Actions

Work Header

A Cuckoo in the Nest

Chapter Text

Queen Frigga of Asgard pushed and moaned, while a servant wiped a cool cloth across her brow. She tried to grit her teeth against the pain.

She remembered, with surprising clarity, her first labor - all those long years ago. It had been equally painful, but had been worth it; it had given her Thor, her beautiful son.

She pulled her mind away from thoughts of those other times; those long, hard labors that ended in nothing but misery and heartbreak. She would have a strong, healthy child this time, she was convinced it would be so. She had done everything within her power to ensure it.

She had taken such care to eat everything the healers recommended - liver, green vegetables, plenty of fruit. She had taken moderate exercise every day - enough to keep her body in shape, but not so much that the child in her womb might suffer. She tried to stay calm and happy, despite the fact that war was raging throughout the realms and she had to be hidden away, in case she should be seized as a spoil of war. What a prize for an enemy that would be - the pregnant wife of Odin, unable to defend herself while her belly was so large!

That was why she was giving birth, not in the beautiful palace of Asgard, but hidden away in a fortified castle with a small but trusted skeleton staff.

Her women rushed back and forth with towels and hot water, sharing concerned glances, while her good friend, Eir, did everything she could to ensure the queen would produce a healthy child.

But Frigga recognized the feeling in the room, the heavy weight of words unsaid. Tears began to run down her cheeks and she cried, "Eir?"

Eir didn't respond. Instead, Frigga heard the healer call to the other women. "Leave us now. Tell the cook to prepare your supper. I'll come and get you when you're needed again."

Frigga heard the sound of footsteps and the door closing. At Eir's urging, she pushed once again, and this time she felt the release as the baby left her body.

There was no cry. There was no sound at all.

She saw Eir move away and fuss for a few minutes before the healer turned back to her. The pity in Eir’s eyes was enough.

Frigga began to cry. "What was it?"

Eir sighed. “My lady…"

Frigga gritted her teeth. "WHAT WAS IT?"

"A boy, my lady."

"Let me see him."

Eir began to shake her head. "I don't think…"

"Now!"

Eir turned away and lifted the small, lifeless bundle. Frigga reached out and Eir reluctantly handed it to her.

He was beautiful.

She ran her hands over his tiny fingers and toes, noticing the perfection of them. He had long, dark eyelashes and a small shock of dark hair. She ran her fingers over it; it was silky soft to her touch. Again, she thought of Thor; he had been born with dark hair, but it had soon lightened to blond. She wondered if it would have been so with this child.

She began to sob. Eir leaned forward and took the baby from her. She returned quickly and pulled Frigga close, running her hands over the queen’s hair in a soothing gesture.

“Hush now… it's going to be alright. Everything will be alright." It didn't seem strange. They had been friends long before they were queen and subject, and in this moment they were friends again.

"W..what if I..I… n..never have a..n..other?" Frigga stuttered out between her sobs.

“Then you have the satisfaction of knowing that you have a fine, strong boy in Thor - a boy that would make any mother proud!"

Frigga wiped her eyes and tried to calm herself. She knew that Eir was right, that she still had her darling, golden Thor; but she had wanted another child so desperately - not just for Odin and the throne, but for herself. She longed to hold a baby in her arms again, to nurse it and love it. Thor was growing older, he didn't need her as much anymore. These days, he spent more time with his father than with her. She missed him.

There was a knock at the door, and they exchanged surprised glances. Eir had sent the other women away - who would dare to interrupt them in defiance of her orders?

Eir marched angrily to the door and wrenched it open, prepared to give the intruder a piece of her mind.

The words died on her lips and she stepped back, lowering her head. “My King!"

Frigga stared at her husband in shock. "Odin? What are you doing here?" She twisted on the bed to see him better and her hand flew to her mouth. "Your eye! What happened? Are you alright? Eir, help him!"

At her words, Eir raised her head and saw the large bandage covering the king's eye. She stepped forward, but he waved her aside and pulled a chair close to his wife.

"It was done by sorcery, you cannot repair it. Laufey's mate, Faubarti, was a sorcerer of some skill, although it didn't save her in the end. She paid highly for her trickery."

Frigga gently lifted the field dressing and ran her hand across his empty socket. “She is dead?"

"Yes. I did not deliver a killing blow, but I have heard since that Laufey blames me for her death." As he spoke, his eyes took in the scene before him and his expression changed to one of sadness. He quickly guessed what had happened; it was a familiar scene.

Frigga saw the understanding in his eyes and looked away. "I am sorry, my lord. He was born dead."

He - it had been a boy. Odin’s heart twisted, but he tried not to show his disappointment. "You have nothing to apologize for, it was nothing you could have helped. Perhaps I should apologize to you. Giving birth under these circumstances could not have been easy."

She fought back more tears as she thought of all the other unsuccessful births. "I don't think it made much of a difference, do you?"

He didn't reply. Instead, he looked at Eir and seemed to come to a decision. “My dear, I have something to ask of you and I fear it is not a little thing."

Eir moved towards the door but he held up a hand to her. "No, wait. If my queen agrees, we will need your help.”

Glancing curiously at her friend, Eir returned to the bedside.

"We won the battle."

“That is wonderful news." Despite the words, Frigga's tone was flat. The world seemed very far away and all she could think about was her own grief.

Odin didn't seem to notice. "Yes, Laufey has been forced to submit and Asgard has taken the Casket of Ancient Winters as part of their forfeit."

This got Frigga's attention. "But without the casket, Jotenheim will surely perish. Is it not the source of their power?"

"Yes, indeed. They may survive for another thousand years - perhaps even two - but the loss of the casket ensures their eventual destruction."

Frigga tried to rise, only to feel Eir's hand on her shoulder. "Be still, my lady. You need to rest."

Frigga lay back. "Husband, you cannot cause the destruction of one of the realms under your care. Certainly, Jotenheim has erred, but the loss of the casket is a death sentence. We cannot be responsible for the destruction of one of the nine realms."

"I know. I will have to return it before that happens. But to return it to Laufey - after he has spent centuries brooding over his wrongs - would be equally foolish. I could return it only under the protection of someone I could trust. Someone who would use it wisely, for the benefit of Asgard."

Frigga gave an uncharacteristic snort. "And where in Jotenheim would you find such a paragon as that?"

Odin reached for her hand. "And thus we come to the favor I would beg of you. When I went to the temple to retrieve the casket, I found something I was not expecting. A newborn baby - a runt, by all appearances - left to die in the cold and the ice."

Frigga made a small sound and Eir moved closer and put a hand on her shoulder. It was too soon to speak of a child dying.

"When I went to examine him, I saw that his markings were familiar to me. They showed him to be the child of Laufey and Faubarti. This, then, was their heir - third in line to the throne of Jotenheim. As I laid hands on the infant, his appearance shifted to that of an Asgardian."

He didn't tell her that he had been thinking of Hela, his beautiful but crazed daughter - the child he had failed so badly and been forced to send away. He believed the baby had gleaned something of his thoughts, and had taken on the form that would be most pleasing to the finder.

"Instinctive magic such as that is rare; it speaks of a potential for great power. When he left him there, Laufey could not have known what gifts his heir possessed; but if he survived through the night and his powers were discovered, the boy would soon become a formidable enemy to Asgard. I could not risk it. I decided to bring him here.”

He watched her as he spoke. Her usually open and loving countenance was replaced by a face as cold and hard as granite.

“In this boy, we have a prize as valuable as the casket. With your consent, we will raise him as our own, until such time that we can tell him of his true history. When he comes of age, we will return him to Jotenheim, to serve us as a prince of both realms - a Jotun and an Asgardian! If the Norns favor us, he may even become their king - a king we could trust and advise. A king that will be, for all intents and purposes, one of us - an Aesir in thought and deed."

While he had been speaking, Frigga found herself staring at him with a mixture of incredulity and horror. Her mind whirled. "Raise him as our own? A frost giant?!"

"But a runt. If we are lucky, he may not grow to be substantially larger than Thor. And I can modify his own spell to make sure that his form stays in it’s Aesir aspect. Not even he will have any idea that he is different until we tell him so. In every real sense, he will be as any other Asgardian."

He wanted her to treat this... creature as her own, to raise him with their own beautiful boy! The thought made her afraid.

"Husband, surely you do not mean that we will raise him side by side with Thor? As a brother? He is a frost giant! Thor would never be safe! A frost giant’s touch alone will burn an Aesir, but a frost giant with seidr - it does not bear thinking about!"

"Do not distress yourself. The boy will be carefully watched, and I am hopeful that under our influence he will learn to reject his baser Joten impulses. Away from that environment, I'm sure we can teach him to be a credit to us. And I will, of course, ensure that Thor will be safe. I intend to limit the child’s seidr - he will not be able to access enough of his magic to hurt any of us or do any real harm."

"But how would we even raise him? We know nothing about Jotuns, much less their infants! Do they even have the same physiology? Would he even survive the heat of an Asgardian summer?"

"You are right, my dear, of course. There is much we do not know. We would simply have to do as many other parents have done in the past and figure it out as we go along."

She suddenly thought back to his words. “Wait - you said the child is here?"

"Yes. I thought it best to leave him outside in the hall while we talk."

Eir rushed to the door. Frost giant or not, a cold hallway was no place for a newborn babe. A small bundle lay on the floor and she stooped to pick it up. She pulled back the blanket he was wrapped in and was pleased to see that he still looked like an Aesir. She passed him to her queen.

Frigga took the bundle by instinct before she thought to refuse. She stared down at him. To her eyes, he looked remarkably similar to the child she had just lost - her child. The only difference between them was the startling green of his eyes; they looked unnatural for a newborn. Well, she realized, they were. His true eye color must be red. She felt a sudden wave of hatred wash over her. Why should this unwanted child live, when her own precious baby had to die?

She thrust him back to Odin. “Show me his true form."

Odin waved his hand and suddenly she was staring at the red eyes and cold blue skin of a Jotun.

She couldn't help the natural reaction that most people had when they stared at a frost giant - she shivered with horror. “Take it away, I don't want to see it."

Odin frowned. Spying the cradle in the corner of the room, he moved towards it.

Frigga cried out in alarm. "Not in there! That is for our child!"

Odin ignored her and placed the infant in the cradle. "Frigga… wife… our baby is gone. We did not make another heir for Asgard, but we have found something better!"

Eir winced as he spoke the words. Odin may have been a great king, but she often thought he lacked tact.

Frigga drew in a shocked breath. "Are you mad? You are speaking of our child! Our own son! How could there be anything good in the death of our boy?"

Odin realised his mistake. "Of course that is not what I meant. How could the loss of our own flesh and blood be anything other than a tragedy?"

He moved towards her and put an arm around her stiff and resisting waist. "I did not mean to imply that I do not mourn. I only meant to say that now we have a chance to prevent future wars and thus save the lives of our people. By taking in this foundling, we can prevent the deaths of children throughout this realm. And perhaps, with this act of charity, the Norns will reward us with further offspring of our own."

Frigga allowed herself to soften in the arms of her husband. Almost in a whisper, she said, "I had such hopes this time… I was so careful."

"Do not blame yourself; there was nothing you could have done. We will have a healthy heir when the Norns decree it so and not before. In the meantime, we have a babe without a mother and a mother without a babe. Might it not be that this is meant, that we are fated to act as parents to this boy? Thor would like a brother, I think."

