

“Oh. Do you want me to tell you everything I’ve heard so far?”

“Now is not a good time, I’m afraid. I spoke the truth; we do need to leave as quickly as possible.” But he doesn’t move for the door, and your breath catches as he reaches forward and gently angles your head back, dragging his thumb slowly across your chin.

Almost like he’s wiping Býleistr’s touch away.

But no - you tell yourself that you’re just being stupid, probably reading way too far into it. He’s just a fickle, handsy guy, and he likes keeping you on edge. Probably. That’s probably all it is.

Loki’s lips part slightly, and you freeze, your heart hammering against your ribs. The moment is broken by a rustling outside, and he rocks back on his heels. “I will see you tonight, pet,” he softly assures, and then he’s gone, disappearing into the flurry of snow outside the door.

The twins join you only a moment later, an overjoyed Greip holding her giant, snow-covered fox in her arms. In no time at all, the sleigh lurches into motion.

You’re still trying to remember the way his fingers felt on your skin.

 


 

Knowing the king like you do, he’s going to either be really pissed or really impressed that you’ve convinced the twins to show you some more runes. Granted, they aren’t exactly fantastic teachers - they tend to just point to random characters on the page and make the sound - but it’s better than nothing.

You’re hoping he’ll be mostly impressed.

Gjálp and Greip have both been slightly subdued ever since Loki tossed you into the sleigh, and as nosy as they usually are, you’re kind of surprised they haven’t asked anything about it yet. Based on how stricken Gjálp looked when he appeared at the table, they must think that he dragged you off to do something terrible.

The really embarrassing thing is that, given what they’ve said so far, they could either be assuming that the ‘something terrible’ was straight-up beating you, or… well, probably something sexual.

Snowball rolls onto his back, dragging your attention back to the present. He nips at Greip’s finger, and when she hisses and bares her teeth at him, his ears flatten into what can only be interpreted as remorse.

Huh. You watch as the fox licks at her fingers. Just like that, all seems to be forgiven, and Greip turns back to her book. You’re kind of starting to notice that the Jötnar are… exceedingly cat-like. You’d thought that it was just a Loki thing, but maybe it’s actually an all -giants thing.

Maybe you should try hissing at Býleistr the next time he gets too close. Or Loki. Loki would probably lose his damned mind if you tried something like that. The image you conjure up of his face is pretty priceless, and you let out a sharp laugh.

“What is the matter, In-Unga?”

“Oh, I…” But what can you say? Definitely not the truth. Maybe a half-truth will do the trick. “I was thinking about the king,” you say. “He’s confusing. Well, this whole place is confusing, really.”

Gjálp clears her throat. “He was not harsh with you, was he? I cannot imagine why—”

“You are naive,” her sister interrupts. “Inn-Illi is clearly angered because Prince Býleistr has taken an interest in his pet. Býleistr intentionally needles him.”

“Do you know the prince well?” you ask. “I mean, it seems like he’s pretty comfortable around you, and… you’re around the same age, right?”

“Yes, indeed,” Gjálp replies. “The Queen Mother is from our clan, you know; though King Laufey was of the Hrímþursar, the princes spent much of their youth in the forests.”

“Hrimth—”

Hrímþursar,” Greip corrects. “The true Frost Giants.”

“I thought they were just called Jötnar.”

Greip shrugs. “By most, they are. They prefer it, certainly; Hrímþursar is a tribal distinction, and Laufey’s people like to imagine that they are above the tribes.”

“Now who is it that speaks too boldly, Sister?”

“It is true. With Loki Laufeyson on the throne, the Stormr- Jötnar are certain to use it as an opportunity to regain prominence, and neither the king nor the Stormr- Jötnar have any love for Laufey’s people.”

Well, you think, that’s definitely some promising gossip.

“So… you think the Storm Giants are going to try to take advantage of some kind of… clan loyalty? Because I don’t think Lo— I don’t think the king really cares too much about clans or anything like that. It isn’t like he even knew about his mom before a few days ago.”

Greip leans forward, conspiratorial, even though there’s no one around to hear. “I think that, while he may be entirely mad, Loki Laufeyson is certainly clever. He will naturally fall in among his mother’s people, and they would be delighted to support the reign of another witch-king.”

“But the queen says she supports him, too.”

“Well, yes. But the court is a dangerous place, little mortal.” She wraps her arms around the purring melrakki in her lap, rubbing her face against his furry head. Snowball looks exceptionally pleased by the attention, his tiny pink tongue peeking out between his teeth.

You wish you felt that content.

“These are not things for you to fret over, In-Unga,” Gjálp says, giving you a reassuring pat on the head. “Court intrigue is hardly the concern of a mortal.”

Well, maybe it wouldn’t be, you think, if I wasn’t caught smack in the middle of it.

“He’s going to be back tonight.”

Greip looks up from Snowball’s fur, startled. “What was that?”

“The king.” Sighing, you snuggle further back into your cushions, picking up Býleistr’s book and flipping to the next page. “He’s going to come back tonight, like he did last night.”

“Oh.”

They exchange a look, but you pretend not to notice, keeping your eyes glued to the page. While you can make out a couple of runes on the page, you have no clue what they combine to actually say, and you give up after a few minutes and go searching for the next illustration.

A flash of color a few pages away captures your attention, and your lips part in surprise as you uncover a very unexpected sight - a human woman. You’re almost positive that she’s human; there’s a forest behind her, and it looks familiarly Earth-like. Her clothes look like something you’ve seen in history books, and her hair falls in sandy waves down to her waist.

Most surprisingly of all is the sheer level of detail - the human woman in the book Býleistr had shown you in the archive was clearly just some unnamed prop, but this… this woman’s eyes are deep and somber. The painter clearly knew her.

And the painter, you suddenly remember, was the supposedly-mad witch-king Hveðrungr.

You can’t resist. “What does this say?” you ask, turning the book around. “Who is this?”

Gjálp takes the book from you. “Oh, a mortal! She is Víf, it says. Perhaps Hveðrungr met her on Midgard during his travels. This,” she points, “says that the forests of Midgard hold special magics.”

“So, she’s not someone you’ve heard of?”

She looks slightly uncomfortable at that, and her sister rushes to save her. “Mortals are rarely recorded in history, In-Unga,” Greip says gently. “They live and die so quickly.”

An awkward silence falls, and Gjálp hands the book back to you. You don’t really feel like reading anymore, though, and so you curl up instead, pulling the blanket almost entirely over your head. Somehow, despite the fact that literally everyone here calls you ‘mortal,’ it’s hard to really conceptualize the idea that you’ll die of old age in what probably seems like no time at all to them.

Well, you think, if I even make it to old age.

You don’t want to freak the twins out - it isn’t their fault, and they’ve been sweet, even if they can be kind of obtuse sometimes - and so when you start to cry under your blanket, you hold yourself as still as possible. Maybe they can hear it, or maybe they can even smell it, but they give you your space.

You appreciate that, really. It isn’t like there’s anything they can do.

Eventually, you manage to fall asleep.

 


 

When you wake next, it’s from a combination of things - a sudden drop of temperature in the sleigh, the sound of an irritated voice, a fuzzy tickle against your chin.

“Why,” Loki is asking in that deadly-pleasant voice of his, “has my mortal been crying?”

You open your eyes to find the twins hovering near you, Snowball half-sprawled across your lap. Good lord, he’s heavy. From the scene in front of you, you can only assume that the twins, in some sort of attempt to comfort you, decided that maybe snuggling up with a pet of your own was the way to go.

It’s incredibly touching, but also not incredibly comfortable, because the melrakki-fox-thing isn’t exactly housecat-sized, and he’s currently attempting to curl up on your chest. You wheeze.

“Oh,” Greip says, “In-Unga was not feeling well, sire, and my sister and I thought that a pet might be comforting…” She falters under the weight of the king’s glare. “They have them on Midgard,” she tries again. “Pets, that is…”

Snowball turns his head to smugly survey the room, as if to say, “Hey, am I doing a great job or what?” And then, as Loki’s eyes narrow, the melrakki turns back and gives your face an enthusiastic lick.

“That’s it.” Loki crosses the sleigh-carriage in two strides, snatching the melrakki up by the nape of his neck and bodily dragging him to the door. He shoves it open and tosses Snowball outside, then slams the door closed again.

“Sire!” Greip cries.

“He is a wild animal, isn’t he? He will survive.”

There are tears in her eyes, though she blinks them back convincingly enough, and Gjálp puts a hand on her shoulder. Way to go, Loki, you think as he takes up his spot at the opposite end of the sleigh. They think you’re a raving lunatic. Maybe he’s like the giant version of people who can’t stand cats? Maybe he’s allergic and too embarrassed to admit it?

The thought of Loki - proud, haughty, kingly Loki - having a sneezing fit is weirdly amusing.

Or maybe it is just that he’s a raving lunatic.

You make your way to him without even waiting for him to demand it; no reason to keep the crazy king waiting, after all. And besides, despite the awkwardness of it all… you’d honestly been looking forward to it. Maybe. Just a little.

Slumber parties with the king. Yay.

And the supervillain. You should probably do a better job of remembering that part - the dude did devastate New York. He feels nice, though. Listening to his heartbeat is incredibly calming. That probably doesn’t make it okay, but there it is.

“Why were you crying?” His voice in your ear is so soft you can barely hear it over the noise of the wind outside and the creaking of the sleigh, and that softness makes it seem so much more… significant.

“Worried about dying.”

“Don’t.” There’s a pause for a moment or two, and you squeeze your eyes closed, pressing your cheek against his chest. You wonder if his injuries are still bothering him. “Would you like for me to spell you to sleep?”

“No,” you whisper. “No, this is fine.”

 

Chapter Text

It’s early morning, you think, though it’s still so dark out that not much light is making it in through the windows. Based on the way the sleigh is jerking and rumbling along, that storm Loki’d mentioned must finally be rolling in, and you snuggle more soundly into the crook of his arm. It’s a good thing that he’s still asleep, because you’d probably die if he knew you were voluntarily cuddling up to him like this.

But it’s cold. Really, really cold. The temperature must’ve dropped during the night; you can almost see your breath fogging in the air. That’s a good reason to stay cuddled up with the king, right?

The twins are asleep, too, and with no witnesses to catch you, you crane your neck to study his face. That’s when you notice that there’s a tiny hint of a smile on his lips, and your eyes narrow in suspicion. “You’re awake, aren’t you?”

Loki cracks one eye open, his lips parting in a silent laugh. “I am. Please, don’t let that stop you - you are almost pleasing when you forget yourself this way.”

You’re such an ass, you think sourly, but you also don’t budge an inch. “You’re a lot more pleasing when you’re asleep.”

“Careful, mortal. You wouldn’t want to wake your little friends, would you? I can hardly let you speak this way to the king, can I? I’d have to punish you.”

There’s a slight purr in his voice that immediately chases away the chill from the frigid air. “What are you gonna do,” you bluster, trying to sit up a little to at least pretend you aren’t entirely complicit in this whole cuddling thing, “toss me out into the storm, just like Snowball?”

Loki snorts and pulls you closer. “Spare me,” he says. “That little wretch is far better-suited for the climate than I am, and I cannot particularly recall you fretting over my wellbeing.”

Is he pouting? “I kinda figured you could take care of yourself, Your Majesty.”

“Hmm. I am rather exceptional.” There’s an audible little smile in his voice, a pleased sort of contentedness that you aren’t really familiar with, but you kind of… like.

Huh, you think. Maybe this is almost what he’s like when he isn’t taking over planets. Except, is Loki ever not taking over planets? From what you know, his track record isn’t exactly great.

The twins are bundled up together, and you feel a pang of sympathy. Poor Greip. “It’s gotten really cold,” you say. “Are you sure that Snowball—”

Groaning in irritation, Loki rubs his cheek against your hair. “A truly idiotic name,” he says.

“Hey, I came up with that!”

“Obviously. In any case, if that creature wants to find its way back to her, it will.”

The sleigh sways sharply, and when you tense, Loki’s embrace tightens ever-so-slightly. You pretend not to notice. Maybe he’s just tense, too.

“They think you hurt me, you know. The twins.”

“Don’t I?”

It’s not what you were expecting him to say, and it takes you awhile to think of a reply. “Not really. I mean… not like they think. Not like you could.”

“Hmm.”

“Does that bother you at all?”

“Does what bother me?”

“Being Inn-Illi. The bad guy, the villain—”

“No,” he says. “No, mortal, it does not bother me.”

 


 

“I can’t believe they’re still asleep. Hasn’t it been, like... years? I’m gonna end up spending the rest of my youth in this stupid sleigh on this stupid snow planet.”

Loki sighs deeply. “I am finding myself fantasizing with increasing frequency about the prospect of having you muzzled, mortal. Imagine that - sweet, blissful silence. Peace.”

“I think you’re lying, sire. You’d get bored.”

“You are a thorn in my side,” he replies, but there really isn’t much force behind it. “It has only been seven or eight hours, I’d expect. There is no reason to waste the energy to stay awake; you would do well to follow their example.”

“I slept already. More than you, actually. Don’t you need to sleep?”

“I am not in the mood. Besides, I must be alert when it is time to halt and make a temporary camp. Burden of the crown, and all that.”

The sleigh jerks again, and your fingers reflexively dig into the loose tunic he’s wearing. In a way, it’s kind of nice to think about the fact that he’s probably pretty miserable in this freezing weather, too, even if he isn’t at risk of actually dying from it. You’re very much at risk of actually dying from it.

It probably helps with the sense of camaraderie, also, that he’s lost his blueness sometime during the night. Is that an intentional thing that he does when he’s around you, or does he not even notice? Does he just gradually revert to pale-Loki whenever he isn’t putting on a show for the Frost Giants? He definitely seems to refer to his “birth-form” as something clearly distinct from his ‘real’ self.

Poor guy. It’s pretty messed up.

“Are you gonna disappear again when we stop?”

He gazes down at you with a critical eye, and you take note of the dark circles that stand out much more sharply when he isn’t blue. “Hoping to trade my company for that of the furball, are you? Or my dear little brother?”

“It’s Snowball,” you huff, “and no on the brother. Definitely not. You know Býleistr makes me nervous.”

“I know.”

Loki falls silent, and though his eyes close as he reclines his head back against the cushion, none of the tension leaves him. There’s something… brittle about him, you decide, something that makes it seem like he’s barely holding all of the pieces of himself together.

That’s not good. It’s not good because you need him to keep you alive, and it’s doubly not good because you’re starting to actually care, and—

The thought suddenly shoves all others aside. You care? You really shouldn’t. God knows he doesn’t care about you. Except…

“How’d you know I’d been crying?”

“The salt of it in the air was unmistakable,” he says, “and disturbingly potent. I’ve been plagued by your weeping before, you’ll recall.”

Yeah, well, that was your fault, you think. “I don’t get how all of this scent stuff works.”

“Yes, well, neither do I.”

That doesn’t surprise you, but the fact that he’d admit it does.

“I’ve experienced vaguely similar sensations while in animal form,” Loki continues unbidden, and the jostling of the sleigh leaves his hand resting on your hip, fingers splayed. “But this is… different, more keen. And I…”

He cuts himself off abruptly, drumming his fingers on your hip, watching them while he drifts off into thought. You wish, suddenly and surely, that there were fewer layers between his hand and your skin.

“And?”

“I do not enjoy feeling like a beast when I am in the form of a man.”

Oh, boy. That’s a lot to unpack. You aren’t really sure that he’d appreciate anything comforting you might try to say, anyway. “Is it the same with the others?”

His fingers continue to drum. “Meaning what, mortal?”

“Like when you made Greip cry, was it just as unpleasant?”

“Hmm. No, as a matter of fact. Everything from you is much… stronger. How interesting. Perhaps it is a species advantage, making prey easier to sniff out.”

“Prey?”

“Yes,” Loki replies, a hint of amusement - and maybe something else - in his voice. “My little mortal prey, so terribly easy to hunt. I wonder how far you’d have to run for the snow to hide your tracks from me.”

Your heartbeat quickens. “I’m… you know I’m not going to run, right?”

“It would certainly be foolish, but oh, what fun.”

He’s doing that thing again, the problematic thing where his voice drops and gets all gravelly. Damn him if he’s doing that on purpose, you think. In fact, damn him either way.

Because the thought of some nutty alien king chasing you down through the snow shouldn’t make you blush - it should just freak you out. But you’re definitely blushing. Time to change to subject.

“So, this monster-wolf… how big are we talking?”

“I have no idea. He is tremendous, no doubt.”

Your fingers fidget with the material of his shirt. It’s honestly a little rough - much rougher than whatever fabric he’d been wearing when he found you in the cave. “But, not too big for you, right?”

“No.” Loki pats you on the hip, apparently amused. “He won’t be too big for me.”

“Oh. That’s good. But what—“

Raising one long, elegant finger to his lips, Loki shushes you. “Your little friends are beginning to stir,” he whispers. “Best hold that tongue of yours, In-Unga.”

Just use my actual name, you ass. But you know by now that he’s doing it on purpose, and the more you react, the more he’ll enjoy it. He’s a weird one, Loki; how long will it take you to feel like you can really keep up with his games? Maybe more years than you have left.

It’s a sobering notion.

Greip wakes first, her back curving impressively as she stretches, yawning. You notice that Loki’s staring at her, and for some reason, it’s kind of annoying you. Why can’t he just act like a normal guy? Would it kill him to not be—

Well, yeah, your logical inner voice interrupts. It might kill him, and you. You’re in enemy territory. Appearances are everything. Just deal with it.

It seems to take the giantess a moment to notice that she’s captured her new king’s attention, and her hands immediately drop to her lap, vaguely contrite. You want to tell her that she shouldn’t worry; he’s pretty terrible, yes, but maybe not quite as terrible as she believes. Then you remember that he tried to destroy the entire planet she lives on, so maybe Greip is actually the sensible one, and you’re just overly-confident in the quality and quantity of Loki’s mercy.

“Awake at long last,” Loki says. His fingers start their drumming again - is he annoyed, or just anxious? “I begin to believe the two of you could sleep through Ragnarök.”

Flushing, Greip opens her mouth to say something, but he cuts her off with a dismissive wave. “You’ve travelled this route before, haven’t you?”

“Yes, my king, we have.” She gives her sister a sharp nudge with her booted foot, and Gjálp bolts awake. “There is only one clear path to Járnviðr at this time of year; any other routes are blocked by snow and ice.”

“Go on, then,” Loki replies, nodding towards the door. “Tell me where we are.”

Is he nuts? You can hear the roar of the blizzard outside… does he really expect her to just hop out into it?

Apparently he does, and after exchanging a slightly confused look with her twin, Greip gracefully rolls to her feet. He must be testing her, you realize, though you aren’t really sure why. Loyalty? Obedience?

Maybe he just likes making people jump.

Cold wind blasts into the sleigh as soon as she cracks the door open, and you burrow deeper under the blankets and into Loki’s chest, silently cursing his name. Greip leans outside and reaches up somewhere above the door, hoisting herself up with surprising nimbleness. If Loki is equally impressed, he doesn’t show it.

Gjálp seems to be doing her best to avoid blatantly staring at the king, but she’s failing pretty miserably, and you can feel him tense as he takes notice. “I choose my skin as I see fit,” he snaps suddenly. “Does this bother you, Geirröðardóttir?”

