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He runs through thick snow, the wind in his face— biting at blue cheeks strained by tears. Lungs burning, chest heaving, his aching legs finally meet ice too hard to plow through and he falls, then lies there, trembling.

His body won’t move anymore, its last reserves drained. He fought so hard, for so many years, yet this is how it ends. As a failure, killed and left for dead on the ice without any recognition or anyone to mourn him.

Snow crunches behind him, compressed under heavy boots, “Finally.”

Loki doesn’t look. He whimpers and pulls his own bare and bruised legs up, curling around them; a last attempt to look small and helpless, hoping to inspire pity.

“None of that now,” a big glowed hand grabs his arm, “considering the fight and chase you gave me, I know you're not weak.” Loki gets heaved to his feet, stumbles, then comes face to face with blue eyes and a cocky smile.

Indigo hands push against a broad armored chest, “…If you let me go, Odinson, then I promise you I—"

Odinson squeezes his arm and catches his other wrist, immobilizing him further. “A liar and a mage, that’s what you are,” he pulls Loki closer, chest to chest, misty breath twirling and mixing between them, “But you'll be well taken care of in Asgard, this I promise you, so come along quietly.”

Loki hisses and kicks out, tries to get free, but his magic is exhausted, sputtering from his fingertips like acid drops, and Odinson is too strong, stronger than a small Jotun. “I will not be your slave!”

Odinson gives him a friendly smile, but there's darkness in his eyes. “Had you been caught by anyone but me, you would already be dead.”

Loki pales and stops struggling. It’s easy to imagine; his blood straining the ice like so many of his kinsmen’s, body broken and left to rot. He doesn’t want to die. He fought so hard to stay alive, he doesn’t want to die. Not now. Not like this; useless and forgotten.

“Given the number of brave Aesir warriors you have sent to Valhalla, I should strike you down.”

Loki's eyes flicker from Odinson's hands, rough gloves dyed with bloody red, to his battle scarred armor and up to his ice blue eyes. On the battlefield he had carved a crimson trench through the Jotnar, so why spare Loki?

“Then why are you letting me live?”

“Because you still have use.”

With those disquieting words, Odinson grabs Loki and swings him over his shoulders like a sack of grain. Loki squawks; it’s undignified, but his complaint turns into a scream when Odinson swings his hammer and takes off.

xXx


“What's this then?” Fandral asks, quick to stand with one hand on his sword Fimbuldraugr, when Thor lands back at their camp. Sif and Volstagg turns from warming their hands at the fire to watch him too.

Thor turns enough to let his friends see the skinny Jotun hanging, seemingly passed out, over his shoulder. Thor doubts the crafty mage is actually unconscious. He eluded Thor for years, like a shadow always out of reach, until the final battle where his magic and then his luck ran out.

“…Is that—" Sif asks with wide eyes.

“Is he dead? We thought you'd gone after him to slay him.” Volstagg says, bending slightly and tilting his head to get a better look at Thor's captive.

“Nay, he still lives.” Thor slaps his captive's backside with a grin, “Led me on a merry chase through the tundra too, he did. He ran for miles despite his wounds and fatigue.”

Fandral comes closer too, “Aye, I'll believe that. Damn thing almost took my head off at Fjeldskrig—never even saw him.”

“How'd you know it was him then?” Volstagg asks.

“It was his, you know,” Fandral wiggles his fingers, “his magic's green. Never seen that with another Jotun. It came far too close to my neck, so I got a good look.”

Sif has not looked away from Thor, and her face is hard. “You can’t be thinking of keeping him? We don’t take prisoners, not now!”

“Political ones we do.” Thor answers as he maneuvers his captive around to carry him in his arms instead. The sorcerer's head lolls and he doesn’t stir, but Thor gazes down at him with suspicion anyway. This is someone he best not take his eyes off, lest he end up with an ice dagger in his heart.

“Political?” Sif repeats, face scrunched up. They have taken Jotnar prisoners for information before, but the war is as good as over.

“Aye, look at his slægtslinjer.” Thor nods towards the mage's face and bare torso, his clothes left as nothing but tatters after the battle.

His friends do. Volstagg is the first who notices. “Well I'll be damned. Those look like Laufey's.”

“He’s a prince?!” Fandral exclaims.

Sif is silent.

“He is related to Laufey in some way at least, and may prove useful because of it.” Thor says.

“And if he doesn't? If he's not useful?” Sif lifts her head and looks Thor in the eyes, serious. “Will you still take responsibility for him?

Thor presses his lips together and breathes out through his nose. “Aye, he will be my spoil of war, my responsibility.”

Sif makes a face at Thor saying he'll take a spoil, and Fandrall looks uncomfortable too. While not outlawed, it's not a done thing in their generation; the pillaging and taking of body slaves from the conquered people. Volstagg merely looks thoughtful though. “That'll certainly make him less likely to get killed on sight.”

Thor nods, and shares a look of understanding with his friends. The Jotun sorcerer is not for Thor's bed, not like that, but he might be a key to bargain peace. The war has been long, cold and bitter. They're all ready to go home, but without official surrender the hostilities could pick up again once the Jotnar recover.

“I hope you know what you're doing Thor.” Sif says, as he turns to head towards his tent. Thor doesn’t respond, but silently, he hopes so too.

xXx


Loki wakes to a tent flap being moved and light hitting his face. He hisses and sits up with a jolt, unsure when he had fallen asleep—of when pretending to be unconscious had become real. There's a painful throb in his head and a sharp pain in his abdomen. For a moment the world spins and Loki is sure he'll black out again.

“Ah… You're awake.”

