It sounded strange to say that Anthony didn’t expect it, but he just never had.
Loki was an amazing mage, tactician, fighter and prince, but the people who knew that were few and far between, in fact, Anthony would say that he and the Queen were the only two on Asgard who truly saw Loki for the remarkable man that he was.
Anthony had been friends with Loki for decades, he had also loved him for many years, and Loki had affection for him as well. They had been together for a little over three years. It was only a fledgling romance by Aesir standards and still considered a new courtship, but Anthony knew that there was no other he could love as much as Loki.
The prince was the one who would hold Anthony’s heart for the rest of his life.
There were many people who condemned Anthony’s fondness for Loki while others simply didn’t understand it; Loki was the mischievous, lying, mercurial and envious younger brother of the bold and golden Thor - but Anthony had never been bothered by everyone’s whispers and odd glances. He knew which prince was the wise and worthwhile one, and although a part of him wished for Loki to receive the recognition and praise he deserved, Anthony had never imagined it would happen.
But, it did.
A contaminated food supply from Vanaheim made its way to Asgard that caused not only violent illness in the Aesir but it also carried a dormant disease that infected Asgardian crops. It took a matter of weeks for harvests as well as Asgardian citizens to be taken ill.
There was no cure on Vanaheim as they had gained it from travellers from outside the Nine Realms. It was a crisis that kept Loki locked away in the palace trying to find a cure. There were many other healers, farmers and royal scholars all searching for an answer but with little luck and time running low.
When the answer finally came from Loki, when he personally ventured to every contaminated corner of Asgard and Vanaheim along with a handful of mages and herbalists he had taught his spells and potions to, the prince was able to save not only one realm, but two, as well as stop the spread of the contamination to the other seven.
And perhaps if it had only been Asgard, Loki’s deeds might have faded from public memory. Perhaps if it was not well known that the contamination was an outside source, Loki might have been blamed. Perhaps if Loki had not been present for every spell and remedy, and perhaps if Thor had somehow been involved than the glory might have gone to another person, leaving Loki frustrated and bitter.
But Loki was seen and he was quickly known and revered as the saviour of the Nine Realms.
Loki had cleared Asgard of the contamination before leaving to assist Vanaheim. He had returned successful to find Asgard’s streets filled with cheering, celebrating, bowing citizens who were chanting his name.
Anthony had been planning to greet his lover and congratulate him, but he had stopped himself from moving closer when he came out of his forge to find Loki surrounded by the mages he had taken with him to Vanaheim as well as members of the Vanir royal family and their guards. Loki looked completely mystified and Anthony knew as a weaponsmith and lower level noble, he had no place walking beside two royal families.
He stayed back, hidden amongst the crowd but watching as his lover’s incredulity begun to mix with happiness and pride the closer that he came to the palace where the Allfather and Allmother would be waiting to hear of his success.
Anthony could only smile after his lover, looking forward to hearing the tale directly from the prince’s lips.
Unfortunately, he didn’t have a chance to see him for some time. A grand celebratory feast was to be held in Loki’s honour for his deeds to not only Asgard but the Nine Realms. The Vanir would present Loki with a gift of gratitude as would Asgard.
It was a grand occasion and Anthony walked around the streets of Asgard hearing praises for Loki spoken by every man, woman and child. They spoke highly of his intelligence, his seidr, his compassion and their pride to call Loki their prince.
Anthony had never seen anything like it, nor believed a day would ever come where Loki was so highly regarded. He felt genuinely, utterly happy for his lover, and that feeling didn’t fade, not for a moment... at least, not until he arrived at the feast later that evening.
Loki had been busy with courtly duties, even more so as the guest of honour, Anthony hadn’t been surprised or offended that Loki hadn’t come to see him. He had merely looked forward to seeing his lover at the end of the evening when they could retire to Loki’s chambers together and he could kiss the mage, sooth any lingering tension from Loki’s shoulders and then pleasure his remarkable, beautiful prince.