Oh, yeah. He’s not blue.

“No, sire,” she hurriedly replies. “I only… I am reminded of when you came to court when King Laufey still lived, with the… Asgardians.”

Her voice peters out as she finishes, and from the look on her face, she’s sincerely regretting saying anything. Unexpectedly, Loki laughs. “So you have seen Thor Odinson in all of his glory, then, have you?”

“I have, just as I have seen you in yours.”

“You fear me.”

“Every subject fears their king, sire.”

You’re absolutely dying to know what they’re talking about - the mention of Thor was unexpected, but at least he’s kinda familiar. You’ve seen him on T.V., and he’s one of the good guys; maybe if you’re lucky, he’ll show up. That would be nice, right? Have an Avenger show up and swoop you back to Earth?

But what about Loki?

That nagging worry is quickly buried as Greip tumbles back into the sleigh, wrenching the door closed behind her. “We near the cliffs of Ymir’s Teeth,” she announces, rubbing her arms. “It is almost impossible to see the way, my king; the snow is thick in the air.”

“I see,” Loki replies. “And you believe that we should halt, isn’t that so?”

She appears taken aback, and you are, too - Loki doesn’t usually seem to care much about advice. “I would not think to question—”

“Speak freely, girl.”

Greip clears her throat. “I would stop before the path narrows, sire; the ice will be treacherous, and the beasts and their drivers are likely worn thin already. I know that time is of the essence, but… it is a risk.”

“Do you suppose your Lady Skaði would agree? It is she who directs this convoy.”

“Lady Skaði is doubtlessly braver than either of us,” Gjálp says. “Sire.”

“Hmm.” For a moment or two, Loki simply studies the two of them, and Greip reclaims her seat by her sister, clearly ill-at-ease with the idea of challenging Skaði’s wisdom. “Tell me,” he finally says, “do you suppose that your lady will be eager to allow me to leave, once I am confined within the Iron Wood?”

The twins look to each other, eyes wide. Is he really just outright asking them if Skaði is planning treason? Does he expect them to know something like that?

And if they did, would they even tell him?

But he’s the God of Lies, you remind yourself, so maybe he’d know.

“You needn’t answer,” Loki says suddenly. “I am certain that your people are not foolish enough to test me.” He disentangles himself from you and the blankets and rises to his feet, stretching languidly. “And as it happens, Greip, I believe that you are correct about the storm. It will only worsen as the night comes.”

Part of you feels almost mournful as he moves to the door. Hey, you think. You’re my heating pad. Don’t go. The other part of you is massively relieved, because the nervous tension in the carriage is so thick you could probably cut it with a knife.

“We will halt soon,” he says, “as soon as there is cover. Keep warm, and make certain that you eat.”

Once he’s gone, the twins visibly relax, though they both still seem a bit stunned. It’s no wonder, really - what Frost Giant would expect Loki Inn-Illi to show any modicum of care? There clearly isn’t a lot of trust there, if there’s even any at all.

You’re a strange man, Loki.

“A stop will be good,” Gjálp says, a forced sort of cheeriness in her voice. “We will be able to stretch our legs, after sitting idle for so long.”

“Speak for yourself, Sister. I find myself very well-exercised; had the wind blown any more fiercely, I might’ve found myself in a ravine.”

Well, that doesn’t sound good. “We’re riding past ravines right now?”

“Yes, mortal. Jotunheim is covered with cracks and canyons… did you not see them when you arrived here?”

“No,” you reply. “I couldn’t really see… well, I couldn’t see anything but snow. And then I found a cave, and then Lok— and then the king found me. There was the cave and then the palace, and I guess that place we stopped to take a break yesterday. That’s all I’ve seen of this whole planet.”

“Ah.” Gjálp nods sagely. “It is no surprise, truly - I would be shocked if you had managed to navigate much of the landscape alone and unaided. Even if you’d managed the cold, your warm blood would’ve attracted all manner of wild creatures.”

An anxious knot forms in your stomach at that - hadn’t Loki basically said the same thing, back when he’d first found you? Fee-fi-fo-fum, you think. I guess the fairytales are true.

 


 

It’s a relief when the sleigh finally comes to a stop, because you really do want to get up and move around, and the path has been so rough all morning that you can’t keep your balance as the sleigh jerks and sways. Gjálp opens the door, and you’re shocked to discover that there isn’t a thick whirlwind of snow in the air. “Lady Skaði must’ve chosen this resting-place,” she says. “It is slightly off of our original path, but it offers better shelter. Come see, In-Unga.”

Your joints are stiff and protesting as you climb to your feet, and you haul one of the larger blankets with you as you go to the door. Just because there isn’t a full-blown blizzard sweeping into the sleigh doesn’t mean that it’s magically become any warmer.

She steps out into the snow, and you stick your head out to peer after her, gasping in shock. National Geographic has nothing on this. The massive sleighs have been pulled into loose ovals, and the weird clawed-rhino things are being untethered and herded into clumps. What makes this truly impressive is the fact that all of it, the entire convoy, is situated under an overhang of rock that curves for hundreds and hundreds of feet above you. On the one side, there is the rock wall, and on the other… nothingness. It looks like a sheer drop into nothingness, and the next flat land you can see beyond that appears to be incredibly far away.

Suddenly, the Grand Canyon doesn’t seem so grand.

“Um.” That knot in your throat is back. You’ve never been a fan of heights. “This doesn’t seem… safe.”

“This is what much of the route is like,” Greip tells you as she brushes past to join her sister. "In fact, we have been travelling single-file for much of the morning, as the paths along the canyons often crumble and narrow when storms pass through.”

Oh, God, you think. I should’ve just stayed in the sleigh. I did not need to know this. “What’s down there? At the bottom?”

“A river. A river too deep and fearsome to freeze.”

Great. It can’t just be a normal river, it has to be a deep and fearsome river. I hate this planet.

The twins both seem pretty perked-up by the prospect of getting out of the sleigh, and you give Gjálp’s hand a skeptical look as she offers it to you. “I don’t really want to get out.”

“Oh, come now, mortal. It will do you no good to hide away.”

She sounds kind of coaxing, and you realize that they probably aren’t allowed to leave you alone, which means that either they’re trapped with you… or you have to go outside. You take a deep breath. “Don’t let me freeze, okay?”

The ground outside is icy, but hard-packed for the most part, and you’re kind of relieved to find that you aren’t going to have to suffer the indignity of getting hauled around like a sack of potatoes. It’s the small things.

“Hail, Forest-Daughters,” a voice calls out from the top of the sleigh ahead of yours in the line, and you squeak in surprise as Hrossþjófr lands on his feet only a pace or so in front of you. You’re starting to think he’s a little nuts, because the guy is almost always smiling, including now, when his eyelashes are coated in ice.

Maybe the rest of the giants are right, and magic just makes people crazy.

“And mortal,” he graciously amends, but his cheerfulness does nothing to soothe Greip’s glare. “How fortunate we are, to find ourselves in the same fire-circle.”

“There is no fortune in it,” she scoffs. “There is only duty. We are to keep near to the king, as are you.”

“Then the Norns must favor me, íviðja.”

He snickers, and Greip’s face flushes lavender. You can’t tell if they’re flirting, or about to stir up some kind of old clan feud, and it’s kind of a worrying range of possibility. “Or they seek to test me—” she begins, but Hrossþjófr holds out a fist, smiling winningly at her sister.

“I’ve a gift for you, Geirröðardóttir,” he says to Gjálp, “something that might’ve been meant for your sister, had she a softer tongue.”

Gjálp’s eyes widen as he drops something into her palm, and Hrossþjófr smirks over his shoulder as Greip seems to freeze. “I suppose I’d best help with the fire,” he continues. “They could likely use a seiðberandi to start the spark, don’t you think?”

He winks at you as he turns and saunters towards the pile of logs that some of the other giants are amassing in the middle of the loop, humming some nameless tune as he goes. Damn, he’s cocky. You kind of like him, though… assuming he isn’t actually planning to kill you. That’s actually your big caveat for Gjálp and Greip, too - you like them, but you’re also kind of terrified of them.

“What did he give you?” you ask, dying of curiosity.

Gjálp twists her palm, and a silver chain unravels, a tiny leaf-shaped pendant falling at the end of it. It looks to be made from the same stone as Skaði’s dagger, and it’s clearly very well-made. Hah, you think. I guess I was right about the flirting.

“Here,” she says. “Take it, Sister. If it was meant for you—”

“I do not want it,” Greip quickly replies, her confusion evident. “Coming from a Stormr-Jötnar, it is like as not charmed or cursed. Leave it in the sleigh.”

Her sister shrugs, but complies, and you nearly die of relief when the three of you finally - finally! - move closer to the now-crackling fire.

 


 

Loki spends most of the day and night bossing people around, from what you can tell, but he does stop by your fire a time or two under the pretext of strengthening whatever spell he’s using to keep you warm. As his fingers slip under your hood to ruffle your hair yet again, you can’t help but wonder if he actually just misses you. At the very least, he seems to crave some sort of comfort. It’s… almost kind of nice that you’re comforting.

Heiðr and Hrossþjófr have managed to keep up a pretty decent conversation going with Greip and Gjálp for the past few hours, though the leaf-necklace remains unmentioned. You guess it makes sense; there don’t seem to be very many younger giants on this trip, and the only other ones who look like they might be anywhere near them in age are servants.

Well, servants and Prince Býleistr, who is thankfully keeping his distance.

“You should turn in,” Loki tells the twins. “The weather is clearing, and we will be on our way as soon as the sun rises.”

He doesn’t make an appearance in the sleigh during the night, and while you’re sure Greip and Gjálp are probably overjoyed, you’re honesty kind of disappointed. It’s actually a little worrying how difficult it is to fall asleep without listening to his breathing, and it seems like your eyes have just fluttered closed when Gjálp is shaking you awake again.

“Wake up, In-Unga,” she says, smiling brightly. They actually both look a lot perkier than yesterday. Of course, you think. The probably haven’t been sleeping well with the broody sorcerer-king bunking with them.

“Morning already?”

“It is,” Gjálp replies, “and the air is clear! We will be leaving soon, but we thought that we might go to one of the lookout points a bit further up the path; the view is stunning, and I know you have not had the opportunity to see much of Jotunheim.”

Rubbing the sleep from your eyes, you attempt to stifle a sigh. It probably is stunning, but it’s also probably cold, and you’re tired. The twins are both thrumming with excitement, though, so you cave pretty quickly. “Okay.”

After all, Loki’s just renewed your warming charm, hasn’t he? And he’ll only be right down the path, after all. You doubt you’ll even be far enough away for him to lose your scent - a fact that should be really damn creepy, but is actually starting to seem a bit reassuring.

“Where do you go?” Heiðr calls out as you pass by their sleigh, and her brother’s head pops out of the doorway only a moment later.

“We are taking In-Unga to see the sunrise,” Greip tells her. “She has seen very little of our world.”

That’s apparently seen as an invitation, because they decide to join you. Look at me, I have an entourage, you think, smiling faintly. The coolest kid on the block.

It would be really nice if you knew that things wouldn’t turn sour if their clans decided to oppose Loki at some point. It would be nice to know they were actual friends.

Stockholm Syndrome, you remind yourself for what seems like the millionth time. Don’t fall into that trap. They think you’re a pet, not a person.

The sunrise over the wide expanse of canyon is admittedly breathtaking… but in a terrifying sort of way. The rocks that you can make out through the blankets of snow and ice are blue and sharp, the cliffs sheer. You’ve never been able to see the sunlight clearly here, but it isn’t a warm, sunny yellow like it is at home, and it does nothing to soften the cold of the landscape.

It’s beautiful and harsh and alien, and you feel a tiny bit of panic bubbling in your chest. This isn’t Earth. You’d known it wasn’t Earth, of course, but… you weren’t quite prepared to actually come to grips with it. “It’s beautiful,” you whisper, “but I think I’d like to go back now.”

“Of course,” Heiðr begins, but she’s interrupted by a loud bellowing from the camp, and then all of their eyes widen in panic. For a moment, everything freezes.

“Take her!” Greip cries, and you realize, as Heiðr seizes your shirtfront and practically throws you towards the wall of the canyon, that their sensitive ears must’ve picked up the sound of the falling boulders seconds before your own. The world blurs past as you land heavily against the stone, and the ice on the path around you cracks and splinters as the rocks hit.

The Storm Twins reach your side first, but Greip and Gjálp are still rushing across the ice when one of the larger boulders crashes down right in front of you, and someone is screaming, and you realize that it’s you.

What is probably only a millisecond later, but feels like hours, the spray of rock and snow settles. Gjálp is wailing by the shattered edge of the cliff.

Greip is gone.

“It’s over,” Heiðr is telling you, but you can’t entirely hear her. “It’s over, mortal. Please, stop screaming. It’s over.”

Her brother is cursing, you think, though it’s not in any language you recognize, and you follow stiffly as they rush to Gjálp’s side. She’s crouched on the lip of the cliff, searching, searching…

“You cannot go after her, Gjálp,” Heiðr says, grabbing her arm and trying to pull her away. “The footholds are too narrow; you will fall, as well.”

“No!”

“What good will that do?”

But as they’re grappling, your eyes fix on Hrossþjófr. He’s standing silently, peering down into the canyon, his lips pressed into a thin line. Then he mutters something under his breath, and before you can stop him - before you can even cry out to warn the others of what he’s about to do - he’s diving off of the edge.

Gjálp and Heiðr stop their struggling, and you rush to look over the cliff, your adrenaline somehow making the height seem much more dizzying and much more surreal. You can make out his form plummeting for just a split second, but then, before he collides with the ribbon of water churning so far below you, there’s a flash of green.

Hrossþjófr is gone, and some kind of fish hits the water in his place.

Your shock hasn’t had time to register by the time Loki reaches you, and you feel like a ragdoll once again as he yanks you away from the precipice. “Where are the others?”

“My brother,” Heiðr says woodenly. “My brother jumped after her sister.”

“He turned into a fish!” Gjálp wails, her face falling into her hands. The rest of what she says is muffled, but weirdly enough, Loki doesn’t seem all that surprised. He does, however, seem pissed.

“Foolish boys and their heroics,” he snaps, and then he closes his eyes, taking a long, deep breath.

And then he’s flying into the vast emptiness of the canyon, too.

 

Chapter Text

As Loki falls, your heart plummets alongside him.

Maybe you should just toss yourself off the cliff, too; things probably aren’t going to work out too well for you if your lifeline has just killed himself in a bout of reckless heroism. Though… you have to admit, the reckless heroism is, in and of itself, pretty swoon-worthy - provided that he doesn’t actually die in the attempt.

It’s a pretty big ‘if.’

You find yourself at the lip of the cliff again, realizing belatedly that you’d scrambled back to the edge as soon as he’d disappeared over it. Loki would probably be upset about that, wouldn’t he? He’d only just snatched you out of harm’s way.

But then he threw himself off of a cliff, you think, so he can’t really judge.

Somehow, he seems to fall more slowly than Hrossþjófr, but you’re pretty sure that's not how physics works, so maybe your mind is just cracking up a little under the stress, making your senses distort. A shimmer of light glides over him midway down the canyon, and your stomach lurches as his form slides and morphs, a massive black raven streaking straight towards the foaming ribbon of river below.

His angle changes sharply and suddenly, and the bird-that-was-Loki skims along the water for a moment before diving beneath the surface, quickly out of view. The entire thing, from the avalanche of rocks until now, couldn’t have taken more than a minute or two.

Idiot, you think, tears blurring in your eyes. Idiot, idiot. How could he leave me like this?

But then, some other part of you is almost proud of him. You can’t help but wonder, too, if he would jump after you like that, so quickly, so instinctively; common sense and reason tell you not to count on it, but the part of you that’s quickly starting to crave his company likes to imagine that he would.

Behind you, there is chaos.

Gjálp is still sobbing, and Heiðr is apparently the only one out the three of you who has it together enough to stand and face the crowd of Frost Giants rushing down the path to find out where their king ran off to so suddenly. She’s rattling off something in a language you can’t understand, and when you turn to look over your shoulder, you find that she’s addressing the Völva.

The old woman seems remarkably calm about all of this, and you don’t know if that should be reassuring, or infuriating - how can she stand there looking so emotionless? Even if she doesn’t really care about Loki or Greip, Hrossþjófr is practically her family. As you watch the Völva nod slowly, you realize that whatever Heiðr is saying, it doesn’t sound like the language the other giants occasionally use in the palace.

Apparently, you aren’t the only one to notice this, because as a ring begins to form around the three of you on the edge of the cliff, one of the bigger guys pushes his way forward, impatient. “Enough with your serpent-tongue, seiðkona! What has become of Loki Laufeyson?”

Silence falls; apparently, that’s considered pretty rude, even for giants. Skaði and Býleistr are just making their way into the circle as the Völva gives an odd little half-smile and points down into the canyon.

Skaði’s eyes are wide - you wonder if it’s sincere concern, or if she’s just riding the wave of panic from nearly getting crushed by a waterfall of rock. “What has happened to the king, Speaker? How did he fall?”

Heiðr blinks slowly, and you worry that she’s about to faint; you know you are definitely on the verge of it. “The king has gone to retrieve my brother Hrossþjófr,” she says, “as well as your kinswoman, Lady Skaði.”

Murmuring breaks out at that, and you edge away from the cliff, though the idea of crawling closer to the giants isn’t very promising, either. “Perhaps Loki Laufeyson thought to flee his impending battle with Mánagarmr,” one of the other Frost Giants barks out, hefting what looks to be some kind of club over his shoulder. “A liar-prince and a coward, like all of the Æsir.”

The whispers from some of the giants standing near him seems to indicate that a significant portion of them think that Loki is actually crazy enough to risk cliff-diving to escape a fight, and your fists clench. Surprisingly, it is Býleistr who responds. “Silence, Snæþrima” he says, “you speak of your king.”

“Would he have survived a fall from such a great height?” Skaði asks, turning towards the prince. “With his wounds still so fresh with Dark Elf-magic, and after spending his seiðr to shield the camp?”

Oh, no. Is she trying to say that he’s dead? Loki can’t be dead. He can’t be. You curl in on yourself, shivering - shivering, but not freezing, which must mean...

“He’s alive!” you blurt out, battling the urge to scoot backwards as a sea of red eyes turn their attention to you. No one tells you to be quiet, though; they all just stare. The Völva still has that creepy-ass half-smile on her face, and Skaði’s eyes are quickly narrowing, so you look towards the only face in the crowd that seems completely neutral: Býleistr.

“His magic.” Your voice is shaking, but they already think you’re weak and useless, so you guess it doesn’t matter too much. “The king’s magic, I can still feel it on me. The charms are still working, I mean, so he can’t be—”

“Why does the mortal speak?” one of the other giants asks, the ridges on his forehead creasing as he frowns down at you.

“We should return to the palace with Prince Býleistr,” another says. “This folly with Odin’s son is ended.”

And then another giant chimes in, a pointy-eared woman standing just behind Skaði’s shoulder. “No,” she argues, “we must continue to Járnviðr, to meet with Prince Helblindi and relay all that has happened in his absence.”

“This entire journey has been cursed from the start!”

“Watch your tongue, hrímþurs,” an older Forest Giant snaps. “Your kind may not abide by oaths, but the Skógr-Jötnar are true to their word, and Queen Fárbauti has pledged our loyalty to Loki Laufeyson.”