Squinting, Loki slowly focuses on his captor, standing in the tent's opening, light steaming in behind him— turning the flyaways of his golden hair into a glowing halo.

Odinson takes a deep breath and musters a smile, “That’s good. We have much to discuss.”

Eyes narrowing, Loki ignores his smarting body and pulls back as far as he can, only then noticing the manacles and chains. Daring to look away from Odinson for a moment, he lifts his wrists to study them, and sneers when he sees they are made to suppress his magic. A rare item; odd to have just lying around in a war camp. “How long have you been planning this?”

Odinson pauses, then slowly sets down a bowl of gruel on the rickety table. “Since I saw you up close for the first time, seven moons ago.”

A cold fist squeezes Loki's guts, but he still looks up and lifts his eyebrows in something that is more genuine surprise than the mockery he aims for. “At Skjaldefell?”

Odinson nods, eyes locked with Loki’s, “Your furs were almost as torn as they are now, and you were throwing green fire left and right, blazing like a beacon on the field of battle.” He sounds almost revenant; it unnerves Loki. “Your people rallied around you, and that day you took back Felthorst Len.”

“You sound very admiring for a man who was beaten back.”

Odison looks down, breaking their eye contact. “Maybe so, but that was only one battle. We won the war.”

With a snarl Loki throws himself forwards, chains snapping taut and stopping his hands, curled like claws, inches from Odinson's startled face. “The war is not over!” Loki spits, fear forgotten, struggling to get free; to draw blood.

His fury doesn’t move Odinson, who merely looks at him for a long moment, then inches around him until he can sit down on a chair placed just out of Loki's reach. “Believe what you will, but your forces have been decimated and it's no secret that your people starve.”

“We were fixing that problem until Asgard came to meddle!” Loki says with venom.

“By taking fertile lands that are not yours to touch.” Thor counters tiredly, like he has had this conversation before, though Loki can’t think what Jotun would have stopped to listen.

Loki snorts. “The Midgardians are little more than beasts, their lifespans as short as common mice. Why should we not take what they can't protect?”

Odinson gives him a look. “And the Alfheim settlements your people invaded?”

“...” There is no good response to that, and truthfully, Loki doesn’t know what possessed his father to mess with the integrated parts of the Nine Realms. Midgard everyone had expected to get away with taking, her people small and feeble, inconsequential, but apparently Odin Allfather had grown a conscience in his old age. Or perhaps it was merely an excuse. Whatever the case, the war is not really about Midgard any longer. It hasn’t been for a long time.

“Well, it matters not.” Odinson says, once more picking up the bowl of gruel and handing it to Loki. “Eat, regain your strength while I tell you what will happen.”

Despite not remembering the last time he ate, nausea rolls Loki's belly at the sight of food. “You want me to put up an energetic struggle when you take me? Can't get off otherwise?” Loki asks, voice like daggers, “Don’t worry Odinson, I will slit your throat before that. This I promise.”

Perhaps the fact that Loki takes the offered bowl and immediately digs in undermines his threats a bit, but Odinson doesn’t comment. Unwanted from birth, Loki has gotten nothing but scraps his whole life, and the threat of starvation is a quick teacher in not turning away food. He ignores his twisting stomach and eats.

Odinson lets him finish half of his meal before speaking. “Firstly, you'll be happy to know that I have no plans to force you to my bed.”

“The talk with your friends suggests otherwise.” Loki says between mouthfuls.

“So you were awake. I thought as much.”

“Careless of you to lie to me now then.”

Odison holds up a hand, “I wasn't lying. While I have declared you my spoil of war, it is merely to ensure your safety. A temporary measure.” He lowers his hand again and looks Loki over, “There are many who would happily take revenge on you, for your part in the war, but they will not touch what is mine.”

Loki huffs and runs a lean finger around the bowl to get up the last dregs of food, “So I'll be your property. Lovely.”

Odinson just smirks at his tone, “I thought you'd prefer warm rooms and regular meals, plus potential political standing, over rotting away in Asgard’s dungeons, but the latter can certainly be arranged.”

Loki glares at Odinson, seeing double for a moment. Closing his eyes doesn’t help much. The food he gulped down presses against his esophagus, his chest burns, yet he still barely refrains from licking the bowl. It would be undignified.

He wouldn't admit it under the pains of torture, but what Odinson is offering sounds frankly amazing, much better than anything Loki has so far known in his life. Of course Odinson also suffers from the delusion that Loki has some sort of value to Laufey, or Jotunheim, but it's not a misconception Loki is about to disabuse him of. If he plays along he'll be able to regain his strength in Asgard and then find some way to run off before Odinson realizes his mistake.

If the war is truly over, and they lost, then it's not like he'll be welcomed home anyway…

Loki's silence is answer enough as to what he chooses, and with shame burning in his belly, Loki puts his empty bowl down. “Gilded or not, a cage is a cage.” He brings his hands up, clinking the manacles together. “I don’t suppose these will come off just because I'll play along?”

Odinson shakes his head. “I'm afraid not, but I'll speak to the smiths of Nidavellir about forging something lighter for you.”

“Custom jewelry,” Loki bats his eyes instead of showing fang, “I feel so loved already.” If Odinson is all that stands between Loki and death, then it's better to make him an ally, pride be damned. Loki has come too far to give up now, he can suffer a little more loss of dignity.

Odinson doesn’t react to Loki’s quip. “There is one last thing…” He says, eyes assessing, “Tell me your name.”