He led her to the cradle. “See? He is nothing more than a helpless waif in need of a home."

She looked down and felt resentment wash over her. This wasn't her child; her child was dead. This was an imposter, a cuckoo in the nest, lying in their son's cradle, already stealing things that weren’t his by right.

She turned away from him. "If it were not for the sake of Asgard and the love I bear for you, I would not do this thing! I will raise him, if I must, but know this - I will not treat him as my own. I cannot love this child and I never will."

Odin bowed his head and took her hand in his. He knew that his wife was stubborn and determined, and that her heart was broken; but he also knew that her capacity for love was boundless. Once her heartbreak had healed, she would grow to love the boy. There was no hurry; they had millennia.

Her voice broke into his thoughts. "Is there not a danger in having him so near our throne?"

"I had considered that. We will raise him to be a king, but it will be made clear that he is second to his brother in all things. He will know that Asgard is meant for Thor."

She considered and nodded slowly. "Alright."

He kissed her. "Thank you. I must leave, no-one must know that I was here."

As he turned to leave, a thought occurred to her. "Wait! What of Heimdall?"

"I will explain matters to him, he will understand. Heimdall is loyal to me and to Asgard. We can trust him not to say anything." He walked out the door and disappeared from her sight.

Sighing, she turned back to the room and the child she didn’t want.

Chapter Text

All of Asgard celebrated when they were told about the new heir to the throne, the Prince Loki.

Thor was delighted by the news that he had a new baby brother. Frigga was pleased about that; she loved her son, but had started to fear that he might have been - perhaps - becoming just a little spoiled. The new baby would take a little of the spotlight off Thor and hopefully teach him something about sharing.

When Thor was a child, she had selected a group of children for him to play with. Unfortunately, Frigga noticed that they usually deferred to him, and always did as he wished. A brother would not be as likely to yield and let him have his own way.

Perhaps some good would come of this, after all.

----------

Thor stared in wonder at his new brother and reached out to him. “Hello, Loki!”

Instantly, the baby wrapped a tiny hand around his finger and pulled it closer.

Thor grinned. "How long must we wait for him to join us on our adventures?"

Frigga smiled indulgently. "It will be many years yet before he will be able to play your rough games. But in a few months, he will be crawling, and after that, it won't be long before he starts to walk."

Thor turned back to the baby and didn't notice the frown that came over her face.

She was disturbed by how little she knew about Jotun children. Did they grow at the same rate? Despite Odin’s assurances, she wondered how far the altered form went. Perhaps it was her imagination, but she already thought that he seemed a little cooler than most people, and he would cry loudly if he was bundled up in too many clothes or blankets. Would his growth and progress follow that of an Aesir or a Jotun? And if a Jotun, then what should they expect? Would he be towering over Thor in just a few years? A giant, albeit in Aesir form?

The Jotun would not allow themselves to be taken prisoner; so, without revealing what her husband had done, there was no-one she could ask. They would just have to muddle through and make the best of it.

The child began to cry and Frigga put a hand on her son's shoulder. “Thor, we should leave now."

He looked up, puzzled. "But he's crying. Shouldn't we try and make him feel better?"

"He's crying because he's hungry. We should leave so the wet nurse can feed him."

"Can't we feed him?"

"No. That is a job for Angrboda. We should let her feed him in peace."

Frigga couldn’t tell Thor that she couldn’t bear the thought of suckling a frost giant. Instead, they hired a woman from the village. Angrboda would live in the palace and care for the new prince, while her own child, a daughter, would live in the village and be raised by her grandparents.

Thor pouted for a minute and then turned to follow his mother out of the room.

----------

Angrboda was exhausted. She couldn't understand why Loki didn't seem to be thriving. She could tell he was hungry and he would begin to feed; but there was no eagerness to the act and he would quickly turn away. More worrying still, he did not seem to be gaining weight as he should. Her own daughter, Sigyn, born at the same time, was plump and thriving in the care of her grandparents.

Angrboda wondered if she should take her concerns to the queen. Now the war was over, the king and queen were busy taking care of their soldiers and ratifying terms with Jotenheim. Angrboda knew they were both very busy, especially the king, who was frequently absent even at mealtimes.

She was puzzled by the king and queen's behaviour concerning their new son.

It had been almost two weeks since the queen had found time to visit him, and as far as the wet nurse knew, the king had only seen him once since their return.

Perhaps she could understand that; few fathers were involved with their children while they were babies. His interest would no doubt grow with the boy and, with so many calls on his time, perhaps it was understandable that he couldn’t break away to visit his new son.

But surely, the Queen Frigga could make more of an effort? Angrboda had seen her around the palace, playing with Thor in the garden and relaxing in the sunlight on her private balcony. Couldn’t she have sent for Loki then? She seemed… well, almost to dislike the child.

Angrboda knew that some mothers could experience a depression after giving birth. She had even known a woman in the village with that had suffered that way. All the villagers had done their best to gather round and take care of the child until she recovered herself. It had taken a few months, and the woman had spent many of those months crying or sleeping.

But it was different with the queen; she didn't seem unhappy, just a little distracted. And if it was the same ailment, why would they not take her to the healer? Surely Eir, the royal healer and close friend, would be able to help? But it seemed that no-one besides Angrboda thought the queen was behaving oddly.

It was very strange.

She picked up the baby and ran a finger over his soft cheek. He smiled and reached for her finger, holding it his own tiny hand with a firm grip.

Perhaps she was worrying for nothing.

She decided to wait before alarming anyone. Some babies could be fussy, and it wasn't as though he wasn't feeding at all; she would keep her concerns to herself for a little longer.

----------

The queen was distracted.

At first, when she had agreed to take in the child, she had been too filled with grief and shock to think of anything else; but since then she had started to be curious about the boy.

He was so small. Small even for an Aesir child, and he was supposed to be Jotun. She would not have thought it was possible to conceal a frost giant’s appearance so completely.

Odin said the child's seidr had caused the illusion, but she couldn't help but wonder what was illusion and what was not. That dark hair and those green eyes... so much like Hela, Odin's daughter with his first wife.

Odin had been absent for a long time while they were fighting the war against Jotenheim. She didn’t know if he found the Jotuns as grotesque as she did; as most Asgardians did. She knew that long ago - long before they were married - Odin had seduced a giantess. Frigga wondered now what she had looked like. When she pictured the woman in her mind, she imagined her as beautiful: like an Aesir, but larger.

But what if she had looked like a Jotun? What if Odin found such creatures attractive? What if he had done much more than fight to gain an advantage over the Jotuns?

What if he had seduced a Jotun maiden and Loki was the result?

The boy could easily be a mix of Aesir and Jotun blood. It would explain his diminutive size. Surely, that was more likely than believing that this tiny infant was the offspring of the great King Laufey and his queen, the giantess Faubarti?

But then, how came the child to have Laufey's markings? Might it be that they were Faubarti’s instead? She and Laufey shared bloodlines. After all, there were not many mates for a Jotun king to choose from. Their royal family was small and they could not easily choose a mate from another realm - their freezing touch and their size made it almost impossible. Frigga knew that Laufey and Faubarti were second cousins; it was likely their lines were similar enough to make it hard to differentiate.

Perhaps that was why the child had been abandoned and left to die - because he was a bastard child, not fit to inherit the throne of Jotunheim. Why else would Laufey leave the child to die? Jotunhiem needed children of royal blood. Although the boy was small, he was still an heir to the throne; surely he could have been used as a marriageable pawn?

So what did it mean if the child was Odin's son in very truth? If he lay with another woman - if he had seduced the Queen Faubarti - was it politics? Or was it love?

She knew she would never ask her husband.

Chapter Text

If the royal family thought they could relax now the war was over, they were sadly mistaken. Treaties needed to be signed and agreements reached. Other realms, worried about the threat of Jotenheim as well as the danger of the Allfather’s increasing power, needed to be appeased.

To allay their fears, it was decided that the royal family would visit each of the realms that would benefit from their presence. The ruler of each realm would be expected to renew their oaths of fealty and, in return, the royal family would meet the local dignitaries and progress through the lands, reassuring everyone of their benign intent.

They were all looking forward to seeing Vanaheim and Alfheim, although only Thor was excited about Nidavellir. The dwarves were notoriously sensitive about protocol and who knew how long they would be expected to stay before the dwarves felt that honor was satisfied? Anything less than four months in each realm would be an insult, and the dwarves would expect the visit to Nidavellir to be the longest.

Odin decided that, for a treat, he would also take his family to visit Midgard. Although primitive, he thought his family would enjoy the beauty of the planet. After that, they would return to Asgard, progressing through their own kingdom before returning to the palace. It was always a good idea for the royal family to show themselves to the people.

They would not return for a long time. The bifrost could be used if the king was needed for an emergency, but to return for any other reason would be considered an insult to the realm they were visiting.

So it was unfortunate when they discovered that Loki would not be strong enough for the journey.

----------

Angrboda decided she would have to tell the queen about Loki's poor progress. The child still wasn't thriving or gaining weight as he should be. If he began to decline during their absence, Angrboda would be blamed for her neglect.

She sent a servant with a request to speak to the queen. It was a few hours later when Frigga appeared at her door.

Angrboda bowed low. “My queen."

"You wished to see me… is something wrong?" As she spoke, she looked over to the crib as if it contained a bilgesnipe rather than her own baby.

Angrboda tried to find the right words. "Not wrong, exactly, your majesty, but…"

Frigga turned quickly. "But?"

She was nervous - what could be wrong? Had the baby changed back to his Jotun form? No, Angrboda would not be so calm with a monster in the cradle. Did she suspect, though? Perhaps they should have told her… but she would surely leave, and then what could they do? No sane person would want to nurse a frost giant.

Frigga was so lost in her own musings, that she almost missed what Angrboda said.

"The babe doesn't seem to be gaining weight as he should." She saw Frigga's look of surprise. "He is feeding but… not as he should be."

"Not as he should be?"

"He isn't eager to feed and he rarely seems to take as much as he should. He frequently stops when I am sure he must still be hungry."

Frigga bit her lip. She felt very far out of her depth. She had raised only one child so far and Thor had been an easy baby, loudly crying when he needed anything and taking as much nourishment as they could give him. She realized again how very little she knew about this child.

"What can we do?"

"I thought we might ask Eir. Perhaps she could help?"

"You think he needs a healer?"

"I think it might be a good idea, my lady. See what you think.”

While she was speaking, Angrboda took the baby from the cradle and pushed him towards the queen. Before Frigga was aware of it, he was in her arms. She felt a moment of panic. She always tried to avoid touching the boy and now she was holding him. She was holding a frost giant!

She stared at him in shock. Despite the thoughts running through her head, he didn’t look like a monster. He looked like a baby - an Aesir baby like any other.

She felt the weight of him. Angrboda was right - he was much lighter than he should have been. She was ashamed that she had paid so little attention. She may not have wanted the child, but she had promised to look after him.

"Please go and fetch Eir."

Frigga turned to hand the child back, but Angrboda was already hurrying down the hallway.

Frigga looked more closely at the (monster?) child in her arms. He yawned and gazed up at her with those unnatural green eyes. He reached out for her and she couldn’t help herself - she stretched out a finger to him. He clutched it and made a little gurgling sound.