Please, you pray, your eyes starting to water and sting, please, someone, say that you’re going to help Loki. If they don’t… you’re likely as good as dead, because even with all of his strength and magic, there’s no way he can make it all the way back up here alone.

Býleistr is still studying you. You have to give him credit - you expected him to be a lot more satisfied with the fact that his usurper half-brother is probably on the verge of dying and being out of his way for good. He holds out a hand. “Come here, In-Unga,” he says.

You blanch, but there’s no one there to protest for you; Gjálp is too much of a mess to notice or care that you might be in danger, and it’s not like you can really blame her for it. Knees shaking, you push yourself to your feet, tottering over to him as the giants all seem to inexplicably grow taller and more menacing.

Fear is funny like that.

Not knowing what else you can possibly do, you gingerly take Býleistr’s hand. He raises it slightly, presumably so that everyone has a better view, and a faint blue sheen creeps over your skin. There’s a faint stinging, and you flinch - but nothing happens.

“The mortal spoke truly,” he declares. “My cold will not burn her; my brother’s magic is still intact. This means that he must live, does it not?” He looks to the Völva, who nods. “Then we will go deeper into Ymir’s Teeth and hope to intercept them further down the path. Can you lead us further down, Lady Skaði? Closer to the river?”

“It will lengthen the journey, sire, but I can.”

Býleistr snorts. “There is no point in the journey without the king and his wolf-slaying. Make ready to travel, and do it with haste.”

To say that you’re shocked would be an understatement.

It would be really nice if he’d let go of your fingers now, though.

“Very well.” Skaði pulls Gjálp to her feet, quickly passing her off to one of the other women. Apparently, she isn’t the comforting type. Unsurprising. “We will need to push the damaged sleighs into the canyon, lest they gather ice and impede our return.”

“See it done.” And then he turns, pulling you after him through the throng of gathered giants. “Come along, mortal,” he says. “You will be riding with me, now.”

 


 

He sits cross-legged before you, his chin resting in his hand. A few other giants are lounging in the back of the sleigh, but Býleistr has seated you at the very front, surrounded by a mountain of scarlet pillows. You aren’t really sure if that’s meant to make you feel more secure, or more trapped; at the moment, you’re kind of bouncing back and forth between the two.

“Do you truly fear for him?” he says, following what has probably been the most uncomfortable silence in your life. “Can a mortal feel such loyalty, and to such a creature as Loki Inn-Illi?”

You open your mouth to reply, then realize you don’t know what to say, so you close it again. Býleistr continues to stare at you. What would he look like, you wonder, if he had the same light eyes and pale skin as Loki? Would he be any less frightening?

“You are very frightened?”

“Yes,” you whisper; there’s no point in lying. Even if he couldn’t smell it, your teeth are practically chattering, and only some of that can be blamed on the cold.

“I can see the question in your eyes, girl. You may ask it.”

“Okay.” Your mouth feels like cotton, but since your usual defender isn’t around to keep you safe… it can’t hurt to entertain the brother who’s currently in charge, can it? “Why did you tell them to go after him?” you ask. “I didn’t think you would, especially with the others saying… what they were saying.”

“Hmm.” Býleistr leans forward slightly, running a finger down your cheek, and your heart pounds, but you’re able to keep yourself from lurching away. He doesn’t look menacing, really, just… fascinated. “These tears you’ve shed,” he says, “are they for him, or for yourself?”

“Both. For the others, too. They’ve been… they’ve been kind to me.” You picture Greip curled up happily with Snowball, and Hrossþjófr’s cheeky grin, and Loki, and your eyes start to well with tears all over again. Oh, Loki.

Is he really alive? You don’t know how magic works… maybe the spell is feeding off of you, somehow, making it last. Maybe he’s down there in the river, broken and bloody, worse off even than he was when he’d first found you.

Býleistr’s hand drops away. “Have I not been kind to you?”

You don’t answer.

“The others despise him because they do not want a son of Asgard on the throne of Jotunheim, even if he has Laufey’s blood, even if the customs demand it. They think that Helblindi should be king; he is very much his father’s son, though less clever, perhaps, and more brutal.”

“And you?”

He smiles. “I despise him because he laid waste to Utgard, all to please his false father. He killed our father.” The smile slides away. “Though, I must admit that I understand his actions, as well; the legacy of ancient kings can be bitterly oppressive.”

“I… I don’t understand.”

Stretching himself back against the cushions, Býleistr gives a half-hearted shrug. “As I said before, I will wait to see how my brother Helblindi chooses to act. My mother swore loyalty to Loki Laufeyson, for now, and I see no need to break it. And for his part, Loki is clever - I cannot help but wonder if he is truly as great as he claims to be. I always was the curious sort.”

 


 

After a tense hour or two of answering the prince’s questions about Earth - which seem to have no discernable rhyme nor reason - he leaves you at your end of the sleigh, moving to talk to the giants at the opposite side. They don’t bother speaking in any language you can understand, and you’re kind of relieved, because it makes it easier to tune them out.

You don’t know what to do with yourself, and some desperate, pitiful part of you just wants to turn back the clock to the last time you were sleeping on Loki’s chest, his arms wrapped around you. He may be a little crazy and dangerous, sure, and wildly unpredictable, but… you trusted him. It might not be smart, but you felt it in your bones.

And so you curl up into a tiny ball, praying to anyone who might be listening that they all somehow made it to the bottom of that canyon in one piece, that they didn’t shatter and drown on impact, that they’re all still breathing…

The path is even sharper, now, so steep that you can actually feel the incline pulling you closer to the wall of the sleigh. If it wasn’t for the wooly rhinos’ claws digging into the packed snow of the trail, you’d probably be careening wildly down the slope. The thought makes you sick.

You doze for a while, but you can hear the rumble of the boulders and Gjálp’s shrieking every time you close your eyes. Eventually, you sleep long enough to dream - it isn’t pleasant. In your dreams, Loki’s skin shifts and morphs into a terrifying, unnaturally-large black bear, and then he starts to chase you through the snow. You try to run, but you’re moving as though you’re swimming through molasses, and he’s almost on you when you start awake, your head cracking against the wall behind you.

Pushing yourself up, you wipe the sleep from your eyes, wondering if it was all just a terrible, terrible dream…

But it wasn’t. You’re still in Býleistr’s sleigh.

“We are stopping now to rest the animals, In-Unga,” he tells you. “We are much deeper into the canyons, now, and the path is difficult. You may go outside.”

Normally, your answer to that would be a resounding ‘hell no,’ but you’d much rather be with Gjálp or Heiðr right now; they’re probably the only other people in this entire convoy who want Loki to appear as badly as you do.

You figure you’re supposed to wait until he leaves - that’s how royalty works, right? They do things, and everyone else follows? The cold bites into your skin as your boots hit the snow. The warming charm is fading, you realize then. Does that mean that Loki is fading, too, or is it just that it’s been awhile since he renewed it?

Gjálp is huddled in on herself by the fire someone’s hastily built, one of the other Forest Giants sitting with her arm around her shoulders. You hesitate, unsure if your presence will be welcome. What if she blames you? Greip was focused on saving you when she…

You blink fiercely, and thankfully, the tears don’t come this time.

It’s a good thing, too.

In the cold wind, they might freeze.

 


 

Time passes. You don’t know how long - time has stopped to mean anything in this place. When they tell you to wake, you wake. Otherwise, you sleep. The sun doesn’t shine any longer, and the heavy grey clouds make you doubt that it was ever there, at all.

Some inkling of scientific curiosity makes you wonder how long the days are on Jotunheim. How many days have passed on Earth? Has it been long enough for them to report you missing? Long enough for them to declare you dead?

Heiðr finds you standing on the edge of the path, trying to see down into the shadowy ravine below. The snow is falling, now, and your breath ghosts in front of your face.

He has to be alive. Doesn’t he?

“The others may have little faith,” she says after a moment or two, placing her hand on your shoulder, “but my brother is not weak, and neither is your master.” You glance up, but she’s staring down into the darkness, too. You wonder if she can see anything more than you.

“Lady Skaði,” one of the giants standing watch suddenly calls from a little farther down the path, “do you smell that?”

Skaði isn’t far from you, and you can see the confusion in her eyes as she stands from her place by the fire. “I do,” she says. “Jötunn blood.”

You run down the path, slipping and sliding on the ice; it’s stupid, and it might get you killed, but… if it’s his, then he needs help, and you’re all he’s got.

Even with a moment’s delay, Heiðr catches up quickly, and soon there’s a whole trail of giants following behind you, driven by either the curious scent of their king’s blood, or by their desire to see Loki’s mortal foolishly slip and fall to her death.

“There!” Gjálp cries, and you squint as the wind burns your eyes, struggling to make out any movement as your strange entourage makes it to a sharp bend in the road.

It looks like the snow itself is moving on the edge of the cliff, at first.

Then you see shining dark eyes, and the flattened ears of a very, very contrite-looking melrakki.

He scrambles (or is tossed) over the lip of the cliff, and he staggers a step or two, then rolls onto his back, his tongue lolling from his mouth as he pants furiously. Heiðr claps a hand to her mouth, a sudden sob of relief torn from her throat.

A blue hand grips the icy rock of the ledge only a second later.

“What—” Skaði begins, but Greip’s limp body is shoved onto the snow next, and the king climbs up after her, covered in ice and blood, his breathing ragged.

His eyes are fire as he surveys the silent throng around him, chest heaving.

But then Gjálp falls to her knees at his feet, clasping his hand. “Sire,” she says, “sire, thank you, thank you.”

Loki looks down at her for a moment or two, apparently dumbfounded. He carefully extricates his hand from hers, awkwardly patting her on the head. He says nothing.

Instead, as whispers start to break out among the crowd, he stalks over to the mewling Snowball, fixing him with a deadly glare. “Change,” he demands, “the longer it’s out of socket, boy, the worse it will be.”

Oh.

There are plenty of disapproving gasps as Snowball melts and morphs away, leaving a very grey, very miserable-looking Hrossþjófr in his place. Heiðr doesn’t look very surprised, but she also seems frozen in place, as if she’s afraid that if she starts to move, she might find out that he’s not really there at all.

“Sit up.” Loki takes Hrossþjófr’s arm and twists it none-too-gently, and your stomach lurches as his shoulder pops back into place with a sickening crunch. Hrossþjófr wails, and his sister seems to finally break free from her trance, rushing to cradle him in her lap.

There’s a lot of talk in the background, but it all drowns out in a blur.

He’s okay.

Skaði is kneeling by Greip, who - unlike Hrossþjófr - isn’t even conscious, the blue almost entirely seeped from her skin, leaving a stony grey in its wake. “Does she live?” she asks, looking over her shoulder to where Loki stands swaying.

You want to run to him.

But you don’t.

“Yes,” he replies. “Take your brother to the Völva’s sleigh, Heiðr. Býleistr, if there are any healers among you, you’d best have someone fetch them. Gjálp?”

She looks up at once, though she keeps her sister’s hand pressed against her cheek. “Yes, sire?”

As he steps closer, there’s a look on his face that you’d almost describe as gentle. “I am going to have to cause your sister a great deal of pain,” he tells her, crouching by her side. “Her bones have begun to heal too quickly; I am going to have to break them to mend them. Do you wish to accompany me, or remain behind?”

“I… I will stay at her side.”

Loki nods once, then stands; you wonder if anyone else notices how he lurches slightly to the side as he does. How badly is he hurt? “Someone bring her, then, and quickly.”

He stalks past the rest of the crowd, then, back towards the sleighs, barely hesitating as he snatches up your hand to pull you along with him. His skin feels like cold fire, and you gasp. Glancing down to where your hands are joined, Loki frowns, and the burning eases a little. There’s no heat left in him, you realize. No warmth, and probably almost no magic.

Considering all that’s just happened, you don’t feel like it would be very wise to complain about your own discomfort.

You can’t really tell the sleighs apart from one another, but when he throws open the door to the one he’s dragged you to, you realize it’s the one you’ve been sharing with Greip and Gjálp (and him). There’s a bit of a manic, distracted sort of look in his eye as he unceremoniously lifts you by the waist and heaves you inside the sleigh, and then one of his cold, cold hands is cupping your cheek.

“Are you warm enough?” he says, an evident strain in his voice. “Are you hurt?”

“No,” you whisper, and then the dam breaks and the tears start to flow, and you throw your arms around his neck as you silently sob against him.

You’d thought he was dead.

Loki stiffens, and then gingerly pulls you away from him, his eyes narrowing slightly. “What has Býleistr done to you?” he asks, his voice deadly-soft. “Has he touched you? I can smell him on you.” He spits it out, like he hates to even admit that he can.

“I… He had me ride in his sleigh, that’s all. He didn’t… he didn’t do anything… bad. It’s okay.” You try to force a convincing smile, but you’re such a mess right now that it probably looks more pathetic than encouraging. “I’m okay.”

He studies you for a moment, then nods, like he’d somehow scanned your brain for lies and you’d come up clean. “Good.”

You feel a sharp loss as he pulls further away from you and hops back out into the snow, but he isn’t quite quick enough to hide the fact that there’s genuine relief in his eyes. “Stay here,” he says. “Open the door for no one but myself. I will be back soon.”

 


 

It feels like hours before he comes back, but it’s probably been less than one. A servant helps carry Greip into the sleigh, and once she’s settled, Gjálp curls up around her, burying them both in blankets. You can’t tell very much about her condition, but she’s a little more blue, at least, and the fact that she’s even there must mean that she’s on the mend.

Loki leans out the door and barks orders, and the sleigh is already lurching into motion by the time he collapses beside you. “Warm me,” he says, the dark circles under his eyes so pronounced now that they can be seen even through the blue of his skin.

You like to imagine that he says ‘please,’ because you’re pretty sure he’s thinking it.

You gather every blanket you can reach and climb into his lap.

His arms wrap around you beneath the layers and layers of covers, and he starts to go slack almost at once. You want to ask him a million and one questions - how did he do it? Did he already know about Hrossþjófr? Is Greip going to be okay? Is he going to be okay?

But you know he’s spent, so you hold yourself back. It can wait.

Instead, you tentatively slide your fingers through the edges of his hair, which is slightly damp from melting ice; he hasn’t even taken the time to use his magic to dry it, or maybe he just didn’t have any magic left.

“Loki?”

“Yes?” His voice is so soft you can barely hear him, and you press your cheek against his chest.

“I’m really, really glad that you’re okay.”

He hums in acknowledgment, and his hand comes up to cradle your head, almost as if he’s pressing you closer to his heart.

When you finally sleep, the nightmares don’t dare to come.

 

Chapter Text

You’re pretty sure that Loki hasn’t moved even a fraction of an inch the entire time you’ve been asleep. In fact, when you first open your eyes, you think that maybe you’ve barely slept at all.

But no - your mouth is dry and your eyes are bleary, and there is a slight bit of light illuminating the window, which means that it’s most likely a new morning… you think.

Really, who knows?

Gjálp sits beside her sister, sharpening a knife. She’s staring into space, and the look on her face is kind of intense. The stone strikes her blade again, and you think you see a spark fly.

Oh, crap, you think, eyes widening.

“Gjálp?”

She looks up, startled. “Oh,” she says. “You are awake, In-Unga.” Her voice drops a bit as she whispers, “Is the king still sleeping?”

“Yeah.” Sleeping is probably an understatement. It seems like he’s practically in a coma. “Uh… what’s that for?”

Gjálp slides her sharpening-stone against her blade again, a look of determination set on her face. You realize that you haven’t seen her try to look stern very often, and it doesn’t fit her all that well. “The king is vulnerable, and if anyone truly wishes him harm, now is the opportune time to strike.”

Her jaw tightens, and she looks back to the work in her lap. “I owe Loki Laufeyson a life debt,” she continues after a moment. “Beyond my fealty to him as my king, that is. I will die for him, if I must.”

Oh, God, that’s heavy stuff for first thing in the morning.

“I guess… let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, right? People dying?”

“One can always hope.”

That’s not exactly reassuring.

She seems pretty focused on the whole knife-sharpening thing, and you figure maybe it’s just her way of dealing with the stress. Worried that you’re bothering her, you turn instead to the king beneath you, wiggling around in his lap to get more comfortable.

Then you decide that, if he’s going to be unconscious for a while, maybe you should try to rearrange him a little. Being half-propped on the cushions might not be comfortable in the long run, especially if you’re planning to stay on top of him - and you are definitely planning to stay on top of him.

You stand and try to drag one of the cushions from under his shoulders, hoping to get him into more of a normal sleeping position, but the man is ungodly heavy. It makes you realize just how much he usually accommodates you, because you can barely budge the dead weight of his arm, let alone his whole body.

How is he so freaking heavy?

“Do you need help, In-Unga?” Gjálp sounds like she’s about to start laughing, and you sheepishly nod; Loki isn’t going anywhere anytime soon with you trying to move him on your own. She tucks her knife in her belt and comes over to join you, and between the two of you, you get him spread out on the sort-of-mattress you’ve cobbled together from a bunch of large pillows.

To be entirely fair, Gjálp did most of the actual work.

“Should we do anything for them?” you ask. Now that he’s flat on his back, he looks a lot more… dead. Blue-grey, stone-still, and lifeless. It’s making you a little panicky, honestly. Now you get why Gjálp was so focused on sharpening her knife - standing around watching someone recover from a near-death experience isn’t exactly good for a person’s nerves.

“I cannot say. I know that Inn-Illi expected my sister to sleep for some time, but he did not reveal the extent of his injuries. I do not believe that it would be wise to reveal that he is… in this state.” She gestures helplessly at his prone form. “I suppose they both need rest.”

“What about food? They were in that canyon forever, freezing, and they need fuel to recover, right?”

“Everything that we have in the sleigh would be difficult to feed them, for now. A broth would be ideal, I suppose.” She frowned. “Or a soup.”

Are those even different things? You aren’t sure. But you do agree that something liquid would probably be easier to get into Loki and Greip than whatever sea-monster steak they’ve probably got packed away. “Okay,” you say. “Let’s get them some soup. Or broth.”

“I will, as soon as we stop to rest. The king was very insistent that we reach the forests as quickly as possible, so I do not know how long it will be before Lady Skaði decides to call for a halt.”

“Oh.”

She places a hand on your shoulder. “Do not worry,” she says, though she doesn’t sound quite as convincing as she probably hopes, “for I have witnessed Loki Laufeyson’s magic, and I am quite certain that he will be just fine.”

You feel a little guilty, then, because Greip is in a lot worse shape than Loki, and here her sister is, trying to comfort you. “You should get some sleep. We should both get some sleep, I mean. Can’t look after them if we’re worn out, too.”

Gjálp manages a smile. “This is true, mortal,” she says, and then she goes back to rejoin her sister.

That leaves you and Loki at your end of the sleigh, and you only hesitate for a second before you curl up against his side, pulling the blankets back over the both of you. Really, at this point, you figure it doesn’t even matter how ridiculous the whole thing is; you feel better when you’re pressed up against him, and you hope that it’ll make him feel better, too.

His clothes are kind of gross, and you’re noticing now that he’s got a faint wet-dog smell about him, but you guess that it’s probably more of a wet-melrakki smell. The guy needs a bath, ASAP.