But, when Anthony arrived, he had barely stepped into the grand hall before he froze. Loki was standing in the centre of the room and was surrounded by men and woman of both the Asgardian and Vanir court. They were hanging off his every word. The women were touching him with delicate hands and the men were leaning in close and clasping him with firm grips.
Loki was flushed and grinning under the attention. He also had a Vanir princess on his arm; she was looking up at him with fascination, adoration and a determination that Anthony could interpret even from across the room.
Anthony could also understand, in a moment, that Loki’s newfound admiration was not going to wane. Loki was far too calculating and careful to let his current public esteem be lost in the coming decades. Loki would make certain his deeds stayed fresh in everyone’s mind, and would keep performing actions of similar benefit to cement himself as a figure to respect and praise - and in doing so, Loki would have an array of potential lovers and spouses to choose from; the Vanir princess at Loki’s side was only a taste of things to come.
Anthony; a low level courtier and weaponsmith with little fortune and few connections? Anthony may have been an acceptable prospect when no other would wish to court or marry Loki, but now that the mage’s fortunes were changing? Now that Loki could choose someone other than his friend and someone who could garner him greater respect and admiration? Loki was no fool.
They had been friends for decades, but they had only been lovers for three years, they had hardly committed to each other, nor had they expressed anything beyond fondness and affection; there was nothing holding Loki to him. There was nothing to stop Loki from using his new popularity to find a greater and far more respectable match.
Anthony, in that single moment, understood what his future had in store for him and it made his heart break.
He knew he had been beyond lucky to capture Loki’s interest and friendship. He had always known the Aesir were fools for lauding Thor over Loki, he just... somehow he had never thought that they would realise their mistake. He never thought it would hurt so much to be proven wrong.
Anthony needed to be happy for Loki, to be pleased to finally watch his prince get the recognition and adoration he deserved - but Anthony was selfish and in love; he wanted to keep Loki.
Yet, that wasn’t possible and it meant he had to accept what it meant for his future and for their relationship. It would only be a matter of time before Loki would cease their courtship and choose another. It would only be a matter of time until Anthony had to quietly nod at Loki’s apologetic dismissal, and step to the side to allow someone else to take his place.
Anthony knew he couldn’t stop what would come, but he could avoid it for tonight.
He looked at Loki once more; bright with pleasure and excitement as he stood as the most adored person in the room. He then turned on his heel and slipped out of the hall. Loki wouldn’t miss him; he likely wouldn’t even notice he wasn’t there.
Anthony could praise his lover’s skills and triumphs another day, for now, he just needed to be alone with his forge and his thoughts. He needed to be far away from the sight of Loki with a princess on his arms and delight on his face.
He walked the streets of Asgard with his head bowed and his stride determined. He didn’t stop for merrymaking or the chants of people praising Loki’s name with tankards of ale and happy slurs. The merriment was the opposite of any normal response to one of Loki’s actions and it only painfully drove the truth home to Anthony.
When he finally made it inside his darkened forge, he leant back against the door with a defeated slump. He also closed his eyes; his mind filled not with images of his time with the prince, but rather the sight of Loki with the princess. It was also quick to change, to torture him with images of the two of them laughing, drinking and dancing together. It made him think of Loki’s light but nimble hands on her hips, unlacing her dress, kissing her.
Anthony flinched and hurriedly pushed away from the door. He lit the sconces and let the room fill with light. He shrugged off his formal jacket and tossed it over a desk. He needed a distraction; he needed something to make him forget. His eyes dragged over his many projects only to snag on a set of half-finished daggers.
He found himself stepping forward before he could think. He travelled his hand over the daggers and smiled painfully. He’d meant for them to be an anniversary present, now he supposed, they would have to be a farewell.
The thought made his heart twist, but before he could think better of it, Anthony was picking up the blades and taking a seat at the table he usually reserved for his finer work. The daggers weren’t yet ready for the more intricate stages, but he merely found himself running his hands over them.