With a smile like a blade, and still seated, Loki puts a hand on his chest and bends into a mockery of a bow. “Loki Laufeyson, third prince of Jotunheim.” He just promised he wouldn't, but he can’t help it. He bears his fangs in a feral grin. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

xXx

They're still sorting through the dead on the battlefield, shrouding the bodies of allies and friends and dragging the Jotnar to trenches dug in the glacier ice. They don’t have enough wood here for pyres.

There's nothing that can disguise the pungent smell of mud and blood hanging in the air, but Thor consciously stirs his captive (Loki, Thor knows his name now) through the camp on a route that takes them far from the field. It's a useless gesture perhaps, since Loki had been on that same field, fighting like a man with nothing to lose, less than a day before.

Still. The way he staggers along behind Thor, legs trembling, eyes unfocused and body and clothes torn, makes for a pitiful sight. Loki Layfeyson is a prisoner of war, but Thor feels no desire to gloat about his victory.

The healers’ tent is near. Good. Thor knows he's not imagining the way Loki is getting progressively more unsteady.

Eir is in the tent, as expected. Though she is the senior healer in the palace, she follows Thor on campaigns. Only the best for the crown prince—or as good as it gets in the middle of a frozen nowhere at least.

Her sharp gaze lands and narrows on Thor the moment he steps inside. He holds the flap open so Loki can stumble in after him, gripping Loki's arm to keep him steady when it looks like he will tilt. “Eir, this is prince Loki. He acquirers your help.”

“Give him here.” Eir says, brisk, with not a moment's of hesitation, even when asked to treat a Jotun.

Loki gets pulled over and then lowered onto a cot. No sooner is he horizontal than his head lolls and his eyes roll back. Eir curses loudly and Thor pales. He had known Loki was injured, but not how bad—

“How long has it been since he got his head wound?!” Eir demands, feeling Loki's skull, fingers parting matted black hair.

“I, oh—uhm, several hours?”

Two younger healers join them, and Eir starts snapping at them. “Ready the operation table, and the soul forge. Get me szhculde herb and hembane,” she whips around and fixes Thor with a stormy glare, “And you—get out.”

“But—”

“—Get out of our way and pray your new Jotun is stronger than he looks.”

Eir's tone is far from comforting, and Thor's gaze flickers to Loki, his lax face, gaunt cheeks and long lashes, wondering if…

Another barked order from Eir, and Thor leaves.

He threads a restless path outside the healing tent, shoulders tight, as he waits for news. Thor's own body is hurting from the battle, exhaustion nipping at his heels, but he is still too wound up to rest. This unforeseen snag is just another stresser that makes his heart pump faster and blood rush in his ears.

The Jotun mage, Laufeyson—Loki, his mind whispers—is not a friend to Thor or even an ally, but he is under Thor's protection. Had Thor struck him down in battle it would have been different; a clean, honorable death. Not this messy aftermath. He has hopes resting on Loki, and though he hasn't put all his eggs in one basket, Thor would hate to be foiled here.

 

Hours later, Sif joins him, carrying two mugs of hot bitter tea. “Here, I put honey in,” She says, uncommonly kind, as she hands a mug to Thor. “Any news?” She nods towards the tent.

“No.” Thor blows on the tea and watches steam rise in lazy tendrils towards the iron grey sky.

Sif hums and sits down on a crate of supplies, next to the one Thor uses. “If you were going to take a breather away from responsibilities, I would suggest going to your own tent.”

Thor had wondered why no one's been by to bother him; seems like it's Sif’s work. “I'm too restless for sleep my friend, and besides…”

Thor turns and Sif follows his gaze to the healing tent.

“You don’t trust him.” It's not a question.

Thor huffs, slightly amused. “I trust him like I trust a viper in the grass: to strike when the best opportunity presents itself.”

“Why are you doing this Thor?” Sif looks at him, brown eyes black in the dim light, “do you truly believe Laufey will come to heel, merely because we have his kin hostage?”

“His son,” Thor corrects, “But no. I'm not hoping for anything that miraculous.”

“Then what…?”

Thor presses his lips together and turns the mug in his hands, around and around, motion repetitive and calming. “It’s a long game plan, but I think prince Loki's good for it. Even with head trauma he seemed quick witted.”

“That doesn't actually explain anything.”

Sighing, Thor drinks the last dregs of his tea. “Just trust me Sif.”

It's a tall request, and Thor can see Sif’s jaw go taut. The thing is, if he actually explained, he doubts she would agree with him. What Thor aims to do is not without personal costs to himself, though after meeting and talking to Loki, Thor has allowed cautious optimism to fill him. He might not give away as much as he had feared.

“Fine. Keep your plans to yourself for now, but don’t think I won’t find out.” Sif says, standing up once more and dusting snow off her legs.

“You'll find out in time.” Thor says, which is true enough. Everyone will. His plan is counting on it.
Sif gives him a last dubious look, “Get some rest.” She says, then wanders off to her own duties; aside from that of checking on her prince.

Thor leans back and watches the snowflakes falling until he doses off.

 

It's not long after that Eir appears from the tent. Thor shakes himself and stands to face her before she can say anything; he had not truly slept; rarely does on campaigns. “How fares he?”

Eir's expression is tight as always. “He lives, to my surprise. Internal bleeding in both his head and abdomen, broken and fractured bones, bruised organs… I wager his magic kept him alive for as long as he had access to it.”

Thor's heart drops. “So when I shackled him…?”

“Yes. He started deteriorating.” From her apron pocket Eir draws out the shackles. “I removed them so he could heal, but I'll advise you to put them back on before he wakes. Drained as it was, if his magic let him survive those injuries, then he is not to be trifled with.”

