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What Makes a Marriage

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Thor had always known he would be king. He was the firstborn son of the Allfather and his queen, but he was also the only son; just after his birth, Queen Frigga had contracted a terrible illness, and though she’d managed to recover, its effects had left her unable to bear any more children.


And so, just as he knew he would one day take the throne, he would also one day have to marry politically. He was the Asgardian royal family’s only bartering piece. It would be his duty to his kingdom to secure an alliance in such a manner, and after centuries of brazenly seducing the maidens of court, he had at last become reconciled to the fact that his future did not lie in their beds.


However, he did not expect for his future consort to be decided upon in the manner it was.


It was at the close of a fierce and dragging war with the most hated realm in Yggdrasil. The Aesir had been attempting to keep the Frost Giants of Jotunheim in check since before Thor was born, but eventually the Jotuns had grown too bold. But now, in large part thanks to Thor’s prowess on the battlefield, they were spent and withering in their homeland.


And now, King Laufey was suing for peace. And Odin was hearing him in private. Other warriors called this a cowardly appeal by the Jotun King, but Thor’s lessons of diplomacy told him otherwise. It was a brave and honorable move to offer surrender in the hopes of saving his subjects’ lives, knowing full well that his enemy could easily refuse and crush the remains of his race.


But then again, Laufey knew Odin to be no fool. If he responded in such a manner, the whispers of genocide would never be silenced whenever Asgard was mentioned in the other realms. With that, Odin’s hegemony he had painstakingly built over the millennia would begin to fracture. And if there was one thing Odin cared about above all else, it was his realm’s power as the center of the universe.


Yes, he would hear Laufey’s requests. And they would argue for days back and forth over the terms, but the war would be settled.


Thor just didn’t expect it to be settled in four hours.


Or that the question of his betrothal would be answered in that timespan as well.


xxx


The agreement stipulated that the marriage take place that same day. And it had not been Laufey who had commanded this, but Odin. He would not let Laufey renege on the bargain, and Laufey, wanting the war over before the day was out, had agreed to the terms.


His court arrived by the Bifrost within the hour. All his advisors and generals were there, among them his now-eldest son, Byleistr. The previous heir, Helblindi, had been killed in the last decisive battle by Thor himself, and the new Jotun heir apparent was taking more and more to his new position with each swaggered step down the Rainbow Bridge.


And then, at the front of the party, pushed forward by his brother, was Thor’s betrothed.


None had ever heard of Loki outside Jotunheim, and few spoke about him on his own planet. Now that Odin saw him with his own eye, Thor noticed his tense posture settle somewhat.


“I hope your other assurance about it is true,” he said to King Laufey.


“Yes,” said Laufey, his voice as gruff as a stone quarry. “It was born with both sex organs, fully capable of bearing children. And yet it insists it be called a he.”


Thor had read of such rare occurrences among the Jotun, which were usually accompanied by an Aesir-like stature and a full head of hair. But in that same book, Thor had also read of them being misshapen, ugly, and with a muted emotional affect.


Whereas Loki’s eyes were wide with the most fear Thor had ever before seen on any creature’s face.


Byleistr pushed him the last few steps toward the Allfather, making him stumble slightly. Even after he had regained his balance, his eyes stayed fixed at his feet.


Odin’s eye looked him up and down in appraisal. “First, it will have to look presentable to the Aesir. I won’t have my son seen marrying a blue-skinned monster.”


Before anyone else could react, his hand shot forward to harshly grip Loki’s chin. Loki cried out from that pain, but then he screamed. His skin started to shimmer and shift, until his dark blue flesh was replaced with a paler shade of that which the Aesir wore.


Odin still didn’t release him then. Instead, he forced Loki’s head up to look at him. When Loki’s eyes flew open, they were a pale green within a white sclera.


The Allfather raked his gaze over him again. “It will do,” he said at last. When he released Loki’s chin, he nearly shoved him away as if burned.


Laufey’s face had shown no change in emotion throughout the display, and he turned to walk with Odin into the palace. His court followed him, Byleistr smirking at Loki as he passed his brother. The Asgardian nobles and council members followed with them.


Thor had been supposed to follow his father before the other Asgardians, but they hadn’t noticed he was still rooted to the spot, shocked by what he had just seen his father do.

It?  This man – he looked hardly older than a boy, really – was to be Odin’s son-in-law, and the moment he had been in proximity with him, he had called him it?


Thor didn’t know what to think about any of this, it was all happening so fast. It certainly hadn’t sunk in yet that he was going to be married in a few hours. All he knew was that the smaller-statured Jotun prince was trembling in his newly-forced skin.


Now that his flesh was more similar to what Thor was familiar with, he was able to take in Loki’s appearance. His thick leathers hid all of his skin except his hands and his face, in contrast to the near-nakedness of most male Frost Giants. But while his looks were more androgynous than the conventional beauty of most Aesir men his age, they were certainly eye-catching to Thor.


But he could hardly focus on trying to find a positive in his end of the arrangement, when all he could see was Loki Laufeyson shaking like a leaf on the steps of the Asgardian palace, terrified of everything around him.


A swell of sympathy rose in Thor’s chest. Loki had probably had even less time than he had to come to terms with his impending marriage; and even worse, he was the one who was leaving his home world forever, to live in a foreign culture among a race who despised his own.


Thor reached out a hand to touch Loki’s shoulder, but before he could even get close to doing so, Loki startled and looked up at him. The fear and confusion in his eyes was enough to make Thor’s hand waver from where it hovered halfway between them.


Loki quickly walked into the palace to catch up with the rest of the two diplomatic parties. Thor sighed. They’d only just met, and already he had spooked his future husband.


xxx


By the Norns, everything was happening so fast.


One moment, Thor had been following Loki to catch up with their respective fathers. It seemed the next moment, their hands were being tied together with the sacred threads, and he was giving his new husband the most fleeting and awkward peck on the lips he could remember experiencing, to be met with equally-unenthusiastic applause from the population of Asgard.


And now, here he was at the celebration feast. At least his fellow Asgardians had remembered themselves after the ceremony, and had broken out the mead and songs in full measure. They were celebrating their prince’s wedding and the victory of a war; they had plenty of reasons to be merry.


In contrast, the royal table was quiet and stilted. It was the first feast Thor could remember not trying to outdrink Volstagg, or not bragging about his wrestling match with the dragon Nidhogg. Tonight, he felt mildly sick.


The only one who looked worse than he felt, he realized, was Loki.


His new husband was staring blankly ahead at his still-full plate. Since he had sat down, he hadn’t moved except to quiver slightly. And for the life of him, Thor couldn’t find any words to say to him. He especially didn’t feel he should coax him to eat or suggest which pastries to try, when he could hardly stomach anything tonight, either.


Looking round, he caught Sif’s eye at a table nearby. She gave him a cautious smile that looked quite pitying. And in truth, Thor could not fault her for it. He tried to return the smile, but he was sure it came out as more of a grimace.


“And of course I’ll be there for the bedding, being the heir to the throne.”


Thor’s heart nearly stopped.


His gaze left Sif’s, trying to surreptitiously spy who was talking. But he should have known it was a half-drunk Prince Byleistr, sprawled at one of the lower tables with three Asgardian wenches on his arms.


Byleistr popped another grape into his mouth. “Of course, it’s not a widely-used tradition anymore, as everyone leaves newlyweds to their own devices now. But with a royal match of this magnitude, it’s necessary to ensure any children conceived belong to those the match intended.”


“But how-” one of the women giggled, “-how will they bear any children?”


“Haven’t you heard?” Byleistr asked. “By dear little brother’s a freak between his legs. He’s got a cock and a cunt down there, one right behind the other.”


The women started laughing even harder at that.


“I made him show it to me once when he was small, and told him he was such a pretty lady I’d fuck him myself if he ever spoke against me. But Father said he had to keep himself pure.”


“So he really is a virgin?” another of the women asked.


“Unless he ever fucked his own cock, since Father’s kept him locked in the palace in Jotunheim all these years. Aye, that cherry’s tight as a laced corset.” He grinned. “And tonight, I’m gonna get to see it pop.”


It was all Thor could do not to lunge over the table and tear out Byleistr’s blood red eyes from their sockets.


There was going to be a bedding ceremony?


It was an archaic practice from when his people were still using electricity for power!


He had already made up his mind that he would not share a bed tonight with Loki, who was so obviously scared out of his wits that he could not give any form of consent. He had been counting on them at least getting to know one another before they had to consummate their marriage.


But not only would he be taking Loki’s virginity, but he had to do so tonight, in front of their fathers, Loki’s brother, and all the rest of their royal courts?


He noticed the Allfather rising from his chair, along with Laufey, and the rest of the two royal courts followed their lead. It was time.


Thor had to tamp down hard on the urge to vomit. Somehow, he made himself stand. Loki stood as well, his eyes still staring blankly ahead of him. His pale skin looked almost clammy.


The rest of the feasting hall did not question their departure, as they were too caught up in their merriment. At least Thor could be grateful for that.


xxx


As they began the silent march to the new bridal suite, Thor realized there was only one power he could assert over this situation. Hopefully it would help Loki as well, but at this point, Thor had no idea what would make this in any small way easier for his husband.


So as they walked, he took a gentle hold of Loki’s forearm, just below his elbow. Loki nearly jumped at the contact, and his eyes were almost visibly trembling as they looked at Thor.


“I can make this go as quickly as possible, if that would be preferable,” Thor murmured, low enough so that only Loki could hear him.


Loki was just looking at him, and he didn’t know what his answer was. And then they were at the bridal suite.


The rooms inside were spacious and regal-looking, with oak wood furniture and warm tones of browns, golds, and soft reds. But the kings walked straight through the front living room and into the bedroom that lay beyond. Steeling himself with a breath, Thor followed them over the threshold into the room within.


With the same warm colors, the crackling fireplace, and the luxurious phoenix-down bed, the bedroom might have looked comforting, even verging on the romantic. Were it not for two glaring details.


There was a semicircle of chairs assembled around the bed.


And the bed itself had no blankets or furs.


That realization crushed all of Thor’s hopes of making this in any way more dignified for himself or Loki. He had thought he might at least keep them both under the blankets, so Loki would not have to be exposed to two dozen pairs of prying eyes on his first night. But this was meant to provide proof of virginity and consummation. For the two kings to seal this treaty, nothing could be left to chance.


The kings and their advisors had taken their seats, so only Thor and Loki were left standing. And Thor realized he hadn’t a clue how to initiate this.


Well, if they were going to get this over with quickly, someone would have to take charge. And as Loki had no experience even doing this consensually, it wasn’t going to be him.


But as Thor even took his first step toward Loki, he realized he was having his own unique set of problems: he wasn’t even getting hard. By the Norns, fifteen Frost Giants and eighteen Asgardians were watching him, including his own father, and Byleistr with that stupid smirk on his face. How was he supposed to perform any sort of sexual act under these conditions?


Then Loki looked at him, looking closer to crying than he had this whole evening, and Thor’s internal howls at his own unfair situation were silenced. Make it work, he told himself. You have to make this work, and fast.


And so he did the only thing he could think of that would center himself in this situation: he took hold of Loki’s shoulders and brought him closer, so they were standing nose-to-nose. This way, all he could see was Loki, and all Loki could see was him.


“I will make this over soon,” he said, still just as low a voice as before.


He wasn’t sure if Loki was giving small, frantic nods, or if he was still just shaking so terribly. But at this point, Thor didn’t know what else he could do.


Somehow he managed to get Loki to move, and once he did, Loki took his position of lying down on the bed. Even as Thor inched toward him on his knees, he could see how badly Loki was trembling. And his green eyes were fixed on Thor.


Thor’s mouth was dry as he found himself kneeling between Loki’s legs. It was now all too real just what they both would be forced to do in a matter of moments. And on his back with his legs spread, Loki looked even more helpless and terrified than before.


Well, at the very least, they would not be undressing completely for this ludicrous excuse for a ceremony.


Thor reached for the waistband of Loki’s trousers, where the lacings were hidden beneath the longer front of his tunic. He wished he could silently ask Is this okay now? or Are you ready for this? or any other form of seeking consent that he could ask of his bedmate. But in this case, clearly, the answer was no.


“Stop! Wait!”


Thor could hardly believe his ears. Not just because one of their audience had said such a thing, but that it had been Byleistr who had said it.


“We need to display confirmation of its virginity first.”


Blood roared in Thor’s ears.

“That’s right, isn’t it, Father? Before the consummation is to take place-”


“He is right.” It wasn’t Laufey who answered Byleistr, but Odin. “We will need to inspect its hymen to ensure it is still intact. Thor, please move aside.”

No.”

The room was quiet as the spirits of Hel, save for Loki’s frantic breathing.

Thor squeezed his eyes shut, hating the words coming out of his mouth as much as he knew they were necessary. “I will do so myself.”

There was a shuffling behind him, as if several men were sinking back into their seats. Upon hearing no further commentary on his answer, Thor opened his eyes again, back to Loki’s trembling form.

At least this way, it would only be one person who physically violated Loki tonight. Thor had to be among that party, but he would at least make sure no others joined him.

His own hands were shaking slightly as he undid the lacings on Loki’s trousers. He had to go slowly to keep a grip on himself, and he hated that it was drawing this out even more. Loki, meanwhile, was looking to the side, away from everyone else in the room. His eyes were staring blankly into the room’s far corner.

Thor only pulled Loki’s trousers and smallclothes down to his knees. What he saw was less of a shock than if he hadn’t heard Byleistr’s comments at dinner, but it still took him a moment to take in what he was seeing. It was a mid-sized, flaccid cock, a pair of quite small testicles spread further apart from one another than was usual, and a pair of labia nestled behind them in a sparse nest of hair. Everything was smaller than the usual person’s anatomy, to accommodate the extra parts all kept in the same area.

It wasn’t unappealing, simply different than what Thor was accustomed to seeing. Had they been in any other circumstances than this, he would have been eager to explore. But instead, all he could do was find his bearings, and clinically part the folds to better see the vaginal opening.

He swallowed thickly at the sight. The hymen was there in pristine condition, but even had it not been there, the opening was so small. How was this supposed to work without causing Loki unbearable agony?

He cleared his throat and said, “He is still pure.”

Thank the Norns Byleistr didn’t insist on checking for himself.

The Allfather’s voice: “You may proceed.”

Never was Thor more grateful that Heimdall could not see into a person’s thoughts, or else he would have been arrested for visualizing the way he wanted choke the life from the old king’s throat.

But now there was nothing else to stand between him and what he had to do tonight. He had to proceed.

He wished he had been given the time, even a moment alone with Loki before this, to ask him properly if he preferred a quick bedding or a gentler one. He wished he’d had the time to send a servant to his mother’s potion stores, to fetch something to calm Loki down or relax his muscles. But Loki was in no place of mind to give any kind of answer to Thor, so he had to make a decision for both of them, and fast.

He decided that at least with a quick bedding, Loki could sooner retreat to privacy and have himself tended to. And Thor hoped this decision wasn’t unconsciously selfish on his part.

He at least had the wherewithal to spit into his hand and slick his own cock before proceeding. Not only would it help Loki, but the physical sensation of his own hand helped him get hard. His flesh sprang to life in his palm after several strokes, and once he felt he was slick enough to compensate for Loki’s lack of self-lubrication, he began to push in.

Loki’s sharp, painful cry was nearly enough to make him lose his resolve. Now it was impossible to not confront the fact that he was raping someone, an act he never in his life would have imagined himself performing. He had to bite his lip to keep himself from letting out his own sob at this knowledge, and tried to focus on just getting this over with.

But getting it over with involved tearing through the hymen, and when he finally felt it give way, he could feel Loki’s screams through his body. He swore he could start to feel blood, too, but knew he had to just press onward.

Then he had to balance the impossible, torn between pushing in the rest of the way slowly to give Loki’s muscles at least some time to adjust, and going quickly to sooner finish this torture for both of them. His resulting actions probably yielded neither of those benefits.

But once he was little more than halfway in, he felt that had to be good enough, and he started trying to get enough traction to start pumping in and out.

By the time he found some semblance of rhythm, each push jolted Loki’s body a little bit backward with the momentum. And each jerk pumped another weak sob from his throat. Thor tried not to look at his face, not wanting to see what he was doing to this man, but in his peripheral vision he could see tears starting their way down Loki’s cheeks.

When he chanced to look up and see Loki’s attempts to rein in his sobs, how his face seized up each time he was penetrated, and then Byleistr’s snicker was heard behind Thor’s back…Thor squeezed his eyes shut and tried to conjure up every sexual fantasy he’d ever had. Anything to escape this, and finish this deed.

He imagined Jarnsaxa’s tits bouncing around as he fucked her on a feast hall table. He thought of Brunnhilde’s mouth forming a perfect O as he fucked her against a pillar in his mother’s garden. He pictured Amora’s ass against his hips as he fucked into it outside a tavern. And he kept playing those moments in his head, feverishly flitting through each one, trying to pretend he was having a consensual, enjoyable encounter with someone, until his mind went white as he found release at last.

But the moment the orgasm began to ebb, he was brought back to the horrid reality. Loki was shaking with silent sobs beneath him. His father, King Laufey, Prince Byleistr, and a few dozen royal advisors were sitting behind him. And he had just been forced to rape his new husband on their wedding night.

At least it was over now, and they would leave soon. Thor resolved that he would not open his eyes to this room again until the last one of them shut the door behind them. In the meantime, he started to pull out.

“Stop.”

He froze, cursing all three of the Norns.

It was Laufey’s voice. “You are to stay in conjunction, and elevate its hips, to best give the seed a chance to take root.”

Thor didn’t understand the second part of the command at first, until he sickened further with understanding. Its. He meant Loki’s.

Cursedly opening his eyes, Thor reached for the nearest pillow on the bed and maneuvered it underneath Loki’s hips, moving to sit on his own heels to stay ‘in conjunction’. And there he sat for the longest two minutes of his life, while Loki’s small sobs were the only indication he was still among the living.

Finally, finally, Laufey said, “Enough. We are satisfied.”

“And we are satisfied,” said the Allfather. There was a rustling behind Thor, of everyone rising from their chairs to file out the door. And at long last, the door closed behind them, and Thor and Loki were alone.

Thor took a long breath through his nostrils, and began to pull out. Now that they were alone, and he had seen, inspected, and defiled Loki already, he felt it would be kinder now to go slowly, and take the time to be as gentle as he’d wanted to be this entire night.

His lungs froze as he saw his own flesh slip from Loki’s. It was still wet when he withdrew, but none of his seed was exiting with him.

He saw what it was soon enough, when he saw the bloodstains on his softened cock. It was so much more than he’d expected from just the hymen tearing.

But upon glancing at Loki’s vagina, there looked to be more tearing than that.

As he tucked himself back into his trousers, he forced another slow, deliberate breath through his nose. And another, and another. His lungs were going to short out if he didn’t operate them manually right now.

What had he done?

Loki, meanwhile, wasn’t even moving. He didn’t seem to be aware that the observers were gone, or that the consummation had ended. Thor couldn’t imagine what his current state must be like.

But, he had to move them forward again. He once again reached to Loki’s arm, this time to his bicep, as far away from his abused lower regions as possible.

“Loki?”

Again, Loki startled. But this time, the free-flowing tears escaped as he looked up at Thor. And Thor’s heart splintered even further at the sight.

“I-“

He had to force himself to shut up. What could he, of all people Loki had interacted with in his life, say to him right now that would help?

Are you alright?

Of course not.

Would you like some help?

Obviously not from you.

Can I do anything?

Never again be in the same realm as me.

Instead, all he could think to do was help Loki lever himself into slightly sitting up, after taking away that accursed pillow from underneath his hips. Once that was done, Loki reached for his trousers to cover himself again.

Thor started to get off the bed, not sure what else to do, until he noticed Loki’s hands were shaking so badly he couldn’t grasp the laces long enough to tie them up. And it was making him shake even worse.

Eventually, Thor couldn’t take seeing his distress grow any further, and he covered Loki’s hands with his. He saw Loki’s entire body stiffen as he tried not to outwardly flinch, but his hands did still somewhat with Thor’s hands keeping them steady.

Carefully, Thor tied the laces himself, but in the end he wasn’t sure if he had done them up correctly. At the very least, Loki was covered now, which he hoped would help.

“There’s…” Every thought he tried to say died on his tongue. At last he gestured somewhat uselessly to the doorway behind them. “The suite’s bathing chambers are right through there. If you would…that is…if you would like to tend to…” His tongue was heavy in his mouth. “If you wish for some privacy.”

Loki looked over his shoulder to the doorway, and gave the smallest of nods. But when he tried to stand, he returned to sitting with his legs spread wide, trying not to disturb the tears in his body. He just shook his head while staring at the doorway, trying and failing to keep in his silent tears.

Thor just nodded, and helped Loki to stand, letting him lean on him while he did most of the work, so Loki did not have to work his legs back and forth too much. When they made it to the threshold, Thor let go of him. “Would you like me to send for a healer?” he asked. “They could bring some salves, or a draught to help you sleep-“

He was surprised at how violently Loki shook his head. “N-no, no, thank you.”

Thor was slow to nod, and realized as much when he finally did. “Very well.” He couldn’t think of anything else to say, until Loki started to close the door. “Loki, I-”

Loki’s eyes were wide as they stared back at his.

“I…I will bring some blankets to the bed. Then I will sleep in the front room.”

Loki’s nod was so small he nearly missed it. He gave just as cautious of a nod back, and then Loki shut the door the rest of the way.

Thor stood there, staring at the closed oak door, trying to either wrap his mind around tonight or distance himself from it as much as possible. But standing still was never how he worked through things. He needed to get the blankets and leave this room for the night, so even if Loki chose a settee in another of their suite’s rooms to sleep in, he would be given space if he so desired.

But then he heard a soft thud on the other side of the oak door, like the sound of someone sinking to the floor.

And then he heard a soul-wrenching wail.

Loki could not distance himself from what had happened any longer. And as Thor sank to the floor to start silently crying himself, he knew neither could he.

Chapter Text

It had been four days since the wedding. It felt strange to Thor that he’d now known Loki for four days, because it certainly didn’t feel like it.

He’d kept to himself during that time. He would have grown concerned that his friends would miss him; or even worse, that his father would wonder where he’d disappeared to instead of publicly acting the role of crown prince. But after what he’d been forced into that night, he was finding it hard to give a damn about any of that. He needed time to get his bearings, and reconcile with both what had happened, and with who he was now.

Loki, meanwhile, stayed entirely shut up in their rooms. He stayed in the study of their suite, and Thor was quite sure he was sleeping in there, as well. He’d pass Loki coming out of the bathing chambers when he was going in, but that was all he saw of him.

Obviously, Loki had no interest in occupying the same room as him. And in truth, he couldn’t blame him for it. Who would want to stay in the presence of their rapist and captor?

He wanted to give Loki his space, as well as carve out some space for himself. And so they hadn’t said a word to each other since the night of their wedding.

xxx

On the eve of their fourth day of matrimony, Thor sat on a plush couch in the front room, picking at his food a servant had brought him. Eventually he resigned himself to the fact that his appetite was too diminished by what had happened, and he wouldn’t be eating more than half his heartily prepared plate for a while. And so he let the passing servant take his tray with a nod of rueful thanks.

But as the servant took the remains of his dinner, Thor couldn’t help but notice Loki’s dinner tray being carried in the other arm. It was nearly as full as when it had been brought in, just like all his other meal trays of the past four days.

So Loki wasn’t eating. Thor was at least putting down enough to get by, but Loki’s apparent intake wasn’t even enough to sustain him.

This made Thor think back to last night. He had heard a terrible sound coming from the study. It was the sound of soft whimpering, like Loki was trapped in a nightmare but wanted to muffle his cries. And Thor would have bet Mjolnir that he knew what memories infested Loki’s dreams.

The memories he had given him.

He was standing up from the couch before he knew of his decision. Something had to be done about this. He would hate himself even more if he sat by and did nothing as his husband starved himself.

But he felt he shouldn’t enter the study without cause. Casting about the room, his eyes settled upon a book lying on a table. It was about trade negotiations, and he had meant to return it to his mother’s personal library. But perhaps Loki wouldn’t know it was from there?

He picked it up and started toward the study, shaking his head. Why should he need an excuse to enter the same room as his husband and seek out conversation with him?

Except he did need one. Because of the first thing he had ever done to him.

xxx

His heart was pounding as he made it through that cursed bedchamber, and approached the study door. It was ajar. Thor nearly faltered in his steps. But, after mustering more courage than he’d ever needed for any battlefield, he stepped inside.

The room was well-lit with warm-glowing candles; all the same, it felt much darker than it should have been. And nestled in a large armchair was Loki, his limbs folded gracefully around and underneath himself as he leaned his cheek against the chair’s back. From the looks of the blanket draped over one arm of the chair, and the pillow tucked next to it, this chair was also serving as Loki’s bed.

There was a moment when Thor was struck by how stunning Loki looked, curled up in the chair with the candlelight playing off his face. Thor realized it was the first time he’d seen a Loki who didn’t feel immediately threatened by his surroundings. Alone, he was elegant and gentle. The moment was so beautiful Thor’s breath caught in his throat.

But it was shattered the moment Loki looked at him, and any grace he’d had in solitude twisted into terror as he shrank into himself. The dark circles under his eyes, the gauntness of his face, the bone-thinness of his limbs…it all became visible. He was starting on the path of wasting away.

Thor was about to mumble apologies and excuses about returning a book, before realizing how stupid he must look right now. Why had he even brought this book?

He crossed the room to put it on the desk and be rid of that smokescreen. Loki’s eyes followed him everywhere he went. Not sure how to approach his next move, Thor decided to just go for it, and took the smaller chair next to Loki’s.

Loki was starting to shake again, he noticed. And he prayed to the Norns that the day was close when Loki could breathe easy in his new home.

Once again, his words were failing him. They had never been his strong suit, after all. But he had to start somewhere.

“I-”

Loki’s accelerated breathing was audible in every silence.

Thor cleared his throat. “Loki, I…I do not wish to intrude upon your privacy if you do not want me here. Truly, I do not.”

He noticed Loki’s shaking starting to settle down. His eyes were still wide and glassy, but he looked less distressed. Thor decided to count that as progress, even if it were the tiniest step.

“But…” How should he proceed? Blowing out a frazzled breath, he decided on honesty. “I’m worried about you, Loki.”

He swore he caught a glimpse of Loki shrinking an inch away from him. Fuck.

Thor started fiddling with his chair’s leather-clad arm, staring at his fidgeting hand to force out his words. “I have…that is, I…I’ve noticed you have not been eating.”

He could feel Loki cringing from him.

“And…last night I heard you. I heard you crying. For hours.”

A soft sniffle broke Thor’s thoughts, and when he looked up, Loki was staring at the floor. Tears were starting to break through the cradle of his eyelids.

“I-I’m sorry.” Loki’s voice was so small, yet so thick with fear. “I’m sorry if I haven’t…haven’t pleased you…”

Thor’s heart felt like it was being strangled.

“No, no, Loki,” he tried to soothe, but Loki’s tears started escaping. Thor wished in that moment he could be allowed physical contact with him, so he could touch his arm, wipe away his tears, rub his shoulder, something. But he didn’t dare try it; he knew he’d lost that privilege four nights ago.

So he touched the next closest thing, and grabbed the arm of Loki’s armchair instead. “That’s not what I’m saying, that you haven’t pleased me. It’s not my needs that concern me in this, but yours. I…” He took a breath to center himself. “…I just can’t stand to see you smothered in such pain as this.”

Pain he knew he had directly caused, but he couldn’t bear to dwell on that now.

Loki’s arms were wrapping tighter around himself, in an attempt to self-soothe and protect. Thor hoped it would help some.

But then Loki’s eyes looked at him, scared as a doe staring down the hunter, and asked in such a timid voice:

“What do you want from me, Thor?”

Thor sighed. Perhaps Loki thought he had come into the study tonight to take him to the bed again? He had to suppress a shudder at that thought. The sooner he could burn this bridal suite to the ground and move them both to chambers with no painful memories, the better.

“I want you to find happiness,” he admitted. “If I can bring it to you in any way, say the word and I am at your disposal. But…it does not have to involve me, if you do not want it to. And you do not have to seek it simply because I want it. I…”

His fingers started picking at the armchair’s fabric. “Honestly, Loki, I cannot begin to imagine what you must be feeling. You have left your homeland and all that you know, and are now living with a stranger who…”

It was best he moved on from finishing that sentence.

So he took a breath, and continued past the memories of Loki’s jolted sobs. “If I were to guess, you must be feeling terribly alone.”

Slowly, in such a small gesture, staring at the floor again, Loki nodded.

“Well…I suppose I came here tonight to tell you…you are not alone. You don’t have to be.”

Loki slid his eyes up to Thor’s, as if sneaking a glance at him and trying not to get caught.

Thor’s hand closed around the end of the armchair’s arm, as a substitute for taking Loki’s hand. “I am your husband now. I don’t know you at all yet, but I would like to start. I would…I would offer you my friendship, and a chance to prove myself to you, if you wish to accept it.”

Loki looked down at Thor’s hand, wondering things Thor could not place. But at last he said, still so timidly, “If I were to accept your offer for us to better know each other…how would we go about it?”

Thor gave the slightest half-shrug with one shoulder. “I could…show you around the palace tomorrow. We could start touring Asgard together. You are to rule it by my side once I become king.”

Loki looked genuinely surprised by his words, and Thor didn’t understand why. But after a long pause, Loki cautiously nodded. “I…I think I would like that, very much.”

A grin rose onto Thor’s face, and he was so glad he was able to wear one while speaking with Loki. “Very well, then. Shall we go after breakfast together?”

He was about to backtrack and insist that Loki didn’t have to dine with him if he didn’t want to, wondering if it was too much to offer at once, but Loki nodded again. “Yes, that would be lovely.”

Never was Thor so relieved. “I look forward to it.”

Loki gave two short, jerky nods, and a ghost of a smile flickered on his lips. But before it could find a home there, it was gone.  Thor hoped he could bring it there properly one day.

Then he remembered something. “Also, Loki…”

Loki’s face morphed into mild panic again. It broke Thor’s heart just how easily any potential unknown concerning himself was enough to terrify Loki. Then again, he did have every reason to fear him, after what he had done.

“…if you would like, I could send for a sleeping draught from my mother’s stores. If it would help.”

Loki’s eyes darted downward, then back up. “How…how long would it last?”

“If you took it now, you would awaken by daybreak.”

Loki was looking around the room, toward the door, the desk, the candles. Thor was starting to understand Loki’s hesitation. Perhaps he was afraid of being violated again while drugged and rendered unable to resist?

Thor’s grip tightened on the chair’s arm. “You need not worry for your safety here, Loki,” he said quietly. “I wish you no harm, and I would not let anyone hurt you. You…” His throat started closing up, but he fought against it. “…you will never suffer harm in Asgard again, as long as you live.”

Loki sniffed again. His hand reached up to wipe away some of his tears. Thor let him do it, unable to look at him. Loki’s screams from four nights ago reverberated in his head.

“A sleeping draught would be nice.”

Thor nodded. He looked up, wondering if Loki could see all the apologies in his heart written on his face. It would never be enough, but he had to keep trying until the day he died. “I will have a servant fetch it for you.”

It was quiet for a moment more, before Thor felt he was perhaps overstaying his welcome. He’d disturbed Loki enough for one day. “I hope you sleep well tonight, Loki,” he said, and awkwardly rose to walk toward the door.

But just as he made it there, Loki called out. “Thor?”

Thor turned around. “Yes, Loki?”

Loki looked unsure, almost shy. “Thank you. For the offer. And…for coming in here tonight.”

Thor felt a grin take over his face before he knew what hit him. “I’m glad I did,” he said. And he meant it, more than anything he’d ever said in his life.

Loki’s mouth corner twitched upward for a moment, then as quick as blinking, it was gone again. Thor felt his heart surge at the sight of it.

“Goodnight, Loki,” he murmured.

He heard a quiet “Goodnight,” from his husband as he closed the door. And as he started on his search for a servant, he didn’t know if he felt like crying or laughing from the relief of the whole exchange.

Chapter Text

Thor woke early, and spent a good fifteen minutes on the plush couch, staring at the ceiling. Today was the first day he would spend a legitimate amount of time with Loki.

And he was terribly nervous.

He started mapping out in his head where he would lead them in the palace, trying to balance what might interest Loki and what might help them avoid running into Odin. Thor was quite unprepared to see his father again; and if it was making him anxious, he was sure Loki would take it even worse. No, it was best to leave the chambers of state alone for now. For as long as possible. Forever.

He’d picked out a rudimentary path for the day’s tour by the time a servant entered with their breakfast trays. Thor thanked him, but as the boy started carrying Loki’s tray to the study, Thor stopped him. “His highness will be dining with me this morning,” he said. The boy looked surprised, but nodded and set the second tray next to the first.

Once he had left, Thor left the heavenly aroma of breakfast for the bathing chambers. His skin prickled as he passed through that cursed bedroom.

After relieving himself, splashing cold water on his face, and dressing, he returned to the front living room to see Loki sitting on the couch, picking through his breakfast tray. It made him pause at the doorway, as he’d never seen Loki in this room. Nor had he ever seen him show interest in eating. It felt for a moment like he was intruding on something very private. And it made him start to regret his suggestion for the day.

But then Loki saw him, and Thor could see the urge to flinch war with an attempt to look pleased to see him. It ended with a strange facial quirk from Loki, as if an aborted smile had made it out the gates the same time as a twisting of fear. Thor calculated his next move carefully.

In the end, he settled on a cautious smile, and a “Good morning, Loki,” before advancing to take his seat beside his husband.

He could still feel the anxious energy radiating off Loki, but to his credit, the Jotun prince hid it well. “Good morning, Thor,” he said in a quiet voice.

Not sure what else should be said, Thor let them both self-consciously busy themselves with delving into their breakfast trays. Though after a few minutes, he felt he ought to make an effort. “Did you sleep well last night?” he asked.

Loki looked up at him, his swallow of a slice of ham looking like a nervous gesture. Thor grew concerned, until Loki nodded. “Yes, very well. The potion did wonders. In fact, I…”

He looked insecure about his next words, so Thor mentally took stock of how threatening he might appear, and did his best to subtly tone it down. “You what?” he coaxed gently.

Loki’s lips tightened in an expression that looked almost sheepish. “I…wonder if I could use sleeping draughts for the next several nights. At least, until I no longer have-”

He stopped himself short at the word nightmares, of which Thor took note. And he wasn’t sure if those would ever fade entirely for Loki, after such a traumatic experience. But he nodded, trying to convey all the kindness and understanding he carried in his heart. “I will ask Eir herself. She could formulate a schedule of dosages for you, if you wish to take the potions for a time and then gradually wean yourself off them.”

Loki gave a hesitant nod. “Yes, that would be good. I…” His voice dropped several decibels. “Thank you, Thor.”

Thor gave an encouraging smile. “You are very welcome, Loki.”

And Loki, ever so slightly, smiled back in gratitude.

As they continued their breakfast amid slightly less awkward silences, punctuated by occasional attempts at small talk, Thor decided that if the rest of his days were spent trying to see Loki’s smile again, it would be a life well-lived.

xxx

Thor left breakfast feeling Loki was more well at ease than he’d ever seen him. He was talking a bit more, and his voice had a lilting, gentle quality to it that sang in Thor’s ears. And more than that, Thor was beginning to see the ever-present tension in Loki’s muscles soften somewhat. It looked like he was regaining a sense of security. Thor took back his curses to the Norns, and promised them he wouldn’t ask for anything ever again, in gratitude for helping ease his husband’s distress.

But the moment they stepped out their chambers’ doors, Thor immediately took back his gratitude, and cursed the three Norns to the end of the universe’s days.

For the instant they emerged from the privacy of their suite, Loki tensed again. All his previous conversation was sealed away in his throat. His eyes darted around him, looking for escape routes or nooks in which to hide. He was on a hair-trigger alert with every step, and it made Thor tense in response.

Thor ended up having to do all the talking as he guided Loki through the palace. But Asgard was rich in its history, and the royal palace most of all, which at least gave Thor plenty to talk about. He loved the stories of how one ancestor had been caught in the act of conceiving the next in that alcove, and that was why he was hastily wed to a common girl; or of how the furthest recorded spittle was measured in this corridor when one king’s wife had disowned her seventh daughter.

He could tell Loki was trying his best to pay attention, but his delayed nods betrayed his focus on something else: finding a quick escape should anyone threaten his welfare. Thor did his best to stand close to Loki, hoping it would reassure him of his protection, even though he was the only one in Asgard to have inflicted physical harm upon his husband.

He ended up leading them to the point closest to the chambers of state he dared to travel, where there were several grand murals depicting prominent moments in Asgard’s history. At these, Loki’s eyes grew wide with curiosity as he looked up at them.

Thor did his best to indulge him, telling of how his grandfather, King Bor, had destroyed the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim; how his great-grandfather, King Buri, had thrown down the monstrous First Giant, Ymir; how the birth of Heimdall with his golden Allsight had allowed Asgard to spend less time fortifying their walls, and more time cultivating the arts, sciences, and magical research, making them the most prominent realm in the universe.

At the center of the hall, larger than any other mural around it, was the shifting picture of the World Tree. Loki slowly walked up to it, his green eyes roving over each branch. Thor didn’t feel he had to explain what this was; no matter how much Loki may or may not already know about Asgard, he, as well as every man, woman, and child of the Nine Realms, knew what Yggdrasil was.

Loki traced his fingertips lightly over some of the gold filigree, tracing over the Norns’ threads woven into the Tree’s branches. His mouth fell slightly open in awe.

It was a few moments more before Thor realized he’d been doing the same. But he wasn’t staring at the World Tree; he was staring at Loki.

“Thor!”

Thor immediately felt paralyzed. Any other time, he would have welcomed the cheerful greetings of Sif and the Warriors Three. But now, considering what horror he had enacted five days ago, a prickling of shame crawled over his skin.

Loki, however, was still capable of movement, judging by the way he snapped his head to the approaching figures. His breathing picked up so fast Thor was worried he would soon hyperventilate.

And this was enough to spring his own body into action, braving physical contact with Loki as he placed a hand on his shoulder. Loki slid his gaze to him, questioning.

“It’s alright,” Thor murmured. “These are my friends. They mean you no harm.”

Loki swallowed, and returned his sight to the four approaching warriors. His minute shaking had returned; while Thor could only see it because he looked for it, he could feel it beneath his hand, thrumming through Loki’s being. In response, he dared to rub his hand over Loki’s shoulder blade in small caresses, trying to reassure him. He wasn’t sure if it was working, or if it was making things even worse.

“We were wondering when you’d emerge from your new love nest, my friend!” Volstagg boomed merrily down the hall. “I was beginning to worry I’d never have a worthy sparring partner again!”

“In your case, Volstagg,” said Fandral, “you could always ask a toadstool to spar with you, if a worthy opponent of your skill is what you crave.” He got an elbow to the ribs as a reply, but it didn’t dampen his grin in the slightest.

Thor tried to make his smile look as genuine as possible. “It is a pleasure indeed to see you all, my friends.”

There was a slight pause, just long enough to begin feeling awkward, before Thor realized the four warriors’ gazes were flitting to Loki. Introduce him, you dunce. “Loki, these are my closest companions, Lady Sif, and the Warriors Three. They are known throughout the realms as Hogun the Grim, Fandral the Dashing, and Volstagg the Voluminous.” Loki gave a small nod. “Everyone, this is my husband, Prince Loki of Jotunheim.”

Volstagg gave a sweeping bow. “It is an honor to meet you, Your Highness. Now tell me,” he threw his arm around Loki’s shoulders and started steering him to walk forward, “you are a dagger man, aren’t you?”

Loki looked at Volstagg like his face had turned into that of a red-eyed serpent, so pale was he with fear and confusion. “Um…I…”

“Of course you are!” Volstagg exclaimed. “I can always tell these things. Hogun has his mace, Fandral his sword, I my axe. Lady Sif has invented her own double-ended spear, and Thor, of course, has his warhammer. But you, my good man, you prefer a dagger in the ring, do you not?”

“I-”

“Volstagg-” Thor tried to intervene, but Volstagg was going off about the best daggers to use against which kinds of enemies. Thor feared he would have Loki face a bout with him next, but Loki’s quiet voice somehow cut through the conversation.

“Lord Volstagg, I…I have never used a weapon before.”

All six in the group paused in their walk through the corridor. Thor’s friends all stared at the Jotun prince.

“Never?” Volstagg asked. “But surely, on hunts with your family, you must have-”

“No,” said Loki. His voice could hardly compete with a drop of water into a pool. “I have never been hunting before, either.”

Thor closed his eyes, mortified. Great. Now they would think Loki was some curiosity to look at in a traveling menagerie. Every son of Asgard went hunting before their fifth century.

But before he could think of something to say to end the awkward silence, Volstagg’s face brightened. “Well, then you must learn! There is hardly anything more exhilarating than throwing an opponent down in the ring, or riding a wild beast to the kill! Now, I’m sure once you get the feel of it, you will be an excellent warrior with a blade!” And on and on he went, walking Loki down the corridor’s end and into the sunshine.

Fandral and Hogun followed close behind, offering their own inputs into the uses of various weaponry for hunting boar, or pheasant, or white elk. Thor trailed behind them, not hearing most of their conversation. But he made sure to keep up with them, in case Loki needed an out. He got the sense from Loki’s body language that he realized the Warriors Three meant him no harm, but he still looked like the proverbial deer the three men were speaking of riding down to the kill.

“So…how is married life?”

Thor hadn’t realized Lady Sif had been at his elbow this entire time. “I’m sorry?” he asked.

Sif laughed. “I only asked if your new life with your Jotun prince is bringing you joy. You’ve been hiding with him in your chambers for four days. I can’t help but wonder what you both have been up to.” She raised her eyebrows at him with a smirk.

Thor felt his face flush red. No one knew? Hadn’t the gossip in the palace divulged what had happened that night?

But looking at Sif’s hungry look that signaled she wanted him to spill all the juicy details of his new marital bliss, it was clear that the truth of his wedding night was a tightly-concealed secret among the court. None of Odin’s advisors had breathed a word of what they had witnessed, probably on Odin’s orders. It wouldn’t do to promulgate throughout the realm that he had utilized rape as a diplomatic tool.

Thor saw Sif’s face turn from anticipation to puzzlement, then to concern. Perhaps his face had revealed too much. Well, he had never been talented at hiding his emotions.

“Thor…?” Sif asked. “What is it?”

Thor stopped walking, taking a deep breath. His eyes naturally rested on Loki, who was still surrounded by an enthusiastic Warriors Three, telling of their exploits in their most recent stag hunt. Loki was like a statue, he was so afraid of everything around him, clearly not taking in anything Fandral or Volstagg said.

Maybe Thor shouldn’t tell what had happened, for Loki’s sake.

Then Sif touched his arm, her eyes searching his face, and he couldn’t keep it hidden any longer. His whole body tensing with the memories, he managed to mumble, “There was a…bedding ceremony.”

Sif’s face fell into shock.

“The…practice of…witnessing a consummation?”

Thor couldn’t look at her. He only nodded.

“And you…you and Loki…”

Norns, Thor couldn’t face her. And he wouldn’t let his tears fall now.

Sif looked like she wanted to say something further, but couldn’t. The reality of Thor’s marriage was crashing into her, and she was reeling from the impact.

It was silent between them for several moments, before Sif managed to say, “I’m…so sorry. I’m so sorry, Thor.”

She took his hand, and Thor grasped it fiercely. He didn’t know how much he had needed to receive this response from someone about his wedding night.

After some time, Sif broke the silence, but not to Thor. Instead, she turned to the Warriors Three. “Oy! Lumpheads!”

The three turned at the familiar epithet.

“Our princes wish to continue their walkabout in peace,” she said. “Let them be!”

They smiled. “As you wish, my liege,” said Fandral, making a sweeping bow to Thor with a smirk. Thor could barely summon a grin in response.

“Now, I mean it, Loki,” Volstagg said as he and his companions walked into the field, “if you ever wish to have a sparring lesson or two, I would be happy to oblige! We’d see a fearsome warrior in you, I can tell!”

Sif joined the three in taking their leave. As they left, she gave a glance back at Thor, showing so much concern, sorrow, and offerings of solace in her face that Thor wanted to hug her. She hated embraces, but if there was a time she would offer one, it would be now.

But instead, she and the Warriors Three left for the training grounds, and Thor made his way to Loki’s side. Loki was frozen in place, clearly overwhelmed by what had just happened.

Thor took a chance, reaching for Loki’s shoulder. The gesture startled Loki out of his rigid state, looking wide-eyed and trembling at Thor.

“Would you like to continue our walk?” Thor asked. Loki retreated away from him, into himself. It appeared that was as much of a no as Thor was going to get.

“Let’s…” Thor stammered, reaching to place his arm around Loki’s shoulders to guide him into walking. “…let’s go back to our chambers.”

Loki just nodded, the only response he could give in his numbed state. Thor ended up guiding him the rest of the way back to their suite of rooms, arm around his shoulders.

When they were safely ensconced and Thor closed the door behind him, he was pleased to find their dinner trays both sitting on the same table as their breakfast trays of this morning. He started to walk over to the food, expecting Loki would join him, glad to be away from the eyes of others.

Instead, as soon as he released his arm from Loki’s shoulders, his husband sprang free like a fish flying off the hook, and sprinted for the study. He slammed the door behind him. The thud sealed Thor’s defeat in his attempt to win over his husband.

xxx

It was long past sunset when Thor saw Loki again. He had picked at his food, dejected in how the day had ended in disaster, and now sat on the couch, staring at royal documents he was supposed to sign and seal. Of the forty-seven that had been delivered to him after dinner, exactly two had been completed. The rest lay in an unkempt pile, strewn about the table. Thor stared at them because they reflected how he felt his life was right now. Impossible.

But then, late that night, a possibility opened. The study door creaked open, but Thor didn’t register the sound for what it was until he saw Loki, stepping silently from the bedchambers toward him.

Loki stood in front of him, hands clasped, his head bowed. He looked like a young child facing a scolding from his father.

“I’m sorry…”

Thor could barely hear him, but when he understood what Loki had said, his heart sank.

“…I’m sorry I…disappointed you today…” Loki whispered, “…and…ruined your…your day…”

“Loki, stop.”

Thor stood up, standing in front of Loki and grasping his shoulders. “Look at me.”

Loki’s eyes slid up to his, brimming with tears and terror.

“You did not disappoint me,” Thor said, as softly as he could while still being firm. “And you did not ruin the day. It was…overwhelming, for me, and I assume for you as well. But no part of how today turned out was your fault.”

Loki failed to bite back a sudden sob. Thor felt the jolt of memories just as Loki did. Norns, how he wanted Loki to know that it wasn’t your fault, our wedding night wasn’t your fault, it was MY FAULT…

But he couldn’t bring himself to broach that subject.

Instead, he took a deep breath, while rubbing his hands up and down Loki’s shoulders. He felt Loki relax just the slightest bit, so he continued.

He ended up continuing for several minutes. It must have looked ridiculous, the two of them just standing there breathing together while Thor rubbed Loki’s shoulders, but he felt Loki’s shudders subside. Eventually there was only breathing, calm and steady.

Loki breached the silence. “Thor, I…” He swallowed thickly. “I…want to thank you, for your kindness. I don’t deserve it, but…”

He couldn’t continue, as his voice broke on a sob again. Thor wanted to hug him, to hold him properly and comfort him through this, but he caught himself at the last second. Loki might take it as being restrained, and that was the last thing he intended. So, he stayed where he was, gently holding Loki’s shoulders and listening to Loki’s attempts to speak.

Finally, words broke through again. “If you wish to continue showing me around Asgard tomorrow,” he said in a choked voice, “I would be greatly in your debt.”

Then, he stepped out of Thor’s reach, looking at him with trepidation. Almost like he expected a beating.

Thor, taken aback at this notion, could only stammer, “Of course, tomorrow,” before Loki quickly nodded and disappeared to the study again.

Thor sank down onto the couch, trying to sift through everything he had learned about his husband. Loki didn’t feel he deserved kindness. He expected every mishap to be blamed on him. He flinched from some touches, and tentatively allowed others out of duty, retreating into himself to endure it. He was born different from others of his kind, to the point his father referred to him as it and locked him in the palace all the centuries of his life, never allowing him to go on hunts or use weapons. His brother had threatened to rape him, then had watched him get raped on his wedding night, laughing the entire time.

Thor slumped into lying down, utterly defeated. There was no way he could reach Loki, no way he could earn his trust and friendship. Loki was a black hole of rejection and violence, neglect and abuse.

But as he started to drift into the realm between sleep and waking, he was struck with a new idea. There was only one person he could think of asking for some advice on this matter, and he also felt Loki should meet her as well.

It felt more and more like a good idea the more he thought about it. As he fell asleep, his last thought was of this new plan of where to take Loki tomorrow. After all, if anyone could reach such a fragile creature as Loki, it would be Thor’s mother, Queen Frigga.

Chapter Text

The next morning found Thor pacing back and forth in the bathing chambers. Loki had already used them, so he was free to use as much time as he needed to steel himself for the day. After all, it was quite the monumental task he had ahead of him.

Today, he was going to introduce his husband to his mother.

It sounded strange, as he hadn’t ever imagined this possibility about his marriage. He had expected that, though his father would decide whom he would marry, he would meet the woman and her family a few times before the actual ceremony. In the time between visits, he would have chances to ask his mother for advice about his impending marriage. He could ask about what the lady might like, and about how to deal with his own feelings and make a new life with a stranger.

He still turned to Frigga for comfort and advice in private, though he was well into his eleventh century. He had always been grateful to have her warmth and gentleness, in contrast to his father’s cold and stern parenting. He didn’t exactly advertise that he was a “mother’s boy,” but he suspected everyone at court knew as much.

But everything had happened so fast the day the war ended, he hadn’t even had the chance to speak to his mother once about the whole ordeal. He was flying blind into the wind without her.

He hoped she could help him. And, perhaps more importantly, that she could help Loki. He knew that Laufey’s wife had died around ten centuries ago, but he didn’t know whether Loki had known her, or had had a loving relationship with her to contrast that of his father’s. Regardless, Loki could use some maternal comfort in this strange land he now had to call home.

That thought gave Thor the courage to leave the bathing chambers and begin the day. It was about Loki today. He could carry on for Loki, if not for himself.

Gulping in a breath, he strode to the front room, where Loki was eating. He was glad the man was still interested in food, even if yesterday had been difficult for him. This was a good sign.

But Loki stopped the minute he noticed Thor at the threshold. Thor paused, gauging Loki’s reaction. He looked visibly nervous – his mouth corner quivered, his eyes were wide and verging on panic. Norns, why couldn’t he be allowed to feel at ease?

Thor decided the best approach was to move slowly. He stepped into the room, cautiously sliding into his seat next to Loki on the couch. Loki kept staring at him as he settled in. Ready for action.

They ate in silence the rest of the meal. Thor didn’t know what he could say to make Loki feel any better, and Loki didn’t offer anything of his own, no “Well, yesterday freaked me out,” no “What are we doing today,” not even a “Good morning.” It was amazing how uncomfortable two people could feel around each other.

xxx

By the time they were out walking toward Frigga’s gardens, it was already midday. They had taken their sweet time with breakfast, and Thor had spent more time after that trying to procrastinate on taking Loki out. It didn’t feel like today was going to go well, judging from the way it started. Loki, meanwhile, wasn’t going to dare exploring the palace on his own, so he had stayed rooted to his spot on the couch while waiting for Thor.