She smiled and he smiled back. He really was quite beautiful, with that shock of dark hair and those long eyelashes. She remembered Thor at that age. His eyes had been blue, of course, and he’d been larger and warmer…

She pulled back so suddenly that Loki started to cry. Warmer! Of course Thor had been warmer, Loki was a frost giant!

She quickly returned him to his cradle where he continued to cry.

Angrboda and Eir returned a little while later. Frigga was standing by the window, staring out, while Loki cried in his cot.

Angrboda tried to hide her look of shock and quickly went to pick him up. He quieted instantly in her arms. She passed him to Eir to be examined. If Eir thought there was anything strange in a mother ignoring her child while he cried, she said nothing.

"Hmm… You're right, I would expect him to have gained more weight by now. I'll know more once I’ve had a chance to see how he feeds."

Frigga looked at the boy, worried. "We are planning to leave soon on our progress."

“Try not to worry, my lady. I am sure everything will be fine. Some children are simply fussy, I'll wager that's all it is. However… I don’t think it would be a good idea to take him with you. I think he might be better off staying here with Angrboda and myself.”

They tried to pretend they didn’t notice Frigga’s look of relief.

Eir came to a sudden decision. “Angrboda, would you give us a minute alone?”

The other two looked surprised, but the nurse stepped outside and closed the door.

Frigga looked concerned. “Eir, what is it?”

Eir picked up Loki and turned him so he was facing Frigga.

“Frigga,” Eir reverted to the name she had used when they had been nothing more than an apprentice healer and a young valkyrie. “Apart from being underweight, do you know what’s wrong with this child?”

Frigga stared in horror. “No…”

“Absolutely nothing.” Eir pulled him close and placed a light kiss on his forehead. “There is absolutely nothing wrong with this child except that he’s unwanted and neglected.”

Frigga’s face darkened. “You presume too much on our friendship. Have a care, healer. Do not forget that you are addressing your queen."

She turned on her heel and strode out of the room.

That night, Frigga decided they needed no further preparations for their trip.

They were gone by the end of the week.

----------

It didn't take Eir long to learn that the baby wasn't simply being fussy. The child just didn't seem to enjoy Angrboda’s milk. Eir tried him with another wet nurse but the results were worse. She got the feeling he was only feeding at all because of Angrboda. They tried to bottle feed him but he didn't take to that any better.

Four months later, Eir was beginning to despair of ever getting the child to eat properly. He was significantly underweight, even for an Aesir child. Worse still, he was now starting to lose weight.

Eir was not looking forward to telling her king and queen that, not only had she not made any progress, but Loki was beginning to lose what little weight he had.

In desperation, she realised there was only one thing left to do. She began the long, slow walk along the rainbow bridge. "Good Sir Heimdall, how do you fare?"

“Lady Eir, how may I be of service?"

She chose her words carefully. "I wish to discuss the new prince. I believe we are both in the confidence of the king and queen, is that not so?"

Heimdall's eyes flicked briefly to hers before he answered. "It is so."

"I cannot find what ails the child. There are no books I can consult, nor anyone else I can ask. You can see everything in the nine realms. Can you turn your eyes towards Jotunheim and find the information I seek?"

He looked at her again, his expression unreadable. For a moment, she thought he might refuse.

He gave a single nod of his head. "I will do what I can and let you know what I find."

She breathed a sigh of relief.

----------

It took eight days - eight of the longest days of her life.

She was very conscious that they were coming close to losing Loki. While she knew the queen hadn’t taken to the child yet, she also knew the guilt her friend would feel if anything happened to him. But concern for her friend wasn’t the only reason she was sick with worry - she found that she had developed an affection for the tiny babe.

He was a sweet baby, quiet but loving. Now that he knew her, his little face would light up when he saw her and he would hold out his tiny hands for hers.

She was in the nursery with Angrboda when the messenger arrived and told her Heimdall requested her presence.

She put on her shawl and hurried along the bridge. She didn't even think to greet him. "You have something?"

He nodded. "I believe so. It seems Jotun children are fed a mix of their dam's milk and their sire's blood."

Eir gasped in shock. "Blood?"

She heard stories, of course, of the Jotuns' monstrous habits, but she had assumed they were just that - stories. She remembered a rhyme from her girlhood, one that children still loved to sing - ‘Fee, fi, fo, fum, I’ll drink the blood of an Aesir man, and be he alive or be he dead, I’ll grind his bones to make my bread!’

She tried not to show her revulsion. The more she thought about it, the more it made sense. Jotenhiem was an unforgiving land and blood contained many nutrients. A child in that harsh environment no doubt needed iron and protein just to survive. And many cultures believed in the healing properties of blood. She had heard that the dark elves of Svartalfheim frequently drank blood for sustenance, and she knew there were tribes on Midgard that followed the practice.
Even on Asgard, many seers drank blood as part of their rituals, and their own soldiers would often eat blood sausage for the health benefits.

Heimdall glanced at her, lips curled in distaste. "It seems they gain their strength from blood in the same way as the bats from Vanaheim."

Eir snapped back from her thoughts and regarded the gatekeeper. She remembered his words - dam and sire, as if they were discussing animals.

She drew herself up to her full height and asked him coldly, "Is there anything else?"

He quirked an eyebrow, as if amused by her. “Fish oils. And they like their...” he paused, as if searching for a less offensive word, “… nourishment to be cold."

She couldn't believe she hadn't already thought of that. Of course a Jotun child would prefer his milk (blood, her mind interjected) cold.

“Thank you, Sir Heimdall. Keep me informed if you learn anything more." She didn't like the man - his dislike of the baby was clear - but she needed his help, nonetheless.

He nodded in acknowledgement and she walked back to the palace, her mind working furiously.

Obviously, she couldn't get blood from his sire or a Jotun, but perhaps animal blood would work? The thought of giving the child the blood of any person disgusted her, but if she had to, she would give the child her own. But she hoped it wouldn’t come to that, and headed for the kitchens.

It took a few attempts to get it right, but she soon found that a mix of chilled milk and pig’s blood seemed to work. Although the child was still small, he began to gain weight and ate greedily whenever he was fed.

Remembering Heimdall's look of disgust, Eir told no-one what she was doing. Her friend in the kitchen was discreet and never asked why she needed the blood. She didn’t even tell Angrboda, although she thought nothing would shake the love the wet nurse had for her charge.

But Eir had agreed to keep the king’s secret; so, every morning she made up the mixture herself, and had it delivered to Angrboda before every feeding.

Chapter Text

Thor hadn’t thought much about his baby brother since his mother introduced them, all those long months ago.

At first, he had been excited, filled with plans of all the things they would do together. But after a few visits spent watching a sleeping bundle that basically did nothing, his enthusiasm began to wain. He wasn’t even allowed to wake Loki up and play with him!

Since neither his mother or father spent any time with the baby either, Thor started to think that perhaps people didn’t visit babies for that very reason. Perhaps everyone just stayed away from them until they were big enough to be… well, interesting.

So, he stopped going to the nursery. He was sure his parents would let him know when his sibling would be worth visiting once more.

He didn’t think about his brother at all when they began to talk about their progress through the realms. Thor was far too excited about the trip to think of anything else.

He had been to Vanaheim before, but although his mother told him he had been to Alfheim, he was too young to remember the it. And he was very excited at the thought of going to see Nidavellir. He talked to his friends constantly about visiting the realm that forged Gungnir, and begged his father to ask if he might see their fabled furnaces. He didn’t know much about Midgard, but Heimdall assured him that he would enjoy it.

So he was too full of excitement to spare a thought for his sibling, and he was ashamed to admit that he had all but forgotten him.

But that changed as they were travelling.

Although Thor knew where they were going and how long they might be staying in each realm, her hadn’t thought about how long they would actually be away from Asgard.

As they traveled around the realms, he saw many babes in arms, and he couldn’t help but smile at them. He began to think of his own little brother, waiting for him back in Asgard. He had never taken an interest in babies before, but now he asked the mothers all kinds of questions - how old was he? What was her name? How long before she would be walking?

He was surprised at how eager the mothers were to tell him all sorts of details; they were delighted to have a willing ear. In fact, sometimes they were a little too happy to talk, and he had to make an excuse to get away. It seemed odd; he couldn’t remember his mother saying much about Loki at all.

He learned that a baby can smile after only six weeks. He hadn’t known that, and he tried to work out when his last visit to Loki had been. What if Loki had smiled at him and he hadn’t even noticed? Babies could laugh as early as three months old, another mother told him. He realized with a pang that he must have already missed Loki’s first laugh.

Why had no-one told him of these things? Why was it that no-one else seemed interested?

Those thoughts led onto others and he began to think of all the other things he was going to miss - his brother’s first word, for example. He would have liked it to be ‘Thor’. And he would miss his brother’s first faltering steps; by the time they returned, Loki would no doubt be walking.

Thor had a generally happy disposition, but he had a temper - his mother always said it was like storm clouds on a sunny day. He felt his temper rising now. Why were they here, wandering through the realms visiting tedious and bothersome people, when they should be back at Asgard, with his brother?

He left to find his mother.

She was smiling politely as she talked to an incredibly dull ambassador. When Thor appeared at her side, asking to speak with her, she was very glad of the excuse to leave.

Nevertheless, she did feel the need to chastise him for his behavior. “Thor, that was very rude. I was talking to…” she realized she couldn’t remember the ambassador’s name, “that woman,” she finished lamely.

Her son glowered at her. “Why is Loki not with us?”

She stared at him in surprise. It was the first time he’d asked about the baby. “He wasn’t well enough to travel with us.”

Thor was shocked - his brother had been unwell and they hadn’t told him? “Is he going to be alright?”

“Yes, I heard from Eir that his health is much improved. He is better now.”

Thor considered for a moment. “But if he was unwell, why did we travel without him? Why did we not stay to look after him?”

Frigga swallowed. That was a harder question to answer. “Because we knew he was in good hands and we have a duty to the realms under our care.”

“Greater than that due to my brother?”

“You will understand when you are older. We must make sacrifices for our people.”

“But isn’t Loki one of our people?”

Frigga bristled. “My son, you are a child as yet and know nothing of a king’s duties. Be assured that the Allfather always knows best. Now, if you will excuse me, I have my own duties to which I must attend.”

----------

She left the room, but didn’t return to the gathering hall. Instead, she made her way to her rooms.

She didn’t like the feeling of guilt that now seemed to be her constant companion. She, like Thor, couldn’t help but notice all the children they met on their journey, and it seemed to her that she saw dark hair and green eyes everywhere.

She found herself dreaming about holding Loki in her arms; in her dreams she hadn’t thrust him back into his cradle, but comforted him instead. Every night she dreamed, and she wondered if they were dreams or visions. Loki, laughing and walking, falling and laughing again. She saw him giving her a flower he’d picked; then saw herself teaching him a spell, his earnest face screwed up in concentration. She saw two boys running together and giggling, and watched as she held out her hands to both of them.

She saw a hundred different visions of her life with Loki.

She began to think that she wanted to see him again, but it couldn’t happen; they were barely halfway through their trip and there was no way they could return any sooner. Perhaps she could send a message to Angrboda and have the two of them join the royal party? No... what if, once she saw him again, all her old feelings came rushing back? She couldn’t very well send them away, how would she explain it? Perhaps she could write to Angrboda and have her send reports of how the young prince was progressing? She shook her head. It would be too strange, to ask for information now, after so many months. It was probably best to leave it. They would be home soon enough.