But tragically, the idea of giving Loki a bath just reminds you of the last time he got you alone in the bathing pools below the palace of Utgard, which makes you feel… things.

Embarrassing things.

They’re things you probably shouldn’t be feeling about the jerk who’s basically kidnapped you, who’s literally keeping you as a pet… but that doesn’t stop you from smoothing his hair from his face, or from wrapping your leg around his. You do it tentatively, sure - you wouldn’t want him to wake up, after all - but you still do it.

It’s just to make sure he stays warm enough while he’s recuperating.

Still, even though you’re exhausted, you can’t seem to fall asleep, so you end up running your fingers through the edges of his hair and thinking. There are many thoughts warring for attention in your mind; all of them pretty much hinge on Loki.

Loki, who’d probably throw you out with the bathwater if it came down to it. He’s already told you that you’re disposable, hasn’t he?

You realize that, as eager as you are for this hellish adventure to end, you can’t quite imagine it ending. How can you go back to your normal, boring life after meeting someone like him? And will they even let you? You don’t know exactly who ‘they’ are, but you’ve seen enough movies to know that people who hang out with villainous aliens don’t usually get to just go home.

Cold fear races through you, then; what if they lock you up?

You’re basically an accessory, right? If Loki gets called up before some kind of galactic senate for judgment for taking over Jotunheim… are they going to take you, too? Should you hope for some sort of force for good to sweep in and intervene, or should you hope that he’s successful in his coup?

Because if you’re being totally honest with yourself, you almost kind of hope that he ends up being successful.

Loki starts twitching and scrunching his face up at some point, and you wrap yourself around him a little more tightly as you realize that he’s shivering. Maybe it’s some kind of fever, or maybe it’s some weird magical thing, but you figure that all you can really do is hold onto him and hope for the best.

If he really is as cold as the shivering makes him seem, at least maybe you’re helping.

You’re a little startled when he cracks open one eye; it’s still got the faintest tinge of red, though the rest of him has faded back to normal-Loki. Or is blue-Loki really the ‘normal’ one? You aren’t really sure how to think of that. In addition to the redness, his eye also has a little bit of a glazed-over look to it, and you start to get a little worried.

“You,” he says.

You wait for him to say something else, but he doesn’t. “Yeah,” you finally reply. “Me. I’m here. I’ve… got you.” Maybe he’s looking for comfort, you decide, and so you tentatively run your thumb along his cheek. “I’m here.”

Loki scoffs, but with his face half-smushed against a pillow, it doesn’t look nearly as intimidating as usual. “Of course. Always are. Human.”

Should you feel insulted, or amused? At least he called you something other than mortal.

“Yeah. I am a human. You’ve got me there.”

There’s a tiny chance that you’re enjoying this opportunity to be a little extra sarcastic, but it isn’t like you get to actually sass him out loud very often. Really, you figure you deserve it.

Scowling, Loki closes his eye and shoves his face further into the pillow. You’re fairly certain you can see sweat starting to bead on his skin. “Pretty little wretch,” he mutters.

You’re frozen. Did he just…?

But he’s already fallen back asleep.

 


 

Loki’s a lot warmer now.

Or maybe you’re just burning with awkwardness, because he’s managed to roll over enough to spoon you while you were asleep, his arm and leg draped over yours, half-crushing you. Every time he takes a breath, you feel it barely brushing against your hair… and it’s making you feel a little insane.

Why is he so damnably hot?

You tell yourself that you’re really messed up for having the urge to press yourself back against him, but it just seems so natural, like some long-hidden instinct is calling out to you, encouraging you to curve and mold to his form.

The guy is essentially hibernating, your inner voice scolds. Stop being creepy.

It looks like you aren’t going to manage to escape his clutches anytime soon, so you try to fall back to sleep.

You aren’t really sure if you actually hear him mumble your name as he nuzzles against the back of your neck, or if you’ve just dreamed it.

 


 

“Mortal.” You’re being shaken, and you realize groggily that there’s a firm hand on your hip. “Mortal, wake up.”

Grunting in annoyance, you push yourself over onto your other side. Loki is staring at you, a surprisingly-petulant look on his face. Oh, right, you remember as the sleep clears. He’s in bad shape; I’m supposed to be taking care of him. “How’re you feeling?”

“I feel like I leapt off of a cliff into a freezing river, then carried two nearly-grown Frost Giants out of it with no assistance whatsoever,” he says. “I feel like I’ve used every ounce of seiðr in my body, and that I am currently extremely vulnerable. But primarily, I feel hungry.”

You nearly laugh in his face; it’s a pretty abrupt end to an otherwise-serious tirade. “I’ll get you something, okay? I thought soup would be good, but… Gjálp said there’s no soup until we stop. Should I tell someone to stop? I’m not really sure how—”

“No,” Loki interrupts, and then there’s an awkward pause as he seems to study you for a moment. Did you say something weird? You don’t think you said anything weird. “Get whatever you can find; as deep as we are in the canyons, now, we should not stop until we reach another village.”

“Okay.”

There are villages around here? It seems like a terrible place to try to settle, considering the fact that there’s almost no shelter from the wind - then there’s also the avalanches to take into consideration. Still, you can’t help but be a little excited at the prospect of stopping for a break. A bathroom would be nice, and so would a fire.

The twins are both passed out, and you don’t want to bother Gjálp, so you dig around in the baskets and trunks until you manage to scrape together what you think is a pretty decent snack. There are salted cracker-things - every bit as green as the weird biscuits, but not quite as bitter - and dried jerky made from some animal that you prefer not to picture.

You open a few flasks, trying to find some water, but everything you find smells suspiciously similar to the mead or tree-wine or whatever it was that basically destroyed you back in Utgard. Even though you don’t have any intention of touching the stuff with a ten-foot pole ever again, should you try to get him to drink some?

Well, why the hell not? you think, tucking it under your arm. Maybe it’ll help.

It’s not like you have any experience in taking care of Frost Giant sorcerers, or anything. Maybe it’ll at least warm him up a little.

Loki pushes himself up on his elbows as you stumble back to his side, the rocking and bouncing of the sleigh making you even clumsier than usual. Honestly, it’s a blessing that you don’t end up falling flat on your face. Sinking to your knees beside him, you hold out the flask.

“Here,” you say. “Drink up.”

He takes it and gives it a suspicious sniff, and you think you see a little bit of a spark return to his eyes. “Trying to intoxicate me, mortal? What an interesting ploy.”

“I’m trying to help, actually.”

His lip curls slightly in the ghost of a smirk, and then he proceeds to drain the entire thing.

“You might want to take it easy—”

“I am in extreme pain at the moment, mortal,” he says bluntly, recapping the flask and dropping it on the floor beside him. “I believe I’ve earned the relief.” Then, he pulls something from some pocket you hadn’t even noticed he had and pops it in his mouth.

Frowning, you hold out the trencher - you’re pretty sure that downing industrial-grade alcohol and popping mystery medicine isn’t all that advisable, even for an alien sorcerer.

“Eat something, then?”

Loki nods, but he doesn’t make any move to take any of the food from the little wooden trencher balanced on your lap, and you’re overcome with dismay as you realize that he’s probably going to make you feed him. Somehow, the idea of feeding him seems almost more scandalous than him feeding you.

He does seem like he’s struggling to even keep himself propped up, though, so you tell yourself that it’s kind of a special scenario. To be totally fair to Loki, he did just risk his life to save two people - people that you actually like.

So that’s why you tear off a tiny piece of sea-monster-jerky and hold it in the air in front of his face, feeling incredibly self-conscious. You’ve never nursed anyone back to health before, and it’s very intimate, and—

Eyes locked with yours, Loki opens his mouth. This doesn’t mean anything, you tell yourself. This is entirely clinical. You shove the tiny little morsel into his mouth as quickly as you can, and his eyes glitter as he chews.

Unfortunately, it seems like the king has decided to interpret your speed as some kind of stupid challenge, because every time you bring another bite to his lips, he seems to move a little more quickly, too, and by the time he manages to capture your fingertips in his mouth… you can’t even begin to pretend to yourself that it’s accidental.

You rock back on your heels, cheeks crimson. Loki’s actually got a bit of a flush going on, too. Is it from the fever, or because he’s drunk? Maybe both.

“Are you… done?” There’s an embarrassing strangled quality to your voice, but you comfort yourself with the fact that he’s probably too out of it to even notice.

Except really, he probably notices everything, no matter how under-the-weather he is. Ugh.

“For now.” His tongue darts out to wet his lips, and then he abruptly falls back against the cushions. Eyes closed, he fumbles around until he’s managed to grab you by sleeve of your tunic, and he then proceeds to try to drag you to his side.

It’s actually a little disturbing how weak he seems, the fact that he’s even having to try to move you. You shove the trencher and flask out of the way and climb under the blankets; you can deal with the mess later.

As you rest your head on his chest, Loki lets out a little sigh. “You smell like me,” he whispers, like it’s some sort of proud secret. “Safe.”

Does he mean that you’re safe, presumably from his brother, or that he feels safe now? The fevered ramblings of a half-dead inebriated sorcerer-god should really come with some sort of interpretation guide, you decide.

It’s probably best to split the difference. “Yeah,” you whisper back, “we’re safe.”

“Good pet.” He pats the side of your face - you’re assuming that he meant to go for a pat on the head, but his aim is clearly off at the moment. “Little mortal.”

Strangely enough, it makes you smile.

 


 

By the time the convoy comes to a halt, Loki seems like he’s slept off most of the fever, as well as most of the effects of… whatever it was that he took. He’s back to his usual grouchy self, from what you can tell, and even though he isn’t exactly springing back to his feet, he is being exceptionally bossy.

He orders Gjálp to wake up Greip and make her drink some water; you’re a little embarrassed to realize just how many containers of water there are stashed away in the sleigh, considering you couldn’t find any when you went looking. Maybe you aren’t cut out for this whole ‘servant’ thing.

It’s a relief to see Greip awake, though, even if she still seems incredibly groggy. Loki has Gjálp send for servants to come help move her sister from the sleigh to wherever it is that you’re going to be taking your break from travelling, and he manages to get himself upright before they show up.

Say what you want about the man, you think, but he’s good at keeping up appearances.

Skaði is waiting just outside of the sleigh when you emerge. “My king,” she says, inclining her head in a slight bow, “you seem much recovered.”

“Well enough.”

“The village leaders are very eager to meet with you, sire. They would like for us to dine with them, if you’ll permit it.”

“Of course,” he replies. “We need to stop for a time to rest, and we might as well spend that time indoors. Lead the way, Lady Skaði.”

She smiles and takes his arm, and you’re left to trail after them as they follow the path towards the cliff-wall, like some kind of forgotten third wheel.

Like a pet, the insidious, increasingly-worrisome side of your mind whispers. You shouldn’t be bothered by it, right? It’s really dumb to feel anything like jealousy over Loki. And you tell yourself that it isn’t jealousy, and really, to a large extent, that’s true.

A lot of your dislike for Skaði does come from the fact that she acts like you’re about as important as a bug, and from the fact that she seemed way too entertained by the idea of using you as a blood-sacrifice. But, if you’re being completely honest with yourself, part of it probably comes from the fact that she’s apparently Number One on the list of Loki’s potential wives, too.

That’s the part that you should probably try your best to snuff out.

 


 

The giants in this village live in halls carved directly into the cliffside, and so you’ve decided to call them Cliff Giants in your head. Someone mentioned some other name for them, you think, but you can’t remember what it was. No one is really bothering to explain anything to you, this time, and it makes the whole thing a lot more uncomfortable.

The Cliff Giants literally look like they’re made out of rock, and after seeing so many shades of blue for the past week or so, it’s kind of odd just how grey they are, their skin flecked just like a smooth river-pebble. They also don’t seem to be particularly fond of humans, and you’re starting to wish that you’d been left in the sleigh.

Overall, you’d have to describe this village as kind of claustrophobic. The homes that they’ve carved into the cliffs are nice, you guess, and pretty impressive, but some of the giants’ heads nearly touch the ceiling, and even though you don’t exactly have that problem, the overall vibe is cramped.

You prefer cozy to cramped - for example, ‘curled up by the fire in Loki’s spacious bedroom’ as opposed to ‘crushed into a corner surrounded by nine-foot-tall giants.’

Because these giants are definitely on the taller side of the spectrum, it seems, and that makes the whole thing a lot more stressful. You never thought you’d think of the twins as petite, but that’s how they seem now. Or at least, that’s how Heiðr and Gjálp seem - their twins aren’t present in the hall. You figure that Greip and Hrossþjófr are probably tucked away somewhere to recuperate.

Really, you’re surprised that Gjálp isn’t with her sister.

Loki is seated at the main table with all of the giants that must be important; there’s an older giant sitting next to him, and he’s big - not only tall and broad, but also on the portly side. You get the impression that he’s the boss, or lord, or chief, or something like that. Býleistr sits on the other side of the giant-lord, and Skaði is at Loki’s right hand.

You’re left standing in the corner behind them, feeling for all the world like a petrified block of angst. There’s been a lot of staring. There’s even been some conversation that was clearly about you, but it wasn’t anything you could understand.

If you tried to crawl into his lap, would he shove you to the floor?

Probably.

Gjálp is the only one of the giants that you really know that you can actually see well, since she’s seated further down the table. She keeps fidgeting and looking around the room, like she’s waiting for a fight to break out, or for an assassin to spring from the shadows. Maybe she really is expecting something like that.

Does Loki even know that he’s got a new loyal bodyguard?

One of the giants who’s been walking around serving food eventually saunters over to you, a tray tucked under his arm. Go away, you think, craning your neck to look up at him. Either bring me something to eat, or go away.

The giant looks you up and down slowly, as if baffled by your very existence. You remember then that you’re supposed to act timid to avoid trouble, so you drop your gaze. Except… some part of you thinks that it’s pretty stupid that you have to act so subservient to a guy who’s clearly just a servant, considering you literally sleep with the freaking king every night.

Without warning, the giant reaches out and pinches your cheek. The only sound he makes is a curious hum, like he’s evaluating the ripeness of produce in the grocery store.

You’re too startled to hold back a tiny cry, clamping your hand to your face as you press back against the stone. It hurts.

Loki’s voice cuts across the room then, low and sharp. “You might wish to inform your thralls, Inn-Magri, that the price for playing with my mortal is a steep one.”  

He hasn’t even turned to fully look at you, though many of the other giants at the table have swiveled on their benches to stare.

Great. Now your cheek is sore and you’re about to be in the middle of one of Loki’s tempers. At least the giant who pinched you retreats, moving to stand further down the wall. He doesn’t look very contrite, though, and your own temper builds.

The lord laughs, loud and grating. “You will have to forgive his curiosity, sire; many of the young ones have never seen a mortal. All of ours died out centuries back. They do not breed well, you know. Terribly expensive to keep a good stock, even when we were free to bring them from Midgard.”

You feel sick.

“Of course, Inn-Magri,” Skaði says quickly. “Mortals are such odd creatures. But very entertaining, are they not?” And then she puts her hand on Loki’s, and your heart lurches.

“Are they so entertaining?” another giant at the main table asks, her voice dripping skepticism. “It looks very frail. What sport can be made of such a creature?”

“Yes, yes,” the lord says, craning his neck to take another look at you. “It’s hardly the sort you’d use for fighting, or baiting the hounds. Those were always my favorites. What is your mortal good for, sire?”

Your fists clench, your nails digging so deeply into your palms that you almost expect them to bleed. At least the sensation is something to focus on, because you feel like you’re about to start screaming.

Loki’s head finally tilts slightly, raising his jaw as he glances at you from the corner of his eye. “Nothing,” he replies, expressionless. “Nothing, aside from keeping me warm.” There’s some rude laughter from around the table, and your nails dig deeper into your palm.

He turns back to the table, and even though you don’t have the best view of his face from where you’re standing, you can see the corner of his lip turning up in a smile. “And if any of your men put a hand on my mortal again without my explicit permission, I’ll cut it off.”

There’s a moment of awkward silence; a few of the Cliff Giants look downright offended, while some just seem a little surprised. Then the lord lets out a gurgling sort of laugh, and a few of the other giants follow suit. “Perhaps they should call you ‘The Greedy One,’ instead, Inn-Illi.”

“No,” Loki says, “I find that ‘Inn-Illi’ suits me quite well.”

That’s one of the creepiest things about Loki, you think, the fact that he can just say things like that with a charming smile on his face, going about his dinner like he’d never been interrupted.

The Evil One.

A few more giants laugh; it seems like this group just seems to find everything funny, including death and dismemberment. And torture, you remind yourself. Torturing humans, to be specific.

You really, really wish you were still in the sleigh.

Gjálp looks tense, but she doesn’t budge from her seat, which is a little disappointing; you were hoping that Loki would send her over to take you somewhere else. Anywhere else.

The woman who spoke before, the one who seems so skeptical of your entertainment value, speaks again. “Is that truly all that it can do? I do not understand the appeal.”

“Actually,” Býleistr cuts in, “she speaks well enough. Her tales of Midgard are amusing, I’ve found.” He sits back, arms crossed, and you can tell from the angle that he’s looking right at Loki. “In fact, I’ve even heard it said that she can read.”

“I cannot imagine why you’d take the time to teach a mortal to read, sire,” the lord declares at that. “By the time it’s learned anything, it will be dead. This one probably only has—” he cranes his neck to look at you again, squinting in contemplation “—what, twenty or thirty years left, at most?”

Christ, you think. I hope not. Where is he getting that number from? And then you realize that ancient humans on Jotunheim must’ve had pretty short lifespans, and the churning in your stomach builds.

“Perhaps less.” Skaði sounds way too happy about that, and if you didn’t feel so sick, you’d probably have a lot more energy to devote to being furious.

Loki pulls his hand away from hers and picks up his cup. “How far would you say that we are from the forests, my lord?”

“Well, sire, if you do not stay the night, you’d likely reach the very edges of the Iron Wood within the next day. Geirröðr’s keep is not far, by my recollection.”

Gjálp looks up. “That is correct, sire,” she says, a slight strain in her voice. “If we forge ahead, we can make it to my father’s keep within the next day, and we may rest there for a time.”

The lord scoffs. “I doubt that your father will be pleased to accommodate all of you, girl; you do travel with a pack of storm-witches.”

Her face darkens. “We honor the authority of the Völva, my lord,” she says, “as I am sure Lady Skaði will tell you. To suggest otherwise—”

“Peace, child,” he says, and you can tell that his patronizing tone grates on Gjálp’s nerves just as much as it grates on your own. “I have known Geirröðr for much longer than you have even been alive. I know his ways, and I know how he feels about Stormr-Jötnar.”

You’re not surprised that the Völva remains silent, since that seems to be her whole schtick, but you are surprised that Heiðr doesn’t speak up. You guess that she must be preoccupied.

“We are a kingdom united,” Loki says. “The Forest Giants are happy allies of the Storm Giants now, is that not so, Lady Skaði?”

“His Majesty speaks true; Queen Fárbauti has pledged us to the king, as have our Stormr-Jötnar friends. It is time to let old things die, I suppose.”

The lord grunts. “The dawn of an interesting era.”

“Indeed, my lord.”

It seems like you’ve been mostly forgotten as the chatter about alliances and rivalries continues, and you sink down against the wall, your legs finally giving out. You’re cold, you’re hungry, and you’re…

You’re hurt.

