Not many Aesir were aware of the secret ways that were scattered throughout Asgard, but Anthony Howardson knew them well. He knew that there was a way to Svartalfheim hidden deep in a crack in the cliffs, and that if one wished to get to Midgard, all they needed to do would be to duck behind a bush on the side of the old country road exactly four-point-three miles from the city. He knew that the way to Niðavellir was under a mill on the outskirts of the forest, and that there was a way which led to Alfheim near where the waves crashed against the beach.
But the way hidden deep in the forest was that which Anthony held most dear, for that was the way to Jotunheim– and Jotunheim held his heart.
The secret way to Jotunheim was the very first that he found, and he had stumbled across it entirely by accident. He had been very young, his head not yet reaching his father’s waist– and he had been exploring the woods during an afternoon of free time. Pretending that he was a great explorer, he had crawled through a thicket and dashed between trees, and when he came across a stream he followed it almost gleefully, deciding to make it his mission to try and find the source. He had always been a curious child, always wanting to know—
So when he came across a small pool nestled against the side of a crag, he stopped in his search, because while he could see that the pool wasn’t the source he had been looking for, it was… impossible. The surface was covered with a layer of ice, frosted white despite the fact that Asgard’s sun always burned too hot for such things. But perhaps even more interesting was the waterfall that should have flowed down over the rock above, but which had frozen almost entirely solid, just the smallest of trickles running free.
It should not be, and yet– there it was. And Anthony found himself fascinated.
He had wanted to know how it had worked, and he’d walked from one side of the pool to the other, staring at the frozen waterfall. Slowly, he put his foot down on the surface of the pool– and when it seemed like it was going to hold, he took another step, and then another. And just as he thought he might be able to make it all the way to the waterfall—
The ice cracked, and Anthony yelled—
And then something grabbed his arm and dragged him back to the shore, their feet no longer shifting the ice at all, as if it had somehow become even more frozen.
“That was very foolish,” the boy said as he let go of Anthony’s arm, staring with narrowed, bright red eyes. “Why did you not freeze the pool until it was properly solid?”
Anthony blinked, staring. The boy in front of him was a fair bit taller and looked just a little bit older than Anthony, and he was holding his hands on his hips, glaring with a sternness that reminded Anthony of a parent telling someone off. But Anthony had long since become immune to such looks, and besides– there was something so much more important to comment upon, here.
“You’re blue,” Anthony said in surprise.
The stranger tilted his head, his brow creased with a confused frown. “And you are not,” he said.
“I’ve never seen a blue Aesir before,” Anthony said, excited already. “Why are you blue? Is it because you went swimming for too long? My lips turn blue sometimes if I go swimming for too long—”
“I am not an Aesir, I am a Jötunn,” the boy cut in, looking even more confused now than he had before. “I am supposed to be blue.”
“Oh,” Anthony said, accepting that with ease. Then his eyes brightened with the light of another question. “What is a Jötunn?”
“It’s what I am.”
“Well, I am Anthony,” Anthony said, offering his hand. “It is nice to meet you, Jötunn.”
The other boy stared at Anthony’s hand for a moment before breaking into chuckles, and although Anthony did not know what the joke had been, he found himself giggling along as well– and he decided right then and there that this boy was going to be his friend.
So, then he did what everyone was supposed to do with their friends, and he asked if the other boy wanted to play a game– and when the boy said yes, Anthony then proceeded to have one of the best days of his life.
As they played, Anthony learned that the other boy’s name was actually Loki, and that he was Jötunn the same way that Anthony was Aesir. They discovered quite quickly that they must have been from different realms, and that one – or possibly both – of them had come through a portal.
They played for hours, running between the trees and splashing in the cool stream. Anthony was delighted when he learned that Loki could wield seiðr, and he bombarded the other boy with endless questions until Loki used a flash of emerald magic to knock Anthony off his feet. It was honestly amazing– and then they started to play games that included Loki’s seiðr, and it was more fun than Anthony ever could have expected.
Of course, it couldn’t last forever no matter how much they both wanted it to, and Anthony was very disappointed when Loki said that he must leave. However, even though he had been the one to say it, Loki was just as reluctant to go back to Jotunheim as Anthony was to go back home.
But just because one day had to come to an end, that didn’t mean that they couldn’t see each other again, did it?
“Will you come back here?” Loki asked tentatively.
“Of course I will,” Anthony replied easily. “You’re my friend.”
And when Loki’s face split into an excited smile at that, Anthony knew that they were going to be friends for a very long time.
The very next day, the moment that Anthony was granted his free time from helping his father in the forge he went into the kitchen to get some food, which he wrapped as best he could in a cloth. That done, he immediately began to run toward the forest, not wanting to miss a single second that he could have spent with his new friend.
It took him a while to find the stream– it was deep in the trees after all, and hidden through a thicket that most would not be curious enough to risk climbing through. But he was determined and not willing to give up, and he did eventually hear the soft trickle of water.
But when he reached the frozen pool, Loki was not there.
Anthony tried not to feel too saddened by that fact– after all, they had not decided upon a time to meet. So he put his food down on a relatively flat-topped boulder and then he went back to trying to study the waterfall.