She returned to her duties.

----------

By the time the royal family returned to Asgard, Loki was a toddler, running around on chubby legs and chattering constantly.

Most of his life had been spent with Angrboda.

When asked about Loki's health, the servants were happy to tell the king and queen that the child was feeding happily and growing well. Satisfied, Odin immediately summoned his councilors, while a tired and hungry Thor was whisked away to the dining hall by his friends.

Frigga was also tired and hungry, but she felt guilty about the amount of time the baby had spent apart from his family. She was curious to see if Loki resembled the child from her dreams. Deciding that she could wait a little while longer before eating and resting, she turned towards the nursery.

The door was open and she could hear childish laughter from inside. Loki was being chased around the room by Angrboda. When she caught him, she raised him up and tickled his stomach while the child kicked his legs and giggled with delight.

Frigga stood, frozen in the doorway. Of course, they had been gone a long time, but she had forgotten how quickly children grow. She had left a baby; she returned to find a running, chattering child - the child she had seen in her dreams.

He looked up and his eyes widened as they connected with hers. He pulled away from his nurse and pointed. “Boda, there's a lady."

Startled, Angrboda whirled around quickly. “My queen!"

She put down the child and sank into a deep curtsy. Loki, confused, followed suit, and bowed with all the solemnity of a child twice his age. Angrboda had taught him well.

Frigga walked into the room. She felt like an intruder. "Well, I don't need to ask after Loki, do I?" She moved to take the boy's face in her hands. "How you have grown!"

Loki looked at Angrboda, unsure.

He obviously didn't know his mother at all. Of course, Frigga thought, why would he? She had left him when he was only a few months old and now he was a toddler.

Angrboda smiled at Loki. "Loki, this is your mother. Say hello to her!"

He still looked uncertain. Unsure of how to address her, he decided to follow Angrboda’s example. "Hello, my queen."

Frigga gave a tight smile. "No, Loki. You call me 'mother’."

Loki lowered his head, looking thoroughly chastised. “Sorry… Mother."

Frigga mentally cursed herself for immediately correcting the first words the child spoke to her. “That's alright, you didn't know."

With a pang, she realized that she was right; he didn't know. He hadn’t seen her since he was a tiny baby. She had missed his first words and his first steps, and he had no idea who she was. His father and brother would also be strangers to him.

It occurred to her, for the first time, to wonder how the child had been raised while they were gone.

Angrboda was a commoner; she would not have been mixing with the elite of Asgard. Loki would not have been making friends with the sons of lords and ladies, he would have been consorting with the people Angrboda knew and playing with their children.

She chastised herself for not thinking about that sooner. Would he have any friends at the royal court?

She moved to sit on the floor. Angrboda jumped up in alarm and looked for a chair, but Frigga waved at her to join them. Nervously, Angrboda lowered herself beside her charge. Frigga watched sadly as Loki quickly hurried to Angrboda’s side and reached out for her. Angrboda gave Frigga a quick glance to make sure that it was alright, and then pulled Loki onto her lap.

Seeing the boy's nervousness, Frigga began to make conversation with Angrboda. Angrboda told her how Eir managed to get the boy to eat again with some kind of special formula, although she didn't know the details. She only knew that Eir used to bring the mixture to her each day and Loki would drink it eagerly. Even now, Eir oversaw the boy's diet - he wasn't fond of fruit and vegetables, but he liked fish and eggs. She was happy to report that he was thriving in mind and body.

Angrboda told the queen how clever the boy was. "He speaks far better than most boys of his age. He can even read a few words!"

The queen was impressed. Thor had been a bright child, constantly chattering like a magpie, but had not started reading until much later. She smiled at the boy. "Can you read your name, Loki?"

Loki nodded. Rushing forward, he began to sort through his letter blocks, pulling out the letters that comprised his name.

Frigga turned to look at Angrboda in surprise. "Impressive."

Angrboda smiled proudly, then seemed to think of something. “My lady, there is one other thing…"

She tried to think of a way to break it to the queen that Loki was gifted with seidr. Despite the king’s knowledge and use of it, it was not generally considered to be a desirable trait for males.

"Never mind, Angrboda," Frigga said quietly, "I think I know what you're trying to tell me."

Angrboda turned in the direction of the queen's gaze, only to see Loki's letter blocks flying in the air above his head.

Chapter Text

Thor intended to visit his baby brother as soon as he had finished eating. He turned to his friends eagerly and interrupted them as they tried to ask him about his adventures.

"Never mind that! What of my brother? How does he fare? Is he very big now?"

His friends exchanged surprised glances.

“Thor!" admonished Sif, "How would we possibly know that? We don't visit the royal nursery. Why on earth would we?"

Now it was Thor's turn to look surprised. “Why, to visit my brother of course."

Hogan shook his head. “Thor, your brother is a baby. What possible interest could we have in a baby? We’ve only seen him a couple of times and even then, it was for a few minutes only."

Fandral nodded. "He wouldn't even know who we were! It would look very odd if we did go to see him."

Volstagg could see that his friend was starting to look angry. Thor seemed to take their disinterest personally. “Thor, once the child is older, then of course we will get to know him better; until then, he is best left in the company of his nurse. But perhaps we could all go and visit him after we have eaten?"

Thor nodded, his good temper restored. "A good suggestion! But I shall not wait until you have finished, my hungry friend!" He patted Volstagg's stomach and laughed. "Come, let us go now!"

The others rolled their eyes but rose to follow him.

----------

Loki was lying asleep in his bed when Thor burst into the room, with no thought of knocking.

Angrboda, who had been reading, started up and dropped her book.

The noise woke Loki. He sat up quickly, his hair mussed and his expression worried. He looked at Angrboda in alarm.

She quickly recovered herself. "It's alright, Loki. See, it is your brother and his friends come to visit you!" She curtsied to the prince and his friends.

Loki watched the group warily. He was tired and just wanted to be left alone with Angrboda. He had already acquired a mother that day - how many more people would appear? He supposed there was a father somewhere as well. Loki hoped that he could stay away until tomorrow.

Now he studied the new arrivals. He had no idea which one was his brother. There was a dark haired girl and boy, a large, redheaded boy - older than the others - and two blond boys, one slight and one stocky. Loki had heard his brother was fair, so he supposed his brother was one of those two. He turned to Angrboda in confusion.

Angrboda wasn't sure what to do either. She wasn’t noble born; she had been hired as a wet nurse and had simply stayed on when it seemed no-one else wanted to look after the child.

Except for the fact that they lived in the palace and had everything they needed, she had been raising him almost as her own child. Loki was friends with her daughter and the children in the village, as well as the cooks, the gardeners and the maids. They didn't know anyone except villagers and servants. By every rule of propriety, Angrboda shouldn't have even been allowed to speak to the Crown Prince of Asgard…

But then, the Crown Prince of Asgard shouldn't have burst into Loki's rooms and woken him up. She could see that her charge was upset and confused, and if she didn't intervene quickly, this meeting would not go well.

Angrboda reached out a hand and Loki climbed out of bed and went to her. She took him to stand in front of Thor.

"Loki, this is Thor - your big brother." She could tell from the faces of the others that the introduction hadn't been done correctly. She cursed herself for not finding out about such things sooner.

Loki also wasn't sure what he was expected to do; he had never met a prince or a brother before. Earlier, he had followed Angrboda’s lead and bowed to the queen when she curtsied, and since she curtsied to Thor, he decided to copy her again. He lowered his head and bent over in a solemn bow.

The visitors laughed loudly and Loki stood up quickly, his cheeks burning. Thor wiped the tears from his eyes. Really, seeing such a small child offer such a deep obeisance had been one of the funniest things he had ever seen. He reached out for his brother.

Loki stepped back. He didn't like being laughed at and he didn't think he liked having a brother. He’d managed very well without one so far and he didn't see why everything had to change.

Thor looked surprised. "Loki, come here! I want to see how much you’ve grown."

Loki shook his head and took another step back.

Thor flushed with annoyance. He wasn’t used to being disobeyed. "Loki, I'm your older brother and the Crown Prince of Asgard; I am ordering you to come here - now!"

He lunged forward to grab his brother. His jaw dropped open when he found himself holding empty air as he suddenly spied his brother across the room. "What just happened?"

Angrboda frowned. It looked as though Loki had learned a new trick, one that was going to make a lot more work for her. "Loki, now is not the time for games. Please be good."

Loki bit his lip but stayed where he was. He always obeyed Boda when she spoke in that tone of voice.

Thor was angry that his brother had made him look a fool in front of his friends. He strode across the room and grabbed Loki roughly by the wrist.

Loki uttered a yelp and narrowed his eyes; Thor was hurting him and he was too small to pull away or fight back. Before Angrboda could intervene - and in truth, she had no idea what she was supposed to say to stop the future heir of Asgard - Loki lowered his head and bit Thor's arm.

The others laughed, while Thor swore and pushed Loki away from him.

Loki tumbled to the ground, hitting his back against a chair as he fell. Tears of pain and anger filled his eyes. He didn't like strangers touching him. The only people that touched him were Angrboda, his friends and occasionally Eir. Angrboda had told him that other people weren't allowed to, because he was a prince.

But now this other prince had not only touched him, but hurt his wrist and pushed him down, and Loki was too small to do anything about it.

He saw Angrboda coming towards him, but he didn't want to be seen by anyone. He thought back to how he had inadvertently made the clone earlier and made another, leaving it to sit on the floor while he rolled away under the bed. He left another clone there while he hid on the seat behind the heavy curtains. He wiped the tears from his eyes and wished that nothing had changed. He didn't want a mother and a father and a brother.

He only wanted Angrboda.

----------

Thor left his friends and ran to his mother's rooms and, as was his habit, burst in without knocking. “Mother!"

Frigga smiled and dismissed her waiting woman. "What is it, my love?"

"I don't like my little brother! He played a trick on me with magic and bit me!"

Frigga felt her blood run cold. Wasn't this what she had feared all along? That this child would not be able to suppress his Jotun instincts and would hurt her own precious son?

She held out her arms to him and he ran to her. “Show me."

He held up his arm. The skin was unbroken, but there were clear signs of teeth marks and a bruise was already beginning to form. “My poor boy, let me take care of it."

She laid her hand over the mark and uttered the soft words of a healing spell. She knew that even without the spell, the mark would heal quickly; but if she could save her boy from a moment's discomfort, then she would.

Odin came in at that moment.

"Husband, come and see this. Loki used his seidr and bit Thor."

He could almost hear her thoughts - ‘I told you this would happen when we decided to adopt a frost giant.’

He sat beside her and pulled Thor to sit between them. "My son, will you tell us what happened?"

"I wanted to see him, but he didn't look very happy to see me. Then when I reached for him, he bit me and then he made other Lokis that weren't real and ran away."

Odin cast a curious look towards his wife.

She glared at him. “It seems Loki has a natural propensity for magic." Which you promised to suppress, she mentally added.

Thor frowned. "I thought only girls did tricks like that."

Odin ruffled the boy's hair and said humorously, "I can do tricks like that. Are you saying that I'm a girl?"

Thor's eyes widened in shock. "No! But you're the Allfather. It’s different. You can do anything!"

Odin chuckled. "Well, that's good to know. I'll try to remember that the next time I'm trying to collect taxes from our people!"

