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Duty and Desire

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Baldur is the eldest son of Odin, heir to the throne of Asgard. He is handsome and well-mannered and will someday inherit tremendous power and status, and that makes him the most desirable man in the Nine Realms.

His brother Thor, on the other hand, is a bit rough in terms of both appearance and manners. He prefers to spend his time alone or with his small group of close friends, traveling the realms, fighting brigands, settling disputes, learning new skills from dwarves and elves and humans, appreciating nature, lending his might to the defenseless when they need it. He is a comfortable loner, he detests politics and formalities, and he hates being cooped up in the palace. He dresses more like a commoner than royalty. He is tall and well-built, unbelievably strong, and more than a little intimidating.

His father is always urging him to be more like his older brother. “Show some interest in reality, boy! You can’t roam the wilderness for the rest of your life! Get married and settle down. Find your place in the court, raise a family. Be a proper prince, for Valhalla’s sake!”

But Thor adamantly states that he is content in his bachelorhood and intends to stay that way. He is a warrior and a wanderer, like Odin himself once was. Not a soft-hearted fool with romantic dreams in his head and a desire to be domesticated. He is too wild, too in love with his freedom. He will never marry.

Then, in the interest of politics (and adding some new blood to the royal family), Baldur becomes betrothed to the youngest of King Laufey’s children, a lovely little jötunn named Loki. Loki’s people are Frost Giants of the realm of Jötunheim, and normally a marriage between their two kingdoms would never happen due to the size difference between jötnar and Æsir. However, the last baby Laufey bore happened to be quite small, making him a perfect candidate for marriage with one of the non-giant races. Thus Loki was groomed from birth to be a royal spouse. Given the biological flexibility of the jötnar, he could provide his future husband or wife with fine, mixed-blood children.

It is a perfect arrangement. Odin has been wanting to clinch ties with Jötunheim for centuries (it has nothing to do with gaining exclusive trading rights to Jötunheim’s coveted natural resources, oh, goodness, no, certainly not), and now he can finally do it. Baldur is pleased at the prospect of achieving this goal for his father and readily agrees to the match.

In just a few short years, Loki is married to Baldur in one of the most extravagant and ostentatious weddings in Asgard’s history. Women (and men) all over the kingdom mourn that their dream prince is now off the market, and their scorn for Loki is bitter and fierce. A simmering, low-level dislike of Frost Giants crops up overnight in Asgard, and it’s something Loki must deal with for years to come.

Loki tries to ignore all the negativity and fear in his heart and enjoy his wedding day. He pretends to be happy at the reception feast, but he struggles to truly smile. Prince Baldur is nice, but he is a far cry from the spouse Loki imagined having one day. Their wedding night is even more disappointing. Baldur is overeager and giggly from too much wine, and he spills himself prematurely, less than a minute after deflowering his virginal bride. He then passes out beside him and starts snoring.

Annoyed (but partly relieved to be spared a long night of awkward first-time sex), Loki wraps himself in a robe, pours himself a drink, and slinks away to take in the moonlight in the east gardens. He walks barefoot in the soft grass between the rose bushes, sipping his wine, sighing at the moon, and trying not to feel sorry for himself.

This is his lot, his destiny. And really, it isn’t so bad. Baldur is a good man. He doesn’t have any disgusting habits, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t swear. He keeps himself clean and measures his words carefully. He doesn’t lose his temper easily. In fact, he seems incapable of being angered. He is polite and educated and diplomatic, a natural king. He’s a little self-absorbed and prideful sometimes, and he has an irritating laugh, but if those are the worst of his vices, then Loki counts himself fortunate.

At least he was not married off to one of Surtur’s vicious sons. Or a haughty Elf. Or a bigoted Vanir who believes the jötnar are descended from ogres. At least he was not given to a lowly drunkard of common birth and poor character. Loki would not be forced to toil for a living, laboring to earn his daily bread, spending the majority of his life pregnant and impoverished. He would not be beaten or berated. He would not starve or suffer. No, he is married to a very nice, handsome, mild-mannered, financially secure Æsir prince, and even though they don’t share a passionate, romantic attraction to one another, it’s not bad for an arranged marriage. Loki will teach Baldur how to love and please a jötunn. He will be a good wife. He will bear Baldur’s children—maybe; hopefully; if that strange organ and thin, meager seed is capable of giving him a baby—and someday he will be a queen. It’s an impressive destiny, especially for a defective runt like him. A fairy tale ending. Loki is very grateful to his mother for realizing his potential.

As he walks in the gardens, he spots Thor, his new brother-in-law, whom Loki had been introduced to at the wedding and never really got a chance to speak to during the feast. He is sitting under a tree and smoking a pipe, contemplating the moon.