He knew that Loki could manipulate ice as well as using his seiðr, so he thought that the frost here probably had something to do with that. It was an interesting puzzle though, and it took enough of his concentration that he wasn’t bored.
And besides– the moment that Loki stepped out of the waterfall right in front of Anthony’s nose, it felt almost as if he hadn’t waited at all.
“Loki!” Anthony exclaimed excitedly, and Loki’s eyes widened at being ambushed so suddenly and with such enthusiasm. But still, as Anthony threw his arms around Loki in a tight hug, Loki hugged him back.
“Were you waiting for me?” Loki asked.
“For a bit,” Anthony admitted. “It felt like you took forever, but you’re here now!”
“Yes,” Loki said. “I’m sorry, I was very busy. I am a prince.” Then lifted his chin arrogantly, though with a grin that showed he was only teasing. “You wouldn’t know, though, because obviously you’re not a prince.”
“I could be,” Anthony said with a huff. “How would you know?”
Loki’s smile was a little bit sharp, but Anthony liked it anyway. “I know.”
Anthony rolled his eyes in a move that he had practiced since he’d seen Loki do it the day before– and then, teasing forgotten, he looked over to the boulder.
“I brought some lunch,” he said, pointing to the food that remained wrapped in a cloth. “Are you hungry?”
“Yes,” Loki said with a grin.
Anthony grinned as well, and then led the way to where he had left the package of food. He unwrapped it carefully, and showed Loki the contents with pride.
“It’s bread from the baker down the street, and it was even baked just yesterday,” he said, and then he leaned in almost conspiratorially. “And, look. I even brought some cheese to eat it with.”
Loki blinked, a strange look crossing over his face. For moment, it almost seemed like he was confused, but then he glanced back to Anthony and ran his gaze over Anthony’s clothing, and his brow creased into a frown.
“Are you okay?” Anthony asked.
“Yes,” Loki said, looking back up with a smile that somehow seemed a little bit different to his smiles before. “I… thank you for sharing your food with me, Anthony.”
“You’re welcome,” Anthony said with a smile.
They ate with bright grins and they spoke with food still in their mouths, too eager to talk to each other to pause. Anthony told Loki all about the work he had done with his father in the forge, because he didn’t just have to collect tools anymore like he had when he was smaller. He had recently learned to wrap the hilts of swords, and he had done three that morning and only cut himself the once! Loki had admired the bandage on his arm, and then had told Anthony that he had stayed up late the night before doing research.
“Our library is not as big as what I’ve heard other realms have,” Loki said. “We don’t have very many books– my father said that we used to have more, but that the ones he hadn’t been able to hide were stolen or burned.”
“Why?” Anthony asked, not liking anything that made his friend look so sad.
“I don’t know,” Loki replied. “But that’s not important. I found a book that talked about Yggdrasil, and it says that there are hidden pathways that connect the realms, and that if you find them, you can travel from one realm to another.”
“And we found one,” Anthony said, his lips turning up proudly.
Loki matched his smile. “Yes, we did. I found it when I was in the forest, practicing my seiðr—”
“I found it in a forest too,” Anthony said excitedly– and then he felt his cheeks flush pink, because of course Loki already knew that.
“Not a forest like this one,” Loki said brightly. “Our trees are different, because it is much colder at home than it is here. But I found a pool where the water was not frozen– it was almost warm, and then when I went to touch the waterfall, it brought me here.”
“It’s like the warm and the cold are seeping through,” Anthony realised. “So I got your cold, and you got my warm! Hey, do you think there are more? Maybe I could find a way to all of the other seven realms!”
“Maybe,” Loki said, though… his smile was no longer quite so bright as it had been. And as Anthony continued to talk, going through plans to try and find more of those hidden pathways, Loki stayed unusually quiet.
“…and then I could learn so much from all the different places!” Anthony finished excitedly. “What do you think, Loki, is it a good idea?”
But when Loki spoke, he didn’t really answer Anthony’s question.
“Anthony,” Loki said, “You’re not going to stop coming to see me now, are you? Now that there are other realms to find?”
“Why would I do that?” Anthony asked, mystified. “I like coming to see you.”
Loki blinked, as if surprised by his answer– but then he smiled again, and this time it was bright enough to light up his whole face.
Since Loki had told Anthony about the secret ways, he was determined to find more of them. He would always go to the forest first of course, because he loved nothing more than spending time with his friend– but if he had waited a half hour past their normal time and Loki did not come, then he would instead spend his free moments searching out strange anomalies, whether they be in temperature, a sudden seam set into a cliff, or any other strange difference that he might find.
He found the first – or rather, the second – secret way when he noticed that some of the water by the rocks was a different shade of blue than the rest of the sea that surrounded Asgard, and he was pretty sure that it led to Alfheim. He didn’t go anywhere near it though– he had heard some strange stories about the Light Elves that made them seem… well, not nearly as scary as the Frost Giants that people talked about sometimes, but still not really people that Anthony wanted to get mixed up with. And besides, he was more than a little worried about getting lost.
So, he noted the location in his mind and then continued on looking for the next.