Frigga gave a small smile at the joke, but returned to the subject at hand. "But what of Loki's violence towards Thor?"

“That is a cause for concern." He put a hand on her shoulder. "Do not worry, my dear. We will get to the bottom of this."

He turned to Thor. "Now, let's go back and hear this story again. You said he didn't look happy to see you… was he eating dinner, perhaps?"

"No, I’m sure he finished his dinner long before that. He was sleeping."

Frigga's eyes widened. “Thor, you do not mean to say that you woke him up?"

"Well, yes. I did not expect him to be abed so early and I wished to see him."

"But he's still just an infant, he needs his sleep!"

Thor looked mulish. "But I wanted to see my brother and I did not want to wait."

Odin nodded. "Well, I think we may have established why he wasn't happy to see you. Tell me, do you enjoy being woken from sleep before your time?"

Thor said nothing. He hated to be roused early and was notoriously bad tempered of a morning.

"What happened next?"

"He bit me!" Thor knew he was right to be indignant on that score.

"Describe for us the events that led up to that. You entered the room and woke him up. What then?"

Thor thought back and grinned. "It was actually very funny! His nurse introduced me and Loki bowed. It made us laugh…"

"Us?"

“The Warriors Three, Sif and I."

Now it was Frigga's turn to interrupt. "Wait - you are saying that, not only did you wake him from sleep, but you took your friends and laughed at him?"

"But he looked so funny! And why would he bow to me? I am his brother!"

Odin frowned at him gravely. "Do you enjoy being laughed at?"

"No."

"And would you like it if a group of people you didn't know came to your room, woke you, and then laughed at you?"

"But he should not have bowed…"

"And how should he have known that? We have been absent for most of his young life. Who would teach him these things? Do you think he has been socializing with the court while we have been gone? I do not imagine his nurse has been spending much time with the noble men and women of Asgard, do you?"

Thor blushed. "No, Father."

Frigga was starting to realize how much more there was to his story. "What happened next, Thor?"

"I wanted him to come closer but he stepped back. Then I ordered him to come to me…”

“Wait! You ordered him?”

“Yes, but he refused. I reached for him, but he performed some kind of illusion and slipped from my grasp. I got angry." He hung his head. "His nurse told him not to perform tricks, so he didn't move when I approached him next. I may…" his head dropped even further, "I may have gripped him a little too firmly, and he bit me."

Odin and Frigga exchanged a look and tried not to smile. Their son may have had his faults, but at least he was honest about owning up to them.

Frigga put a hand under her son's chin until his eyes met her own. "Do you see how much that story differs from your original telling?"

"Yes, Mother."

"Is there anything else that you need to add?"

He swallowed nervously. "When he bit me…"

"Yes?" she prompted.

"It hurt and I got angry. I pushed him away and he fell against a chair. It looked as though it might have hurt. But then he made more copies of himself and hid. We couldn't find him again."

Odin and Frigga now looked concerned.

Odin stood and held out a hand to his son. "I think we should go and make sure your brother is unhurt, and I think an apology may be in order, don't you?"

"Yes, Father."

----------

As a family, they walked to Loki's room.

This time, Frigga gave a gentle knock and waited until Angrboda came and quietly opened the door. Seeing the royal family, she bowed her head and gave a deep curtsey.

“May we come in?"

"Of course, my queen." Angrboda kept her head lowered and backed away. She could not believe she was in the presence of the Allfather himself.

"Please, be at ease."

She raised her head and smiled nervously. She saw Loki's green eyes watching from his bed and she flashed a reassuring smile in his direction.

Odin caught the smile and turned. "Ah, Loki! I am happy to see that you are awake. I know that it is late, but would you mind if we spoke with you for a moment?"

Loki sat up, hair mussed but his eyes bright. He hadn't been able to get back to sleep, his pride hurting as much as his back and his wrist.

He stared at them all with a mixture of worry and resentment. He wished they would all just leave him alone.

"Do you remember me?"

Loki shook his head.

"But you know who I am?"

"The king?" he said, guessing. Odin smiled and gave a small nod.

So this was his father. Once again, he didn't know what to do. He wasn't going to bow if they were going to laugh at him again. He flashed at look at Angrboda to see if she could tell him what was expected.

It was clear that she wasn't sure either. She made a small movement to indicate a bow and he frowned. He grimaced and began to climb out of the bed.

Odin put out a hand and stopped him. “Please, stay where you are. We have no wish to disturb you more than we have already."

The small family felt a little guilty. Loki was staring at them as though they were snakes about to strike. It was obvious that he was longing for them to leave.

"We heard about what happened earlier and thought an apology was in order."

Loki lowered his head. "I'm sorry."

Frigga sat beside him on the bed. Loki shrank back a little. She tried not to mind. “Thank you, dear, but you misunderstand. An apology is due to you. Thor?"

Thor moved forward and Loki tensed. "I am sorry, brother. I was excited to see you and I did not consider how my actions may have appeared. I should not have laughed at you or grabbed you and I am sorry if I was too rough with you."

He had obviously been practicing the apology in his head as they had walked to Loki's room. Now the practiced part was finished, his voice took on a softer tone. "I truly did not mean to cause you any pain, brother. Did I hurt you?"

Loki watched him for a moment and then held out his wrist accusingly. They saw dark finger marks bruising the pale skin.

Thor felt guilt wash over him. “I am very sorry. I have never had a little brother before. I promise I will be more careful in the future. Will you forgive me?"

Loki stared at him for a moment, as if judging to see if he was sincere; then he nodded.

Thor smiled. Loki decided that he liked that smile; it seemed to light up the whole room. He smiled back.

Frigga reached gently for Loki's wrist. "Let me take a look at that. I'm sure I can make it feel a little better."

Angrboda stepped forward nervously. She was used to the queen, but felt uncomfortable in the presence of the great Allfather, and her previous interaction with Thor hadn’t gone well. Still, she was there to take care of Loki, and that was what she would do.

"Please, my lady… would you look at his back also? I think he hurt it when he fell."

"Of course. Loki, may I look?"

Loki nodded and turned. Sure enough, there was a nasty black bruise beginning to form.

"Why don't you lie down while I take care of this?"

Obediently, Loki lay back down on his side as Frigga began to utter the words of the same healing spell she had used earlier.

Loki felt his eyes close as he began to feel better.

The last thing he saw before he fell asleep was Thor, kneeling beside the bed and promising him, “Rest assured, brother, I will not hurt you again. I will be more careful in future."

Chapter Text

It was a noble sentiment, but of course, Thor wasn't careful when he was with Loki. It wasn’t in his nature. Thor jumped into every situation with both feet and expected everyone else to follow. The idea that anyone else might be a little more fragile never occurred to him.

But he did try.

In the months that had followed their return, Thor and Loki became brothers in very truth. Thor thought the world of Loki and Loki would do anything for Thor.

Frigga couldn’t help but smile at the sight of the two of them. Thor, trying so hard to be the responsible older brother he clearly wasn’t, and Loki, seeming not to care for the bruises he got, as long as he could follow Thor around like a puppy.

The main problem was Sif and the newly named ‘Warrior’s Three’.

When they told Frigga of their new title, she had to quickly look away to hide her smile. Hard to imagine any of them as warriors - they were only just out of childhood and Volstagg, being older, would brag incessantly about any tiny wisps of hair that appeared on his face.

But they clearly saw themselves as adults now, while Loki had only just started school. He was little more than a toddler in their eyes. They didn’t want him trailing after them and ruining their adventures; and, in their annoyance, they didn’t make any allowances for his age.

It wouldn’t have been such a problem if Loki had friends of his own, but he didn’t seem to have Thor’s easy charm when it came to getting to know new people.

If it wasn’t for Angrboda’s daughter, Sigyn, he would have no friends at all. Or, Frigga thought, no friends of his own age. While they were away, Angrboda had taken him to the places in the castle where she felt comfortable - the kitchens, the gardens and the stables… Loki had many friends among the servants and villagers, all of whom doted on the little prince.

Unfortunately, he hadn’t spent any time with the noble men and women of Asgard and it sometimes showed in his manners. Frigga had nearly fainted when he reached out to Angrboda and asked her to ‘give us a kiss’. Apparently, it was a favorite expression of the head gardener.

Frigga asked Angrboda not to take him to see the servants anymore and to spend less time in the village. Since Angrboda’s mother took Sigyn with her when she went to work at the market, Loki was left with only Thor to play with.

Thor didn’t mind, he enjoyed Loki’s company; and he really did try to protect his little brother. His friends, however, seemed determined to prove how unsuitable Loki was as an addition to their group.

Thor and his friends seemed to constantly forget - or disregard - how much smaller the younger boy was, until they needed someone lighter to climb a tree with thin branches, or crawl into a hole to see if it led to a tunnel, or to help them with some kind of fighting technique they called ‘get help’. Neither Odin or Frigga were able to find out what the move actually entailed, and Heimdall would only say that he had promised not to tell. Whatever it was, it seemed to involve Loki coming home with a lot of bruises.

Frigga finally ran out of patience on the day that Loki broke his leg.

----------

Loki watched forlornly as Angrboda pulled back the sheets of his bed.

“Well, what are you waiting for? Climb in, little prince!”

He hung back. “I’m not tired.”

“You look tired.”

“I’m not.”

She sat on the bed and watched him. “So, what do you want to do instead?”

He shrugged. “Don’t know.”

“Are you so ‘not tired’ that you can’t even speak in a proper sentence?”

He flushed. “I don’t know what I want to do. I just don’t want to go to bed.”

“Uh-huh.” She watched him try and stifle a yawn. “I’m still going to leave, Loki, regardless of whether you go to bed or not.”

She saw him press his lips together in a tight line, and sighed. “Loki, come here.”

He shuffled towards her slowly. When he was close enough, she scooped him up and sat him on her knee. “You love Thor, don’t you?”

He nodded reluctantly, as if sensing a trap.

“And if Thor wanted you by his side, you would be there, would you not?”

Again, he nodded.

“So you must understand why my sister wants me to be at her wedding. She traveled all the way here for mine, so it’s only fair that I do the same for her.”

She thought about that day, so full of laughter and sunshine. So full of hope; hope that would be dashed only a few months later, when her husband was killed in one of the last battles against Jotenheim.

She had been left a widow with hardly any savings and had been forced to move back in with her parents. After the birth of her daughter, she had been nearly despairing, with no idea of how to support them both. It seemed like the answer to her prayers when a servant from the palace came to see her, offering her the position of wet nurse to the new prince. And here she was now, almost closer to this child than to her own, but with enough money to be independent and travel in style to see her sister.

“Why do you have to be gone so long?”

“I have told you already. I will have to travel there and back, and then there will be the wedding. After that, I wish to get to know her new husband. And they want to introduce me to their friends.” She poked him lightly in the stomach. “I’m quite the celebrity - they all want to hear about the new prince!”

He tried to smile, but it quickly faltered and his lips began to tremble. “But I will miss you.”

She pulled him close and kissed the top of his dark hair. “Oh, Loki, I will miss you too! But Eydis will look after you. You like Eydis, do you not?”

“Yesss…”

Angrboda tried to hide her smile. Eydis was one of Loki’s favorite servants and often teased him and laughed with him. That was why Angrboda had chosen her to take over while she was away.