They were walking together now, with Thor trying to steal furtive side glances at Loki to see how he was faring. Loki looked straight ahead, his whole body rigid. Beyond that, he wasn’t revealing anything about what he thought or felt. Though they were walking side by side, he seemed miles away to Thor.

Could they have intimacy one day? Or perhaps a friendship? Even a mutual understanding at a distance would be better than this.

But without any of those three, it felt like hours before they reached the queen’s private gardens. They were guarded by hedges that in theory could be passed by anyone, but no one usually entered without an invitation. Thor, of course, was the exception, and he felt that the same applied to Loki today.

All the same, Loki stopped, giving Thor an uncertain glance. At last, he spoke in a quiet voice. “What…what is this place?”

Thor smiled. “These are the gardens of my mother. I thought you might like to see them.”

Loki gave a quiet nod, but it didn’t look like he had any preference in seeing them or not. But if it were up to him, he would probably stay in the study of their chambers and starve himself, so Thor decided to carry on with this option.

Loki followed him into the gardens, probably out of duty more than his own yearning to see them. But when they crossed the threshold and saw the wonders within, Thor saw that shift on his husband’s face.

His mother was a Vanir, which meant that she had more of a green thumb than anyone from Asgard. That, combined with her sorceries she had woven into the shoots the moment they poked out of the ground, made every tree, vine, and flower glow with particular radiance.

Yes, Thor had sometimes used them to seduce his lady love of the evening. Yes, he had once fucked Brunnhilde against that pillar a few yards away. But those weren’t moments he was going to recount to Loki, let alone his mother.

He noticed Loki had started wandering around, entranced with a bunch of white violets peeking out of a high bush. As he approached them, they bloomed wider, the stems lengthening toward him, as if the flowers were saying hello. Loki cupped one and brought it to his face. Before he could help it, he broke out into a grin, looking for all the world like a young child.

Yes! Thor felt like he could start dancing. I brought him here and he smiled! No matter how the rest of the day went, he could at least count this as a victory for the two of them.

But he just couldn’t keep his mouth shut. “They’re beautiful, aren’t they?” he remarked before he realized he had said anything.

Stupid, stupid, stupid. Now he’s going to remember you’re here and shut down again.

But…Loki didn’t shut down. He nodded at Thor’s words, and said, “We don’t have anything like this on Jotunheim. Then again, our realm is quite ugly.”

Thor chuckled. “Too cold, I expect.”

Loki nodded, a bit self-conscious now, but he still had a slight grin about him. He let the violet go, and the flower inclined down a bit, as if thanking the young Jotun for admiring it so, before withdrawing to be among the bush again.

“They’ve bloomed beautifully this year, have they not?”

Both princes looked toward the voice, and Thor immediately felt himself relax in spite of himself. No matter how anxious he got in his life, his mother’s presence gave him the feeling that everything was going to be alright.

Frigga looked just as radiant as the gardens she cared for, with her long golden hair and deep blue gown that matched her eyes. But what really carried her presence was her glowing smile that came from deep in her soul.

“Mother,” said Thor before he could stop himself, and went to embrace her tightly. She laughed at his eagerness to see him, and returned the hug with just as much warmth. Oh, how he had missed her! For a moment, he felt like a young child again, crying to her in the middle of the night after a frightening dream, as she would hold him in her arms and protect him from all the world. Why couldn’t the rules of childhood apply to him now?

But they didn’t, so he released her after a time. She took his face in both hands and leaned him down so she could kiss his forehead. “I was wondering when you would come to see me,” she said. “I’ve been wanting to see you since the wedding.”

She had a look in her eyes then, a look of the greatest concern, and Thor knew she understood everything that had happened that night. She hadn’t been at the actual ceremony, of course, as it wasn’t considered appropriate for the eyes of ladies. But Thor had wondered what her feelings were on the matter.

Now that he saw her concern, and heard her say she had been “wanting to see him,” Thor knew without her saying so that she wanted to know if her son was alright after his wedding night. So, she knew it had been traumatic. And knowing his mother, and how she had ferociously protected his interests from his father’s will in the past, she had probably fought with everything she had to dissuade Odin from the bedding ceremony. But this time, it had been to no avail.

Norns, Thor was glad he had decided to see her today.

He was about to hug her again, and proceed to tell her everything he was feeling and struggling with, when he remembered the other important reason why he had visited his mother today.

“Ah, yes, um…Mother, this is Loki,” he said, trying not to look like he had forgotten this introduction for a moment. “I believe you met briefly before the wedding ceremony.”

Loki cautiously stepped toward them both. It was clear he wasn’t sure about becoming familiar with another of Thor’s close confidants. Also, Thor realized Loki had only gotten to know his father-in-law through a day and night of cruelty, so he was understandably apprehensive about meeting his mother-in-law.

Once he came up to Frigga, Loki made a stiff bow. “I’m very pleased to see you again, Your Majesty,” he said in a well-rehearsed voice.

But Frigga smiled at him. “Please, Loki, there’s no need to be so formal with me. We are family now, after all.” And she went to embrace him as well.

Thor panicked, preparing for Loki to flinch or to turn to stone at the contact, but Loki surprised him again. He looked surprised himself at the gesture, and even more so as he relaxed into it. Thor saw his frame soften in Frigga’s arms. He looked too shocked at his reaction to remember to return the hug, but it was a milestone for him nonetheless.

When Frigga released him, she kissed his cheek for good measure. “Welcome to Asgard, Loki. I’m so glad you’re here among us now.” Loki could only nod in response. “Come, you two. Walk with me.”

They obeyed, with Thor ending up on her right side, and Loki on her left. But then she said, “Now, why don’t you tell your mother what you’ve been up to these past few days?”

Thor took a deep breath for that. He glanced at Loki, only to find Loki staring at him with a petrified look on his face. It looked like Thor would take the reins for this.

“Well, we’ve…” he began, scratching behind his ear, “…we spent some time touring the palace yesterday. We ran into the Warriors Three and Lady Sif toward the end.”

Frigga laughed at that. “Did Volstagg give you a hard time?”

“No, they were all very kind. They…” he looked at Loki again, who still looked unsure, “…they asked Loki if he wished to learn to use a weapon to fight.”

"Oh, isn’t that nice of them!” Frigga exclaimed. Thor took note of how she hadn’t looked bewildered that Loki didn’t know how to use a weapon. She turned to Loki. “Would you like to learn to fight, Loki?”

At her question, Loki looked flustered. “I…I-I don’t know. I’ve never thought…I didn’t think I would be allowed.”

“Of course you’re allowed,” said Frigga. “The way I see it, everyone should know how to defend themselves. Even I have found means of self-protection, though my chances of needing them are slim to none.”

Loki looked at her wide-eyed. “You can use weapons?”

She nodded. “Though they’re not my primary means, I can be quick with a blade if I have to. But my usual method of protection is my sorcery.”

Loki stopped in his steps, he was so stunned. Thor and Frigga stopped with him, and he looked so awe-stricken Thor wondered if he was still breathing.

“You can…use magic?” he asked.

Frigga nodded. “Would you like me to show you?”

He nodded. Frigga gave him an encouraging smile, then held up her hands in front of her. After a few seconds, she moved them apart, and an orb of green light appeared between them. She waved her hands in an arc above her head, and the orb expanded, growing into a sphere around the three of them.

“Try to break through it,” she told Loki. He reached out to touch the barrier around them, and hesitated an inch away from it. He took a deep breath. His courage gathered, he touched his fingertips against the green light. It didn’t give way, but his fingers started shining green at the contact.

Frigga waved her hands again, and the light shimmered away. “Do you have many sorcerers on Jotunheim?”

Loki was still staring at his fingers, which had returned to their usual color. “I wouldn’t know,” he murmured. “I heard once that my mother was-”

He seemed to catch himself at his words, and lowered his hands again, looking quite self-conscious.

“What about your mother?” Frigga coaxed. Thor admired how gentle she was with her conversation with Loki.

Loki looked at her quickly, before looking back down. It took a moment for him to speak again. “Just that…my mother was learning to weave ice together, to decorate the palace. Before I killed her.”

Thor’s heart stopped beating for a second. He was sure he was letting his horror make itself known on his face, but he couldn’t really help himself in this. What had Loki just said he’d done?

But Frigga didn’t look at all phased. She laid a hand on Loki’s shoulder and softly spoke. “But Loki, Queen Farbauti died ten centuries ago. You must have been but an infant. How could you have killed her?”

Loki was flushed bright red. He looked at Frigga with a puzzled expression, as if he couldn’t believe she wasn’t reacting the way Thor was. But at last, he quietly said, “It was my birth that killed her.”

Oh. Thor felt his shock turn to pity. He hadn’t married a murderer; Loki was just misinformed about his role in a tragedy. And then he felt a kindling of rage in his chest, as he realized who had most likely been feeding Loki this lie his entire life.

“Loki,” Frigga soothed, “you cannot have deliberately killed her if you were just born. That was not your doing.”

Loki’s eyes started to turn red, as if on the verge of tears. Frigga took his arm and ushered him to a stone bench nearby. Thor followed them.

“It’s a very sad thing, Loki,” Frigga was saying as Thor sat with them, “to not have ever known your mother. I’m sure she would have loved you so much, had she lived.”

Loki looked down at his lap, and his tears began to silently fall. Frigga reached her hand to his, and he gingerly took it. Thor felt a surge of longing to do the same for Loki, but his mother was in charge of comfort right now. She was more experienced in that realm anyway.

Frigga let the silence settle between the three of them for a while, before she softly asked Loki, “Did you know that I almost died giving birth to Thor?”

Loki sniffed, and shook his head. “No, I…I didn’t know that.”

Frigga nodded. “It took more strength than I possessed to deliver him. I tell him he stole some of my strength for himself on the way out.” She threw a grin at Thor, who grinned back. “They had to cut him out of my womb while I was sent into a deep slumber. But that wasn’t what almost did me in.”

By this time, Loki was looking up at her, clearly wanting to hear more of the story. Perhaps, Thor thought, because it was a similar tale to his own beginnings, but with a happier ending.

“As I rested after the birth, I was in a much more vulnerable state. I couldn’t even hold Thor at first, I was so weak. But during that time, an infection took the opportunity to enter my blood. One by one, my organs started to shut down and shrivel. It took all the healers’ power, and some dark energy conjured from Odin, to save my life.”

Thor noticed Loki wince at Odin’s name. He wouldn’t be surprised if he had, as well. Yet the old king did share a deep and loving bond with Frigga, enough to risk conjuring dark energy to save her. Thor had so often had such a fraught relationship with his father that he usually forgot how good the Allfather was to his mother.

“In the end,” Frigga continued, “I survived, and within a century my health was completely restored. Except for my womb. It had been the first place in my body to go, and could not be saved. Hence why Thor has no siblings.”

Loki’s eyes drifted into middle space as they widened, as that new realization dawned on him. “Oh,” he said. “I had not considered that fact.”

“I did want more children, as did Odin, of course. His yearning was of a more…dynastic nature, shall we say?” Thor grimaced, and Loki swallowed thickly. They were both quite well-acquainted with Odin’s drive for a secure dynasty. “But I wasn’t as concerned with all that; if something happened to Thor, the throne would always find an heir in some long-forgotten shoot of the family tree. No, what I wanted was a playmate for Thor.”

“You did?” Thor asked, surprised. His mother had never confided this to him before.

She nodded. “It’s harder to make friends when all other children know you as their crown prince. It took some time before you became close with the Warriors Three.”

Thor realized her words had truth to them. Childhood was a bit hazy in his mind for the first sixty years or so. But he had been more of a lonely child at first. He remembered coping with it by clinging to his mother, and that was why they had such a close bond to this day.

“I had particularly wanted another son,” Frigga continued. “You played quite rough as a boy, so I thought perhaps a brother would be able to keep up with you more. It would give you a friend to last your entire life. But no matter how hard I prayed to the Norns, I could not give that to you.”

Thor quickly stepped in to reassure her. “It’s not your fault, Mother. And I eventually turned out alright, yes?”

She laughed. “Of course you did, my dear.” She paused, as if in thought for a moment. “Although…I suppose eventually the Norns did answer my prayers. Because they delivered you to our realm, Loki.”

Loki looked up, startled now that the conversation had refocused on him. But Frigga was quick to soothe him by squeezing his hand again. “You are now my son by law, Loki. You are my son’s companion for the rest of your days together. And though we have just met, I can tell we are very fortunate to have you as part of our family.”

Thor noticed Loki’s breathing become more pronounced. He looked completely overwhelmed by what he had just heard. From what he knew of Loki, it must take a great deal of his willpower to not dismiss this statement of respect and affection, seeing how foreign such treatment was for him. But eventually he did speak. “Forgive me, I…I don’t know what to say.”

Frigga smiled warmly at him. “You don’t have to say anything. Just believe what I said about you. That will be enough.” Norns, she was good at reading what Loki needed.

Then, her eyebrows furrowed together. “I’ve just had a thought, Loki. You don’t have to agree to it if you don’t want to, but earlier on today, I recall you were quite taken with my display of magic.” Loki nodded. “Well, I was wondering…would you like to learn to use sorcery?”

Loki’s eyes looked ready to bolt out of his head. “You mean…you would teach me?”

“Of course,” said Frigga. “We can start simply and work toward defensive spellcraft, if that is what you desire to focus on. It takes years to learn the five major disciplines, and centuries to become a master, but I think you would make a fine sorcerer if you have the will to learn it.” She threw a certain look over her shoulder at Thor, who knew that look well: she had spent hundreds of hours trying to teach him the simplest spells, and each time he had given up in frustration. He just didn’t have the knack for it.

But Loki nodded eagerly, something Thor had not seen from him before now. “Yes, I would love to learn! That is, if you…” he started to trail off, falling quickly from his excited display, “…if you have the…time…”

“I am the queen, my dear,” Frigga said with a smile, “I can spend most my time however I please. Perhaps we could start at sunrise the second day of next week, continue for three days a week, and work from there?”

Loki nodded. “Yes, I…” He bowed his head. “Thank you, Your Maj…I mean, Frigga.”

“You are quite welcome, Loki,” she replied. “And thank you, both of you,” she turned to Thor, “for visiting me today. I think we all needed it.” On that, Thor could wholeheartedly agree.

xxx

They ended up eating dinner with Frigga, and the sun was setting by the time they were walking back to their chambers. Thor had almost asked his mother if they could both sleep in her gardens, as they both felt much more comfortable there than they did in their marital suite. Those chambers had started with pain, whereas the gardens were where they were first given hope.

But he had put on a brave face, and was walking with Loki to the place they had been assigned to sleep.

It was silent between them, but it felt worlds different from the walk this morning. Thor felt the usual jaunt in his step returning to him, and he could feel a different energy emanating from Loki. He wasn’t wound up as tight with nervousness and fear as he had been thus far, which counted this as a successful day in Thor’s mind.

“Thank you for introducing me to your mother, Thor.”

Thor was delighted Loki had had the courage to break the silence. “Of course, Loki. I thought perhaps we could both use some mothering today.”

“Yes,” said Loki, “It was…quite lovely, to be in her presence. And, now I know where you get it from.”

Thor squinted at him in confusion. “Where I get what from?”

Loki’s started to blush. His shy, elusive smile peeked out from his face. “Your kindness.”

Thor was taken aback by that admission. But he felt a large grin emerge onto his face, and he took a chance by putting his arm around Loki’s shoulders. And Loki let it stay there the rest of the walk to their bedchambers, where they said their goodnights and retired to their respective sleeping areas.

xxx

That night, it all fell apart for Thor.

He dreamed he was being dragged by his hair. They were leading him down the corridor to the marital suite. He was fighting their progress, telling the person dragging him to stop. But his swipes at the hand didn’t ever land an impact. He was useless in this struggle.

He saw Sif and the Warriors Three standing in the corridor. He called out for them to help him, to destroy the person dragging him. But they just stood there…and then started cheering.

“Good luck, Thor!” Sif yelled at him. “You’ve trained your whole life for this!”

Was he going into battle?

“This is your moment!” Volstagg called. “Don’t get cold feet!”

“Yes, give him what for!” Fandral chimed in.

Then he saw Mjolnir at the side of his vision. He reached out for her, calling her to her master’s grip. But she refused to budge. He felt her disgust as he passed her by.

“You are no longer worthy,” said the voice of the person dragging him. “You will never be worthy after this.” Chills ran down his arms at the voice – not from what it said, but from who it belonged to.

It was his father’s voice.

Now he realized where he was going.

“No!” he bellowed, fighting even harder against the hand. But no matter what he did, his father continued to drag him through the oak doors into the bedchamber.

Once they arrived, his father threw him onto the bed. He landed on top of Loki, who was completely naked and curled up on his side. He was crying, and looked at Thor and said, “Please, husband. Don’t do this!”

Laufey emerged from the shadows in the room. “You haven’t fucked it since the wedding night!” He grabbed Loki’s arms to put him in a more prone position under Thor. “Look at it! It killed its mother! It’s a freak! It doesn’t deserve anything less!”

“You will never be worthy as my son if you do not do this,” Odin growled. “Now do your duty!”

And…Thor did. He wasn’t conscious of doing it, but the next thing he knew, he was fucking Loki. Hard. Loki was crying and screaming, and Thor could feel his internal scars rend open again. Odin and Laufey laughed.

“I think my brother likes it, the little whore!” crowed Byleistr, who had appeared next to his father.

Blood was staining the bedsheets, and Thor started fucking even harder. He put his hand around Loki’s throat to stop his crying. He squeezed his neck harder and harder, and Loki started to turn purple.

“Thor, please,” he mouthed, before he could say no more. Odin, Laufey, and Byleistr howled with laughter.

“You might as well finish the job!” said Odin. And Thor did, continuing to fuck into Loki’s lifeless body until he came.

xxx

He woke suddenly after that, sweat covering his body. He was nearly hyperventilating, and then he started crying. He couldn’t get the image of Loki’s purple, strangled face out of his head.

Loki. He was sleeping soundly in the study. He was using one of Eir’s sleeping draughts, but Thor still did his best to muffle his choked sobs, lest he wake his husband.

He sat up to collect himself, and tried to fill his head with a happier memory, rather than Loki's dead stare from his dream. Today they had gone to visit his mother. And afterward, Loki had thanked him for his kindness.

But how could he say that, after what Thor had done? He wasn’t kind.

Maybe he should keep his distance from Loki from now on. It would probably be better for him, so he could heal without being reminded of the worst night of his life each time he laid eyes on Thor. But, he still felt a strong urge to protect Loki, as he had since he had first met him. And he had promised Loki that he would never suffer harm in Asgard as long as he lived.

But how could Thor protect him, when his husband lived in the same chambers as a monster?

Chapter Text

Thor woke with the rising sun. He didn’t feel all that rested, though. The nightmare still emerged crystal-clear behind his eyes whenever he thought of it. Not only that, after he had attempted to sleep again, his dreams still bothered him. They didn’t have any images, just an unsettling quality that made his stomach turn. It had been a restless night.

He yawned, and tried to rub some of the crust from his eyes to feel more awake. The subsequent bad dreams were even more proof that he should stay away from Loki today. The poor man shouldn’t be around a stressed-out Thor. No one should.

No, what was needed today was for Thor to pursue a physical activity. That was usually how he worked out his stress. It often involved throwing down an opponent in a wrestling match or a sparring session, but that would involve showing his face to other Asgardians. He didn’t feel equipped for that today. Not with the shame of what he had done.

Then, an idea took him. He sat up at the thought. Perhaps he could go riding today. He hadn’t taken out his prized stallion in months, back when the Jotun War’s final campaign had begun. Today, he could gallop out to the woodlands and pastures to the south of Asgard City, riding until he felt more settled in his skin. Maybe he could even stop and punch out his frustrations on a tree trunk. Yes, that would do him some good.

His day’s objective decided upon, he tiptoed around the chambers, dressing and preparing for the day. He decided to dress light in riding leathers, as his usual armor would weigh his mount down and slow their pace. He needed to feel the wind screaming against him today.

He decided to grab breakfast from the kitchens on his way to the stables, rather than wait for his morning tray of food. Waiting that long ran him the risk of running into Loki, which was the last thing he wanted to subject his husband to.

At last, he was ready. He opened the bedchamber doors, and paused to look around one last time, in case he had forgotten something.

Only to see Loki standing at the living room’s threshold, staring at him.

Shit.

Loki’s face revealed more in the next five seconds than it had in the last week. He went from pleasant surprise, to confusion, to a dawning realization as to what his husband was doing standing in the doorway, about to leave their chambers alone.

His eyes filled with tears.

Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit.

“Loki-” Thor began, but Loki didn’t stick around to hear whatever half-baked explanation he was about to offer. He shook his head as his tears started to fall, and sprinted back to the study, slamming the door behind him.

SHIT.

“Loki!” Thor called out after him. But he didn’t even wait for a reply, as he followed him without thinking. And then he was stopped at the closed study door, which looked more imposing than ever.

It might have been locked, but even if it wasn’t, Thor at least had the wits about him to not barge in. This room was established as Loki’s private space, and he had clearly indicated that he didn’t want Thor within it right now. To disregard that and enter anyway would be a twisted, horrible reenactment of their first night together.

But what should he do instead?

He had a strong urge to go out and ride anyway. Now he felt like he needed it even more than before, and it would give Loki the space he now indicated he needed.

But Loki had only reacted this way because he had been hurt by Thor’s decision to do just that. And now Thor could hear him sobbing from the other side of the door.

How could he have been this selfish?

How many people in Loki’s life had hurt him for the sake of their own selfish intentions? How many times had his father beat him, telling him he had killed his mother, to take out his grief and rage at losing a beloved wife? How often had his brothers taunted and perhaps molested him, to satisfy their own sadistic desires?

Not to mention Odin seeing him as a disgusting creature whose only value was his womb, to fulfill the king’s wish for a peace treaty and a stable dynasty.

No. Thor would not be like all the others. He would not be selfish here.

Not knowing what else to do, he sat down on the floor, his back to the wall next to the study door. And he waited.

xxx

It was another hour before a servant arrived with their breakfast trays. The boy stopped at the sight of Thor sitting dejected against the wall. “Is…everything alright, Your Highness?”

Thor didn’t know what to say. He sighed. “I am not sure. Perhaps it would be best to leave our breakfast in the front room.” The boy nodded, did as he was bid, and left with a puzzled look on his face. This new development between the princes would surely be the topic of gossip in the kitchens today.

But just as this thought glumly entered Thor’s head, he also realized that breakfast could be his way in. He reached to knock on the study door.

“Loki, our breakfast is here,” he said.

He waited for a minute or two. Nothing.

Dammit.

Oddly, at that moment, Thor remembered what his mother had reminded him of over and over in his youth. He was frequently getting into the mud, and in later years into fights, and in even later years into salacious affairs he would then leave hanging. And each time his mother would tell him to “clean up his own messes.”

Well, this was certainly a mess of his making. Time to clean up.

He took a deep breath to prepare himself. He wasn’t even sure what to say at this point, so he just started talking. “Loki…what I was doing was…I mean…”

Well this was going just swimmingly.

“…I was going to go out by myself because…well, I thought that you would rather not. That is, um…you wouldn’t want to be around me. And…”

He had to pause. The image of Loki’s dead eyes staring at him from his dream flashed through his mind.

“…I thought perhaps, it would be better if you didn’t see me every day. So you wouldn’t be reminded of…”

Now came the memory of Loki’s hands shaking as he attempted to lace up his trousers.

“…of your pain.” And mine.

“But maybe…” No, not maybe. Definitely. “…I realize now that this may not be the case. Or maybe it is, but it’s not what you might want. And…”

Here it was. The hardest words to ever say. “…I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

He had to take some time after that. He had no idea if Loki was listening, or was doing his best to ignore him. Hel, he could even be asleep for all Thor knew. Loki’s initial sobs had long since subsided in the hour Thor had been sitting here, and it was still silent after his rambling apology. Maybe it was best if he tried again later.

But before he could get up, the door cracked open. Loki’s eyes were still a bit puffy from his crying as he peered out into the damned bedchamber. He nearly jumped when he saw Thor on the floor.

“Oh,” he said. “Why are you…?”

Thor shrugged. “I was waiting for you to come out.”

Loki’s eyes widened slightly. “For…all this time?”

Thor nodded. He was known for his determination, after all. Perhaps it was working, because Loki wasn’t leaving. Instead, he slowly moved into the bedchamber, and slid down to sit on the floor next to Thor. A very good sign.

It was awkwardly quiet for a moment. Thor was about to open his mouth to break the silence, but Loki beat him to it. “I thought you didn’t want to show me around Asgard anymore. That you…” His voice became smaller. “…that you had finally grown tired of me.”

Thor felt like he had been slammed in the chest. “What do you mean, ‘finally’? Why would I tire of you?”

Loki looked down at the floor, and shrugged. “Everyone else does.”

Thor’s heart lay in splinters on the floor. Now he saw just how awful his actions must have looked. “Loki, I’m not tired of you. It’s not that I don’t want to be around you. I thought that you wouldn’t want to be around me. And I completely understand if you don’t.”

Loki shook his head, slowly, as if surprised by his own response. “No, I…I don’t think that’s how I feel. I think I…I liked what we’ve done the last two days.”

Thor was genuinely surprised by this. “Really? But I thought, with my friends…and yesterday, speaking about your mother…”

“I know,” said Loki. “And yes, that was hard. Both were.” He curled his arms around his chest in a defensive posture, and it looked to Thor like he didn’t realize he was doing it. “But it was still better than staying in one room by myself. Even though that’s what I’m used to, so it’s hard to do these things that are different. But it’s still…I don’t know…”

Thor could see his nails start to dig into his sleeves of his shirt, and it looked like he was growing frustrated with himself at these contradictory thoughts. And Thor could feel something self-destructive brewing in Loki, so he quickly stepped in.

“It sounds to me,” he said, and Loki looked up at him, distracted from whatever his inner dialogue was, “that, from what I’ve gathered from you, you were treated poorly your whole life. So even though it hurts each time, it’s still familiar, and therefore safe. But…when you’re treated well, you of course feel relief from it, but at the same time you…feel threatened? Because it’s unfamiliar, and therefore could be dangerous?”

Loki squinted in thought, attempting to wrap his mind around that. But soon he nodded. “I…I think that’s right. And it’s no wonder everyone tires of me, since I both crave kindness and flinch from it when it’s offered. I wouldn’t want to be around someone who acts in such a manner.”

“Loki,” Thor soothed, and Loki thankfully looked back to his eyes. He had to pull him away from such thoughts. “I don’t think you’re difficult to be around. And I don’t see myself tiring of you. I didn’t realize you were struggling as much as you are. I’m sorry for that. And for how I acted this morning.”

Loki shrugged. “You were doing what you thought was best for me. Why be sorry about that?”

“Because it’s not my business to assume what you need,” said Thor. “I should have asked you about it instead. I don’t…”

He knew what he needed to say next, but he could feel how easily it could end up pushing Loki away from him. But to not say this wouldn’t be fair to Loki.

“…I don’t…expect you to forgive me. And I know it doesn’t make up for this instance, but I will do my best in the future to ask you what you need. I swear to you I will do better.”

There it was. Now Loki wouldn’t forgive him, and wouldn’t accept his apology. As well he shouldn’t. And that would end Thor’s chance to prove himself to his husband. A shit ending to his pain-ridden marriage.

He noticed Loki was looking at him in disbelief. Here it comes.

But then Loki gave a single breath of an incredulous laugh.

What?

Loki looked like a child receiving his dream present at the winter solstice. “No one’s ever asked me what I need before. Ever.”

Oh. “Well,” said Thor, gingerly feeling this out, “it’s about damn time someone did, wouldn’t you say?”

Loki nodded. “I suppose so.”

Well, that was a good sign. And then Loki continued. “If I may ask…where were you planning on going this morning?”

Thor was so relieved Loki wasn’t rejecting him outright that he was a bit thrown by the question. But he managed to answer, “Out riding.”

At that, Loki looked confused. Thor didn’t understand why, until he asked, “…Riding what?”

Now Thor was confused. “A horse…?” Even with that answer, Loki still didn’t look like he understood something. Then Thor realized why. “Oh, I suppose you have no horses on Jotunheim. A usual Frost Giant would probably crush the poor beast.”

Just then, he realized a golden opportunity was at hand. “Would you…like to try riding today?”

Loki’s gaze slid downward, considering. Then he shrugged. “I don’t know any reason why I wouldn’t. Is it…difficult to learn?”

“Not with the right horse,” said Thor. “And the right teacher.” He was in such a good mood right now that he didn’t mind bragging a little about his horsemanship.

He stood, and offered his hand to help Loki stand as well. There was still a split second where he was afraid Loki wouldn’t accept, but to Thor’s continued amazement, he took it.

And the contact burned.

Not for the first time, Thor stood nearly hypnotized at Loki as he rose to his feet. It was so graceful, and so incredibly beautiful. Thor didn’t realize he was staring until it was too late, and Loki was looking back at him, confused at what this pause was for.

Right. Breakfast.

Thor hurried them into the front room, a bit taken aback by his own reaction just now. But as he sat down, he heard Loki call his name. “Thor?”

He looked up, as Loki slid cautiously into his seat beside him. “I suppose I forgot to say…that I do forgive you.”

Thor’s heart seemed to swell in his chest. There was so much he wanted to say that he didn’t know what to start with. In the end, he simply reached to squeeze Loki’s hand. Loki blushed, and they started eating, with an easier atmosphere between them than there had ever been.

xxx

It was quite a further walk to the stables than their previous two excursions had taken them. As such, Thor was able to point out more distant landmarks beyond the palace walls, to which Loki listened with interest.

As he brought Loki's attention to the beginnings of the farmers’ pastures beyond the city’s limits, Loki looked genuinely surprised. “I didn’t think Asgard had any farmland. I thought the city was all it was.”

“A common misconception,” said Thor. “Most visitors from other realms come for what’s in the capital, so they don’t see what lies beyond. I think it’s an illusion we prefer to keep in place.”

“Why is that?”

“It protects our own food supplies. If other realms don’t know about it, they won’t think to target them. That way farmers can live free of worry that their crops will be burned by an invading force.”

Loki gazed back at the splendor of the city behind them, to the peacefulness of the farms beyond. “It seems impossible to me that Asgard would ever be invaded. Who would be foolish enough to even think of attempting that?”

“No one now, perhaps,” said Thor, “since my father has built up our realm to be near-invincible. But it was not always so. We started out as a purely agrarian people, much like Vanaheim still is, and we were discovering travel between the nine realms purely for our own survival.”

“But then what changed that?”

“The biggest catalyst was the birth of Heimdall. He could see out to everywhere in the universe, so he could assure us if we were ever in danger of being invaded. Then the king charged the finest craftsmen and scientists to assist him, and together they built the Bifrost. That allowed us to make alliances with other realms, respond to our enemies more swiftly, and spread our influence throughout the World Tree to prevent future wars. Only then, once it was safe, could we focus on improving our own world. Thus, we built our city, and projected that image to everyone. In time, that was all anyone could remember of Asgard.”

Loki took this all in. He was quiet for a while. “Are you sure you should be telling me all this?” he finally asked. “Since that might break the illusion to others?”

“Of course not,” Thor assured him. “You may come from another realm, but you are wed to the crown prince now. That officially makes you one of us.”

“Oh.” Loki was clearly not expecting that. “I thought perhaps…your people would despise me. Being a Frost Giant.”

Thor felt a protective anger begin to simmer in him at that notion. His hands clenched into fists at his sides. “If they have any unkind words to say about you, I will have unkind words of my own for them. And perhaps more than just words.”

Loki tensed a bit at that, but before he could reply, he noticed they were but a few yards away from the stables. Two Aesir were riding out toward the forest as they watched.

“Are those the horses?” Loki asked. When Thor nodded, his eyes grew wide. “They appear…bigger than I thought.”

“They’re often quite gentle beasts, once they’ve been broken in,” Thor said, in an attempt to convince Loki this was still a good idea. “You just need to know how to be around them, is all.”

Loki gave him a nervous look. “How do I be around them?”

They had made it to the paddock gates, and Thor unlocked them and ushered Loki through them. “The key is to relax. They can tell when you’re afraid or unsure, and they can feed off that negative energy. But some are more tolerant of beginners than others, so don’t feel you need to pretend what you’re feeling.”

Loki took an audible deep breath. “So I am to start with a tolerant horse?”

“That’s what I had in mind,” said Thor. “For example, you wouldn’t want to ride my own personal horse.”

They had entered the large barn by now, and Thor walked them over to the stall of the stallion in question, a snow-white creature with fierce eyes. “This is Tanngrisnir. He’s been mine for several decades now.” He patted the horse’s nose, who sniffed in response. “He’s quite unpredictable at times, and doesn’t trust easily. But once I gained it, he wouldn’t accept any other rider. So now he is mine.”

Loki hung back, still quite unsure about the white beast. Then suddenly, a loud ba-aa-aa next to him made him jump.

“What is that?” he stammered.

Thor looked at the creature staring up at Loki, and smiled. “That’s Tanngnjostr. He’s our resident goat. Horses enjoy their company, but he and Tanngrisnir have the closest bond. Tanngrisnir doesn’t even like other horses this much. So, we keep them together most days.” He opened the stall door a few inches, and the goat trotted in, calling happily up to his equine friend.

“So…which horse do I ride?” Loki asked.

Thor looked further down into the barn. He headed off toward a stall about halfway in. The footsteps behind him indicated Loki was following.

“I was thinking this one,” he said. Loki came up beside him, looking at the bay gelding who was eyeing them calmly. “This is Thialfi. He’s an older fellow, and he’s had all sorts of riders in the past. He’s quite patient with beginners.”

Loki looked less intimidated by this horse, which was flaring its nostrils to take in the scent of this newcomer. Loki slowly walked up to him, and asked, “Is it okay to touch him?”

“Of course,” said Thor. “Just be careful of his mouth. Sometimes they mistake fingers for carrots.”

Loki nodded. With some trepidation, he reached out to the side of Thialfi’s face, and stroked along his muzzle. The horse nuzzled into where his hand was.

Thor smiled. “I think he wants to be your friend.” Loki’s shy grin emerged, and Thor’s heart started to race.

xxx

Next, Thor taught Loki how to saddle Thialfi and put his halter on, so it was late in the afternoon by the time they led the horse out into the paddock. True to Thor’s word, Thialfi was patient throughout the entire process. And now he waited placidly for Loki to mount him.

“So I put my foot in here?” Loki asked, indicating the stirrup. Thor nodded. “And…then what?”

“Then you swing over.”

Loki looked in trepidation at how high Thialfi’s back was. “I swing my entire body over? Using just my foot?”

Thor hadn’t realized how intimidating this notion would seem; to him, the action was second nature. Then again, he had been riding horses since he had been halfway into his second century. “You can use your upper body strength to help you,” he offered, hoping that would help.

Loki looked at him, still with that same fear. “I don’t know if I have any,” he said.

Thor almost laughed, but stopped himself just in time, as he realized Loki wasn’t joking. It dawned on him then that he and all other Asgardian men were steeped in horse riding, hunting, wrestling, and combat training from their early years, which naturally developed their musculature into the sculpted beauty they maintained in adulthood.

Loki, meanwhile, had spent all his life up until now sitting in a room by himself, except for when he had to fend off his father’s beatings. He had probably only anticipated intercourse and childbirth as the sole physical activities he would ever be expected to perform. And, by the nature of his role of a virgin bride, he hadn’t been allowed to physically prepare for either of those tasks.

“Here,” said Thor. “Try it by yourself at first, and if you cannot make it, I will help you.” And I will not judge you if you need the help.

Loki agreed, and looked up to Thialfi’s back, taking in a deep breath. But he didn’t falter. He put his left foot into the stirrup, reached up to brace himself on Thialfi’s back, and pushed himself up.

At first, Thor thought he was about to make it, but when Loki was halfway there he got stuck, and shouted, “Help!” Thor rushed over to push on Loki’s side, easing him up the rest of the way.

“There you are,” Thor soothed. Loki’s breathing was a bit labored, but it seemed to fade to the back of his mind as he realized he was sitting atop the horse.

After a moment, he said, “I suppose this is what the view is like for a normal Jotun.”

Thor laughed at that. “I suppose it is.”

xxx

Thor ended up leading Thialfi and Loki around the paddock a few times, while Loki practiced signaling the horse to stop, start, and turn. Eventually the sun started to turn the sky a bright orange as it set, so they decided it was time to stop.

Thor did make sure to show Loki how to rub Thialfi down after taking off his saddle, and Loki greatly enjoyed feeding Thialfi from his hand. By that time the sun had halfway disappeared beneath the horizon, and Thor had to almost pry Loki away from his new friend and begin their walk back to their chambers.

“I take it you enjoyed yourself,” Thor remarked as they entered the city.

Loki nodded, his face now fully bathed in a smile. “I can see why you wanted to ride today. They are beautiful creatures.”

“Mmm,” Thor said in agreement, but the comment about his wish to ride had reminded him of his dream he had been trying to escape.

He felt Loki looking at him, and realized he had let the silence rest for too long to go unnoticed. “Are you well, Thor?”

Thor mustered an obligatory grin. “Of course. Just tired from today.”

Loki nodded back, but Thor could tell he didn’t quite believe him. But he was taken by surprise when Loki voluntarily slid his arm to entwine with Thor’s. But, it was a pleasant surprise, and they walked back arm-in-arm the rest of the way.

xxx

That night, the nightmare returned to Thor.

Once again, he was dragged through the hallway, but this time he knew where he was headed, and fought against his father the whole time. But again, none of his attempts made any difference.

Again, he was forced on top of a naked and crying Loki. Again, Odin, Laufey, and Byleistr urged him to fuck Loki again.

And again, though he verbally protested, he did.

He woke suddenly from the dream, just as before. Except this time, he didn’t have the image of Loki’s dead face in his head. Perhaps that hadn’t happened this time.

In fact, going back to the dream, he hadn’t even finished fucking Loki. The dream had ended prematurely. Thank the Norns.

Wait…

Shit.

He realized he was hard.

He sat up. No. This wasn’t right. It wasn’t. Shit, why was he hard from this dream?!

He hadn’t enjoyed the consummation act at all. In fact, he clearly remembered his difficulties in getting it up that night, and had only been able to finish because he had purposefully brought to mind the craziest nights with the most beautiful women he had ever slept with. So why did his brain decide that revisiting that horrible night in his dreams was something he would get aroused from?

No. He wasn’t playing this twisted game. He laid back down and closed his eyes, ready to go back to sleep. Let his dreaming self handle this; he wasn’t about to legitimize his previous actions by consciously getting off on them now.

But sleep didn’t come. He had never deliberately ignored an erection before. There had never been a need to; usually if he woke with one in the middle of the night, he either finished it himself without a second thought, or woke up his bedmate of the evening to initiate another round with them.

Eventually, even though he was known for his determination, his cock was even more so. Well, he had dealt with his wedding night by thinking of happier fantasies; he could deal with this the same way.

He took himself in hand, and started thinking about the first time he had seen Jarnsaxa in that tavern. She had somewhat of a reputation about her, and he had decided as soon as their eyes met that he was going to find out if she lived up to it.

He had walked up to her, in a manner familiar to those who knew their prince. He had never been afraid to approach a woman and begin his seduction routine. And since he was the realm’s prince, it had always worked, so what reason had he to be afraid?

He had said some witty line, and she had retorted in response, and after some mutual banter that signaled she was quite receptive, he had nonchalantly asked, “Tell me, have you ever had a prince’s cock inside you?”

She had laughed, and said something about a son of the dwarf king of Nidavellir, but then she had said, “But do you know where I haven’t had a prince’s cock?”

Then she had leaned over and whispered in his ear that she had always wanted a prince’s cock in her ass. It had made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end, and his interested cock stand at full attention.

Then Loki had pulled back to look at him and asked in that lilting voice of his, “Would you do that for me, Thor?”

Thor bit back his shout as he suddenly came into his hand. And as soon as it ebbed and he regained the capacity for thought, he started thinking No no no no no no no no no no…

How had that happened? Sometimes his fantasies would intrude on each other and blend together, but never as clearly as that. And that hadn’t even been a fantasy; he probably would never be that way with Loki. He didn’t even want to be with Loki in that way.

…Did he?

No. He would not entertain that notion any further. He couldn’t risk it. He had never concealed his attraction for any woman or man, so he knew he would be horrible at it. So instead of letting that thought grow, he would stamp it out of his head right now.

From now on, he wouldn’t think of how stunning Loki’s features looked in the candlelight. Or how soft his hair fell on his shoulders. Or how graceful his movements were. Or how beautiful his green eyes were whenever he caught his gaze. Or how radiant he looked when he let slip one of his smiles. Or how good it felt to hold his shoulders in his arm yesterday, and squeeze his hand today, and link their arms together tonight.

Loki was just starting to feel safe around him, and he couldn’t jeopardize that fragile beginning of trust by revealing these thoughts he only now realized he had been having. So he wouldn’t think of any of it anymore.

He wouldn’t.

Chapter Text

At daybreak, a surge of dread washed over Thor. He had been awake since the nightmare, staring at the ceiling for hours as he chased sleep but never caught it. There was too much in his head for him to settle in for slumber.

There was the nightmare itself, which still had him shuddering at the remaining images left in his mind’s eye. Then there was the manner in which he had found release last night, which felt even worse because it had been real. The implications of his attraction to the man he’d raped were too much for him to bear, and he had spent much of last night fending off the impulse to make sense of it all. He couldn’t go down that road, not yet. Perhaps not ever.

But in the hours of darkness he had spent with taboo thoughts churning through his head, he had at least been alone, where those thoughts couldn’t hurt anyone but himself. Now, as dawn roused the rest of Asgard, it would most likely wake Loki as well. How could he possibly be around Loki when his mind was in a state like this?

He had to pretend everything was normal, and show Loki the same generosity as before. He couldn’t just leave him here; yesterday had shown him how disastrous that line of thinking could be. But he had no idea how he was supposed to help Loki feel safe in Asgard with these demons in his own head.

Maybe going through the motions would be enough. It had to be; Thor didn’t know what else he could do.

Reluctantly, he got up from the couch, and immediately felt soreness in his back. He had been sleeping here for the last week, and it was starting to take its toll on him. Maybe it would be worth it to use the bed?

As soon as he entered the bedchamber, he scratched that thought from his head. His chest got tight just looking at it. Loki’s screams from that night returned to his mind.

No. He would never sleep in this bed. He would have to find another solution.

As his thoughts returned to Loki, Thor glanced at the study door to the left. It was shut, and he could hear no movement from within. Loki must still be asleep.

This made him realize that Loki must still be sleeping in that armchair he had found him in several days ago. That sounded even more uncomfortable than the couch. New arrangements for both of them were definitely in order.

But they would still be sleeping separately, of course.

xxx

It was a while before Loki showed his face; Thor was halfway done with his breakfast by the time Loki stepped into the front room, shyly sitting down next to him.

Thor felt his skin spark with heat the moment Loki came near him, but he did his best to ignore it. Instead, he focused on smiling at Loki as he said, “Good morning.”

“Good morning, Thor,” Loki replied, with that soft music in his voice that Thor now realized he adored. Dammit, he needed to stop swooning like this. “Forgive me for the lateness of the hour,” Loki continued, “I must have overslept.”

“It’s quite alright,” said Thor. “I only hope it did you some good. Did you sleep well?”

Loki quickly nodded, and gave a perfunctory “Very well, thank you,” that sounded to Thor like it was a rehearsed courtesy. Dare he press the issue?

He decided to go for it. “Are you sure?”

Loki looked at him, and Thor could see the beginnings of panic emerge behind his eyes. It made him regret his course, until Loki sighed and looked down. “I’m sorry, I did not want to give you cause for concern. Now I must ask your forgiveness again for concealing the truth.”

Thor shook his head. “There’s nothing to forgive, Loki. I’m just concerned with you sleeping in a chair for the past week. It must not be very comfortable.”

Loki shook his head. “No, it isn’t. I am a bit sore each time I wake up.”

“I am as well, from this couch,” said Thor. “I was thinking we need to make new arrangements.”

Loki tensed, and Thor saw him prepare to sprint off the couch to flee. It shocked him, as he had not thought Loki would react to his words in this way, seeing as how much better the last two days had gone for them. But he should have known better than to think their marriage was all roses and sunshine at this point.

Particularly, he should have known Loki’s thoughts would jump to where they did, when he stammered, “A-are you…suggesting…that we s-sleep in the bed?”

No.” It was perhaps said with more force than needed, and it made Loki jump. But Thor felt he needed to assure Loki just how strong his feelings were on the matter. “I am never sleeping in that bed, Loki, and I would give Mjolnir away to Surtur before I would ever suggest that you sleep there, either.”

Loki seemed to visibly relax at his words. “Oh.” It was another moment before he asked, “Then what are you suggesting?”

Thor thought about it, and realized he hadn’t the slightest idea. “I am not sure. But I will do my best in the next several days to find arrangements for our comfort, while still giving you your privacy.”

Loki nodded. “That would be lovely. Thank you, Thor.”

They fell into silence, and as they ate, Thor’s thoughts started to wander into territory they shouldn’t be in. He started imagining him waking up in a large bed with Loki by his side. When he would shift, Loki would snuggle closer into his arms, and smile.

Now that was a pipe dream. Though he took Loki at his word that he enjoyed spending time with him around Asgard, that was worlds different from sleeping beside him, no matter what bed it might be in.

Fuck. He realized Loki had asked him a question, but he had been so caught up in his thoughts he hadn’t heard it. “I’m sorry, what is it?” he asked.

“I asked what we will be doing today.”

Thor froze as he tried to remember what it was he had planned. Only to realize he hadn’t made any plans. “Um…actually, I have not thought of anything yet. We could…well, there are places in the palace I have not yet shown you, if you would like that.”

Loki nodded. “Anything you would like to show me would be fine.”

Thor’s heart skipped a beat. He really didn’t know why Loki trusted him as much as he did. It would probably be better for Loki if he didn’t.

xxx

As they walked into the parts of the palace they hadn’t explored on their first outing, Thor remembered why they hadn’t come here. These were more publicly-used halls, and there were starting to be quite a few Asgardians in their path.

Courtiers hurried about the corridors, consumed in their bureaucratic tasks of the day. Young men and women walked deep in conversation, engaged in their studies at the palace library. Glistening warriors roughhoused with each other, preparing for the morning’s training. Ladies of the court gaggled together, spreading the court gossip of the day. And a growing line of people of all ages wound from the doors to the throne room, all seeking to ask a favor from the Allfather.

Upon seeing Thor, people gave the usual bow or curtsy, with greetings of “Your Highness!” and “My prince!” The warriors who knew him from the battlefield were more familiar, and shouted out that they missed training with him.

But when they saw the prince in step beside him, everyone faltered for half a second. Some looked in suspicion, as the Jotun War was still fresh in their memory. But whenever Thor caught them staring, he glared at them, inspiring enough fear in them to prompt a similar bow and curtsy for Loki.

He could feel Loki’s nervous energy build up again, and a glance at his husband confirmed that Loki was shaking. But Thor noticed Loki’s eyes weren’t darting around to look for a quick escape; they were fixed on him.

Thor did his best to reassure him, and placed his hand on Loki’s shoulder while giving him a warm smile. Loki took a deep breath, and gave Thor the smallest of nods.

Eventually they had made it to a more secluded hallway, which took them to the balcony Thor had had in mind. This was the best view to the rest of Asgard City that the palace had to offer, since he had noticed Loki’s interest in the landmarks that had been pointed out to him yesterday. Also, Thor felt this was an easier step than walking out among the city streets, where royal decorum was not always at the forefront of most people’s minds.

Loki immediately sat down at the bench next to the balcony’s railing, attempting to catch his breath after holding it for so long. Thor sat next to him. “I’m sorry, Loki,” he said, “I did not think there would be so many people in this part of the palace today.”

“It’s alright,” Loki said. “I just…did not think I would react in such a manner.”

“Well, yesterday you did say the familiar is less painful than the unfamiliar. And what happened just now is worlds different from what must be familiar to you.”

Loki nodded. “I suppose so. Still, it does not become a prince or princess to be so affected by a realm’s people. No matter how they treat me.”

That gave Thor pause. It sounded too much like a lecture Loki must have received from Laufey – probably while being beaten, to drive the point home.

“Loki,” Thor began, unsure how to address this, “I know they are not sure of you. But they also do not know you. Some of them were in attendance at our wedding, but beyond that, they only know you are a Frost Giant prince. And-”

“And the rumor that I have a cock and a cunt,” said Loki, in such a quiet voice. “That I’m a freak of nature.”

Thor was taken aback by that. “Loki, I-”

“They must know,” Loki said, “or at least suspect. Why would I be married to their only prince, unless I were capable of giving him children?”

Thor didn’t know what to say. But he did know that he needed to refute the notion that Loki was a freak, and soon, or else Loki might take his silence to mean he agreed with the sentiment. “Loki…I don’t think you’re a ‘freak of nature’.”

Loki looked at him, surprised. “Wh…what? But…you saw…on our wedding night…”

Thor froze. He did indeed remember what he had seen of Loki’s body on their wedding night. And he especially remembered how much it had been bleeding after what he had done. “I know,” he said quietly. “I saw what lies between your legs. And I don’t think you’re a freak. You were just born with a different body than most people. That’s all. It doesn’t mean you’re bad, or wrong.”

Loki’s brow furrowed a little at that. He looked away, out to the city below them. He looked like he was on the verge of tears.

“I suspect,” said Thor, “that your father was the one who told you this.”

Loki gave a small nod. He looked so fragile.

“Well, he was wrong to tell you that. And he was wrong to hurt you in the ways that he did.”

Loki curled up into as small a shape as he could make himself, learning against the wall and the railing. Thor couldn’t imagine how hard this must be for him, to hear that something he had believed his entire life was a malicious lie. But he needed to unlearn this lie, for his own sake.

Thor was surprised when Loki started speaking again. “I know…” He wiped at his eyes. “…I know my father was cruel to me. But…perhaps I did not realize that the things he said about me were…just as cruel.”

“You didn’t know any different,” Thor said. “He is your father, after all. And you didn’t have another parent to refute him.”

Loki sniffed. “Like Frigga?” Thor nodded. Loki sighed at that. “I wish I had grown up with her. Perhaps I would not…be as difficult, if I did not believe these things.”

“You’re not difficult, Loki,” said Thor, in a refrain of their talk from yesterday, “and you have Frigga now. And you won’t ever have to see your father again, so now you can replace your beliefs with something closer to the truth.”

Loki nodded. “Although I think you are the one helping me with that.” That brought a slight grin to Thor’s face.

But then Loki asked him something he hadn’t expected. “Thor, if I may ask…what was it like for you growing up here? In Asgard?”

Thor was taken off-guard momentarily, and tried to recover himself. “Of course you may ask, Loki, but…why?”

Loki shrugged self-consciously. “I suppose because…I don’t know as much about you, except who your friends are, and some of what your mother said of you. And I would like to know.”

Thor felt some deep misgivings about this, especially after how abruptly Loki had pivoted from his own upbringing to this. “I wouldn’t…want to draw an immediate comparison between our childhoods. I don’t want to make you feel worse.”

“I don’t think it would,” said Loki, “and it might make me feel better. To know what’s possible.”

Oh. It sounded to Thor like Loki was surer about this course of conversation than he was. But, if it was what Loki wanted, he didn’t think it would be wise to refuse.

And so off he went, starting with his earliest memories. He was still tentative about speaking of himself to Loki, but Loki was listening with interest at his exploits of running from his tutors to play with wooden swords.