He next one he found was, to be honest, probably that which he had been the most excited for. It was hidden right on the edge of the forest, underneath a mill and looking not unlike a foxhole, save for the size and the way that Anthony could hear a steady clanging coming from inside. For a while, he thought maybe it was the sound of the mill, and had leaned a little closer—
But he hadn’t meant to fall in.
And then suddenly he was in a world of metal, and before he could turn around to try and head back home had been grabbed by the back of his shirt and pulled out into the light.
“What were you doing under my workbench, hmm?” the Dwarf asked, holding Anthony so high off the ground that he was almost afraid to look down.
Thankfully though, the Dwarf, whose name was Eitri, turned out to be very understanding of the lost little Aesir– especially when he realised that Anthony was an aspiring weapon smith, and that he had wanted to meet a Dwarven smith since he had first learned of their existence.
It was a little bit mortifying though, and by the time Anthony managed to escape the Dwarf’s sight and crawl back under the workbench and through the dust motes which explained why the way had never been found on this end, his cheeks felt like they had been stained a permanent red.
And later, when Anthony told Loki the whole story, he didn’t even mind that it made Loki laugh– in fact, that only made it better.
As time passed, the two boys began to grow closer than ever, even though the restrictions on their time only worsened. Loki, after all, was a prince, and had many duties that needed to be attended to.
Anthony had plucked up the courage to visit the Dwarves twice more, and had fostered more than a mere hunger to become the best smith in Asgard, learning the craft in earnest. And when it became clear that he would become more than proficient, Anthony’s father hired him a tutor so that he might learn enough to take over the business one day.
He learned to read and write, and he learned his numbers. That was all Anthony’s father had cared about, but Anthony wanted to know as much as he could, and his tutor was more than happy to oblige. So Anthony was also taught in history and politics, and he could not wait for the day that he learned about Jotunheim, the place where Loki was from. He had already learned the names and insignias of the royal families of Vanahiem and Alfheim, and he was more than excited to see Loki’s name in one of his books.
But when the day came… Anthony felt like his entire world had been turned upside down.
Anthony had known about the war with the Frost Giants since he was very young– of course he had, because it had occurred only a couple of years before he had been born, and it was still a common topic of discussion even now.
So when he began to cover the topic with his tutor, he didn’t make the connection at first– and it was several lessons before he even heard the word that made all the difference.
“As we will be speaking about the end of the war with the Frost Giants, I have brought you something really special today,” his tutor – an old Aesir named Sven – said as he arrived, placing an ancient tome upon the table in front of Anthony. It was large and bound in black leather from a hide that Anthony did not recognise, and the edges of the pages looked worn.
“What is it?” Anthony asked.
“Spoils of war,” Sven replied, leaning forward in that way he always did when they were about to cover something especially interesting. “That book came from Jotunheim itself. I obtained it and many others that were brought back– some are in the Royal library in the palace, but most were just brought back and sold. I’m sure you would find some in the bookshops, even.”
“And some of them were burned,” Anthony whispered, suddenly feeling a little sick as he stared at the tome.
“What was that?” Sven asked.
Anthony pushed the feeling down, and decided to ask another question– because all of a sudden, there were a lot of things that were adding up, and Anthony didn’t think he liked the answer.
“Why did you bring a book from Jotunheim?” he asked. “I thought we were learning about the war?”
“Whatever do you mean?” Sven asked.
“Well, I thought… that the Jötnar lived on Jotunheim, not Frost Giants.” That nauseous feeling in Anthony’s gut only worsened, because even though Anthony could hope…
“My dear boy,” Sven chuckled. “The Frost Giants are Jötnar, that is what they like to call themselves. If you see either in a book, then you can rest assured that they are one and the same thing.”
The same thing.
It was as he had suspected, but something in his chest ached with it nonetheless, and he could feel the bile rise up in his throat.
Loki was a Jötunn… Loki was a Frost Giant. Loki came from the race of people that the Aesir had been at war with, that the Aesir still hated with all their heart.
And Anthony felt sick.
It was a blessing and a curse that Sven seemed to notice, and he offered to continue the lesson the next day instead so that Anthony could have the chance to rest.
“Just, one thing, Sir,” Anthony said just as Sven was leaving. “You said that there were plenty of books from Jotunheim on Asgard?”
“Yes, indeed I did,” Sven said. “Why do you ask?”
“I was just wondering whether you would know where I could get some? I would like to catch up on the content that I will miss today, so that we will not be behind in your schedule tomorrow.”
“If you are that eager to learn about it, then you must have this one,” Sven said, taking the large black tome from his bag and pressing it into Anthony’s arms. “I have another copy of this very book at home, and a larger collection on top of it. And if it inspires your learning…” Sven smiled sadly. “It is an uncommon thing, to see a child so interested in reading. Even if it is on such a ghastly topic.”
Anthony was suitably thankful, making sure that he was polite and that he promised he would rest, he wouldn’t spend too much time reading and that he would focus on healing—
And then, the moment that Sven was gone, Anthony shoved the book into a bag and ran toward the forest as quickly as he could.