Ugh, Loki thinks disdainfully. A smoker. And he has a beard, too, which means he must stink of pipeweed. His hair is long and unkempt and he’s dressed like a poor farmer, sleeveless tunic showing off his bare arms—great Ymir, just look at those enormous muscles, it’s almost grotesque—and worn leather trousers that look like they haven’t been washed in a year.

So this is the other Odinson. Loki thanks his lucky stars that he got the more civilized brother. He couldn’t imagine being married to this brute. He looks to be mean and simple, one of those rough, rude alpha males who speaks in one-word grunts and chews with his mouth open. No, thank you.

Loki begins to tiptoe back into the shadows, but Thor’s strong, low voice stops him: “Asgard is a poor trade for the majesty of Jötunheim’s mountains. I hope you will not regret your decision.”

Loki is at first surprised to hear such eloquent words from such a coarse-looking man, and he is flattered by the compliment to his homeland. Then he bristles defensively.

It’s true, he hadn’t wanted to leave Jötunheim—with its cool, green valleys and soaring glaciers and crystal-clear lakes—to come to this gold-plated city of few trees and even fewer friendly faces. But Jötunheim was never to be his permanent home. He had known that since he was a child. He was destined to become a part of his spouse’s realm, and once he left the place of his birth, there would be no returning. Such is the way with his people.

Loki stiffens his lips and answers curtly, “Jötunheim is a crude, underdeveloped region. Nothing but rocks and ice. I am glad to call Asgard my home now.”

Thor chuckles. “You’re a fine liar, Laufeykin. That is good. You’ll need that talent if you hope to survive here.” He stands up and approaches Loki, who takes a fearful step back.

Thor is much taller and broader up-close. Loki realizes how vulnerable and underdressed he is, nude beneath his robe, with his husband’s seed still sticky between his legs.

Perhaps brothers share wives in Asgard, like they do in other kingdoms. Dear gods. Thor could easily take whatever he wanted from Loki, right here in this garden.

But Thor only gazes at him tenderly—such blue eyes he has—and Loki swears he sees pity flash across his rugged features.

“You’re too good for him,” he utters. “Such rarity and beauty…” He raises his hand as if to touch Loki’s cheek, but his fingers curl at the last moment and retreat. “I wish you many years of happiness… if you can find them here.”

Then he turns and disappears into the shadows, leaving Loki standing in the garden with his heart pounding and the sweet perfume of roses all around him.


Two years pass. Loki remains an uncomfortable stranger in Asgard, never really fitting in or feeling accepted by anyone but the immediate royal family—and even then, it is only because they must.

Old age begins to catch up with Odin. He spends more and more time in his regenerative sleep cycles and there is murmuring of his abdicating the throne to Baldur within the next year.

Loki begins to feel the distinct pressure to produce a child. Reigning kings prefer to relinquish their crowns when they have one or two grandchildren already on the ground, for it is the sign of a stable lineage, securing the line of succession. If a future queen cannot provide her husband with children, what good is she to him? This is what Loki has been told his entire life: marry well. Make babies. Achieve power, wealth, and status. Secure it, defend it. Don’t let anyone see your weakness.

But Loki is beginning to wonder if it might be impossible for an Æsir to breed a jötunn, regardless of how potent or fertile either of them may be.

Baldur is flippant toward his spouse’s worries. “Don’t worry, my little dove. It will happen in time.”

But babies aren’t made out of thin air, Loki knows. Baldur is tenacious and extremely dedicated to his duties to the royal court, and he takes on responsibilities one after the other. There is very little time left at the end of the day to devote to his marriage, and even then, he seems more interested in hosting dinner parties and building his wine collection than making love. Loki almost has to beg and plead for it.

In the hopes of getting Baldur interested in the activity, Loki  implements all sorts of strategies to spice things up in the bedroom, but his attempts are usually met with laughter, eye-rolls, and patronizing little pats on his head.

“Oh, my dear Loki, we don’t need these tawdry, silly things! Our marriage is exciting enough. Here, put aside those toys and come to arms, darling. Nature has already given us everything we need.”

Loki hides his annoyance but submits to Baldur’s requests.

The man is absolutely clueless when it comes to romance.

It could be worse, Loki reminds himself, lying beneath Baldur and staring blankly up at the ceiling while Baldur makes clean, quiet, polite love to him. I could be married to a Fire Giant. An elf. A Vanir.

Thor.

Loki shivers and closes his eyes, wrapping himself around his husband.

He wonders what it’s like, being at the mercy of those hard hands, pinned under the weight of that heavy body, so musky and hairy and warm. Being taken roughly, having his hair pulled and his haunches spanked, feeling the delicious stretch of a thick cock thrusting into his cunt, hearing all the sloppy wet sounds as he is thoroughly, ruthlessly fucked—

Loki comes with a cry and bites down on Baldur’s shoulder.

“Ouch! Sweetheart, please! There’s no need for that!”