So he continued, speaking of when he had first met the Warriors Three, and how they pretended to travel throughout the Nine Realms together, fighting monsters and going on adventures.

Eventually, he told of how those games became reality, and he told of his deeds of wrestling dragons and slaying trolls, including how he had eventually become worthy of wielding Mjolnir. He started becoming lost in the tales and the memories they evoked, and once looked over to see Loki staring with a far-off look. Imagining himself beside Thor in these adventures. Thor didn’t have the heart to stop his fantasizing.

xxx

They ended up spending the entire rest of the day up on the balcony. Surprisingly, no one disturbed them, except for when Thor summoned a passing servant to bring them some food. The picnic of sorts came and went, while they continued their conversation.

Thor was grateful the day had passed in this fashion, as it felt much more relaxing than the previous ones. There was no objective to achieve here. Thor found himself growing more at ease with his husband’s presence with each passing hour.

And, it appeared, so did Loki. Sometimes they would lapse into silence, and Loki would ask what a particular part of the city contained, which would send Thor into another tale of his and his friends’ exploits. Thor sometimes wondered if he was hogging the conversation too much, but Loki looked quite content to listen to his stories, as his eyes were always wide with wonder.

Eventually, as the day neared its end, Loki asked him, “What did you expect your wife would be like?”

Thor was thrown by that question. “What do you mean?”

Loki shrugged. “I don’t know exactly. But I assume you had some expectation.”

Thor thought long and hard about that question. “I…suppose I must have. But since it was entirely in my father’s hands, I did not usually worry about what she might be like, as I could not control it.”

He was going to leave it at that, but then he looked at Loki, who still looked at him with expectation for him to continue.

“Um…” Thor scratched behind his head. “…I assumed it would be a woman, of course. And she would be a princess from another realm. Since I am the Allfather’s only son, he could not afford to waste a potential alliance by marrying me to a noblewoman of Asgard.” Loki nodded. “And…I assumed we could one day develop a…mutual understanding, of sorts. Such as when we would see each other, what we would discuss, what her role in the kingdom would be.” He had almost added when we would lie together, but wisely left that out.

“So…” Loki said, “…do you foresee developing such an arrangement…with me?”

Thor thought for a moment. “I hope so. But part of my assumption with a potential wife was, of course, that she would be a woman, and would have no interest in my pursuits of a warrior or a king. But I cannot assume the same of you, since you are also a man.”

Loki smiled at that, and Thor took note. “What is it?”

Loki looked at him, gratitude shining through his eyes. “I just so greatly appreciate you referring to me as a man. My father made sure no one in the palace did so. My brothers would sometimes, but they just as often referred to me as a woman, as they knew I hated it.”

Thor nodded. “I remember when you first arrived here, your father told mine that you insisted you be called a he. You must forgive my naiveté in this matter, as I am not familiar with how you or anyone else dually-sexed arrives at that distinction, since it is not automatically apparent like it is for most others. But, I assumed that since you have lived in your body for a thousand years, you must know more on the matter than I do, so I have deferred to your wisdom.”

Loki looked down. “I don’t know if it’s wisdom. I just know that, when I think of myself as a man, it feels…right. And when I think of myself as a she, or an it, it feels wrong.”

“Well of course ‘it’ would feel wrong,” Thor interjected. “That is a pronoun referring to objects and animals. It sounds degrading to refer to a person as such.”

Loki nodded. “Although I think that was the point when my father used it.”

“And my father as well,” Thor murmured, his voice thick with shame. “I was appalled at his behavior that day, speaking to you in such a manner. You deserve better.”

It was quiet for a moment more, before Thor realized he should probably ask the same of Loki. “What about you?”

Loki looked back up to him. “What do you mean?”

“What did you expect your husband would be like?”

“Oh…” Loki suddenly started fidgeting, becoming quite interested in his nail beds. Perhaps this was more painful territory than Thor had originally thought. But, perhaps it could help them both if he knew what Loki expected from him.

“I thought…” Loki started again, and Thor listened intently. “…well, I secretly wished that he would be kind to me.” Thor smiled at that, imagining a younger Loki daydreaming about a man who would take care of him. Thor hoped he could be that man.

“I used to draw pictures of it,” said Loki, almost in a whisper.

“What?” Thor asked, stunned at this. “I didn’t know you could draw. Do you still draw things?”

Loki shook his head. “No. I was very young, and didn’t draw for long. So I doubt I’m any good at it now.” Oh. Thor’s heart sank slightly.

“I used to hide the pictures from my family. I knew my father wouldn’t allow it. But one day Byleistr found them.”

Oh no. Thor’s heart was sinking faster.

“He laughed at them, and said ‘Is this the prince you think you’ll marry? You think he’ll sweep you off your feet?’ I kept asking him why that couldn’t happen, and then he tore them to pieces, saying ‘Because whores like you don’t get happy endings.’”

Norns, Thor wished he had followed his impulse at their wedding feast and strangled Byleistr that night.

“Then he took one of the blank pieces of paper I had, and drew me being…used by multiple men. Then he threw it at me, saying ‘There, slut, that’s all you should be dreaming about.’”

Loki looked shaken at the memory. Thor was feeling shaken, himself. He couldn’t imagine how it must have felt to experience that as a young boy, living in misery and having his one hope of a happier future torn to pieces before his eyes.

“So,” Loki continued, “I knew having a kind husband wasn’t an option. Even if it were, Father wouldn’t allow me that. He would want to send me away to someone just as cruel.

“So, if I couldn’t have a kind husband, I hoped that I would at least be left alone for most of the day. But then, at night, I knew…”

Loki trailed off, and Thor was almost glad he had. He had a feeling he knew what Loki was about to say.

But, Loki managed to get it out. “…I knew that at night, he would fuck me, but maybe it would be quick and not too painful. Then I could be left alone the rest of the night.”

Thor was horrified, but to be fair, if he knew he were facing nightly rape for the rest of his life, he would probably wish for it to be conducted in a similar manner.

“But…you haven’t been like that,” said Loki.

“Wh-what?” Thor asked, not sure if he wanted to be compared to Loki’s horrible expectation of a husband. Especially since some of it had come true.

Loki looked down at his hands again. “You haven’t left me in a room by myself. You have only shown me kindness when we are together. You ask my opinion on what I want. You have introduced me to your friends and your mother. You attend to my needs-”

“But I wasn’t always kind to you,” said Thor.

He couldn’t meet Loki’s eyes, but he could feel them looking at him, questioning. “When?”

Thor couldn’t answer for some time. His voice was choked out by the shame. But eventually he managed to croak, “On our wedding night.”

More silence. Thor almost wished Loki would get up and leave him, rather than keep looking at him. How could he continue to want Thor’s presence near him?

But then Loki replied. “Our fathers were in the room with us. They expected it from us both. But the moment they left, you were gentle, and let me tend to myself in private. You did not disregard my needs that night.”

“Yes I did, Loki,” Thor bit out. “If I had regarded your needs, I would have said no. Even if both our fathers demanded it of me, if I had possessed a shred of concern for you-”

He felt Loki take his hand, and he felt heat from the touch. That was enough to shock him into silence, even if he felt like screaming and crying.

“You haven’t touched me since that night,” Loki murmured. “If you didn’t have any concern for me, you would have continued to take me to your bed every night since then, just as I feared you would. But you haven’t. That is the choice you made with no one else around. That is who you really are.”

Thor let that settle in his mind for a while. It was a nice sentiment, the question of ‘What do you do when no one is watching?’ But in this, it still rang hollow. He could have still refused from the outset.

“I have had servants who were kind to me at first,” Loki said, “because they thought they could curry favor with the royal family. But once my father reprimanded them, they turned cruel toward me, and stayed that way even after my father forgot about the whole incident. That was who they really were. But you’re nothing like them, Thor. I realize that now.”

Norns, Thor wanted to believe that. He couldn’t meet Loki’s eyes, and instead just looked to where Loki was holding his hand. All he could do was squeeze it in response, and hope that maybe one day, he could become the man Loki had once dreamed of marrying.

Then, he felt a familiar voice approaching from the corridor. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end.

He immediately stood, spurred to action and shaken from his self-defeating thoughts. Loki looked at him in alarm.

It was Odin.

“Can you make it back to our chambers?” Thor hurriedly asked.

But Loki shook his head frantically. “I don’t know the way from here.”

Shit on a spit-roast.

Thor was trying to think quickly, to think of anywhere Loki could hide so he did not have to face the Allfather. But the balcony offered no cover, and they would be too easily spotted if they fled down the corridor. They were trapped.

“Ah, Thor!” Odin’s voice boomed down the hallway.

Thor met Loki’s eyes then, and Loki looked like he was about to cry. “Stay behind me,” Thor said softly. Loki nodded, and drew himself up to stand right behind Thor.

Odin was walking with three of his courtiers, whom Thor recognized as among the witnesses to his wedding night. As if this could get any worse.

“I have been wondering,” Odin’s voice boomed down the hallway, even as he was a few feet from them, “if I would ever see my son again. You have disappeared for the last week, Thor.”

Thor gave a curt nod. “Yes, Father. I have been acquainting myself with my new role of husband.” This was technically true, but certainly not in the manner Odin would think. But Thor decided it would be better to cater to Odin’s expectations in this matter, rather than tell him the whole truth.

“I see,” said Odin. He peered behind Thor, to where Loki was cowering at his husband’s shoulder. “And I hope your…ah…new spouse is appeasing your appetites?”

Thor felt rage flare up in his chest, as he noticed his father’s sidestepping of the word ‘husband’ to describe Loki, in yet more disregard for Loki’s gender. In addition, he felt it disgusting that Odin assumed ‘appeasing his appetites’ was all Loki was capable of. And Loki was right here, under Odin’s nose; didn’t he at least have the courtesy to address him to his face?!

But then Thor felt Loki’s hand on his, seeking protection from this encounter, and it snapped him out of his kneejerk reaction to verbally assault his father. Another half-truth would serve them better here. “Yes, Father. Prince Loki is quite to my satisfaction.”

Odin raked his gaze over Loki once more, in the same manner he had the moment Loki had arrived on the Bifrost. Appraising this strange creature who repulsed him. “Hmmm.” And with that, he at last let Loki be.

“I hope you are indeed satisfied, Thor,” he said, “so you might ensure that you produce a son soon. If you do not conceive an heir in a year’s time, you would forgive me for wondering if fertility in your new marriage is at all possible, considering the…unusual physiology involved.”

“Yes, well, we cannot test our fertility by standing here, now can we?” Thor retorted, unable to stand this conversation any longer. “Come, husband.” And he placed his hand over Loki’s back to usher them both away, walking as fast as they both could manage.

xxx

As they walked, Thor could hear Loki start to pant. Then, he could hear him wheeze. By the time they made it through their chambers’ doors, Loki was hyperventilating.

“Here, sit down,” Thor soothed him, bringing him to the couch. He sprinted to the bathing chambers to soak a cloth in cool water. He wasn’t sure what else to do at this point.

When he returned, Loki’s hyperventilating was mixed in with sobbing. Thor quickly sat next to him and placed the cloth on his forehead, holding it there while murmuring “It’s alright, it’s alright, Loki, easy now…” He had no idea if Loki was understanding a word he was saying. He could only hope it was helping.

After a few minutes, Loki’s sobs were less audible, but they still wracked his body and breathing. He hunched in on himself, and Thor took the cloth away. It didn’t seem to be doing anything.

“Loki, I’m so sorry,” Thor said. “I didn’t know my father would be in that part of the palace.” But it doesn’t matter what you didn’t know; your father was there anyway. “Is there…anything I can do to help you? Anything?”

Loki was staring into the distance with a horrified expression. At last, he managed to choke out between sobs, “I hope I’m pregnant.”

Thor didn’t think he had heard right. “What?”

Loki started sobbing louder again. “Norns, I hope I’m carrying your son inside me!” he wailed, burying his face in his hands.

Thor felt like joining him in crying. Instead, he just started rubbing Loki’s back while he cried. He didn’t know how to lift this burden from Loki; it felt completely out of his control. Everyone throughout the realms who knew of their union would be expecting Loki to give him a son. They were a royal couple set to inherit a throne; they had no other option.

So, since he knew he would never rape Loki again, Thor found a part of himself agreeing with Loki’s wish. As much as it sickened him to think Loki could be carrying a product of their wedding night, at least it would mean he would never be pressured to share a bed with Thor again.

Chapter Text

Eventually, Loki did end up going to bed, albeit much later than they normally did. It took him a while to calm down enough to consider sleep. Thor couldn’t blame him.

And then, once he was alone with his thoughts, Thor spent even longer trying to find sleep himself. His father’s voice kept rattling around his head, with words of “appease your appetites” and “the unusual physiology”. Then, the worst of them all: “You may proceed.”

All told, Thor probably found less than two hours of sleep before dawn forced him awake once more. And when he had slept, the same dreams he knew would await him had played havoc on his mind, reducing him to a shivering mess each time he woke. Including now.

He yawned before he could help himself, knowing he would be doing so most of today. He stretched, feeling the immediate soreness from the eighth night on this damn couch. And he rose to walk to the bathing chambers, even though it meant walking into this horrid bedroom.

Between his sleep deprivation, his frazzled nerves, and his father’s words of yesterday, he wouldn’t be surprised if today was the day he snapped and destroyed this bedroom with a well-placed lightning bolt.

“Oof!”

He was in such an addled state he hadn’t seen Loki exiting the bathing chambers, and they ended up crashing into each other.

“I’m so sorry-”

“I’m sorry, Thor, forgive me-”

“I didn’t see-”

As they mumbled their apologies at each other, Thor stopped the moment he saw Loki’s face. He looked so much paler, with dark circles under his eyes, betraying sleeplessness and crying the night before. One of his eyelids was twitching, displaying even further exhaustion.

Loki was looking back at him, and Thor realized he probably didn’t look any better. He met Loki’s eyes, which met him with something akin to cautious concern.

Thor couldn’t bear the scrutiny for long, and wordlessly retreated into the bathing chambers, shutting the door behind him. As he relieved himself and washed his face and hands, he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. It shocked him at how worry-ridden he looked, how many more lines were apparent on his face than there had been but a week ago. Put together with his apparent exhaustion from last night, he was surprised Loki hadn’t taken one look at him this morning and run screaming.

xxx

When he reentered the front room, Loki was sitting in his usual spot on the couch. Thor responded in kind, and sat in his own spot. They sat that way in silence for a moment, both unsure how to proceed and too tired to think of something useful to say.

Finally, Thor asked, “Did your sleeping potions help last night?”

Loki sat there for a moment without responding. Thor looked over at him, curious as to the delay. Were the potions not working anymore?

But at last there was a hoarse response, as Loki’s voice was used for the first time this morning after a late night of crying. “I only –” he cleared his throat “– took half a dose last night. Since I went to bed later.”

“Oh.” That made sense, but Thor was worried how that had affected the quality of his sleep. “So, did…did you have…”

Loki just nodded, not looking at Thor. Thor felt like a large blade pierced him in the gut at the expression on his husband’s face. Thor’s own nightmares were bad enough; he didn’t want to imagine what awful things from Loki’s previous life rose up to torment him in his dreams, incorporated into nightmares of their wedding night.

Then, Loki looked up at him, with a haunted look in his eyes. “Did you?” he asked.

Thor’s heart sped up at the question; he couldn’t stand the idea that the terror in his dreams was now so close to Loki. All he could do was swallow, and nod.

They averted their eyes from each other, staring at the floor. They were both too mentally battered by the last twelve hours to say anything further. Thor felt like a single, raw nerve, squirming in space with nothing to cling to.

It was some time later before he managed to say the only thing he could think of: “Perhaps we shall retire early tonight. To ensure the potions have time to work for you.”

Loki nodded. Didn’t say anything. Thor didn’t really expect him to.

Part of him wanted to hold Loki close, soothe him with tender reassurances, and ease that thousand-yard stare off his husband’s face, replacing it with one of his adorable smiles instead. But in truth, even if they had been in a place where Loki would have wanted or allowed that, Thor wouldn’t have been up to the task.

He was in no position to be the comforter or protector today. Which made him supremely nervous for Loki’s own feeling of safety.

Their breakfast came, a welcome and yet unwelcome interruption of their silent agony. Before the boy left, he surprised both princes by addressing Loki directly: “Queen Frigga asks if you will still be attending her for your lessons today, Your Highness.”

Loki nodded in answer to the question, and the boy left to deliver the message to the queen.

Thor felt a bit of lightness return to him at the mention of the lessons. “I had forgotten you were beginning your training in sorcery,” he remarked.

Loki nodded. “Yes,” he breathed. But Thor noticed how downcast he still looked.

“Do you…” he said, treading carefully, “…do you not want to begin your lessons today?”

Loki looked up at him quickly. “I…yes, I think I still do.”

Thor nodded slowly. “Alright. It’s just that…you look so melancholy.”

The statement hung in the air between them, heavier than he had anticipated. As the silence stretched on, Thor decided it would be best to leave the issue at that. He didn’t want to press Loki, especially after the night he had had.

But, surprisingly, Loki did open up again after a while. “I just…” Thor immediately put down the food he was about to take another bite of, to signal his close listening. And he had to listen closely indeed, for how quiet Loki spoke.

“…I worry I won’t be any good at it.”

Oh, no. Thor sensed another pit of self-degradation Loki could so easily get lost in if he continued with that thought.

So, he decided to intervene. Gently. “As you may recall, Loki, I am horrible at sorcery.”

Loki looked at him, unsure. “I remember Frigga mentioning that, yes.”

“But,” Thor continued, “Mother always says that’s because I did not try to learn it. She had to drag me to lessons with her, before she gave up entirely. But here you are, going of your own volition and willing to try it. That puts you in a much better position for learning it.”

Loki looked pensive at that, mulling over the notion. “But…what if I have no talent for it?”

Thor sighed inwardly. This was more of an uphill struggle than he’d thought, one that he didn’t have the mental wherewithal to handle today. So, he asked in as patient a tone as he could still manage, “Say that you had no aptitude for it. Would that be so bad?”

Loki’s eyebrows arched up at that. It was clear he had never considered this line of thinking. “I…don’t know. I just…I don’t want to disappoint.”

“Disappoint who?”

Loki almost ducked his head. “Frigga.” Then, in a whisper, “And you.”

Thor felt a swell of sympathy for his husband. His soft tone returned without a second thought. “Loki, I assure you, if you end up with no more talent for sorcery than I possess, I would not be disappointed in you. I would be proud of you for trying, just as I am now. And I am sure my mother would be, as well.”

Loki let out a quiet breath, something which sounded to Thor almost like relief. But then he said, “But what you said…about me finding happiness…”

“If magic brings you joy, then pursue it. If it does not, pursue something else. I know my mother would gladly encourage you to do so, no matter where your happiness lies.”

He let Loki sit with this notion as they continued eating. As the time passed, he could gradually feel his husband’s distress dissipate, feeling a presence beside him on the couch that was, if not settled, at least verging on it.

He hoped Loki would enjoy using magic. It would do wonders for his self-confidence. As much as Thor had seen him relax somewhat during the time they had spent together, he couldn’t wait for the day he saw Loki doing something that brought him real delight.

xxx

Thor walked with Loki to Frigga’s gardens. She was standing at the hedges to greet them, dressed in a gown of white with lilac embroidery patterns. Her face lit up at their approach.

“It’s always so good to see the two of you,” she said, as she enveloped each of them in her embrace. Thor’s heart instantly forgot his struggles of late as he hugged her, and it appeared Loki’s burdens were lightened somewhat as well, from the way he also relaxed into her hug.

Frigga looked at Loki with her warm smile. “How are you feeling, my love? I hope your nerves aren’t getting to you.”

Thor sometimes wondered if his mother’s sorceries also afforded her some prescient abilities, as she was so good at reading others around her and what they might need. Knowing what her own son needed was one thing, but reading Loki’s needs, whom she had just met in the last week? That took something special.

Loki nodded meekly. “I am a bit nervous about this.”

Frigga took his arm. “There’s no need for that, Loki. I assure you, you are in good hands with me.”

Then she looked at him more closely. Then at Thor. The easy joy started to fade from her face. “Did…something happen, last night?”

So they did still look as horribly sleep-deprived and nightmare-ridden as they had at dawn. Great.

Loki looked down, quite embarrassed and distressed. So, Thor began. “Last night, we…that is…um…I was showing Loki the palace, and…”

Dammit, he didn’t want to think about it, about how Loki had wailed that he hoped he had conceived a son on their wedding night. But Frigga was still looking at him, with the expression of concern that only a mother could wear.

So, he finished. “…And we ran into Father.”

Her eyes widened, understanding the horror now. “Ohhh. I see now.”

Thor wasn’t sure what reaction he was expecting from his mother about it. He was her son, but Odin was her husband. She had often found herself in the middle of father-son disputes in the past, but this was different. Thor didn’t think he could forgive her if she took Odin’s side in this.

Fortunately, from the way her eyes began to gleam with a protective ire, it appeared she wasn’t taking Odin’s side. Thor was almost afraid to ask, “Mother…what are you thinking of doing?”

She met his eyes with something not quite a glare, but bordering on one. “I will…have words with him,” she said evenly.

It was moments like this that Thor was absolutely terrified of the Queen of Asgard.

Loki placed his hand on hers. “Thank you, my queen,” he mumbled.

She smiled at him tenderly, all anger in her gaze tucked away again, as the person who deserved it was not present. “Of course, Loki. What sort of mother would I be, if I did not protect my sons?”

Thor’s heart leapt as he saw Loki break into a hint of a smile. He had not missed the fact that Frigga had not said son, singular, but sons, plural.

“So, are you ready to begin your first lesson?” she asked Loki. Loki nodded, still a bit timid, but looking surer about the prospect than he had been at breakfast.

Thor nodded. “I believe that is my cue to take my leave.”

He turned to go, but Loki called out to him. “Wait!”

Thor turned back. Loki looked a bit panicked that Thor was leaving his side, even if Frigga remained with him. He meekly asked, “Where…where will you be? When the lesson is over?”

Thor thought about it. “I was thinking of going to the training yard. I have not sparred in some time.”

Loki nodded, looking more pacified that he at least knew where his husband would be. “Is…is it alright if I look for you there?”

“Of course,” said Thor. “Shall I expect you after midday?”

Loki agreed. As Thor took his leave, he heard his mother call out after him, “Take care of yourself!”

xxx

Thor felt a strange itch in his skin as he walked out into the fields of the training yards. It took him a while to puzzle out what it was, and when he did, he was somewhat surprised.

He was missing Loki.

Even though he had only known the man for just over a week, it felt strange to be without him. They had spent so much time in each other’s presence of late that, even though that time was fraught with a harrowing mess of emotions, it had also become almost…comforting?

Even when they weren’t in the same room together, Loki was always on his mind. He worried for him, wondered what might make him happy, tried to riddle out what would make him feel the safest in his new home. He ruminated on the horrible things that must have happened to him when he was a boy, and imagined slaughtering Laufey and Byleistr just as he had Helblindi in the final battle against the Jotnar.

Now, even though there was no one else with whom he would rather entrust Loki than his mother, and even though it was probably best for Loki to have some experiences without him, and even though he still felt so much shame for what he had done every time he looked at his husband…

…he still felt off-kilter not having Loki walking by his side.

“Thor! Over here!”

The Warriors Three were already at their usual practice ring, waving him over. He couldn’t find it in himself to smile. It wasn’t that he was displeased to see them; it was just that he wasn’t sure he could think of anything happy to speak about.

“Wonderful you’ve decided to join us again!” Volstagg crowed. Hogun clapped Thor’s shoulder, and Fandral, still drinking from his waterskin, waved cheerfully.

Thor nodded in response. “It’s good to see you all,” he said, and headed over to the weapons rack. He didn’t often use Mjolnir against living opponents in the ring, as it risked irreparable harm. Instead, he picked up a few flat-edged sparring swords, testing their balance and grip.

His friends walked up beside him. “So,” Fandral said, “are you and Prince Loki still getting on well?”

Thor nearly dropped the sword he was holding. “I…I think so.” He noticed the three warriors exchange nervous glances, and if they were attempting to be discreet about it, they were failing miserably. “Why do you ask?” He was probably failing himself, in keeping his irritated tone out of his voice. He was sleep-deprived today, after all.

“Well…” Hogun began, which was a bit unusual in itself, “…Sif said something to us, after we last spoke.”

Shit.

“Something,” said Fandral, “about a bedding ce-”

“Look,” snapped Thor, without intending the amount of venom that surfaced, “I am sure you mean well, but I really would rather not discuss this.”

They all looked taken aback. “My apologies,” said Fandral, with a tone that tread much more carefully. “I’m sure we all understand that you would rather not.”

No, you don’t. You don’t understand at all.

“It’s just that…” Volstagg added, “…if you would like to…like to talk about anything…”

“Well I don’t,” Thor bit out. “I did not come to talk. I came to spar.”

They were still just staring at him as he behaved this way; he could feel their stares on his back.

“Are you alright, Thor?” Hogun asked.

Thor turned around with his chosen sword in his hand, the fakest grin he had ever mustered plastered on his face. “Fine. Never better. Now are we going to practice hitting each other or not?”

xxx

Fortunately, no matter how upset Thor ever got with his three oldest and dearest friends, they were all warriors. Which meant that they could settle their disagreements by literally hitting each other, until all slights or misunderstandings were forgotten in the roil of dirt, metal, and battle cries.

They spent the next several hours attacking each other in turns, switching when one yielded or asked for a break. Occasionally a passing Einherjar or other warrior would join in, but mostly it was down to the four companions.

By the time the sun had reached its zenith, Thor had forgotten his irritation at his friends’ probing questions, as well as his sleep deprivation. Adrenaline tended to do that to him. It felt so good to be back in the ring, punching and elbowing, kicking and throwing, swinging and parrying. He needed to do this more often.

Well, he didn’t need to just because it made him feel better. It was also because he hadn’t trained in the last week, and he was getting his ass handed to him. He hadn’t expected to be this rusty at combat after just a week’s absence, but after the seventh time Volstagg threw him into the dirt so hard he had the wind knocked out of him, it was apparent he needed to re-hone his skills.

“Has the mighty Thor again been defeated?” rang out a familiar voice. Thor looked up, to see Sif leaning on the railings surrounding the practice ring, smirking at him.

“What do you mean ‘again’?” Thor asked, as if this wasn’t the seventh time today.

Sif rolled her eyes. “I mean ‘again’, as in ‘for the seventh time with Volstagg, the fifth time with Fandral, and the ninth time with Hogun’.”

Volstagg laughed. “Would you care to have the honor yourself, my lady?”

“I wouldn’t mind in the least,” she replied, and swung her legs over the railing to enter the ring. Volstagg pulled Thor back to his feet, then graciously stepped back.

Thor picked up his sword, and felt his smile more easily return as he settled into position opposite Sif. “Do not make the mistake that this will be easy,” he taunted.

“You think I want it to be?” she jeered back, making the first advance toward him with her double-ended spear. He parried easily, and after a few clashes of steel, they broke apart again. “I live for this challenge, Odinson, make no mistake of that.”

“Then you will forgive me if I add to your challenge?” He advanced this time, with more twirls and metallic clangs in the familiar dance. She kept up with him step for step.

“Please, Thor,” she drawled. “I’m not even breaking a sweat yet! You’ll have to do better than that.”

Then they were truly off. It became clear in the next few minutes who had kept up with their training in the last week and who had not. Thor knew he was at a disadvantage, but did his best to hide that fact, keeping his openings few and his strikes precise. But while she was less defensively-oriented in her style, she had always been quicker than him.

Eventually, they got to the point where they were more evenly matched, and Thor knew she had been going easy on him. She would never admit it, of course, and he would never ask. But inwardly, he did appreciate it, from all his friends today.

At last, he found an opening he could exploit, and twisted his blade in such a manner that it knocked her spear out of her hand. Before she could dive to retrieve it, he lunged in to point his sword at her neck.

They stood at an impasse for a while, which couldn’t have been more than a few seconds. But then Thor caught sight of something behind Sif.

It was Loki, walking toward their practice ring. He caught Thor’s eyes, and Thor suddenly forgot what he was doing.

The next thing he knew, he was lying in the dirt with his head ringing. Sif was standing above him, his blade now in her hand, pointed at his neck.

“Yield,” she hissed.

And what else could he do? He huffed. “I yield,” he said reluctantly, and she lowered the blade with a triumphant grin, the whoops and cheers of the Warriors Three resounding through the ring.

Sif helped Thor to his feet, then looked over her shoulder to where Loki now stood, just outside the ring. “Don’t worry, Prince Loki,” she called over to him, “I return your husband to you bruised in body and ego, but otherwise in one piece.”

Thor rolled his eyes. “I almost had you. You cheated.”

“I did no such thing, Thor,” she chided. “It’s not my fault you became distracted.”

Well, she had a point there. But Thor had no interest in arguing that point any further, so he thumped her on the back before walking over to his husband. He hadn’t anticipated how glad he was to see him.

“How…how are you?” he asked.

Loki nodded. “Very well. But before I forget, your mother wishes for me to bring you good news.”

“Oh?” Thor asked, intrigued. “And what news is that?”

Loki looked embarrassed, but a bit pleased. Thor understood why when he said quietly, in a voice only Thor could hear, “She wishes for me to inform you that…we are not the only royal couple in Asgard to have been sleeping separately this last week. Nor shall we continue to be.”

Thor realized what he was saying, and broke into a heady grin. In any other circumstances, he would have recoiled from any mention of his parents’ marital activities. But, at least his father was suffering in some way for what he had done, even if he did not understand why.

Then he noticed Loki look over him quickly, with a worried look on his face. “Are you…are you injured?”

Thor shook his head. “I’ve had much worse. This is just training.”

“Training you need,” Fandral teased, as the Warriors Three made their way over to them. “You’ve become rusty in the last week.” Then he turned to Loki, and bowed. “It’s wonderful to see you again, Your Highness!”

Loki clearly wasn’t expecting such a warm reception from Thor’s friends again, and stammered, “Y-yes, you as well.”

“So,” Volstagg boomed merrily, ushering Loki into the ring with arms around his shoulders, “have you only come to check on your husband? Or,” his eyes started gleaming, “have you perhaps decided to accept my offer to begin combat training? We have plenty of daggers here for you to try out, as well as swords, axes, even a bow and arrow if you wish-”

“No, Lord Volstagg.”

Volstagg faltered, some of the light fading in his eyes. “Oh. Forgive me for my enthusiasm, I thought you might be interested.”

“No, you misunderstand,” Loki said. Thor and the others had caught up to them, and listened as well. “It’s not that I do not wish to learn to fight-”

Volstagg beamed again, and Thor couldn’t help the lurch of warmth in his stomach at Loki’s words. He had no idea that Loki had decided to learn how to use weapons.

“-it’s that I might be with child.”

It was awkwardly quiet for a moment, and the warmth in Thor morphed quickly into dread. It brought back the awful night they had both just endured, just when he had nearly forgotten it all.

“Oh,” Volstagg said, genuinely surprised by Loki’s reasoning. “I had not even considered that.”

“I don’t know if I am,” Loki quickly added, “and it is still too soon to tell, but…I think, until I am sure, it might be better if-”

“Of course,” said Volstagg, “we wouldn’t want to endanger you or a future prince or princess. But, am I correct in understanding that you would like to learn, at some point?”

Loki nodded vigorously. “Yes, I would.”

Volstagg clapped his hands in delight. “Wonderful! Then we shall postpone your training until the presence or absence of an unborn heir is made certain!”

“Well, while we wait,” Fandral interjected, “would anyone care for some lunch? I’m half-starved.”

“Yes, I am hungry as well!” Volstagg exclaimed.

“Volstagg,” said Sif, “you’re always hungry. But yes, we should eat. Loki, would you like to join us?”

Loki nodded, and they all smiled, asking the servant stationed at the training ring’s adjoining bathhouse to bring some food. As they walked to the spectators’ stands to wait, Loki fell in next to Thor, giving him a small smile. Thor felt happier than he had in a while at the sight, and returned it with just as much warmth.

xxx

Once the food arrived, the five Asgardians and one Jotun tucked in, an air of content washing over them all. To Thor’s surprise, it was Loki who broke the silence: “I didn’t think the Aesir ate at midday. At least, we have not in the last week.”

“We normally don’t,” Fandral said between bites of mutton. “It’s usually two meals a day, one at dawn and one at dusk. But, sometimes exertion calls for three.”

“Or more,” Volstagg put in.

Hogun swatted Volstagg’s bicep playfully. “Only when it concerns you, my round friend, does a day involve more than three meals.” Volstagg shrugged in acceptance of this fact, and bit into his lamb chop again, munching heartily.

“So, Loki,” said Sif, licking peach juice off her fingers, “what were you up to this morning?”

Loki swallowed. “I was with Queen Frigga. She has begun tutoring me in the arts of sorcery.”

Volstagg nearly choked on his lamb chop. He coughed a few times, assisted by a few thumps on the back by Fandral, before he said, “Really? That’s most impressive!”

“Not many have the gumption for such training,” Sif put in. “Well done, you, for even attempting it.”

“So, how did it go?” Fandral asked. “Was this your first lesson?”

Loki looked almost overwhelmed by all the questions; apparently he hadn’t been prepared for the interest the four warriors would have in the matter. Thor watched him carefully, looking for any signs of mounting distress. He wanted to give Loki an out, if he signaled he needed one.

But Loki caught Thor’s concerned gaze for half a second, and gave a minute shake of his head. It’s alright, he seemed to signal. “This was my first lesson,” he said.

The four leaned in a bit closer, eager for more. “And?” Fandral asked.

Thor remembered how nervous Loki had been about the lessons, and how much he had feared having no aptitude for it. But at the moment, Loki didn’t look dejected at all.

Instead, he quietly said, “Her Majesty taught me to look for the currents of energy running through Yggdrasil. Not to do anything with them yet, just to feel them. And eventually, one day, to allow them to run through me constantly, so I might call upon their power whenever needed. And she said-”

He cut himself off at that, looking quite self-conscious. The four warriors groaned in unison at the tale’s ending, as if they were young children whose mother had just told them to go to sleep.

“She what?” Sif asked, urging him to finish.

“Yes,” Thor said quietly, “what did my mother say?”

Loki looked at him, and Thor hoped he found his expression encouraging, but not demanding. Perhaps it seemed to work, because Loki looked down and softly said, “The queen told me I was a natural sorcerer. That I have a gift for it.”

The four warriors exploded in jubilant hollerings of “Bravo!” and “That’s magnificent!” at his words. Loki’s face flushed bright pink as he was congratulated for his gift, but then looked up at Thor with a quiet smile. Thor felt his chest would burst from pride.

xxx

The rest of the day passed in a similar fashion to the morning, with Thor and his four friends taking turns knocking each other around in the practice ring. For Thor, however, there was one crucial difference: Loki sat in the front row of the spectators’ stands, watching the whole thing unfold.

It did prove quite distracting to Thor, knowing that his husband was watching him get kicked around. But, it was all in jest and practice, and no malice was ever expressed in any of the fights. He hoped Loki knew that.

The next time he had a break, and he was wiping some of the sweat and grime from his face with a towel while Hogun and Fandral squared off, Thor walked over to where Loki was sitting, leaning forward on the railing. “Are you enjoying yourself?” he asked Loki.

Loki nodded absently. “It’s fascinating, really. I haven’t ever seen anything like this before. I mean, I’m sure there were sparring practices in the palace in Jotunheim, but if there were, I was never allowed anything to do with them.”

The clanging of Hogun and Fandral’s swords continued behind them as Thor nodded. “So, I take it you enjoyed your time with my mother? You look much better than this morning.”

Loki gave a lopsided smile, and nodded. “Yes, it was more enjoyable than I thought. And…so do you. Look much better, I mean.”

Thor agreed. “I feel much better, as well. I must have looked a mess when I woke up.”

“We both did,” Loki said quietly.

Thor sighed. “I suppose we both needed to spend time…exercising our gifts, to feel better.” He gave a slight smile at his own turn of phrase, pleased that now Loki had a gift he could compliment him on.

Loki gave him a curious look. “So…this,” he inclined his head to the center of the ring, where Fandral had given up trying to outmaneuver Hogun, and had instead just tackled him to the ground with a roar. “…this is what you would consider your gift?”

Thor shrugged one shoulder. “It’s what I’m best at. I’m not one favored for strategy or politics, to my father’s chagrin. Nor at sorcery, to my mother’s disappointment. But in contests of strength, or on the field of battle…I have always excelled.”

Loki’s brow crinkled, pondering Thor’s words as Fandral and Hogun abandoned their blades and turned their contest into a simple wrestling match. “I see,” he said. “Although, I don’t think this is your only gift.”

Thor arched his eyebrows. “What do you mean?”

“You have good friends,” Loki said, “so you must be skilled in making and keeping them. You have loyalty, as your friends return it to you, and as you have shown to me. And you have compassion, which I still cannot understand why you extend so much of it toward me.”

Thor felt he must have been blushing as Loki finished his list. He certainly hadn’t realized Loki saw this much in him. He was knocked speechless for a moment, as if Loki had just now knocked him down in the sparring ring. At last he said, “Why are you so generous toward me, Loki?”

He couldn’t have made up the next sound he heard if he had tried. Loki – Thor swore he wasn’t making this up – chuckled. If Thor had thought Loki’s regular speaking voice carried a lilting, gentle music in it, he had been in no way prepared for how soothing his laugh sounded.

But Loki laughed, and said, “I thought it was your generosity toward me that I’m supposed to be questioning, not the other way around.”

Thor laughed in response, and shook his head fondly. “Believe me, Loki, this reversal of roles is nearly as baffling to me.”

xxx

In the end, Thor excused Loki and himself from the sparring ring just before sundown. While the four warriors were dismayed, Thor had remembered his and Loki’s agreement that they retire to bed early to catch up on sleep, so their friends had no choice but to grudgingly accept the princes’ departure.

As they returned to their chambers, Thor realized he still had not done anything about their sleeping arrangements. “Would you like to at least take the couch?” he asked Loki.

“No, Thor, you shouldn’t sleep in the chair-”

“Well, neither should you-”

“You would hardly fit-”

“You have been sleeping sitting up for the last eight nights-”

“I’m getting used to it-”

“You should not have to-”

“Nor should you-”

This back and forth continued, until they both realized that this bickering was useless. They broke off at the same time, and then Thor found them both laughing at themselves, despite the sore backs they knew they would both face the next morning.

“I will resolve the situation tomorrow,” he promised Loki.

Loki nodded, and he was about to bid Loki goodnight, until he heard him ask, “Thor, would you…”

Thor looked at him, not knowing what to expect. But Loki looked almost shy as he worked up the courage to finish his question. “Would you…mind if I showed you what your mother taught me today?”

Thor beamed. “I would love to see that.”

Loki grinned back, obviously pleased that he could show Thor something he was proud of. Pride may be a new feeling Loki had never felt before, Thor mused, but he was beginning to wear it well.

Loki sat cross-legged on the floor, and motioned for Thor to join him. Thor obliged, sitting opposite Loki. “Can you hold out your hands?” Loki asked. Again, Thor obliged, facing his palms up.

Loki moved his own hands to hover less than an inch above Thor’s. Thor immediately felt nervous, not at Loki’s potential actions, but his own. He could feel the heat of Loki’s palms just above his. It was now too easy to imagine closing that distance, caressing and exploring.

But he refrained, and Loki closed his eyes to focus.

Nothing happened, not visually. But Thor could feel, deep in his core as a child of Yggdrasil, Loki reaching into those ancient threads of the universe. It evoked some deep longing in Thor’s chest, a desire to join that energy, from which he had sprung at birth and to which he was destined to return at his death. He was in physical form now during his life, but before and after it, he and all other living beings were part of that energy. That was why it felt so familiar, and yet strange at the same time.

But Loki tapped into it while still maintaining his living physical form, just as all other sorcerers could do. But then, he wasn’t just tapping into it; suddenly, he was bathing himself in it, surrounding himself with that invisible, pulsing energy. Thor’s eyes widened at the shift. Had Loki learned all this from one morning’s lesson?

Then, that energy started to take form between their hands. Green light started to shimmer between his and Loki’s palms, conjured from Loki’s beckoning. It spread from there, surrounding Loki in shifting patterns, sometimes looking like serpents, then like howling wolves, or like stallions with too many hooves, then like a thousand blades conjured from his body.

“Loki?” Thor asked tentatively. He was beginning to think that Loki was not conscious of what he was doing.

Loki didn’t reply. Now the energy was not just surrounding him; it was reaching out for Thor.

“Loki-” Thor warned, worried about what was about to happen. Loki’s natural seidr was starting to flow toward Thor, into his veins, and he knew what his own response would be.

“LOKI!”

But it was too late.

xxx

“Loki.” Thor was attempting to be soft in his tone as he tried to rouse his husband from where he had fallen to lie prone on the floor. But he was also worried that some worse damage had befallen him, so he was trying to convey some urgency as well.

Soon enough, Loki’s eyes flashed open, and immediately broke into a cold sweat. “Wha…what happened?”

“Here, sit up,” Thor urged him, and helped Loki into the position. Loki was trembling, and as he looked around at the front room of their chambers, he appeared to become even more confused.

“Thor, I- what happened?”

Thor became quite self-conscious. “Well...um…you were showing me what my mother had taught you about magic.”

Loki was staring at him. “Yes, but how did I go from that to passed out? And what is that burning smell?” Then he made a realization, and his hands flew to his mouth in embarrassment. “Did…did I accidentally set fire to our chambers?”

“As much as that would please me, no, you did not,” said Thor. “It was me.”

Loki’s eyes widened. “What? I don’t understand…”

He then looked around the room, to where different decorations that had been on walls and shelves had gone flying. And then to the bookshelf and table. Or, rather, what had been the bookshelf and table; now they were just blackened skeletons of ash.

“What did I…or rather, you…what…?”

Thor sighed. “You reached out to me with your seidr. Which,” he began to break out into a smile, “I must say, was quite beautiful. You must be the most gifted sorcerer in the Nine Realms, to be capable of such a display of energy after just one lesson.”

Loki blushed. “But…what do you mean then, that you did this?”

Thor joined him in blushing. “I…well…when you reached out with your seidr…my own magic responded.”

“What?” Loki was genuinely perplexed by that. “But…you told me you were horrible at sorcery!”

“At sorcery, perhaps, which is the art of controlling magic,” Thor admitted. “But I am the son of Odin and Frigga. I was born with an elemental power, a deep and ancient form of magic. I’m just…not adept at controlling it.”

Loki looked at him with a curious expression. “An elemental power? You mean, like fire?”

Thor shrugged. “Sort of. More like the power of the storm. Lightning, thunder, that sort of thing.”

Loki slowly nodded as he took this information in. “Oh,” was all he said.

“I used to accidentally zap lightning bolts around the palace all the time, when I was younger,” Thor explained, “but eventually my parents grew tired of people complaining I had killed their livestock or injured their family members. So, my father sent me away on quests to prove myself, and when I finally became worthy, he gifted me with Mjolnir.”

Loki nodded again, still slowly, as he tried to follow this.

“She helps me direct my power,” Thor continued sheepishly, “helps me control it. But when you reached to me with your pure power, I responded in kind, and…well…” he gestured to the bookshelf. “Zap.”

Loki looked at the bookshelf. “Zap,” he agreed. Then he turned back to Thor. “I’m sorry. I wouldn’t have asked, I just…wanted to show you…”

“It’s alright,” Thor reassured him. “I’m glad you showed me. I’m even more impressed with your power now. You have every right to be proud of it. But, perhaps, you should refrain from reaching out to me directly with your seidr from now on, unless I am carrying Mjolnir. I cannot control what might happen, otherwise.”

He felt quite guilty at this. Loki hadn’t known he could reach such depths of power with his magic yet, nor that Thor had such an infantile inability to control his own. He hoped this wouldn’t put Loki off sorcery; it had just been his first day, after all.

But Loki nodded. “That is probably best. I didn’t realize it could be so disastrous. Now I see the need for your mother’s guidance even more than before.”

“She does know what she’s doing,” Thor agreed.

Loki smiled, and they both rose to their feet. “Although,” he remarked, “even if you profess you cannot control your power without your warhammer, it is still quite impressive. Between that, and you and your friends’ skills in combat displayed today, it’s little wonder the Jotnar lost the war.”

Thor chuckled at that, then realized maybe he shouldn’t have. Loki was a Jotun, after all.

But Loki must have seen his dismay, and shook his head. “No need to be sorry. I don’t feel like a Jotun, not really. From what I have seen of you and your friends, I would much rather be an Aesir.”

Thor smiled warmly. “You are one of us, Loki. That I can assure you.”

Loki returned his smile, and it looked like his eyes were starting to shine with tears. But not anguished tears, like the other times Thor had seen him start to cry. No, this was much more like the joy of an acceptance that he hadn’t expected, and it made Thor want to wrap him in a fierce hug, professing to him over and over that he was accepted exactly as he was.

Instead, he bid Loki goodnight, and they retired to their respective uncomfortable sleeping areas.

xxx

As soon as he laid down on the couch that had remained untouched by his lightning blast, Thor felt his well-earned weariness deep in his bones. He would probably be sore in a good way from his workout today, and sore in a bad way from the ninth night of sleeping on this couch. But he didn’t mind the prospect; like he had said earlier today, he had endured far worse.

He was bothered, however, by the prospect of his dreams tonight. The sun had only just set, so there would be plenty of time for his nightmares to return. Would his dreaming self rape Loki tonight? Would he kill him? Would he torture him with lightning and uncontrolled seidr until he screamed? Would Odin tell him to impregnate Loki?

…Was Loki even pregnant now?

Eventually, he knew he would have to resign himself to his nightmares as a fact of his married life. But until then, he knew they would hurt him worse and worse every night, as soon as he closed his eyes.

Being kind to Loki during the day, giving him hope and praise and a vision of a life better than anything he had ever known, felt like a hollow lie. A distraction to make them both feel better. But his nightmares, his mind’s reenactments of what he had done to Loki that night, reminded him of the truth, no matter how Loki chose to view him as a mutual victim. He was a rapist, who was now playing off Loki’s vulnerability to earn the trust of his captive. While sometimes getting himself off on the conjured fantasies of his captive.

He decided he might as well give in to sleep. He had earned the torture his mind was about to enact upon him. Let the nightmares come. It wasn’t as if they were being delivered to someone undeserving of their agony.

Chapter Text

Thor was standing over the cowering, trembling little body at his feet. Half the creature’s clothes were torn away, but it still tried to keep itself covered, even in its fear and pain.

There was a horrible smell in the air, making Thor grimace. Burning flesh was never a pleasant scent, no matter how familiar he was with it. But this was necessary.

Byleistr tsked from where he leaned against the wall with his arms crossed, his blood red eyes studying the prone creature. “He’s still not willing, Thor. You’d better blast him again.”

Thor shook his head. “I don’t think it can endure any more. If I kill it now, the peace treaty would die with it. Where would our two realms be then?”

“My father’s realm,” Byleistr corrected him, “would be crushed into a desolate wasteland in Ymir’s ass crack, just like it always was. Your father’s realm would take its final victory and be a golden paradise, just like it always was. We don’t really have anything to lose or gain from this peace treaty.”

Thor could have argued the point that tens of thousands of Frost Giants would die in battle if they didn’t end their losing war now. But he got the feeling Byleistr didn’t care about that. He certainly didn’t care about his remaining sibling.

Speaking of which, he turned his attention back to the bony figure on the floor. Its visible skin on its back was marred in patches, blackened to the bone. The stench from its smoking flesh was horrific.

And yet, it still moved. “Don’t…” it whimpered, “…please…don’t…”

Thor touched his foot to the creature’s hip, turning it on its back. Its eyes, one green, the other red as its brother’s, trembled up at him, tears flowing freely.

Thor glanced at Byleistr, who shrugged. “I think you’d better give it one more try. That is, unless you’d rather have a master sorcerer at full capacity fighting against your cock.”

Thor shuddered at the thought. He didn’t especially want to be castrated on his wedding night by a blast of seidr.

So, he conjured up his own seidr, and released his powerful lightning bolts in full force upon his new spouse.

Loki Laufeyson screamed. And howled. And wailed. The sound was almost as horrific as the smell.

Finally, Thor relented, sealing the magic away as best he could. Arcs of electricity still raced up his own arms, but it was contained enough for now.

And at last, he got the sound from Loki’s mouth he had been waiting for: “Please…no more…I’ll…I’ll do it, just…just stop…”

“Thank the Norns,” Byleistr groaned. “It’s about damn time, little brother. Although, I suppose ‘little sister’ is a better name for you, after this.”

He was smirking at the idea, but Thor ignored it. He didn’t really care what Byleistr thought about the terminology at this point. He had a job to do.

He hoisted up the creature who was now his consort, and threw it onto the bed in the middle of the room. Only the Jotun’s torso was supported by the bed; its legs dangled off. Thor parted them, settling himself between them.

As he took care of removing the necessary clothing from both parties involved, Byleistr sauntered over to watch. His arms were still crossed as he appraised the situation. “You know, I always did want to fuck him. Father never let me.”

Thor only grumbled an acknowledgement, as he spit into his hand to slick himself up.

“So…” Byleistr’s voice took on a wheedling tone, “if it’s all the same to you…could I maybe get his mouth after this?”

Thor shrugged. “It’s the womb I need. Do what you like with anything else.”

With that, he thrust into Loki’s cunt, and the sound that came from Loki’s throat was even worse than the screaming of a moment ago. It was a low keening, as it tried to keep in the whimpers but couldn’t.

“Your Highness, wake up.”

Thor felt like he should probably listen to that voice, but he didn’t. He kept fucking his new consort, and Byleistr started to snicker. “I told you, little sister,” he said, leaning down over Loki’s pained face, “whores like you don’t get happy endings.”

“Your Highness!”

Now that voice was starting to grate on Thor’s ears. He started getting a sinking feeling in his gut, as he realized he was doing something horribly wrong. It was as if a fog around his mind was starting to lift.

He faltered in his movements, and Byleistr noticed. “Having second thoughts?” he asked. “Because I could take over, if you’re too worn out. From one crown prince to another, eh?”

“Prince Thor, WAKE UP!”

xxx

Thor jolted awake with a shout, and immediately felt like vomiting. But he held off on the urge just in time, as he realized the first sight greeting him today was that of a servant boy. Not the usual youth from the kitchens, either.

“My prince?” the boy asked in a timid voice. “Are…are you well?”

Thor couldn’t begin to answer that question with a lie or the truth, he was still so wrapped up in horror from the nightmare. So he ignored the question altogether. “What is it?” he asked, trying not to sound as breathless as he was.

“Oh, right,” the boy said, fidgeting around as he tried to remember himself. “I have been asked to summon you to the chambers of state. The Allfather has requested your presence in an emergency council meeting on an urgent matter.”

Norns damn his father. Damn him straight to Hel.

Thor ran a hand over his face, blinking the sleep from his eyes. “What time is it?” he asked.

“Just before dawn,” the boy answered.

Thor blew out a long breath, trying to pull it off as tiredness rather than lingering terror. “Tell him I will be there shortly.”

The boy nodded and left, but not before giving him a long, lingering look. Thor realized now that he had been in the middle of the nightmare as the boy had entered the room. Norns only knew what he might have been saying in his sleep.

But now that he was alone, Thor felt the vomit lurch in his throat again. He raced to the bathing chambers, hoping he could make it to one of the empty water basins in time…

He did. Just barely.