He had not expected Loki to be there, as Loki knew that he was still meant to be in class at that hour. But there he was, leaning back against their usual boulder with his eyes closed as if he were simply listening to the sound of the forest, or the trickle of the stream. Anthony wondered briefly whether he had come to escape his brothers’ teasing about his height again – which Anthony had never been able to make sense of before, since Loki was so much taller than he was, and taller even than most Aesir their age, though now, of course, that all made a lot more sense – but Loki’s reason for being early would have to wait for now. Anthony did not think he would be able to hold an easy conversation with his friend until they had sorted through the new discovery that sat heavily in his heart.
“Hello, Loki,” Anthony said, and when Loki sat up and met Anthony’s gaze with a delighted smile that normally would have warmed him through, all it did was send a shard of pain through him as he wondered whether it would be the last time that he would see it.
“Anthony!” Loki exclaimed happily. “You’re early!”
“Yes,” Anthony said. “I have something for you.”
Loki’s smile grew wider, and he stood so that he could perch atop the boulder instead, watching Anthony expectantly. Anthony stepped closer, but he didn’t sit beside him as Loki so clearly expected. Instead, he took the large book from the bag that he had brought with him and handed it to Loki, who accepted it with excitement that quickly turned into confusion.
“I recognise this leather binding,” Loki said, turning the book over in his hands reverently. “This came from Jotunheim.” He glanced to Anthony curiously. “Where did you get it?”
“My tutor gave it to me,” Anthony admitted, swallowing down the nervousness as he said, “He called it the ‘spoils of war.’”
Loki was not unintelligent, and nor was he slow on the uptake. He eyes flashed with understanding even as Anthony moved to continue explaining.
“Our people were at war,” Anthony said, his heart feeling ever so heavy with the thought that once Loki knew, he probably wouldn’t want to speak with Anthony ever again. “They fought for decades, and so many people died. And the Aesir still hate the Jötnar, still want them all gone, still make jokes and call them– and call you monsters.” Anthony had worked himself up almost to tears by the end. “Everyone hates you, and I’m sure that all the other Jötnar hate the Aesir too.”
Anthony was expecting shock, was expecting maybe disbelief or anger. But, instead, Loki was simply staring at him with sad eyes. He placed the tome aside, pushed himself up from the boulder and moved to take one of Anthony’s hands between both of his own.
“I know that already,” Loki said gently. “It is hard not to know.”
“You… know?” Anthony asked, and it was his turn to be disbelieving. “But…”
“I am a prince, so of course I was taught to distrust Asgardians from the moment that I was born,” Loki said. “My father told me that the King of Asgard tried to steal me when I was a child, to use me against the realm, but my father stopped him and saved me. And ever since, I have been taught to hate Asgardians with every fibre of my being.”
“But you don’t hate me,” Anthony said weakly. “I’m Asgardian, and you don’t hate me, not even when we first met.”
“I’m not going to hate you just because you come from Asgard,” Loki replied fondly. “That’s hardly your fault. And besides, you are my friend. Even if my father told me to stop coming here, I am sure that I would find a way.”
“Your father,” Anthony realised, his eyes widening. “He’s King Laufey, isn’t he?” The figure from all the scary stories when Anthony had been a child, the name that was spat upon in the streets of Asgard more than any other in the Nine.
“He is,” Loki agreed. “And while he can be harsh, I am sure he is not all that Asgard says that he is– just as I am not.” Loki’s words were almost unsure at the end there, and Anthony was quick to reassure him.
“You’re not,” Anthony said strongly. “You are my friend, and I would not stop coming here, either. But I still don’t understand– if you’ve hated Asgardians your whole life, then why did you save me that first time?”
“I didn’t know what you were, to begin with,” Loki said, tilting his head. “I’ll admit, I was just confused as to why anyone would be able to fall through ice.” He grinned, and Anthony rolled his eyes. “Then, I thought that you were an elf, maybe, at least until you told me otherwise– and by then I knew you were harmless.” Loki considered Anthony carefully. “Yes, you could almost pass as an elf. You look somewhat like one.”
“I do not,” Anthony said, affronted.
“Have you ever actually met an elf?”
“No,” Anthony admitted. “I’ve heard about them, though.”
“Just like you’ve heard about Frost Giants?”
Anthony froze, and he stared at Loki with eyes wide like a startled deer. But Loki’s smile did not change.
“You are nothing like the monsters my father painted Asgardians to be, and you are my friend. You don’t think that I’m a monster like the Frost Giants you heard about, do you?”
“No,” Anthony said immediately, shaking his head. “I never—”
“Then why do you think that what the Asgardians say about the Ljósálfar is the same?”
Anthony blinked, and Loki sighed.
“Sorry, I did not mean to be harsh, I just…” Loki trailed off, and then his expression flickered with something unsure. “When you came here, and you told me, you thought I didn’t know about the war,” he realised. “You didn’t know that we are supposed to hate each other.”
“But you did,” Anthony said. “But you wanted to play with me anyway.”
“I’m not very good at doing what I’m supposed to,” Loki said with a smirk. “But I am curious– you only found out about this today, didn’t you? What… were you thinking?”
Well, that was an easy question to answer. “I was afraid that if you knew, you wouldn’t want to be my friend anymore,” Anthony said. “And I don’t want that. I want us to be friends forever.”