Even knowing that he’s playing games, that he’s acting a part, the fact that Loki looked at you and called you worthless in front of a room full of people stings. True, he did also say that he’d start cutting off hands if anyone else touches you, but…

You feel dehumanized, and bizarrely enough, Býleistr’s the only one who even referred to you as something other than an ‘it.’

No one bothers you, though, and you guess that even though they thought Loki’s threat was entertaining, they must’ve also taken it seriously. Wrapping your arms around yourself, you daydream of hot food and crackling fires. Eventually, the dinner begins to wind down, and when Gjálp comes over to get you, you’re so relieved that you could cry.

“Come along, In-Unga,” she says, her hand resting on her dagger-belt. “I am going to fetch my sister and help her back to our sleigh, and I do not think that it would be wise to leave you behind. The king is… preoccupied.”

Stiff from sitting on the stone floor for so long, you force yourself to stand and follow her into one of the hallways that leads away from the main hall. Loki does seem preoccupied; as you pass behind the table, you notice that he seems to be deep in conversation with the Cliff Giant lord and Skaði, and he doesn’t even glance up at you.

Is the spell he’s using to keep you warm fading because he’s exhausted, or has he just forgotten about you?

Greip is awake and nursing a bowl of soup when you reach her room. You guess that it must be some kind of guest-hostel or infirmary, because there are quite a few narrow cots, with the door to a small bathroom off to one side.

“Wash up quickly,” Gjálp tells you. “I will bring something for you to eat in the sleigh. I… I do not like this place, or Inn-Magri. The king will do well to leave as soon as he is able.”

Yeah, you think, I bet that I like this place even less than you do.

You’re relieved to have access to a bathroom and some mildly-warm water, even though the facilities aren’t exactly fantastic. Still, scrubbing your face feels nice, and it gives you the sense of being a little more put-together, more in-control.

Gjálp hands you a bag as soon as you re-emerge, and it’s heavy. “Can you carry this? I need to help my sister.”

“I am fine—” Greip begins, her voice rasping.

“No, you are not. You nearly died, and there is no reason for you to pretend that you are already healed. I will help you walk, or I will carry you, but those are your only options.”

Greip relents, and her sister helps her from the bed, wrapping her arm around her waist. You notice, then, the tiny leaf-pendant hanging from its chain around Greip’s neck.

“Is Hrossþjófr okay?” you ask, hefting the bag over your shoulder. You don’t really mind; at least Gjálp had the decency to phrase it as a request, rather than a command.

“He is recovering,” Gjálp tells you, “but the king has had strong words with him over his irresponsible use of magic. I know little of such things, but what he attempted was apparently far beyond his novice skills as a skin-changer; the king said that he is lucky that he did not kill himself.”

“I can’t believe he was Snowball.” You watch Greip’s face out of the corner of your eye, trying to judge her reaction. Her lips press together in a thin line, but she doesn’t say anything. You’re assuming that she hasn’t had a chance to confront him about that yet… but man, it’s sure to be explosive when she does.

 


 

Even after the convoy moves on, Loki doesn’t show up in your sleigh, and the hours crawl by. You think about Skaði taking his hand, and you think about him saying that you’re good for nothing, and you think about him whispering your name in his sleep and saying that you’re pretty, and it all becomes jumbled up into one huge mess.

Gjálp’s made good on her soup promise, and she’s given you a big container of it - something that looks a little bit like the thermoses you used to take for lunch in school. More salty-fishyness is inside, and slices of something that look like mushrooms. Considering that even some mushrooms on Earth are poisonous, you hope that these won’t kill you. At least they taste pretty good, if they do.

Your standards have really dropped, since this whole thing began.

You notice that Greip seems a little stressed when her sister mentions that you’re heading straight for their parents’ place to spend some time, and you also notice that her hand closes around the leaf pendant, which she quickly stuffs back under her tunic.

Uh-oh, you think. That’s not a good sign of things to come.

“Are you alright, In-Unga?” Greip asks, resting her head back against one of the cushions. It seems like she’s determined to stay up for a while, even though she looks like death. “Your cheek is red.”

“Oh, I… I got pinched. One of the servants thought it would be funny, I guess.”

She looks aghast, which you think is kind of funny, in a weird way, considering she was in the court when you first arrived, when people were joking about literally eating you. Have things changed that much, since then?

Maybe they have.

“The giants there seemed… harsh,” you add. It seems like the twins weren’t big fans of them, either, so you figure it’s probably okay for you to let off a little steam.

“They are. Those who dwell in the canyons and cliffs do not care much for the rest of the realm’s affairs, and they are known for playing to whatever side offers them the most wealth. Other than travellers, they rarely interact with any outside of their clans, especially since the war.”

“Oh.” You rub your cheek, hoping that maybe it won’t actually bruise.

“It will be better for you in our father’s house,” Gjálp says. “We will make certain of it.”

 


 

He doesn’t show up until much later, long after you’ve all fallen asleep. You wake up to his hand on your cheek, and your first instinct is to smack him away. Instead, you grunt in annoyance and try to roll away, only to realize that he’s lifting you into the air.

He must be moving you back down to his end of the sleigh, and your irritation builds. He didn’t seem all that interested in you before, and now he wants to cuddle up?

“Nothing, aside from keeping me warm.” Such an ass.

“Lemme go,” you mumble as Loki settles himself heavily onto the bed you’d made for him, his arms holding you tight. And then, just in case he didn’t get the message, you add, “I’m not in the mood.”

“Not in the mood? It is your job.” He sounds a little amused, at first, but when you remain stiff, you can feel him tense behind you. “What is the matter with you?”

It probably isn’t a good idea to pick a fight with him, but… you’re having a lot of feelings, and you’re pretty sick of it all, so you figure that there’s no point in trying to hide it. “Nothing,” you reply, and there’s a little bit of venom behind it.

“Oh, I see. Come here.”

“I am here.”

Loki huffs, then twists you around until you’re face-to-face. Asgardian again, you note, taking in his light eyes, the pallidness if his skin; there are bruises and scratches that you hadn’t been able to see before, and you wonder why he hasn’t managed to heal them yet.

“You have no right to take this tone with me, mortal,” he snaps. “Do you really not understand how delicate things are? How very close it is to falling apart at any given moment?”

“You said that I’m nothing!”

“You are nothing.”

The words hit hard, and you try to recoil, but there’s nowhere for you to go, so you settle on closing your eyes. You might have to listen to him, but you don’t have to look at him.

Loki sighs, presumably finding your feelings frustrating. “How do you fail to realize that it is better for you to be nothing?”

“That’s not—“

“Did you know that this is all smoke and mirrors?” he presses. “Look at me, girl.”

You obey, albeit reluctantly.

“There is hardly a drop of magic left in me - not enough to even fully heal myself, or enough for this.” He taps your cheek, and you wince. “This is not some kind of game. What would you have me say - that I’ve gone soft, and for a mortal?”

He just doesn’t get it.

“I am not going to risk my throne for you,” he says, voice hushed, “nor have I given you any reason to expect it of me; at the most, I’ve offered you protection, and even that is conditional.”

But no matter what he says, as he runs his thumb across your cheek, you can’t help but notice that he looks a little distressed. God of Lies.

You decide to take a risk.

“Am I really nothing?”

Loki frowns, and as he opens his mouth to respond, you quickly add, “To you?”

He pauses, and his eyes flicker from yours to the mark on your cheek - the one he’s still stroking. “I do not know what you are,” he says after a moment or two.

You wait for more… but he doesn’t say anything else, and you bury your face against his chest, your heart falling. It was stupid to even ask. What had you really expected him to say? Like he said before, he’d never promised you anything, not really. You’re just two people stuck together in bizarre circumstances, trying to stay alive.

The cuddling thing is just some weird coping mechanism, it doesn’t mean anything. Wanting it to mean something isn’t going to change that.

It’s infuriating that you’re close to tears.

Just go to sleep, you tell yourself. You’re tired, and you aren’t being rational. Just go to sleep.

And you think that he’s fallen asleep, too, until he pulls you closer, your head tucked under his chin. “You shouldn’t be,” he says, so softly that you almost can’t hear him, “but you are something. Someone. To me.”


Chapter Text

“Has something… happened, In-Unga?” Gjálp asks, placing another card onto the floor of the sleigh. You don’t really understand the game, yet, but you don’t mind - at least they’re trying to teach you. It’s sweet, and the distraction is nice.

“What do you mean?”

“The king seemed very odd when he left.”

Odd. Yeah, that’s one way to describe it. “I don’t know,” you tell her. “I guess he’s got a lot on his mind, considering everything that’s going on. You know?”

She nods thoughtfully, and Greip leans over your shoulder, tapping one of the cards in your hand. “This one,” she whispers. “It will destroy her lands.”

“Oh.” You set it down, and Gjálp sighs in frustration.

“I always win at this,” Greip tells you, smiling as she twines the chain of her necklace around her fingers. “You could not find a better teacher.”

“Yes,” her sister says, “which is why it is not fair. I’d thought that I might win a game, for once.”

You laugh a little, glad that the conversation’s been steered away from Loki. He barely even looked at you when he slipped away earlier, and he seemed irritated that you’d even woken up, like he’d been hoping that he wouldn’t get caught.

It’s because he said that you mean something to him, you think, and now he regrets it. Typical.

But you tell yourself that it’s okay; you were just feeling a little extra-vulnerable anyway, and he’s just had a near-death experience. Really, the whole thing is probably adrenaline-bonding - with maybe a little Stockholm thrown in. Don’t count on him, you tell yourself. He’s too fickle; you can’t afford to count on him.

You kind of… get it, too. If Loki acting weird and out-of-character around you in front of the giants is going to cause chaos, then you guess you’d rather just suck it up and deal. Hurt feelings are better than being dead, right? Because if anything happens to Loki, if he loses the throne… you know you’re as good as dead.

Greip and Gjálp couldn’t save you - they might want to, but they’re basically just kids. If you’re caught up in some kind of revolt, if the tide turns against Loki, then all bets are off. No protection. No chance of ever making it back to Earth.

So, with that in mind, you tell yourself to get a grip and stop letting your feelings affect you so much. It’s a lot easier said than done.

The game eventually wraps up, and the three of you decide to snack. “Are you excited to be going home?” you ask. “Back to the forest?”

“Yes,” Greip says, “only it will be difficult, I think, to know how everyone will react.”

“Our father is extremely loyal,” Gjálp hurries to add, “but… our clan has expected Prince Helblindi to become the king someday, you see.”

“Having a Skógr-Jötnar on the throne is very important,” Greip says. “With the line of succession disrupted, everyone is waiting to see what Loki Laufeyson will do. Which tribes will he give the most honor? Who will he wed?”

“And,” her sister continues, “the fact that he is a seiðberandi, and that the Storm Giants are with him… there is bad blood there, In-Unga, and it cannot be erased so easily.”

“But, it was Queen Fárbauti who called the Völva in the first place,” you say. “I don’t understand; if you guys don’t like magic, then why let a magical lady say who gets to be king?”

“The Völva is different,” Greip says patiently, like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “She is blessed by the Norns; who are we to question what has been decreed by the Norns?”

That isn’t exactly a fantastic explanation, but you decide to let it go, for the time being. The one thing that you know they’re right about is the bad blood. It seems like everyone has an axe to grind with everyone else, and Loki’s landed you smack in the middle of it all.

You can’t help but worry that the twins are kind of underselling the level of danger involved in this whole expedition. “Will Prince Helblindi be at this place?”

“It is more likely that he will be at Þrymheimr,” Gjálp says, “the hall of Lady Skaði’s father. That is our eventual destination, and it is from there that the king will go forth to slay the wolf Mánagarmr.”

“What does that mean?” you ask. “The wolf’s name?”

“Moon-Hound. It is said that he will devour the moon, someday, and feast on the dead after the Twilight of the Gods has come.”

Bleak. Are there not any positive myths around here? Fun fairy-tales, stories with romance and happily-ever-afters? It sure doesn’t seem like it. Interesting reflection of the culture, you think. Maybe they’d be a bit more generally pleasant if they did have more happy stories.

“Father will likely hold a feast.” Gjálp seems to have noticed that you’re brooding, and she smiles at you, patting your knee. “Would you like for us to dress you up, In-Unga?”

“Dress me up?”

“Yes, as we did before? I am certain that we have some clothes that will fit you, from when we were children.”

“With the makeup and everything?”

“Yes.” She looks excited, and considering the terrible few days she’s had, you can’t really bring yourself to shoot her down. It’s harmless, and it’ll give you something to do. Maybe it’ll help Greip relax, too, since you’re suspicious that she’s super fixated on the whole ‘parents finding out a Storm Giant with a crush tried to save her’ thing.

“Okay,” you say, returning her smile. “Sure. Just… maybe only the lines, this time? You can make them match the pattern on Loki’s face, right?”

If you’re going to let them play dress-up, you might as well make a statement.

“Of course.”

“Hey,” you ask on impulse, “do you guys have, like… razors, or anything like that?” They both stare at you, so you add, “a straight razor, even? For shaving?”

“Shaving?” Greip cocks her head. “Well, we use a blade or scissors to trim our hair… is that what you mean?”

“I mean… shaving body hair?” They both continue to stare at you. “Legs?” you try, feeling increasingly awkward. “Armpits? No?”

They shake their heads, and you decide to give up. You’re not about to try to shave your legs with a freaking dagger, so bring on the fuzz. It doesn’t really matter that much, anyway - perks of being bundled up on an ice planet.

“How long before we get there?”

“It should not be long, I think. Rest, In-Unga, and try not to worry; everything will be fine.”

 


 

It turns out that Gjálp and Greip’s father lords over a massive wooden fortress, surrounded by a palisade that seems to be built around actual living trees. The trees themselves are massive, but they seem a little thin relative to their height, and the few branches that they do have are laden with snow. Seeing trees at all seems odd, now, after so many days of nothing but rock and ice.

A big grassy field would be amazing, one filled with wildflowers.

You’re guessing that it’ll probably be a long time before you see anything like that again.

Gjálp keeps you close as she helps her sister to the gate; most of the convoy haven’t even emerged from their sleighs, but you can’t really blame her from being eager to get inside. If there’s one thing you understand completely, it’s homesickness.

The gate opens, and giants spill out - all lithe, all pointy-eared, and most scantily-clad. It’s a tiny bit warmer here, maybe, but you still think the whole ‘lack-of-coats’ thing is kind of ridiculous, even for ice-planet aliens. Maybe they’re just showing off because they have visitors.

As the sisters start giving people instructions - from what you can gather, these must be servants - you hang back and try to study the crowd. There’s an actual child among them, one of the first kids you’ve seen this entire time… and he’s only a few inches shorter than you, which you find terribly disappointing. “What is that?” he blurts, pointing directly at you.

“This is Loki Laufeyson’s mortal pet,” Gjálp replies, putting her hand on your shoulder. “In-Unga. She is not to be touched without the king’s permission.”

The kid gawps at you, and you pull on your hood, trying to hide as much as possible.

“Go start a fire in the king’s chamber, Bjarki,” Greip says, “and make sure that there are plenty of furs; mortals have thin skin.”

He scampers off, watching you over his shoulder as he goes. You fight the urge to stick out your tongue at him, and then you remember that he’s probably at least a few centuries old, and the whole thing weirds you out.

“We will take you to our rooms, for now,” Greip whispers in your ear. She’s leaning on you a little heavily, you notice, but you don’t want to say anything; you doubt that it’s intentional - she really shouldn’t be trying to stand on her own at all, considering everything that she’s been through.

The rest of the members of your party begin to trickle into the courtyard. Heiðr and Hrossþjófr join you soon, arm-in-arm, and Greip stiffens. You’re pretty sure that she wants to escape, but since her sister is still busy chatting… she’s stuck leaning on you.

Hrossþjófr’s smile is faint, and so is his voice. “You look well, íviðja. Are you going to string me up by my ears, as you’ve promised?”

She stares at the snow for a few moments, and when she replies, her voice is equally soft. “You lied to me,” she says. “You thought to make sport of me.”

“Greip,” he begins, “you must know that—”

“Stop. You should not speak so freely with me; I do not wish to hear it.”

Heiðr clears her throat. “Come, Brother. We should attend to the Völva, and to the king.”

He looks like he wants to argue, but since Greip won’t meet his eyes, he gives up. “Very well,” he says stiffly. “I understand.”

They turn to leave. Greip’s hand is clutching at her tunic - probably where the pendant is hidden, you imagine. It’s a lot easier to let yourself get caught up in someone else’s drama than to worry about your own, so once you’re fairly certain that there’s no one within earshot, you ask, “Do you really not want to know what he was going to say?”

Her shoulders sag. “There is no point to it.”

And as you glance around the courtyard, you realize that Heiðr and Hrossþjófr, along with all of the other Storm Giants, are being given extremely wide berth, along with some pretty open glares. It isn’t going to be a fun night, you can already tell.

Loki’s standing with Skaði, again. You’re basically in her domain, now, so it makes sense, but… you still feel kind of petty. “Hey,” you want to say, “remember last night? Remember that?”

Like that would go over well.

Greip and Gjálp eventually take you inside the wooden fortress and guide you to their room. There’s a large fireplace, which is a massive relief, because your hands and feet were starting to feel numb from standing out in the cold for so long. Their beds are simple wooden platforms, covered by a thin mattress and more heaps of blankets, and the decorations are sparse. You’d expected something a little more homey.

“We must go greet our father and mother, mortal,” Gjálp tells you, settling her large satchel onto her bed. “You had best stay here, for now. We will lock the door; you will be perfectly safe.”

“Okay,” you say, rubbing your arms. It really feels like you can’t catch a break; you’ve been starting to really feel comfortable with the twins, and Loki said that he kind of cared, but somehow you’re still being left alone in yet another unfamiliar giant abode.

They leave, and you take the liberty of curling up on one of the beds, your muscles tense and knotted from stress. Loki… he isn’t going to make you sleep here, is he? You mentally slap yourself - you should be worried about the opposite. If you had any sense at all, you’d be glad that you get to hang out with the girls instead of being Loki’s blanket or pillow or pet or whatever you are to him.

Something.

At least you’re something to him.

 


 

This might be the worst giant-feast you’ve been to so far, and that’s saying something.

It’s just so freaking tense. Greip and Gjálp’s dad, Geirröðr, is an imposing sort of man, even though he definitely isn’t the tallest giant you’ve come across so far. He’s loud and opinionated, and one of those opinions is apparently ‘all Storm Giants suck.’

Most of the house seems to be pretty disapproving of humans, too, which is really disappointing, but not all that surprising. You’ve already overheard people asking the twins how fast you can run, and ‘what color you bleed,’ and a dozen other questions that scream ‘red alert.’

The nice thing, if you can really call it nice, is that Loki has magnanimously decided to keep you in his lap. Of course, Loki being Loki, he’s also basically managed to ignore you the entire time you’ve been here, despite the fact that you’re literally on top of him. Why does he do these things?

But at least you aren’t off in a corner somewhere, or sitting on the hard-packed dirt floor; at least none of the other giants are going to try to touch you, considering the king doesn’t seem very keen on sharing his toys. You curl against his chest, feeling embarrassingly clingy… but then, what’s wrong with being clingy? The last time you were very far from him in a strange place, you got your face pinched by some eight-foot-tall oaf.