He retched for a while into the basin. Even after he stopped heaving, he kept shuddering, sobbing, he didn’t know what. All he knew was that he couldn’t get the sight of Loki’s blackened body, the sound of Loki’s pained keening, or the stench of Loki’s charred skin out of his head.

And, Thor realized, he had spoken to Byleistr throughout it all, as if they were simply new friends making small talk. The same monster who had tormented Loki all through his childhood, and Thor had agreed to let him use Loki’s mouth…

He heaved again. There wasn’t anything else to bring up from his gut, but he heaved all the same.

The only small comfort he had was that, though how close Byleistr had ever come was still unclear to Thor, the Jotun prince had never actually raped Loki. No, Thor was the only person horrible enough to do that.

xxx

After he had dressed in his usual armor, Thor realized he might be at this stupid council meeting even after Loki woke. He didn’t want to startle Loki with his absence, so he did the one thing he could think to do.

He took a pencil and slightly singed piece of paper from what had survived his seidr explosion last night, and scrawled out his message:

Loki – I have been summoned to an urgent council meeting. I will return as soon as I am able. Feel free to use the intervening time however you see fit. – Thor

Note in hand, he tiptoed to the study door, but he saw that it had drifted ajar during the night. He didn’t think Loki would have purposely left it open while he slept, no matter how much he might claim that he was starting to trust Thor.

Thor didn’t want to intrude. But, despite his better judgment, he had to see. He went to the inch of space between the door and its frame, to peer into the dark room beyond.

Loki was curled up under his blanket in the chair, his head resting on his pillow. The empty vial of that night’s sleeping potion was clutched loosely in his hand. His face was relaxed, no lines or fear visible. His only movements were from his slow, rhythmic breaths, hardly making a sound in the room.

He wasn’t burned. He was unharmed from Thor’s dream. He was safe.

Thor had to fight so many urges then. The urge to cry as this image of his sleeping husband warred with the images from his dream. The urge to rush to Loki, wake him up, and hold him close. The urge to run his fingers through Loki’s silky-looking hair as he slept, to press a kiss to his temple. The urge to add to his note, writing I’m so desperate to keep you safe and I’m so sorry I’m not good enough for you.

But he left both his note and his husband as they were, and left the paper on the floor, right outside the door. Even to leave it inside the room felt too much like a violation of Loki’s space. Thor only hoped he would see the note before he panicked too much.

xxx

As he approached the large, golden doors of the throne room, Thor began to hear the murmurs of the conversation within. He caught a few mentions of the word “trade”, which didn’t sound particularly urgent.

His father’s voice was among them, of course. There couldn’t be a meeting of the king’s council without the king. But Thor still hesitated when he heard it.

Not only that, but the rest of the council were all men who had also witnessed the consummation.

Thor didn’t feel ready for this. Especially not first thing in the morning, ten days after the wedding night, fresh from the dream he’d just had.

Well, maybe his father would give him an excuse to yell at him. If there was one skill Thor had developed in the last eleven centuries, it was sifting his father’s words for any excuse to verbally attack him. Then his father would attack him in turn, and council meetings would devolve into yelling matches that would disband the other councilors out of discomfort. Which would end Thor’s obligations for the day.

But this time, the reasons wouldn’t be selfish, at least not entirely. Thor wanted to get back to Loki as soon as possible, to ease any distress he had at being left alone this morning. If it took a dressing-down from his father to achieve that end, Thor was willing to provoke it.

With that goal in mind, Thor nodded at the guards stationed at the doors, and they swung them open.

The room was so spacious, being the most important in the whole palace, perhaps in the entire realm. It was a long walk from the doors to the dais that the throne, Hlidskjalf, sat upon. His father was not seated on the throne, but rather at the mahogany table about halfway into the room that he magicked into existence for such meetings.

There were other, smaller rooms within the doors that lay behind the throne, but Odin had explained to Thor several times the need for royal business to be conducted in full view of the throne. Elsewise, the councilors might forget their place, or even keep secrets from the king, if their business was done literally behind the throne’s back. It was better, Odin believed, that his advisors were always in full view of his seat of power, as a constant reminder of who ran the show.

Honestly, Thor didn’t care where royal business was conducted. When he was king, he would return such meetings to the chambers designed for that purpose. Beyond his lack of ability to conjure a table and chairs, he didn’t view the role of king as so high above his subjects as Odin did. Just one of many differing beliefs between father and son.

Such as not believing rape was ever allowed between two people, under any circumstances. Beliefs like that.

His jaw clenched as he steeled himself for this. All discussion halted the moment the councilors heard his boots’ echo on the marble floor. Odin glowered at him from his one eye.

“I was summoned?” Thor asked in a biting tone, by way of greeting.

“Some time ago,” Odin replied, in just as venomous a voice. “We have been waiting for you.”

“Waiting?” Thor asked as he took his seat, which was situated directly opposite the table from the Allfather. As if everyone expected for the two to be in direct opposition. “I thought there was urgent business to discuss.”

No one else dared meet his eyes, which was surprising. Thor didn’t understand the reason for it, until Odin spoke again.

“The urgent matter,” he barked, “is that the crown prince of the realm has neglected his stately duties for over a week now. He has been gallivanting around the palace, riding horses, frolicking in gardens, and generally indulging in activities irrelevant to his future duties as RULER OF THIS REALM!"

Thor met his father’s rising volume with a shit-eating grin. “Are you quite finished?” he asked.

If glares could inflict physical pain, Odin’s would have slaughtered Thor in his chair. “What explanation does His Highness" – he emphasized the word to clearly illustrate he didn’t think Thor deserved it at all – “have, if any, for his actions?”

“As I told you,” Thor seethed, with as searing a glare back at his father, “I have been acquainting myself with my new role of husband.”

He could feel the other council members exchange nervous glances at the mentioning of his marriage. Thor let them feel as guilty as they liked, but didn’t break eye contact with his father. He was practiced at this game with Odin, and to look away was to admit defeat.

“Be that as it may,” Odin intoned in a low voice, “your public royal duties come first. Pursue your marital activities in the evening, before you retire.”

Thor raised his eyebrows. “Like you have been doing?”

That shut Odin up. He wasn’t about to admit in front of his councilors that Queen Frigga was avoiding his bed to punish him. That wouldn’t be kingly at all.

Thor smirked in triumph. Crown prince, one; old man, zero.

When it was clear the Allfather had no retort, one advisor, Lord Tyr, took the opportunity to speak up. “We were just discussing the most recent trade disputes with Alfheim. They have been straying from our agreement on tariff rates, which has hurt our jewelry and glassware exports.”

“Light Elves,” Odin grumbled. “A sniveling excuse for a race. An ally they may be, but they’re craftier than dwarves when it suits them.”

Satisfied that Odin had given up the fight, the other councilors began to offer their own input. Thor eased into slumping back in his chair. Trade disputes he could manage, tedious as they were. He just hoped they wouldn’t be discussed for very long this morning.

xxx

Three hours later, they were still discussing trade disputes.

As much as Thor didn’t have a knack for politics, he wasn’t completely useless, either. He had learned a thing or two about the business from his observations of these meetings for the last four centuries. But even though he could contribute to the discussion of tariffs and interest rates, after three hours of the subject, he was becoming absolutely bored out of his mind.

None of the councilors could agree, though many were splitting at the seams with suggestions. Lord Hoder, the shriveled and blind old man who knew Asgardian law inside and out, was the one spearheading the charge for imposing sanctions on Alfheim to punish them for their actions. Lord Bragi, the effervescent blond warrior in charge of the realm’s arts cultivations, wanted to lower Asgard’s tariffs in return, to bring back business to the realm’s craftsmen. And Lord Vidarr, a hawkish brute of a man with a ruddy face who was charged with the realm’s treasury, wanted to incite a skirmish between Alfheim and Nidavellir, so the ensuing war would make Alfheim’s trade suffer and Asgard’s flourish by default.

Odin listened to them all, and eventually decided to look into a slightly lower tariff rate, while possibly sending an envoy to Alfheim to renegotiate together. And finally, finally, the council was dismissed, and Thor could leave.

But just as he rose from his chair, Lord Tyr rushed to his side and asked, “Prince Thor, may I have a word?”

Norns, Thor hoped this wouldn’t take long.

They ambled over to the edges of the room as Tyr spoke. “We have not spoken, in some months. Since our war councils.”

“Indeed,” said Thor, “we have not.”

Of all his father’s councilors, Tyr was the one Thor was closest to. The army general was actually a third or fourth cousin once-removed to Thor, but he had always acted as more of an uncle. It wasn’t anything like the support received from Frigga, but it was at least something.

“I hear you were at the training yards yesterday,” Tyr said. “And you took quite the beating.”

Thor felt himself start blushing at this, as Tyr had been his first combat tutor, and had always warned him of becoming complacent in his training. “As my father said, I have indulged in too much leisure time of late. I am out of practice.”

“And is your leisure time truly spent in your marriage bed?”

Thor, shocked at the question, looked up at Tyr’s face. The man gave a knowing look in response, the crow’s feet at the edges of his eyes coming into prominence.

“What makes you think I have been remiss in my private duties, as well as my public ones?” Thor managed to ask.

Tyr inclined his head, a gesture indicating Thor shouldn’t need to ask that question. “The fact that I know you, Thor. I know neither of you were willing. I don’t think any decent person would be. So I can’t imagine you would initiate any further intimacies with him so soon after such a night.”

Thor stopped walking, anger kindling in his chest. “‘So soon’?” he asked. “As if I should simply wait an acceptable period of time, and then spread my husband’s legs open once more? As if that would be more amenable for a decent person to do?”

“All I’m saying,” said Tyr, “is that it may take time. It often does, between those arranged to be wed. Even your own parents took time to adjust to one another-”

Thor barked out a single, mirthless laugh. “Don’t even begin to compare this to my parents’ marriage. They met one another several times beforehand. I hear my father even courted my mother, till she accepted his hand in her own right. Both were willing, and both were prepared for what lay ahead. Whatever their ‘adjustments’ were, this is nothing like that.”

Tyr looked stunned into silence for a moment, but then acquiesced. “No, of course not. Forgive me for saying so.”

Thor was prepared to leave the matter at that, but Tyr just had to keep talking. “You know, I had counseled for the consummation to be handled differently,” the general said. “No need for a bedding ceremony, just let the two set things at their own pace. An heir would come in time. But the Allfather was so adamant on the matter-”

"I don’t give a rat’s ass what you counseled!" Thor bellowed, so loudly his words rang on the walls. The other lingering councilors in the throne room abruptly ceased their conversations at the sound.

Thor brought his tone down at his next words, but only slightly. “Whatever you counseled, it doesn’t matter. It still happened. And you-” – he could feel himself shaking in his rage – “-you sat there in that bedchamber, and watched it happen. And you let it happen. You, the mighty warrior, did nothing."

“What do you think I could have done?” Tyr asked, an edge of anger burning in his voice now, as well. “What could any of us there have done? Disobeyed our king? In front of the leader of our enemy? When we had just negotiated a peace treaty with them, that depended on what was happening to be valid?”

“You could have,” said Thor. He was really shaking now. “Any of you could have. You could have refused. You could have-”

Thor.

It was Odin, who had heard the commotion and had walked over to its source. He was now at Thor’s elbow, though he hadn’t noticed his father's approach until now.

The Allfather turned to Tyr. “Leave us. I would speak to my son on this matter.”

Tyr nodded, gave a glance mixed with anger and pity to Thor, and left. Leaving Thor with the one person with whom he didn’t ever want to discuss his marriage.

Odin turned to Thor, scanning him with his one eye. “I understand that your marriage has you…troubled.”

Well, that was the understatement of the millennia. But Thor, still shaking, could only nod.

Odin sighed, looking down at his shoes. Thor recognized the stance as the one his father would take when he was exasperated with his son, and was attempting to find the right words of fatherly wisdom to impart to his only heir.

But Odin’s face softened as he settled on the words, which Thor did not expect.

“I understand that this must be difficult. While your part in the peace treaty could not be avoided, and you will not believe me when I say it, I am sympathetic to your plight. Truly I am.”

Thor blinked slowly at his father. His words could not be what they were. His father was never sorry for the duties he charged to Thor, and even if he were, he would never express such feelings to his face.

“I know,” Odin continued, “that it must be painful for you, the last several days, enduring what you have.”

Any words Thor might have said to his father died on his tongue. His father…understood? He understood that the wedding night had been traumatic for him and Loki, and he cared that Thor felt that way? Perhaps the old man had a heart hidden under his steel veneer after all.

“I can’t imagine what it must be like for you,” said Odin, “having to share a bed with…that Jotun.”

Oh.

Thor felt his blood roar in his ears. His fists clenched. Murderous songs sang in his heart.

“You think…” he managed to sputter, “that…my difficulties of late…are because of Loki?

Odin shrugged his shoulders. “We needed peace. But you are my only son, and Laufey had but one child with a womb. I had deep misgivings, of saddling you with such a disfigured creature-”

Shut. Your damn mouth. About my husband.

Thor could tell Odin was thrown off-guard by the remark, but he fell into his usual response to Thor’s heated tone: matching it with equal ire. “You dare speak to your king in such a-”

You dare speak of Loki in such a way?” Thor retorted, losing control of his volume quicker than he could stop it. “He is not disfigured, or malformed, or a freak of nature, or a walking womb, or any of the other horrible things you or Laufey have ever thought about him! He is a man, and my husband, and a much better person than you could ever hope to be!”

Odin barked a harsh laugh in disbelief. “Oh, so you enjoy being in this marriage? You enjoy spending your time with that- that-”

Thor leveled his gaze. “Yes. In fact, I do. And I would much rather spend this day with him than suffer one more minute of you!

With that, he turned on his heel to leave.

“YOU DARE TURN YOUR BACK ON YOUR KING, BOY?” Odin bellowed at his retreating back. “YOU HAVE NEVER HAD ANY RESPECT. YOU WILL NEVER BE FIT TO SIT THIS THRONE!”

Thor let him rave, and strode out past the golden doors, hearing them shut on his father’s threats behind him.

xxx

At the bedchamber doors, Thor finally stopped. Leaned his back against the wall. Closed his eyes. And breathed.

His limbs were still shaking. He was so angry he could tear down this whole palace with his bare fists. He could murder anyone complicit with allowing the bedding ceremony. Tyr, Bragi, Hoder, Vidarr, Balder, the whole pack of them. And he would start with his father.

His father’s words wouldn’t leave him alone. Calling Loki a disfigured creature. Assuming his body’s nature was what distressed Thor. It made him feel sick, for the second time today.

The sensation brought up his memories of why he had been sick the first time, and the nightmare returned fresh in his mind. Charring Loki’s skin off his bones. His keening cries as he was raped. Byleistr asking if he could use Loki’s mouth.

But then…he thought of Loki. Not his father’s descriptions, or his nightmare’s conjurings. The real Loki. How he brought forth small smiles. How his face lit up when he spoke of his lessons in magic. How peaceful he looked as he slept this morning. How he was so lovely just as he was.

It was like a cool breeze that calmed the flames in Thor’s heart. His breathing leveled out, till it was calm and steady. He finally felt his fists unclench, after holding them tight for so long.

He needed to be calm for Loki. He didn’t want Loki to feel as if he were the target of any anger or violent intent.

When he felt he was steady enough, Thor entered their chambers to seek out his husband.

He shut the door behind him, and called out, “Loki?”

“In here,” came a timid voice from the study.

When Thor arrived at the study’s threshold, he was greeted with the sight of Loki, sitting in the small chair pulled up to the desk, an opened book in his hand. He had a look about him that he was eager to see Thor, but unsure if he should express it.

Thor found himself smiling at the sight so much his face hurt. “May I come in?” he asked.

Loki gave a small nod. “Yes,” he said, in just as small a voice. And Thor crossed the threshold to come to the desk.

Loki gestured to a scrap of paper on the desk. “I found your note,” he said. “Thank you for letting me know.”

“Of course,” said Thor. “I didn’t want you to wonder as to my whereabouts.”

Loki looked up at him nervously. “Was the urgent business at the council satisfied?”

Thor sighed, and rolled his eyes at the whole affair. “It wasn’t urgent. Just something about trade disputes with Alfheim. My father only said it was urgent to force me to attend the meeting. He said I ‘was not attending to my duties as a future ruler’ of late.”

“Oh,” said Loki. He seemed to withdraw at Thor’s words. At last, he quietly asked, “Is that because you have been spending time with me?”

Thor wanted so badly to touch Loki’s arm in reassurance. But he refrained, and instead tried to rely on his words. “I assure you,” he said, “that I would much rather spend time with you than with my father and his wretched councilors.”

The glow of warmth in Loki’s eyes seemed to kindle back to life at those words. But he still looked unsure. “Still,” he said, his voice betraying a small waver, “I am sorry if I have encouraged strife between you and your father. That was never my intent.”

“Loki, there is always strife between me and my father,” said Thor. “No one can change that. It’s just…become more personal this time.”

Loki nodded, but still didn’t look convinced that he hadn’t played an active role in this dispute. But Thor didn’t want to think about the insults his father had hurled at him about Loki, so he decided to change the subject. “I see you have been reading this morning?”

Loki gave an eager nod, but then faltered. “I hope that’s alright. Is it?”

“Of course it is,” said Thor, as gentleness stirred anew in his heart. Even now, after all this time, Loki still wasn’t sure he deserved to take up any space. “These are your chambers as much as they are mine. You are free to use them however you like. There’s no laws that say you cannot read the books in here.”

“Oh.” Loki seemed to squirm a bit at the notion. With his next words, Thor understood why. “It’s just…my father rarely allowed me books. He said they made my mind soft, but he really meant to punish me by taking them away.”

“So you enjoyed reading, when you lived in Jotunheim?” Thor asked.

“Oh, yes,” said Loki, with more passion in his voice than Thor had ever heard from him, except perhaps when he spoke of learning sorcery. “They were…how to put it?” He started scratching his nail on the oak desk, staring at it in thought. “They were…a window to other worlds. I could never touch those worlds, but…I could get a taste of them. And once a piece was in my mind…it was safe there. I could go there in my mind whenever I wanted, and no one could take it from me.”

His words brought a striking image to Thor’s mind, of a younger Loki shut up in an icy room, left by himself, bereft of any kindness or affection. But he would read, and draw, and dream. He was an image of a lonely young boy, seeking refuge and light wherever he could find it, even if it was only found in his mind.

Had he fostered secret hopes and joys in his head? Had his family crushed those fantasies entirely? Or could Thor help him resurrect those visions of sanctuary and wonder, and nurture them into something real?

“That is so wonderful,” Thor finally said, with so much awe in his voice.

Loki looked back up at him. “Really?”

“Yes, really. I never found quite the joy in reading, seeing it as more of a chore. But…in your circumstances, I can imagine how important books must have been to you.”

Loki nodded absently, his fingers stroking along the pages of the book he had been reading. His touch was almost reverent.

With the motion of Loki’s fingers, Thor noticed what book he was reading. “'The Five Disciplines of Spellcraft: A Guide for the Beginning Sorcerer',” he read off the cover.

Loki looked at the cover, one finger keeping his place on the page he was on. “Yes. I know I don’t want to attempt any more sorcery without your mother’s guidance, not at least until I know more fundamentals. But…I found this, and I was curious of what the disciplines entail.”

Thor gave a wry chuckle. “I think my mother put this book in here. My father oversaw our chambers’ decorations, hence the copious volumes of law and governance. But my mother must have snuck this in here, hoping I would give it one last try.”

“So,” Loki asked, “is it alright if I use it?”

“By all means. I don’t intend to.”

Loki gave a quiet laugh at that, and Thor’s stomach flipped. How could something as simple as someone’s laugh give him so much delight?

A bit flustered at his reaction, he tried to gather himself. “So, do you know which discipline you wish to focus on first?”

Loki flipped back through the book, settling on the section labeled ‘The Defensive Traditions’. “I did think defensive spells would be the most practical. It might help me feel safer. Especially if you are not near.”

Thor’s heart beat faster at that. He had to try hard to steel his face into his same interested expression, instead of that of a fumbling adolescent smitten with their first desire.

“But…” Loki continued, flipping to the page he had saved with his finger. “the light tricks sound…much more fun.”

He had a sheepish grin on his face as he looked at the page. Thor leaned his head over a bit to see the page, which diagrammed a technique for creating a non-corporeal body double.

He grinned. “It does sound quite fun. With two of you, you could ride twice as many horses, or read twice as many books.”

Loki looked up at him in surprise. “You would allow that?”

Thor sighed. “Loki, you do not need my permission to pursue your own passions in your life. But you do have my support in those pursuits.”

Loki took on an expression then that Thor could not place. But it was warm, and full of light. Thor had never seen anything more beautiful in all his life.

He was struck with a notion then, of helping Loki pursue his passions. But his mouth was dry after seeing Loki’s expression, and he had to clear his throat twice before he could speak again. “Loki, I have an idea. Of somewhere I would like to show you in the palace. You don’t have to agree if you do not wish to, but…I think you would like it.”

Loki straightened in his chair at the idea. “Of course, Thor. Where is it?”

“Would it be alright if it were a surprise?”

Loki’s eyes slid to the side, and Thor was sure he would refuse. It was stupid to suggest such a thing; after all he had been through, Loki needed predictability in his life.

But, amazingly, Loki gave a small nod. A surprise it would be, then.

Thor was so excited for this. Loki took his offered hand, and off they went.

xxx

Loki followed in step right behind him, all the way to the room they were heading toward in the center of the palace. Thor started getting nervous at the prospect. He hoped Loki would like this.

“What is this place?” he heard Loki ask behind him.

He turned around to grin at Loki, and held open the wide doors for him. “The palace library,” he said. “The largest collection of books in all the Nine Realms.”

Loki stepped in, and came to a standstill in the middle of the foyer. His eyes were wider than Thor had ever seen them, as they tried to take in everything.

And he was craning his neck to look up, because the rows of books were everywhere. Dozens of staircases, balconies, mezzanine foyers, all lined with rows upon rows upon rows of thousands of books. Books in every shape and size imaginable, in every subject known to Asgard. All the Realm Eternal’s knowledge was collected in one room, all for Loki’s eyes to witness for the first time.

Thor walked over to stand beside Loki, gauging how he was taking it in. He was surprised to find tears pricking Loki’s eyes. “Are you alright?” he asked.

Loki gave a hurried nod. “It’s just…” It seemed he couldn’t find the words to describe anything further about his state, so he just gestured to the rest of the room spread out before them. It was a lot to take in at once, especially for one so enamored with books as Loki.

“How many?” Loki asked, sounding a bit winded from his awe. “How many are there?”

Thor roved his eyes over the shelves. “I’m not sure. I don’t know if anyone is sure anymore. Even the master librarian lost count at around four hundred thousand.”

If possible, Loki’s eyes seemed to grow even wider. “And…I could read any of them?”

“You can take them back to your chambers, too,” Thor said. “Usually there’s a limit on the number a citizen can take, but there are perks to being royalty.”

Loki’s breathing became much more audible, so Thor guided them both to sit at one of the nearby benches.

“I suppose this is a bit overwhelming,” he said. “But…is it a good kind of overwhelm?”

Loki looked at him with that same warmth of before. “Yes. Yes, it is. I…didn’t ever think…”

It took him a while before he could consolidate his thoughts further. “I didn’t think I could ever have this. Or have a husband who would give this to me. Thor, this is the greatest gift anyone could ever give me.”

Thor wanted to hug him so badly. But he just said, “I am glad to give this to you, Loki.”

He let a silence settle between them, as Loki still looked up in wonder at the books surrounding them. Eventually, when he felt Loki was more settled in this room, he asked, “So, would you like to pick some out?”

Loki hesitated for a second, perhaps not believing he was allowed this privilege. But he slowly started to nod, and they left the bench to find the section on sorcery.

xxx

In the end, Loki took fifteen books. He was only going to take three, but Thor kept insisting that he take as many as he wanted. So he agreed to four. Then to five. And on and on he went, until he stopped at fifteen, carried between them.

Most were more specialized tomes about spellcraft, focusing on either defensive magic or light tricks. But some were about the history of Asgard and the other realms, and one was a book of poetry Loki had found mis-shelved but couldn’t put down.

Thor had never seen him come alive like this. He had done so somewhat with magic, but that was completely new to him. Books, however, had once been his only shelter from his harsh reality, making them much more like old friends he was finally reunited with.

It was just getting into the evening by the time they returned with their precious cargo, and Thor helped Loki set the texts carefully on the desk. “You know,” he remarked, “if my father saw how studious you are, I am sure he would prefer to have you as his son.”

Loki stopped short. Looked at Thor with a look that was all shock mixed in with sadness. “What?” he asked, barely a breath into the room.

Thor hoped he hadn’t offended Loki by his comment. “I just…I only meant that he thinks me too impulsive. Too quick to leave a book and pick up a sword. Whereas you appear to be the opposite.”

Loki stared at the stacks of books on the table. He seemed to be choosing his next words carefully, which ended up illustrating Thor’s point rather well. At last he said, “Your father seems to value people for what they’re worth to his kingship. Much like my father. I am worth my womb, and you are worth your future decision-making.”

But then he looked back up to Thor, still with so much caution in his voice. “But you do not value others based on their usefulness to you. You certainly don’t do so with me.”

The very notion, that he would value Loki or anyone else based on how they could serve him, took Thor aback. “Of course I don’t. What sort of person would I-”

“Exactly,” said Loki. “So…I just…I would hate for you to apply such harsh judgment…to yourself.”

Thor gave a wry half-smile at that. “Just as I would hate for you to judge yourself so harshly?”

Loki looked down. “I suppose our fathers have filled both our heads with cruel self-pronouncements.”

“Indeed,” said Thor, and started tracing his fingers over the raised text on the cover of ‘The Art of Self-Defense Through Seidr.’ “So perhaps it’s a good thing we have these books now. We can fill our heads with more helpful knowledge.” Loki smiled at him in response.

They spent the rest of the evening together in silence, eating their dinner at the two armchairs in the study while reading. Loki chose one of the texts on light tricks, and Thor took the tome on the war with the Dark Elves. He usually found the historic annals a chore to read through. But having Loki’s quiet presence beside him, hearing the pages turn in his husband’s slender fingers, made the activity much more pleasant.

But eventually, he couldn’t resist, and stopped reading to watch Loki. He looked almost as peaceful as he had when he was asleep this morning. He was intent on the page in front of him, and there was a placid joy in his being that was beginning to stir to life. His slender, more angular frame was so languid here, in such an effortless beauty Thor’s heart started to ache.

Thoughts of fatherly disputes and horrific nightmares were quieted. Now, watching his husband read, Thor found that maybe those inner struggles could be borne, if he and Loki could catch pieces of this calm companionship along the way.

Chapter Text

Ever since he had shown Loki the library, time passed in a more stable rhythm for Thor. Things drew closer to ‘normal’ than they had been since the wedding. He would never return entirely to those days, but over the next several weeks, his life became more manageable.

Well, not entirely. He was still sleeping on the couch, while Loki was still in the armchair. Several times he had brought up with Lady Sarnyr, the palace’s head housekeeper, the prospect of moving two cots into his chambers. She had raised her eyebrows at the notion, asking if there was strife in his marriage. Thor had retreated each time, sure that even if she approved his request, she would notify the Allfather of his son’s lack of marital activities. So, for the time being, he had made no progress on the matter. He repeatedly apologized to Loki for it, and was attempting to find an alternative solution. But none had been found thus far.

Hence, a chronically sore back was the defining physical change his marriage had brought him. But it was not the only difference from his previous life. Before the marriage, there had been the war. War was simple for Thor, as there was an objective and he could easily achieve it. And before the war, there was life as the crown prince of Asgard. It had been more carefree than he’d realized, fighting, feasting, and fucking his way through his days. Each day had been spent doing something enjoyable.

That was slowly beginning to take shape now. The difference, of course, was that now each day’s enjoyment revolved around another person.

Some days, he and Loki would go to the stables again, so Loki could practice his horsemanship skills. Other days, when Loki had his magic lessons with Frigga, Thor would go to the training yards, and by the afternoon Loki would be in the stands, watching him spar. Occasionally they would walk about the palace together, but Loki was loath to go for very long. He would much prefer to talk with Thor in their chambers, where no one else would stare at him.

They weren’t together all the time; Loki had his lessons, and Thor would still be dragged to council meetings whenever his father thought he wasn’t ‘contributing to the realm’ enough. On those occasions, Thor would inform Loki in person or via note, and Loki would stay in the study until his return.

One evening, Thor did ask Loki about that. It was after dark, and Thor had just returned from an infernal council debate between Balder and Vidarr about the necessity of patrolling the star systems around Muspelheim. Thor’s head was still ringing from the shouting match, and was relieved his royal duties were over for the day.

Only to find the table next to his couch piled high with royal documents, awaiting his signature and seal.

Thor groaned. Of course his father had had these sent over tonight. Something about teaching him that ‘royal duties are never over’ or some other platitude he was fond of spouting. But, experience had taught Thor that it was better to get these things over with, so he slumped down on the couch to begin.

His unpleasant task left him on high alert for any distraction possible, so he easily picked up on the near-silent footfalls of Loki’s approach from the study.

“Did I wake you?” Thor asked.

Loki shook his head. “I have been reading.” He sat down beside Thor, which made Thor’s pulse quicken.

He noticed the book still in Loki’s hand, and recognized it as one that Loki had picked out on their only visit to the library. “I thought you had finished that one.”

Loki looked down at the book. “Yes,” he said. He didn’t explain any further.

Thor didn’t know if it was wise to press the matter, but he did so anyway. “You know…you can go to the library to return those and take more out.”

Loki was still looking down at the cover, not meeting his eyes. At last, he mumbled, “We have not been back.”

That was what Thor had been worried about: the word we. “I know. And we can again, if you wish to. But what I meant was, you could go without me. Or with someone else, if you wish their company.”

More silence. All the while, Thor watched Loki carefully. He didn’t want Loki to feel he was under scrutiny, but he did want to check for signs he had gone too far in his words. The way Loki just sat there without responding made him uneasy.

But Loki did reply eventually, in that small voice that could have come from a child: “Do you not want to go with me?”

Dammit. He’d pushed too far. “No, Loki, that’s not what I’m saying. I am happy to spend my time with you. I just…what I’m trying to say, is that…” Why did words have to be so difficult for him? “…I would not want you to feel obligated to only go places with me.”

Loki shrugged. “It’s safer with you.”

That made Thor feel his heart was crushed in a vice. His next thought was spoken aloud before he could stop himself. “Why do you feel safe with me, when I am the only one in Asgard to have hurt you?”

Loki looked back up at him, but Thor wished he hadn’t. His gaze was so piercing it physically hurt to meet his eyes. “Because our fathers made you do it,” Loki said plainly, “and you have done nothing but help me ever since.”

This was the first time in weeks, since the balcony, that they had come close to talking about their wedding night. And for Thor, evoking those memories brought up the nightmares that plagued him still, each one worse than the last. Not to mention his waking fantasies of partaking of Loki’s flesh with his hands and lips…

So he cleared his throat, and brought them back to the matter at hand. “No one in the palace will hurt you,” he said. “You do not have to be afraid-”

“But I am,” Loki said quietly. He brought his arms around himself, a self-soothing gesture that was by now familiar to Thor. “I am afraid. I don’t know if there will be a day that I am not. All I know is that I am afraid to be outside these rooms without your presence.”

“Surely, one day, your own presence will be enough-”

“Well, that day isn’t here!” Loki said, and now his voice was higher, his breathing picking up between his sentences. “This is only the sixth week of my life in which I don’t have to worry about getting my teeth knocked out just for walking outside my bedchamber. I know it probably won’t happen here, and it’s wrong for me to feel that way, but…that’s how I feel!”

Thor felt knocked back by Loki’s words. He immediately wished he could take back everything he’d said up to this point. “I’m sorry,” was all he could think to say.

Loki had to take a moment to compose himself. Thor felt like he needed that, himself. He tried more explanation, though he worried it was useless. “I was wrong to imply your feelings are not valid. I only meant that I want you to feel safe.”

It was a moment more before Loki could speak again, but when he did, his voice was quiet and even. “I know,” he said. “I know you want that for me. I want it, as well.”

Thor took a deep breath. That could have gone much, much worse. Loki really was too forgiving of his missteps. “In the meantime,” he said, “I would be glad to return to the library with you, to choose new books. And if there is anything else I can do to help you feel safe, please tell me. I do want to help you, if I can.”

Loki agreed. “I will. But know that you have been helping me already.”

Thor smiled at that. Then he noticed Loki’s eyes drift down to the stacks of royal documents on the table. Thor’s spirits dampened at the sight.

“I did not realize you had so much work to do as a prince,” Loki said.

Thor sighed. “My royal prerogative,” he grumbled. But he caught Loki’s questioning glance, so he felt he should clarify. “It’s not that I am ungrateful to be in my position. Not every royal duty is distasteful. This one is just…tedious.”

“What must you do with them?”

“Review them for approval. Sign and seal them if I approve them, send them back with notes if I do not.”

Loki’s eyes flitted over the nearest one. “What do they entail?”

“It varies. Most are legal matters, guildhall license applications, inheritance disputes, that sort of thing. If the lower royal arbitrators cannot find a solution, they send them to me, and then if needed, to the Allfather.”

“So you apply Asgardian law?”

“Most of the time. As the crown prince, my word in such matters technically is the law, unless my father contradicts it. But it’s best if I keep within the bounds of established practice, to prevent unrest. Activist crown princes aren’t usually favored in history.”

“But you do not always adhere to legal precedent?”

“There have been few reasons for me to do so over the last few centuries. But there have been reasons. If I cannot in good conscience approve something, I don’t.”

Loki was quiet after that for a while. He seemed to be lost in thought, pondering something Thor could not guess at.

At last he said, “I’m trying to imagine Byleistr being as judicious in his royal duties.”

Thor raised his eyebrows at the reminder of Byleistr’s future. “That’s right. He’s going to be a king one day.”

Loki shuddered. Thor agreed with the sentiment.

“Helblindi was at least raised from birth with the knowledge of his future reign,” said Loki, “just as you have been raised. He was still himself ruled by violent moods, but he did have some rudimentary concept of his duty. But Byleistr…”

Thor was struck with a dreadful realization then. The room felt plunged in ice. “I fear I have doomed your people to a terrible future.”

“What?” Loki asked. “What had you to do with this?”

Thor looked down at his feet, scratched the back of his neck. “I was the one that killed Helblindi, in the final battle of the war. Making Byleistr the new heir to the throne.”

A pause. Then, “Oh.”

Thor squinted at Loki. “I’ve just admitted I murdered your brother on the battlefield, and you say ‘oh’?”

Now it was Loki’s turn to look away. “Both my brothers gave me reasons to fear them, not to love them.”

“I know,” said Thor, feeling something bristle in his chest at the thought of what both elder brothers probably did to Loki. “But I didn’t want to assume you didn’t feel at least some affection for them.”

Loki took a deep breath. “Whatever is supposed to be felt between siblings, it was never a reality in my family. My father even encouraged strife between my brothers to ‘toughen their spirits’. The only times they ever enjoyed each other’s presence were when they worked together to torment me.”

Oh, Norns. They had worked together to torment Loki? Thor hoped the imaginings of what such torment entailed were wildly exaggerated. He really hoped they were.

“And besides,” said Loki, “Helblindi could have killed you in that battle. Then I could not have been wed to you, and I would still be in Jotunheim to this day, at my father’s and both my brothers’ mercy. Of which they had none.”

“You make me wish I had killed both your brothers in that battle,” Thor said. Then he laughed, as he realized where that could have gone. “Then you would have been your father’s heir. We could have met as fellow kings one day.”

Loki gave him a smile, but his eyes were sad. “My father would have sucked Odin’s cock before he would have ever allowed me to rule Jotunheim.”

Thor burst out laughing before he could help himself. He tried to bottle it up quickly, though, and said, “I’m not…making light of your father’s treatment of you…that’s not…”

But Loki’s smile had gone from sad to bright. “I know you’re not. I suppose I could have picked a better turn of phrase to illustrate my point.”

“No,” said Thor, still trying not to giggle, “that was the best phrase you could have picked.”

Loki laughed in return. Thor looked down at the stacks of documents, and couldn’t resist going further. “If only that had been part of the peace treaty.”

They both giggled like fools at that. “It would have joined our houses together,” said Loki, making Thor laugh further.

But as their laughter died down, Thor realized they had made a valid point together. It had been Laufey’s stupid war, and Odin’s sanctions on Jotunheim prompting the stupid war, that had necessitated the peace treaty. Why, then, did he and Loki have to pay the steep price for it? Let Odin and Laufey have their own bedding ceremony, if one was required. From their similar styles of ruling and parenting, they would have gotten on famously.

“Thor…”

Thor looked back up to Loki. “Yes?”

Loki was looking at the documents as he spoke, his brow knitted together. “Since we are…on the topic of ruling…I have been meaning to ask you about something.”

“And what is that?”

Loki blew out a frazzled breath. It was clear he wasn’t sure of his course, so Thor tried to school his face to the least threatening expression possible. “Do you remember,” Loki finally asked, “the first time you came into the study to speak with me?”

Thor nodded. He remembered it well.

“Well…” Loki’s eyes listed to the side in thought. “…you mentioned something then. About me ruling Asgard by your side when you become king.” He looked back to Thor, his brows now angled into a higher position on his forehead. A configuration of uncertainty. “What did you mean by that?”

“Exactly that,” Thor said.

“But in what capacity? As a consort and confidant? Or with a seat on your council?”

Thor shrugged. “In truth, it’s in any capacity you feel comfortable with. But what I envisioned was you sitting the throne and giving judgment along with me. Literally by my side.”

Loki’s eyes grew so wide they looked ready to bolt out of his head. “You think this a wise course?”

“Why would it not be wise?”

Loki fidgeted with the hem of his tunic. “Because I have no experience ruling.”

“Nor do I,” said Thor. “I sit on councils, sign documents, and act in other official capacities, but I have never made a final decision in any of those. And yet no one has a problem with the prospect of me one day deciding to raise taxes or declare war.”

“But…you are-”

“The son of a king? So are you.”

“You have been trained and shaped to rule, Thor. I wouldn’t know the first thing about-”

“Is it right to hurt others for your own gain?”

Loki gave him a blank look. “What?”

“Is it right to hurt others for your own gain?” Thor repeated.

Loki looked appalled at the prospect. “No, of course not. I’ve been dealt that hand all my life, I know-”

“Is it right to bring others joy, and contribute to their welfare?”

“Of course it is.”

Thor spread out his hands in a gesture of see? “You already know more than most rulers throughout history. Anything else depends on a case-by-case basis, and can be taught through experience, as my mother constantly assures me.”

Loki started tapping his fingers on his knee, while flitting his eyes about the room. Clearly, he was trying to come up with another reason why he was not worthy of ruling Asgard. He settled on, “Well, surely I would not be allowed to rule. I am only your consort.”

“Ah,” said Thor. “That is perhaps the only valid argument for you not being able to rule. It’s true, there is no precedent for a king’s consort sitting the Asgardian throne, even as a regent if the heir is underage.”

“You see? I knew I-”

“But.”

Loki stopped talking at that.

“Crown princes may not be allowed to take up an activist’s mantle,” said Thor, “but kings are, by the nature of their role, always activists. If I wanted you to rule by my side, with equal authority when you did, and you wanted the same, I would make it happen. And my word would become the new law on the matter.”

Loki blanched. “You first said ‘ruling by your side.’ Now it’s also ‘with equal authority’ to you? What if I made a horrible mistake?”

“We probably both would,” Thor pointed out. “So will anyone who ever takes up rule of an entire realm. We just need to remember we are fallible. Our fathers think themselves infallible, and look where that has gotten their children. Let alone their people.”

Loki gave him a despairing look. “I still don’t…I don’t understand. I understand your arguments, I just don’t know…why you are making them on my behalf.”

Thor took a deep breath. He knew the answer, and it put him in a position of vulnerability he hadn’t really shared with Loki before. “Loki, you know I don’t have the best relationship with my father. After our wedding night, I don’t think I will ever trust him again. And yet, despite how much suffering he has caused us, there is still a part of me that wants him to live forever.”

Loki opened his mouth as if to speak, but Thor kept talking. “I know it can’t happen.” He swallowed nervously, feeling like a foolish young child. “But I still want it to, because…I am terrified of being king.”

He averted his eyes from Loki. He didn’t want to see what Loki thought of that. “I know I’ve been prepared for it all my life,” he said, “but I still don’t believe I can do it. So to ask you to rule with me is a completely selfish request on my part. I just don’t want to be alone with it all.

“But, to be fully honest with you, Loki, I wouldn’t have asked this of just any prospective consort I could have had. Only if they possessed a good heart and a sound mind. And it’s clear to me you have both. Which makes me feel even surer that it’s the right thing to ask of you.”

Finally, he looked back to meet Loki’s eyes. Though his husband’s face was in a state of total disbelief, his eyes were shining at him. Whether with overwhelm, gratitude, or heartbreak, Thor could not tell. Perhaps a mixture of all three.

Loki started blinking back his tears. “I…I don’t…” He took a shuddering breath. “…I don’t know what to say.”

Thor smiled at him with all the warmth he possessed. “You don’t have to. You don’t need to give an answer right now. There will be plenty of time for you to decide what role in our kingdom would suit you best. I wouldn’t want to force you into a position that makes you uncomfortable. This is only if you want it.”

Loki nodded, taking in that notion. “I will think on it. And I’m just…so honored, that you would consider asking such a thing of me. Even if I don’t deserve it.”

Thor shook his head. “Enough with the ‘I don’t deserve’s, Loki. You deserve so much better than you think you do. And I will keep telling you that until you believe it.”

Loki didn’t give a reply to that; perhaps it was still too tender an area for him to venture into. Thor let the matter go for the moment.

Loki looked to the documents, then back to Thor, then said, “I had better leave you to your work.” He rose from the couch. “Forgive me for distracting you.”

“Nonsense,” said Thor with a smile, “I crave distractions from paperwork. I am grateful for your presence. But, it is getting late. Are you going to sleep?”

Loki shook his head. “I was going to keep reading for a while.”

Thor couldn’t help it as his eyes took on a pleading look. Loki caught on. “Would…you like me to stay?”

Thor grinned. “I would be grateful for the company.”

Loki acquiesced with a small grin in return, and returned to his seat on the couch. They spent the next hour of that night together, Loki reading and Thor working. It made Thor envision a future of him and Loki both working late into the night, approving documents for royal business in silent companionship just like this.

It made him smile. He was sure he had been right to ask such a task of Loki; he could only hope Loki would agree to it.

xxx

The next three days passed with an even quieter presence from Loki. Thor often found him staring out windows or down corridors with a far-off expression on his face. He would come back to himself when prompted, but it was clear something else was never far away from his mind.

Perhaps it had been too much for Thor to burden him with all at once, telling him after six weeks of marriage that his new husband expected him to rule by his side. After all, Loki had envisioned being fucked and birthing heirs as his sole royal duties. He hadn’t expected any say in even those domains, let alone making decisions affecting the course of a sovereign nation.

But Thor also hoped that this demonstrated to Loki that his judgment could be trusted by another, enough to be offered the chance to rule. And, by leaving Loki the choice in how he served his realm, it could show him that his opinions counted for something, that it was right for him to have a voice in his own destiny. He hadn’t ever had a choice before, not even the first night they were wed. Thor wanted him to have that power.

He had hoped to empower Loki enough to live his days without relying on him, but Loki still centered his daily life around what Thor was doing. If he did pursue a solo activity such as reading or sorcery practice, it was only because Thor was occupied elsewhere, and it was only to pass the time until he returned. It worried Thor that he was fostering a dependency in Loki, the way Loki had been dependent on his father’s moods as a child.

But, it all changed when, on the fourth morning since their late-night talk of ruling, Thor woke to find that Loki was nowhere in their bedchambers.

Odd.

There was no note anywhere to be found explaining his whereabouts – not that Loki needed to tell him where he was at all times, but Thor had expected he still would. Loki had never just disappeared on him before. It was unsettling.

Well, he had been saying that Loki should feel free to go places on his own, so he wouldn’t make a fuss over this. He would just wait for Loki to return.

xxx

An hour later, he had finished his breakfast, while Loki’s tray sat untouched beside his. Thor stared at it, wondering where the man was. He could have gone to the library, as Thor himself had suggested.

Or, since it was the fourth day of the week, he could already be at Frigga’s garden for his sorcery lesson. Perhaps they had changed the time of the lesson? Or perhaps Loki had gotten an early start to practice a spell?

Something like that had to be it. Thor felt it ridiculous that he was spending so much time obsessing over Loki’s whereabouts. Loki was an adult, fully capable of going somewhere without Thor’s knowledge or permission.

But, a nagging voice pointed out in his head as he left for the training yards, it still hurt that he hadn’t told him.

xxx

By midmorning, he had worked up a good sweat from sparring with the mace he had picked out for today. He had returned to his regular training regimen in the past several weeks, and it showed, as he easily sent Volstagg sprawling into the dirt.

The large man laughed heartily as he was pinned by the mace at his chest, and raised his hands in surrender. “A fine match, my friend! You’ve regained your edge, I see.”

Thor helped him up. “I thank you for noticing,” he said dryly. He rubbed some of the sweat from his forehead, but found his eyes drawn back to the palace, looking for the bright green eyes that weren’t there to meet him.

His gaze was interrupted by Volstagg’s hand waving in front of his face. “Over here, Thor,” he said.

“Sorry,” said Thor. But then he found himself looking again. Waiting.

Volstagg sighed. “He won’t be here for another hour at least. His sorcery lessons aren’t over until midday, at the earliest.”

“If he’s even at his sorcery lessons,” Thor murmured.

“What? Did you not go with him?”

Thor turned back to head to the weapons rack, to exchange his mace for another blade. Volstagg walked beside him. “He was gone from our chambers before I woke,” Thor admitted.

“What’s going on?” Sif called out to them. She and Fandral were heading into the ring for the next match, but headed over to the other two instead.

Volstagg smiled. “Our prince is pining for his dear husband, is all.”

Thor snapped his head round to Volstagg. “What do you mean, ‘pining’?”

“I mean exactly that,” Volstagg said with a wide smile. “And don’t you deny it, either.”

Thor scoffed. “I beg you, my friend, cease this jesting in this matter.”

“Oh, please,” Sif said. “Do you really think we’re that thick? How many centuries have we known you? How many men and women have we seen you lose your mind over, as you gaze fondly into the distance whenever the thought of them arises?”

Thor rolled his eyes, but his heart was beating faster. It was true his friends did know his mind, almost too well. But he had thought he had been more discreet than this. Had his feelings for Loki really been so obvious all this time?

He turned to them, all three with annoyingly smug little smirks. “Your point being?” he asked, with no small amount of irritation.

Fandral grinned. “Our point, Thor, is that you’re absolutely smitten with Prince Loki.”

Thor picked up the axe he had been eyeing. “Even if your words were true,” he grumbled, trying so hard not to admit that they were, “I do not see why it is something to smile about.”

“Why wouldn’t it be?” Fandral asked. “How is harboring affection for another ever something to not rejoice in?”

Thor sighed. He wished it were that simple. Fandral may have had more people in his bed than the rest of his friends put together, but that didn’t mean he knew what he was talking about in this. Thor recoiled from his desire for Loki, rather than rejoiced in it.

All he could say on the matter was, “It’s more complicated than that.”

That knocked some of the air out of his friends’ sails; they had all caught on in recent weeks to the less-than-pleasant beginning of his marriage.

“Be that as it may,” said Volstagg, “you cannot deny how fortunate this is. You are falling for the person you were assigned to marry! What are the odds of that?”

Thor wanted to argue with that, but found he couldn’t. “Not likely. I just…” His voice lowered. “…I don’t want to hurt him.” Again.

“Thor,” said Fandral, in a tone that implied his words were obvious, “you’re not going to hurt him. You care about him. And you’ve been showing him that. However complicated it may be, I don’t see how those feelings could end up causing him harm.”

Thor didn’t want to get into how his desire directly threatened Loki’s wellbeing, how he woke shuddering from nightmares of him satisfying himself while Loki screamed. How, since he could never show his affection openly, it could only exist as a slow poison in his veins, locked in his brain to torment him at night. How it should never be set free.

“Whatever your opinions are on the matter,” he said, “I beg you, as my friends, to never breathe a word of it to Loki. Please.”

“Very well,” Sif said, and the other two reluctantly nodded their heads. “But we only beg you, in return, to stop beating yourself up about it. It’s nothing shameful to desire someone.”

They were well-meaning, they really were. But they could never understand the true depths of his shame, the lengths to which his depravity went. Regardless, he had their agreement to stay silent, which was really all he could hope for.

But before he could thank them, he noticed a servant girl out of the corner of his eye. He and his companions turned to her approach.

“Prince Thor!” the girl called.

Thor went over to meet her. “What news?” he asked.

The girl was panting, as if she had run the whole way to deliver her message. Thor hoped it was exuberance on her part, rather than urgency. He didn’t feel like attending a royal council meeting today.

“I have a message from Queen Frigga.”

Oh. Thor felt his shoulders slump in relief. No council meeting after all!

“She inquires as to Prince Loki’s health, as he did not attend his lesson this morning.”

Thor’s stomach twisted in knots, and his whole body tensed. He should have known something was wrong, he should have listened to his instincts!

“Tell her,” he scrambled to find his words in his adrenaline-fueled state, “that I am attempting to find him as we speak.”

The girl nodded, and with a “Yes, my prince,” she scurried away to deliver the message. Thor was already putting away his axe, and calling out for Mjolnir.

“Should we help search for him?” Volstagg asked. All mirth was gone from the three’s faces, as they put away their weapons as well to speed to action.

“Yes,” said Thor. “Spread out, go through each wing of the palace. I will take the stables, and then the west wing.”

As his friends decided among themselves which wing of the palace they would take, Mjolnir flew to his hand, and he was flying off to begin his search.

xxx

He searched the stables, and asked the stable master if he had seen Loki. Neither he nor any of the other hands had. Thialfi was still in his stall. No Loki.

Volstagg searched the library in the eastern wing, knocking over stacks of books in his wake, and demanded Loki’s whereabouts from the master librarian. She hadn’t seen the prince, and Volstagg was scolded for his disorderly behavior. No Loki.

Sif poked around the chambers of state in the northern wing, and even asked Lord Balder if he had seen the prince’s consort as he passed by. The arrogant bastard suggested she follow the stench of Jotun the creature had surely left behind. She was nearly arrested for breaking his nose. No Loki.

Fandral searched the passageways and servant’s halls of the southern wing, asking every servant he had ever bedded (which was every servant of age) of the prince’s whereabouts. He got dozens of offers to engage in nightly activities again, but no one had seen the prince. No Loki.

They reconvened in the western wing, where Thor had sped through the halls with Mjolnir to aid his search. When he heard none of them had found Loki in his usual spots, he grew more worried. When they told him that no one had seen Loki anywhere, his heart nearly flew from his chest, it was beating so hard.

But then he realized there was one last place he hadn’t thought to look this whole time: their chambers. Loki hadn’t been there this morning, but perhaps he had returned some time later. It was worth a try, so Thor left his friends to search there.

He scoured every room, even poking his head in the study to glance around. He wouldn’t otherwise, but he was so frantic he felt like ripping every book off the shelves, as if Loki were hiding in their pages.

He had that twisting sensation in his gut that something was terribly, terribly wrong. And while his rational mind’s abilities could be a hit or miss, his instincts rarely failed him.

It was when he was moving through the damn bedchamber to try his luck in the corners of the bathing chambers, when he heard it.

