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The Game Begins Again

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He knows, when he wakes up, the hammer is gone.

(He knows where it is, as well, but if he went straight to where it was, and brought it back, Loki would pout. Loki's pouting breaks his heart.)

"Loki!" he roars, the signal to start the game. "What did you do with my hammer?"

He tries to put the same feeling into it that he did the first time, when he discovered the hammer gone. They both knew the hammer was more symbol than anything, but in the right hands, even symbols could be dangerous.

"Me?" Loki said, appearing at the doorway of his room. Her hair looked longer than usual, and it seemed to Thor that she was trying on a new figure. Always changing, Loki. Her form seemed to change with the days, and she often looked out at Midgard and expressed her sorrow that they could not change their shape to reflect their true selves as easily as she could.

"You," Thor said, declaratively rather than accusatively. "My hammer has been taken. Again."

"Hmm," she said. "And you come accusing me so swiftly and easily of taking it."

"I do not hear you denying that you have," he pointed out.

"I do not have your hammer," she said.

Loki liked to speak truths that were not helpful, Thor remembered. She thought it was more fun to tell truth and see the conclusions that others would come to than to lie to someone so they would think what she wanted them to.

"I see the truth of your words," Thor said, which brought a smile to her face. "What do you suggest we do to find it?"

Loki's smile vanished, replaced by a slight frown.

"That's not how the game is played, Thor," she said. "You're supposed to rage up and down the hallways and swear terrible things will happen to the people who stole your hammer."

"I don't feel like it," Thor said, which made Loki's frown more severe.

"Thor," Loki said gently, "it's not healthy for you to hold your feelings inside like this."

"If I could describe them," Thor said sourly, "it would be much easier to let them out."

Loki nodded her head. "Let's skip the thundering, then, and go see Freyja about getting your hammer back." She turned and beckoned Thor to follow her.

"What does Freyja have to..." Thor started to wonder, before striding after Loki.

They both knew the way, but Thor let himself be led. He loved her, as one loved family, and it would not be fair to her not to play where he could.

When they reached Freyja's door, Thor heard a loud sound that rattled his bones. Fearing danger, he opened the door quickly, instinctively ducking as a spear whistled over his head.

Freyja whirled to see who had entered her chamber.

"You!" she said, brandishing a letter in her hand and advancing with violence in her eyes.

"Good morning?" Thor said, confused.

Freyja swept past him to stand in front of Loki.

"I told you this was a bad idea," she shouted at him.

"What?" Loki said, clearly perplexed.

"Thrym sent his letter," she said, thrusting it in her face. Loki scanned the lines in front of her.

"That's not what we agreed to," she said.

Thor smiled. Loki noticed, but Freyja's anger prevented her from acknowledging it as she thrust the letter in Loki's face and left in a fury.

"What was the plan?" Thor said, trying to sound concerned.

"The plan," Loki said, sighing, "was to get you out of your funk and then let you so smashing around for a bit."

"Funk?" Thor said, crossing his arms.

"You have been in a foul mood since you returned from Midgard," Loki said, stalling Thor's further protests with a wave of her hand.

"And you thought the best idea was to steal my hammer and give it to the king of the giants."

Loki shrugged.

"Nothing else seemed like it would get you out of your depression," she said. "We spent a long time trying less extreme measures."

"What does Thrym demand in return for my hammer?" Thor said, pointing at the paper in Loki's hands.

Loki handed Thor the letter. As he read it, a smile broke out, leading to a bout of laughter as he finished.

"Now I understand why Freyja was furious with you," Thor said.

Loki nodded, perhaps with the slightest bit of embarrassment, before stepping back and regarding Thor with a more critical eye.

"We should see Freyja again," she said. "I need to apologize. You need to ask her a favor."

Loki grabbed Thor's hand and started pulling him in the direction Freyja had left. Unsure of what Loki planned, he followed her. A hand on his chest was all the warning he received before he heard Freyja's complaints to Heimdall about the indignity of the situation, mixed with a few thoughts of what she would do with the hammer if she should regain it herself. At least, Thor hoped that she was talking about the hammer and not something else.

Loki seemed to be waiting for a break in Freyja's invective before coming to see her. It surprised Thor, then, when Freyja loudly mentioned she knew they were there and should just come to see her, without dropping a stitch in the tapestry of complaint she was weaving to Heimdall. Loki looked embarrassed at this, but not enough to dissude her from taking up the invitation.

"Dear Freyja," Loki said, smoothly putting herself into the weave, "I believe I have found a solution for this problem that I have caused."

"I'm not going," Freyja said.

"You don't have to," Loki said, smiling broadly. "I think there is someone here who would be more suited to Thrym's tastes."

Freyja did not respond, but for giving Loki a look that suggested she should choose her next words wisely if she wished to continue speaking at all.

"Thor, dear," Loki said, smiling, "would you read what Thyrm's demand is again?"

Thor looked at the paper in his hands. "I, Thrym, will only return the hammer of Thor if I should have the most beautiful woman in Asgard as my wife."

Heimdall's lips quirked up in a smile upon hearing this, understanding immediately what Loki's plan was. Neither Freyja nor Thor followed as easily, and Freyja turned her baleful gaze on Thor for repeating such hated words.

"It is well-known as fact that I, Freyja, am the most beautiful woman in Asgard," she said. "Why do you challenge it, Loki?"

"Thrym looks for a trophy, a woman he can stare at and admire, not a wife who will look after his hold and his flock and fight those who come to his lands looking to make them part of his own," Loki said. "He cannot appreciate your full beauty, because he would not allow himself to see the flash of anger in your eyes, the sharpness of your tongue, or the working of your hands as they strike, fight, and forge wonders on the skin of others."

Freyja did not seem particularly flattered by Loki's statement, Thor thought. "Freyja is beautiful to behold," Thor said, winning him a rare smile from her.

"And her temperament is legendary," Loki replied mildly.

"If any man, mortal or god, wished Freyja as his wife," Thor persisted cautiously, "he must be willing to accept all of her. He must be willing to be humbled when he is wrong, to listen to her when she is right, to appreciate the work of her hands, and to count himself among the luckiest if he should win her heart."

"He understands," Freyja said, pointing at Thor.

"Which is why you are entirely unsuitable for Thrym," Loki said, smoothly picking up the thread again. "We cannot condemn you to that life. Thrym wants someone beautiful and who is easily flattered by conspicuous wealth and who will boast about his acquisition. Someone relatively free of guile and who would go through anything to get his hammer back."

Heimdall's smile could no longer be contained. Freyja looked at Thor with new eyes, the same way that Loki had before. An inkling of an idea was forming in his head, but he wasn't sure if his understanding was correct.

"And you came to me?" Freyja said.

"To apologize," Loki said contritely. "And to ask a favor."

Freyja considered something for a significant amount of time.

"No," she said finally. "I am not ready to forgive you. Find someone else."

Freyja swept away, Heimdall following her. Loki sighed.

"We have work to do," she said to Thor.