“I know.” Thor says as he takes the chains. It was only over the last decade that Loki, though no one knew his true identity, had appeared on the battlefield and made a name for himself. The mage, the sorcerer, the witch… Spoken off with fear and disgust, but also given the recognition of any fearsome foe. The war had been going, on and off with the occasional period of ceasefire, for centuries, so Thor doesn’t know why it was only now Loki had appeared.

Then again, he hadn’t known Laufey had a third son either.

“You can take him back to your own tent now, just be careful with him. He needs rest to heal, and food. The boy is malnourished.” Eir fixes him with a look, “No sexual activities for at least a week.”

Thor splutters “I won't! He’s—That's not—” Eir keeps staring at him, not a single muscle twitching in her face. Thor relents and lowers his head, cheeks burning. “I'll be careful with him.”

“Good.” Eir nods, then produces a small vial from her apron, filled with amber liquid, “and give him this when he's better, unless you want to get him with child.”

Thor chokes a bit, but pockets the vial. Most likely Eir is just enjoying making him miserable. Most likely…

It's not like children will be any concern at this stage, but it's good to know that Loki is healthy and fully developed despite his size. While Jotnar are all capable of fathering and carrying offspring indiscriminately, Thor hadn’t been sure if that would be the case with Loki. There aren't many small Jotnar left; they have not been valued during Laufey's regime, to put it mildly.

Thor goes to get Loki. His cheeks still feel warm when he gets back to his own tent.

xXx


Loki had not expected medical treatment but, according to the guards in front of Odinson's tent, it is good he got it, or he would have died. Apparently Loki has been asleep for three days, and during that time someone has washed and clothed him in soft cotton robes. They are red and white, with embroidered gold filigree around the edges, and probably the finest things Loki has ever worn.

The exit is blocked and the guards alert, so there'll be no escape right now. Preferably Loki would like to gather strength a bit longer before attempting to flee anyway. Not that he knows where he'd flee to…

Odinson is not around, so Loki takes to poking through his possessions, examining his new prison while he winds a lock of his own fluffy black hair around a finger; he never knew it could curl like that, or look so glossy. He thinks someone put oil in it.

He's busy picking the lock of a promising chest when his captor shows back up. “Ah, Odinson.” Loki says as he rises fluidly from his knees, not bothering to hide what he was doing.

With a sigh, Odinson looks from Loki to the chest and back, “Awake at last I see.”

“And feeling much better,” Loki confirms, “Looking much better too, I assume, with the apparel you've put me in.” Loki saunters closer, hips swaying, teeth bared, “Odd to bring such finery to the battlefield. Did you change your mind and decide to dress up your whore?”

Odinson gives him an odd look. “Those are pajamas… Mine.” Cheeks reddening, he looks away, “my mother packed them for me…”

“How heartwarming.” Loki says, voice dripping ice.

Odinson clears his throat, shakes himself and brings up a small bag. “I brought food.”

Loki's hands fly up to snatch the bag, fingers stopping just inches away. Loki flushes, cheeks staining purple, as he pulls back and wraps his arms around himself.

“I…”

“It's fine.” Odinson says, gesturing for Loki to sit on the cot, “Sit down, I'll make you a plate.”

Slowly, Loki sits, eyes stuck to the floor. Odinson is his enemy, someone Loki should do his utmost to kill, but in the short time they've known each other, he has been kinder to Loki than… than anyone else in recent memory. Loki doesn't trust it. No one is that nice without wanting something.

“Here, eat slowly or you'll be sick.” Odinson says as he hands Loki a plate. It's a very small portion. Loki's face drops. “You can have more,” Odinson assures, “Just see if you can stomach this first. You've only had broth for days.”

Broth is more than he's used to getting.

Loki tries to eat slowly, but it's hard. His eyes close in bliss at the fatty smoked fish that melts on his tongue. The bread is sweet and made with dark beer and soft rye. There are apple slices and cheese.

It's too good to serve a prisoner.

When the plate is empty, Loki is full. He casts a mournful look at the still bulging bag, but then sits back, posture straight, and folds his hands in his lap. The manacles clink together. “What do you want with me Odinson? Tell me the truth.”

Because of course there is something.

Still chewing, Odinson eyes him for a long moment, then takes a swig of beer before answering. “I want to broker peace between Jotunheim and Asgard.”

“Peace?” Loki repeats disbelievingly, though he would rather say ‘through me?!’

“If not peace, then at least a permanent truce. Real peace can come in time.”

“It's madness.” Loki says, shaking his head, then laughs, “You want peace? You, Thor Odinson, who pierced through to the heart of Jotunheim seventy years ago and restarted the war?”

The tent falls silent, Loki's mocking words hanging in the air. He expects Odinson to explode into anger, but the blond Aesir sits silently, shoulders hunched, gaze lowered. “…I was a fool,” He finally says, voice low, “A stupid, petty, boy who had never seen true war and thought I deserved respect as my birthright.”

Loki says nothing. He had not expected this.

On the table, Odinson clenches one fist around the other and continues. “My birthday celebration was ruined by a band of Jotnar sneaking into Asgard, in an attempt to reclaim the Casket of Ancient Winters.” He sighs, “In my rage, I listened to no reason, and so I stupidly ended a ninety years armistice.” His eyes grow distant, “I was banished for my actions.”

“Didn't last long, did it.” Loki says bitterly. Odinson has led Asgard’s armies for decades. Loki had, like many Jotun kids, been terrified of thunder thanks to him.

“It felt long enough when I thought I'd never get to go home again,” Odinson says wryly, “And it taught me much. There was a war going on where I was sent too, and the racism and prejudice I saw there made me reevaluate many of my own ideas.”