Quiet, muffled breathing.

He paused, following the sound in the air. It was coming from…the bed.

He moved toward the cursed item of furniture, trying to ignore the tightness in his chest as he looked at it. The remaining blankets and furs on it had not been touched since he had brought them here on that dreadful night. But now that he looked at them closely, they were in more of a consolidated pile than before. In a large enough stack to hide a person.

He went to the side of the bed, and reached out to move them. The breathing sped up, and then there was an unmistakable whimper, from an unmistakable voice.

He lifted part of the blankets at the head of the bed, and there was Loki’s face. He looked much more ashen than usual, as he curled up underneath the furs with panic in his eyes.

A sigh of relief escaped Thor’s mouth before he realized it had happened. “Loki,” he soothed, speaking as if to a skittish horse, “have you been here all this time? I was so worried about you, I couldn’t find you anywh-”

He cut himself off abruptly, as he noticed something bright red on the bedsheets. Norns, he hoped it wasn’t what he thought it was.

Loki must have seen where his eyes had drifted to, as he started breathing harder in his panic. “No…” he whimpered, “Thor…don’t-”

But Thor lifted the blankets further. More red. And further. Even more red.

Starting to panic himself, he ripped all the blankets away from Loki. The bedsheets around Loki were soaked in the blood, and even his black leather clothing was discolored from it. His arms were curled around his middle, trying and failing to hold in his tears as the blood was exposed.

Thor’s vision started to go red around the edges. Loki would have never come to this bed of his own volition. Someone…someone had attacked him here. Whether physically or…even deeper…he wasn’t sure, and couldn’t bear the thought of either one.

He felt like punching the wall and breaking his own fingers. He had told Loki to try walking in the palace by himself. He had promised him that no one would harm him. Now here was the result. He had failed in the one thing Loki had relied on him for. He had failed to protect him.

But fortunately, rather than storming out to hunt down the person responsible to smash their head in with Mjolnir, he grabbed one of the blankets to wrap it around Loki.

When he started to pick Loki up in the blanket, Loki really started to panic. “No,” he sobbed, squirming in Thor’s grasp. “No, Thor, please…they’ll…they’ll-”

“Hush, Loki,” Thor said, in the darkest tone he had ever used with his husband. “No one will hurt you. I’m taking you to the healers.” He said it just as much to promise himself of that goal. He wouldn’t cry, he wouldn’t scream, he wouldn’t punch the wall, and he wouldn’t murder anyone in his quest for vengeance. Not yet, anyway.

Loki started quietly sobbing. Thor could feel him start to go limp in his arms, but rather than relieve him that Loki was accepting the help, it worried him further that Loki had lost too much blood.

“Stay with me,” Thor whispered, hoping Loki could still hear him. Cradling his fading husband in his arms, he rushed them both out the door toward the healers’ chambers.

Chapter Text

Thor sat in the chair the healers had told him to sit in. He had been pacing around the private waiting area before that, and though it meant he had kept getting in their way as they rushed about, it had at least given his nervous energy an outlet. Now, all he could do was jostle his knee up and down as he waited.

The healers were getting irritated with his dramatic displays. Then again, if someone had barged into his workplace demanding that someone “get help, my husband is dying!”, then started pacing around and obstructing said help-getting, he would probably grow irritated, as well.

He rubbed his fingers in slow circles around his own temples, trying to calm himself down. It wasn’t working. It had been a good forty minutes since he had set Loki’s limp body down on the cot they had indicated. Since then, they had closed the curtains around the bed, and cast the silencing spell around it for maximum privacy. Leaving Thor to sit and wait, with no idea what was happening.

His eyes kept following the healers as they walked to and from the curtained area. They kept fetching things. Towels. Clothes. Something that looked like bandage cloth. Heating pads. Water. Potions whose uses were unknown to him.

He didn’t know what to make of any of it, until Eir, the chief healer, emerged from the curtains. She had bloodstains on her hands, and was going to the water basin to wash them.

Thor saw his chance, and rose from his chair. Before he even made it halfway across the small waiting room to her side, she spoke. “My prince, I will tell you how your husband is faring, if you will calm yourself enough to listen.”

“And how should I do that?” he asked in a shaky voice. “How would you suggest I calm myself, when I know not whether I should prepare to welcome my husband home or begin planning his funeral?” He was starting to shout, he knew it, but he couldn’t stop himself. “After all this time, not one person has come to tell me how he is, so what am I supposed to-”

“Sit. Down.”

Eir didn’t often use that tone with him these days. But when she did, she became the stern maternal figure who had healed his scraped knees and runny noses as a young boy, and woe be to Thor if he disobeyed her.

So, he shut up, and sat down again.

She sighed at his look of dejection, and sat in the chair beside him. “I apologize for neglecting to keep you informed. We have been working hard at the task at hand, so that we might bring you good news.”

Thor nodded. His gaze strayed to a spot on Eir’s wrist, where blood had been but a moment ago. It made his stomach knot again. “Has he told you who…” He swallowed. “…who did this to him?”

She shook her head. “You have it wrong, my prince. I understand your confusion, from the amount of blood. But no one did this to him.”

Thor didn’t understand. “Are you saying…he did this to himself?”

“Not exactly. There is no external wound. He has not been attacked, Thor.”

“Then…why is he…?”

“He is menstruating.”

Thor blinked once. Twice.

Oh.

Oh.

“Oh.”

It took him a while to adjust to that new reality. He knew Loki had a womb, and that there was a reason Laufey had thought that womb could produce a child, but…Thor hadn’t even considered the idea that Loki would bleed every month the way a fertile woman would.

But, something still didn’t add up. “When I found him…” he told Eir, “…he was soaked in blood. Usually it isn’t…so much.”

Eir raised a single eyebrow at him. “And you are familiar with what is a usual amount in such domains?”

Thor felt his ears turn red, but only because Eir was like a second mother to him. His sexual exploits weren’t generally something discussed with someone occupying such a place in his life.

Yes, there had been a few dozen times that the woman he had tumbled into bed with had revealed she was in her cycle, and asked if it was alright with him. He never saw any reason why it wouldn’t be.

Yes, sometimes it made her body more sensitive, requiring him to be gentler. But he had been surprised to find how little her absorbent cloths actually needed to catch at one time. It only got messy once intercourse began, and they simply laid out towels before that started. No one got hurt or offended, and everyone walked away satisfied.

He only mumbled, “I have had…experiences…with women,” and let her fill in the blanks. He thought he caught a small smirk on her lips, but she made no further comment on the matter.

“At any rate, you are correct. This is far beyond a usual amount of menses. Such an amount usually indicates some illness of the female organs. That was why we spent so long examining him.”

That made Thor’s heart rate speed up. “And, does he? Have such an illness?”

She shook her head. But she didn’t say no.

She shifted in her chair, angling to face him more directly. “You see, a woman’s cycle is governed by her female hormones. They wax and wane, bringing bursts of fertility or menstruation. It can be more irregular when it first begins, but after a few years, most women’s cycles settle into a rhythm.

“But from what Prince Loki has revealed to me, his cycles have never regulated. And that is because…”

Thor understood where she was going with this. “Because he has male hormones as well.”

She nodded. “Just so. Hormones are a tricky business at the best of times. It’s anyone’s guess how Loki’s play off each other at any given moment, making his cycles all but impossible to predict.”

At that, Thor’s thoughts were pulled back to his imaginings of Loki’s childhood. How he could have lived in constant fear that he would bleed out on any given day, simply because his biology decided the time was right. Yet another unpredictability in his life, another reason to hate his own body.

“And,” he asked, “have his cycles always cost him this much blood?”

“He says as much,” said Eir. There was a heaviness in her voice, as if she were envisioning the same thing Thor was. “And that they were always this painful. I asked him how he was usually cared for in Jotunheim during these times, but he will not say.”

Thor let out a long, slow breath, trying to cool his anger at Laufey that had once again flared to life. “From what I know of his childhood,” he said, in too even a voice. “he most likely wasn’t given sufficient care.”

Eir sighed. “I feared that was the case. He was reluctant to speak to me about any of this. Children do not feel such deep shame about their bodies, unless adults in their life teach it to them.”

Which, Thor already knew, was the case with Loki.

“So,” he asked, “will he be alright?”

She smiled at him, though it was tinged with sadness. “Physically, yes. You were right to bring him here, with the amount of blood he has lost. But we have begun work to replenish it, and he will recover. Provided you follow my instructions.”

Thor nodded at once. “I will do anything required to ease his suffering in this.”

He then made mental notes of everything Eir told him. Loki would need to take potions for his pain every six hours, until his cycle completed. He would need to eat more, and more frequently, to replace the nutrients he lost from his blood. He would need heating pads kept on his stomach and back, which would need to be changed when they lost their potency. Most of all, he would need rest, until he regained his strength.

There was only one thing Eir listed that Thor felt he could not do: help Loki change his sanitary wrappings. But, he could help Loki to the bathing chambers if needed, so Loki could change them himself.

At such a mention, Eir’s expression grew even more concerned. “There is something else I wish to discuss with you, Thor. Upon my examination of him, I noticed he had…scarring.”

Shame crawled up Thor’s neck. He knew Loki had bled from that night, but to know that the effects still lingered…

“I asked him,” he managed to say, knowing it was a flimsy excuse. “I offered for a healer to see him that night. But he refused. Adamantly.”

“I do not mean to imply you neglected him,” said Eir. “It would be one thing to not offer him treatment, and another for him to refuse the offer. My treatment would have involved touching him, and if he did not want that, it was his choice to make. I only tell you because he may have decreased sensation in the scarred areas, making his pleasure more difficult to attain from intercourse alone.”

Thor almost let a harsh laugh escape his throat. He would never be in a position to give Loki such pleasures. If Loki ever did want that from someone, it would certainly never be with the man who had sexually violated him.

As those thoughts came across Thor’s mind, he noticed Eir looking at him with a softness that was usually out of place on her austere face. He couldn’t begin to wonder what she meant by it.

So, to change the subject from the effects of the wedding night, he asked, “May I see him?”

“I will ask him,” said Eir, and she rose to disappear into the curtains again.

It was not long before she reappeared and motioned Thor inside. Taking a deep breath, Thor summoned the courage he needed to give to Loki, and entered the space at Loki’s bedside.

Loki was curled up on his side in the small cot. He had been changed into the loose-fitting grey tunic and trousers Thor had seen a healer carrying. His face was still pinched in pain; Thor knew analgesic potions took some time to take effect, but that knowledge didn’t make it any easier to see Loki so obviously suffering.

And yet, even in his visceral pain, Loki still looked up at Thor in fear. Thor approached slowly, easing into the chair at the bedside.

A tear slid down Loki’s face, though it was clear it hadn’t been the first today. He looked so tired, so worn down by everything.

When Thor started to move, Loki flinched. It made Thor freeze for a moment.

Had Loki just thought he would strike him?

Thor had to consciously even out his breathing at that thought. As he did so, he continued reaching out. To prove Loki wrong.

He took Loki’s hand, holding it gently, just as he had several times before. Loki’s eyes flitted down to their joined hands, then back up to Thor. Another tear slipped out.

“I’m sorry,” Thor murmured, in as soothing a tone he could utter. “I’m sorry it hurts so much.”

Loki closed his eyes. A few quiet sobs escaped. Thor kept holding his hand, though his heart broke with each sound from Loki.

“You’re not…angry?”

Thor was dumbfounded at the question. “Of course I’m not,” he said. “There’s nothing to be angry about, not with you. None of this is your fault, Loki.”

Loki’s eyes still held a sheen of unshed tears as they opened to Thor again. He still looked so scared, and it seemed to still be directed at Thor. Thor didn’t understand why, until Loki spoke again.

“I’m not pregnant.”

The bottom fell out of Thor’s heart.

Shit, he was right. A womb would not bleed if there was a child inside.

Shit.

He realized too late he was squeezing Loki’s hand so tight it must hurt. He forced his hand to relax, but his heart was racing.

He looked to Eir, who was giving him a look of Don’t you dare.

“Eir…”

She shook her head slowly. “My prince, you cannot ask this of me.”

“If you tell him,” Thor said, not sure if he was warning or begging, “then we’ll have...we’ll have to-”

He couldn’t bear the thought that finished the sentence. Not that. Anything but that again.

“Thor, I have sworn an oath to my king that I would tell him if an heir was conceived. You would have me-”

“Yes, I would,” Thor said, standing up and moving between her and Loki. As if somehow that would protect his husband from this turn of events. “I will do anything else you ask, if you keep this from Odin. Please.

Eir crossed her arms. “You know I have a family, as well. You would have me risk my position, and my children’s welfare?”

Thor didn’t know what to say to that. He wanted to say yes, of course I would, or else my new family is in danger. But to say so would be the utmost sentiment of privilege and callousness, so the words died in his throat.

Loki gave a quiet sob behind him. It could have been from the pain, but Thor was willing to bet it was from this whole conversation.

Eir’s glance slid to Loki, lying prone and helpless on the cot. She had tended to him, and had seen the physical remnants of the first attempt at child-making. Thor prayed to the Norns that she wouldn’t instigate a second.

She heaved a deep sigh. “When the marriage was announced to the palace, I took a solemn vow to inform the Allfather of whether an heir was conceived. But…”

Thor held his breath.

“...I took no oath as to when I would tell him.”

Thor let out his exhale. A horrible weight was lifted from his shoulders. “Thank you,” he said. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.

“But you should know,” Eir said, cutting him off, “that I cannot keep my silence forever. Given enough time, the king will ask me directly. When he does, I will be bound by law to give him an honest answer.”

Thor nodded. That was a far-off day. He could plan for that eventuality. It was just so relieving that he did not have to deal with it at this moment.

“But I can give you this time,” said Eir, “however long it may be.” She looked over to Loki again, a small smile playing about her lips. Even in his pain, Loki nodded his thanks, though his eyelids were starting to droop.

“The pain relievers must be taking effect,” she said, in response to Thor’s questioning glance. “They are quite potent, so they will make him drowsy. For that reason, I want him off the sleeping potions. It is time he weaned himself off them anyway, lest he grow dependent on them.”

Thor gave a worried look to Loki. “I fear the reason he needed the potions has not faded,” he murmured.

Eir, surprisingly, touched Thor’s arm. “Such reasons do not fade by blocking them out of your life,” she said gently. “Only by facing them.”

Thor looked at her, and there was a knowing edge to her eyes that made him supremely uncomfortable. He had the feeling she wasn’t just referring to Loki’s reasons for not sleeping soundly.

She let go of his arm, and turned to exit the curtained area. “His anemia will be resolved soon. Once it is, he will be free to return to your chambers.” She turned back to Thor. “I trust you will continue to care for him?”

Thor nodded. It wasn’t even a question in his mind.

Satisfied, Eir took her leave, and Thor was alone with a Loki who was struggling to stay awake.

Thor was amazed at all the good news he had just heard. Loki was safe. He wasn’t injured. He was going to be alright. They had time to plan their next move before Odin found out about the lack of pregnancy.

But perhaps the biggest reason for him to smile was that Loki looked absolutely adorable as he tried not to let his eyelids droop.

Thor sat down in the chair again. In the haze that was taking over Loki’s eyes, he could still see a glimmer of concern.

“Oh, Loki,” Thor sighed, and before he could stop himself, his hand rose to stroke through Loki’s hair. It was mussed from the cot and all the commotion of today, and felt nothing like the normal silkiness Loki’s tresses usually presented with.

But Thor didn’t care. His fingers slowly carded through the dark strands, combing some of it out, before stroking along his scalp. Loki shifted slightly in his haze at that. Almost as if he were leaning into the gentle touch.

“You can sleep,” Thor soothed him. “No one will hurt you. I’ll keep you safe.”

His words seemed to work, as Loki let his head rest heavier on the pillow. But before his eyes closed, he moved his hand closer.

Thor took the hint, and moved his hand from Loki’s hair to the hand offered. He didn’t squeeze it, just held it firm and secure.

Loki’s eyes closed, and his breath fell into a quiet rhythm. He was asleep.

“I’ll take care of you,” Thor whispered, still holding Loki’s hand. “I promise.”

xxx

Thor ended up carrying Loki back to their chambers, just as he had carried him to the healers. The difference was that Loki didn’t put up any struggle, and slept easy in Thor’s arms, his head pillowed on Thor’s shoulder.

Something unexpectedly good came out of the whole affair: for Loki’s comfort, the healers had one of their cots moved to the study. While they were at it, Thor managed to convince Eir to have a second cot moved to the front room for himself. There would be no more sore backs for the married couple.

The next two weeks were spent doing what Thor had promised to do: taking care of Loki. He gave him the cushiest pillows and softest blankets he could find in the palace. He kept the water pitcher by his bed full. He took new poetry and adventure books from the library to keep by Loki’s bedside. He replaced his heating pads each day when they needed recharging. He carried him to the bathing chambers every few hours, waited outside the shut door while Loki attended to his hygiene needs, then carried him back to the bed.

He still attended council meetings and met with advisors when his father asked him to; not to do so would rouse Odin’s suspicions. But nearly every waking moment away from his public duties was spent at Loki’s bedside, attending to his needs and keeping him company.

Frigga came to visit them the second day; Thor returned to their chambers to find his mother sitting on Loki’s bed, his head resting in her lap as she stroked his hair and whispered soothing words to him. She caught Thor’s eye, and gave him a smile. Thor smiled back, and let them be. Loki needed to have his new mother to himself for a while.

Thor had confided in Sif and the Warriors Three the truth of Loki’s health, and they of course had sworn never to tell anyone. One time, he ran into them on the way back to his chambers, with three more books and a new blanket for Loki under his arm. Fandral took one look at him, raised his eyebrows, and said, “You know what, you’re right. You have no feelings for him whatsoever.”

“Shut up,” Thor muttered as he brushed past them. Their laughter followed him all the way down the corridor.

It wasn’t until nine days into his cycle that Loki started to come back to himself. The pain lessened, to the point that it was akin to normal menstrual cramps. He would still stop in the middle of speaking to bear through the pain, but it was far better than before.

For that reason, Eir instructed him to take smaller and smaller dosages of the analgesic potions. This made Loki less sleepy during the day, and able to start walking around for brief intervals. Thor was with him when he tried it, so he was able to catch Loki if his legs gave out from the pain. But it was progress.

It was after one such instance, on the twelfth day of Loki’s cycle, that Thor decided to bring up something that had been bothering him ever since that first day.

He helped Loki climb back into his cot, making sure he had plenty of blankets tucked around him. Loki took four or five pillows to prop himself up, so he could start reading again until he fell asleep. But before he took the nearest book he had been working on, Thor interrupted the silence.

“Loki, may I ask you something?”

Loki froze with his arm halfway to the book, and eventually lowered it. “Yes?”

Thor took a deep breath to prepare himself. He had to handle this delicately, or else Loki would get the wrong idea. He sat down in the chair he had stationed by the bed.

He paused for a few moments more, consolidating his thoughts. Loki waited with bated breath.

At last, Thor spoke. “I am not angry with you, Loki. This is not why I ask. I just want to know.”

A pause. Then, Loki squeaked out, “Know what?”

Another breath, to steel himself. Then, Thor finally asked, “Why did you hide that day? When you first started bleeding?”

Fear returned to Loki’s eyes, and he inched away from Thor. Dammit.

“I’m not angry with you,” Thor repeated, trying to convey his gentle intent with his tone. “I just...want to know. What caused your fear.”

Loki looked down to the bed. His breathing became much more audible in the silence between them. Thor waited, hoping he hadn’t pushed too far again.

“I thought…”

Thor latched all his focus onto Loki’s faint little words.

Loki sniffed. He was probably going to start crying soon. Shit, Thor really had pushed too far.

But Loki kept speaking. “...I thought you wouldn’t want to see. That...you wouldn’t want to know.”

“Of your bleeding?” Thor asked to clarify. When Loki nodded, Thor felt a stab of heartbreak.

“I don’t know,” Loki said, “if it is-” He cut himself off suddenly, and his face scrunched up again to focus on the pain. Another cramp.

Thor noticed Loki was holding his breath. “Breathe,” he murmured. And Loki did, long, labored breaths escaping his nose. His hands bunched in the blankets as he bore through it.

It was a good minute or two before the pain passed enough for Loki could continue speaking. “Forgive me,” he mumbled. Thor gave a flicker of a smile. They had been through this dance for twelve days, of Loki apologizing for his pain, and Thor reminding him that there was nothing to apologize for.

Loki started again. “I am not familiar with Asgardian customs in this domain, but...is it common for a husband to care for his wife, during her bleeding?”

Thor thought for a moment. He had no experience of marriage except this one with Loki. During hunts or times of war, he would hear his fellow warriors speak of their women at home, but very rarely would the talk turn to the topic.

“I do not believe it is a custom,” he said. “Each marriage is different, but most men shy away from the subject. Women usually care for their own needs during such times. But, from what I understand, most women’s cycles are not as debilitating as yours, so they have less need for such intensive care.”

He noticed Loki was looking at him with a surprising amount of warmth. “Are you telling me that, even as Asgardians go, I have been graced by the Norns with an exceptionally caring husband?”

Thor gave an incredulous laugh. “Loki, you were bleeding so much I thought someone had stabbed you. You nearly lost consciousness on the way to the healers. I acted only as any decent person would have. There’s nothing exceptional about my actions.”

Loki shook his head. “Thor, you are only proving my point.”

Thor gave a sheepish smile, not sure what else to say. His friends were right; he really was so far gone when it came to Loki. But at least Loki knew he cared about him, and that another part of himself was safe around Thor.

Loki sighed. “I should have known. After how you have treated me thus far, I should have known you would not attack or shame me for this. It was just…” His voice shrank once more. “...I woke in the middle of the night with my blood, and I...I panicked. I know I was wrong to do so, but on Jotunheim-”

He cut himself off. Thor thought it might be another cramp, but upon studying Loki, it was clear he had done so to ward off some memory.

Thor knew he had to tread carefully in this. “When Eir explained to me why you suffered, she mentioned that she asked you how you were cared for in Jotunheim. And that you gave no answer.”

Loki didn’t say anything. He was still too frozen in his fear. His arms drew closer to his chest, a smaller version of his usual self-soothing gesture of wrapping them around himself. His eyes looked so haunted.

Thor decided he shouldn’t push Loki any further. “You do not have to speak of it, if you do not wish to,” he murmured.

Still no reply from Loki. He stayed locked in the fear, breathing louder.

It was a long while before he closed his eyes, curled up tighter, and started speaking again. Thor recognized this voice as the one that sounded so much like a child. Perhaps the child still locked in Loki’s soul, begging for someone to comfort and protect him from his family’s mistreatment.

“When I would bleed in...in Jotunheim...I had to hide myself even more. If...if my father heard me crying...he would...throw me against the wall, to shut me up. So...I would…” He sniffed again. “...I would lie on the floor, in the corner, and wait it out.”

So many questions hit Thor all at once. He knew he wouldn’t get that image out of his head anytime soon, of Loki being thrown against a wall. But his first question out of the gate was, “Why the floor? Why not your bed?”

Loki shrugged. “My father would beat me if I ruined the sheets.”

Thor was sure his face was conveying all the horror he felt inside. How in anyone’s mind could bedsheets be of more value than their own son?

“And…” he stammered, trying to find some positive in the story, “...and no one came to comfort you? No one would help you?”

“Servants would still bring me my food,” Loki said, “but...it was often beyond my strength to reach the table. So…”

“So you spent days, on the floor, bleeding out, without eating?”

At Loki’s timid nod, Thor had to remind himself to stay in check. He didn’t want to radiate too much anger, as Loki was in such a vulnerable emotional state he might interpret himself as the target. But all Thor could think about was throwing Laufey against the wall, then stabbing him so he could bleed out for days with no one to help him. See how he liked it.

Loki then shrank further into himself. Thor felt something dark take over his husband, and his thoughts returned from his vengeful imaginings.

“I would…” Loki uttered, so quiet Thor could hardly hear him. “...I would...sometimes black out, until it was over. Those were the best cycles. I didn’t...have to feel the pain then. And…”

In barely a whisper into the room, “...sometimes I wished for death. So it could be over.”

Thor had to remind himself to breathe.

He noticed tears had been sliding down Loki’s face for a while now. He felt he might soon join him. Loki closed his eyes, sniffing again.

It struck Thor just how much strength it must have taken Loki to admit that. Not to mention how much trust it took between them, for Loki to feel safe enough to say it.

“I’m so sorry,” he said, and felt another pang of sorrow as he did. “I’m sorry you had to endure all of that. And that you were forced to feel the way you did. So I want to promise you something now.”

Loki looked up at him, his eyes still brimming with tears. Thor met his gaze, even though looking at that much pain scared him.

“I promise you, Loki, that you will never feel that way again. This is what your life is now. You will be cared for, and listened to. And when your cycles do come, for the rest of our days, I promise to pamper you within an inch of your life.”

He managed to evoke a small smile from Loki at that. He met it in equal measure.

Loki shook his head at him. “You don’t have to do all this for me, Thor.”

“I know I don’t have to,” Thor said. “I do this because I want to. Because you deserve it.”

Loki sighed. “You keep proving my point that you’re an exceptionally caring husband.”

Thor chuckled. “So what else can your exceptionally caring husband do for you tonight?”

Loki’s eyes slid down to himself, considering. “I think I need to change my wrappings,” he finally said.

Thor rose without another word, and helped Loki up. Loki now had enough strength that he didn’t need to be carried anymore, but he still needed to lean on Thor for assistance, his legs wobbling under him like a newborn foal’s.

As they walked through the bedchamber to get to their goal, it occurred to Thor just how similar this was to their wedding night. Loki had had to lean on him to walk to the bathing chambers that night, as he had been bleeding and in great pain from the same source.

But Thor continued on, knowing that this felt different. They weren’t clinging to each other in brimming horror now. This was an act of caring, carried out in trust and respect.

However, the knowledge of this difference made it impossible for Thor to ignore how good it felt to have Loki’s body leaning against his.

They made it, and Loki shut the door behind him. Thor waited patiently outside, though his thoughts soon turned to what Loki had just told him. How his adolescence was spent in dread and agony, directly tied to his maturing body. He couldn’t help but imagine a Loki in his sixth century, lying in the corner of his freezing room, his clothes soaked through with his own blood. How he would quietly whimper and sob, trying not to be too loud, lest his father barge in to beat him bloody. How he would feel his consciousness ebb as he found himself too weak to reach his dinner, wishing he would pass out and never wake up this time.

Thor did want to kill Laufey for it, but the rage didn’t dominate his current state. The grief did. He grieved the young boy Loki had been, the happy childhood and adolescence he had never had. For a moment, he felt crushed by the weight of it in his chest.

But then Loki opened the door again, leaning against the frame to support himself. For a moment Thor could only look at him. After all this man had been through, he was still here, and still able to trust. He craved affection with a near-physical thirst, and his eyes lit up like a child’s when it was given.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” Thor found himself saying. “In Asgard.” Dare he say it? “With me.”

Loki’s eyes shone at him. “So am I,” he said quietly.

Thor grinned like the fool he was, and helped Loki back to the bed.

Chapter Text

On the fourteenth day of Loki’s cycle, he had reported to Thor that his bleeding was slowing down, and it would probably be only a few more days until it resolved completely. He was walking around and generally acting his usual self, so Thor had agreed with him that he could go off the potions for pain entirely.

The night of the sixteenth day reminded Thor why that wasn’t all good news.

That night, he had yet another variation of his nightmares. He was wandering through the halls of the palace, wondering where Loki was. He kept calling out, but Loki never replied.

At last he entered their chambers, to find Loki curled up on the bed. His face was streaked with tears. When he saw Thor, a fresh sob shuddered out of him.

Thor was deathly calm in his approach, even as he felt himself get instantly hard at the sight of his husband on their bed. He stopped at the edge of the bed, staring down at Loki. Those green eyes were looking up at him with such dread.

“Come on, now,” Thor murmured. He reached to cup Loki’s jaw, neither gentle nor bruising in his grip. “You know what to do.”

Loki sniffed, and nodded. His hands shook as he reached to Thor’s trousers, and began to methodically unlace them. Thor stroked Loki’s hair as he worked, encouraging his actions.

After several minutes of this, Thor spoke again. “You’re taking too long.”

Loki looked back up. “Too long for what?”

Thor jerked his head to indicate the space beside the bed. “For their patience.” And suddenly, all the Aesir and Jotnar royal courts were there, in the same semicircle of chairs as the wedding night. Odin and Laufey were at the center, their faces impassive.

Byleistr lounged in his chair, snacking on blueberries. “C’mon, get on with the show!” he jeered.

Thor was growing impatient, too. With fluid movements he snatched Loki’s hands away from his crotch, threw Loki further up onto the bed, and grabbed the hem of Loki’s trousers. He had no finesse in mind as he ripped them downward, tearing the fabric as he did so.

Now Loki was crying in earnest. It made Thor pause in his efforts to free his own cock from his garments, and he reached to grab Loki’s chin again. This time the grip was harsher.

“You know why I have to do this?” he asked. Loki didn’t answer, so he increased the pressure, digging his fingers into Loki’s jaw until he gasped.

“Because-” Loki whimpered, “-b-because I did not…did not conceive last time-”

“That’s right,” Thor growled. “Because you couldn’t hold my seed.” As he spoke, he fumbled with his other hand, bringing out his cock and giving it a few strokes. “So now I have to give you more.”

He fucked into Loki, bottoming out in one motion. Loki screamed.

And Thor woke. Gasping, trembling, sweating. And still so hard it hurt.

The last several weeks of this nightly occurrence had taught Thor the best way to handle it. Rather than try and calm himself down first, it was easier to just get himself off, and then reorient himself with his current reality.

And since he knew he wouldn’t be able to control the subject of his fantasies, he had long since given up trying.

So, he freed his cock from his trousers, wrapped his hand around it, and tugged harshly. He let his breath grow even more ragged, as he imagined Loki’s lilting voice, his silken hair fanned around him. He imagined grasping at Loki’s sides, sucking bruises into his pale neck, his breathy sighs as he moaned Thor’s name…

It was a sharp pleasure when he came, like a fishhook pulling it out of his groin. He bit his lip to stifle his cry. It all felt so good.

Then he returned to himself, and felt the shame and terror of it all wash over him, worse with each gasping breath.

As he regained a normal rhythm of breathing, he put his softening cock back in his trousers, and turned on his side in the cot, gripping the mattress tightly. It was better than doing so with his hair, which would probably rip it out by the roots.

He knew his fantasies were becoming more and more like his nightmares. They had once just been filled with innocent images of Loki, of his bright green eyes and timid smiles. But they were tilting into darker territory, of bites and moans. It was only a matter of time before his actions in the nightmares ceased to repulse him.

But, he knew such thoughts couldn’t hurt Loki if they stayed locked in his head. So, he would do now as he had done for weeks: battle with the thoughts, shut them down one by one, until they could be sealed away by daybreak. Then he could function in daily life with Loki, at least until his ruminations broke free again the next night.

Such was married life.

But before he let his mind sink further downward into a shame spiral, something jarred him out of it. It was a quiet sound, but still enough to pierce the silence of the wee hours. It sounded like it should be familiar to Thor. Like a soft whimpering.

It was coming from the study.

Now Thor remembered when he had last heard that sound: in the several nights immediately following the wedding night. That was when Loki had been trapped in nightmares, but was so used to muffling his cries even while sleeping that he barely made a sound. It had been before he had accepted the offer of sleeping potions.

The sleeping potions he was no longer taking.

Thor made to get up before he realized he was moving, but once he did, he forced himself to stop. He had just gotten himself off to the same nightmare that Loki was most likely trapped in. What gave Thor the right to help Loki through this?

There was also the issue of what he could feasibly do. He could wake Loki up, but he was probably the last thing Loki would want to be greeted with after such a dream. He might even think he was still dreaming, and run away from Thor.

At this point, Thor didn’t know what was selfish and what wasn’t. Loki was suffering from his dreams, but waking him up might make it worse. He was motivated to help him, but also selfishly couldn’t stand to hear him crying like this. It reminded him too much of his own nightmares.

In the end, his desire to take action won out. He didn’t know whether he should justify it to himself, so he didn’t try.

The study door was ajar again. Thor felt terrible going in uninvited; even when Loki woke him in the night, asking for assistance in walking to the bathing chambers, it was always at Loki’s conscious request. Thor didn’t belong in here otherwise.

But then Loki gave another low cry, and Thor knew he had to walk in anyway.

Now that he was at the side of Loki’s cot, Thor noticed his head jerking slightly in his sleep. It looked almost like a flinch.

“Loki,” he urged. It did nothing.

“Loki,” he tried again, louder this time. “Wake up.” All he got for his efforts was another whimper from Loki’s throat.

Now that he was seeing the sound matched with Loki’s pained face, Thor grew desperate. Any previous inhibitions vanished from his thoughts.

He grabbed Loki’s shoulder and started shaking him. “Loki, Loki-”

If anything, Loki’s pleading whines grew louder at that. They were starting to become strangled yells.

“Loki, you’re dreaming, wake up!”

All at once, Loki’s eyes flew open, and as he did, he screamed. As loud as his wail from the bathing chambers had been on their wedding night.

It startled Thor, made him let go of Loki’s shoulder as he took a step back. As he did so, Loki jumped back as well, and cowered on the far side of the cot.

They stayed at an impasse for perhaps ten seconds, Loki panting, shaking, staring with wide eyes in absolute terror at Thor. It made Thor think of a mouse caught in a cat’s gaze.

Such a comparison made his heart ache.

With Loki so obviously frozen in fear, Thor understood instinctively that it was his job to shift the situation. Slowly, ever so slowly, he raised his hands to show Loki where they were. He crept minutely backward, indicating he wasn’t about to launch an attack.

It brought the mouse out of its hypnosis, and activated the basest survival instinct to flee to safety. Which, in Loki’s present circumstances, meant the bathing chambers.

Thor watched him leap off the bed and sprint, letting him slam the bathing chambers’ door behind him. It sounded like a resounding defeat.

xxx

After all that, Thor couldn’t go back to sleep. He sat on the couch in the front room, so Loki could feel free to return to his own cot without interacting with Thor any further tonight.

But nearly half an hour later, Loki still hadn’t emerged from the bathing chambers.

For the second time tonight, Thor decided to get up and act. He at least wanted to know if Loki was alright.

The bathing chambers’ door was stark and imposing in the darkness. Thor had to take a deep breath before he knocked on it.

“Loki? I…you do not have to open the door, I…I just want to know if…if you’re alright.”

He waited. For a while, there was nothing.

Then the door opened halfway, and there stood Loki, holding one of the chambers’ candles. The light flickered off his face, a dance of brightness and shadows. Thor felt his breath catch again.

Loki’s lip was quivering, and tearstains were still visible on his cheeks. “I’m sorry I woke you,” he said, in hardly above a whisper.

“No, you didn’t wake me,” Thor reassured him. “I had just-”

He cut himself off just in time. In all the commotion of the last thirty minutes, he’d forgotten just what had woken him up. And what he had done just after waking. Better to not let Loki know about any of that.

So when he spoke again, he just left it at, “I had already woken when I heard you.”

It didn’t appear to make Loki any less remorseful. “I’ve burdened you quite enough tonight,” he murmured, and made to walk past Thor.

Oh, Norns. Thor couldn’t let him go if that was what he thought.

But he made a point of letting Loki walk past him before he tried anything. Whatever his intention, he knew it would ruin any trust they had if he physically restrained Loki. Instead, he tried to stop him with words.

“Loki.”

It was as gentle as he could manage. And it worked. Loki stopped halfway through the bedchamber, and turned to look at him. He still looked so afraid, whether from his nightmare or from what he thought Thor might say next. Perhaps both.

Thor cleared his throat, trying not to sound too nervous about possibly fucking this up. “Would you like to sit with me?”

Loki exhaled. “I wouldn’t want to impose-”

“If it were an imposition, I wouldn’t have offered.” Thor started crossing the room after him, making sure to do it slowly – Loki clearly wasn’t too calm yet. “And it is an offer, not a command.”

He stopped a few feet from Loki, still giving him his space. From this distance, he could see in Loki’s eyes, past the fear, a distant pleading. A yearning for this offer of comfort.

But there was still fear, and Thor wasn’t sure which was stronger. It was up to Loki now.

Eventually, Loki nodded, letting the yearning take over his face. Thor met his expression with warmth, and led them both to the couch in the front room.

Loki sat stick-straight. His breath sounded in the otherwise quiet room.

Thor wasn’t sure what to start with. To ask Are you alright? was pointless; it was clear Loki was still on edge and fighting his nightmares’ afterimages. So instead, he said, “I suppose with the lack of potions for sleep or pain, we should have seen this coming.”

Loki nodded. But beyond that, nothing. He was still drawn taut as a bowstring.

Thor sighed. He decided to just go for his most pressing concern. “Was I wrong to wake you?”

Loki turned to him, confusion now knitted into his features. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, would it have been better if I let you sleep, and let the nightmare subside on its own?”

Loki looked down, slowly shook his head. “They never subside on their own. I…” His voice grew softer. “…I have never had someone else help me wake from them.”

Thor understood the truth hidden in that statement, that if he had been woken from nightmares before, it wasn’t considered help. He remembered Loki’s words from several days ago: If my father heard me crying, he would throw me against the wall to shut me up.

Perhaps that was why Loki often cried so quietly, even in his sleep.

“So…” Thor said, trying to push past the knotting in his stomach at that realization, “…would it help you if…if I’m awake in the night and I hear you…if I wake you from it again?”

In a gesture so quick it looked nearly automatic, Loki shook his head. “I wouldn’t presume to burden you with such a task, Thor…”

“Loki.”

Loki looked back up at him, shocked by the sudden firmness in his tone.

But while Thor knew he had to be gentle with Loki, he also knew he couldn’t do the same with Loki’s thoughts. Not the self-belittling ones, anyway.

“Such a task is not a burden to me,” Thor said. “You are not a burden to me. You never have been. The only burden here is your pain, and it burdens you. And I would help ease that from you in any way I can. If waking you from your nightmares helps you, I am glad to do it.”

Loki didn’t immediately reply to that. Thor let him sit with it for a moment before he returned to full gentleness, asking, “So would it help you?”

Loki bit his lip, and nodded.

Thor smiled. “Then I will.”

“Only if you are awake,” Loki said firmly. “Don’t prevent yourself from sleeping on my account.”

Thor agreed. He knew he would probably be awake anyway.

Loki gave a deep sigh. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I know it must not be easy. Being married to me.”

That hurt Thor the deepest. Because he couldn’t bring himself to give a flippant lie. “No,” he murmured. “It’s not easy. But that’s not your fault. It’s the fault of everyone who’s hurt you.”

Including me.

xxx

Loki sat by Thor’s side for a while after that, neither one saying anything. Eventually, Loki felt calm enough to sleep. And so did Thor.

Of course, he still dreamt of hurting Loki again. And then chased his pleasure after he woke. Thank the Norns he made it to the bathing chambers first that morning, so he could wash away all trace of either activity by the time he saw Loki again.

It so happened that Loki entered the front room as the usual servant boy was setting down their breakfast trays. The boy looked at the Jotun prince, and immediately averted his gaze. Thor wasn’t sure if it was in respect, revulsion, or fear.

“M-my prince,” he mumbled at the floor, and scurried out the door.

Loki’s eyes lingered at the door as he sat down. Thor took note. “I’m sure he doesn’t mean any harm,” he said.

“I don’t see how you can be sure,” Loki murmured.

“Some of the servants are more timid of the royal family than others,” said Thor. “Especially the younger ones. And we are both quite tall.”

Loki paused. Looked at him. Appeared absolutely bewildered.

Thor wasn’t sure why. And then Loki gave a single scoff and said, “Oh.”

“What is it?”

Loki looked sheepish. “This is the first time in my life I’ve been considered ‘tall’.”

Thor laughed. An unusually small Frost Giant his husband may be, but Thor was grateful for the height that he was. If Loki was shorter than Thor himself, it was by scarcely an inch, if that.

Which made his eyes that much easier to stare into. And potentially made his lips much more accessible.

“Anyway,” Loki said, bringing Thor back from his fantasies, “I did want him to leave. I wanted to tell you that…my bleeding has resolved. Completely.”

Thor nodded. “I see.”

They ate in silence for another minute before Loki broke it again. “I thought you would be more pleased at the news.”

Thor swallowed a bite of bread nervously. “I am pleased, that you’re not in such pain any longer. I just didn’t want to imply that it’s a bad thing when you bleed, when it’s just part of your biology.”

He noticed tension build in his husband’s shoulders. Fuck. Had he said something wrong?

“It is a bad thing,” Loki uttered. “It means I’m not carrying your child.”

Thor felt his face fall at the reminder.

It was still in the room for a moment more, before Loki spoke again. “We can’t hide it forever, Thor. What will we do, when your father asks?”

“We’ll think of something,” Thor said. What they could think of, he had no idea. But there had to be another option beyond what now lay heavy on both their minds. “My father won’t even ask about it for several months at least.”

“He told us,” Loki said, his voice starting to shake, “to produce an heir within a year-”

“No,” said Thor, “he told us to conceive an heir, not produce one. And you wouldn’t know of any conception for several weeks after the fact. That gives us plenty of time-”

“But what will we do when-”

“I don’t know.”

He hadn’t meant to shout it. But thinking about this was stirring just as much panic in him as it probably was in Loki. At least, if Loki’s terrified expression was anything to go by.

They just looked at each other for a while, Thor’s heart jolting in his chest. He knew they were fucked. They were both fucked. Literally.

Loki was the first to break the eye contact. “We’ll have to do it again,” he murmured.

“No,” said Thor. Under his breath. Hoarsely. Pleading. “I won’t. I won’t put you through that again.” His eyes closed. Even quieter: “I can’t.”

It was then that another servant boy took the opportunity to enter their chambers. He looked taken aback by the state of the two princes, but still had the wherewithal to deliver his message: “The Allfather requests your presence for the arrival of the ambassador of Alfheim, Prince Thor.”

Thor bowed his head, let out a long, long breath. “Thank you for the message,” he finally managed to say. The boy bowed, and left.

Thor could feel Loki looking at him. But he kept staring down at the floor. Trying to ward off his current reality.

What shocked him back to reality was the sudden heat of Loki’s hand on his shoulder. “Best not keep your father waiting,” he said softly.

Thor took in a breath, and let it out, acutely aware of how Loki’s hand rose and fell as his shoulder moved with his sigh. After a few more breaths, he reached to take Loki’s hand in his own, squeezing it in wordless thanks.

Loki squeezed back, just as tightly.

xxx

They walked to Frigga’s gardens together, just as before. She waited for them as always, and embraced them each in turn, as warm as ever.

After Loki’s turn, she took his face in both her hands. “How are you feeling?”

He nodded. “Much better. It has resolved completely.”

She beamed wider. “You certainly look back to your usual self. I take it you are feeling up to more lessons today?”

This time Loki’s nod was much more vigorous. “Absolutely. I have been out of practice for sixteen days. I tried to read more about the elementary light tricks when I could, but I had no strength to attempt them.”

“Then we shall attempt them today,” she said. The gaze shared between her and her son-in-law was not lost on Thor. It was clear she loved Loki as her own, and that he was so grateful to have that love. The reminder of this new bond brought such lightness to Thor’s whole being.

Loki looked to Thor then, still with the affection for Frigga lingering in his eyes, and Thor was suddenly overcome with the longing for Loki to always look at him like that.

So much so, that it took him a moment to comprehend Loki’s words: “Will you be at the training yards after the ambassador's visit?”

Thor nodded. “Yes, I intend to be. If you are finished with your lessons here and I am still occupied, you can wait for me there. Sif and the others should be there while you wait.”

“I must warn you,” Frigga said to him, “your father is in a foul mood this morning. For your sake, I beg you not to provoke him today.”

Any other day, Thor would have acted innocent, saying something like Provoke my father? Who, me? But after his conversation with Loki this morning, he couldn’t make light of the situation.

“I won’t,” he said. He met Loki’s gaze. “I now have a very good reason not to attract his attention.”

xxx

Frigga had been right: Odin was in a frightful mood today. Thor remembered being terrified of his father as a small boy, but as he had grown he had started rising to the old man’s temper, meeting him blow for blow. Now the challenge was not to take the bait of his father’s attacks, rather than to avoid flinching from them.

But today, Odin’s target of choice was the visiting ambassador from Alfheim, as the trade disputes still hadn’t been resolved. The Light Elf may have been a proud man when he entered the throne room, but by the time he left he was a cowering little mess at the Allfather’s feet. He probably wished he had been assigned as ambassador to any realm other than Asgard.

It was getting past midday and into the afternoon by the time Thor could leave. By that time, he was mentally exhausted from biting back every stinging retort he had come up with in response to his father’s ravings. He just wanted to go to the training yards, shut his brain off, and beat his friends into the dirt. Most of all, he wanted to see Loki’s face again.

He was so single-minded in his path through the open-air corridors that he ran straight into a young woman rounding the corner.

“Forgive me, my lady,” he muttered.

“No, forgive me, my prince,” she stammered, “I was in too much of a hurry, I’m…” She was panting, verifying her previous hurry. It also looked like she was about to start crying. “…I’m late for my lessons, I’ve never been in this part of the palace before, so I-”

“Easy, calm down,” Thor said, taking her arm to try and steady her. Now that he got a better look at her, she looked so young, perhaps in her eighth century. A woman grown, but only just. “Where are you headed?”

“I…” She took a few more deep breaths, trying to compose herself. “I’m beginning studies with Lord Wolden at the palace library. I was supposed to be there at midday, but…I think I’m completely lost.”

Her eyes began to silently plead with him then, and he realized what she was asking. He was in a hurry to meet Loki, but he also felt terrible about the idea of leaving this poor girl here.

It wouldn’t take long.

“Here,” he said, “the library isn’t far. Let me show you.”

Gratitude lit up her face. “Oh, thank you, my prince! That would be so kind of you.”

As decorum dictated, he offered his arm, which she duly took. The whole way there, she alternated between nervously looking at him and babbling about her parents’ insistence on having Lord Wolden as her tutor. Thor caught the mention of her father’s name – Bjorin – and recognized him as a prominent nobleman who owned land southwest of the city.

But he found it hard to focus on her talk, as he was mostly focused on getting to the library as soon as possible so he could return to Loki. Still, he was polite, feigning interest as best he could.

“I’m so grateful for your assistance,” she said, as they reached the library doors. “I would have never made it without your help.”

“Of course, Lady…” Thor trailed off. He hoped she hadn’t mentioned her name before this, because he hadn’t caught it.

But it appeared she hadn’t. “Sigyn,” she said. “Bjorinsdottir.”

There was an awkward pause. Perhaps she was expecting him to say something further? Whatever it was she was waiting for, she quickly remembered herself, even if she still looked flustered as she curtsied. “Good day, my prince,” she said quickly.

He inclined his head. “Good day, Lady Sigyn.” And, feeling his part was satisfied, he turned on his heel to leave.

xxx

By the time he made it to the training grounds, Thor was back to his troubled mood. Lady Sigyn was long gone from his thoughts; his father took her place in his mind.

Every time he tried to think up some scheme to deceive his father about the lack of pregnancy, he came up with a fatal flaw in the plan.

He could have his mother create a glamour around Loki, an illusion of pregnancy. But eventually they’d have no baby to show for it.

He could find a child in the realm to present as theirs, but that had several problems. For one, as there were next to no orphan children not being cared for by an able adoptive parent in Asgard, he would have to steal a child from a loving family. Also, he wasn’t sure if the child would grow to resemble either himself or Loki as he or she grew, let alone what a half-Aesir and half-Jotun child would realistically look like. Such things could be glamoured by Frigga as well, but there was always a risk it would be found out.

Besides, Heimdall would see past the illusion. He would see the child’s origins. And like Eir, he would be bound by oath to tell Odin the truth if so commanded. It was too risky, both to Loki and to the pretend heir, to attempt it.

It seemed there were only two realistic options. Either Thor would have to impregnate Loki. Or Odin would have to be convinced it wasn’t necessary. The latter was impossible, and the former would probably destroy both Thor and Loki’s sanity. Thor grew tense just thinking about it.

All the more reason to work out that tension with some sparring.

But as he approached the usual sparring ring, he noticed who was taking their turn in the dirt. It took his breath away.

It was Volstagg…and Loki.

Neither held any weapons, both fighting with bare hands. But it wasn’t even fighting, really. Volstagg was explaining to Loki what proper blocks were. Then, Loki practiced using them to defend against Volstagg’s advances.

Loki was learning to fight.

As he walked, Thor recalled Volstagg’s previous offer to teach Loki, and Loki’s reason for declining was that he might be with child. Well, now that he knew he wasn’t, it made sense that he would seek the warrior out to begin training.

Fandral, Sif, and Hogun were at the railings, yelling out suggestions for things Loki could try. They cheered him on when he succeeded, and encouraged him to try again when he stumbled.

Thor could only watch, his mouth dry. He made it to the railings several yards away from the other three spectators, but none of them noticed his approach. He didn’t advertise his presence. He leaned on the railings, and watched his husband in silence, filled with more and more awe at him with each passing moment.

After about fifteen minutes, Loki was looking winded. Volstagg noticed. “We can take a break,” he offered.

Loki shook his head, panting. “I’m fine,” he said. “I want to try it again.”

Volstagg nodded. “Remember, watch your feet, my friend. Let your stance give you strength.”

They started again, Volstagg swinging his fist while Loki blocked each assault with his vambraces. Vambraces that looked to Thor like he must have borrowed them from Fandral. For a good ten seconds, he was doing rather well.

Then a particularly hard swing from Volstagg threw him back with more force, and made him stumble. His legs' stance was narrowed to compensate.

Volstagg took the opportunity, and threw him into the dirt with the next swing. Loki sprawled on his back, winded.

Volstagg helped him up. “Remember about how you fall,” he said. “Roll with it, keep your middle guarded. Would you like a break now?”

Loki shook his head. “Again.”

Volstagg smiled. “As you wish.”

And so it went, for many more rounds. Loki would do well for a few seconds, then get caught up on something. Things that were by now so deeply ingrained in Thor’s muscle memory they seemed hardwired into his cells. Moving with the opponent’s momentum, rather than resisting it. Keeping the muscles loose, rather than tensing too much. Keeping a wide stance, for better balance and power.

Over and over, Loki would get sent to the dirt. And over and over, Loki would grunt out, “Again.”

He had the determination for it. He just had none of the other physical traits that would make him a competent fighter.

After thirty-something more rounds, Volstagg insisted they take a break. Loki was getting flushed and unable to catch his breath between rounds. He might keel over from the exertion if he pushed himself any further.

When Loki at last relented with a breathless nod, Volstagg clapped his shoulder. “You’re doing marvelous, my friend. Really.”

“Please don’t patronize me,” Loki mumbled. “I’m shit at this, and you know it.”

“Loki,” said Sif, walking up to him, “I think you’re making the mistake of comparing yourself to us. We’ve all been doing this for nine hundred years. You’ve been doing this for all of two hours.” She gripped his bicep, a smile on her face. “That’s why we’re the ones teaching you, not the other way around. With consistent training, you’ll get better.”

Loki still looked dejected, and then his eyes locked with Thor’s. If possible, he flushed even further, to know that Thor had been watching him fail time after time.

But Thor had a wide smile frozen on his face, and there was hardly anything that could wipe it off. He leapt easily over the railing, and approached his dirt-smeared husband.

“Thor!” Volstagg exclaimed upon his approach. “I didn’t see you there!”