He knew they would suit Loki well. Anthony also knew that his prince would love them.
Anthony closed his eyes and tightened his grip on the metal. His mind was flooded with a hundred memories of his time with Loki as both the man’s friend and his lover. The mornings they’d woken up in Loki’s bed, curled up together and with nowhere to be that wasn’t with each other. When Loki would interrupt him at the forge and ignore Anthony’s protests as he kissed him until he had Anthony’s full and undivided attention. He also remembered the dozens of dangerous adventures they’d had as well as the more relaxed excursions to the other realms. He remembered their nights in bed, wrapped around each other and moaning each other’s names as bliss stole their thoughts and took over their bodies.
Anthony gritted his teeth, knowing his memories were not helping him. He didn’t even realise he’d let a tear escape, not until he felt it tracking down to dampen his jaw. He roughly brought up a hand, wiping his face, but he felt more fall as he choked down a small sob.
He was going to lose Loki and it felt as if his world was falling apart.
Anthony just wanted to bury himself in Loki’s arms and have the mage tell him that he was being foolish and that Loki would never choose a Vanir princess over him; a lowly, barely noble weaponsmith.
The thought made Anthony bark out a harsh, painful laugh. It was beyond wishful thinking, it was downright impossible. The knowledge drained the last of his strength and he rested his face in his hand, closing his eyes and trying to suck in slow even breaths; trying to calm down, trying not to let the grief constrict his heart.
It was as he was sitting there, trying to pull himself together, that he felt a small burst of energy that made Anthony instinctively tense. His eyes also snapped open, staring unseeingly at the desk beneath him.
“Did you become so distracted by your craft you forgot the time again, Anthony?” Loki questioned, his voice smooth and amused. Anthony swallowed roughly, but before he could speak, he heard Loki take sharp steps closer, concern instant and apparent in his voice, “Anthony? What is it? What’s wrong?”
A gentle but firm hand touched his back while the other came to his wrist, trying to gently ease Anthony’s hand from his face.
Anthony resisted for a moment before letting Loki pull his hand away. He turned to look tiredly at his handsome, perfect prince. Loki’s face was lined with concern; the bright, happy flush from earlier was gone and in its place was the sharp calculation and unhappiness that had rested on the mage’s face for so long.
It had Anthony letting go of the dagger to reach up and brush the tips of his fingers along the edge of Loki’s jaw. He smiled sadly. “My prince, you should not be here with me.”
Loki blinked, looking utterly confused. “Of course not. I should be at the feast, as should you.” A hint of pleasure alighted in his eyes. “It is dedicated to me, and you should share in my triumph and glory.”
Anthony’s fingers skimmed higher until he could cup Loki’s cheek and gently pull the other man down. He didn’t resist and Anthony kissed him for a few moments; softly and lovingly. He felt Loki’s confusion even as he kissed back, but Anthony didn’t let it linger for long. He also freed himself from Loki’s hold, pushing out his chair and stepping away from the mage. He kept the chair and plenty of space between them as he faced the prince once more.
“It is not my triumph to share,” Anthony told him quietly. “The Vanir princess; she will make a fine sight at your side.”
Loki was noticeably shocked and momentarily speechless. “Anthony, what in the realms are you speaking about?” A flicker of realisation crossed his face. “Were you... did you come to the feast only to leave?” He shook his head, still seeming incredulous. “What possible reason could make you think I wanted that simpering woman on my arm?”
“She is a princess,” Anthony stated simply, wishing to get this over with rather than string out his pain. “You are a prince; more so, you are a highly revered and coveted one, as you should be.” When Loki's frown deepened, Anthony hurried to assure his friend. “You are the finest prince Asgard or any realm has ever seen; you are incredible and you deserve to finally receive the recognition and admiration that has been long owed to you. I am happy for you, Loki. I am, but-”
“But you think this new regard will draw my attention away from you,” Loki murmured, his voice devoid of emotion.