“Then we shall be,” Loki promised, and when he lifted his arm Anthony ducked under it immediately, fitting perfectly against Loki’s side. He loved it when they did this, because as fun as playing with Loki was… as the years passed and they’d started to grow older, and as they talked more than they played, it was nice to just lean together and enjoy the closeness of someone they trusted.
Anthony really didn’t care what Loki was– he’d always known that his friend was different, after all, and it didn’t matter what any of the Aesir would think. The only person’s opinion that Anthony cared about in this matter was Loki’s. So as long as Loki didn’t care what Anthony was either, then really, there was nothing to stop them from continuing just exactly the way that they had been before.
The first time Anthony realised that his feelings for Loki had changed was on a day no different than any other. They had been sitting side by side on the boulder, simply talking about everything and anything. It was perfect because it was simple, and because with Loki, Anthony knew that he could just be himself.
They were pressed together so close with Anthony tucked against Loki’s side, and Loki was telling the story of how he had disrupted a meeting of Jotunheim’s Royal Court with three well placed mice. His smile was delighted and his eyes were so very bright, and Anthony wished that he could just lean in and bring their lips together, to kiss Loki like he had seen lovers do.
But he quashed the feeling, because, of course, Loki was his friend, and Anthony did not want to ruin that with his own stupid desires. He knew that any attempt to pursue Loki would result in his own heartbreak and in Loki leaving.
Loki wouldn’t want to be with him, Anthony knew that– because why would he? What reason would a prince of an entire realm, someone as smart and as funny and as beautiful as Loki have for ever wanting a nobody like Anthony?
So Anthony tried to push the thoughts and feelings away, and he tried to remind himself of how much he enjoyed spending time with Loki– how much he enjoyed the way that they were.
But despite his efforts otherwise, when Anthony’s Aesir friends – the distinction somewhat necessary because none of them were as important to him as Loki was – wanted to go out to the taverns, when they took pretty girls home with them and then bragged the next morning, Anthony never felt the urge to do the same.
Not because he didn’t want all of those things– oh, he wanted. He just… didn’t want them with pretty girls. He didn’t want them with boys, either, and shut that idea down when one of his friends had tentatively suggested it, even faster than he had the offers of help to aid him in finding a girl to court, or even just a girl for the night.
You see, the problem was whenever Anthony imagined doing any of those things… he only ever wanted to do them with Loki. No matter how hard he tried to convince himself otherwise, knowing how much it would hurt, he just couldn’t change the way that he felt.
In all of the Nine, Anthony knew that there was only one person he could ever imagine being with– and they were, sadly, a quite a long way out of his reach.
One afternoon, Anthony was already waiting at the boulder when Loki came through the portal, his expression twisted with rage and his red eyes screaming with anguish. He was angry enough that there were green sparks dancing around his clenched fists, and Anthony immediately put aside the small blade he had been etching with runes and turned to Loki instead.
“Is something wrong?”
“Yes,” Loki snapped. “My father wishes for me to find a wife.”
And then, Anthony’s heart stopped.
He had known that this was inevitable, of course he had. But that… didn’t mean that it didn’t hurt. Because it wasn’t just the fact that Anthony would never have Loki in the way that he wished, because that was a certainty anyway, but if Loki were to be married, then Anthony knew that the amount of time Loki would spend with him would be severely reduced– if, that is, Loki even kept coming at all.
“Well,” Anthony said, trying to keep his voice steady. “I suppose, you are a prince. And… no, hang on, aren’t you a still a bit young for marriage?”
Loki was a little older than Anthony but neither of them were quite fully grown yet, though they were both now old enough to be sent into battle should another war break out. But surely King Laufey was not making Loki marry when he was not yet even considered an adult?
“For marriage, yes, but not a betrothal,” Loki explained. “My father wishes to match me with someone that I will marry in a few years’ time, so that we may get to know one another first and thus increase the likelihood of success.” The last word was spat from between Loki’s teeth, and Anthony could understand why. It made the whole thing seem more like a trade deal, when… surely marriage should be something that is only done because one wants to?
“What are you going to do?” Anthony asked, not quite able to keep all of the pain out of his voice.
“I’m going to say no, of course,” Loki said firmly. He was watching Anthony with an odd expression, a mix of determination and indecision, and Anthony swallowed thickly.
“But… will you be able to? If it’s your duty—”
“It does not matter whether it is my duty, or whether it is for the good of the realm,” Loki hissed, the indecision vanishing entirely as he stepped into Anthony’s space. “I do not want a wife.”
Then, before Anthony had even fully processed how close Loki was, Loki’s lips were on his. It took him a moment to gather his bearings, and Loki faltered– but then Anthony pressed in as close as he could and kissed Loki back, his hands fisting possessively into the back of Loki’s shirt.
And kissing Loki… well, it was the single most exhilarating moment of Anthony’s life. Loki’s arms were around Anthony’s waist and his head was bent down, and it made Anthony feel like Loki was all around him, everywhere and in everything. Anthony didn’t want it to end, but when it did they simply lingered in the moment, their breaths a little short and their foreheads pressed together.
Anthony felt a bit like the kiss had managed to short out his brain, the heady cloud of contentment that had settled over him making him unable to think of anything other than Loki.