“I’ve been watching for some time,” Thor said. He swore Volstagg and Sif exchanged a knowing glance with one another, probably imagining Thor enraptured at the sight of Loki in the ring, drooling like a lovesick puppy.

Which wasn’t that far from the truth, but Thor wasn’t about to give them the satisfaction of admitting that.

Instead, he ignored them in favor of Loki, who looked so shy about meeting his gaze. Perhaps he was being a little too exuberant. He did his best to tone down his outward happiness at seeing Loki, which meant he failed utterly. “Are you alright?” he ended up asking.

Loki nodded, still so shy. It was then that Hogun and Fandral made their way over to the other four.

“Here,” said Hogun, offering the waterskin to Loki. Loki thanked him, and drank heartily. “We should eat.”

xxx

Thor ended up not sparring at all that day. After they’d refreshed themselves with a light snack, Loki continued his training with Volstagg. It went just about as well as the first few minutes Thor had seen. So far, Loki was horrible at fighting.

As they walked back to their chambers at dusk, Thor did his best to reassure him. “You haven’t had the time to develop the muscle memory that we have. Starting anything as a child makes it easier than learning it as an adult.”

“So I won’t ever be as good as all of you?” Loki asked. He sounded so disheartened.

Thor shrugged. “Perhaps not. But you do have your sorcery. Combined with practical combat techniques, you could at least become competent.”

Loki mulled over that possibility in silence for a while. As they made it to their chambers’ doors, he said, “I suppose that’s what I want. To be competent enough to defend myself, if I have to.”

Privately, Thor knew that wasn’t as necessary in his mind as it was in Loki’s. If Loki needed defending, Thor could be the one to protect him, and would do so to his dying breath.

“You know the chances of you needing to defend yourself are next to none,” he said.

Loki closed the doors behind them, safely in their chambers again. “I don’t know that for sure,” he said quietly.

He let that sentence hang in the air, then spoke again before Thor could interject. “I spoke with Frigga,” he said, “about what we might do. About the pregnancy.”

Thor gave him his full attention then. He prayed that his mother had found an answer.

But Loki’s face was grave. “She's still working on Odin, but she doesn’t think there’s an alternative solution. We just have to bide our time, and defend ourselves if the time comes.”

“I arrived at the same conclusion,” Thor said. “Every plan I came up with carried too much risk.”

At Loki’s crumpling face, he braved contact again, and put a hand on the side of Loki’s neck, a gesture of affection that could almost be termed brotherly. “But I swear to you, Loki,” he said solemnly, though he couldn’t keep the undercurrent of desperation out of his voice, “that I will never-”

“You’ll never rape me again?”

The question could have been sharp and biting in its context, but from Loki’s voice it carried nothing but sadness. Thor was so taken aback by it that he couldn’t continue with any speech he had planned. He just nodded, and said, “I won’t. They can’t make me.”

Loki smiled at that, but it was still so sorrowful. He took Thor’s hand, removing it from his neck. “They already forced you into it once,” he said.

He stepped away from Thor, holding his gaze until he made it to the threshold of the bedchamber. Then, he turned to walk the rest of the way to the bathing chambers, to wash away the sweat and grime from the training ring.

Thor sat in the front room for a long time after that, even long after Loki had returned to the study for sleep. Over and over, he thought on what Loki had said. And he couldn’t come to any other conclusion than this: Loki was wrong.

No one had physically forced him to rape Loki that night. He had made the decision to go along with it, and be complicit in Loki’s humiliation. It was his fault, even more than Odin’s or Laufey’s. No matter what they could have shouted at him or threatened him with, he could have just said no.

But he could make a different choice this time. He could say no. And maybe that would inch him closer to the redemption he could never deserve, but craved all the same.

Chapter Text

The next several days returned to their routine established before Loki had started bleeding. He resumed his lessons in magic, went riding on Thialfi again, and visited the library once more. The only outward difference was that, instead of watching Thor and his friends spar, he would participate, continuing his combat lessons with Volstagg and the others.

Thor would ride with him. He would watch him learn to fight. He walked the palace with him, escorting him to the library or Frigga’s gardens. He went alone to council meetings or public sessions of the royal court. On the surface, the days seemed normal.

The nights, on the other hand, were agony.

Thor’s nightmares only worsened, as the thought of repeating the wedding night weighed heavily on his mind. In his dreams, he would torture Loki in all kinds of ways, burning or cutting him, breaking his bones or yanking out his teeth. And always, he would rape him, delighting in Loki’s screams.

He would get himself off as soon as he woke, to prevent himself from thinking too much about it. Then, the horror and shame would consume him, and he wouldn’t sleep the rest of the night.

What added to his sleeplessness was Loki himself. As Thor would wipe his own spend onto the sheets, he would hear Loki’s whimpers. Just as he’d promised, he would pad into Loki’s room, and gently wake him up.

Sometimes Loki would follow him into the front room, sitting with him on the couch for several minutes before he went back to bed. Only once did Thor make the mistake of asking him, “Are your nightmares about me?”

Loki stayed in silence for a long time before he gave his answer. “Sometimes. You either fuck me again, or they kill you and send me back to my father.”

Thor didn’t know which was worse for Loki. He didn’t have the courage to ask.

More and more often, Thor would have thoughts of staying away from Loki. He knew Loki still equated his presence with safety. He also knew his presence was anything but.

On their wedding night, Thor hadn’t wanted to hurt Loki. He’d dealt with the consummation by pretending he wasn’t there, by fantasizing of his previous bed partners. A mental task he now found impossible.

If he were asked to rape Loki again, if there were no other way to escape another witnessed bedding, Thor would have to keep his mind in the present. And he was terrified of that prospect.

He was terrified that he might enjoy it. Terrified that, despite Loki’s cries of pain or obvious lack of arousal, Thor would enjoy fucking him. He would take pleasure from Loki’s pain. And Loki would know just what a monster his husband was. It would destroy Loki.

Thor couldn’t bear that idea. He did his best to bury it within his subconscious each night, but with the ticking time bomb of Odin’s discovering the lack of conception, the notion surfaced easier and easier with each passing day.

He’d started watching his words even more carefully around Loki, which meant he was speaking less. He’d ceased all physical contact with him, as well; holding his hand or touching his shoulder might seem innocent, but it belied the dark undercurrent of his desire, so Thor couldn’t bring himself to do it. His nightmares showed how easily such touches could slip into holding Loki down, running his tongue all over Loki’s skin while his husband squirmed and flinched from it.

Five days since Loki had begun combat training, Thor was exhausted. Mentally, physically, all the way to his soul. He wasn’t usually aware of his seidr, but he certainly noticed its absence now. He wasn’t strong enough now to conjure a small breeze, let alone his usual storms.

As he walked to the bathing chambers, he found his chest didn’t tighten as he passed the bed. It took him a moment to realize why: his chest had been tight for the last three days. Constantly. It made it difficult to draw breath.

Loki met him in the front room for breakfast. He looked tired, as he was probably awake from his nightmares long after he said goodnight to Thor. But Thor kept noticing Loki sneaking side glances at him. Maybe Thor looked even worse.

Then the servant boy entered, summoning Thor to a session of open court. The perfect addition to complete his shit morning.

After breakfast, he stood, running a hand through his hair to make himself at least somewhat presentable. “Would you like to do something after I return?” he asked Loki.

Loki’s eyes followed his every move. “I would like that. Perhaps not riding today. Maybe just something in the palace.”

Thor met his eyes then. Loki looked so concerned. He’d probably just said that because he didn’t think Thor could handle something more strenuous today.

But Thor couldn’t protest. He didn’t think he could handle it, either.

“Until I return,” he said, and retreated out the chambers’ doors, away from Loki’s worried stare.

xxx

While council meetings were held in private, court was a public affair. Noble lords and ladies, as well as common folk, were all invited to attend, as the Allfather heard petitioners asking for favors or judgment.

Thor didn’t always have to attend these, as he didn’t really have any part to play. Any official councilor could ask clarifying questions of the supplicants, but it was the king who ran the proceedings, and whose word was final. No, Thor’s role in these affairs was that of an apprentice. He was to watch, and listen, and learn how to practically rule his people when his time came.

Of course, today that wasn’t possible. His father was much more agreeable with his own people than with foreign leaders and diplomats, so it wasn’t that. It was that Thor was having to focus so much on getting enough air into his lungs. He couldn’t hold onto a single word anyone said the whole morning.

Fortunately, no one paid any mind. By the time the last citizen’s matter was decided by the Allfather, the sun was at its zenith. Thor started quickly heading toward the doors of the throne room. If he lingered too long, courtiers and citizens would stop to ask his favor, wondering if he could mention this or that to his father. As if he were currently on speaking terms with his father beyond anything obligatory.

“Prince Thor!”

Dammit.

He turned round, only to see that young woman he’d helped to the library several days ago. Sigyn, right? Yes, that was her name. The braids in her dark blond hair bounced as she ran toward him, making her look even younger than she was.

She smiled breathlessly as she made it to his side. He wasn’t sure if he succeeded in returning it. “My prince, I…oh, right…” She quickly curtsied. “My prince, I just wanted to thank you again for your help last week. I’m truly in your debt.”

He inclined his head in response. Tried to breathe. Failed a few times before he succeeded.

“Really,” she continued, still with a winsome smile, “if there is anything I can do to repay your kindness, do not hesitate to ask.”

“It was nothing, my lady,” he said. “You need not repay it.”

“But I insist!” she said, walking closer into his space. He tensed. She seemed to notice the effect of her actions, and stepped back quickly. “I just…” She looked around nervously. “I am new to court life, and may not know all the customs. But I only wish to do my duty to my crown prince.”

Well, he should probably ease the poor girl’s worries as best he could. “You are kind to offer,” he said. “I will remember it.”

Her face lit up again, even brighter than before. “I am at your service, Your Highness.” Then she just stood there, looking at him expectantly. Norns, did she think he needed something now?

“Um…” he said, “…it is midday. Do you not have your lessons with Lord Wolden?”

“Oh, of course!” she exclaimed. “It must have slipped my mind. Forgive me.” She curtsied again, and with a “Good day, my prince,” she took her leave.

Thor suddenly became aware of Lord Tyr at his shoulder. He got the feeling the general had been watching the whole exchange.

Tyr watched Sigyn leave, then gave a “Hm.”

“What?” Thor asked.

“Nothing,” said Tyr. “Just that…you are being a bit obvious.”

“Obvious about what?”

“Not that you have been particularly subtle in the past, but…you are married now. Just be careful, is all.”

Oh. Now Thor realized what Tyr was implying. He fixed the man with a disbelieving stare. “You think…me and her-”

“It’s not unheard of,” Tyr said, though there was kindness in his voice. “Your father may not be too pleased that you have continued with your usual ways, but she is a nobleman’s daughter. And quite pretty, at that.”

“You have it wrong,” Thor protested. “This was the second time I met her. Both instances were in public. To be honest, the thought never entered my head.”

Tyr arched a single eyebrow. He gave another “Hm.”

Thor rolled his eyes. “Please just speak your mind, Lord Tyr.”

“I was just thinking,” Tyr chuckled, “that if the thought truly never entered your head…marriage has truly changed you. In ways I had not thought possible for Thor Odinson, Crown Prince of the Realm.”

“And why wouldn’t my marriage change me, considering how it began,” Thor spat. He didn’t wait for Tyr’s reaction, simply prowled toward the golden doors, away from prying eyes.

xxx

As Thor navigated the maze of hallways that led toward his bedchambers, he couldn’t get Tyr’s words out of his head. And once he had distance from the throne room, he found he couldn’t even be too upset with the old warrior.

Tyr’s assumption was incorrect this time, but it did have basis in some truth. Up until his wedding day, he had been rather well-known for dangling one young lady on his arm while ogling another across the room. Even during the war in Jotunheim, he’d ended up causing trouble by encouraging several young soldiers to fight each other for a night in his tent. Tyr had personally had to sort out several such quarrels in their ranks during the campaign. He knew what Thor was about, how he would bask in the adoration his looks and status earned him.

And in the two months since the wedding, he had gone from…well, that; to hardly registering rather obvious advances from a lovely, naïve young lady. It startled him to note this change in himself. Thinking back, he was struggling to even remember what Lady Sigyn looked like.

Loki, on the other hand, was crystal clear. Down to the shape of his ears, the sharp line of his jaw. His tearstains. His screaming. How he had bled-

Thor shot out his hand to brace himself before his knees gave out. His hand scrabbled on the wall, before he caught a column he could lean against. It probably saved him from cracking his head open on the tiles.

Dots swam before his eyes, as he tried to draw in breath. His lungs refused to fill. There was some invisible weight on his chest, crushing all the air out of him.

He didn’t know how long he stood there until it passed. When he finally got some breath in him, he spent several long minutes gasping at the side of the corridor.

When he felt clear enough to stand unassisted, he noticed the column had cracked, the breaks spidering out from where he’d gripped it.

He tried walking. He stumbled a bit before he found a pace slow enough to keep him steady, and ambled the rest of the way to his chambers. Thank the Norns no one had seen.

Loki was reading in the front room when he returned. He looked up at Thor with a slight smile on his face, but it fell away the moment he saw him properly.

“Are you alright?” Loki asked, leaping up from the couch to make his way over to him.

“Fine,” Thor mumbled. He went straight past Loki to the couch, trying to look like he was slumping down with his usual relief at finishing the day’s royal duties. Instead of focusing on not passing out.

Loki didn’t look convinced. “Can…can I get you anything? I could send for some food, or water-”

“I’m fine, Loki.”

“You just look so pale-”

“I SAID I’M FINE!”

He regretted it as soon as the words left his mouth.

Loki visibly flinched. His eyes immediately filled with tears. He opened and closed his mouth several times; about to say something, then thinking better of it.

“Loki,” Thor sighed, and tried to get up to comfort his husband and apologize. But he was still too lightheaded to stand so suddenly, and had to immediately sit back down with dots in his vision again.

He held his face in his hands, so he only heard Loki race into the study, slamming the door and starting to cry.

What a perfect day this was turning out to be. What a wonderful crown prince and caring husband he was.

xxx

The rest of the day was just as awful. Eventually Thor’s breathing became more regular, though his chest was still as tight as this morning. He knew he’d nearly blacked out because he’d thought of the wedding night. He’d just have to be more careful not to think about it.

Which was a tall order, not least because his first task was to enter the bedchamber. It was the only access to the study door, which he had to knock on in order to apologize to Loki.

“Loki,” he said, trying not to reveal how short his breath still was, “I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have snapped at you.”

No response.

“I know you were only being kind to me. I have no excuse. Could we start again?”

Still nothing.

Thor sighed. “Loki, I know you’re in there. May I come in?”

Nothing but silence.

Well, Thor figured he deserved it. Even if he didn’t, Loki still had every right to refuse him entrance to his private room.

But that didn’t make the rejection sting any less.

To help ease it (and to give Loki free reign over their chambers once more), Thor left them for the hallways of the palace. He stayed in less-traveled areas, not wanting to engage with anyone. The last time he’d done this without Loki had been the first several days after the wedding, trying to carve out his own space in his new living situation.

And now here they were again. Loki, shut up in his rooms. Loki, waking Thor with his nightmares. Thor, wandering alone, avoiding all other company. They were right back where they’d begun. The last two months of earning Loki’s trust, helping him feel safe in Asgard, all for nothing.

Even their wedding night had been for nothing: there was no child to show for it. But Thor did his best not to dwell on that for too long. No sense in him passing out in a hallway over something he couldn’t change.

xxx

That night was a welcome change in his dreams: it began on the battlefield outside Jotunheim’s palace. The final battle of the war. The shouts of warriors clamored around him, punctuated with the ringing of steel meeting icy weapons. The cold wind bit into his eyes, swirled snowflakes into his hair and beard. But he hardly registered it. He was in his element here.

He hammered through Frost Giants left and right, till he finally reached the one he sought. Helblindi Laufeyson snarled at him like some feral beast, raised his blade of ice-steel for the first strike. Thor roared in glee, doing the same with Mjolnir.

As they leapt at each other and their weapons met, a loud boom echoed over the battlefield. Soon, more flashes of lightning split the sky, with more thunder rolls a second later. Helblindi and his Jotun kin looked up nervously. Thor then realized they had never seen a lightning storm on Jotunheim before.

He grinned. They had never met the god of thunder before, either.

With renewed euphoria he pummeled his foe, searching for more weakness. But with Helblindi’s fear came more rage, as his attacks became more wild and reckless. And his mistakes grew larger.

Until at last, Thor threw him down, and raised his hammer to the sky. Lightning answered Mjolnir’s call, and he brought the bolt down with all his power onto the chest of his enemy. All Helblindi's ribs shattered, piercing through his skin at odd angles. His death was not a quick one.

That was when the dream changed. In reality, he had roared his glorious victory at the sky, and upon seeing the Jotun crown prince’s death, the Frost Giants quickly broke ranks and were routed. Victory was easily snatched from Jotunheim that day.

But in this dream, Thor did not exult. He now realized the last obstacle to his actual goal was gone. Now, he could claim his real victory.

He walked into the icy palace, hearing the wind rattle through the bones of the old place. His dreaming self knew exactly which turns to take, which stairs to climb. At last, he reached the door, beyond which lay his prize.

It was a drafty little room, smaller than most Jotun chambers. There was hardly any furniture, just a bed, table, chair, and dresser. Not even a mirror.

And there he was. There was Loki. Blue-skinned, red-eyed, and hauntingly beautiful.

“No!” Loki cried out upon seeing him. He dove under the bed to hide. But Thor was quicker than him, and caught him by his ankle.

The frostbite from Jotun flesh burned his skin, but he hardly cared. He knew the flesh of Loki’s cunt would be warm and welcoming. Even if that flesh’s owner was not.

“You can scream all you like,” Thor growled in response to Loki’s howls as he was dragged from under the bed. “No one will help you.”

Loki squirmed against Thor’s grip. But it didn’t matter. Thor easily pinned him down onto the bed, dragging down his trousers and smallclothes.

“No, stop,” Loki pleaded. “Please, husband-”

“No,” said Thor, taking out his own cock. “I’m not your husband yet. We’re not on Asgard yet. I’m just trying you out before I decide whether your cunt is worth the trouble.”

Then, he licked up Loki’s neck, up his cheek, to his ear in one long motion. Loki shuddered, whimpering. Then he went still.

“Good boy,” Thor murmured. “Better make me happy, or I’ll just leave you here for your father to find.”

He thrust home, deep inside Loki’s cunt. Loki couldn’t help his first scream, but he bit back the rest, keeping them muffled so Laufey wouldn’t hear.

Thor laughed, starting to find a brutal rhythm.

And then he woke, to see Loki’s eyes a few inches from his, staring at him in the dark.

xxx

Thor flinched back, finding more terror from this than he ever had from his previous nightmares. Had Loki just seen? Had he just heard him? Had Thor sleepwalked into the study, and had started acting out his dream? Had it even been a dream?

But after a few seconds of staring back at Loki, he realized several of those questions could be answered. He was in his own cot. Loki was staring down at him, with his pale flesh and green eyes forced upon him in Asgard.

So he hadn’t acted it out. The dream wasn’t real.

But it had been real enough. His sick pleasure from it was certainly real enough, heavy between his legs. The horror from it was, too. He now realized his throat was sore. He probably had been screaming in his sleep, which explained why Loki was here.

“Forgive me, Loki,” he said, but it came out as a hoarse whisper. He maneuvered into sitting up, thinking he could make it to the bathing chambers to deal with his erection there. But then Loki did something he couldn’t have seen coming.

He sat down beside Thor on the cot.

It shocked Thor into stillness. The simple act of sitting down with him seemed much more intimate than any other instance between them. Because it was Thor’s bed, where he had jerked off to thoughts of Loki for weeks now. Loki shouldn’t want to come anywhere near here.

But he had. He had seen Thor having this nightmare, and he wasn’t running from it. He was actively choosing to stay with him.

Thor wished he wouldn’t. It made the terrors in his dreams get far too close to Loki.

“It’s unwise to be in my company right now,” he murmured. In other words, Please leave, before I accidentally hurt you.

But Loki didn’t leave. He stayed right there, quietly sitting beside Thor. Thor felt his heart rate start to calm down once he realized Loki wasn’t going to go. But he felt such dread at the same time.

“Loki, please-”

“How long have you had these nightmares?”

That quiet question wasn’t accusatory. It only carried gentleness from Loki’s lilting voice. Thor felt his breath leave him in a rush.

He didn’t feel like anything would be gained from lying. So after a while, he finally admitted, “Weeks. Months. Almost since the day we were wed.”

Loki only met him with quiet breath in the wake of the confession. Thor had expected him to flinch, to run from it. But he wasn’t.

Then Loki’s breath turned into a sigh. “I knew you suffered from the wedding night. But I had no idea it was to this extent.” He reached to Thor’s arm. “Forgive me.”

Like a reflex, Thor moved his arm out of Loki’s grasp. Maybe he was trying to wound Loki by doing so; at least that would mean he would leave him alone, and go back to being safe, away from Thor.

“There’s nothing to forgive, Loki,” he said. “I can take care of myself.”

“Even if you can, I don’t think you are,” Loki said. “Not anymore. Not with the way you’ve been acting the last few days.”

Then, the question Thor had been dreading: “Are you dreaming of me? Of what you had to do to me?”

“Loki, stop,” Thor pleaded. He buried his face in his hands. “Stop with all of this. Stop with the ‘what I had to do to you’. I didn’t have to, and you know it.”

“Thor, who the fuck do you think you’re kidding?”

There was the sharpness. Thor had never heard such a barbed tone from Loki before. But it was in such a different context from what he could have expected that his brain was still struggling to comprehend it. He looked to Loki’s face against his better judgment, trying to understand.

But Loki didn’t look angry with him. He looked just as shocked as Thor did. He was peering at Thor’s face, searching for something. “Are you…” Those green eyes widened slightly. “Have you been feeling guilty? Have you been living these past months with the idea that our wedding night was your fault?”

Okay. Thor had had enough of this. “Loki, I think you’re confused. I’ve been kind to you, yes, but that does not make me a blameless person in all of this. As I have told you several times before, I could have refused-”

“Thor, shut up.”

Thor was so shocked he couldn’t help but comply. He hardly even noticed how his erection was dying down.

Loki’s eyes were blazing with a fire he hadn’t ever seen in him before. “Honestly, Thor, what delusions do you labor under? Need I remind you of the circumstances of our wedding? Of the reason why we were wed in the first place?”

Thor didn’t understand where Loki was going with this, but he didn’t dare ask questions. Not with the tone Loki was now unleashing.

“We were wed,” Loki said with such urgency, “to cement a peace treaty. To bring two feuding royal houses together. So that night, in that bedchamber” – he jabbed his finger toward the doorway to the bedchamber in question – “you were not just Thor. You were the crown prince of Asgard, an official representative of your kingdom’s government.

“And so, if you, a representative of Asgard, had decided to stand up and say ‘No, I’d rather not fuck this Jotun prince,’ it would have meant that Asgard was rejecting the entire peace treaty. So just like that, the minute you spoke up, you would have been trapped in a bedchamber with the ruthless leader of your enemy. What do you think would have happened then?”

Loki looked like he was going to start crying. He looked so afraid at what he was implying. But Thor couldn’t give him any comfort, because he was so tongue-tied himself. He certainly hadn’t ever pieced this together the way Loki just had for him.

“First,” Loki continued, “Laufey would have killed you. Without question.” Now his first tear fell. “And then he would have tried to kill Odin, if he had the chance. And every man in that room would have died trying to kill each other. Leaving two realms leaderless, throwing them into chaos. Blood was going to be spilt in that chamber regardless. It was either theirs…or mine.”

Thor felt his mind was going to truly unravel then. Such a notion, that his refusal would have destroyed the two kingdoms, couldn’t be true. Could it? “He wouldn’t have killed me,” he said. “Laufey wouldn’t-”

“He wouldn’t make such a reckless move? Thor, him being reckless without reason was what started the war in the first place. I know my father better than you ever will, so please believe me when I say he wouldn’t have hesitated to kill you given the chance.”

Loki reached to touch Thor’s arm again, and this time, Thor was too stunned to flinch away. “I know you might think I trust you too much. That I shouldn’t want anything to do with you because of that night.” Thor felt his stomach turn. Loki’s grip on his arm stayed firm. “But from what I know of you, if that night had been at all in your control, you wouldn’t have done it. It was only because you had as little choice in the matter as I did.”

“No,” Thor croaked. He could only look at the floor; he couldn’t face Loki in this. “You’re wrong. I had plenty of choice-”

“I just told you my father would have killed you if you did not do it. Yes?”

Thor nodded. He wouldn’t cry, dammit.

“Then,” Loki’s voice became much softer, “then you were forced into a sexual act against your will, under pain of death.” He seemed to hesitate, before he said, “That’s a definition of rape if I ever heard one.”

No, Thor thought, but he couldn’t bring himself to say. Loki was the one who had been raped, not him…

“At least all I had to do was lie back and take it,” Loki said. “You had to take an active role in our violation. No wonder it’s weighed on you so heavily-”

“Loki, enough,” Thor managed to bite out. He had never had such a difficult time speaking. But he had to say this. “Don’t do this. Whatever…” Breathe, you idiot. Breathe. “…Whatever I suffered, please don’t try to compare it to what you have endured. Please-”

“Thor.”

Loki sounded so defeated. Thor shut up.

“Thor, I’m not trying to create a competition of who has suffered the most pain,” Loki said. “There’s no real winner in such a contest. But I think you’ve been so focused on my pain, and your perceived role in it, that you have discounted your suffering entirely.” His grip, still on Thor’s arm, tightened. “And you have suffered. You’re still suffering now. And-” – his voice began to break on a sob – “-I can’t stand to watch you destroy yourself like this.”

Thor felt his lip quiver of its own accord. Somehow, he found the strength to look at Loki. He could see those green eyes glistening with unshed tears, even in the dark.

“Please, Thor,” Loki whispered. “You’ve helped me so much since we were wed. Please let me help you now.”

That was what did it. Thor felt his own tears start to fall, but he didn’t want to let Loki see them. So he did the only thing he could think to do, which was to lean in and crush Loki to him in a stifling embrace. Loki gasped, but a second later, his arms responded in kind, wrapping around Thor’s shoulders.

And Thor. Fucking. Broke.

He was crying into where his face was buried in Loki’s neck, but not a silent cry. Not by a long shot. He was bawling into his husband’s skin. His chest, face, and throat all burned with the effort of it. He hadn’t sobbed like this since he was a young child – and maybe not even then.

He felt Loki’s arms tighten around his shoulders, holding him more firmly. Also, perhaps, more desperately.

“Thor-”

And then Loki was crying too, shuddering in Thor’s arms.

This probably wasn’t how it was supposed to go. It only worked if one was the comforter, the other the comfort-ee. Nothing was accomplished by them both falling apart against each other’s already-crumbled pieces.

But Thor couldn’t stop. And, it appeared, neither could Loki. So falling apart was the only way forward.

Thor soon found himself talking, blubbering on and on without being able to stop. “I never meant to hurt you,” he kept saying, “I didn’t, I never wanted to hurt you, I didn’t want to…”

“I know,” Loki sobbed, “I know you didn’t, Thor, I know.”

“I still…s-still remember…how…” Thor took in a stuttering breath. “…h-h-how you bled…h-how you screamed…”

Loki’s arms crushed him tighter, and he whimpered again. “It hurt s-so badly…and it hurt for days…e-even when we…when we first walked in the palace…”

And on and on they went. They may have spent minutes or hours, crying long and hard into the night, squeezing the breath from each other but unable to let each other go. Even though Thor had thought that it would hurt to unspool these things from his chest, he could have never imagined how much.

xxx

When Thor woke, it was to find himself in a twisted position. It was as if he had collapsed into slumber after sitting up. Then again, maybe that was what had happened; he couldn’t remember disengaging from Loki and lying back down to go to sleep.

But, though his shoulder ached from taking the brunt of his weight as he’d slept, he found himself less uncomfortable than he’d felt in a long time.

He made to take a deep breath, and was surprised to find that he could, without effort. That weight he’d had on his chest was gone. He felt freer than he had in months. Unburdened. Relieved.

But as he reveled in this newfound ease, he found his limbs were not so free, as they’d been tangled in the sheets from his odd sleeping position. As he tested the bounds on his legs, trying to untangle them as gently as possible so as not to rip the sheets, his knee met someone else’s leg.

He opened his eyes properly, to find Loki sitting on the edge of his cot. At his waking movements, Loki looked up from staring at his hands, meeting Thor’s eyes.

For a second, Thor felt dread. Loki probably hadn’t asked for him to hug him like that last night. Had he been wrong to-

“It’s alright, Thor,” Loki said in that quiet, gentle tone of voice. Thor felt himself relax immediately. Now he could see that soft light in Loki’s eyes, something he wanted to see for the rest of his days. “You haven’t damaged me beyond repair, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

Thor felt the easiest grin take over his face. “Have you been awake long?”

Loki shook his head, the gesture so small.

Then Thor felt the familiar guilt rise again, the wondering if he’d burdened Loki too much. He felt almost shy about asking, “Did you sleep…here?”

Loki nodded to that. “I think we cried ourselves to sleep here last night.”

That fit with what Thor could remember. He resumed his movements, carefully removing his legs from the sheets’ confines so he could join Loki in sitting up. “Are you alright?” he asked.

Loki glanced down, considering. “I think so,” he said slowly. Then he fixed his gaze with Thor’s again. “Are you? And-” – he cut off Thor’s immediate reply before it could begin – “please don’t just say yes because you think it’s what I want to hear. Are you really alright?”

Thor was about to open his mouth to just say ‘yes’ again, because he thought he really meant it. But, just in case, he stopped. Took a moment to survey his inner thoughts, the deepest parts of his heart he could see right now.

Yes, there was the freedom, from the discharge of energy that had been trapped for so long. But storms hardly ever had just one thunderclap. And yes, he could feel that, past the newfound buoyancy, there was a dull, aching weight. It wasn’t searing like last night, nor crushing like the last few months. But Thor could feel its distant pain.

“I…” he finally said, opening his eyes without realizing he’d closed them, “…I think I will be. I’m definitely better than before.”

Loki nodded. “I think I’m about the same,” he confessed.

Then they both started talking at once, then realized it and both stopped in unison. “You first,” Loki said.

Thor took it. “I want to apologize properly, for snapping at you yesterday. Whatever my suffering, it was no excuse to treat you like that.”

“You already apologized,” said Loki.

“I know,” said Thor, “and you said nothing in reply. Now you can.”

Loki hummed in contemplation at that. “Well, I forgive you,” he said. “Thank you for saying something.”

Thor nodded. “But, for the record, I’m glad you feel you can ignore me from behind a closed door you just slammed because I upset you. Please don’t hesitate to do it again. Because I promise you I will do something to deserve it at some point in the future.” Loki gave a sideways smile, and he returned it. “Perhaps we’re becoming a normal married couple sooner than we’d thought.”

They both chuckled at that. Then they fell into silence for a moment. Thor started to absently trace patterns into the sheets. Suddenly, he remembered Loki had wanted to say something else. “I’m sorry, what did you want to tell me?”

“Oh, right,” Loki said, and cleared his throat. “Well, I woke up only a few minutes before you did, but during that time, I was thinking.”

Thor couldn’t say he was surprised. “Thinking about what?”

“Us,” Loki said. That could mean a whole range of subtopics, so Thor waited for him to clarify.

Loki cleared his throat again, clearing the last of the sleep from it. “If last night has shown me anything, it’s that we cannot go so long without talking about these things. The things that hurt us, I mean.”

Thor nodded. It sounded so painful to talk about it all over again, but it probably wouldn’t be nearly as bad as last night.

“So,” Loki continued, “I propose we make an agreement right now. To help each other.”

Thor raised his eyebrows. “I’m all for that. But what do you have in mind specifically?”

“Well,” said Loki, “you have offered to wake me from my nightmares if you’re awake. Well, last night I did the same for you, because I happened to wake first and heard you. So, with your permission, I would like to reciprocate, and wake you from your nightmares if I hear you again.”

Thor was about to agree, then stopped short. There was still the issue of what he had usually taken to doing immediately after awakening from the nightmares. He still wasn’t comfortable with the idea of sharing his lust with Loki, and couldn’t be sure if he’d automatically start getting himself off while half-awake, not realizing Loki was right next to him.

“Am I allowed to immediately retreat to the bathing chambers, to calm myself down?” he asked.

He was so afraid Loki would ask questions, but he should have known better. Loki just smiled at him with such kindness. “Of course. Whatever is most helpful for you in that moment.”

Whew. Thank the Norns. With that out of the way, Thor had no trouble agreeing. “Then I give you my permission. But, like we said, only if you’re already awake. Don’t feel the need to stand guard at my bedside.”

There was a hint of self-deprecation in Loki’s smile at that. “Alright. I suppose that’s only fair. The other, larger issue I can think of is what got us to the point of last night. I had no idea you were struggling as much as you were, or that you had such guilt, or that you even had nightmares, because you kept it all hidden from me. Which I think I have also done, keeping things hidden from you. I think because we had the idea that it would only burden the other, to share the depth of our pain.”

“That’s the long and short of it, yes,” said Thor with a sigh. “So…you are suggesting we share it with each other…more often?”

Loki nodded. “I know it’s a frightening thought,” he said, his voice having dropped several decibels. “I’ve often been so afraid of sharing pieces of my past with you. But each time, you’ve treated me only with kindness and understanding, so I know you’re worthy of my trust. And so each time, I’ve trusted you with even more. And here we are.”

Thor let out a long breath at the thought. It was true that he was afraid of burdening Loki with his pain. But he knew Loki was also right about the fear accompanying the vulnerability. It was a frightening thing to talk about this pain, especially since it was so personal, and spoke of sexual violation.

He remembered then, what Loki had said last night. About how he had been essentially raped too, and had been forced to take an active role in it.

He didn’t think he was ready to wrap his mind around that concept just yet. But maybe, if he could talk with Loki about it, and feel safe enough to enter that territory…

“So, what you’re saying,” he began, “is that, whenever we feel we need to, when we are in pain, we make a point to talk about it with one another, instead of trying to deal with it on our own?”

Loki nodded. “This isn’t to say we always should. Just that we try to more often. So we don’t end up where we were yesterday.”

Well, Thor was all for that. He didn’t ever want a repeat of yesterday, any part of it, ever again. “I agree, to talk and to listen,” he said.

Loki didn’t respond right away. He just sat there, perched on the bed, staring at the floor.

“Loki…?”

Loki sighed. “I’m sorry. I know I’m the one who brought it up, but…now I’m afraid of it.”

“Which part?” Thor asked. “The talking or the listening part?”

“The talking,” Loki said. His hands started fidgeting with each other. “I…I know I’ve told you things, and it’s always been safe in the end. But…I still get nervous about it…”

“Hey,” Thor soothed. He reached to take Loki’s hand. “From what I know of you, I can’t think of anything you could possibly share with me that I would chastise you for. I just want to help you.”

It still took another minute more for things to shift in Loki. “You’re right,” he finally said. “And I want to help you, too. So, I also accept.” Then, he sighed. “And I’m sorry. Again, I know this can’t be easy, putting up with me.”

“It’s astoundingly easy,” said Thor. “I think I should be the one apologizing to you on that count.” Then, before he realized what he was doing, he put his arm around Loki’s shoulders in a sort of side-hug. “So thank you,” he said. “For…all of this. For everything.”

Before he could rethink the contact, Loki surprised him again. Thor swore he felt Loki lean into the hug. And his smile at him was bright. “Thank you,” Loki said in return. “For the same.”

Thor met his smile with one just as radiant, and got up from the bed to begin the day. A day that, no matter what it held in store, seemed much more manageable. Because now – for the first time in months, years, or perhaps ever – he knew he wouldn’t be alone.

Chapter Text

By the time another of Loki’s magic lessons rolled around, Thor felt ready to return to the normal rhythms of life. The last few days had held sporadic council meetings for him, but neither he nor Loki had been outside their chambers for long. They hadn’t planned things that way; it had just happened by default.

But it had been so, so needed. So much had shifted that night, for both of them. Thor had a new understanding of what his role in the wedding night had entailed. He’d discussed it some with Loki, but it had always returned to the same two refrains: I never meant to hurt you, from Thor, and It wasn’t your fault, from Loki.

That was when they did talk; they mostly sat in silence together, or took naps in their own cots. Too much change at once, Thor assumed, was what accounted for the exhaustion. It was hard work adjusting to the new reality, even if it was infinitely preferable to his previous state.

But now, after two days and nights of little activity, Thor felt refreshed enough for the outside world. Even if the task he and Loki had decided upon today provoked more anxiety in him.

He passed Loki leaving the bathing chambers as he was going in. When he reemerged, Loki was still in the bedchambers. Just standing there, with his arms crossed over his chest.

He was standing at the foot of the bed, staring at it. His face held a distant expression.

Thor was cautious as he crossed the room to Loki’s side. He glanced at the bed to see if Loki was looking at anything in particular, but the bed was the same as ever. Still horribly cursed, still producing fresh waves of anxiety in Thor’s chest.

“I hate this bed,” Loki murmured.

Thor took a deep breath to steady himself. “So do I,” he said. “Every time I look at it, I remember.”

Loki nodded. “As do I. And it’s in the central room in our chambers, so we can’t avoid it.”

Then, he turned to Thor. “Is there any way we could replace it? I know it would be in the same room, but maybe if it were different…”

Thor remembered his pleas to the head housekeeper all those weeks ago – including how he’d been flatly refused. But, that had been asking about two cots. Just replacing the bed with another one, however…

“Perhaps,” he said. “I will ask Lady Sarnyr. Should it be before or after we visit Mother?”

“I would think after,” Loki said. “We will need our courage for that.”

That soothed Thor’s heart immediately. He smiled. “I’m glad we’re on the same page about that.”

Loki returned his smile with just as much warmth, and they sat down to breakfast together.

xxx

Their first stop was Frigga.

Her hug seemed to last an extra bit longer today. It added even more proof to Thor’s suspicions of her prescient abilities. She sensed their greater need for her support today.

As she pulled away from Loki, she shifted her glance between the two of them. A moment later she said, “Something has changed. And I gather you want to talk to me about it.”

Thor was now fully convinced his mother had psychic powers.

Loki glanced at him, before nodding. “Is it alright if Thor and I speak with you? Instead of our lessons today?”

She smiled. “Always.”

And so they ended up under the largest tree in the gardens. Frigga sat with her back against the tree. Loki’s head soon rested in her lap, while Thor’s leaned against her shoulder.

They told her everything they could think to mention, about the last several days, the wedding night, and everything in between. Thor hadn’t thought he would spill so many of his thoughts, but he had always had trouble holding anything back from his mother. Especially since she was so good at listening to him.

This time was no exception. She silently stroked Loki’s hair as he told her he didn’t deserve to be in Asgard with such wonderful people. She wrapped her arm around Thor’s shoulders as he told her that he thought himself a monster for what he’d done. She let her golden dress be stained by the few tears they didn’t want to admit they had shed.

When they both lapsed into silence, not sure what more could be said, she let the quiet linger around them. Nothing broke it but the chirps of birds, and the rush of the breeze through the foliage overhead.

When she finally did speak, it was soft. “Oh, my sons,” she murmured. “My sweet, sweet boys.”

Loki gave another sniffle. Frigga resumed her comforting motions in his hair and on Thor’s shoulders.

“I am so sorry,” she said. “I am so sorry you have had to carry these burdens. And that you have carried them alone for so long.”

“It’s not been that long for me,” Thor pointed out, the familiar pricking of shame taking root in his gut. “I’ve carried this for two months. Loki has for a millennium.”

“That doesn’t mean your pain should be overlooked,” Loki mumbled.

Frigga raised her eyebrows at Thor. “He’s exactly right. You compound your suffering by discounting it. Thus, I refuse to allow you to do so.”

Thor sighed. If his mother refused him something, there wasn’t much else he could do. But, her and Loki’s words did uncurl the knot of shame that had returned the tension to his whole body. So he didn’t feel too badly about surrendering here.

“So,” he said, “I don’t suppose there’s any magic spell you know that can turn back time, to prevent that night from happening?”

She smiled fondly at him. “If there were, wouldn’t I have done so already, so you wouldn’t even know you had suffered?”

Well, she had a point there.

“Besides,” she continued, looking down at Loki again, “if there were, I also would have used it to steal you from Jotunheim as an infant. That way you could have been raised alongside your betrothed, and by a mother who loved you.”

Loki smiled at the thought, though it was tinged with sadness. “I suppose I would still be denied a father’s love.”

“You and me both,” said Thor.

Frigga sighed. “Thor, he does love you. In his own way. Though even I must admit, he has a terrible way of showing it.” She closed her eyes. “I…I probably should not say this. But it is best you both know that…what he has done to you both, it…it tests even my love for him.”

Thor slid his mother a startled glance. Through all the disputes between him and Odin, Frigga had never disavowed her love for either of them. Hadn’t even come close.

And, since his assurance of one parent’s love had always been tenuous at best, this new development stirred his insecurity of losing the other’s.

“Has there ever been a time-” he began, but her knowing look cut him off.

“Never,” she said. “Nothing you could say or do would ever stop me loving you with my whole heart.”

Just like that, the fear was dispelled. Thor felt himself sag further against his mother’s shoulder, letting out a deep sigh. He felt for a fleeting moment like the infant he couldn’t remember being, secure in the embrace of Frigga’s heart, in the first love he had ever known.

No wonder people thought of him as a mother’s boy. It was the truth.

They all rested in silence for a while after that, letting the wind play with their hair. Thor wished he could stay with Loki and Frigga here forever, in this sanctuary where the world outside couldn’t hurt them.

But, eventually Loki let some of the outside world back in. “Will we have to do it again?” He sounded like a young, scared child.

Frigga sighed. “I don’t know,” she said after a time. “It depends on whether Odin can be convinced otherwise.”

Thor could have laughed at the concept, were it not so grim. “Mother, while I do have faith in your abilities, not even you can talk him out of this.”

“Oh, I’m far past talking about it with him,” she said, rather vaguely. “I’ve moved on to…other tactics.”

Thor felt himself start to blush. “Not that we don’t appreciate your sacrificing your own marital bed for our sake, but could that really-”

She gave a single laugh. “It’s not just that, my love.” She looked reluctant to speak any further, but continued. “Do you remember what the five disciplines of magic are?”

Thor wracked his brain. He knew his mother had listed them to him many times over, during their failed sorcery lessons of his youth. But, some of the books he had found for Loki were about the disciplines, so he could remember those. “Um…defensive spells…light tricks…”

“Healing magic, shapeshifting, and mind tricks,” Loki finished for him. As the words sunk in, he suddenly widened his eyes, and lifted his head slightly from where it lay on Frigga’s legs. “Are you telling us that you-”

Frigga just nodded. Loki looked shocked, but Thor didn’t understand any of this. “What is it you’re telling us?”

“The mind tricks,” she said quietly.

Oh.

Holy shit.

“You see why I was loath to tell you.”

“But…” Thor was struggling to come up with words, “…if you’re technically in control of Asgard-”

“No, Thor,” she admonished him. “Even if such a thing were possible on your father, I would never use my power so completely.” Then she sighed. “Mind tricks are the most rarely learned discipline of magic, because so few masters are willing to teach them. And with good reason. They are…controversial, at best. Altering someone’s thoughts, controlling their consciousness, taking away their free will…it is a violation, of one of the worst kinds.”

Well, that made more sense to Thor. And Asgard had certainly had more than its fill of violation in the last few months. “So, what have you been doing, if not taking over his mind?”

“The least intrusive act of persuasion I could use,” she said, “while still working toward my goal.” She tucked a lock of Loki’s hair behind his ear. “I have been altering his dreams.”

Loki caught her hand, taking it in a tight grip. “It is possible to alter another person’s dreams?”

Thor’s heart started racing. “Loki, don’t.”

Loki’s eyes flashed to him. “I want to help you, Thor. If I can learn how to-”

“Loki,” Frigga said gently. His eyes returned to hers. “If Thor does not want you entering his dreams, it is his choice to make. You must respect that.”

Loki looked crestfallen. He looked to Thor in panic. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have…I didn’t mean-”

“It’s alright,” Thor said, taking one of Loki’s hands. “I know you didn’t mean anything harmful by it. I’m not upset with you.”

Loki gave him that shy smile again, and squeezed his hand slightly.

“Besides,” Frigga said, “all spells within that discipline are quite difficult. Only the most advanced sorcerers should attempt them, or they risk destroying someone’s mind forever. If you do wish to learn them, it would be many years before I would teach them to you.”

Loki nodded. “Maybe one day.”

It was quiet for a moment more. It took Thor some time to notice that he was still holding Loki’s hand, and that Frigga was looking fondly at where their hands were joined.

“I was right, you know,” she said. “About you, Loki.” Loki looked up to her in surprise. But there was only kindness in her eyes. “When we first spoke, I told you we were lucky to have you in our family. And we are. You’re so good to my son, and I will always be grateful for that.”

Loki smiled. “He’s good to me, as well. After…that night…” He swallowed nervously. “…if he hadn’t shown me such kindness…I’m sure I would have slowly gone mad.”

A memory came jolting back to Thor, of the moment the kings and councilors had left the room that night. Loki hadn’t been aware of their departure until Thor had shaken him out of his stupor. His face had been so blank, like he’d been lost to the world.

If he hadn’t been kind to him that night, or any moment after that, he could imagine Loki returning to that vacant state, more and more often, until it became permanent. Until he became a limp body to be fucked and bred till he died. A death before death.

His grip on Loki’s hand tightened. Willing his husband to stay with him, and to never have to become that empty shell again. “I’m so glad you didn’t,” he said. Because I need you so much. Because you’re the loveliest person I’ve ever met. Because I adore you more than you will ever know.

The way Loki looked at him then, with such warmth glowing in his eyes, made Thor think that Loki might have understood everything he’d left unsaid.

xxx

Their second stop was Lady Sarnyr.

It was decidedly less soothing than their time with Frigga, but it could result in easing their daily suffering significantly. So, Thor led the way to her stuffy little office.

Her piercing glare over her spectacles at him reminded him how difficult this might be.

“Yes, my prince?”

He took a deep breath. “We require a different bed in our chambers.”

She raised her eyebrows. “What’s wrong with your current bed?”

I nearly have panic attacks every time I look at it, he thought but didn't say. Instead, he changed tack, and huffed. He could play the arrogant little shit here. “It’s not up to my standards. I require something more luxurious.”

“Phoenix down, elfin silks, and oak from Asgard’s sacred grove are not luxurious enough?”

Dammit.

“Besides,” she continued, getting up to prowl from her desk, “I understand you got your precious two cots you wanted, when Prince Loki was taken ill the last several weeks. Why still make such a fuss about the bed you’re no longer using?”

Shit. Shitshitshitshitshit-

“We will be using the bed,” Loki quietly uttered. Sarnyr peeked over Thor’s shoulder at him; clearly, she hadn’t realized he had been here, too. “But only for our continued marital activities. We still require the cots for sleeping.”

She studied both their faces, trying to catch any ulterior motives. Thor tried as best he could to keep his face in the same expression. He knew Loki was an expert at hiding his emotions after the childhood he’d endured, but he was far less confident in his own skills at that.

At last, she let up with her scrutiny. Mostly. “What new standards has our crown prince developed for his marital bed?”

Thor now realized he and Loki really should have discussed this beforehand. But it was too late for that now. Thinking fast, he managed to come up with, “I want the frame lined with some of the leather from Nidhogg’s skin. We should still have some of that left. And I want the mattress stuffed with snowleaves harvested from last century’s blooming.”

She rolled her eyes. “Do you know how much of my yearly budget that will take?”

“That’s what your prince requires,” said Thor. He did feel guilty about using up so many of her resources, and wished he could just tell her to swap the bed with one from the servants’ quarters. But it was too late to turn back now.

With a long-suffering sigh, she relented. “I’ll have it for you soon, my prince.”

Thor left in a hurry, not wanting to breathe the air of his lies for too long. Loki followed right behind him.

Once they were around the corner and down a different corridor, Thor sighed. “I wish I had come up with something better,” he said.

“You got us what we wanted,” Loki said, “that’s what matters.”

Thor raised his eyebrow at him with a grin. “First my mother admits she’s been altering my father’s dreams, and now you condone outright lies? Everyone I know is throwing their morals out the window.”

Loki shrugged. “It’s for you.”

That struck Thor as only partially true. “No,” he said. “Not just me. It’s for us.”

Loki looked like he didn’t mean for his smile to be as immediate as it was. “Alright,” he said. “For us.”

xxx

Their third and final stop was at the training yards.

Sif and Hogun were practicing their fencing techniques with one another, while Volstagg and Fandral watched them, eating apples. They all looked to be in their usual jolly moods, which gladdened Thor’s heart. It was good to know that, outside the pain in his marriage, life continued as usual in Asgard.

“At last, the royal couple has returned!” Fandral announced upon seeing them. Hogun and Sif stopped their sparring to wave at them.

“Where have you been?” Volstagg asked. “You’ve been nowhere to be seen, the last two days!”

“That’s what we wanted to talk to you about,” said Thor. He didn’t know why he was so nervous about this. These were his friends. They’d been through thick and thin together for centuries, and they’d always come through for him.

But this felt much more difficult than any previous favor he’d asked.

Sif and Hogun saw them congregating, and made it over to their side. The four warriors looked at the two princes expectantly. Waiting.

“Um…” Thor looked around, and found his eyes resting on Loki. Loki’s mouth corner flickered into the smallest hint of a smile. Somehow, that was all the encouragement Thor needed.

“Loki and I…” His four friends were listening intently. “…well, we have been suffering the last few days. Or, perhaps much longer than that, even. And…” He had to breathe. “…we must ask for your continued patience with us, and your support, as we navigate this difficult time.”

Sif sighed. “Thor, you can be quite slow sometimes.” She gave him and Loki the broadest grin. “Do you really think you need to ask us for our support?”

“Whatever you need from us,” Hogun said, “it is yours.”

Fandral touched Thor’s shoulder. “And that’s till our dying breaths, Thor. Whether you’re our prince, or one day our king, you will always be our friend first.”

“You both are,” Volstagg said, his eyes twinkling at Loki.

Never had such relief washed over Thor. He laughed. “Well, that went about as perfectly as could be expected.”

“Thank you all,” Loki’s voice quietly cut through the air. “You have all been so kind to me, since I arrived here.”

“Why wouldn’t we?” Volstagg boomed. “You have married our dearest friend, and you make him quite happy! Now, would you like to spar today?”

“Um, no thank you,” said Loki, still so quietly. “Today I would prefer to watch.”

“I must echo Loki’s sentiment,” said Thor.

Volstagg nodded. “Very well, my friends. Perhaps Sif and Hogun can give you a show with their swords!”

Sif and Hogun beamed, and returned to the ring.

And so the afternoon went. The four warriors took turns sparring, though Sif and Hogun were most serious about it. Fandral and Volstagg spent more time loitering around the railings, and eventually started a contest of who could spit their apple seeds the farthest. Once, Fandral spit his so far it hit Hogun in the back of the head. He glared at them, and started chasing after them with his sword, round and round the ring, all three of them laughing before long.

All the while, Thor and Loki sat in the stands together, and watched. A serenity took place in Thor’s heart, watching the four friends he loved so much. Loki sat closer to him than ever before, to the point that their knees almost touched. He wasn’t sure if Loki was doing so intentionally, but he didn’t want to mention it, in case Loki moved away in response.

“Today has been much easier than I feared,” he mentioned, after sitting in silence for some time.