Anthony couldn’t hold the mage’s green gaze. He couldn’t see understanding crest it; he couldn't see Loki realise what Anthony already had.
“You will have your choice of courtships, Loki,” Anthony replied softly. “You may have whoever you wish; a partner to be coveted. My friendship and my support will never waver. I will-”
Anthony’s words were cut off when Loki stalked forward, circling the chair but still taking mere seconds to step into Anthony’s space. He cupped Anthony's face in his hands and kissed him fiercely. The touch made Anthony groan, his hands automatically coming to Loki’s shoulders as he tilted into his lover’s touch. Loki kissed him with a possession and passion that made Anthony’s body flare with heat. His heart raced and Anthony arched into the prince's body in order to gain more.
When Loki pulled them apart, he remained close but growled lowly, “You imbecile. You right fool. Do you think some suddenly fawning courtier will turn my head? That an easily attracted sycophant would satisfy me? Do you believe that I have not been waiting to share my satisfaction and pleasure at their praises with my lover beside me?” He paused, his fingers stroking Anthony’s cheeks and his eyes softening when he noticed the earlier tear tracks. “My Anthony,” he began, gentling his tone, “for a genius you are a fool. I did not court you merely because you were the only one who would accept me when I was despised. I courted you, my weaponsmith, because you are the only Aesir on this planet with any sense. I courted you because,” he hesitated, an uncertain look entering his eyes before he continued, his voice a little lower and rougher, “because I care for you, more than any other I have ever met.”
Anthony sucked in a sharp breath, his grip tightening on Loki’s shoulders as he scanned the prince’s face, searching for a lie but finding nothing but affection and a hint of nerves. It made Anthony let out a soft laugh and press his forehead against Loki’s.
“I care for you as well,” Anthony confessed.
He felt Loki relax, the same happiness from earlier infusing his expression despite the swift and brusque tone that followed, “Then shall we have no more of this? Will you return with me back to the feast so that we may celebrate my grand achievements together?”
Anthony still wavered. “Are you certain, Loki? If you confirm our courtship to the realms-”
“They will all know you are taken,” Loki interrupted promptly and smugly. “Yes, I will be pleased with that arrangement.”
It made Anthony laugh. It also made him begin to calm down, his tension unwinding as he shifted in order to press his face against the curve of Loki’s neck, his arms coming down to wrap around Loki’s waist. It was a position they often took when alone. It was a position of comfort and support and Loki was quick to curl one arm around Anthony’s back while the other moved to gently run through the strands of Anthony’s hair.
Loki didn’t say anything and neither did Anthony, they merely stood together for a few minutes, revelling in the warmth, comfort and commitment that the other offered without hesitation.
Anthony was the one to eventually pull back and smile up at Loki. “I am sorry for delaying you.” He leant up and chastely brushed his mouth over Loki’s. “We should be enjoying your celebration.”
The quirk of Loki’s smile and soft brush of fingers over Anthony’s cheek let him know he was forgiven.
Loki pulled away a moment later, but still kept an arm around Anthony’s waist as he pulled him through the room to grab his coat. “Come, we have a feast to enjoy followed by an evening in my rooms. I have spent too many nights without my lover by my side.”
Anthony grinned; he also gently danced his fingers over Loki’s hand in a tease of a caress. “I will make certain to remain for as long as you wish and to apologise thoroughly for staying away too long.”
“Don’t make such dangerous promises, Anthony,” Loki warned him with tease in his voice, but seriousness in his eyes. “I may request you never leave.”
Anthony sucked in another sharp breath, but his eyes remained locked on Loki's. The soft emotions lingering in his prince's gaze, it washed the last of his fear and pain away, replacing it with excitement and warmth.
“I would have no problem with fulfilling that request, Loki,” Anthony answered him quietly.
It made a small but satisfied grin curl Loki’s lips. He also pulled Anthony a little tighter against him before remarking with smug contentment, “Splendid.”