“Loki,” Anthony said, his arms tightening around Loki’s shoulders as he held himself as close as he could. “I really don’t want you to get married.” The ‘to someone else’ was more than implied, and even though this was brand new and they had only just kissed… now that all his fears of rejection had been alleviated, Anthony couldn’t help but picture where this was going to lead them.
“I don’t want to, either,” Loki whispered. “I want to be with you.”
“Then be with me,” Anthony replied. “Let’s be together.”
Loki closed his eyes, and made a pained noise. And Anthony understood, oh, he understood all too well. Because even though Loki had been the one to initiate the kiss, that truly had been in the heat of the moment– and now that the haze of anger and passion had… at least somewhat left their minds, they were able to remember all of the reasons why they hadn’t made a move earlier.
“I am a prince,” Loki whispered. “The oldest prince. I cannot simply claim that I do not wish to marry, because the throne needs an heir.”
“You told me that didn’t matter,” Anthony pointed out. “We can work through that, I know we can.”
“We are not even of the same realm,” Loki said.
“I don’t care,” Anthony told him.
“We are supposed to hate one another—”
“I don’t care,” Anthony said again. “Loki, I couldn’t hate you, even if I tired. I know that what the other Aesir say about Jötnar is wrong because I know you, and I’m certainly not going to give you up for their hatred.”
The argument melted from Loki as he pressed a lingering kiss to Anthony’s forehead, and his voice was laced with honesty as he said, “I don’t want to give you up, either.”
“Good,” Anthony replied, and then for good measure he leaned closer and pressed a kiss to the tip of Loki’s blue nose. “Then we’re just going to have to find a way. And I’m sure we’ll think of something, I mean. We’re both pretty clever.” He moved one of his hands from Loki’s shoulder to cup his cheek instead. “I want this, I want to be with you too much to let anyone else ruin it.”
And then Loki drew him in for another kiss, and for a while, it felt like all of their worries had melted away.
Because it didn’t matter that they were supposed to hate each other, that their people and their family would never approve of them even being friends, let alone of them courting. They knew that they made each other happier than anyone else ever could, and when they were together? No one else was ever going to be able to stop them.
As their childhood began to fall into the distance of memory and they entered adulthood, Anthony and Loki found that they both had more restraints on their time. Anthony became a well known weapon smith on Asgard, and Loki continued his duties as prince, but no matter how busy they grew, they always continued to meet each other at the secret way.
Sometimes, they would wander the forest, with Loki transforming his skin to a creamy-white and his eyes to a green the same shade as his seiðr just in case they ran into another Aesir. A few times, after shrouding Anthony in warming spells, Loki took him through the secret way to Jotunheim to show him the wide expanse of snow and ice. Most times, though, they would remain by the frozen pool, exchanging stories of their day and talking about everything and nothing.
Whatever they did, and wherever they went, one thing never changed. They would always hold each other close and kiss away the ache that the distance left them feeling. They came together in soft grass and snowfalls that Loki brought down with a wave of his hand, and they whispered promises that they both knew would never be broken, even if they never came to pass.
And it certainly wasn’t perfect, but for them, it was at least enough.
Anthony lived for the moments at Loki’s side, and every hour he lived in the rest of his dreary life he spent counting down until he could go back to the forest. As his business grew in popularity and his potential was noted, there were many who tried to court him, but he turned down each and every one with a kind smile and firm answer that left no room for dispute. None of the Aesir who attempted to woo him had ever had a single chance, because Anthony had no affection to give.
Anthony’s heart resided in Jotunheim, and even though it hurt, he would not have had it any other way.
So when he noted that they were coming up on the three-hundredth anniversary of their first kiss, Anthony was excited to present Loki with a gift– at least, of sorts. He had finally earned enough gold to purchase a proper house, not just a flat above his forge and shop in the citadel. It was a small cottage, and it wasn’t much, especially not to a prince who was used to living in a palace. In fact, it was a little old and run-down, and he hadn’t yet had the time to fix it up– but it was on the very edge of the forest, which would mean that so long as Loki wore his Aesir guise until they reached the door, they would have a place to go with walls and a roof and a kitchen and, of course, an actual bed. He knew that Loki would appreciate that, and there was a slight skip in his step as he hurried down the familiar path through the forest.
As such, he was moving rather quickly, and he was not particularly aware of his surroundings– so he was taken entirely by surprise when he collided with a Jötunn sprinting in the opposite direction. They probably would have fallen to the ground on impact, but they both reached for each other instinctively and steadied by clasping each other’s arms.
“Whoa, Loki?” Anthony asked, confused, because Loki wasn’t wearing his disguise, and– “What are you doing, if anyone sees you they’ll arrest you, or worse—”
“Anthony,” Loki interrupted desperately, frantically– “Anthony my father– he found out—”
“What?” Anthony gasped, gripping Loki tighter. “How?”
“He followed me, and he learned that I know a secret entrance into Asgard. He wanted to use it, to hand it over to Odin because if Odin found out I knew then he would likely restart the war. I had to beg, I had to tell him the truth because otherwise he would have told Odin and then—”
Loki cut himself with a choked sob, but there was no need for him to continue. Anthony knew exactly what Loki had been about to say.