Loki isn't sure what to think of this story, but Odinson seems sincere. “Right… Let’s say I believe you. What exactly are you aiming for?”

“Well…” Odinson spreads his palms on the table. His hands are big – strong. Fingers long and thick. “If a Jotun prince joined my side, and the people saw us getting along, then maybe peace wouldn't seem so,” he smirks, “mad.”

Loki's eyes narrow. “What exactly does ‘getting along' entail?”

“Ah, that's…” Odinson dips his head, laughs and rubs his neck. “I figure we could give the people a—a fairytale to believe in, of sorts. A symbol of peaceful unity.”

“What do you?—” Loki almost bites his tongue when he realizes what Odinson means. Fairytales always have true love uniting star-crossed lovers and ending wars and— “No.”

Odinson looks unimpressed by his vehement refusal. “Would it be so terrible?”

“Would it be—” Loki throws his arms up and gestures wildly to the other man, “—You're proposing to me, yet you treat this as a joke!”

Odinson’s brows furrow and his mouth turns down. Loki continues before he can get a word in. “Am I even able to refuse? In my position—” He shoves his bound hands in Odinson's face, then gestures at the tent he is kept prisoner in, “—What will happen to me, what will you do to me, if I don’t play along!?”

“Please calm down.”

“CALM DOWN!?” Loki yells.

Odinson gets up, fast, his chair screeching and falling down. He is tall, bigger than Loki, glowering down at him with thunder in his lightning blue glare.

Cold rushes down Loki's spine, replacing the fire in his belly, and his legs turn weak. He falls back onto the cot, unsure when he had stood in the first place, and stares up at the Thunderer with wide eyes. “Please don't…”

The rage in Odinson's expression sputters and goes out at Loki's whispered plea. “I—Norns.” He closes his eyes, runs a hand over his face and through his golden hair, “I won't hurt you, you have my word, but if you won't cooperate…”

Shivering, Loki laughs, but chokes on the bitter taste, turning it halfway into a strangled sob. “Then I'll be cast into the dungeons, never to see the light of day again.” He guesses.

Odinson doesn’t deny it, but sits back down, heavily. “You'll be asked questions—”

“—Interrogated.” Loki corrects.

A deep breath. “Yes. You will be made to talk, should you refuse or lie.” Odinson’s voice goes from hard to explaining, excusing, “You're high up the enemy’s command; the only reason you're not being dragged to the prisons and questioned is…”

Silence falls between them. It takes Loki two tries to unstick his tongue from the roof of his mouth and finish the sentence. “Because you claimed me as yours.”

Odinson closes his eyes, head lowering imperceptibly.

“So—so all this,” Loki gestures at his bandages, the fine robes and the food, “It’s for your future bride? To convince me…” There are tears in his eyes. “You said you wouldn't bed me!”

“I said I wouldn't force you to my bed.” Odinson says, but he doesn't look Loki in the eyes. He shakes his head, growls, “Look, I’m making you an offer that you are free to take or refuse. I spared your life to give you the choice.”

Loki presses his lips together and tries to steady his shaking hands. He knew. He knew there was a reason, but… “Then state your offer plainly.”

Stupid, stupid— latching on to any shred of kindness—pathetic, needy, weak—

Odinson works his jaw, muscles tensing and releasing. He captures Loki's gaze and keeps it. “Agree to marry me. Help us keep back the last rebellious fractions on Jotunheim, then join me in Asgard as my consort and help me put a permanent stop to this war.”

“Do Aesir often claim their war spoils as spouses?” Loki hears himself asking, the sound coming from far away.

“It… happens.”

“Ha…” Loki pulls his knees up, close to his chest.

From unwanted bastard, to war prize, to consort of the future King of Asgard, the lord of Nine Realms. It's a greater prospect than any Loki has ever imagined for himself.

That, or he can refuse to betray his people, his father, then go to the dungeons and be tortured into doing so anyway.

In the end, there is not truly a choice.

“I accept.”

Odinson nods. It's clear that he too expected nothing else, but he doesn't look victorious. “Thank you.” He says, sincerely.

Loki remains silent. What more is there to say? He just traded his pride for his life and the chance of a future.

“Loki,” it's the first time Odinson uses his name, “I know that this is not a true choice, but you are not the only one giving away their future.”

Loki looks up, throat burning, and meets his betrothed’s eyes.

“We might have met as enemies, but since the first time I saw you, I—” Odinson reaches out for him, then catches the motion and pulls back. The unfinished (finished) confession hangs between them like the blade of a guillotine. Odinson opens and closes his mouth, words sticking in his throat, “W-we could have a happy marri— I mean, we could try…”

Loki stares at him.

Odinson chokes on his words and gets up, stumbling, “Excuse me. I—I will go inform the priestess. I will return shortly.” He is out of the tent before he finishes the last sentence.

For a long moment, Loki sits still, stunned. Then, like a cat in a sun-stripe, Loki uncurls from his cramped position and stretches, a cautious smile on his face. What Odinson just let slip fills him up like a hot meal.

Real choice or not, Loki now knows he is not as powerless as he thought.

xXx

The priestess looks frazzled. Her grey braids are frizzy and her robes crumbled. Thor had dragged her out of bed, with no explanation, shortly before sunrise. Now she is looking between him and Loki, eyes growing wide as Thor's request slowly seeps in.

“Errh, my prince, are you certain…” Her horrified gaze lingers on Loki, who gives her a lazy smile in return.

“Quite. Please do it quickly.” Thor says, keeping a careful eye on his betrothed. Loki looks alert despite the hour, and though he still has a bandage peeking out of his robes, his skin and eyes seem brighter—healthier. He looks good in green.