“And you will be good for her, will you not? Remember, your behaviour will reflect upon me. If you misbehave, they may think I’m raising you very badly and not allow me to come back at all!”

He eyes grew wide. “No, they couldn’t! I’ll be good, Boda, I promise!”

“Thank you, my prince.” She felt bad about extracting his promise that way, but she knew he could be difficult when he put his mind to it. But he always kept his word; if he promised her he would be good, then he would be.

He yawned, unable to suppress it any longer.

“Time for bed, sleepyhead!” She tucked him in and kissed his forehead. “Sleep well. I’ll be back before you know it.”

----------

Loki stabbed the soil with the stick he was holding.

He wished he hadn’t promised to be good while Angrboda was gone. He really was trying to keep his promise, but he was so bored. Whereas Angrboda had very few duties besides looking after him, Eydis had a lot of other things to do and he was spending a lot of time by himself. He didn’t even have Sigyn to play with. He felt very sorry for himself.

After three days of playing by himself in the nursery, he had finally persuaded Eydis to take him to the gardens. Almost as soon as they arrived, a message had come that Eydis was needed in the kitchen. Despite Loki’s suggestion that he accompany her, Eydis had left him in the company of a lone guard. So now he was by himself again, with no-one to play with.

He heard voices beyond the garden and recognized the loud shout of his brother.

“Thor!” He immediately ran out of the gate, and in an excited, garbled rush, asked, “Where’re we going?”

Sif rolled her eyes. Surely, he must see that the child couldn’t even speak properly; how could Thor think it was appropriate to let him follow them everywhere? They were all weary of having to modify their behavior because of Loki, and Sif was tired of him stealing all of Thor’s attention. Before Loki came along, Thor spent most of his time talking to Sif; now he seemed to hang on every muddled, incoherent sentence his baby of a brother uttered. It was enough to make her sick.

Thor lit up at the sight of his brother, as he always did. “Loki! We are going to seek adventure in the woods - will you join us on our quest?”

“Yes!”

Thor waved away the guard that had been with his brother and began to lead the way. His friends exchanged glances. Without a word passing between them, they began to walk at a faster pace.

Thor didn’t notice at first; he would usually stride ahead, leading the way. It was only when he heard a grunt that he turned around. His brother was lying face down in the mud some distance behind them. He had obviously tripped - no doubt because he was hurrying to keep up. Thor felt guilty; he should have remembered that Loki had shorter legs and couldn’t walk as fast as the rest of them.

He glared at his friends. “Why did none of you tell me we were going too fast for Loki?”

Sif gave a little sniff. “I assume for the same reason that you didn’t know. Because we weren’t watching him.”

Loki was scrambling back up and wiping the dirt from face; he was breathing very heavily.

Thor knelt beside his brother. “Are you alright, brother?”

Loki nodded, but Thor saw that his chin had been scraped in the fall and was bleeding. He pulled out a handkerchief and began to wipe away the blood.

Behind them, Sif rolled her eyes. “I swear, if he spits on it to clean the brat’s face, I will vomit.”

Fandral laughed, but Volstagg felt a little guilty. “He is just trying to take care of his brother. We should have been paying closer attention to him.”

“Why? I believe he has a nurse for that very purpose! Why should we have to do it?”

Volstagg frowned at her. “We should do it for Thor, because he’s our friend.”

While he agreed the boy was a nuisance, Loki’s presence made Thor happy. And Volstagg didn’t like to walk so fast anyway. Why not enjoy the day and go a little slower sometimes?

Fandral stepped in to defend Sif. “She is right though, and you know it. Loki should be back at the palace, playing in the nursery; not dragging along behind us. At this rate, we will never get to have any fun at all! Hogan, do you not agree?”

“I do.” Hogun didn’t dislike Loki as Fandral and Sif seemed to, but he had certainly enjoyed their exploits more before Loki had joined their group.

Thor watched as his brother tried to pretend he wasn’t tired or hurt. He was proud of him, but he was starting to think that the others were right; perhaps Loki should not accompany them on adventures such as these. As much as Thor loved to see Loki’s face light up when Thor showed him something new, perhaps some of the adventures were a little too much for a child that was still in the nursery. It was just that Thor hated saying ‘no’ to his brother.

He had an idea. “Loki, I wonder if you could help me?”

Loki straightened quickly, his eyes bright and eager. He would do anything for Thor.

“You see, I am so busy marking our path that I have not the time to be watching out for danger. I know it is a lot to ask, but would you consent to act as our watchdog? It is a great responsibility, and to perform the task well you will need to travel on my shoulders.”

Loki gave him a suspicious glance, as if wondering if he was telling the truth.

Thor smiled and reached out his hand. “I assure you, brother, it is a noble duty. I often performed it for our father when I was your age, perched upon his mighty shoulders.”

“Father?” Loki knew that Thor would not lie, but it seemed so unbelievable to imagine riding on the Allfather’s shoulders.

“Yes, indeed. We had many such journeys.”

Loki nodded and Thor hoisted the boy up. “There! Can you see far ahead?”

Loki gave a breathless laugh. “Yes!”

“Then let us dally no more! Onward to glory and adventure!”

Chapter Text

Thor ignored the looks his friends were giving him. Instead he marched ahead, the sound of Loki’s happy giggles occasionally breaking into his thoughts.

His conversation with Loki had started a train of thought. He was beginning to see that his childhood was much different to Loki’s.

When he was a child, his parents would often take him to the woods for the day. His father would lift Thor onto his broad shoulders and point out all the plants and birds they passed. Thor wondered why his father had not yet done that with Loki. They had been back at Asgard for many months and as far as he knew, Odin had never actually spent any time alone with Loki.

Now that he thought about it, even his mother didn’t spend as much time with Loki as she used to spend with him.

He remembered the hours they would pass in the nursery together, reading and playing; sometimes she just sat with him on her lap as he slept in her arms.

She never did that with Loki. He rarely entered the nursery and found her there, and she was never as affectionate with Loki as she was with Thor. Although Thor had seen her reading to Loki occasionally, he realized that she rarely seemed to hold him. In fact, now that he thought about it, she rarely touched Loki at all.

He wondered why.

----------

Loki gave a gasp and Thor snapped out of his thoughts.

They were standing in a beautiful grove filled with wild damson trees.

Volstagg slapped his hands together. “Wonderful! I was just starting to get hungry!”

Fandral sniggered. “Volstagg, you were starting to get hungry before we left the palace. I’m surprised you made it this far without sustenance!”

Sif and Hogun laughed, and Hogun reached up for one the fruits. “I confess, I agree with Volstagg.” He took a bite but quickly spat it out. “Sour.”

Fandral stepped back. “It looks as though the best ones are higher up.”

They all looked at Thor and Loki expectantly. Thor shook his head. “Nay. My mother was not best pleased by the tears on Loki’s clothing the last time we had him climb a tree for us.”

Sif scowled. If Loki couldn’t even do that for them, what on earth was the point of having him with them at all? “It doesn’t look that difficult. Loki just needs to take more care.”

Thor frowned back at her. “He doesn’t try to get scratched, Sif.”

Fandral snapped his fingers. “I know! Loki could take off his jacket and shirt. That way he won’t tear them.”

There was a pause. They could see Thor was thinking about it, so they waited.

Loki said nothing either and waited to see what his brother would decide. He didn’t much like climbing trees, but if Thor wanted him to do it, he would.

Thor couldn’t deny that the fruit looked good. High up, on the top branches where the sun the brightest, they looked plump and rich in color. His mouth was watering at the thought of them.

But he had promised his mother they would try to be more careful…

He had an idea - he would let Loki decide. If Loki didn’t want to do it, then that would be fine, he wouldn’t push him.

He hoped Loki would say yes.

He turned to Loki with a smile. “It will be your decision, brother. I shall support you, whatever you choose to do.”

Loki worked hard to keep the smile on his face. It was obvious what Thor wanted, because why on Asgard would Loki want to climb a tree? He saw them all watching him and he wondered how Thor could be unaware how much the others disliked him. Perhaps this could be a way to make them like him better.

He nodded. “Alright.”

He thought he saw Thor frown a little but the others seemed happy.

Sif motioned to Thor. “Alright then, are you going to boost him up?”

Thor knelt beside his brother. He didn’t know why Loki would agree if he didn’t like the idea, but there had been something in his face… “Loki, are you sure you want to do this?”

Sif sighed. “He already said so! Come on, Thor, we’re all hungry and thirsty.”

She glared at Loki and he nodded. Thor paused for a moment. He still wasn’t sure Loki really wanted to do it, but he couldn’t deny that now he was thinking about them, he wanted some damsons.

His thirst won the argument. “Alright, but you must be extra careful. Are you ready?”

Loki nodded and Thor grabbed him around the waist and boosted him up to the lowest branch.

Volstagg was walking around the tree. “It looks like the best fruit is up there.” He pointed to the top on the other side.

Loki started to scramble up. It seemed pretty easy at first and he allowed himself to relax a little.
He plucked a damson and sent it hurtling to the ground.

Hogun picked it up and took a bite. “Still pretty sour. Try higher up.”

Loki swallowed. He already felt pretty high up. He started to go higher. The branches were closer here and he started to get scratched. He tried to clamber up between two branches and one of them snapped back into his face. He gave a small cry and touched the side of his eye; his fingers came back bloody. He looked down and froze. He had never been so high before.

He heard Thor’s voice. “Alright, Loki, that’s enough. I think you should come down now.”

Now he heard Fandral. “But he’s so close already. They’re just there in front of them. If he just tries a little harder and reaches out, he can get them.”

Sif agreed. “Loki, just reach over to the branch in front of you!”

Loki crawled forward on his branch and, gripping tightly with one hand, leaned forward and pulled off a damson. He threw it down.

After a minute, he heard Hogun. “Perfect!”

He began to throw more and heard the others scramble for them.

Thor called to him, “Loki, we have enough. Climb down now.”

“No!” Sif turned angrily to Thor. “Volstagg will take more than his share, you know that! I’ve only had one so far and he has had three. Loki, we need more!”

Loki had already picked the fruit he could reach. He needed to get closer. The branch swayed perilously beneath him as he shuffled forward. He tried to wrest the fruit away from its stem, but it wouldn’t come. Without thinking, he lifted his other hand and pulled.

The fruit came away with part of the branch and he fell back from the force of it. He felt the limb beneath him give way as he struck it; and suddenly he was falling, twigs and branches whipping against him as he hurtled to the ground below.

----------

There was a blissful moment of blackness and then Loki was suddenly, horribly aware of the most intense pain he’d ever felt in his life. He couldn’t help it; he began to scream.

Thor would never forget the sounds - the rustle of the leaves and the snap of the branches as Loki plunged down. The shouts of his friends, followed by the loud thud as his brother hit the ground. The snap of bone. And then, the screams. Loki’s screams.

Thor rushed forward and felt bile rise in his throat. The others were standing back staring in horror. Loki’s leg lay at a strange angle and they could see the fractured bone peeking out through the tear in the skin.

Thor wasn’t even sure his brother knew he was there, but he kept talking to him as he examined him. “It’s alright, Loki, it’s alright. We’ll get you home soon, it’ll be alright. I’m here.”

Well, that was stupid, he thought. He knows I’m here, I’m the one that sent him up the blasted tree!

Within minutes, his friends were beside him.

He heard the sound of Fandral vomiting and Sif saying, “Oh, gods!”