Said cheek is currently pressed against Loki’s shoulder.

“How do our daughters fare in the court of Utgard, Lady Skaði?” Geirröðr asks.

“They do you proud, Geirröðr. The queen regards them highly, as does our new king. Is that not so, sire?”

“Very loyal girls,” Loki says, resting his hand on the top of your head, his fingers drumming against your hair. “They’ve proven invaluable to me.”

“Have they?” Geirröðr’s wife smiles thinly over her mug. “Yet they’ve been set to work with witches and that mortal.”

“We all journey together, my lady,” Skaði says. “In these times, it is important to keep our friends close, you know.”

Yeah, right. All of the Storm Giants have basically been shoved into a corner at their own table, including the supposedly-revered Völva.

Loki tucks a strand of your hair behind your ear. “Do you not approve of seiðr?” His voice is smooth, charming, but the fact that he’s fidgeting with your hair kind of betrays the fact that he’s feeling tense, too.

Geirröðr laughs. “Seiðr makes men mad,” he declares, apparently not worried at all that he’s just insulted the new king. “Kings, too. But everyone already knows that you are mad, Loki Inn-Illi.”

You expect Loki to freak out at that, but he doesn’t even flinch. “A man is a fool who does not make use of his gifts, Geirröðr.” He leans back slightly in his seat, a slight shift of posture that you doubt the others will even consciously notice; he’s sprawling, trying to look carefree and confident.  

It’s hard to block out the memory of him telling you that he’s basically running on empty, as far as power goes. The show is all that he has.

“Perhaps,” Loki continues, “if Laufey had been a bit more appreciative of spellwork, he’d still be alive today, sitting here to chat with you about the glorious past.”

“Perhaps he should have shown more caution when mingling with Stormr-Jötnar, and you would not be sitting here chatting with me about your glorious present.”

It’s a clear taunt, but apparently baiting each other with insults is just a common Jotunheim pastime, because Loki just laughs instead of punching the guy in the face, which is what you halfway expected him to do. Heck, you’d want to punch someone in the face for making snarky comments about your long-lost mother like that, and you only have a tiny fraction of Loki’s pent-up rage.

The rest of the dinner goes by pretty quickly. For the most part, Loki sits back and lets the Forest Giants do all of the talking, though you notice how easily he seems to slide into any train of conversation, when he wants. It’s mostly names and places you’ve never heard before, and you mostly tune out, only to snap to attention when Greip and Gjálp become the center of attention.

“They should have their teeth sharpened when they return to Utgard,” their mother says. “They have been old enough for it for several years, and it is time to look for matches for the both of them.”

Neither of the girls say anything. In fact, while Gjálp has a pleasant, agreeable smile fixed on her face, Greip doesn’t even look up from her plate.

“You will oversee it, Lady Skaði, will you not? Or Queen Fárbauti?”

“I would be honored, and I am certain that the Queen Mother would be pleased to assist, as well.”

“I do not suppose that you’d have a place for them at your table, would you, sire?” Geirröðr asks, red eyes glinting. “As you have found them so invaluable?”

You’re confused, but you feel Loki stiffen slightly. “We shall see,” he says, and Greip seems to sink even lower into her chair.

The conversation moves on to something about crops; you try to pay attention, but you’re really tired, and by the time the dinner has ended, you’re practically passed out in his arms. That seems to be a trend, and you should probably be a lot more concerned about it than you are.

He doesn’t carry you to bed, which is a disappointment, but an expected one. Instead, you trail behind him as a servant leads you to the bath, because apparently no giant worth their salt builds houses without indoor bath-pools. To be fair, these are smaller, and from the raised flooring, you get the impression that they’re probably heated with pipes or something similar, but it still seems a little over-the-top for a fortress in the woods.

Loki follows you inside the steamy bathroom, and the two of you undress back-to-back; he still hasn’t really said anything at all since he told you that you’re someone, and you’re getting the impression that he’d probably take it back, if he could.

Great, you think. I’m so astoundingly awkward that I broke ol’ Silver-Tongue himself.

You race to hop into the water before he decides to be his usual inappropriately-teasing self, but the water isn’t nearly as hot as you’d expected, so you yelp in surprise. Loki spins around, and you screw your eyes away from his gloriously naked form; you definitely didn’t see anything inappropriate. Nope, no way.

“The water is kinda cold,” you hurry to tell him. What does he think, that assassins are in the bath, or something? Though, the instant turn to rush to your aid - because that’s what you’re letting yourself believe he was about to do - is pretty nice for your ego.

Loki lets out a long-suffering sigh, then joins you, the blue receding from his skin. He looks like a marble statue, you decide. A bruised, battered marble statue. Get it together, girl.

“So,” you say, wrapping your arms around yourself under the water, “what did you think of my look?”

He rolls his eyes. “It did not differ too greatly from your previous look, did it? I imagine that poor Gjálp constantly laments the fact that they cannot bare your skin enough to make you truly fashionable. At least you do not look like a corpse, this time around.”

“Oh. Yeah, I… I told them to go easy on the makeup, this time.”

It’s a little hard to concentrate on the carefree attitude you’re trying to project, because Loki’s decided that now is a good time to crowd into your space, tilting up your chin. His thumb swipes across your skin. “Good.”

Don’t think about it, you tell yourself as he rubs his fingers on your cheek, smearing the lines away. Don’t think about him touching you, and definitely don’t think about how gently he’s touching you.

“Is something the matter with you, mortal?”

“No. I mean, there’s a lot going on.”

“Hmm.” Loki pauses for a moment to rinse his fingers in the water, then starts working on your forehead. You’re frozen. It feels nice. If you move, you’re afraid that you might ruin the moment. “I want you to stay close to me, while we’re here. Close, and silent.”

“Close? You left me alone all day.” You probably shouldn’t have said that, but Loki doesn’t look angry, like you’d expect; he just looks tired. Somehow, that makes you feel worse.

“There was business to discuss.”

“Business?”

Loki sighs, sinking into the water up to his neck. “Wash my hair.”

As you run your fingers through his hair, you have a weird urge to just… wrap your arms around him, to press yourself against his back. That’s crazy, right?

But you do it anyway.

He stiffens as soon as your arms are around him, which is honestly a little discouraging. Oh, no, you think, I’m such an idiot, I—

“What is this?” His voice is slightly strained, but he doesn’t pull away, so that’s something.

“A… a hug?”

“I see.”

When he doesn’t say anything else, you give up and go back to washing his hair, horrifically embarrassed. Loki dunks himself under the water, and when he reemerges, he turns to face you, straightening to his full height. His wet hair clings to his forehead and cheeks, and you’re horrified to realize how badly you want to touch his face, to brush it away.

“Skaði expects that I will make my intentions towards her clear,” he says suddenly, “once I have defeated Mánagarmr and solidified my position.”

He’s watching you carefully, like he isn’t quite sure what to expect, and your heartbeat begins to quicken. “Your intentions?”

“Yes. The choice of a first wife is a very tricky thing, it seems; the Skógr-Jötnar feel that it is only right that Skaði receives the honor, as she was promised to Helblindi, when he was to be king. With Skaði following Fárbauti as queen, they’ll have established something of a Forest Giant dynasty, and I risk losing their support if I threaten to disrupt it.”

You cross your arms across your chest, feeling exposed, despite the fact that you’re just as hidden by the water now as you were two minutes ago. It… it kinda feels like you’ve been punched in the gut, which is stupid, because you already knew that this was a thing that was happening. None of this is new information. “Oh.”

“You seem to disapprove.”

“You’re just… are you just going to go along with that? Skaði…”

“Well?” Loki prompts, and his own arms are crossed now, too. “What about Skaði, mortal?”

“I don’t like her.” You probably shouldn’t have said that, either, but it’s true.

He laughs. “Would you prefer that I consider the alternatives, then? There is always the lovely Angrboða - I am certain that she would be a delight. Inn-Magri was quick to recommend his sister as a prospect. Or, if I truly wanted to cause chaos, I suppose I could choose Geirröðr’s daughters and let the Skógr-Jötnar tear themselves apart with in-fighting. Which of those would you like?”

“What? The twins?”

“How in the Nine did you miss that? Their father has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I wasn’t raised in a place where people try to sell off their twin daughters to the king—”

Loki clamps a hand over your mouth. “Quiet,” he hisses. “Don’t you dare raise your voice to me, not here. Remember that you are a pet, and I am a king.”

Message recieved, you think, glaring at him. Ass.

“Believe it or not,” he continues in a hushed voice, “I cannot simply alter the customs or the political structure of an entire realm. You have no right to judge.”

You tug his hand away from your mouth, but he’s probably right about the dangers of being overheard by sharp-eared, gossipy giants, so you keep your voice down. “You brought it up!”

He frowns, then pulls his hand from your grasp. “You should be informed,” he says. “As my accomplice and my thrall, I must keep you abreast of my plans.”

It’s hard to hold everything back. Liar, you want to call him. You want to tell him that you aren’t quite as oblivious as he seems to think, and that he clearly has a hell of a lot of issues with emotional attachment. You want to tell him that he clearly doesn’t care much for the rules, or he probably wouldn’t be taking over a planet in the first place.

But you don’t say anything.

Loki almost seems disappointed. Maybe he was hoping for a bigger response.

“Your cheek.” He reaches out to touch it, briefly. “There is a bruise forming.”

Oh, so we’re just dropping the subject. Perfect.

“Say something.”

“You said to be quiet.”

“I meant that you should not raise your voice to me, or challenge my decisions as king. When we are alone, you may speak. Within reason.”

“Okay. Yes, there is a bruise forming.”

Closing his eyes, Loki takes a deep breath, then moves towards the edge of the bath. “We should go to my chamber,” he says. “You need sleep, and I have reading to do.”

He dresses quickly, and you don’t even have to ask him to avert his eyes; he stands by the door, drumming his fingers on the frame, oozing impatience.

The evening has not been going very well.

On your silent march to his room, you decide that there’s no point in pouting; you do want him to talk to you, even if some of the topics of conversation are infuriating. Besides, you think, the more he talks to you, the more he’ll maybe start to realize…

Realize what? What are you hoping for, that he’s going to suddenly decide that he likes you? This is crazy - you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment. Even if you do mean something to him, you don’t belong here; this isn’t your world.

It’s stupid to get too attached.

The bed in his room is pretty nice, and you clamber in as soon as the servants escorting him around everywhere leave the two of you alone. You’re a little surprised when Loki settles down beside you, a book in his hand - you figured that he’d choose to brood in one of the chairs by the fire, given the current mood.

He tucks a strand of his hair behind one ear as he reads, and you’re immediately reminded of the way he’d been fidgeting with your hair at dinner, the tension you’d felt in his frame. It softens you, just a little. Sure, your life sucks… but his does, too.

“Hey,” you say, “your hair’s still kinda wet. What about your magical blow-dry?”

Loki doesn’t look up from his book. “I do not have the power for it,” he says.

Damn. You didn’t realize he was still that low. “But, aren’t you uncomfortable? It’s cold.”

Shrugging, he licks his finger and flips to the next page. “Are you trying to convince me to go sit by the fire?”

“What? No—”

“Because you can have the bed, if you’d like.”

What the hell? you think, completely baffled. He thinks you’re mad and trying to get him to go away… and he’s willing to actually do it? “I don’t want the bed. I mean, I want to sleep in the bed. But I want you to sleep in the bed, too. With—” You hesitate for a second, because ‘with me’ sounds a little embarrassingly needy. “Together.”

Loki finally looks up at you, his eyes slightly narrowed. “You are very odd.”

Me and you both, buddy.

Maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll get rescued before he actually has to get married to anyone, but even the thought of that makes your chest clench. You’ll still know…

You can’t let this become some kind of thing. You just can’t. There’s no happy ending.

“I cannot renew your charm,” he says suddenly, “but with any luck, I’ll be able to restore it before we resume our journey. In the meantime, you must tell me if you feel that you are growing too cold.”

“Okay.” The space between the two of you feels immense. “Actually, I’m pretty cold right now.”

Silently, Loki raises his arm, and you tuck in snugly against his side, your heart fluttering. He keeps reading, and with nothing to listen to but the crackle of the fire and his steady breathing, you’re soon dozing off. You wonder if he realizes that you’re still awake when he shifts slightly and presses a featherlight kiss against your hair.

For both of your sakes, you pretend that you’re already asleep.



Chapter Text

Loki keeps you close for the rest of the time you spend at Geirröðr’s fortress, though he doesn’t seem particularly keen to do much talking. You tell yourself that you can worry about all of this feelings stuff once the two of you have made it safely back to Utgard - right now, there are bigger fish to fry.

Well, bigger wolves to fry.

Because if Loki is really as weak as he claims - and you can’t imagine that he would ever pretend to be weak - then this whole Moon-Hound situation is even more concerning than you’d previously believed. If the two of you don’t even manage to survive this trip, then everything else is kind of a moot point.

It isn’t really any of your business who he marries, anyway.

He leaves you with the twins to pack up for the last leg of the journey, the trip through the forest that will bring you to the castle of Skaði’s father, and it’s nice to have a few minutes away from him, because being near him and unable to actually talk is maddening. You know he would probably talk to you, if he could, but damn , he’s a good actor. Sometimes, you wonder if you’d dreamed it all up - the words, the concern, the kiss…

King Loki Laufeyson has a very cold public persona.

Gjálp and Greip both seem tense as they gather their things, and you wonder if they’re relieved that they’re going to be able to leave soon. You’d be relieved, too, except you can only expect things at Skaði’s castle to be worse; that seems to be the general trend for this whole adventure - things just keep getting worse and worse.

“Hey, Gjálp?”

“Yes, mortal?

Might as well just ask, you think. See if he was telling the truth, or just trying to get under my skin. “Is there a chance that you’re going to end up married to the king?”

You’re pretty sure she nearly drops the bag that she’s filling, and Greip turns, too, her cheeks a bit pale. Maybe you shouldn’t have asked, after all.

“What?” Greip says.

Gjálp drops the bag onto her bed and comes to sit beside you, her hands fisted in her lap. “He has not… he has not said anything, has he? The king?”

“I mean…” Crap, what to say? “It just seemed like that was being mentioned as a possibility, that’s all, and I thought it would be… I thought it might be weird.”

“It would bring prestige to the clan.”

“Isn’t that what Skaði’s for, though? Being a Forest Giant on the throne?”

Gjálp chews on her lip for a moment, glancing to her sister for guidance, but Greip seems reluctant to speak. Finally, she sighs and relents. “One must also consider offspring, In-Unga,” she says. “If the majority of the next generation of the royal family is from one clan… it makes things easier. The princes have many siblings who are rivals, and the in-fighting is tremendous.”

You hadn’t really bothered to pay attention to the rest of the old king’s court back in Utgard, but all of the women on the dais staring at Loki with horror and fascination makes a lot more sense, now; a lot of them were probably either mothers of his half-siblings, or lesser wives that feared that he would take them for his own… which is apparently a legitimate possibility.

“But no other Storm Giants, I’m guessing? Lok— the king is the only one whose mother was a Storm Giant?”

“Yes, the only one. So you see, it is a very precarious place to be in, for Loki Laufeyson.”

“And marrying a bunch of people is going to solve that, somehow.”

They seem to catch on to your tone, and you remind yourself that you’re supposed to be staying calm about the whole thing. It’s much easier said than done.

“Well… yes, mortal,” Gjálp says. “That is the way that it has always been done.”

You notice that Greip is fidgeting with her pendant again, though she still has it tucked beneath her tunic. In fact, you haven’t seen her take it out the entire time you’ve been here, just like you haven’t seen her so much as make eye contact with Hrossþjófr.

‘The way things are done’ doesn’t seem to be working out too well for anyone, you think.

 


 

The mood of the convoy is one of terse excitement as you leave from Geirröðr’s Keep. You figure that everyone is probably just ready to get the whole thing over with, whether it results in Loki becoming king or him getting eaten by a monster. It’s been that kind of road trip.

There are no stops along the way, and even the twins, usually so eager to curl up and nap like giant cats, move about the sleigh restlessly. It’s hard to tell how much time has passed, but it feels like way too long since you’ve slept, and you really wish Loki would show up for a nap.

Greip seems to be doing a bit better, at least; most of her color has returned, and she looks a bit less exhausted, though she’s definitely melancholy. Part of you wants to ask her about Hrossþjófr, but you don’t know how she’ll react. Besides, it isn’t like you’re some kind of Jötunn relationship expert, clearly.

You don’t want to inspire some kind of Romeo and Juliet scenario.

But when Gjálp slips from the sleigh to jog ahead and make sure that everything is going okay with the king, it’s Greip who decides to turn the topic of conversation towards relationships. “You are worried,” she tells you, slapping one of her playing cards down onto the wooden floor. “You care for Inn-Illi, mortal, and far more than you should.”

“What brought this up?” you ask, knowing full well that she’s trying to do the exact same thing that you’ve been trying to do - distract herself from her own drama by sticking her nose in someone else’s.

“I have seen the hurt on your face, when he ignores you. It goes beyond that of a neglected pet, I think.” She leans across. “This card has just been destroyed,” she says, smiling slightly, “but you are learning very quickly.”

“Thanks.” You try to figure out your next move, shoving aside the embarrassment you feel at essentially getting called out for mooning over Loki like a lovesick calf.

“Was I mistaken?” Greip asks after a moment or two of silence. “If I was, then—”

“No.” Admitting it is hard, but at the same time, it feels nice to have someone to talk to about the whole mess that your life has become. And really, what’s the worst that can happen? You might be humiliated and teased if the others find out that you’re catching feelings for Loki, but you doubt they’ll kill you for it. Though, knowing Skaði…

“I believe that he will defeat Mánagarmr. I also believe that he will not allow anything to happen to you, In-Unga. And if my clan…” She hesitates for a moment, her pendant clenched in her fist. You wonder if she even notices how often she fidgets with it. “If my clan turns on the king,” she says, “my sister and I will stand by his side. We have decided it.”

 


 

Skaði’s father’s castle is a monstrosity of ice and stone, surrounded by a forest so dense that the light barely shines through the cover of the trees. God, you think, I just want to go back to Utgard. Just to Utgard! Is that too much to ask?

Apparently so. You’re so tired of this whole damned trip.

Greip pulls you aside as everyone unloads from the sleighs, bending down to whisper in your ear. “Mortal,” she says, “have courage. Lord Þjazi is very stern, and very taken with the old ways. You must remember that your master is not as cruel as he may act.”

Bad Sign Number One.

Loki barely acknowledges you when you join his entourage, which isn’t quite enough to count as Bad Sign Number Two, but the way that Skaði has plastered herself to his side is probably worrying enough to make up the difference.

Then there’s the fact that, as your party is escorted through the throngs of gathered giants to the main hall, giants aren’t just staring - they’re openly glaring. Bad Sign Number Three.

No one tells you to stop and wait somewhere, and you aren’t about to get lost in the crowd when everyone look pissed off before even a word’s been said, so you stick close to Loki, practically tripping over his cloak. That’s what he’d told you to do, right? To stay close to him?