Loki retreats like a scolded child, his orgasm dying almost as soon as it began. He is embarrassed and ashamed. He shouldn’t be fantasizing about his brother-in-law. It is wrong. Terrible, actually.

It could always be worse, says a voice in the back of his mind.

Loki doesn’t know how, but he has no choice but to believe it.


They are preparing to celebrate their fourth wedding anniversary when war suddenly breaks out on Vanaheim. Loki is at the council meeting when Thor—resplendent in full armor, with his hair plaited and beard groomed, cloaked in a blood-red cape, such a powerful and formidable sight—steps forward and announces his intention to lead the armies of Asgard.

But Baldur, who is neither a warrior nor very military-minded, intervenes and says it would be folly to send his little brother into battle while the future king of Asgard sits comfortably in his palace. “Nay, Thor, remain behind and look after my affairs! This is only a skirmish; I shall be home before the end of the season.”

Thus it is decided. Baldur bids farewell to his wife and his brother, kissing them both on their cheeks, and departs for Vanaheim.

The “skirmish” drags on for weeks, becoming months. With Baldur absent, Loki’s link to (and refuge from) the Asgardian people disappears. He grows increasingly melancholic and isolated. He can be heard crying at night, and he wanders through each day looking miserable and depressed, silent and sullen, if he is even seen at all. He spends most of the day locked in his room with only the servants for visitors, avoiding awkward, unnecessary interactions with people.

Thor’s concern finally reaches the point where he can no longer stand aside and watch Loki deteriorate. This lonely, beautiful, neglected creature is suffering. Baldur has instructed Thor to tend to his affairs while he is away, and Thor is—politically. But he gladly resolves to set aside his work duties and make Loki his top priority.

Thor knocks on Loki’s bedroom door one evening and Loki answers it with flushed cheeks and a stuffy nose, his jewel-red eyes bloodshot. His breath smells of strong wine. They stare at one another awkwardly for a moment, then Thor clears his throat and asks if Loki would join him for a walk in the nearby wood. He offers him his arm.

Loki sniffs. “Oh, I. I couldn’t. I’m in my dressing gown and I haven’t, I was already in bed when you—”

“It wasn’t a suggestion.” Thor thrusts out his elbow. “Come,” he says more gently. “You’ve spent enough time indoors. The fresh air will do you good.”

Loki timidly acquiesces, sliding his hand around the proffered arm, and Thor leads him away. Once outside, Thor wraps his arm around Loki’s waist and uses Mjölnir to fly them to the edge of the wood.

Loki has never flown before. At first he is terrified and clings to Thor tightly, but then he relaxes when he realizes how safe and secure he is in Thor’s arms. He takes a deep breath and smiles, the wind flowing through his hair. He hasn’t felt this good in weeks.

They land at the wood’s edge and walk along its borders, making small talk and listening to the natural world around them, so wholesome and soft compared to the hard, man-made surroundings of the city.

They speak about the war, the future, the weather. Thor asks if Loki has received any letters from Baldur; Loki haltingly confesses he hasn’t. “He is very busy, I imagine,” he says with a brave but sad smile.

Thor scowls at the ground as he walks. He knows his brother. Hardworking but single-minded, focused on politics and very little else. Loki doesn’t deserve to be brushed aside, to be placed so far down on the list of Baldur’s cares. No wife does. But Thor simply says, “Yes, I’m sure that is the case.”

Night falls and Thor returns Loki to the palace.

“Thank you,” says Loki, turning at his bedroom door with a fragile grin. “I really enjoyed tonight.”

Thor smiles, and Loki is struck by the warmth and gentleness of his face. Hardly the barbarian he had mistaken him for in the beginning.

“I am available again tomorrow evening,” says Thor. “I would be happy to spend it with you.”

Loki nods, and Thor politely kisses Loki’s knuckles and bids him goodnight.

Loki shuts his bedroom door and presses back against it, sighing as he gazes up at the ceiling.

Four years he’s spent in Asgard, yet only now does he feel like he’s made a friend.


Soon these nightly strolls become a routine, and a warm camaraderie blossoms between Thor Odinson and Loki Laufeykin. They find they are not so different; they like nature and animals and share an appreciation for the beauty of life’s simple pleasures: the smell of the earth after a spring rain; a hot drink on a cold day; the taste of a sun-warmed apple plucked right off the branch; the rumble of thunder, the song of a bird, the trickle of a clear, quiet brook. Their tongues loosen as they become more familiar with one another, and soon Loki’s shyness fades.

One evening he confides in Thor something he’s been keeping a secret:

“Two weeks after Baldur left, I began to feel ill in the mornings.” His voice is delicate, his face tense as he speaks. “The smell of breakfast would make me vomit, so I stopped coming to the dining hall and took breakfast in my room instead. I wasn’t avoiding everyone, I simply didn’t want to make a disgusting scene at the table.”