Loki looked at him, and smiled. “I agree. We got the new bed, and the support we needed. And…” He looked down, suddenly self-conscious about something. “…I want to thank you, for leading me through today. For continuing to help me.”

Thor felt a fresh surge of affection for Loki ripple through his veins. His knee became hyper-aware of how close it was to his husband’s. He need only shift an inch, and they would touch.

He restrained himself at the last second. That still wasn’t something he felt he should share with Loki without permission. Such contact couldn’t simply fall into the realm of friendship.

“I am always glad to help you,” he said. “And know that you have helped me just as much today. I thank you for it, with all my heart.”

Loki met his eyes again, and Thor might have been exaggerating it, but he swore Loki held just as much affection in his eyes as Thor felt. The wind played through his hair for a few seconds, swirling a dark lock closer to his face. And there was another urge Thor had to fight, to stroke through that hair, to tuck it back behind his ear.

Norns, Loki was beautiful, in every way.

He mourned when Loki’s eyes drifted from his, but only for a second. Because he realized Loki was looking at something behind him.

And his eyes were widened in panic.

Thor looked over his shoulder, ready to destroy whatever was causing Loki such distress. But when he saw what – or rather, who – was approaching the ring in golden robes that looked so out of place in a training yard, he realized it was the one threat he couldn’t protect Loki from.

Odin.

A vicegrip on his arm indicated that Loki had grabbed him. “Thor…”

“Let me handle this,” he murmured. He covered Loki’s hands with his own where they squeezed his arm, trying to reassure him enough to release him.

“No, Thor, what if…what if this is it?”

Thor looked to Loki, to that edge of sheer terror in his eyes, and then he understood.

What if Odin knew? What if he’d asked Eir, and she’d told him? What if he’d just grown tired of waiting for an announcement of pregnancy?

…What if he was summoning them to the bedchamber…

Thor took a sudden gulp of air in, realizing his breath had left him. “I…I will…” He didn’t know what he meant to say. He didn’t know what to do, if his fears were true. He lamely repeated, “Let me handle it.”

“THOR!”

Thor bristled at his father’s voice. It wasn’t the first time his father had personally interrupted his activities to drag him off by the ear, but this was far more serious than any previous occasion.

He looked into Loki’s eyes again, hoping it would either give his husband courage, or he could find encouragement there for himself. It failed on both counts.

He wanted to say something else to bolster their spirits, but his mind was blank. All he did was take a deep breath, and walk over to meet his father’s approach.

Said loyal friends had assumed the positions protocol required at the arrival of their king, dropping to one knee with a fist raised to their chests. But though their heads were lowered in respect, Sif still sent a glance to Thor out the corner of her eye. What the fuck is this? she seemed to say.

Thor met her eyes briefly, hoping he conveyed his concern. She appeared to understand, as her eyes fixed on the king. Thor wasn’t sure what she could actually do, but he was grateful for the support.

“You know,” he said as he came up to his father, “if you had wanted to speak with me, you could have sent a servant to summon me before your throne. Then you could humiliate me in front of the entire court, instead of just my friends.”

Odin scoffed. “You would have taken your sweet time if I had. And I have no patience for you in this matter.”

Thor did his best to keep the act up, playing the role of the arrogant, willful son by rolling his eyes. His only mental commentary, however, was breathe, breathe, breathe, don’t pass out, don’t pass out, don’t pass out. “And what matter is that?” he managed to say. He hoped he kept any waver out of his voice. He hoped.

“That you have been making up lies to get what you want,” Odin said. “I have no doubt you believe you have noble intentions, but your actions betray how greedy and self-serving you really are!”

Thor’s heart was thudding so loudly in his chest, he was sure even Loki could hear it from the other side of the training yard. He moved his hand behind his back, beginning to beckon for Mjolnir. Not to have her fly to his hand yet; just to move her close by.

“Have I not taught you your duty to your people? How your money was once their money, and by throwing it about you are wasting the fruits of their labors?”

Wait, what? Thor stopped calling Mjolnir. “Father, what are you speaking of?”

“I am speaking,” Odin growled, glowering at Thor from his one eye, “of your outrageous request to Lady Sarnyr for a replacement bed, which will cost the palace a fortune!”

The tension instantly dispelled from Thor’s being. Compared to what he thought it might be, this was as easy as a walk in the woods. “We have the materials already here. It only remains to assemble the parts into another bed. I don’t see why it would be so costly.”

“Dragon’s hide?” Odin countered.

“Which I brought back here myself. For free.

“Snowleaves in the mattress?”

“They were harvested a century ago, surely our yearly funds do not factor in their value.”

“We were going to sell them in case the Light Elf king required extra gold in the new trade deal!” Odin roared in his face. Thor didn’t even flinch.

But then, Odin’s demeanor changed. Gone was the show of brute strength, replaced by a subtler knife. “Then there is the question of what is even deficient in your own bed. I cannot approve such an expense unless there were good reason.”

Shit. Thor was out of luck. Now he started to stammer. “I…I told Lady Sarnyr-”

“That you have expensive tastes,” said Odin, “which I do not buy for one second.” His eye roved his son’s face, searching for something. “No, there is some other reason you have requested this. Something you’re hiding.”

Thor moved his hand again, this time ready to summon Mjolnir all the way to his hand.

“I can explain, my king!”

Thor’s throat tightened. Fandral rose from his kneeling position, and bowed to the king. “If it please you, Your Majesty, I know what Prince Thor is trying to hide.”

Thor’s eyes widened. He tried to find any glimpse of subterfuge in his friend’s face. But Fandral revealed nothing. Thor even caught Sif’s eyes glaring at Fandral’s back. Thor pleaded to the Norns that this was some ploy.

Odin nodded. “You may proceed, Lord Fandral.”

“Well, it’s like this, my king,” Fandral began. He was starting to go into his storytelling voice, making grand gestures as he spoke. “You see, I was returning to my chambers the other night, with the most stunning lady on my arm.” He winked at the king. Thor nearly smirked at his friend’s gall. “But, I was quite drunk, and mistook the princes’ chamber doors for my own! So, as the lady and I stumbled in there, we were for a moment shocked out of our drunken stupor when we saw it!”

Odin raised an eyebrow. “Saw what?”

“The bed!” Fandral exclaimed. “It was in shambles! The frame was shattered, all the legs fallen down, the headboard in splinters, the sheets torn…honestly, I was surprised to find the princes still sleeping there! Of course, they were quite upset at my interrupting their slumber, and shooed me out. But it was quite a sight, let me assure you.”

He grinned widely at the conclusion of his tale. Odin looked puzzled, and turned to Thor. “And why, may I ask, is your bed in such a state? And why feel the need to hide this from me, or from Lady Sarnyr?”

Again, Fandral stepped in. “I think the reason, my king, is because Thor is the one who broke it.” He shrugged his shoulders. “He has taken to his new consort quite robustly, and, well, I have seen him when his fires are stoked. When his passions are stirred for another, he can be quite…vigorous, in his performance.”

Thor felt the blood rush to his face. Not because of what Fandral said about his exuberance in lovemaking (which was completely true), but because it was being discussed with his father. Not to mention that Loki might be in earshot of the conversation.

At first, all Odin uttered was a contemplative grumble. Thor stood still as a rock. Fandral could have just saved his hide with that story. If the king believed it.

Then, Odin turned to the spectators’ stands behind Thor. “Loki!”

Thor’s blood turned to ice. He looked over to where Loki sat, tenser and paler than he’d ever seen him. He looked shocked that his name was being called by the Allfather, but he complied quickly enough, and walked with shaking legs over to Thor’s side.

When he joined the group, Loki kept his head bowed, too afraid to look at the king. Thor felt a shudder go through him, as he imagined a younger Loki appearing before his own father with the same body language. Timid, terrified, and trying to be as submissive as possible to avoid a harsher beating.

“Yes, my king?” Loki murmured.

“Lord Fandral claims the bed is broken due to an act of intercourse. Tell me the truth of this.”

Still with his head bowed, Loki’s eyes slid to Thor’s. Questioning. Pleading for direction on how to proceed.

Thor gave him what he hoped was meaningful eye contact. Please just say yes, he thought.

At last, Loki gave the smallest nod. “It’s true,” he uttered. “It…it broke two nights ago. In the middle of…of the act. I was frightened by it, but…but Prince Thor continued, until he was finished.”

Thor could see Loki minutely shaking. His own jaw clenched at the thought of what these lies were painting him out to be. The cruel, uncaring husband, using Loki’s unwilling body until he spilled his own seed, regardless of such an interruption as the bed breaking.

The thought made him want to vomit.

But Odin nodded. “Well, my son, at least there is one duty you do not find pleasure in avoiding.” Thor suppressed his shudder at that. “And I suppose you cannot continue on with this duty without a sturdy bed. I shall have the new one constructed immediately, to be ready by tomorrow morning. For tonight, you will have to make do with what you have.”

Thor gave a dutiful nod. “I will, Father.”

“Hm,” said Odin, and finally, he turned to leave.

Thor was just beginning to let out his exhale, when Odin turned around again. And he was staring straight at Loki.

He moved closer, till he was standing in Loki’s space, less than a foot away from him. Thor saw Loki’s shaking intensify, as he fought every impulse to take a step back and flinch from the old man.

“What are you doing?” Thor growled. He inched closer to the two of them, ready to intervene.

“I was just seeing if…” Odin said, his piercing gaze raking Loki’s face. “…Does its skin look any bluer to you?”

Thor felt a stab of anger twist in his gut. He was so shocked by all the ways Odin was insulting Loki with that one sentence that he could only stammer, “Wha…what?”

"Well, if you see any patches returning,” Odin said, leaving Loki’s personal space, “bring it to my attention. I shall reaffix the enchantment, and double its strength.”

And with that, the king left the training yard to return to the palace.

Now Thor could exhale. As he did, he closed to distance to his husband. “Loki,” he soothed, and Loki took the invitation, leaning into Thor’s hug. It wasn’t a total embrace; Thor settled for one arm around Loki’s shoulders, the other grabbing Loki’s elbow. But it was still enough contact for Thor to feel how much Loki was trembling.

The other four warriors had since stood, looking just as stunned as Thor had. Sif was the one to break the silence. “Is he always this cruel to you, Loki?”

“I-I don’t know,” Loki mumbled. “I have only met him three times.”

“And each time,” said Thor, “he insulted your appearance, forced an enchantment upon you to change it, often spoke as if you were not there, equated your value to your fertility, and refused to acknowledge your gender. Yes, Loki, he has always been this cruel to you.”

His friends appeared at a loss for words, for they didn’t speak for a while. Sif finally said, “There are many things I would like to say right now, were it not treasonous to do so.”

“Agreed,” said Fandral. “Although, I think I’ve already committed treason, by lying to my king’s face.”

“Why did you say that?” Loki asked. His voice was higher in pitch, betraying how afraid he was. “Why make up that story?”

Fandral looked confused. “Because…it would allow you to get rid of your current bed, without any more questions being asked?”

“Yes, but you said the bed is in shambles!” said Loki. “So now they’re going to go in there to clear out the pieces, only to find it in one piece! Our bed isn’t broken!”

At that, Fandral gave the slyest grin. “Not yet, it’s not.”

Oh. Thor now realized his friend's intent. “Fandral, you cannot be serious-”

“Well, hurry up now!” Fandral cried out to his friends. “There’s no time to waste! Who’s going to help me abet this treason to help my friends?”

The other three warriors grinned. “Do you even have to ask?” said Volstagg.

xxx

Destroying the bed was so. Much. Fun.

All six of them scurried into the bedchamber, Thor leading Loki by the hand. His four friends were giggling like naughty children, eager to aid in the destruction.

Volstagg started, chopping the headboard with his axe. It looked like he was making a pattern of a hand, as if Thor had gripped it so tight it had shattered.

Hogun and Fandral pounded at the legs with mace and sword, making them creak and shudder. Finally, they gave way, and toppled under the bedframe’s weight.

The weight was added to by Sif and Thor, who had climbed on to tear the sheets, stab at the mattress, and scatter its phoenix down throughout the room. Eventually they started throwing it on each other, laughing as it caught in their hair.

And then Loki started to attack.

Thor was perhaps the only one to notice how much gusto Loki used as he pounded on the bedframe with his fists. It looked like a marvelous idea to Thor, so he joined Loki, punching the frame with all his might.

It split the sturdy oak wood where his fists met it, and eventually the entire bed slanted down to the right.

Then Sif started jumping on the bed. It did resemble the motions that were supposed to have broken the bed, so Thor quickly joined her. Loki followed. Then Fandral and Hogun.

“We’re the kings and queens of realm!” Sif bellowed.

“Nay, my lady,” Fandral crowed, “we are the emperors and empresses of all the Nine Realms! All shall bow to our superior jumping abilities!”

“FOR ASGAAAAAAAARD!”

It was Volstagg, who had returned to the bedchamber door, only to take a running leap and catapult himself onto the bed. He crashed on top of all five of them, and with his added weight, the bed finally collapsed, the frame in pieces all around them.

They spent so long laughing in Volstagg’s embrace, all elbows, knees, and armor poking each other in odd angles. But they didn’t care. They laughed until their sides hurt, glorious in their act of treasonous deception.

Eventually the laughing died down, and they just laid there, enjoying each other’s companionship. Thor hadn’t felt this content in a long time. Perhaps not since the war began. Certainly not since his wedding.

"Well, that was fun,” Sif said.

Volstagg smiled at her. “Aye, it was. I think I need a drink after that. Hogun, where’s your flask?”

“Where it always is,” Hogun said with a grin. He reached into his boot, and produced a small flask. He took a hearty swig before handing it to Volstagg.

“Ah,” said Volstagg, “the elixir of Vanaheim.” He took a big gulp, and licked his lips to lap up any spilled drops. “How I’ve missed you, my friend.”

“You borrowed it yesterday,” Hogun pointed out.

“And I have missed it since then!” said Volstagg. Hogun rolled his eyes, but chuckled.

Volstagg took another big swallow, before Sif grabbed it from his lips. “Give it here!”

But before she could take it, the chambers’ doors burst open, and Lady Sarnyr appeared, accompanied by a team of eight men.

When she made it to the threshold of the bedchamber, she froze at the sight of the six of them, cuddled up together in the middle of the broken bed, sipping Vanir mead.

“What in Hel are you all doing?”

“Enjoying our friendship,” Fandral retorted, as he made to get up from the mattress. “You should try it sometime, my lady.”

She rolled her eyes. “You are insufferable, Lord Fandral. You realize you’ve gone through fifty-three bedsheets in just the last month?”

“It’s fifty-four, actually,” he said with a shit-eating smirk. “I forgot to mention earlier, I need them replaced again.”

“As I said, insufferable. Now shoo, all of you! We have work to do! Out!”

They quickly did as she said, and with another smirk from Fandral, they filed out the chambers’ doors.

xxx

They ended up in one of the feast halls, long since emptied of the last of the palace residents. They sat around a table corner, passing around Hogun’s flask.

“Would you like to try some?” Volstagg asked, holding the flask out to Loki. “Vanir mead is truly the work of the Norns.”

Loki shrugged. “I suppose. Thank you.” He took a sip, and immediately spit it out. He gagged for a moment, before choking out, “It’s…bitter. What-” – he coughed again – “What is that?”

“That’s the alcohol,” Sif said. “Are you unused to the taste?”

Loki nodded, coughing a few more times before he said, “I have never been allowed alcohol before.”

“Well, it takes some getting used to,” Volstagg said with a smile. “But if you’re wanting to start getting used to it, Vanir mead is an excellent drink to begin with.”

Loki wiped his mouth. “Perhaps another time.”

Volstagg shrugged, and took another gulp.

“Thank you,” Thor said. He had been quiet for a while, and his friends looked to him with interest. “For helping Loki and me today. Especially for technically committing treason for our sakes.”

“It was our pleasure,” said Fandral. He smiled. “And what do we always say, about lying to our king to cover for Thor?”

“It’s only considered treason-” Volstagg began.

“-if Odin finds out,” the four finished in unison.

Loki’s brow furrowed. “What? You have done this sort of thing before?”

“Many a time,” said Fandral. “Although in the past, it was usually to cover for him breaking curfew and spending the night in a tavern. Never quite so weighty an issue as this.”

“Which gives us all the more reason to lie,” said Hogun.

Thor chuckled. “Like I said earlier,” he said to Loki, “everyone I know is throwing their morals out the window for us.”

Loki’s smile flickered onto his face, but in an instant it was gone, as a dark cloud took over his expression. Thor’s own smile faltered at the sight. “What is it?”

Loki’s eyes flicked to him. “I was thinking of Heimdall. He hears and sees all we do, yes?”

Oh. Thor’s heart started to clamor in his chest again.

“So,” Loki continued, “he’s seen…that we’re not…” He cleared his throat. “…That we’re not using the bed for…its intended purpose.”

“Yes,” said Fandral, “you have a point there. But consider this.” He shifted from his lounging position to lean forward slightly. “We have lied for Thor countless times, and Heimdall has never said anything. Because he didn’t think it worth the trouble of reporting it. So, since it’s been over two months since the wedding, he’s seen what you are – or rather in this case, are not – doing. And so far, he has remained silent.” He arched an eyebrow. “Don’t you think it’s for the same reason? That he doesn’t think it’s worth it to report it to the Allfather?”

This struck Thor. He hadn’t even considered Heimdall in all this. The all-seeing guardian was eternally stationed at the Bifrost, away from the rest of Asgard. It was easy to forget he watched everything the citizens did, and heard everything they said.

Including that Loki had been menstruating, and therefore wasn’t carrying Thor’s child.

“So he knows about…what you were ill with, as well,” Thor said to Loki. “And what that could mean for us, should the Allfather learn of it.”

Loki’s eyes turned glassy again, like he was about to start crying. Thor took his hand under the table, trying to reassure him with his firm grip. He hoped it was working.

“Well, he hasn’t reported that, either,” Fandral said. He leaned back again. “I’d guess he’s taking the approach of telling only if asked directly, much like Eir.” He smiled. “One could almost say he’s on your side in this, as well.”

It all hit Thor then, how many people knew of this secret. Eir. Heimdall. Frigga. His four friends. Him and Loki.

Nine people. It really was too many to keep a secret.

“He will find out,” Loki murmured, seemingly on the same page as Thor in this. “We cannot avoid it.”

“So,” Sif prompted, “what will you do when he does?”

This was the question that still kept Thor up at night. He shifted in his seat, as if his position was what made him uncomfortable. “I don’t know,” he finally admitted. “I’ve been trying to come up with a plan, but all I can think of is…” He gave a self-deprecating laugh. “…to yell at my father till I’m blue in the face, explain every reason why I haven’t done as he expected. And hope he sees sense.”

“You are his son,” Sif offered. “He does love you. Or,” – her lips became a flat line – “at least he thinks he does. If he knows the extent of your suffering, and the perfectly logical reasons for why you’ve suffered, there is a chance he will relent.”

Thor gave Sif a piercing look. “Sif, this is King Odin, Son of Bor, Allfather of All Asgard. You know what he’s like. You saw it yourself today. Do you really think he will relent, and leave me and Loki in peace, free of the duty of child-making?”

Sif had no answer to that. Because there was only one real answer. She left the question in silence.

But only for a moment. “Well,” she said, “if it does come to a confrontation, know that we will have your back. No matter what.”

The Warriors Three nodded their agreement. “No matter what,” said Hogun. Volstagg raised the flask, in a wordless toast to their commitment.

Thor felt such gratitude pulse from his heart, filling his veins with warmth. “I could not ask such a thing of you, to put yourselves in such danger for my sake. But I also know I cannot convince you to do otherwise.” They smirked. “So, I can only say how honored I am. I truly could not ask for better friends.”

“Nor could I,” Loki put in, quiet as a mouse.

They sat there for a time as the sun set, drinking the flask dry and calling a servant for some ale. Thor nursed his drink in silence, listening to his friends’ idle talk. He felt so happy.

Then Loki scooted closer to him. Thor couldn’t ignore how much his skin prickled with heat at the action. Loki’s body was less than an inch from his. He was so close, and oh, how Thor wanted to be closer, to close that distance between them all the way.

“We got what we wanted today,” Loki murmured, so only Thor could hear. “How are you?”

Thor met him with a broad grin. “Better than I’ve been in months. And you?”

Loki looked down, took in a deep breath. He seemed to be mustering the courage to say something. Thor waited.

When Loki looked up to him, he looked so shy, but his eyes were gleaming with warmth. “I feel safe,” he said.

Thor couldn’t help but wrap his arm around Loki’s shoulders. Loki didn’t flinch, or tense, or start trembling. Just as that morning on Thor’s cot, Thor swore he felt Loki lean closer, easing into the half-embrace.

“It brings me such joy to hear that,” Thor said, still in a low voice. “That’s all I’ve ever wanted for you. To feel safe, and to find your own happiness. So, are you happy?”

Loki shrugged. “I’m happy being with you.”

Their eyes stayed locked on each other for a long moment, and Thor was taken by such a deep desire and affection for his husband. He sat there in the hall for a long while, and simply sharing in the quiet with Loki, while their friends lounged and conversed around them.

For tonight, there was peace.

Chapter Text

For the first time in months, Thor’s dreams changed. Whether the change was for the better, however, was debatable.

He followed Loki’s screams throughout the palace. When he finally caught sight of him, it was as Odin was dragging Loki toward the bedchamber.

“Thor!” Loki kept calling out to him. “Thor, please!”

As Thor ran to help him, a searing pain burned his arms. He looked to them, and saw it was from the ice-blue hands holding him back.

“Go with your father,” Laufey growled in his ear, “and fuck your precious consort, or it will be returning to Jotunheim with me.”

Thankfully, he woke before anything else happened. Still, the phantom sting from Laufey’s grip prickled on his forearms. He rubbed them, trying to ease it away.

At least this dream was easier to distinguish from reality. Loki was still here in Asgard, safely asleep in the study. Thor did his best to remind himself of that fact. He’s still here. It was just a dream.

As Thor sat up, one of the workers emerged from the bedchamber. He bowed. “My prince, your bed is ready now. Forgive us if we woke you.”

“You did not wake me,” he said. “Thank you for your efforts. I’m sure the bed is magnificent.”

The worker bowed again, then ushered his fellows out of the bedchamber, leaving the royal couple be.

And, leaving the new royal bed for inspection.

Thor couldn’t deny he was dreading this. It was possible the new bed would still remind him of that night. It could also be that it was the chamber itself, and no change in its furniture would make any difference.

But, there was only one way to find out. So, Thor got up and entered the bedchamber.

The bed was certainly beautiful, with the dragonhide coating the sacred wood of the frame and bedposts. The over-blanket was still the same deep red of the previous one, but unlike that horrid night, at least this bed had its blankets.

As he approached it, he caught the faint scent of the snowleaves, sweet and misty as the mountains on which they bloomed. He was glad he had mentioned this particular detail for the bed; among its many uses, snowleaf was a key ingredient in the relaxant and sedative classes of potions. As he inhaled the scent further, he felt its calming effects.

He sat on the edge, feeling how soft the mattress was. He noticed how calm he was, how his chest didn’t tighten at the proximity of this object. All in all, this was definitely an improvement.

It was still a bed, still in this same bedchamber. But it was better.

At that moment, Loki opened the study door. Thor smiled at him. “We have a new bed,” he said, as if it weren’t obvious.

Loki just nodded, didn’t smile back. Thor could understand his caution. But, he was sitting on the bed himself, so maybe that would give Loki some encouragement that it would be alright.

Loki padded over to it with all his unintentional grace. Thor felt his heart speed up at the sight, and tried to keep his breathing in check as Loki took a seat beside him.

Loki sniffed. “What is that scent?”

“The snowleaves,” Thor said with a smile. “They tend to have a relaxing effect.”

In response, Loki took in another deep inhale. “Mmm,” he hummed in agreement.

It was silent for a moment more, save for the whispers of Loki’s hands stroking the silk over-sheet. At last he gave his verdict: “It’s better. Much better.”

“I agree,” said Thor. “Perhaps we could even sleep here.”

He realized what he’d said a second too late, as Loki’s eyes widened at him, his limbs coiled in preparation to flee.

Fuck. “Nonono-” Thor stammered, holding up his hands to indicate he meant no harm. “No, no, I…I didn’t mean-” He laughed nervously. “Obviously, not together-

That released some of the tension in Loki. “Oh…you mean…only one of us…?”

“Yes, yes, of course,” said Thor. “Perhaps we could…take turns. Alternate nights, between the bed and the cots. But still in our separate rooms, of course. You would still have your privacy.”

He heard Loki’s relieved exhale. “That…that could work. Thank you.”

Thor did his best to stifle his own relieved breath out. That had been too close.

And now all he could think about was sleeping beside Loki, reaching an arm over to hold him close, feeling Loki cuddle into his embrace, how warm his soft sigh would feel against his collarbone-

No. Loki’s response to the idea clearly indicated he didn’t want that. And for good reason. Such close contact, in this same bedchamber, could too easily shift into the more intimate realm. Which Loki couldn’t ever want from him.

“What are those?”

He looked over to where Loki was pointing. He was indicating the headboard, which had a strip of the sacred oak exposed from the dragonhide. On that wood, one of the craftsmen had carved the traditional runes.

Thor’s stomach lurched at the sight.

“It was a tradition among my ancestors,” he said, “when my people were few. They are blessings that were carved into the headboard of every newlyweds’ bed.”

Loki’s pointed finger faltered. He looked down at the blankets, and Thor knew he understood what the blessings were for. Especially with the mention of their uses when my people were few.

“So they are for blessings in child-making?” Loki asked.

Thor nodded. “For fertility.”

Even though Loki’s breath was quiet, by now Thor could tell when it was frightened. “Were those runes on our previous bed?” Loki asked.

“I…” Thor wracked his brain, but found he didn’t want to picture the previous bed for long. “…I assume so. It wouldn’t make sense to have it otherwise.”

Loki was still after that. Thor could hardly even hear him breathe. But he noticed Loki’s brow knit together, like he wanted to say something further but wasn’t sure of the correct course.

“What is it?” Thor asked.

“I just…” Loki finally drew a visible breath. “…if…or rather when, when we have to do it again-”

Thor averted his eyes.

“Is there anything I should know?”

That wasn’t the question Thor had thought Loki would ask. He looked back to Loki. “What do you mean?”

“I mean…” Loki started making vague gestures with his hands, attempting to make his meaning known. “…if there’s…if there’s anything I can do to…to make it easier.”

Thor felt a lance of heat pierce him. “Oh.”

Loki was starting to shake. Thor only saw it because he was so practiced at looking for it, and that fact grieved him. “I just…” Loki said, “…I don’t…I know next to nothing about this domain, or how a new bride might…might prepare herself for this-”

“Loki,” Thor sighed. He really didn’t want to have this conversation with his husband. “It is not your burden to ensure you are not injured in such an act.”

“Then who’s is it?”

“Mine.” Thor took a breath, leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees. “That night…I decided to get it over with, to end both our humiliation. But now I know how…how that hurt you so badly.”

“That’s not your fault,” Loki put in.

Thor sat with that idea. He still wasn’t entirely convinced that he didn’t hold some part of the blame for that night. But he knew Loki would keep arguing the point if he protested, so he let it go for the moment. “Well, now that I have a chance to ask your opinion, am I correct in saying you would prefer a less painful act, even if it took longer?”

Now it was Loki’s turn to sit with the prospect. Thor didn’t want to have to ask him this. He might as well put it more bluntly, and ask Should I go slowly or quickly when I have to rape you again?

But Loki did reply. “Maybe. Is there anything I should do, to help achieve that goal?”

“Don’t worry about that,” Thor quickly shut that thought down. “If it comes to that, I will do everything to ensure you are not injured.”

As they sat there in a silence far more awkward than Thor had thought to get into this morning, he noticed a particular movement of Loki’s legs. Specifically, he saw them draw closer together, closing against the scenario they had just described.

“I’m sorry,” Loki murmured. “I know it’s not a topic you want to contemplate first thing in the morning.”

“Or ever,” said Thor. “And I wish we did not have to. But you are only trying to protect yourself.”

Loki didn’t say anything in reply. Thor let him have that silence, until he noticed Loki’s arms wrapping around himself. His eyes looked far too distant to be coupled with that gesture, so Thor did his best to shake him out of it.

But all he could think to say was: “You can use the bathing chambers first, if you’d like.”

It certainly wasn’t the soothing speech he wanted to give. But, it worked to distract Loki from wherever his thoughts were, as he nodded, and rose to head to the bathing chambers.

Thor thought that was the end of the discussion, until Loki stopped. Turned around. And asked Thor a question in such a fragile voice.

“Does it have to hurt? Every time?”

Thor was so shocked he couldn’t reply for a few seconds.

What was he supposed to say to that? Was he to explain the usual functioning of the vagina, and how it operated during intercourse? Should he give a detailed account of his experiences in such acts, to explain what could make it more or less painful for the receiving partner?

Did any of that even matter, considering this potential partner was completely unwilling in the act? Regardless of what Thor could do to help him through it?

In the end, he gave the briefest answer he could while still being reassuring. “No, Loki,” he said. “It does not have to hurt.”

He couldn’t tell what Loki’s reaction was to that reply. Maybe he understood the meaning, that even though it didn’t have to hurt, their circumstances meant that it probably would.

His last look at Thor, before disappearing to the bathing chambers, supported that conclusion.

xxx

They agreed to go riding that day. Loki hadn’t seen Thialfi in a few days, and Thor was sure Tanngrisnir was getting restless. The physical activity would also help clear Thor’s head from their previous conversation, so he heartily agreed to the task.

But, as if the Norns sensed that Thor was about to enjoy a day with his husband, they sent a servant boy to summon him to a different course of action.

He was the same dark-haired youth who had spooked at seeing Loki several days ago. As he was about to deliver his message, he caught Loki’s eye, and immediately froze in fear.

The reaction took Thor unawares, and he noticed Loki avert his eyes in embarrassment. It struck Thor then, how Loki had previously guessed at the opinions the general public of Asgard might have of him. As for the servants, who had seen him and Loki in varying scenes of distress when bringing them food or delivering messages…

He knew the royal family must be a chief source of gossip in the servants’ halls. But it hadn’t occurred to him how this might affect Loki.

So, in a show of solidarity, he brought his hand to Loki’s shoulder blade. Loki looked at him, his eyes searching for reassurance. Thor hoped his expression supplied an abundance of it.

Only then did he look at the servant boy, whose eyes were now fixed on where Thor’s hand met Loki’s shoulder. Hopefully it sent the right message. “What news?” Thor asked.

The boy gulped. “The All…the Allfather requests your presence at a meeting of his council, my prince.”

Thor sighed. Just what he needed today. “Tell him I will be there shortly.”

“Um…” The boy looked at his shoes. “…I have been instructed to escort you there directly, Your Highness. The king says it is an urgent matter.”

That made Thor’s jaw clench. His father truly had no limit in his slights toward his son.

He could theoretically refuse this altogether. This scrawny lad couldn’t physically force him to go to the council meeting. He could just walk away, and continue to the stables with Loki.

But, he didn’t want to cause any more trouble than necessary with his father these days. Not with the looming, real trouble on the horizon.

So, he nodded at the boy, and turned to Loki. “I’m afraid we must delay our outing for now. Would you like to return to our chambers?”

Loki paused for a moment. “Would it be alright if I waited for you at the stables?”

Thor hadn’t been expecting that. And he found a surge of pride rush into him, so quickly he didn’t at first realize why. But there it was a second later: Loki wanted to try being out in the open without him!

“I could get Thialfi ready,” Loki said. “I couldn’t ready Tanngrisnir, of course-”

“That would be perfectly fine,” Thor said. “I’ll meet you there once I am done with this business.”

Loki smiled, but ducked his head to hide it almost immediately. “Until then,” he said, and left for the stables.

His exit left Thor with this boy who was to escort him to the throne room. Certainly not the companion Thor had hoped to walk with this morning.

But as they walked, he started noticing the boy sneaking glances up at him, then quickly looking down again. He couldn’t be older than three hundred.

Thor found his heart soften as he watched this nervous young lad. “What is your name?” he asked kindly.

The boy looked surprised. “R…R-Runir, Your Highness.”

Thor smiled. “Well met, Runir. How long have you served in the palace?”

“Thirty-eight years,” Runir said. He stood a little straighter at that. “My father says he’ll throw me a party when I reach forty years here. He’s one of the palace guards. My mother works in the kitchens. They’ve been here since they were my age.”

Thor’s grin only broadened, listening to this young one speak with such pride about his family’s service. “Tell them I’m grateful for your family’s devotion to mine. And that they have taught their son well about his duty.”

“Thank you, my prince!” Runir exclaimed. He almost tripped over his own feet in his excitement, but his wide smile didn’t falter.

Thor chuckled. “And have you brothers or sisters?”

“One brother,” Runir said. “He’s a baker, he has a shop in the city. And…” His voice grew even louder. “…my mother is going to have a baby next year! Father gave one to her when he came home from the war!”

Thor felt his amused expression falter, but did his best to conceal it. The mention of expecting a baby brought up too many uncomfortable subjects.

Then, even worse, was Runir’s next comment: “Mother says you’ll give Prince Loki a baby soon, too. Will your baby also be born next year?”

Thor tried to hide the tension building up in his shoulders. He took a measured breath through his nose. He settled on saying, “I don’t know. It’s too soon to say.”

He felt Runir’s enthusiasm wane, and knew it was probably because of his own changed demeanor. Well, hopefully it would end this whole conversation.

But it didn’t. After a while, Runir asked in a more timid voice, “Do you…do you like being married to Prince Loki?”

At that, Thor smiled. He knew he could answer that question without any lies. “I do. He is a good man. And he is good company. I am glad to spend my days with him.”

They had made it to the doors of the throne room by now. But Thor realized he might have more to ask this boy, so he took his chance. “What do the other servants say about Prince Loki?”

Runir looked thrown for a loop by the question. “Um…” He started shifting his weight back and forth, clearly nervous.

“I do not intend to punish you for it,” Thor said, in case that was the reason for Runir’s unease. “I simply want to know. You must hear things, around the kitchens, or the servants’ quarters.”

Runir nodded meekly. “They say…” He swallowed. “…They say that he was born deformed. And…and that he is a Jotun, and Jotuns only hold treachery in their hearts. And…that he cast an Aesir glamour on himself, to please the Allfather. And…”

He gave Thor a shy look. “…And that you both look sad, when you are in your chambers.”

Thor was struck by all four comments. The first one made him angry at the servants. The second made him angry at all of Asgard, for such bigoted notions of another race. The third made him angry at his father, for all he had done to Loki.

And the fourth stirred his profound grief, at how much of his and Loki’s pain was on display for everyone to see. And yet so few knew the reasons for it.

He tried to steady himself with a breath, and did his best to corral his words into an even tone. “Runir, can you do something for me?”

Runir gave a tentative nod.

“I want you to listen for such talk about Prince Loki and me. And whenever you hear it, tell them the truth. Tell them that Loki was born different from others of his kind, not deformed. Tell them that, while Loki is a Jotun, he is no more about to betray Asgard than I am. Tell them that it was the Allfather who cast the glamour on Loki to appear as an Aesir. And tell them that Loki makes me very happy, and is more than an adequate consort for their future king.”

Runir nodded as he took in all this information. He did look a bit overwhelmed by it all. But, he had been so proud of his duty earlier, so Thor pressed for an advantage there. “I’m counting on you, Runir. Can you do this for me? For your prince?”

That was the ticket. A fire lit in Runir’s eyes, and he gave a firm nod. “I will, my prince! I swear it to the Norns!”

Thor smiled. “Good. You may go now.”

Runir smiled back, and walked back down the hallway.

But just as Thor turned to the doors of the throne room, Runir called out his name again. He turned, to see Runir looking at him with a thoughtful expression.

“Prince Thor…” Runir said. “…if I may ask…if Prince Loki does indeed make you happy…why are you both so sad? When you are in your chambers?”

Thor looked at him for a moment, trying to figure out what to say in response. He knew for a fact that Runir had no idea about the bedding ceremony, the pressures to impregnate Loki, the fact that Loki wasn’t pregnant, or how much pain they both still carried from their first night together, while still living with one of their perpetrators.

He also knew that, while the boy surely meant well, it was best that he didn’t know about any of that. This was just a servant boy, who worked amid the busiest gossip center in Asgard. It carried too much risk.

So, with a deep sigh, Thor settled on saying, “We have our reasons, Runir. They are no fault of Prince Loki’s, but know that there are reasons for it.”

Runir’s mouth parted. It was clear he wanted to ask further questions, but he ended up nodding with a “Very well, my prince.”

Thor nodded in response. “Thank you, Runir,” he said, and turned again to enter the throne room.

xxx

Once Thor sat down at the council table, he was handed a stack of several papers. Upon inspection, it was a copy of the current trade stipulations with Alfheim. Apparently, the Light Elf ambassador had taken to passing along all information via notes and documents, rather than face the wrath of the Allfather in person.

But, the negotiations were in their closing stages. The next two hours were spent going over every detail, making sure they were agreeable enough to Asgard.

The councilors argued back and forth needlessly. All the while Odin stayed silent. Thor listened, and looked over everything himself. A few things stood out as steeper terms that favored Alfheim, but just as many edged sharply in Asgard’s favor. Such was the art of compromise.

But compromise was apparently a word not in Lord Vidarr’s vocabulary. “These interest rates are unacceptable!” he shouted. “And an offering of twelve thousand gold pieces directly to the Elf king’s coffers? We would be better off invading their realm!”

“They are an ally,” Lord Balder reminded him. “What message would that send the other realms about Asgard?”

“Perhaps…”

It was Lord Hoder, wheezing out of his ancient lungs. “…perhaps it would be prudent to invite King Njord here, for the final negotiations. A gesture of goodwill, while allowing us a home-soil advantage.”

Odin raised his eyebrows at that. Thor could tell his father was impressed by the suggestion.

But, he didn’t expect his father to turn his gaze to him. “What do you think, my son?”

All eyes turned to Thor. It wasn’t often that Odin respectfully asked Thor’s opinion to decide a crucial matter of state. But, Thor had to remind himself that these opportunities were valuable. One day, everyone would turn to his opinion for all decisions, and no one would hold rank enough to overrule his missteps.

He glanced at the documents again. “The current stipulations are acceptable right now. But, if we do as Lord Hoder suggests, and invite King Njord here, he may be flattered enough to concede even more. We could turn these terms from acceptable, to highly favorable.”

The councilors all murmured to themselves. Thor noticed a few heads nodding in approval. Lord Vidarr still looked disgruntled, but made no further declarations of war.

Odin folded his hands together on the table. “It is decided then. I shall send our invitation to Njord and his court. Once he accepts, I shall announce their visit to our people.” He stood, Gungnir in hand. “You are dismissed.”

The other councilors stood, and began to take their leaves, murmuring to one another. Lord Balder went to ask Odin something, but Odin waved him away. “Thor,” he called out.

Thor stopped in his tracks. He really was hoping he’d be free to see Loki again after this. But, it was in his and Loki’s continuing interests if he obliged his father in these small matters.

So, he dutifully walked over to Odin’s side. Odin didn’t meet his eyes, instead looking out at the open-air windows to Asgard City. “You did well, my son.”

Just like that, Thor felt those old yearnings for his father’s approval stir in his heart. He’d always quested after it as a young boy, and even though he grew to rebel against the king’s proscriptions as he grew older, that longing for proof of his worthiness as a son had never faded.

He wished he could be free of that insecurity. Frigga never gave him reason to think himself unworthy of her love, so her opinion should be all that mattered. But fathers and sons were a special bond all their own. Especially when that father was the king of the realm, and the son was his only heir.

But, Thor knew better than to ever voice those doubts to his father. It could only be used against him in their next spat. So, he pushed past it. “I had thought Lord Vidarr would send us into another war,” he said dryly.

“Say what you like about him,” said Odin, “but his dissent is useful. Sometimes the drastic action is the best course. And when it isn’t, an advisor’s brashness will provide contrast when your rational decision prevails, making you appear even wiser to your councilors.”

This was what Thor tired of more than anything else, how ruling quickly turned into political charades and petty mind games with those supposed to advise him. “So I am to fill my council with warmongers and brutes?”

“Not entirely,” Odin explained. “You want wisdom and expertise, for the most part. And loyalty, most of all. Such as the Warriors Three, of whom you are so fond.”

Thor felt a smile tug at his lips. Yesterday’s antics with the bed, and his friends’ talk of treason to protect him and Loki, left no doubt of their loyalty to him. “Indeed. They have proven their loyalty to me a thousand times over. As has the Lady Sif.”

“Good,” said Odin. “You will need them, I imagine, when your time comes.”

Thor noticed the Allfather’s grip tighten on Gungnir. The old man’s eye looked out at his kingdom with a far-off expression.

“I know you may think I am too harsh with you,” he said. “That I berate you for shirking your duties, that I hound you to continue the royal line. But know that I do so for the security of our people. Their continued prosperity depends upon it.”

Thor glanced at Odin. He knew the kingdom was the reason for everything his father did. It would have been touching were it not so cruel in its results. But, Odin had always been a better king than father.

Still, Thor nodded. “I understand, Father.”

Odin chuckled. “No, you don’t. And you won’t, until you sit on Hlidskjalf as your ancestors did. Until you wield Gungnir as my father did, and his father before him. Until your every decision determines the welfare of millions in this realm and beyond. No, my boy, until then, you cannot truly understand.”

He turned to Thor. “So go. Enjoy your leisure time with your friends, while you still have that luxury.”

Thor nodded, and for once, he eagerly did as his father asked.

xxx

As Thor headed through the halls of his home, heading to the south to begin the walk to the stables, he thought on what his father had said. How he couldn’t really understand his father’s position until he occupied it himself. The implication, of course, was that if he were in his father’s shoes, he might do the same things.

And that just smelled like bullshit.

If he were a king, and a long and horrendous war with another realm were dragging to an end, would he wed his only son to a stranger’s child to cement a peace treaty? If he would, it certainly wouldn’t be right away. He would like to think he would at least include his offspring in such a decision regarding their future.

And once the children were wed, would Thor decide to force them into consummating their marriage on the first night by watching them do it? And then never inquire as to how his child was feeling about it afterward?

Surely not. As Lord Tyr had counseled, he would rather leave the newlyweds to their own devices. An heir would come in time. And if not, as Frigga had said, the throne would always find an heir somewhere in the family tree. It wasn’t worth perpetrating such an unspeakable act on anyone, let alone on his own child.

But, Thor may not have to worry about that, because from the way his marriage was going, he wasn’t sure if he would even have children.

Unless, of course, he and Loki were forced into it again.

That made a knot tighten in his abdomen. It brought him back to what Loki had asked him this morning, about how to make such an act easier on him.

He’d assured Loki that he would do everything to ensure he wasn’t injured. But he hadn’t gone into specifics. He hadn’t wanted to.

Because the way to make intercourse easier on the inexperienced female partner was to engage her body’s interest. To touch and caress her. To arouse her, so her vaginal muscles relaxed and opened, making them more flexible to prevent tearing. To produce her own natural lubrication, to make the slide easier.

He tried to imagine performing such actions on Loki, but found that he couldn’t. He could only imagine Loki silently crying, how he would go still under Thor’s coaxing touches, trying not to flinch from them even though he clearly wanted to. Even if it somehow worked, and Loki started getting wet, it would only be a physical reaction, a betrayal of Loki’s body against his mind and heart.

Such actions may constitute a greater violation on Thor’s part than a perfunctory fucking. If he made such advances in a second bedding, their trust could be shattered. Loki would never talk to him again, and would cringe at Thor’s presence the rest of their days.

But, to not do so, and neglect Loki’s physical needs the second time, would bring such great agony to his husband that Thor couldn’t bring himself to inflict. He didn’t know what would be worse, to just fuck him or to attempt to make love to him. Either way, he and Loki would both suffer even more, again and again, until they conceived a child.

All because Odin thought it was best for his people.

“Prince Thor!”

He was shaken from his thoughts by a familiar voice. He was now halfway to the stables, and turned behind him to the road he’d just walked upon, to the voice’s approaching source.

It was Lady Sigyn, dashing toward him in a bright green dress. Her braids were gone from her hair, replaced with a simple thong tying half of it behind her. The rest of her dark blonde locks flowed in the wind as she ran.

In case she was in some distress, Thor made his way back to her. “What brings you in such a hurry, my lady?”

She panted as she made it up to him. But her smile at him was bright, reflected in her honey-brown eyes. “I only wondered if I might join you at the stables, my prince.”

Oh. Not an emergency after all. Thor felt his walls go up again. “I…my lady, I was already-”

“Already on your way there, I know. And now we can go together, nay?” She still grinned at him so broadly, as she offered her arm for him to take.

Thor knew it would be ungentlemanly for him to refuse a young lady’s request for an escort. But he had really been looking forward to spending time with just Loki, especially with what they had both been through the last few days.

Not to mention he was now aware that Sigyn was making not-so-subtle advances toward him, and he didn’t feel he should be leading her on like this.

However, this was just a request for an escort. Perhaps he could take her to the stables, then leave her company for Loki’s, and he could ride off with his husband for the rest of the day.

So, he took her offered arm, making her grin broader, if that were possible. He tried to walk quickly with her, but she walked much more slowly, intending to drag this out.

Well, he could oblige this, just this once.

“It’s a beautiful day for riding,” Sigyn said. “I woke up this morning, took in the crisp air, and decided that it would be the perfect day for a gallop.”

“I see,” said Thor. He knew perfectly well that all of that was a lie, and that she hadn’t thought to go riding until she saw him walking toward the stables.

To imply this point, he looked down at her feet and remarked, “But you are not wearing your riding boots.”

“Oh, right,” said Sigyn. She giggled nervously. “Well…there’s usually some extra ones at the stables, I thought I would borrow a pair once I arrived. I was just so excited, you see, to head out right away-”

“My lady,” Thor said. He stopped. “I think we can both drop the pretense here.”

She looked up at him, directly into his eyes. “Whatever do you mean?”

“I mean,” he said, “that it was not horses you were determined to spend your day with this morning.”

She blushed bright red. “I…you mean, you knew? All this time?”

“I may be an unobservant brute at times,” said Thor with a self-deprecating smile, “but I did notice, eventually.”

She inched closer to him. “I had thought myself invisible to your eyes.”

Well, technically she had been, as Thor had had much more pressing concerns. But now that he had the chance to tell her he was aware of her interest, it was time to let her down gently.

“Sigyn, you are a lovely young woman. Once I noticed your interest, it became rather obvious. So now that we know where the other stands, it remains to-”

He was interrupted by Sigyn’s mouth crashing onto his, kissing him with fervor.

He was so shocked by the turn of events he could only stare at her for a good three seconds, as she desperately worked her lips against his. She clearly had little experience with this, as there was no discernable technique or finesse to her movements.

Thor’s wits returned to him quickly enough, and he pushed her forcefully away from him. “You mistake my meaning, my lady,” he ground out.

Her face fell so quickly it might have been pushed off a cliff. Her bottom lip quivered. “What? What do you mean?”

“I mean only that I know you harbor affections for me,” he said. “But I must inform you I cannot return them.”

She visibly flinched from his words. He had wanted to gently break this to her, but it was clear it wounded her more than he’d anticipated. “But…but, I thought-”

“If I have given you reason to think otherwise, I must ask your forgiveness. If I did so, it was not my intention. I am sorry to have led you on this long, and that I must disappoint you now.”

Tears were starting to escape her eyes, though she was desperately trying to keep them in. She looked down, and started wiping them away.

“I thought…” she sniffed, “…my mother told me that…you would deflower any young maiden to arrive at court. That…I should make a good impression…”

Thor sighed. “There was a time when that was true. But I am married now.”

She looked at him then from her red-rimmed eyes. “Married to a dual-sexed Jotun? Is that truly all you need now to warm your bed-”

He stepped forward without thinking, towering right in front of her. He didn’t strike her for her words, as he would not attack someone so defenseless. But he certainly felt the urge to.

Instead, he relied on a tone that dripped with menace. “Have a care for how you speak,” he uttered. She cowered in his eyes, her own wide with terror now. “Insult me all you like, but do not do the same to Prince Loki. He has done nothing to earn such ill treatment, from you or anyone else.”

“Thor?”

Both he and Sigyn turned, to see Loki standing a few feet away from them, having walked up from the paddock to meet his husband.

Thor flushed. He had no idea how much Loki had seen, or what he might have heard. All he knew was that Loki was seeing him stand threateningly close to a crying young woman, which was not the image of himself he wanted to project to his husband.

“The…the horses are ready,” Loki stammered. He looked so unsure of this whole situation. “The stable master readied Tanngrisnir for you. That is, if…if you still want to-”

He was interrupted by a sob from Sigyn. Thor barely turned in time to see her whirl away from the two princes, as she ran back toward the palace in tears.

Well, that could have gone much better.

Thor turned back to Loki, trying to see how he was taking this. Loki was just looking at him with a cautious curiosity. Almost like he expected Thor to change his mind, and decide he didn’t want to spend the day riding with Loki after all.

Yet another notion Thor needed to disabuse someone of today. “Yes, let’s collect the horses.”

Loki nodded. But he still seemed so unsure as he looked at Thor. Thor could feel his gaze linger on him the whole rest of the way to the stables.

xxx

They rode in silence for a while, but eventually Thor couldn’t take it. Regardless of what Loki had seen, he wanted to reassure him that nothing substantial had actually happened. “Are you alright?” he asked.

Loki didn’t look at him. He only said, “I think it would be best if we spoke of this in our chambers.”

Oh. Thor had no idea what Loki could mean by that. Of the topics that were reserved for their private rooms, they mostly revolved around the wedding night, the lack of pregnancy, and Loki’s previous abuse from his family. None of which were topics Thor ever looked forward to discussing, no matter how much they needed to be discussed.

But, he knew better than to press Loki further on this. “As you wish,” he said. And they rode in silence the rest of the day.

Until, that is, they started riding past some of the citizens’ farms. Thor knew some of these families, from back when his father had him study the different sectors of Asgard’s economy hands-on. He’d enjoyed helping in the trades of his subjects, but it was the farming he loved best. It had been hard, physical work, which was his favorite kind.

He heard some shrieks of laughter in a nearby field, and then he heard them approaching. He looked over to see four small children, all less than a century old, running over to them.

“The prince! The prince!” called out the ones who could speak. The youngest babbled in delight.

“Come back here!” called out the oldest. She was perhaps in her fifth century, a great deal older than the young ones. Perhaps she was an older sister tasked with caring for her younger siblings.

Upon seeing who the children were running toward, she curtsied. “My prince,” she said.

Thor smiled at them all. “Hello, little ones,” he said.

“Lightning!” one of them started calling out to him. “Lightning, lightning!”

The others joined in, starting a chant of “Lightning, lightning, lightning!”

Thor chuckled. This was a common request among the younger Asgardians. And one that he didn’t mind obliging in the least.

Still, he held out his hand for Mjolnir. Without her, there was no telling who he might accidentally electrocute.

As he waited, dark clouds gathered overhead. A distant roll of thunder echoed through the fields. The wind picked up all around him.

Just as the clouds gathered into an apex above them, Mjolnir flew to his hand. He called upon his power, and it responded readily, Mjolnir humming in delight in his palm as she brought a great lightning bolt down from the clouds.

The electricity rippled and arced around him, but only him. Tanngrisnir flicked his tail in annoyance. If he could have, Thor was sure the stallion would have rolled his eyes at the familiar antics.