And so you end up marching practically up to the dais where Skaði’s father Þjazi sits. He’s a big, big guy… and so is the younger giant sitting next to him. Neither of them look very happy, and in fact, the younger one looks downright pissed. You try to sneak another peek at them while keeping your head lowered, and that’s when you notice that the younger guy doesn’t have the hallmark pointy ears you’ve come to associate with the Forest Giants.

That means he probably isn’t entirely a Forest Giant, which means… Oh, crap, you think. That’s probably Helblindi.

Helblindi is massive. Though he isn’t the tallest of the giants you’ve seen by any stretch, he’s built like a linebacker, broad-shouldered and muscular. You were kind of hoping that he was all hype, but the dude definitely lives up to the fearsome name.

“Three sons of Laufey under my roof,” Þjazi says, his voice booming across the crowded room. “Three brothers.” Even for a giant, he’s loud, and you wonder if anyone would notice if you just snuck under Loki’s cloak and hid.

Probably.

“Father.” Skaði bows her head and steps forward, the only one in the room who doesn’t seem like they’re waiting for an axe to fall. “I formally introduce Loki Laufeyson, King of Jotunheim.”

Murmuring breaks out, and you try to keep yourself from looking around the room, knowing that you’d probably just have the bad luck to draw attention to yourself. From the sounds of things, the giants of the Iron Wood must’ve heard that Loki was coming, but had decided not to believe it until they saw it… and they were clearly not happy to see it.

“I remember when you were born, boy.” Þjazi leans forward on his seat, gripping the arms of his chair with heavily-ringed fingers. He must like gold. “Tiny thing, you were.”

“I am no boy now, Lord Þjazi, and if you refer to me as such again, I fear I’ll have to kill you.”

Damn it, Loki. No one told you that this wasn’t one of the usual ‘smiles-and-fake-politeness’ situations. Apparently it’s more of a ‘we-all-openly-hate-each-other’ situation.

“That is what Laufey would’ve done,” Loki continues, his tone light and flippant, “and I would so hate to disappoint him.”

Þjazi’s weathered face twists a bit, though you can’t quite make out if he’s trying to grimace or smile. “So eager to be king. I have been told that you are to rid my forests of Mánagarmr, to prove your worth as king.” He turns to look at the giant beside him. “What think you of that, Prince Helblindi?”

Where Býleistr is the model of apathy, Helblindi is bubbling with emotion; every single thing that passes through his head also seems to be passing across his face. You see his disgust as he looks at Loki, his offense at Býleistr, his annoyance at Þjazi for being called on to participate in the conversation when he’d clearly rather sit and fume in silence.

“Well,” he says, “if the Queen Mother and the Völva have decided on his divine birthright, then I must hope Mánagarmr sees differently.”

Okay, so things aren’t looking great…

You wonder if Helblindi knows that his kinda-fiancée is scheming to marry his brother, now that he’s been knocked out of his promised throne. Sucks to be Helblindi, you think. Sucks to be Loki. Sucks to be me... This whole place sucks.

“I thought that I smelled a mortal,” a long-legged, gold-bedecked giant comments, sidling up near Þjazi’s seat. “An Asgardian and a mortal, how fascinating.”

“My uncle, Gangr,” Skaði tells Loki quickly. Even her smile is starting to look a little forced. “The king has turned his back on Asgard, Uncle; his hatred of the Æsir surely rivals your own, if it does not surpass it entirely. Odin Allfather made his entire life a falsehood.”

“Jotunheim will surpass Asgard in both power and prestige, under my rule,” Loki declares. “The Casket of Ancient Winters will be restored, and Utgard will be rebuilt.”

Tough talk for a guy who can’t even manage a little warming spell, you think, even though probably half of your shivering can be attributed to anxiety. Skaði’s uncle - Gangr, you think his name was - is watching you. Every time you glance up, you notice his eyes on you, and your blood runs cold.

Þjazi declares that the wolf-hunting will begin first thing in the morning, and as terrifying as that thought is, you’re excited at the prospect of leaving the hall and hopefully going somewhere private to cuddle up and make a plan of action… only, nobody leaves. How long can they possibly stand around insulting each other? you wonder, despairing. Jotunheim needs more hobbies.

“I want to see the mortal,” Gangr says suddenly, holding out a hand.

You breath freezes in your throat.

“I do, as well,” Helblindi adds, sitting up a little straighter in his seat. “I have never seen a mortal before.”

Panicking, you finally dare to look up, meeting Loki’s eyes as he glances over his shoulder, acting almost as if he’d forgotten that you were there in the first place. Please, you think, not this again, please. Mentally, you’re begging, pleading… but he just looks vaguely irritated.

“Go on, mortal,” he says.

You glance around, looking for someone to come to your rescue, and that’s when you notice that Býleistr’s usually-blank expression is slightly ruffled, and you don’t even want to think about what that means. Gangr’s hand is still extended, rings glinting on his fingers. “Come, mortal. Your master has commanded you.”

But you feel frozen in place, and Þjazi suddenly laughs, slapping his brother on the shoulder. “Loki Laufeyson thinks to rule our realm,” he says, “and yet, he cannot even rule over a pet.”

Loki’s eyes flash, and you realize immediately that you’ve made a terrible, terrible mistake. “Take her to whatever chamber has been prepared for me, Geirröðardóttir,” he says to Gjálp. “I will deal with her disobedience later, at my leisure.”

Gjálp nearly drags you from the room, hurrying through the hallways in silence. Seeing her act so spooked just makes you worry even more, and you’re practically in tears by the time you reach his room. “In-Unga,” she says quietly, leaning in the doorway as if she’s afraid to step inside, “you have chosen a very poor time to embarrass the king. When he comes, you must beg his forgiveness.” Her face crumples slightly.

Jesus, you think. Was it really that bad? What the hell does she think he’s going to do to me?

“Promise me that you will beg his forgiveness,” she says. “He is very angry.”

You hear her bolt the door as she hurries to leave, and you stand there for a few minutes, stunned by the turn the night has taken. Why was he angry with you?

What had you done?

 


 

It’s hours before Loki storms into his room, discarding his coak on the ground as he stalks towards the bed, where you’ve made yourself a pretty impressive nest. “What in Valhalla is the matter with you, mortal?” he snaps, seizing the blankets and yanking them towards him, dragging you along with them.

“I was just… I was just afraid—”

“This is no place for fear,” Loki says. “They can smell it on you.” He grabs the neck of your tunic, hauling you close, the blue fading from his skin as he does. “They can smell it on me when I feel it for you.”

And then he seems to realize what he's just said, and he drops you like you're on fire, his eyes wide.

He's afraid for you.

 

Chapter Text

An admission of fear on Loki’s part is unexpected, so unexpected that neither of you quite seem to know what to do. You kneel on the bed, tangled in the blankets, watching as he paces.

Back, forth. Back, forth.

“You’re… worried?” you finally ask.

Loki pauses and glares at you. “You do realize that all it takes is one errant backhand to kill you, don’t you? You have the relative durability of wet parchment.”

“Yeah, of course I know. I think about it all the time, in fact, hence the whole ‘keeping my head down’ thing. Jesus, you can be so…”

“So what?”

“You can be a real dick,” you snap, and then you scramble back as Loki narrows his eyes and makes a beeline towards you, crawling onto the end of the bed and settling himself down cross-legged.

He holds out a hand. “Come here, mortal,” he says. “We need to talk.”

“I’m pretty sure I can talk from here, thanks.” There’s kind of a weird look in his eyes, and you don’t feel like finding out exactly what that’s all about at the moment - not until he calms down a little bit.

Closing his eyes, Loki takes a deep, slow breath, and you imagine that he must be counting to ten or something, because as soon as he’s done, he darts forward, grabbing your ankle and dragging you towards him.

Major déjà vu.

You’re quick to push yourself up on your elbows, your cheeks burning. “Seriously?”

“If you would just do as you’re told,” he says, his grip on your ankle still firm, “then perhaps we would not be in this situation.”

“What situation? I didn’t do anything; I froze up because that guy looked creepy as hell, but that’s not a crime, is it?”

“You have no idea what has happened, do you?” He reaches forward and lifts you the rest of the way into his lap, and you try to ignore the fact that you’re now straddling him; at least you have your irritation to focus on, so that’s something.

“No, obviously.” Loki looks stern, and his face is way too close to comfort. You cave. “Okay, so I didn’t obey, and I know that looks bad, but—”

“That is not it.”

“Then what is it?”

He sucks on his bottom lip for a moment, as if he’s debating over the wisdom of actually explaining things to ‘the pet.’ Honestly, you feel like you’re at the point where full disclosure - or even mostly full disclosure - is a good idea. He’s the one who said the two of you needed to work together, after all.

“Þjazi and his brothers are ancient,” Loki finally says, “as old as Odin Allfather, and very powerful; they are not easily misled. I had hoped… I had hoped that they would not find any weakness in me, for they are certain to make use of it.”

Crap. It isn’t like you don’t get why that’s a problem; right now, a good chunk of his support comes from the fact that people are afraid of his magical powers and the fact that he’s kind of crazy - crazy in a ruthless, ‘destroy entire cities’ sort of way.

“So… so we just need to make it look good, right? Like you punished me?”

He sighs, and you can practically see him reeling himself back in, the worry melting away from his features. You’ve never really noticed just how long his eyelashes are; it’s kind of a weird observation to make, considering the circumstances. Although, you normally don’t have intense conversations this close to someone else’s face, so maybe that’s part of it.

“That we will do, and it will certainly help to keep up appearances for the rest of the court, but as for Þjazi and Gangr, the chink in the armor has been revealed. If I have any emotion tied to you, mortal, it will be exploited.”

Loki’s forehead rests against yours. “I cannot feel anything for you,” he says. “Understand?”

“Yeah,” you reply. And you do understand; you really can’t afford to feel anything for him, either.

But you do.

 


 

“So,” you say eventually, breaking the surprisingly-companionable silence, “what’s the plan? There is a plan, right?”

“There was a plan, but it has been entirely derailed at this point.”

He’s been rubbing your back for a while, nearly lulling you to sleep, and you’re pretty disappointed when he stops and practically pushes you out of his lap. You climb under the covers as he goes to dig through one of the bags that’s been left near the doorway; it’s cold, and you don’t really want to complain about it, because you’re pretty sure there isn’t much Loki can do about it at the moment.

“You want me to scream?” you ask, only half-joking. “We can put my acting skills to work, pretend that you’re beating the crap out of me for being a terrible pet. Will that help?”

There’s a hint of a spark in his eyes when he turns back to you, and even though that usually means trouble… you’re kind of relieved to see it. “Actually,” he says, “that is not a terrible idea. A bit of sport - I suppose I could use the diversion.”  He holds up a thin band of gold, then, one that looks suspiciously like a collar. “This, as well.”

“Um… isn’t that a little extreme?”

Loki gives you an extremely judgy look as he drops the collar into your lap. “I can see that my continued leniency has given you a false sense of security here, mortal. Consider this a small price to pay for your protection. Besides, I thought that mortals lusted after gold.”

The runes inscribed on the collar are familiar, and you squint at them, frowning. “I know that says ‘Lokakona,’” you tell him, “and I also know what ‘Lokakona’ means.”

“Do you have a point? Lift your hair.” He takes the collar back from you, bending it open, and your eyes widen; it’s yet another casual display of strength, and it’s unsettling. How does he not crush you every time he moves you around?

Must have very finely-tuned reflexes.

But you figure it’s a fair move; you can consider it a prop, can’t you? All the world’s a stage…

Besides, collars are kind of in, at least in some fashion circles. “This is just a temporary thing, right? It’ll come off once we get back to the palace, once things settle down?”

“We will see.”

He bends it around your neck, and you try to swallow down the lump that forms in your throat. You wish you could slap a collar on him. Fair is fair. At least it’s pretty lightweight. Listen to yourself, you think, trying to talk up the pros of wearing a freaking pet collar.

You look up, poised to complain, but there’s a kind of funny look on Loki’s face as he slides two fingers under the band of the collar, presumably checking to make sure it won’t choke you; that’s what you’re assuming, even though the way he’s lingering seems a little gratuitous.

Your neck is much more sensitive than you’ve ever realized.

“Hey, Loki?”

“Hmm?”

“I think the collar’s good.”

“Right.” His hand drops away, and he looks you over, contemplative. “I could actually punish you,” he says. “You have certainly earned it, after all of the trouble you’ve caused me.”

“Or we could go with the whole ‘faking it’ plan. I like that one. Plus, it’ll look like you healed me, right? And that’s extra cruel, you healing me so that I’m still functional, and it makes it look like you’ve got power to waste.”

“Impressive. I suppose you do have your moments, mortal. Come, let us act.”

Loki pulls you from the bed and sets you on your feet - you’re almost starting to get used to how physical he is all the time, and you wonder if that’s a bad thing. There’s a hint of a smile on his face as he leads you close to the doorway and presses you back against the wall, and you suddenly find yourself rethinking the entire endeavor.

Maybe if he didn’t have that little mischievous sparkle in his eyes, or if he’d keep his freaking hands off of your waist, you’d be able to keep your cool. But he isn’t, and you’re not.

Well, figuratively, at least - you’re very much keeping your cool in a literal sense, because the temperature in the room seems to be dropping as the night progresses. When you get back to the palace in Utgard, you might just beg to hang out in the steam pools for a few days, because this constant cold is miserable.

“Go on,” Loki whispers. “This is the one time you have my permission to wail like a banshee.”

This is so awkward. Why does Jotunheim have to be such a miserable, backwards place? And poor Greip and Gjálp are probably going to be losing their minds if they hear about this, especially after Gjálp has decided that she owes him some kind of life-debt.

You try to remember what one of your friends told you about fake-crying, a long, long time ago. Fake the motions. Think of something upsetting. That part is easy enough - you’ve got plenty to cry about, these days. Face screwed up, you clutch at Loki’s tunic, willing some tears to come to make it all extra authentic. “Please,” you plead, “please, sire, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…”

Loki looks startled - and maybe even a little impressed. You don’t have much time to revel in your success, though, because he rips your hands from his chest and pins them by your head, his eyes narrowing. Okay, you think, your heart picking up the pace, I guess we’re getting into character now. That’s cool.

He brings his mouth close to your ear; you must be the only one who’s actually supposed to get overheard during this bizarre performance. “Louder,” he says, his voice soft.

“Please!”

“I should give you away, shouldn’t I? Let someone else deal with you.”

You’re kind of surprised that you can see what he’s going for so easily, surprised that the two of you seem so… in sync. “Please, please don’t — master, forgive me—” He claps a hand over your mouth, and you pour as much sound as you can into a long, drawn-out shriek.

Loki grins, dragging you back to the bed almost immediately. “I admit that I am impressed,” he says as he climbs in beside you, heaping blankets on you both. “I had no idea that you were such a conniving little actress.”

Such a patronizingly-delivered compliment shouldn’t make you feel like blushing, but it does. You tell yourself that you’re probably still just riding on the waves of awkwardness from essentially roleplaying with him.

“I think it’s pretty messed up that you’re having to pretend to be some kind of brutal tyrant.”

“Do you mean to suggest that I am not a brutal tyrant?”

He wraps his arms around you, and it’s all you can do not to audibly sigh in relief; he may not be radiating heat, but it still helps. “I don’t think a brutal tyrant would pretend to discipline a slave instead of actually doing it. I don’t think a brutal tyrant would throw himself off a cliff to save two teenagers he barely knows.”

“Hmm.” The mirth has left his eyes, and you’re sorry to see it go; you can’t really tell what emotion it is that’s taken its place. “Would a brutal tyrant lead a conquering army to Midgard?” he asks. “Murder his sire and attempt to destroy the realm of his birth?”

That hits hard. Why do you keep forgetting? Or maybe you're not forgetting — maybe you’re just choosing to ignore the facts. It’s almost impossible, sometimes, to remember that he’s that Loki, the one from New York… “Yeah, I guess so.”

“Do you know how many of your kind perished, when I last visited Earth?”

“I do.” What sort of point is he trying to make? “I get it, you’re terrifying.”

“I am,” he replies, sighing and tucking your head under his chin, “and I don’t believe that you do.”

 


 

You wake up shaking in the middle of the night, the bed beside you empty. Immediately, your mind begins to race; did something happen? Is he safe? Are you safe? Pushing yourself up on your elbows, you peer towards the far end of the room, dimly lit by firelight. “Loki?”

“Here.”

He’s sitting cross-legged by the fire, a knife-blade glinting in his hands. Jesus, you think, why do I keep waking up to people holding knives? It really says a lot about your current quality of life.

“You should sleep,” you tell him. “Tomorrow’s a really big day. I know you’re tired.”

“What woke you?”

“Well… it’s cold.” You feel like you’re admitting something shameful. Sorry for my warm, squishy body, I guess. “It’s really cold, and you weren’t here, so…”

“You can come here, if you like.”

Don’t mind if I do. Dragging as many blankets as you can manage, you pad across the room, wincing as the cold seeps through your socks. “I wish I had a thermometer,” you tell him. “I want to know how cold it actually is here.”

“We’ve actually experienced a great deal of fluctuation in the temperature; it is only near-freezing, now, but you are able to feel it more keenly without the charms at full effect.”

“What? It’s been colder than this?”

Smiling faintly, Loki sets the knife aside and opens his arms, leaning back against one of the chairs as you settle into his lap. You have a sudden, intrusive memory of when you were a little kid, curling up under piles of warm, toasty laundry, fresh out of the dryer… that’s probably what you look like right now.

“What’s going to happen tomorrow, Loki?”

The bigger question, the one you’re afraid to really ask, still hangs in the air - what happens after tomorrow?

“I assume you’ve never been on a hunt,” he says. “We will go into the forest and track down Mánagarmr; he is apparently something of a menace, terrorizing many of the smaller forest villages. It will be up to me to actually kill him, of course.”

“Is that… is that really feasible? Don’t get mad,” you hurry to add, knowing how easily offended he gets, “but I’ve never seen a giant wolf-monster before, and I’ve also never seen you fight.”

“It is feasible, but that does not mean that it will be easy. It would be less complicated if not for you; I’ll have to keep you with me, now that Þjazi has taken an interest in you. Leaving you here would be a risk.”

“I want to go anyway.” Damn, is that really true? It must be - you said it without even thinking. “We both go down together, you know? I feel like I should be there.”

“Ridiculous,” Loki says. “You should not be here at all, and you’re addled if you think that you have any place hunting for a warg—”

“Does that mean you’re gonna send me home sometime soon?”

He falls silent.

Hah, checkmate.

“Stay out of my way,” he finally says. “When we are out there, mortal, no matter what happens, you are to remain wherever I leave you. Do you understand? You are not to interfere in any way.”

Like I’d voluntarily try to take on a monster alien-wolf, you think. Yeah, right. “Okay.”

You’re warming up a little, now, though you can’t imagine that he’s very comfortable in this position. Going out in the snow tomorrow is going to suck. Then you remember that you haven’t really had anything to eat, either, and you’re just about to ask about breakfast—

“If I die tomorrow,” Loki says, “you should throw yourself upon the mercy of Býleistr. His interest should be enough to keep you shielded from the others for a time, and Heimdall might eventually spot you and send aid.”

“You aren’t going to die. Don’t say that.”

“Well, I certainly hope not, mortal, but it is best to plan for contingencies. If I survive, as I plan to do, then things are going to get very complicated, and quickly; there will be no choice but to accept me as king, and any who dare to oppose my throne at that point must be dealt with, and swiftly.”