Then we wouldn’t ever be able to see each other again.
“I tried to tell him that we were careful, that we had never been caught, not once,” Loki said. “But he wasn’t willing to take the risk– and he said that– that he would—” Loki cut himself off with a sound that was almost a wail, and Anthony used his grip on Loki’s arms to pull him in for a tight hug.
“Hey, you’re okay,” Anthony whispered. “You’re all right—”
“But you shan’t be, if he catches you,” Loki whispered brokenly, his head buried against Anthony’s shoulder. “He said that he had almost lost me once to Asgardian monsters, and he would not let it happen for good this time. And I tried to tell him that you’re not like the others, I tried to tell him that you would never hurt me but he won’t listen.”
Anthony clenched his teeth, wishing that he could go back through the way and tear Laufey’s head from his shoulders.
“We’re going to work this out,” Anthony said firmly. “You can stay with me for now, you don’t have to go back there—”
“You don’t understand,” Loki said, still just as frantic as he had been before. “My father is not the kind of Jötunn to just let this go– he will not abide by the fact that I disobeyed his order. As I fled, I heard him tell one of my brothers that he was going to alert the Asgardians of what was happening, that he was going to trade the information to gain Odin’s favour. He’s hoping that will hold off another war.”
Well, Anthony supposed he couldn’t fault Laufey for wanting to protect the peace– but to purposefully attempt to shatter your own son’s heart just because he dared to love someone different? Perhaps the King of Jotunheim truly was a monster.
But then Anthony realised there were most likely bigger threats at bay, because—
“If your father told Odin everything, then the Aesir know that there’s a Jötunn in Asgard,” Anthony whispered in horror. And, just as he finished his sentence, he became aware of the sound of thunder echoing through the trees.
At first, he wondered if it was an entire army, if Odin had sent all of the Einherjar to capture a single Jötunn and one Aesir weapon smith. But then he realised… no.
It was much worse than that.
Because the thundering noise was the sound of actual thunder. Anthony could hear the familiar shouts of Asgard’s most famous warriors, and carrying through the air was a static sensation that was almost more terrifying than all the rest put together.
“It’s Prince Thor,” Anthony gasped. “He hates Jötnar more than anyone. We have to get out of here, we have to go now.”
“Where?” Loki asked desperately. “We can’t stay here, and we can’t go back to Jotunheim, because my father will kill you.”
Anthony grit his teeth, thinking hard. They each called two different realms home, but neither were safe anymore. Anthony didn’t know exactly what would be done to him for courting a Jötunn– charged with treason probably, though he just hoped that wouldn’t mean that he would be taken to the executioner’s block.
Loki would most likely be held for ransom, but as a Frost Giant, he would not likely be housed in the secure rooms in the palace as hostage royalty from any other realm would have been. Well, Anthony supposed, if they were both thrown into the dungeon then at least they would be in the same place. They’d be able to say goodbye.
With that depressing thought in mind, Anthony considered his new cottage for a moment, but he dismissed it immediately– they would be too easily found there, and it was not far enough away from the prowling warriors to offer any level of comfort.
But. There was one place they could go– somewhere which was both close, and yet would put them so very far from the Aesir’s reach.
“Come with me,” Anthony said, the plan taking place in his mind. “I know a safe place.”
Loki followed Anthony without question as he led the way through the trees, and they did their best to avoid their pursuers– but they should have anticipated that the group would split up, and Anthony would have run straight into two of them if Loki had not noticed them first.
“Wait,” Loki hissed, grabbing Anthony’s arm and pulling him close to his chest. Loki’s red eyes glowed green for a moment, and Anthony felt the familiar warmth of Loki’s seiðr flow over his skin. “Just stay quiet,” Loki told him.
And when Lady Sif and Fandral came through the trees and passed right by them, Anthony didn’t move, trusting that Loki had them covered– though he still breathed a sigh of relief when they did not so much as even glance in the pair’s direction.
It was a mad dash the rest of the way to the mill, and while Loki looked a little confused, he seemed to trust that Anthony knew what he was doing.
They had almost made it when they were spotted—
“There they are!”
“By the Nine, it is a Frost Giant!”
A bolt of lightning cracked down the middle of the field, and Anthony shoved Loki ahead of him as they turned around to the other side of the mill, gesturing at the way.
“Go!” Anthony yelled. “Loki, go!”
The entrance truly wasn’t very big, and it was much more of a struggle for Anthony to fit now than it had been when he was a child. Thankfully, although Loki was taller than Anthony he was also leaner, and he was through in moments.
The whole mill lit up with a blast of electricity just as Anthony ducked down, and he crawled as fast as he possibly could, knowing that he had been just fast enough that the Prince and his friends could not have seen where he and Loki had gone.
When Anthony tumbled out the other side of the way he landed right on top of Loki, who had yet to crawl from underneath Eitri’s workbench. Loki grunted as Anthony’s elbow jammed into his stomach, and it was a bit of an operation for them both to get out in the open, but they managed it. They were coughing and sore and covered in dust, but they were uninjured, and they were free.
Well, for now at least– because it had been some centuries since Anthony had last visited Niðavellir, and he hoped that things had not changed in that time. Thankfully, though, the voice that echoed through the room was a familiar one, and Anthony nearly sighed with relief.