Thor stops and stares. So that is why Loki had stopped showing up for breakfast. He isn’t unsociable—he is pregnant. Baldur is going to be a father and Thor an uncle. This is very good news for their family.

Why then does Thor feel so bitter and jealous?

He tries to hide it. He clasps Loki’s hands and forces a smile onto his face. “I’m very happy for you. Have you written to Baldur of your good news?”

Loki looks downward and pinches his lips together. “No. And he will never find out, if I can help it.” He closes his eyes. “Two months later, there was a… I, I miscarried. I lost the baby.”

Thor’s heart clenches in his chest. He opens his mouth but no words come.

Loki gulps and continues, “I went to bed that night perfectly fine. Well, I was a little more tired than usual and my back was hurting, but I thought it was normal, just typical symptoms of my condition. Maybe they were. All I know is that I woke up the next morning and there was blood… everywhere. And I was hurting”—he places his hand on his flat lower belly—“here. That’s how I knew. I knew I’d lost it.”

Thor stares, too stunned to react.

Loki bows his head. “I was so happy. I thought things were finally changing. I was already picking out names—” He chokes and covers his mouth, unable to finish. He falls apart.

Thor reaches out and pulls him into an embrace. Loki almost disappears in his massive arms.

“These things happen,” says Thor roughly, his eyes filling with tears. “It is not your fault. Take heart, Loki. You and Baldur will make another child.”

“But this one took so long,” Loki sobs, clutching Thor’s cape in his fists. “We’ve been trying for four years! I don’t know if we can make another. I don’t know if I could bear the pain of losing another child. Oh, Thor, it’s just—I fear Baldur is going to die in this war and then I’ll be stranded here in Asgard, cast out from the palace a ruined widow, untouchable, unwanted, forced to—”

“That will not happen to you, Loki, I give you my word,” says Thor firmly. “Baldur is going to come home to you and make you happy again. You will have another child growing in your belly within a fortnight, and you and he will share many happy years together. Believe it, Loki, and it will be so.”

Loki stops moaning but the tears still slide down his cheeks. He buries his face against Thor’s chest.

He should believe it, but he doesn’t.

He’s not sure if he wants to.


A week later, Odin’s ravens deliver to him the terrible news: Baldur is dead.

He did not die gloriously on the battlefield, nor was he murdered by assassins. He was celebrating a recent victory with his men and unwittingly stepped in front of a drunken archer trying to impress a local Vanir woman. The arrow went straight through his neck, severing his nerves, and he fell to the ground dead.

The story will be altered, of course. Baldur will have a warrior’s funeral, go down in history as a hero. It is the least they could do.

When Odin shares the news with his family and close advisors, Loki turns and flees from the throne room, sobbing. Not because his worst fears have come true; not because his ties to Asgard have been severed and he is now a lone sheep in a court of hungry wolves, but because his husband is dead. The man with whom he’d shared four years of his life—not the best years, but they had their moments. Smiles. Comfort. Familiarity. Now he is gone. Loki will never see Baldur again, nor hear his laughter, nor smell his hair, nor feel his warmth beside him as he sleeps. He is completely alone. He has lost his unborn child and now his husband, and all he wants to do is run until he dies.

Thor chases after Loki, finally catching him in the east gardens, where they first spoke to one another on a mild evening four years ago. He takes Loki’s face in his hands and tries to soothe him, but Loki is inconsolable.

“I knew it, I knew it!” he weeps. “I knew he was going to die! Now there will be no children, no throne, no life for me here! No one will want me now! I am widowed and worthless!”

Thor holds Loki’s cheeks so he is forced to look into his eyes. “That will not be your fate, Loki. I gave you my word, and I intend to keep it.”

He sinks down on both his knees, grasping Loki’s hands tightly in his own.

“It is not uncommon in Asgard for an unwed man to take his deceased brother’s wife as his own,” he says. “This way, you shall remain in our family and be looked after. You will not be abandoned or cast out. I will be your friend, your companion, your ally, Loki. I will do my best to nurture your dreams. I will place your happiness over my own, for that is only what you deserve.

“I know that you loved my brother. Maybe you feel that you will never love again. Perhaps you won’t. I cannot say. But I tell you now, Loki, I will not force you to submit to me, nor render unto me anything you do not willingly give. I will not ask that you love me or make love to me, but I hope that someday you might find me worthy of your affections. If so, I will endeavor to remain worthy of them for the rest of my life.”

A squeak escapes Loki’s mouth and his eyes gleam wetly in the light.

Thor looks up at him, his face honest and hopeful. “I am already yours, Loki Laufeykin. Will you also be mine?”

Loki sucks in a breath. “Oh, Thor—” He bends down and folds himself around Thor’s head, hugging him, shedding tears into his blond hair. “I will. I will.”

All around them, the rose bushes bloom full and pink.