“Helblindi,” you say, rubbing your cheek against the fabric of his tunic. It feels nice; a little rough, but nice. “You’re worried about Helblindi.”

“‘Worried’ is a bit of a strong term, but yes - Helblindi seems troublesome. I am relying on Fárbauti and Skaði to keep him in line. If he has no support, then perhaps he will be too fearful to make a move against me.”

“This is exhausting. All this drama.” You yawn, your capacity for middle-of-the-night scheming entirely used up. “Bed?”

“You sleep,” he says. “I’m fine as I am.”

 


 

You’re pretty sure he didn’t sleep at all, based on the dark circles under his eyes and the way he’s pacing around the room when you wake up a few hours later. It’s like someone who stays up all night studying for a really important final exam… only much, much worse.

“I have food for you,” he says. “Finding a way to feed you in the hall with the others seemed complicated, and I thought that you might prefer the privacy.”

“You thought right,” you tell him, shoving the covers away and rushing across the cold floor to put on your boots. “They’d probably expect me to eat scraps off of the floor, or something stupid like that.”

Loki’s smirk is teasing, but tired. “Likely so. And to think you once protested eating from my hand.”

“I was still processing how screwed-up this whole ‘human pet’ thing is. Still think that, by the way - not a fan of being a human pet.”

“I know. Eat.”

Your appetite isn’t exactly fantastic, despite the fact that you should be starving right now. It must be the nerves. “Is this a hard-boiled egg?” you ask suspiciously, picking one up from the bowl on the table and hefting it in your hand. It’s really big - really big, and kind of weirdly elongated.

“I believe so, yes.”

That’s not exactly convincing. Expecting it to taste weird or bitter or fishy, you’re a bit shocked when it tastes exactly like a normal egg. It’s probably best that you don’t know what kind of freakish alien-creature it comes from, you decide. Ignorance is bliss.

“And… is this milk supposed to be pink, or…?”

That actually manages to earn a laugh. “There are berries crushed in it for flavoring,” he says. “I’ve had some; it’s surprisingly good.”

It reminds you of watery yogurt. Not too bad. A little more tart than you’d like your milk to be, maybe, but not too bad. “Have you eaten?”

“No, I will dine with the others. Eat, and then we will freshen up. You should always look your best when meeting your destiny, you know.”

 


 

‘Freshening up’ doesn’t turn out to mean a full bath in this case, and you tell yourself that you aren’t actually disappointed. Really, though, you’re already courting disaster - might as well get naked one last time before you potentially get eaten by a monster, right?

Girl, your priorities are getting really messed up.

You aren’t a fan of how judgy your inner voice has been getting, lately.

The hall has been arranged with two long tables down either side, while you’re with Loki at the head table, in full view of the entire room. There are a lot of curious looks aimed your way, and you’re pretty sure you notice a few double-takes at the collar around your neck. He’s decided to keep you right at his feet, which you’re pretty grateful for, considering the fact that there are a bunch of mangy, lion-sized dogs fighting over bones in the middle of the floor.

Truth be told, you’d scramble right up into his lap, if you thought you’d be able to get away with it.

You’re also grateful that Býleistr is sitting on the other side of you, because you’re at least relatively certain that he won’t decided to just randomly squash you for the heck of it, which seems like something Helblindi might do.

But despite Loki’s best efforts to make it seem like you’re not really worth mentioning, you keep getting brought up in the conversation. Gangr, in particular, seems way too interested for comfort. “What good fortune you have, Loki Laufeyson,” he says, “to not only have found a mortal in your possession, but to have found a female, and one so young.”

Creep, you internally shriek, practically clinging to Loki’s leg. All at once, you remember all of the comments about mortals being kept to ‘warm beds,’ and you remember Loki telling you that Gangr is really ancient and skeevy, and you remember how tense Loki’d become as soon as he took notice of you - hell, how tense even Býleistr had become…

“Fortune favors me.” Loki puts his hand on your head. Maybe when he gets all of his magic back, you can ask him for a charm that would let you punch people twice your size without breaking your hand. Some of these giants definitely need a solid punch or two.

“She looks mouthy,” Gangr continues, and even though you’re hidden from seeing him, his grating voice makes your skin crawl. “It is all in the eyes, you know. You can see when they are thinking. The last mortal I had - oh, it was nearly two millennia ago, now - she was a bitter little creature. Spiteful. They need discipline.”

Helblindi speaks up from the other side of Býleistr, curiosity evident in his voice. “What became of yours? Did it learn?”

“Alas, no.” He laughs, and you see Býleistr sneak a peek down at you; it’s clear that he’s heard this story before. “The fool thing tried to flee. The dogs got her. A waste, really. And then the war started, of course, and our supply of mortals dwindled.”

Poor woman, you think, your stomach turning. Imagine being here, with no magical savior, no support…

‘Throw yourself upon the mercy of Býleistr,’ Loki’d said; now, you understand why. On the spectrum of creepy giants, he isn’t looking quite so rough these days.

Þjazi laughs from the other side of Loki, too close for comfort. “I will never understand why some of them tried to flee - an exercise in futility. You must keep a close eye on that one.”

“Perhaps you simply do not understand how to handle mortals,” Loki says, “as mine has never attempted to evade me. In any case, I have more pressing things on my mind.”

“Such as being devoured by Mánagarmr?” Helblindi asks, and you hear a dull thwack as he slams his mug down onto the table.

“You have never even left Jotunheim, have you, boy? It is easy to speak boldly while you still cling to your mother’s skirts.”

“So says Loki Odinson, who all the realms know clung so tightly to the skirts of Frigga Allmother.”

You can feel his temper swell, but he settles back into his seat instead of lashing out, his legs splayed wide. Casual power stance. You’re growing weirdly attracted to that.

“My prince,” Skaði says, “there is no call for these squabbles—”

“Silence, Skaði. My quarrel with my brother here is just - or have you forgotten so quickly that I am meant to be king?”

“It is time.” You weren’t expecting to hear Heiðr speak, and apparently nobody else was, either; silence falls. “It is time to go forth to seek Mánagarmr,” she says. “The Völva has spoken.”

 


 

You’re clinging to the mane of a very, very shaggy, massive pony, one of Gjálp’s arms wrapped around your waist. A fall from this height would be extremely unpleasant - you really wish you got to ride with Loki. Though, maybe it’s best that you aren’t with Loki, considering he’s the one most likely to be caught up in a battle sometime soon.

The woods are eerily quiet, and every cracking branch and errant whistle of the wind puts you more on-edge. You’d imagined that there would be a whole hunting posse sent out into the forest to hunt for this monster-wolf, but no - it’s just Loki, you and Gjálp, Býleistr, and Hrossþjófr, who’s still looking a little under-the-weather. All of the other giants hung back at this huge hunting outpost at the end of the road; you guess they must be waiting to see if Loki crawls out of this one alive.

“Where are we going?” you whisper. “How do we know where to go?”

“Scent,” Gjálp replies. “Inn-Illi is tracking his scent, I’d expect.”

“Oh.”

The ground starts to slope downwards after a while, and there are a few ragged spires of rock jutting up through the trees here and there; based on your limited knowledge of topography, you assume that you’re probably headed towards another river. Don’t wild animals usually hang out near water sources? It’s the easiest place to find prey.

This giant wolf will probably consider you prey. Ugh.

Eventually, the horses stop near the edge of a steep dip in the terrain, one that looks particularly tricky to navigate. You’re shaking like a leaf - partly from the cold, partly from stress. There’s a little bit of a sixth sense warning you that something in the woods isn’t quite right; maybe it’s the fact that there aren’t any other animal sounds.

Loki frowns. “There is no need for the rest of you to come any further.” He swings down from his horse, resting his hand on the hilt of the dagger in his belt as he edges closer to the rocky ditch. There’s also a knife strapped to his arm, just inside the sleeve of his tunic - you know this because you’re the one who put it there.

No magic this time, only the man.

To say that you’re worried would be an understatement.

“The cave is further along the creekbank,” Býleistr says. “He is certain to be near.”

“I know.” Loki pulls a little bottle out of one of his saddlebags and takes a swig, then grins. “There are benefits to being a sorcerer, Little Brother.”

You’re going to have to talk to him about all this potion-drinking he seems to be doing lately.

Then he heads down into the creekbed, without so much as a wave goodbye.

 


 

It feels like it’s been hours waiting for some sort of sign, but according to Gjálp, it’s only been a few moments. No one is doing much talking, which makes the whole thing seem that much more ominous.

A howl suddenly rings through the woods, startling you so badly that you nearly fall off your horse. Hrossþjófr slides from his saddle, giving his own pony’s flank a reassuring pat. “That is no wolf,” he declares. “That is Loki Laufeyson.”

Another howl comes only a moment later, and his face is grim. “That is Mánagarmr.”

In the silence of the still forest, it isn’t exactly difficult to hear when the snarling starts, or the trees cracking as something - or someone - presumably crashes into them. It’s too much; you have to see… He could be dying, not very far away, while you sit here. You’re tired of waiting around, helpless.

“I want to get down,” you say. The howling seems to get louder as soon as you say it, and your adrenaline is cold in your veins.

“I understand that you are concerned, In-Unga,” Gjálp begins, “but the king has given me strict orders, and besides that, it would be the highest dishonor to interfere—”

But being tiny has its advantages, and you manage to duck under her arm, tumbling to the ground; the snow breaks most of your fall, but it’s still extremely unpleasant. Move, you tell yourself. Move, move. He needs you.

Maybe the giants expect you to run away from the danger. Maybe that’s why it takes them a moment to react, and in that moment of delay, you run towards the sound, skidding and slipping on the icy stones that lead to the creek bed. You hear a snarl of rage that’s most definitely Loki - you’d recognize it anywhere. Somehow, you know that he’s hurt. You don’t question how you know, you just run.

“Stop, mortal!” Býleistr shouts. You’re probably going to get in trouble for ignoring a royal command later… if you survive.

You round a sharp corner, and nearly tumble off of a sharp drop-off - it’s most likely a waterfall, when the water is really flowing. Below you is… well, you don’t really know what you were expecting.

It’s a wolf.

It’s a really big, really angry-looking wolf. Your head is filled with a string of curses; the thing’s got to be at least ten feet tall, at the shoulder. Maybe taller. Its ears are pressed flat against its head, and it’s snarling, circling Loki in a weird sort of dance.

Oh, God. There are bones everywhere. This must be where it drags its meals back to feast.

Loki’s hands are empty. That’s bad. There’s a knife stuck in Mánagarmr’s shoulder - also bad. Where’s the other one? you think. Why doesn’t he have the other dagger?

The wolf darts to one side suddenly, and that’s when you spot the glint of the other knife, lying on the icy rock near the entrance to the cave that the wolf must call home. Crap. Crap crap crap.

And there’s blood on the snow, at least some of which must be Loki’s, judging by the way he’s clutching his shoulder. Without his knives or his magic, what has he got? It isn’t like he can just wrestle the thing to the ground.

He feints to one side, then rushes forward; he’s trying to work his way closer to the knife, and somehow, Mánagarmr seems to realize it, too. The wolf’s lips peel back in a snarl, and you can tell by the way he’s pawing at the snow that it’s gearing up to pounce. One bite with those teeth…

You’ve got to do something.

You jump to your feet and wave your arms. Loki will get to the knife in time, right? Too late to back down, now. “Hey!” you yell, and you nearly faint when the wolf’s head snaps towards you, its shiny black eyes narrowed. “Hey, wolf!”

Loki glances up at you then, his face full of pure, abject rage. No time to worry about that now.

There are rocks everywhere, and in your moment of recklessness, you decide that throwing one at the monster-wolf makes about as much sense as anything else that’s happening right now. Mánagarmr’s growl rattles the snow from the trees as it stalks towards you, its hackles raised. One good jump, and it could probably reach you…

You stagger backwards, then crouch to feel for another rock - not that the first one actually did anything, but still. Turning to run seems like an even worse idea, because it’s not like you can outrun that thing.

And then Loki leaps onto its back, burying the second dagger into the thick fur at the base of Mánagarmr’s neck; it seems to be more of an annoyance than anything else, but it does distract it from you for a moment, and it throws Loki from its back and charges towards him, its maw gaping—

Loki thrusts his bare hand forward, ice appearing from seemingly nowhere to encase his arm in a long blade as the wolf’s momentum carries it forward; you scream as its teeth clamp down on Loki’s arm, but then it staggers back and collapses into the snow, blood pooling around its mouth.

As for the king, he’s on his knees, his arm hanging uselessly by his side, dripping melting ice and blood into the dirt-churned snow. You practically throw yourself down to the basin floor, rushing towards him. It worked, it worked, he did it…

“Oh, God,” you say, your hands fluttering uselessly around the gory mess of his arm and shoulder, “it’s okay; we can fix this, just—”

He grabs your wrist with his free hand, yanking you close. “I told you,” he snaps, “to stay away.”

You’re pretty sure he’s just getting started, but the other giants rush into the basin, then; they must’ve been waiting for either Loki or the wolf to die, which is a pretty stupid set of rules, in your opinion. Gjálp wrests you away from him, and Hrossþjófr tears off a strip of his cloak and is just beginning to bandage the wounds when Loki slumps to the ground.

“Go carry the word that Loki Laufeyson is victorious,” Býleistr says, “and that he is injured; have healers ready for him.”

“Yes, sire.”

“And Gjálp? Tell no one that the mortal interfered.”

She nods, and despite your protests, she throws you over her shoulder and hurries back to the ponies. “They will watch over him,” she says. “Please, In-Unga, stop this struggling.” You’re tossed across the saddle, and then she climbs up behind you, and the breakneck ride back to the outpost begins.

 


 

It’s chaos, after that.

Once she delivers her message to the giants at the hunting outpost, Gjálp turns to ride for Þrymheimr; apparently, she’s considered to be one of the faster riders around, and so the unfortunate job of delivering news of Loki’s success to Þjazi and the rest of the court falls to her. You’re pretty worried about how they’ll take it.

You’re also starting to worry that maybe leaping out into the snow without one of Loki’s extra-strength warming charms to keep you safe wasn’t such a good idea, because that sleepy, fuzzy feeling that you had when you first met him in the cave is starting to set back in. It’s the worst possible déjà vu.

“Gjálp,” you say, trying to sound as calm and collected as possible. “I think I’m freezing to death.”

“What?”

“Freezing to death,” you repeat, wrapping as much of her cloak around you as you possibly can. “It’s pretty bad.”

“Oh, by Hvergelmir,” she cries, “will the trials of this day never end?” She cradles you closer to her with one arm, leaning forward as the horse speeds across the ice and snow. “Hang on, In-Unga, we are very nearly there. Just hang on.”

 


 

You’re left bundled up in front of the fire in Loki’s room, instructed not to move until someone comes for you. Really, you’re too cold and stiff and aching to move even if you wanted to; what the hell were you thinking, using yourself to bait some freakishly-enormous wolf? And you apparently ‘interfered’ in some sacred rite, which is a big enough deal for Býleistr to try to cover it up...

Loki’s going to kill you.

But if you’d done nothing, he might not even be alive to kill you… so at least there’s that.

 


 

When he storms into the room hours and hours later, his arm heavily bandaged and his eyes flashing fire, you instinctively try to scramble to your feet, tripping awkwardly as the blankets tangle around your legs. “Loki,” you exclaim, “thank God, you—”

“I told you. I told you, you wretched little thing, to stay where I left you. Did I not?” He stalks closer, and you take a hesitant step backwards. “You have interfered with my fate, you have disobeyed me yet again, and you’ve very nearly gotten yourself eaten.”

“I saved you!”

He’s in your face, and there’s really nowhere left for you to go; the stone wall is right behind you, and judging by the vibes you’re getting off of Loki, he isn’t about to let you wiggle away. “You should by all rights be dead now, mortal, for your ceaseless stupidity—”

You raise your hands to shove him away, an instinct that still remains strong, despite how futile you know it will be, but before you can do anything, he lunges.

Loki’s long fingers are wrapped around your jaw, and you’re starting to grow concerned that he might’ve forgotten that you’re not quite as sturdy as everyone else on this godforsaken planet, because it hurts.

“Go on, mortal,” he snaps, his crimson eyes sparking. “Strike me, I beg of you.” Your hands wrap around his wrist as he pushes you back against the cold stone wall. “Give me yet another reason.”

His teeth are bared, and he looks slightly unhinged, so maybe that’s why you panic; instead of doing the smart thing and going limp and maybe even begging for forgiveness, you flail out and kick him in the ankle.

It can’t possibly have hurt him, as invulnerable as he seems to be, but Loki lets out what sounds like a curse, eyes narrowing, and then he hisses your name, and then his lips crash into yours.

For someone who typically seems so exact about everything he does, it’s a surprisingly messy, urgent sort of kiss - his teeth scrape against your lip, his tongue pressing into your mouth. You could swear that his hand is burning your skin as his grip softens, sliding from your jaw and down your throat.

Oh, no. This is one of the things you’d feared in the beginning, isn’t it? The crazy god-king deciding to take advantage? Only…

Loki breaks away, his hand still holding you against the wall, and you’d never imagined that crimson eyes could look quite so lost.

When he finally speaks, his voice is strained, but surprisingly soft. “Kiss me,” he whispers. “Must I order you?”

“No,” you reply, voice equally hushed. “I just… I’m… I’m afraid—”

“Of me.” Something flickers in those eyes, then, but his expression hardens before you have a chance to wonder at what it might be. “Good,” he says, “you should be—“

And maybe it’s because your brain is still a little scrambled from the suddenness of the kiss, or because you can tell he’s about to start ranting again (and you really aren’t in the mood to listen to it). No matter the cause, when you reach up and seize him by the hair, he lets you pull him forward without any struggle.

And when you kiss him, you guess he must be in shock, because it takes him a second or two to respond.

Loki drags you with him as he stumbles back towards the bed, hissing as he lands on his injured arm. It doesn’t seem to distract him for long, though, and as you fall on top of him, he cradles your head and guides your lips back to his. He smells so, so good, like sweat and snow… they aren’t even things you knew you liked, and now, you can’t imagine ever getting enough. Don’t stop, your mind whispers. If you stop, he might never kiss you again, and right now, that’s one of the worst things you can imagine.

You wish that his arm wasn’t injured, and that he could touch you. You wish that you weren’t wearing a million layers, because feeling his skin pressed against yours suddenly seems like the most desirable thing in the world. Brushing his hair aside, you pepper kisses down his jaw, his throat… Loki makes a strange sound and slides his hand down to your lower back, pressing you against him.

Okay, so he likes that. He really likes that.

When kissing his neck earns you another appreciative roll of his hips, you sink your teeth into his skin, and Loki groans. “Wench,” he says. “Disobedient—” Tugging your hair, he pulls you away from his neck, capturing your mouth again. “Disobedient little wench,” he continues as soon as he breaks away, his eyes dark.

“You like it,” you whisper accusingly, twining your fingers in his hair.

“Perhaps.” He fumbles around for the covers, dragging them over your back, trapping in the warmth. “If you’d been eaten, I never would’ve forgiven you.”

He’s exhausted, and you’re exhausted, and you rest your head on his chest, smiling slightly at the way his heart is pounding. Mine, too, you think.

“Same.”