Hogan and Volstagg fell to their knees beside him. Hogun was examining the leg while Volstagg grabbed Thor’s cape and threw it over Loki, tucking it gently around him.

Loki’s hand was even colder than usual and he was shaking. His screams were now interspersed with sobs.

Volstagg turned to Hogun. “What should we do?”

“We have to get him back to the palace.”

Thor gripped Loki’s hand even tighter. “No, we can’t move him like this!”

“It would be even worse to keep him lying here in pain while we go for help!”

Thor tried to think of an argument. He didn’t want to think how much it would hurt his brother if they tried to move him. “What of Heimdall?”

“Heimdall may not even be watching. We should start heading back to the palace and hope he sees us and sends help.”

“But…”

“Thor, we must do something, and quickly. He’s losing a lot of blood.”

Loki’s cries had died down to whimpers. Volstagg put a hand against the boy's cheek. “He’s ice cold.”

Hogun nodded. “We need something to keep his leg in place.”

Volstagg hurried away. Hogun glanced towards Sif and Fandral in irritation. “You two, we need a stretcher.”

Thor’s head shot up. Tears were streaming down his cheeks. “I will carry him!”

“You dare not risk it. He needs to keep the leg as still as possible, he would be moving about too much in your arms.”

Sif and Fandral moved away as Volstagg returned with two strong branches. He snatched the cape from Sif as she passed. “We will need this.”

He handed the branches to Hogun and began to tear the cape into strips. As he did so, Hogun placed the branches on either side of Loki’s leg.

Hogun picked up one of the strips. “Thor, I’m sorry but you’re going to have to lift his leg so I can tie this.”

Thor knew that he was right, but he hated to cause his brother more pain. “I’m sorry, Loki. I am so sorry!”

When he lifted the leg Loki scream tore through the forest; then, thankfully, the boy passed out.

Hogun quickly tied the branches against the boy’s leg. “Where are… ah! Good.”

Sif and Fandral appeared at his side with a small stretcher made from Fandral’s cloak and more branches.

“On three… one… two… three!”

They lifted him quickly and moved him to the stretcher. Hogun and Volstagg carried it as Thor walked by the side, never letting go of Loki’s hand.

----------

Thor couldn’t understand why Heimdall hadn’t see them sooner. They seemed to walk forever before they were met by a party of guards and healers. The healers quickly went to work and signaled for the guards to take them all back to the palace.

Thor couldn’t take his eyes from his brother. Loki was ice cold and as pale as death. He hadn’t moved since they placed him on the stretcher.

“Will he be alright?”

“We’ll do our best for him.”

It wasn’t an answer.

Chapter Text

Thor had no idea how long he’d been sitting outside the healing rooms before his mother appeared.

The color drained from her face when she saw the blood on his clothing. “Are you hurt?”

He followed her gaze. “Oh! No, only Loki was hurt.”

Her heart gave a lurch. All of that blood was Loki’s? “What happened?”

“We were in the woods and there was an accident. Loki… he fell out of a tree and broke his leg.”

“In a tree? How… never mind. Was it a clean break?”

Thor swallowed and looked guilty. “No. It was… bad.”

Frigga said no more, but pulled open the doors to the healing rooms and marched inside.

Eir looked up. “Frigga, you shouldn’t be here. You’re not going to want to see this.”

Frigga’s eyes went wide as she saw Loki, looking deathly white except for the scratches on his face. There was a gleam of bone below his knee. She put her hand to the boy’s cheek and winced as she felt the ice cold of his skin. He looked so small and helpless. “I’ll stay.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. He’s my son, of course I’ll stay.”

Frigga and Eir locked eyes as they realized the enormity of what had just happened. It was the first time Frigga had called him her son and meant it completely.

Eir nodded and motioned to her assistant. Frigga stood by and watched as they carefully reset the bone and cleaned the wound. She saw Eir’s lips move as she uttered a spell, one that Frigga didn’t know.

“What will that do?”
“It will help to lessen the pain and hold him in a deep sleep. That’s as much as we can do for now.”

“Can’t you do anything else for him?”

“No. The break is too severe. Now, we must wait and let time work it’s own magic.”

“How long before it heals?”

Eir turned to her assistant. “Would you go and prepare a bed for the prince?”

They watched her leave.

“I don’t know how long it will take to heal because I don’t know how quickly Jotuns heal compared to Asgardians. Generally, as you know, our natural abilities are lessened when we’re away from the source of our natural power - which, in Loki’s case, is Jotenheim. Also, as you know, the healing ability in children of that age is not yet fully developed.”

Eir took a moment to glare at her friend. “Ideally, they are not supposed to be getting into quite so much mischief. How does a child of his size climb a tree in the first place, anyway?’

Frigga didn’t admonish her friend for the comment, but her tone became steely. “I have no idea, but I intend to find out.”

----------

Thor stood up when he saw Frigga. “Mother, how is he?”

“You saw for yourself how he is!” Seeing Thor’s white face, she took pity on him. “Eir has done her best to repair the break, and we will have to hope that he recovers quickly. They are moving him to a bed now and, while they are doing that, you can explain to me exactly how this happened.”

“Well, he was in a tree and…”

“No, I want to hear the story from the beginning. You can start by explaining why he was with you in the first place, when I already ordered that he was not to accompany you on adventures where he might be hurt.”

“But it wasn’t that kind of adventure, we were just exploring the woods!”

“And yet, here we are.”

Thor swallowed. His mother was rarely angry, but when she was she could be more intimidating than Odin himself.

“We were setting out for a walk in the woods, when Loki ran out from the gardens and asked to join us. He wanted to come! We walked until we came to a grove of fruit trees, and realized how hungry and thirsty we all were. The fruit at the bottom was unripe, so Loki said he would climb up and pick the sweeter fruits at the top. And then he fell.”

Frigga narrowed her eyes. “It was Loki’s suggestion that he climb the tree?”

Thor thought back. “Well… no. They all seemed to expect it - you know, with Loki being the smallest. No-one else could have climbed it, the branches wouldn’t have taken our weight.”

Frigga’s tone was icy. “Clearly not. And when you realized their expectations, what was your response?”

Thor tried to defend himself. “I said that he should not! I told them you were unhappy with the rips in his clothes after the last time.”

“Please tell me you didn’t think my objections came from the damage done to his clothes?”

Thor kicked at the floor with his shoe. “No, Mother.”

“So, you told them that I would object and that you were against it, is that right?”

“Yes!” Thor was relieved that she finally understood he had objected.

“So… what then? They overpowered you? Wrestled you to the ground? Attacked you with fists or swords? Oh, my poor dear son, are there bruises to which I must attend? Injuries that Eir should heal? Should I send the guards to arrest them for attacking our princes?”

Thor colored and hung his head. Realizing she would have the whole story, he continued, unwillingly. “No. Sif said he should be more careful and Fandral suggested that Loki should take off his shirt and jacket.”

Odin walked in at that moment. “My dear, I’m sorry I couldn’t come any sooner. How is he?”

“Not well. He suffered an open fracture of the leg. Eir reset the bone and has done what she can to avoid the danger of infection. Now we must wait. Meanwhile, your son…” - Odin and Thor exchanged a quick glance. They knew Frigga was angry when Thor became Odin’s son only - “...was just telling me how this happened.”

She motioned to Thor. “Do go on. This is a fascinating tale. It tells us much about your honor and your valor. I believe we had just reached the part where you sent your little brother up a tree half-naked because you were all hungry…”

Odin had to hide his smile. Frigga in a temper was a wonderful sight - as long as that temper wasn’t directed at him.

“I did not force him! I told him it was his choice and I would support him, whatever he decided.”

“And you really think he would have said no, when he knew that doing it would please you and your friends?” Odin felt he had to speak.

Thor once again hung his head. “I am truly sorry. I will bear whatever punishment you devise, but please may I see him?”

He looked up again and Frigga saw tears shining in his eyes. How long had it been since she had seen her boy cry? Her heart softened and she reached for him.

Odin was not so easily won over. He smiled grimly. “Yes, you may see him. In fact, that can be your punishment. You and your friends will sit and watch over Loki until he wakes. Then, you will help him with whatever he needs and amuse him with whatever diversions he requests. In fact, you and your friends will be his constant companions until such time as I deem you to have made amends.”

Thor nodded eagerly. “I will, Mother, Father! I am truly sorry! May I go now?”

Frigga inclined her head and Thor ran to see his brother. His parents followed at a more sedate pace.

Eir was straightening the blankets on Loki’s bed as they approached. She began to bow but Odin motioned for her to stop. “How is he?”

“He’s very badly bruised and he lost a lot of blood. The danger with an injury of this kind is infection, but I have done what I can. The bone will heal with time, although he may experience twinges now and then, if he overexerts himself or when he gets…” she realized what she was saying and suddenly stopped. She saw Thor look up curiously and knew it would look odd if she didn’t finish the sentence. “When he gets cold.”

----------

Thor and his friends sat quietly waiting for Loki to wake. When Volstagg asked for some food to be brought to them, Eir told him, acidly, that they could eat when Loki ate. That was the last time any of them mentioned food.

The room was very quiet. Sif shifted uncomfortably in her seat.

Thor scowled. “Stop fidgeting, Sif.”

Fandral answered instead. “Sorry Thor, but these seats are very uncomfortable. We don’t all have the padding Volstagg has. Besides, you must admit that it’s very dull, just sitting here. Can we not at least talk? No-one has forbidden that, have they?”

“We are being punished. We should not sit around merry making as though we are at a feast!”

“But still…”

Sif interrupted. “He’s very pale. He almost looks blue, doesn’t he?”

Volstagg nodded gravely. “He never has much color as a rule, but he certainly looks very unwell. I would say he looks gray.”

Fandral nodded. “I agree. He’s closer to gray than blue. See?” He held his shirt close to Loki’s cheek. When seen like that, the boy’s complexion did look very gray.

Before Thor could object about their conversation, Hogun spoke. “He lost a great deal of blood. I imagine it will be a little while before he regains his normal color.”

His remark seemed to close that avenue of conversation.

Fandral tried again. “He will heal quickly, I am sure. I remember a cousin of mine breaking his ankle when he was only a few years older than Loki, and he was much recovered after only a couple of weeks.’

Thor frowned. “If I recall correctly, your cousin was almost twice Loki’s age. And he wasn’t ‘much recovered’ after two weeks - he aggravated the injury by putting too much weight on it before it was time. He still uses it as an excuse to get out of physical activity.”

“Hm, you are right, I had forgotten that.”

Thor squeezed Loki’s hand a little tighter. “We shall not let my brother suffer so. We will do everything we can to ensure that his recovery is swift and complete.”

Sif scowled. “Thor, whatever you do, don’t tell him that. He’ll use us like slaves if he thinks he can.”

“You wrong my brother, he would do no such thing. He…”

“He’s waking up!” Hogun pointed to the bed.

Loki’s eyes were fluttering. Thor jumped up and hovered over him. “Loki?”

Loki tried to open his eyes. They felt very heavy. He heard someone calling his name, but the voice seemed to come from very far away. “Boda?”

“No, Loki, it’s me. Thor.”

Loki forced his eyes open as he swam back to consciousness. He couldn’t understand why he felt so horrible. “Thor?”

“Yes, brother, it’s me. How do you feel?”