He also looks above it all, like a cat on a high shelf, secure in its superiority. With a sigh he rolls his head towards Thor and gives him a look, one that tells Thor just how grateful he should be that Loki is indulging this nonsense.

Thor scowls back. He liked the Jotun better when he was angry and defiant.

Well—Thor breaks their gaze—That’s probably a lie. Thor has no interest in a frightened, unwilling spouse. They haven't talked about Thor's fumbled proposition again, but maybe that isn’t bad news. After all, Loki didn't say he didn’t agree. He might be interested in making their marriage work too. Making it real.

…Or he could just be biding his time, while eyeing his chances to take Asgard down from the inside.

Wringing her hands, the priestess looks around, but no one magically appears to dissuade her future king from this sudden desire to marry the enemy.

Then her face brightens. “We'll need witnesses!” She says, looking like she's found a loophole.

“…Right, of course.” Thor mumbles. He had hoped to marry Loki before anyone could raise a fuss, but clearly that is not to be. With a warning glare at Loki, who raises his eyebrows innocently in reply (ha, as if) Thor turns and sticks his head outside the barrack. The guards look at him when he clears his throat. “Please find the warriors three and lady Sif, and tell them they are needed here most urgently.”

Back inside the tent, Loki is twisting his inkle weaved belt between elegant blue fingers, admiring the gold thread pattern. Thor admires him in return. It's the first time Thor sees him up and about outside of battle—the first time he sees Loki at ease, with a smile on his face, however small and sardonic. Thor knew he was both lithe and agile, having seen him in action and heard his generals complain about his speed. He had been like a shadow on the battlefield, soundless and deadly, impossible to pin down, but when Thor had seen him at Skjaldefell, all he could think of was a dancer. Covered in blood and with a feral snarl on his face, Loki had still been graceful.

His fangs might be concealed now, but his eyes are sharp, and he cocks an eyebrow when he notices Thor watching him. Thor smiles at him and refuses to look away. Loki narrows his eyes at the boldness, huffs, and goes back to studying his clothes. The soft green and gold robes suit him, though Thor likes him even better in red; his own color…

Voices from outside interrupts Thor's thoughts, and moments later his friends spill inside the room.

“What's the trouble old frie—” Fandral chokes on his words and stumbles to a halt when he spots Loki. As a consequence, he is nearly bowled over by Volstagg, who comes in right behind him.

“Oy, why're yer stopping?!”

Sif and Hogun enter more gracefully, but they too go tight, shoulders and faces stiffening, when they see Loki.

Thor…” Sif says, slow and dark, tone demanding an explanation.

Thor spreads out his arms, “My friends—” He tries, but is immediately interrupted by Volstagg.

“That's a bridal grown, ain't it. He's in a bridal grown.” The big man says, eyes stuck on Loki like he expects him to burst into flames any moment.

Loki just raises an eyebrow and looks down at himself again. “…I look remarkably good in a dress.” He muses, gaze slipping to Thor, “Don't you think so, husband?”

“Err, yes, definitely!” Thor agrees, vehemently trying to drown out his friends’ shocked outbursts.

Sif takes two quick steps forward, “You cannot be serious,” She says, low and urgent, eyes searching Thor's for some sign of a misunderstanding.

“Sif, I—”

“—I'm afraid I agree, old pal,” Fandral interrupts, having shaken his surprise. “Not that he doesn't look lovely,” he casts a quick glance at Loki, who smiles back innocently as you please. Fandral blinks, sucks in a breath and looks back at Thor, “He looks lovely,” Fandral repeats, “But that, my friend, is a rose with thorns.”

“The Jotun has bewitched him!” Volstagg exclaims, pointing accusingly at Loki, whose amused expression doesn't help.

Before things can decent into complete chaos, Hogun steps forward. With a single raised palm he calls down the silence Thor has been trying for since their arrival. Every person in the room turns and looks at him. Hogun's voice is deliberately calm. “Before we jump to conclusions, I think we should let Thor explain.”

“Thank you my friend.” Thor claps him on the shoulder in gratitude, then looks around at his comrades. “I have asked you here today to bear witness to my wedding,” Thor holds up a hand when it looks like Fandral and Sif will interrupt again, “You asked me why I spared Loki, and this is why. Our marriage can inspire peace—”

“—Or incite war!” Fandral cries, throwing his arm out in a wild gesture, “You didn't exactly ask his father's permission; you took him as your war prize!”

Thor blinks, “Well, yes, but—”

“—I suppose the kidnapping of brides is a rather old but time honored tradition.” Volstagg muses, hand pulling thoughtfully at his beard as he eyes the Jotun in the room, “If I remember correctly, then Thor's grandma Bestla…”

“Yes, exactly,” Thor points, “Thank you Volstagg.” He takes a couple of steps closer to Loki and dares to place a hand on his shoulder. It doesn't get frozen off; Thor takes that as a good sign. They should present a united front. “I know our parents will most likely be furious at first, but I believe my father will see the wisdom of my actions.”

He squeezes Loki's shoulder and gives him a quick reassuring smile, “With me taking a Jotun spouse, Asgard demonstrates that we are equal to the people of Jotunheim. That we have not fought to conquer and subjugate…” Thor trails off and looks earnestly between his friends, “There are still those who see me as a war hungry youth, but the truth is I would have peace.” He looks back down at Loki, “I believe this is the way to achieve it.”

Loki looks placidly back at him. Thor wonders what goes on behind those red eyes.