“Well, well, if it isn’t the Aesir who seems to know how to jump between worlds with ease,” Eitri said. “Why are you here this time? Spying again?”
“I don’t spy,” Anthony complained immediately. And he was about to continue, but cool fingers entwining with his own cut him off.
“Anthony,” Loki warned quietly. He was staring at the ten foot tall dwarf with a little bit of concern, and Anthony noticed that Loki was standing very close into his side.
“It’s okay, Eitri won’t hurt us,” Anthony promised, then he glanced up to the dwarf. “Right?”
“I suppose that depends on why you’re here,” Eitri said, crossing his arms.
“We need help,” Anthony said. “We… we need somewhere to stay for a while, and we don’t have anywhere else to go.”
“We?” Then Eitri’s gaze found their clasped hands, and he raised his brows. “An Aesir and a Jötunn? My, you do make an unusual pair.”
“That’s the problem,” Anthony told him. “Neither the Jötnar nor the Aesir will allow this, and they wish to kill us both.”
“I am not usually one for giving out charity,” Eitri replied, though it seemed more thoughtful than an outright rejection.
“We understand that this will bring a threat to you, should they come looking,” Loki said quietly. “And we will understand if you turn us away.”
“But if there is way for us to be useful, then we’ll do it,” Anthony suggested, knowing that it was stupid to offer such an open-ended bargain even before Loki winced, but he was too desperate to care.
He had just come this close to losing Loki forever, and that left a feeling of horror deep in his gut that Anthony knew would not alleviate for quite some time.
“There is no need to worry about the Aesir nor the Jötnar finding you here,” Eitri said after a long pause. “If we tell them that you are not here, then they would not dare risk calling us liars, for the Aesir will not want us to stop selling them weapons and the Jötnar have been purchasing items to keep the temperature on their planet down since their Casket was taken during the war. You will be safe here,” the dwarf promised. “After all, a skilled smith and a mage will always be welcomed upon Niðavellir. I shall be able to house you, and once you have found some work you’ll be able to pay your own way.”
The relief that coursed through Anthony was palpable, and he and Loki almost fell into each other. Loki’s arm curled around Anthony’s waist and he pressed his forehead to Loki’s shoulder, the madness of the past hour, the difficulty of the past centuries finally catching up.
But, they still were not done, and they were still a little tense as they thanked Eitri profusely. He waved them off with dismissive claims of being sure that they would work hard, and that having them both would result in good things for the forges of Niðavellir.
But then, just as they were about to leave, Eitri touched Anthony’s shoulder and spoke with a gentle tone.
“I am sorry that this has happened to you,” he said, “But… I am glad that you managed to find each other regardless. You shall find no hostility here.”
And it was then, when Eitri said those words without a hint of deception that Anthony began to truly believe that maybe, just maybe, they would be all right.
They were granted a basic room to stay in until they could earn enough to pay their own way, and it was a bit of shock to realise that they would be living together for the very first time. Whether the Aesir or the Jötnar managed to find them or not, there would no longer be any covert meetings in the forest, no more sneaking away from their dreary lives for a few short hours in each other’s arms.
But along with the secrecy and the separation, they had also lost everything else. Anthony would likely never see his Aesir friends again, and all the projects in his forge would remain unfinished. His favourite tools had all been left behind, as well as his sword. He had come with nothing but the clothes on his back– but at least this had been his plan. He had chosen this. Loki had not.
Anthony turned so that he and Loki were facing each other rather than stranding side by side, and he squeezed the hand that he held even has he raised his other hand to cup Loki’s cheek, his thumb stroking gently over the raised lines on his skin.
“I’m so sorry,” Anthony said. “You lost everything. Your title, your realm—”
“As did you,” Loki replied.
“I am a weapon smith, used to living from one commission to the next– and here, I will have the chance to learn from the best. This will not be a hardship for me, but… you were a prince, and now you have nothing.”
“I have a lot more than that,” Loki whispered. He pulled Anthony toward himself and pressed a soft kiss to Anthony’s lips, sweet and only just crossing the line past chaste. Anthony responded eagerly but just as tenderly, not pushing the kiss toward something else but letting it stay just as it was.
When Loki leaned away, he met Anthony’s gaze and turned his head to brush his lips along Anthony’s palm. And when he spoke, he did so with trust and affection lacing his tone, and with the bright softness of love glowing in his red eyes.
“I am with you, Anthony,” Loki said. “And when I’m with you, I’m home.”
The words ached with tender honesty that was more than enough to bring an end to any remaining insecurities and doubts, and Anthony used that moment to press up on his toes and draw Loki into a kiss.
They had two realms searching for them, and they knew that their new life on Niðavellir would be difficult. And perhaps they would stay– or perhaps they would be able to find a home for themselves on another realm, on Alfheim or Vanaheim, maybe. Or perhaps they would go somewhere else entirely.
Either way, Anthony knew that he did not really mind which realm they ended up in, or even if they went outside the limits of Yggdrasil and did not live in one of the Nine at all.
It didn’t matter where they were, because so long as they were with each other, they would be all right.