“E’rythin’ hurts. Thirsty. Where’s Boda?” He tried to turn onto his side but gave a gasp of pain that snapped him awake. “Thor!”

Thor made a shooing motion to his friends. “Go and fetch Eir. Angrboda isn’t here, Loki, but I am. What can I get you?”

“I want Boda!” In his muddled state, he couldn’t understand it. Angrboda had always been there when he was sick. Loki began to cry quietly.

Thor felt his heart break. “I’m sorry, little brother.” He pulled his chair closer and brushed Loki’s hair from his forehead.

Eir hurried over to them. “Loki? How do you feel?”

“Hurt. Thirsty.”

“Of course.” She motioned for one of the warriors to bring some water. Fandral returned a minute or so later with a glass, and Thor began to put his arms around his brother. “Let me help you to sit up.”

“No, wait!” Eir couldn’t help it. Thor wasn’t known for being gentle. “You don’t want to jostle his leg. Just lift his shoulders a little and I’ll build up the pillows behind him.”

It seemed to the waiting warriors that it took him forever to drink the water. Eir would only allow him sips and waited until he swallowed each time.

“Where does it hurt, Loki?” She had to be sure there was nothing she had missed.

He was hitching his breath through his sobs. “All over. Head hurts and my leg’s on fire.”

“Alright. I’m going to take care of your leg and then I’ll examine the rest of you.”

She moved away and added some powder with a little water. “Drink this. It will help.”

This time, she let him drink at his own pace. “Now, I’m going to remove your shirt and see where else it hurts.”

Once she removed his shirt she didn’t have to ask where it hurt. She heard the indrawn breath of one of the warriors. Loki’s body was covered with bruises.

She reached for a small pot near his bed. “I am afraid this will hurt initially, but it will make you feel better.” She began to apply the cream to the bruises as gently as possible, but tears still ran down the boy’s face.

Thor squatted by the bedside. “It will be alright, brother. You will soon feel better.”

Loki watched him, watery eyes wide and trusting. Thor tried not to think about how much he had betrayed that trust.

Loki yelped and Thor gripped his hand. “Have you nearly finished?”

“No. He is a mass of bruises and this will need to be done regularly to help them heal.”

He saw Loki close his eyes to hold back further tears. “Can I do it?”

Eir paused. “You have to be very gentle.”

“I will be gentle, I promise.”

Eir handed him the jar. Loki turned his head and watched him, his eyes watery and red. Thor smiled reassuringly and sniffed the contents.

“Ah, I remember this!” He placed a little on his finger and began to carefully apply it to the bruises.

Eir watched in amazement. She would never have believed the God of Thunder could be so gentle.

“Our friends and I were adventuring a few years ago and we came to a cave. Now, what kind of warriors would we have been if we had not investigated further…”

He continued the story, but in a softer tone of voice than Eir had ever heard him use. Loki listened, hanging on his every word, and didn’t seem aware of his bruises any more. His friends would interrupt now and then, as he drew out the story of how they came to be covered in bruises and had to cover each other in the sweet smelling cream.

“I swear to you brother, the scent of this lotion is so pleasant, it’s almost worth getting bruises! Do you like it?”

Loki nodded softly.

“I thought you would! You are naturally very discerning. I believe we get that from our mother.”

Even Eir laughed at that. Loki smiled and his eyes began to close.

“That’s right, brother. Get some rest. Everything will be better tomorrow.”

Eir took the lotion from Thor. “We will need to apply it again tomorrow morning, if you are available?”

Thor straightened and nodded. “I will be here.”

Eir glanced at the sleeping boy. He had the smallest of smiles on his lips, and she didn’t think it was because of the sleeping potion she had given him.

“Alright, the punishment is over for today. You can all go and get something to eat.”

To her surprise, Volstagg turned back before they left the room. “What time may we come to see him tomorrow?”

Chapter Text

The next few days were hard on everyone and Thor began to see why attending to Loki was his punishment. It was hard for him to see his little brother in so much pain, especially when he knew that he was the cause of it.

Volstagg, and to a lesser degree, Hogun, also seemed to feel guilty for the suffering they had inadvertently inflicted on the boy, although Sif and Fandral seemed to feel they had done no wrong. Thor had to bite his tongue on his temper while they were in the sickroom, not wanting to upset Loki. Once they were outside, however, he made his feelings known.

“Do you not feel any guilt at all?” he demanded of them.

Fandral raised his eyebrows. “No, none at all! Why should we? We didn’t cause him to fall! I have no idea why we’re even being punished.”

“He would not have fallen if we had not asked him to climb up!”

“Exactly! We asked him. Nobody forced him to do it, and if he didn’t want to, he should have said no!”

Thor was shocked by Sif’s callousness. “He only wanted to please us!”

She sniffed. “Then I can only say that he has failed spectacularly. I feel as though we have been stuck in that dingy room forever!”

“Then only think how Loki must feel!”

The door slammed behind them and Hogun appeared. “It negates the wisdom of stepping outside, if you then proceed to shout so loudly that they can hear you in Vanaheim!”

”Don’t worry about it. I’ve had enough of this punishment. If Odin wants to arrest me, I’ll be in the training yard! Fandral?”

Fandral hovered for a moment, unsure, and then followed her.

----------

When Thor went back into the healing room, Volstagg seemed to be trying to explain something to Loki.

They stopped talking when Thor appeared. “I’m sorry about that.”

Loki ignored the apology. “You looking after me… visiting me everyday… that was a punishment?”

Thor felt the ground shift beneath him as he realized what Loki had overheard and Volstagg must have been explaining. “No! I mean, yes, it was, but I was already planning to stay with you until you were better.”

“So Father punished you by making you do something you already wanted to do? That was lucky.”

Thor hated the way Loki could make things sound so different from the way they were. For a child of his age, it was impressive; he could twist words around until you were all tied up in them.

Thor decided the best way to answer was honestly. “Yes, it was fortunate. But that did not lessen the punishment, because it hurt me a great deal to see you suffering so. I would rather have been injured myself than see you in pain, and in the future I will not be so careless with you.”

“I’m not a baby!”

“No, but we are older. We should exercise greater judgement, and not only when you are with us. It is a valuable lesson to learn, although I heartily wish it had not come at your expense.”

Loki hated to see his brother looking so downcast. “I do not blame you, brother. I agreed to climb the tree. I would not have done so otherwise.” It didn’t matter if it was a lie, if it brought a smile back to his brother’s face.

“Truly, brother?”

“Truly.”

“You forgive me for any wrongdoing?”

“There is nothing to forgive.”

Thor’s smile returned, and oh, how Loki loved that smile when it was shining on him!

----------

Still, the road to recovery was not to be so easy.

Loki’s leg was taking it’s time to heal, and until then he could not run about as much as he usually did. It was decided that he would stay in the healing rooms until he was better. Although he could move about with crutches, it would have been irresponsible not to have someone watching him at all times, and Eydis just didn’t have the time.

Despite Sif’s words, Odin didn’t arrest her - in fact, no more was heard of Odin’s punishment at all. Eir thought he had probably forgotten about it. Of Thor’s friends, only Volstagg occasionally visited anymore.

Thor - being Thor, and always seeing the best in everyone - had forgiven Sif and Fandral for their words, and his mornings were once again spent sparring in the exercise yard with them.

He would visit Loki in the afternoons, but if one of his friends suggested an adventure, it would be a quick visit with a promise to ‘tell him everything on the morrow’ - which he never did.

Loki was surprised that his mother visited him every morning before she attended to her royal duties. Something seemed to have changed between them. She had begun to be more affectionate with him - she would hug him and ruffle his hair, and even pull him carefully onto her lap and read him a story. He didn’t know what had caused the change, but he treasured those moments with her. If she could get away, she would come to see him at night before he went to sleep - sometimes, she even read to him until he slept.

Even his father visited him once or twice. Loki didn’t see his father often and always felt very nervous around him. He didn’t like to admit it, but he was always relieved when his father left.

But Loki was very bored. He was still just a child, and there was only so much time a boy of his age could spend reading.

He studied the books of magic his mother brought for him and practiced the spells.

Some of them seemed to be really easy for him, such as freezing all the water in the pitchers and glasses - although Eir had been very upset about that one. He didn’t know why, it didn’t seem as though he had done any harm. Others were harder, like the spell that turned all the metal points into rubber. That one had been hilarious, watching them frown and wonder why the needles were soft and the knives wouldn’t cut.

He did feel a little guilty about it, though. It had taken him some time to work out how to reverse the spell, and his mother had explained that it was very irresponsible - what if someone had come in needing treatment? Oddly, though, Eir didn’t seem to be as bothered by that trick as she had been about the water, even though she hadn’t told his mother about that one.

They began to call him ‘the God of Mischief’. He decided he liked that.

----------

After the accident, Frigga completely forbade Loki to accompany Thor and his friends anywhere unless they had her express permission - she even went so far as to alert the guards.

The Warriors Three and Sif were delighted with the way everything had turned out. Although they would never have wished any of that on Loki, they now had their friend back with them and ready for adventuring.

Thor was miserable. He had enjoyed the company of his brother and had hoped to share all of his wisdom with him - where to find the best weapons, how to fend off an attack, how to track a bilgesnipe... Obviously, the only way to teach those things properly would be on the trail. When he tried to explain that to his mother in an attempt to change her mind, her response was so immediate and furious that he quickly gave up. He was brave, not foolhardy.

So Loki could no longer go anywhere with them. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be anyone in the palace - except for the servants - that Loki enjoyed spending time with.

In desperation, Frigga introduced Loki to as many suitable children as she could. Loki didn’t seem to get along with any of them. When Frigga asked why, he would simply shrug.

Loki wished Frigga would stop trying to find friends for him. He didn’t want to tell her why he was having such trouble making friends.

Loki knew he was clever. Even though he hadn’t been in school for very long, his teachers were already talking about teaching him at a higher level. Compared to most of the children he met, he was starting to think he was either a genius or that they were exceptionally stupid (his guess was the latter). The children that were interesting to him were too old to want to talk to a child of his age - even if he was a prince of Asgard.

That led to the second problem; he may have been A prince of Asgard, but he wasn’t THE prince of Asgard. Everyone wanted to meet Thor and get to know him. Hardly any of them had an interest in Loki, except as a stepping stone to the golden heir of Asgard.

Was it so absurd to want a friend that simply liked him for himself? He was starting to think it must be.

And that was without even considering how many of the other children thought he was freakish because of his seidr.

It was one of the things he liked so much about Sigyn. Even though she didn’t like to study very much, she did like to read and she was clever about practical things. And she had been his friend long before she even knew he had a brother. At least he knew Sigyn liked him just for himself.

He was delighted when they had returned from their trip. Sigyn’s aunt had given her a puppy which she named Fenrir. Loki had been so envious that he immediately asked for his own pet. As he was still young enough to like everything his brother liked, he asked for a snake. He named it Jormungandr.

Frigga decided to bow to the inevitable. She informed Angrboda that Loki was once again allowed to visit the village, so Loki could play with Sigyn whenever he wanted. From then on, Loki and Angrboda walked down to the village almost everyday. While Angrboda helped her mother at the market, Loki and Sigyn would run and play, Fenrir at their heels. It seemed as though they were always together.

Loki was glad his mother had finally given up trying to force him to make other friends. He had Sigyn, and that was enough for him.