Volstagg nods, like he can see the merit. Sif's jaw is so tense it looks ready to crack, and it doesn't change from Thor's speech. Hogun hasn't changed his expression at all.

Fandral runs a hand through his hair, messing up the coiffure, before looking at Thor. “I can see where you are coming from, but this is so sudden. Normally you'd only kidnap and elope with someone if it's a love match and circumstances prevent you from being together.” He gestures between Thor and Loki, “But you two have been trying to kill each other for the last decade.”

Thor shakes his head, “I haven't been trying to kill him for months. I've been trying to capture him.”

Though he has been mostly silent so far, letting Thor struggle through explaining by himself, Loki now fixes him with an unimpressed glare. “Oh yes, because that makes everything so much better.”

The four warriors tense up as Loki speaks, but the Jotun ignores them. He sighs, exasperated, and crosses his arms. The manacles and chains clink together. “You said you wanted to give people a fairytale, didn't you?” He goes on before Thor can answer, “I assume you mean to sell a lie. Probably that we met at some point in the past, and though we were enemies, fell madly in love. Correct?” Loki raises his chin and looks at Thor.

“Yes, more or less.” Thor agrees. Though they haven't actually discussed it, he is not surprised Loki understood his plan from what little Thor said.

“It could work,” Loki agrees, tilting his head, “The common people and even the nobility can be suckers for romance, as long as it is not their own sons and daughters who elope.” He shrugs, “On the other hand it might inspire my father to demand restitution for my honor.”

Everyone but Thor makes a face at that.

“I suppose he'll want the Casket.” Thor says.

“However could you guess.” Loki deadpans.

When Thor just nods, Loki's eyes narrow before going wide as marbles, “Wait, you cannot be willing to actually give it!?”

“In time,” Thor replies, which is suitably vague but still the truth. “I have seen how Jotunheim fares without its heart, and I do not wish for the realm to break and for innocents to starve.”

For a long moment, Loki stares at him with a look Thor can't decipher. Then his chin dips and he closes his eyes. “The Casket was once a part of Jotunheim. It should never have been removed and used as a weapon.”

It is the first time Thor hears anything like that. Though curious, he files it away for later. Once more he turns to his friends. “I should like to marry before breakfast is served,” or any messengers can arrive with orders to stop, “So if you would all stand over there…?”

Slowly, his friends shuffle to their places. They stand there silently, stone faced, as the priestess is first sworn to silence about what she has heard, and then reads their rites.

It is only the priestess’ croaky voice filling the room as she asks them to kneel and binds Thor and Loki's hands together with bonds of white, red and green. Purity, life blood and hope— then a last golden bond for fidelity. When they are bid to stand again, the bonds dissolve and seem to sink into their flesh. A golden band forms around their ring fingers, and the priestess asks them to repeat after her—to seal with their vows.

Thor watches Loki as he speaks, and notes how his face twitches after every sentence. Thor bets he can feel the magic settling and binding to them.

“—to do no harm, to honor and protect you, because your honor is my honor, your home is my home, your sorrow is my sorrow and your joy my joy. In this life we are one and we cannot be parted. We share one heart as we will share one boat at the end. This I swear.”

Thor keeps a firm grip on Loki's hands as they speak the traditional vows, because the Jotun looks ready to bolt. Though sharing the same sea-bound funeral pyre is largely symbolic, the rest is decidedly not. There's a reason Thor was unwilling to dally with this. Once the words are spoken, Loki is bound by them. So is Thor, but he knew the drawbacks when he chose this old version of the rites.

Vows spoken, the priestess declares them married.

The tent falls silent; no one claps.

Loki pulls his hands free and scowls down at the band encircling his finger; the gold looks startlingly bright against his blue skin.

Clearing his throat, Thor drags his eyes away from the slender digits and turns to his friends. “Let us go break fast!”

xXx

If there is one thing Loki can appreciate, out of this whole situation, it is the Aesirs’ steady supply and access to food.

The feasting hall Loki's new husband leads him to is inside Dunra keep – an old Jotun fortress, abandoned some five years ago. Loki's forces had originally been trying to take the area back. How that developed into a decisive battle, Loki doesn't… Well, actually he does know. No side had been willing to give, more and more troops had been called, defenses had been built, lines kept…

For a month Loki had watched across the bare fields, heart hammering like a war drum, as the Aesir fortified and mobilized, long lines of armored warriors crawling over the hills towards them like big golden ants.

Some, most, of Loki's half-brothers had also arrived on his side. Bastards they might be, but full grown giants too, and this was too important to leave to the runt.

Loki guesses they're all dead now. He's not too torn up about it.

The hall is full of battered soldiers, rough voices ringing up to the rafters. Mead horns are smashed together, tales of battle shared in boastful tones. Still, there’s an underlying hush, an unspoken tension underneath the revelry; visible in still tensed muscles, shifty eyes and blood strained bandages. Here and there, warriors speak quietly together in smaller groups, faces shadowed as they remember their dead.

The room falls silent when Odinson steps in— Loki and the four warriors in tow.

Odinson nods at his men, but otherwise continues through the hall like nothing is amiss. With one broad palm placed on Loki's back, Odinson leads him forward and up to the high table at the end of the room.

Whispers start amongst the soldiers, their eyes stuck on Loki; his fine green and gold robes, brushed glossy hair, his seat beside their prince…

Loki keeps his head held high and gaze straight, but he sees their darkening, angered faces out the corners of his eyes.

Odinson's palm is warm like a brand against Loki’s back, and he doesn't move it, even when they sit down; just sneaks it around Loki's waist to pull him closer.

Loki grits his teeth and refrains from stabbing him with a butter knife. Barely.

The four warriors Odinson had called as their witnesses sit down around them, and then Odinson stands back up and calls to attention.

“Warriors of Asgard,” he looks around at them with a smile, but Loki can read the tension in his jaw, “Today we celebrate, not only the end of battle, as we have for days, but glad tidings.”

There's a questioning murmur, some still eye Loki, the battle fresh in mind, but no one seems to suspect their prince has done more than bring his conquest to dinner. A few are pointing to his green robes, the color and style of an Aesir bride's grown—ah, smarter than the rest then. Loki will have to watch those.

“Today, we take the first steps towards lasting peace.” He swallows imperceptibly and reaches down, offering a hand. Loki takes it, daintily, and stands up next to him, motion graceful. He tries to mold his expression into something gentle, or at least benign—Tries to project the aura of a fair maiden rather than a battle scared Jotun warrior prince. He's not sure whether he succeeds or not. This is not a role Loki has played before; but he would like to survive it.

“Today I have taken Loki Laufeyson, third prince of Jotunheim, as my bride and future consort!”

Odinson lifts their joined hands, showing off their new golden skin—their wedding bands, and inadvertently Loki's manacles too. Odinson has removed the chains binding them together, but not the manacles themselves. They glint with a dull shine in the torch light and Loki thinks ‘Ah, clever'. Show them he has rank, both as a prince of his own line and as consort, but don't lift his status as a prisoner or war-prize.

The way to room first falls deadly quiet, then explodes into shouts, it's probably good that they see Loki as a neutralized threat.

With a placid face, Odinson ignores the uproar, sits them back down and starts filling plates for them both. Loki is torn between listening to the warriors’ shouts, to learn exactly what they think of him, and how surreal the entire situation feels.

His husband's friends are eating too, looking like nothing is odd about Loki being in their midst. He'll give them points for solidarity at least, though not acting skills. Only the dark-haired man manages to keep a neutral expression, the rest look various stages of unsettled or, in the woman's case, angry.

In the main part of the hall certain warriors are slowly being chosen to go talk to their prince, to ask questions, but in the meantime the commotion continues.

With a smile, Odinson places a plate full of scrumptious morsels in front of Loki. This earns him a look from said recipient, but Odinson just grins, looking a mix of self-satisfied and expectant.

So he thinks he can buy Loki's affection with treats? Loki looks back down at his plate. There are fresh berries, cream and some sort of syrupy golden bread.

…Odinson might not be completely wrong about that.

“So your name is Loki, huh?”

Loki turns to Odinson's blond friend, seated on his other side, and looks at him curiously, “Have we met?”

“You almost took my head off at Fjeldskrig.”

“Ah.” Loki thought he looked familiar.

The man waves it off, “Forgiven and forgotten,” he tilts his head, “Assuming you're not planning on doing anything similar to Thor.”

“Even if I could,” Loki looks back out at the agitated warriors, “…I don’t think that would be in my best interest.”

The man laughs. “Right you are! Besides,” he leans closer, expression turning serious, voice low, “He'll be kind to you—it you let him.”

Loki blinks at the man, surprised, until a big hand lands on his shoulder and squeezes possessively. “Fandral! What are you whispering to my bride? Surely you do not aim to steal him with your words already!” Odinson bellows.

Fandral, as the blond man is apparently called, grins back. “So you admit there's a chance I'll succeed?”

“Ha! I will admit no such thing.” Odinson pulls Loki closer, a smirk in his tone. For a moment Loki tenses, ready to struggle to get free, before remembering that it is useless. They’re married; he must get used to this.

“…Loki?”

Ah, Odinson noticed his reaction.

Fandral focuses back on his own food to give them the illusion of privacy.

Loki brushes his husband off, relieved to be let go. “I'm fine Odinson.” He picks up his fork and spears a berry; the red juices run unto the plate like blood.

“You can call me Thor,” Odinson says, “We are married, so…” his voice grows less sure.

“Yes, I noticed.” Loki pops the berry in his mouth and chews, savoring the taste and texture with closed eyes. He would rather focus on this. When was the last time he got fresh berries? He recalls once or twice as a child, when he lived close to the rifts to Alfheim. It's been decades.

After the first bite he can’t stop himself, and the berries dwindle fast, interspersed with cream and the thin sweet bread. It is only when he is licking syrup from his fingers that Loki notices how everyone else has gotten much more humble meals, consisting of oatmeal and some toppings. Nuts and honey are still a king's delicacy in Jotunheim, but compared to Loki's meal it's not that special. In Asgard, with their bountiful harvests, it must be simple fare.

Sudden suspicion brews in his mind, and moments later another handful of berries land on his plate, practically confirming it. Loki stares at Odinson, whose hand is still stained from the juices. He gives Loki a quick distracted smile before going back to eating.

“Why?” The question tumbles out before Loki can stop it. Odinson looks at him, forehead furrowed, blue eyes confused. “Why are you doing this—” Loki gestures at the plate, the berries, the kindness, “—There's no need, we're already married.”

If anything, the question makes the shadows in Odinson's eyes grow. “That's just more reason to treat you well,” he says, like it's simple— obvious, “And please,” He captures Loki's gesturing hand and gives it a brief squeeze, “Call me Thor.”

Loki pulls his hand back and cradles it to his chest. He watches, but hardly listens, as the first warrior comes to their table to talk with their prince, eyes flitting to Loki and back like flies to dung.

Odinson's easygoing expression stays fixed in place, like he can smile the naysayers into submission. After the third general appears to voice concerns and complain, Loki goes back to eating.

The berries burst sweetly on his tongue.

Thor, huh?