The children cried out with delight at the display, and applauded when the lightning receded. Their hair was now sticking out in odd places from the static in the air, but they didn’t notice.

Thor noticed Loki run his fingers through his own hair, combing it back into place. But upon noticing Thor’s gaze on him, Loki returned it, and gave a cautious smile. “That was quite the display,” he murmured.

The children stopped clapping, and looked at Loki. Almost as if they were first noticing the other prince’s presence.

They whispered amongst themselves. The youngest one suddenly burst into tears, and clung to his older sister’s skirt as he wailed.

“Easy, Tarl, easy,” she soothed, and scooped the little one into her arms to rock his sobs away. It didn’t really work.

“Yeah, it’s okay, Tarl,” one little girl said. “He doesn’t even look like a Jotun.”

Loki tucked his head down in shame.

Well, Thor had had just about enough of events that gave Loki embarrassment today. First the servant boy was terrified of him, then Sigyn had insulted him, and now these children were crying because of him. Enough.

Thor had Tanngrisnir step forward, closer to the older sister holding Tarl. “What is he afraid of?”

The sister’s eyes widened at the question. “Oh, no, my prince, I would not presume to concern you with-”

“It’s alright,” said Thor. He was doing his best to be gentle now, but he could become firmer if he needed to. “Tell me.”

She looked back behind her. Perhaps in the direction of her family’s farmhouse. Then, with a sigh, she said, “It’s just that…our father fought in the war. And…he’s been telling stories, about the Jotnar.”

“What sort of stories?” Thor asked.

“Um…” Her eyes flashed quickly to Loki, then back down again. “…he says that the Jotnar are monsters who eat children in their sleep. Mother tells him to stop, as it always makes Tarl cry. And we heard that…to end the war, you married a Jotun, so…”

The other children were staring up at Loki. While they weren’t crying like Tarl was, it was clear they weren’t sure of their new prince, either.

Thor nudged Tanngrisnir a step closer, so he was right at the sister’s shoulder. He learned down a bit. “Tarl?”

Tarl snuck a glance up at him.

“Tarl, I understand you’re scared, after hearing those stories. But they’re not true. I fought in the war, just like your father, did you know that?”

Tarl nodded. His crying was starting to die down.

“Well, in all my time in Jotunheim, I never once saw a Jotun eating children. And Loki, he is a good man. He would never harm you, any more than I would.”

Tarl looked down at his sister’s shoulder again. He sniffled, but he had calmed down considerably.

So, Thor pushed his luck. “Would you like to say hello to Loki?”

Tarl didn’t look up. But, he waved a chubby hand in Loki’s general direction. Loki gave just as tentative a wave in response.

“Thank you, Tarl,” Thor said. “That was very nice. I hope you’re not scared anymore.”

Tarl just looked up at him. Well, he didn’t look to be very scared now, even if he wasn’t saying how he felt.

“We should go,” the sister holding him said to her siblings. “Let the princes continue their ride.” She looked back up to Thor. “I’m sorry if we intruded, Your Highness.”

“You did no such thing,” Thor replied. “I am happy to have met you all.”

She smiled, and led the young ones away. They held onto her skirts, shouting a chorus of “Goodbye, prince!”

Thor waved goodbye to them, and rode off again with Loki.

xxx

Loki still didn’t say anything the rest of their ride. Or while they were putting away their gear and rubbing down their mounts at dusk. Or on the walk back to the palace.

But once they were in the hallway that contained their chambers’ doors, Thor felt he should break this uncanny silence. “I’m sorry,” he said.

Loki looked at him. “For what?”

“Everything today,” Thor said with a shrug. “You must forgive me. I had not anticipated how people in Asgard would treat you.”

Now it was Loki’s turn to shrug, his eyes downcast. “I didn’t expect anything else.”

“Loki, considering how low your expectations were of your future husband, I don’t think your expectations about your life in Asgard are something to aspire to.” Thor held the doors open for Loki to enter, then followed and shut them behind them.

And, now that they were in their chambers, Thor knew they had to talk about Sigyn. “And about the girl, Sigyn…”

“The one you were with before we went riding?”

Thor nodded. He couldn’t make out any expression on Loki’s face that revealed what he thought of the encounter. He had nothing to go on here. “I don’t know…what you might have heard her say-”

“I saw her kiss you.”

Thor froze. Oh, fuck.

But he wouldn’t deny it. “Yes.”

Loki started fiddling with his hands. “Is she your mistress?”

Thor felt himself reel back at the prospect. “No, Loki. I’ve hardly spoken to her. Her affections are unrequited. I have no mistress.”

In any other marriage, this would have been a dramatic scene. A cold, passive-aggressive conversation, or perhaps an explosive outpouring of jealousy and rage. There could have been slamming doors or thrown objects, and certainly tears and accusations.

But when he spoke to Loki now, trying to calmly explain that he wasn’t having an affair, Loki’s brow knit in confusion. No exasperation, no frustration. Simple bewilderment.

Thor didn’t understand the reason, until Loki asked him just as bewildering a question: “Why not?”

He couldn’t have heard Loki correctly. “What?”

“I mean…” Loki moved to sit on the couch. “…I could hardly blame you.”

“Um…” Thor sat beside him. “…you’re my husband. I believe you would have every right to blame me, if I did.”

“You are the crown prince of the realm,” said Loki. “The only prince. And…you are a man. You have needs. And…I have not been…” He swallowed. “…I have not been providing for those needs…”

Oh. That was why Loki had wanted to speak of this behind closed doors.

“Loki,” Thor sighed, “it’s not your job to provide for my needs in that regard.”

“Some would argue that it’s my only job,” Loki said. “That, and bearing your children.”

“Well, they don’t know what they’re talking about,” Thor countered.

“All I’m saying,” Loki said, “is that you shouldn’t keep yourself from another’s willing bed if you desire them. Not on my account, at least.”

This was turning into such a bizarre conversation, one Thor had never imagined having with his future spouse. Loki was actually encouraging him to seek out other bedmates if he so desired. From his studies of the history books, Thor knew for a fact that if several of his more ancient ancestors could watch this discussion unfold, they would have howled in envy.

But…even though he was being given permission to return to his old ways, Thor found he had absolutely zero desire to do so. For several reasons.

The most obvious reason was the man sitting beside him, the one giving him the permission. The beautiful man with the good heart. The one he’d had the blessed fortune of marrying. Yes, that one.

But there was another reason, as well, and that was that Thor knew he’d changed in the last few months. He had the feeling that, whether he took a new bedpartner like Sigyn, or revisited an old flame like Brunnhilde, he’d start thinking of the wedding night. Pairing that night with a willing encounter filled him with revulsion. And it wouldn’t be fair to whomever he was with.

“Even if you are giving me permission, I don’t think I would want to,” he finally said to Loki. He tried to ignore the heaviness in his chest from contemplating it. “It would still feel like a betrayal.”

Loki’s brow crinkled slightly. “But I just told you, there’s nothing to betray.”

“I think you’re wrong about that.” said Thor. He took a breath, trying to consolidate his thoughts on the matter. “The things you’ve shared with me, about yourself. The ways you’ve trusted me. I don’t take such matters lightly. That must count for something. And…”

His next words forced him to pause. Loki just sat still, listening to him.

“…and the things I’ve shared with you,” Thor continued, more quietly this time. “The ways you’ve helped me in return. About the wedding night, or any of it.” He made sure Loki’s eyes met his. “I couldn’t share those feelings with just anyone. You are the only one I’ve trusted with that, and I’ve been right to do so.

“All of it put together, Loki. We have a deeper understanding than what I’d ever hoped was possible. That’s what I mean when I say that taking a mistress would feel like a betrayal.”

Loki took that in for a moment. Thor knew he’d left out the crucial reason why he wouldn’t take a mistress, but that had the potential to break their trust, so he stayed mum on that issue.

Loki finally let out an audible breath, and a small smile. “I’m glad I’m not the only one of us who felt this closeness. Thank you for naming it.”

Thor smiled in return. “Did you really think I would seek another’s bed?”

Loki shrugged. “I wasn’t sure. On one hand, it seemed unlike you the more I got to know you. But on the other hand, you are the realm’s only prince. In Jotunheim, a married king or prince’s mistress is a paid position.”

“Wait, what?”

“She has her own salary and living quarters in the palace. None of her children will ever have a right to the throne, and she’s always under threat of being cast out for a prettier woman, but she is somewhat official. If less official than the actual wife.”

Thor shook his head. “Forgive me if it’s culturally insensitive to say so, but that is one of the oddest customs I’ve ever heard of. Did your father have a mistress?”

“He had many,” said Loki. “Often many at one time, but only one ever occupied the official post at any given point. With my mother dead, they would act as the unofficial queen for their duration. They probably all wanted to become the official queen, too, but my father was too heartbroken for that.”

Thor had a thought then, but he wasn’t sure if he should voice it. “Were…were any of them ever kind to you?”

Loki looked down. Not a good sign. “Most never found out about me. Those that did soon learned how to treat me, or else they were swiftly replaced and thrown out of the palace.”

Honestly, was Thor expecting to hear anything else?

“Well,” he said, “that’s yet another part of your life I’m glad you’re rid of.”

Loki nodded. “As am I.”

“And don’t worry,” Thor said, “about what anyone said about you today. They don’t know you. All they know are rumors, and such talk is seldom kind. In time, we’ll set their ideas to rights.”

“And how do you propose we go about that?”

“I mostly envisioned me knocking on every door in the realm, proclaiming your good name through the streets for all to hear.” That earned the chuckle from Loki that Thor was hoping to hear.

“Thank you,” Loki said. “For that, and about the mistress. I’m still not sure I agree with your reasoning, but I do appreciate the sentiment.”

He rose to retire for the night, but stopped at the door to the bedchamber. “Thor, will you be sleeping in the new bed tonight?”

Thor considered. “Would you like to try it first?”

Loki looked back into the bedchamber. “I would, but…it’s just so big. I’ve never slept in a bed so large.”

“Then it’s settled,” said Thor. “You take it first.”

“No,” said Loki, “I mean that I only know comfort from a smaller space. You will miss the extra room tonight more than I would.”

“I’ll have it tomorrow,” said Thor. “Another night on a cot won’t kill me.” Then, softer, “You should take the bed, Loki. You might find you like the extra space.”

Loki still looked so hesitant. Thor tried one last tactic: “I’ll just be in the front room, if you need me. We can switch if you really don’t like it.”

It worked, as Loki finally nodded. “Thank you,” he whispered, before closing the bedchamber door.

Thor soon settled in for sleep himself in the usual cot. He thought back to Runir, and the farm children, looking at Loki in trepidation. He thought of Odin’s blatant attempts to justify his previous actions by saying it was all ‘for the good of the realm.’ He thought of Sigyn, and how she’d run to the palace crying after her rejection. After she’d kissed him.

He found his mind altering that event in his head, and his trousers tightening as he played it back. Instead of Sigyn’s mouth on his, it was Loki’s, and his lips were soft and pliant.

In such a reality, their previous negotiation about sleeping arrangements would be rendered moot. Instead, Loki would fall asleep in his arms, curled up against his chest, warm and secure.

Thor knew none of this could ever happen between them. But that didn’t stop his mind from imagining it.

Chapter Text

Thor woke the next morning to find Loki reading about seidr on the couch. He was startled for a second to find Loki in the same room as him upon waking. He blinked, making sure he was well and truly awake.

Then Loki turned the page in his book, and doing so, his eyes met Thor’s. “Oh,” he said, “did I wake you?”

“No,” said Thor. He rose to sit up in his cot. “You’re quieter than a mouse with your books.”

It elicited a blushing grin from Loki, but the expression also brought to Thor’s attention how tired he looked. “Did you sleep alright?” Thor asked.

Loki looked down, shrugged. “Not really. But not because of any dreams. I just…couldn’t stay still. But the snowleaves did help, eventually.”

Thor smiled at that. “Are you still wanting to sleep there some nights?”

Loki’s mouth twisted at that, and he didn’t answer right away.

“It’s alright if you don’t,” Thor reassured him. “If you can’t sleep well there, you can stay in the cot.”

“I can’t sleep well in the cot, either,” Loki pointed out. “But I think the snowleaves did help with the nightmares. As for the bed’s size, I think it’s just something I need to get used to.”

“Perhaps,” said Thor, standing from the cot, “but know you can always have the cot if you change your mind. But I’m glad the snowleaves helped you.”

Loki flashed a tiny grin. “I hope they help you, too.”

xxx

That night was Thor’s turn in the bed. And the snowleaves didn’t help.

They were a soothing scent, yes. And he was in the size of sleeping arrangements he was used to. And the mattress and pillows were so delightfully comfortable.

But he couldn’t fall asleep for what felt like hours, as he kept staring at the room around him.

The chamber was only lit by the dying embers of the fireplace, but he could still see that night so clearly. The chairs had been right there, in a semicircle at the foot of the bed. His father had sat there. Laufey had sat next to him. Byleistr had laughed from a chair over there.

It made Thor’s skin crawl. He squeezed his eyes shut, as if that would induce sleep. It did nothing to shut off his mind.

Maybe Loki hadn’t let on about the full extent of his sleeplessness. He had to have been bothered by this, too.

Thor turned on his side. He was looking right at the door to the bathing chambers now. Now all he could think of was Loki’s wail from the other side of it.

He turned to his stomach. With his face buried in the pillow, he surrounded himself with the relaxing aroma of the snowleaves. That was better. There weren’t any visual stimuli to haunt him in this position.

It was still a long time before he found sleep.

xxx

He woke suddenly, still in the middle of the night, terrified. He couldn’t remember what the dream had entailed, except for one phrase from Byleistr’s voice:

Turn him over.

The sentence crashed around his head, no matter how much he tried to control his breathing. Eventually, he rushed to the bathing chambers and slammed the door behind him.

Well, that had probably woken Loki up if nothing else had.

But Thor couldn’t face him yet. There was one problem he had to deal with, and he had to deal with it alone.

His fantasies were feverish this time as he leaned with one hand against the wall, flitting through so many scenarios of him and Loki. Whether it was slamming him down on Hlidskjalf, or pushing him onto the desk in the study, it always involved him running his hands over pale skin, while Loki arched into every touch with ragged breath.

It was the image of pulling Loki’s hair, and Loki’s imagined sharp gasp in response, that did Thor in. The pleasure as he came was sharp in his cock, but soon spread throughout his whole body.

Once he’d stopped shuddering through it, he kicked the privy seat closed, triggering it to empty into Asgard’s drainage systems. Flushing out his shameful deed.

But even as he splashed some water on his face in the basin, he knew it wouldn’t do much good. The horror of his dream still lived in his veins, no matter how much he tried to expel it with water or self-pleasure.

It was time to battle with his mind again, tossing and turning and pushing the horrid thoughts away.

Though he steeled himself to face the bedchamber again, he hadn’t been prepared to find Loki standing with a candle on the other side of the door. It brought a fresh wave of fear, though he tried his best to hide it.

From Loki’s concerned expression, he wasn’t hiding it well.

Thor didn’t know what to say, and apparently neither did Loki. So Thor just sighed, and went to sit on the bed. Loki followed him.

“You don’t have to,” Thor mumbled, as Loki set the candle on the bedside table before sitting beside him.

“I know.”

Thor had expected Loki to elaborate further, but he didn’t. He didn’t know what to say, either.

Not for the first time, he wished Loki would just leave him be. His husband was probably going through much worse in his own dreams. He shouldn’t have to help Thor through this.

Even if, deep down, Thor wanted that help so badly.

“So the snowleaves didn’t help,” Loki said, breaking the silence.

Thor shook his head. “Not enough, anyway.” His voice caught on his next words. “I think it’s…” He swallowed. “…it’s this room. Even though the chairs aren’t here, I…”

He couldn’t go on with the sentence. His chest burned inside. “Was it this bad for you last night?” he asked instead. “I know you said the dreams weren’t the issue, but…”

Loki slowly shook his head. “I…” He took a breath. He wasn’t looking at Thor. “I…how to say this…it may sound strange, but I don’t actually remember much of what happened that night.”

That perplexed Thor. It must have shown on his face, for Loki looked at him and immediately clarified. “Well, I do, but…the memories aren’t exactly visual. They’re more…” He averted his eyes again. “…physical sensations.”

That was almost too painful a concept for Thor to contemplate.

“Although,” Loki continued, still in such a hushed tone, “I suppose that since you were assigned the active role, and given the illusion of control, you were forced to be aware of every moment of that night. So of course you remember everything you saw.”

Thor had to take a deep breath at that. His chest was getting tight again.

Loki must have sensed his distress, as he reached to Thor’s shoulder in a gentle touch. But when Thor looked up to express his gratitude, he saw that Loki wasn’t doing much better. His eyes held so much pain.

So, Thor took the chance of putting his own arm around Loki’s shoulders. Loki nodded in silent thanks. And so they sat, side by side, partially holding one another. Trying to offer comfort when they had so little to offer to themselves.

Thor was the one who broke the silence, and he was surprised how thick his voice sounded. “Why did they do it?”

“Our fathers?” Loki asked.

Thor nodded. “I know why we were wed. But…why did they force us to consummate it that way? Why…” He could hear his own voice rise from despair to anger, but he couldn’t help it. “…Why did they have to watch?”

Loki sighed. “Because they had to ensure we did so, to end the war. And they probably suspected we wouldn’t do it otherwise.”

Thor barked a mirthless laugh. “So they knew it would be hurting their sons, and they just didn’t care.”

“We are not just their sons,” said Loki. “We are their tools. A carpenter doesn’t care whether a hammer feels badly about hitting a nail.”

That metaphor smarted, considering what weapon Thor had come to associate himself with. And yet, even Mjolnir had a personality of sorts. Though she could not speak, she was as tied to Yggdrasil as he was, and they communicated through that magical bond. She was a partner in battle, not a soulless object.

To think that he even treated his warhammer better than their fathers treated them…

He felt Loki’s hand begin soothing motions on his shoulder. “Thor?”

Thor blew out a breath. He shrugged under Loki’s hand. “It just hurts,” he finally said. “To have been treated that way. To have been forced into such an act. To…to see and hear your pain, and still be helpless to stop it.”

Oh, that hurt to say out loud. The weight of it echoed hollowly in his chest.

But all the while, Loki’s hand stayed at his shoulder.

“Maybe in that moment, you couldn’t help me,” Loki said. “But from the minute they left, and every moment since, you have helped me in my pain more than anyone ever has. I hope you know that.”

Thor just nodded. It loosened something within his chest, something he couldn’t name and hadn’t known he’d been carrying. All he could do was squeeze Loki’s shoulders a little tighter in silent gratitude.

xxx

The next few weeks went by in their usual routines. Riding, sparring, magic, and politics continued on. The familiarity comforted Thor more than he realized he’d needed.

It bolstered his strength for the nights, when the real battles would begin.

He fought his own nightmares. He wrestled with his fantasies afterward. He struggled to break Loki free from his own nightmares’ grip. He strained to keep an even voice when he soothed Loki, or when speaking of his own torment to his husband.

But, as the days and nights continued, Thor started to notice something. It wasn’t a radical shift right away, but a slow, creeping change.

Day by day, the battles were becoming easier.

He found he couldn’t remember the details of his nightmares, haunted only by shaking limbs and a fear-hounded heart. The raw emotion, while still terrible, was at least easier to deal with when it was freed from horrific afterimages.

His fantasies became less violent. He had never actually wanted to cause Loki pain or fear, and his mind’s pleasures were starting to reflect that. There was still the occasional bite or pained moan in his head, but it was tilting toward imaginings of soft kisses, gentle touches, and contented sighs. It was still completely out of the question in the real world, but it was a breath of fresh air for Thor’s conscience.

Loki still had nightmares, and though Thor rarely asked what they entailed, something important changed there, too: Loki was calming down from them easier. No longer was he always awake for the rest of the night afterward, too terrified to go back to sleep.

Thor nearly laughed out loud when he realized what accounted for these changes. He hadn’t known the solution could be so simple.

He and Loki were talking to each other.

True to their promise that morning after the tear-filled night, they shared what was on their minds when they were in pain. Thor didn’t think Loki was coming to him with everything, and he knew he wasn’t doing that, either. It was still so difficult to even ask Loki to hear his suffering, knowing that Loki had been through a thousand times worse.

But when he did, Loki listened. And he gave him comfort as best he could. Thor still did everything he could to offer the same.

And it was helping.

Even when they sparred with their friends, Thor would sometimes find his eyes meeting Loki’s with such warmth. There was an understanding between them now, but of such a different sort than Thor had expected in his marriage. Instead of a formal, structured relationship, they’d stumbled into something much closer.

Instead of a demand or expectation that the other do something for them, the sentiment between them was simply I’m here with you.

Well, he had promised Loki in their first conversation that he didn’t have to be alone anymore. Thor just hadn’t expected that the same could also apply to him.

xxx

It was three weeks later that their breakfast was interrupted by golden horns bellowing from the palace. Such a trumpeting only heralded a royal announcement, which all who were able were expected to attend.

When he told Loki as much, all color drained from his husband’s face. “You…you don’t think this is…”

“No, Loki,” Thor said hurriedly. He should have realized Loki’s conclusion about being summoned before the throne. “If that were the case, he wouldn’t be announcing it to the entire palace.”

“Oh,” said Loki. Some of his color started to return. “That makes sense.”

Still, Loki’s breathing was more pronounced as they left for the throne room. Thor couldn’t blame him for being nervous.

They had soon joined the throng of citizens in the hallway outside the throne room, waiting to file inside. “It won’t just be us,” Thor murmured to Loki through the din around them. “And we just have to show our faces here. Once the announcement is over, we’ll leave.”

Loki just nodded with a gulp. He was looking up at the ceiling-high golden doors of the throne room.

It was only then that Thor realized that the last time Loki had been here, it had been with his father and brother, taking him to marry a stranger who he knew would rape him that night.

Thor chanced a hand on Loki’s own. “I’m right here with you,” he said. He hoped it would help.

Loki’s gaze came back to Thor at the touch. He seemed to understand Thor’s message, as he gave a shaky nod. They walked hand-in-hand into the throne room together.

Thor felt his father’s eye on him the moment he stepped through the doors. It couldn’t be helped; his crimson cape he wore everywhere tended to stand out. But, Thor was grateful for it in this moment. He wanted his father to know he had shown his face here, so he wouldn’t hound him or Loki about it afterward.

And, even more fortunately, his father’s gaze left him after maybe three seconds. He had other duties here besides attending to an unruly son. Thank the Norns.

Thor decided to station himself and Loki off to the side, perhaps a third of the way into the room. It was close enough to the door to give Loki some comfort, yet far enough in to be nonchalant about it. They weren’t at the center, and they weren’t out of sight.

As people passed them to file in closer to the Allfather, they inclined their heads with utterances of “My prince.” Thor took note of how many did so for just him, and how many also did the same for Loki. He made sure to smile at the latter, and glare at the former. All the while making sure Loki felt him holding his hand.

In between people’s greetings, he caught Sif’s eye across the room. He always seemed to find her face in a crowd easier than any of his friends’. She winked, and he beamed in response.

The sudden boom of Gungnir on the marble floor echoed throughout the realm. The room’s chatter came to a sudden silence. All attention went to Odin, who was sitting on his throne.

“In recent months,” the Allfather began, “my councilors and I have labored to reach a new trade agreement with Alfheim. Our labors will soon bear fruit, bringing new prosperity to our realm’s craftsmen and merchants.”

A smattering of applause.

“As part of the final negotiations, I am pleased to announce that King Njord shall be visiting our realm, to celebrate our renewed alliance between our peoples.”

More vigorous applause. A royal visit meant feasting, hunting, and general frivolity, all of which were activities Asgardians enjoyed in abundance.

“He shall arrive in a fortnight, and he and his court shall enjoy our hospitality for a month. Among his party will be Prince Freyr-”

All ladies audibly sighed in unison.

“-and Princess Freyja.”

All the men cheered as one.

“During that time, I trust that Asgard shall offer our Light Elf friends the warmest of welcomes.”

Gungnir boomed on the marble floor again, and everyone applauded heartily, then burst into conversation about the upcoming visit. Thor knew without having to listen that everyone was trading stories about winning the prince or princess’s affections in the past, and were conspiring about how they might do so once more.

Four months ago, Thor might have joined them. But now, all he wanted to do was get Loki out of the throne room, to give his husband some peace of mind.

But as they made their way back to the doors, Thor was brushed past by a young woman who sounded like she was sniffling. He stopped cold as he realized who it was.

Lady Sigyn.

And she was crying.

He looked over to Loki to gauge his reaction. But Loki was looking over at a group of three ladies who had started to laugh among themselves.

“Did you hear?” one of the trio asked the other two. “How ridiculous she looked, trying to flirt with him?”

“I can’t believe her,” a second crowed. “She has no experience with a man, and she decides to start with the crown prince?”

“She does have nerve,” said the third. But then she laughed. “Unfortunately, she doesn’t have any other asset!”

The three giggled together at that, until they were cut short by said crown prince walking up to them with a look that verged on menacing.

“My prince,” they murmured with brief curtsies, blushes rising to their faces.

But Thor was not placated. “Ladies,” he rumbled, “I could not help but overhear your words. And,” he chuckled, “as I overheard, I could not help but be reminded of years past. How ladies would attempt to steal my attentions in the strangest of ways.

“Such as stalking me down the corridors each morning-” He glared at one.

“-or letting her dress slip down her shoulder whenever I entered a room-” He glared at another.

“-or laughing so loudly at my every joke that I thought she was having a fit.” He glared at the third.

He grinned in the most unamused expression. “But you must forgive me. It is not my place to comment on a woman’s intimate life.” A beat. “Then again, neither is it yours. I trust you will remember that in the future.”

They were all red as his cape as they nodded, with mumbles of “Yes, my prince.” Satisfied, Thor turned back to Loki, so they could leave.

Only to find Loki was not there. Thor just managed to catch a glimpse of his black hair as he disappeared past the golden doors.

Thor sped after him.

He didn’t have to go far. One turn left from the main corridor found his husband sitting on a bench, looking cautiously at the crying Lady Sigyn beside him.

As Thor approached them, they met his eyes with two very different expressions: Loki’s was relieved to see him, while Sigyn’s was near-paralyzed with shame.

“My prince, forgive me,” she mumbled.

She stood to give a proper curtsy, but Thor waved the gesture away. “Please, sit,” he said. She did, but she still looked mortified as he sat beside her.

She wiped at her eyes again with her handkerchief. “You heard them, I presume?”

Thor nodded. “I heard enough. Then I put a stop to it.”

Her eyes widened. Clearly, she hadn’t been expecting that last bit. But she still shook her head. “It’s not just them. It’s all the court can talk about, the last few weeks. I’ve…I’ve been…” She blew her nose loudly and sobbed again. “I’ve become the laughingstock of the entire palace!”

She crumpled into tears once more, leaving the princes on either side of her profoundly uncomfortable. Thor looked up to Loki, trying to communicate without words how little he knew of how to comfort this woman.

But, in the surprise of the century, it was Loki who spoke next. “I’m sorry, my lady, that you have found yourself in this position,” he said.

She looked up to him, her tears temporarily quieted by her bewilderment. “You’re what?” she asked. “But…but you’re his husband. And…and I…”

“I know,” Loki said. “But regardless of what you did, it’s hardly deserving of others gossiping behind your back about it.” His eyes slid down to his hands, where they were folded in his lap. Much more quietly, he said, “I know how much others’ words can hurt.”

Sigyn’s face fell, as it hit her all at once what he was saying.

“I’m so, so, so sorry,” she pleaded. Her hand clutched above her heart. “I didn’t think you heard what I said, I didn’t-”

“I’m not talking about what you said,” said Loki. “I’ve had much worse than that.”

Sigyn looked shocked by that, trying to find words for a reply but coming up with none. Thor just sat there. He would step in if Loki needed defending, but so far, there was no animosity in this conversation whatsoever.

“But…” Sigyn finally said, “…you are a prince…”

Loki gave a sad smile. “In name only. Not in respect or any other kind treatment. Well,” his eyes met Thor’s, “not until recently.”

“I didn’t know,” said Sigyn.

Loki shrugged. “Very few do. Now you are among that number.”

Sigyn looked back down again. She wiped at her eyes again and sniffed. “I feel like such a fool,” she said.

“You’re young,” Thor put in. “Foolishness tends to be a defining feature of youth. It certainly was for me, which earned me the reputation you still assumed I could live up to.”

She sighed. “Well, at this rate, I’ll be an old crone before anyone forgets about this.”

“You underestimate Asgard’s rumor mill,” said Thor. “Gossip here is as changeable as flame. Within a few months at the most, everyone will have forgotten about this entirely, and you’ll find no shortage of men and women eager to return your affections.”

Her glance at him clearly indicated she didn’t believe him. But Thor meant what he said. Sigyn was pretty enough, came from a wealthy family, and had a sunny disposition when she wasn’t dejected like this. If it was a husband she sought, she could find one within the year. If it was any commitment less than that, she’d find it within the week. She’d just have to track down someone a little less married than himself, is all.

“Prince Thor?”

The three on the bench looked up, to find none other than Runir standing at Thor’s elbow.

“The Allfather requests your presence, Your Highness,” Runir said.

Thor nodded. “Thank you, Runir. I’ll be right there. And-” he called to the boy before he could leave, “-have your efforts with the servants been successful thus far?”

Runir’s eyes danced to Loki, then back to Thor. He nodded. “When I hear something, yes. I’ve done just as you asked.” He smiled, which told Thor that his efforts might be working. He nodded his thanks, and the boy bowed. “My prince, my lady, my prince.” His gaze lingered on Loki’s before he left, but it wasn’t without warmth. Thor was glad to see it.

He turned to his companions. “I’m afraid I must leave you.”

Sigyn stood. “Of course. I had best get to my lessons. Forgive me for taking up your time. Both of you. I-”

“My lady,” Loki interrupted her rapid-fire ramblings. “If I may inquire, are…are your lessons in the library?”

She stared at him wide-eyed, but she nodded. “Y-yes, with Lord Wolden.”

Loki looked down, his jaw working as he looked to muster up the courage to say something. At last he said, “Would you mind terribly if I joined you?”

Thor felt his eyebrows crawl up his forehead in astonishment. Forget the instance earlier; this was the surprise of the century.

Sigyn looked just as surprised as Thor felt. “I…um…”

“If you do not wish my company, I understand,” Loki murmured.

“No, I…of course I would be honored,” Sigyn said, “I just thought…I’m surprised, is all. That you would want to, after what I did.”

Loki shrugged, and stood. “You have done no great injury to me, my lady. And I do enjoy the library.”

He wasn’t nearly as practiced about offering his arm as Thor was, but he at least knew he should. Sigyn took it just as tentatively. They weren’t the strangest pairing Thor had ever seen, but they did look a bit awkward together.

Then again, one had tried to seduce the other’s husband, so perhaps some awkwardness was inevitable.

Thor stood as well. “I’ll see you later then, Loki?” Although that was all he said, he hoped his eyes also reassured Loki that he could leave Sigyn’s company if it became too much for him.

Loki nodded, seeming to have gotten the message. “Until later,” he said.

Satisfied, Thor left the pair for the throne room.

xxx

All afternoon, Thor stayed with the council. He shouldn’t have expected otherwise. The next two weeks would be spent going over every detail of the preparations for the Light Elves’ arrival. He and the rest of the court would be up to their eyeballs in it all until the very last moment.

So far, the focus was on the strategy of the actual trade negotiations. They all agreed that, by himself, King Njord was not a threat. There was some speculation over which of his advisors were the most powerful and ruthless in the political arena, but overall, they knew that if they could get the king on his own with Odin, the day would belong to Asgard.

The sun was nearly setting by the time the meeting adjourned. They’d been served dinner during the meeting, so Thor was not ravenous for food, but rather for pleasant company. And there was only one person’s company he really craved.

But Tyr intercepted him before he could leave. “Might I walk with you?” he asked.

Thor agreed, but was perplexed at Tyr’s specific request to walk and talk. It could only mean that it was to discuss information that he didn’t want Odin to hear.

Which meant Thor didn’t know whether he should be dreading this conversation.

“What did you wish to speak to me about?” he asked.

“The prince and princess of Alfheim,” said Tyr.

“What about them?”

“Your role you must play for them once they’ve arrived.”

Thor’s brow furrowed. “You mean that I must entertain them as the senior prince of the hosting realm? I am aware of that.”

“Are you also aware that you’re not the realm’s only prince anymore?”

That slowed Thor down, as would any mention of Loki from a member of his father’s court. A surge of protectiveness kindled in his heart. “What about Loki?”

Tyr let out an even breath. “You’ve entertained for both Freyr and Freyja in the past, as well as all other royal children from the other realms, because you are their only equivalent in Asgard. But traditionally, those duties are segregated not just according to station, but also by gender.”

Oh. So that’s where this conversation was headed.

Thor felt his jaw clench. “And what gender,” he ground out, “has my father assigned my husband for the next month? Or has he continued to avoid the subject altogether?”

“Most likely the latter,” said Tyr, “but with a prince and princess arriving in a fortnight, he will likely decide soon. And, since you are undisputedly male, he will most likely assign your consort to the opposite role.”

“And you would allow him to do this?” Thor exploded out at him.

“No one allows him to do anything, Thor,” Tyr snapped at him. “He has the power to do whatever he likes!”

Thor shook his head in exasperation.

“I am telling you this now,” Tyr continued more calmly, “so that you may decide how you will handle it, without attracting your father’s unwanted attention.”

At Thor’s questioning look, Tyr chuckled. “Oh, come now. I know you well enough by now to know that’s what you’re doing. In just the last hour, I heard no less than three statements from the Allfather that would have provoked the pair of you into a full shouting match, had you responded as usual. But you haven’t. The last few months, you’ve been obliging him in small matters, so he won’t catch on to the large matter at hand.”

No. Thor grew pale.

Tyr knew. He was on Odin’s council, he knew of the expectation of marital duties, and he knew

“If I had wanted to tell him, I would have by now,” Tyr said. “But I had a hand in the first instance by allowing it, and it was cruel. I will not deliberately provoke a second.”

Thor didn’t know if he wanted to thank the man or punch him in the face. In the end, he did neither. They were still speaking so cryptically that Thor realized Tyr might be fishing for information.

He was a general, but he was also a politician. Thor couldn’t risk it.

“If that’s your decision,” he finally said in an even tone. He hoped he hadn’t revealed too much already.

Tyr nodded. “Perhaps ask Loki what he might think of entertaining Princess Freyja. That way you won't have to decide for him when your father brings it up.”

With that, he took his leave back down the hallway, leaving Thor standing there, shaken and confused.

xxx

Thor had rarely been so relieved to make it back to their chambers, but he was met with the sight of Loki standing in the front room with a slender-looking man. Thor recognized him as Eriti, the palace’s head tailor.

“Prince Thor!” Eriti exclaimed. “Lovely to see you again! I was just meeting with Prince Loki to start work on his new armor for the royal visit! Nearly finished!”

Thor nodded, but as he did, he met Loki’s eyes to gauge how he was doing. He didn’t appear particularly distressed, but his face was a bit flushed. Thor hoped it was just overwhelm from having to meet a stranger on his own, and not anything worse than that.

Just in case, Thor moved to the couch in the same room, out of the way but very much present. He did see Loki start to relax a little, so he’d made the right decision.

“So, as I was saying, Your Highness,” Eriti said to Loki with a flourish of his hand, “we could do something golden, to go nicely with your black leathers. And I was thinking another color too, the way your husband has red and the queen has blue.” Then, he gasped, and pointed to Loki’s face. “What about green? A bright emerald, so it could bring out your eyes!”

Loki looked over at Thor, the overwhelm now evident in his expression. Thor smiled. “Would you like green?”

Loki’s mouth twitched, like he was trying to grin but couldn’t find the confidence for it. “Green is fine.”

Eriti’s face split into a wide smile. “Trust me, Your Highness, it will look more than just fine. We’ll maybe add a longcoat over your tunic, extra inlays onto your boots…oh, I'm having such a vision! You’ll inspire a thousand songs when you appear on the palace steps in a fortnight, mark my words!”

“Yes, well,” Thor said, standing to usher Eriti out, “you had better get to work soon, yes?”

“Yes, I must!” Eriti agreed. “There isn’t any time to waste!” And he sprinted out the door, shouting with delight about his vision down the palace halls.

Thor shut the door behind him, then leaned his back against it to look at Loki. “So I see you met Lord Eriti.”

Loki nodded so timidly. “Yes, he’s…he’s quite passionate about his work.”

Thor laughed so hard at that, and soon Loki started to quietly join him. “That’s putting it mildly,” Thor said, still chuckling. “Are you alright?”

Loki took a deep breath, like he hadn’t taken one in some time. Perhaps he hadn’t, depending on how long he’d spent in Eriti’s presence. “I will be,” he said. “I just need to sit for a moment.”

They ended up sitting on the bed, which they had still been giving a chance every few nights. Loki was getting used to the extra space, while Thor was learning to relax in the room itself. It was slow going, but it was still progress, and their backs were grateful for it.

“How was your time with Sigyn?” Thor asked.

Loki nodded. “She’s not at all unpleasant. And she’s quite learned in the languages and histories. She’s just…”

Thor raised his eyebrows.

“…awkward.”

Thor smiled. “I see.”

“I know I’m no great conversationalist myself,” said Loki, “so I shouldn’t make harsh judgments about it.”

Thor shrugged. “Sometimes it just takes the right person to open up to. She seems more nervous to me than shy.” Then he smiled. “And for the record, I’ve never found my conversations with you dull or tedious. I greatly enjoy speaking with you.”

He swore Loki’s ears turned pink at the compliment, but he knew better than to comment on it.

“How was your council meeting?” Loki asked. “You were there much longer than usual.”

“Such are the preparations for a royal visit,” said Thor. “I’m afraid I’ll have many more such meetings to attend in the coming weeks.”

The mention of the visit reminded Thor of what Lord Tyr had warned him about. “Speaking of which, Loki, I need to speak to you about something. About the visit.”

“Yes?”

Thor sighed. How should he even begin to approach this? It was so disrespectful of Loki to even contemplate asking this of him.

“Well…” he began, “…King Njord has two children, Prince Freyr and Princess Freyja. And…generally speaking, when one royal family hosts another, the prince of highest rank entertains the visiting princes, and the princess of highest rank does the same with the princesses. Now, as I have been-”

“Am I to be entertaining Princess Freyja?” Loki asked.

Oh. Loki had put it together sooner than Thor had thought. “My father will probably expect it of you, yes,” he admitted. “But,” he turned to face Loki more directly, “I can fight for you on this. I don’t care what it takes.”

Loki looked at him with a swirl of dejection. “But if you do, it will attract your father’s attention toward us, yes?”

Thor nodded. “But it would be disrespectful to ask it of you.”

Loki looked down. “It’s not like he’s treated me any different before.”

“Still, I won’t just take this from him-”

“Please just do it.”

Thor shut up, and looked at Loki’s eyes as they met his.

“Please just tell him yes,” Loki said quietly. “I can’t take your father’s scrutiny, not again. If…” His hands started to fidget. “…if entertaining an Elvish princess is what it takes to avoid that, then that’s what I’ll do.”

“You shouldn’t have to,” Thor protested.

Loki shrugged. “But I do.”

Thor wanted so badly to fight this. He wanted to march up to his father right now and bellow in his face that Loki was a man, and would be treated as such.

But Loki was here, in this bedchamber, telling him no about something. Thor couldn’t just ignore that.

“If it would help you feel safer,” he finally said, “I will agree to my father’s request if asked.”

“Thank you.”

It didn’t sit well with Thor. He knew he survived by fighting, while Loki survived by enduring and tiptoeing. But Thor was bone-tired of having to placate his father in all matters concerning his marriage.

But, Loki had asked this of him. It would help him feel safer to play a long game. So, for now, Thor felt he had to agree.

In the silence that followed, Loki’s eyebrows knitted. Thor didn’t understand why.

“Why are they called Light Elves?” Loki finally asked. “Why are they separated from the Dark Elves?”

Well, that was a topic pivot. But a welcome one, as it was away from their usual struggle with Odin. So Thor indulged it.

“They are technically the same species,” he answered, “but some long-forgotten civil war forced one faction into Svartalfheim. They’ve had so many wars over the millennia that they’ve come to prefer thinking of one another as different races. Hence the different names.”

“But they’re at peace now?”

“Technically yes, because the Dark Elves are dead. My grandfather killed them all over eight thousand years ago, when their king, Malekith, made his final bid for power over Alfheim.”

Loki went stone-still. His breathing became more audible.

“It’s alright,” Thor tried to soothe him, “like I said, they’re all dead-”

“No, they’re not,” Loki whispered.

Now it was Thor’s turn to go still. Loki sounded so certain, and so afraid, and he didn’t understand why.

“I know that name,” Loki said, still in a deathly quiet tone. “Malekith. He visited Jotunheim, once.”

“Wait, what?”

“Just before the war began,” said Loki. “My father wanted to ally with them, to conquer the other realms together. Malekith came in a black ship, blacker than death, to cement the alliance.”

Thor felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. “When you say, ‘cement the alliance’…”

Loki nodded. He looked so scared. “My father offered me to him in marriage. He came in person to meet me. To decide if I was pretty enough to be his queen.”

Thor felt something twist in his gut. Something disgusting.

“He just…” Loki whispered, “…looked at me. For so long. And then he sent me back to my chamber. The next thing I knew, my father was beating me so badly he nearly ripped my arm off.”

Thor reached out to touch Loki’s nearest arm, in as gentle a grip as he was capable of. Trying to soothe Loki with that touch.

It explained it even more now, why Loki had been so afraid to meet Thor and Odin. If he had been rejected again, Laufey might have actually ripped his arm off, if not worse.

“Of course,” Loki said, “my father went ahead with the war. Alone, he had no chance. But if Malekith had agreed to marry me…”

Thor felt a shudder go through him. Loki didn’t go on. He didn’t need to. Thor was already imagining what might have happened to Asgard, to Alfheim, to the other realms. What fate might have befallen himself and all those he cared about.

And what certainly would have become of Loki, and what he would face night after night. Although Thor knew nothing of Malekith beyond the likely-exaggerated historic texts, the way Loki had described the Dark Elf king just looking at him, deciding if he was pretty enough, left little room for interpretation of his intentions.

“Thank the Norns he refused you,” Thor ended up saying.

Loki nodded. “I didn’t at first. I thought I’d lost my one chance to be useful to my father. But in sparing me from Malekith, the Norns let my path lead to you.” He finally smiled. “And I can’t put into words how grateful I am for that.”

Thor smiled in response. “As am I.”

Loki looked down at where Thor was holding his arm. His smile faltered. “Do you think you should mention this to your father? That the Dark Elves still live?”

“I probably should,” Thor admitted. “They might still be a threat to Asgard or other realms. But with the preparations for the Light Elves’ arrival taking up so much time, it may be prudent to wait until their visit is over. Even the mention of their brethren is enough to send them into a rage.”

Loki nodded. “I’ll make sure not to mention it to Princess Freyja, then.”

Thor laughed at that. “That’s probably for the best.”

He let Loki go from the soft hold on his arm, so he could head for the bathing chambers. It was Thor’s turn to sleep in the bed tonight, so he let Loki begin retiring first.

As Thor took off his boots, he had a sudden thought. That book he’d found on the Dark Elves must still be here somewhere.

He found it in the front room, and flipped through to the page detailing Malekith’s history.

According to the text, no one knew how old Malekith was, or who his parents had been. He called himself ‘the Accursed’, and he was acquainted with several darker branches of sorcery to bend his enemies to his will. Mind tricks seemed a particular skill of his.

Rumors had whispered of him taking several different queens in the past, but no one knew what happened to them, or if they were still living.

The darker rumors told of foul experiments and horrific mind tortures, to weed out all but the strongest consorts.

And the darkest rumors told of the Kursed stones – magical rocks found in Svartalfheim’s volcanoes – being implanted in the poor women’s wombs, to attempt birthing powerful offspring. No successful attempts had been recorded.

The end of that chapter had an engraving of the Dark Elf king. It was a stylized depiction, but even in this rendering, Malekith’s eyes looked terrifying.

Thor slammed the book shut and slid it into the nearest bookcase. Just in time, too, as Loki poked his head into the front room.

“I’m going to bed,” he said. “Goodnight.”

Thor nodded. “Goodnight, Loki.”

Only once he heard the study door close did Thor head to the bathing chambers. He took deep, measured breaths, trying to will away his mind’s imaginings of that horrible figure being anywhere near his husband.

But, he found himself chuckling at an absurd, yet relieving notion: whatever his powers and abilities, Malekith had absolutely no eye for beauty.

For he had rejected Loki Laufeyson, who by Thor’s estimations was the most beautiful person he’d ever seen.

Chapter Text

The next two weeks passed in a blur for Thor. He was called to meetings and official duties even more frequently in preparation for the Light Elves’ arrival.

Odin wanted him to have direct experience in overseeing the planning of a state visit. Thor was glad for the opportunity to learn more, but decided that when he was king, he’d never invite any royalty to stay at the palace except in dire circumstances. It was simply too much work, and distracted from his own realm’s affairs.

Odin had decided that Loki would entertain the princess after all. Thor was glad he and Loki had spoken of it well beforehand, because his currently-extended duties meant that he didn’t see Loki as often to speak of it. He would sometimes run into his husband walking with Frigga. When that happened, it was all he could do not to swing Loki around in a wild embrace, murmuring I’ve missed you so much into his ear.

But today, five days before the Elves’ arrival, Thor found himself with an hour of free time. Thus, he headed to the library, where he was sure to find Loki.

Just has he had suspected, he found Loki sitting in his favorite reading alcove on the third floor, a large tome held between himself and Lady Sigyn.

It wasn’t just Frigga with whom Loki was spending more time. Both he and Sigyn had instigated more study sessions together. With Thor occupied, Loki had fewer options for companionship, and Sigyn was still too ostracized at court to spend time with anyone else. And it appeared that, though they weren’t each other’s usual first choice of an acquaintance, they were starting to enjoy each other’s company.

Even now, as they looked at the pages in front of them, Sigyn pointed at something on the page, causing Loki to look further and murmur something to her. Sigyn smiled, and said something else, which drew a shy grin to Loki’s face.

The sight made Thor smile. It was early days yet, but it appeared Loki was starting to make a new friend.

As Thor approached further, Loki snapped his head to the movement, his walls going up again out of habit. But, once he recognized who it was a half second later, his face lit up in a broad smile.

For a second, Thor was paralyzed, his mind blank with unadulterated joy. The one he cared about so much was looking at him with such happiness! What had he done to deserve such a fate in life?

“My prince.”

The spell was broken at Lady Sigyn’s voice. Thor had forgotten a third person was present. He barely remembered his manners, and met Sigyn’s respectful nod of greeting with one of his own.

“I thought I might not see you until nightfall,” Loki said.

Thor shrugged. “I found myself with an hour or two to spare, and thought I might seek out your company.” Loki beamed further at that.

Thor grabbed a chair at a nearby table to move near their bench, but as he came back, Sigyn abruptly stood. “I’ll, um…” She backed over to a nearby bookshelf. “I’ll just…” She grabbed the nearest armful of books. “…I’ll just put these back.” And she raced off to another section of the library.

Thor had to suppress a smirk as he sat in the chair. She had just grabbed those books from their proper place on the shelf.

Was Sigyn still awkward? Undoubtedly. But she was well-intentioned, and considerate of his and Loki’s time together. He couldn’t complain about that.

“Is it alright?” Loki asked with a nervous glance. “That I spend time with her?”

Thor smiled. “Of course it is. I am glad to see you making a friend of your own.” His words seemed to put Loki at ease. “What were you two reading about?”

“Oh…” Loki reached over to the large book he and Sigyn had been looking at. He showed Thor the page of an extensive family tree.

“We were looking at the history of Alfheim’s royal family,” he explained. “Because something doesn’t make sense.” He pointed toward the bottom of the page, where the current royal heirs were located. At least, where they should be located.

“Njord isn’t on here,” he said. “The most recent king was Aegir, and he is recorded as having a son and a daughter.” He pointed to the two names beneath Aegir’s: Eldir and Nerthis. “So why is Njord not here? Is he a younger brother not yet recorded in this text?”

“No,” said Thor, “he’s not there because he’s not of Alfheim. He is a Vanir.”

Loki looked at him in bewilderment. “A Vanir?”

“Yes. My mother’s first cousin, actually.”

Loki still didn’t look like he understood. “Then…how did he become king of another realm altogether?”

“Because he married Princess Nerthis,” Thor replied, pointing to her name on the page. “I assume this text hasn’t been updated in centuries, else his name would be on here, attached to hers.”

Loki stared at the name, still trying to puzzle out its secrets. “I still don’t understand. Nerthis has an elder brother who would inherit first. And if she married Njord, she would have become part of Vanaheim’s royal family, not the other way around.”

“It was a strange situation,” Thor acknowledged. He had only been a young child at the time, not yet even two hundred. Sigyn probably hadn’t even been born, so it made sense why she didn’t have the answers, either.

Back then, he was just barely aware of his father’s court dealings, and of the tumult occurring on a far-off planet. But, as he grew older, he had been made aware of the situation as it progressed.

“Njord was fifth or sixth in the line of succession in Vanaheim,” he explained to Loki, “and yes, Nerthis was a woman with an elder brother. Neither were expected to succeed to any throne, so they were given more permission to marry for love. Nerthis joined him in Vanaheim, and all was well.

“But then Eldir died in Alfheim while on a hunt. A terrible accident. By then, Aegir was so old he could waste no time squabbling about an heir, so he sent for his daughter to return to him. She initially refused, not wanting to uproot her young family, but he died within a few years. Then, she could either take the crown as her father had asked, or risk civil war on her home world.

“So, she became Alfheim’s queen, and Njord became her king consort. Their two young children were suddenly the immediate heirs to a throne.”

Loki took in this tale for a few seconds, then tilted his head to the side in thought. “But, if Njord was king consort…” he finally said, “…why is he just ‘king’ now?”

The answer to that lay in a stressful time in Asgard’s court. Thor still remembered having to tiptoe around his father’s frustration in those days.

“Alfheim had never had a female monarch before,” he said. “Some of its neighboring vassal planets were less than pleased. It was only a few skirmishes at first, some resistance to paying their yearly tithes. But within a few centuries, a few managed to spark a large enough revolt to be a threat.

“Queen Nerthis flew out at the head of her fleet to meet them, but in the ensuing battle…she was blasted from her ship into the vacuum of space. Her body was torn to shreds in the crossfire.”

Loki flinched at the words in sympathy. Thor had to agree: of all the ways to die, being thrown out a space-faring ship’s airlock was one of the worst he could imagine. The light-blasts that had killed her were probably a mercy, all told.

“So Njord took her throne afterward?” Loki asked.

“Not at first,” said Thor. “It was…a difficult time for all involved. The common folk adored him and wanted him to rule, but most of Alfheim’s nobility were set against him. They probably thought that if they could push aside his family, they could claim descent from the royal line and stand a chance of inheritance themselves. In the end, my father had to intervene to secure order.”

“And he sided with Njord?” Loki asked.

“To an extent,” Thor said. “Most in my father’s court were in favor of Prince Freyr inheriting, as he is the next male claimant by blood. But he was only in his fourth century at the time. So, they worked out a deal.

“Njord would rule, but if he was still living by the time Freyr reached his thirteen hundredth year, he would have to abdicate in favor of his son and retire from public life. He also had to remarry, this time to an Elvish noblewoman, to satisfy the upper class and solidify his claim.”

Loki hummed in contemplation at that notion. “A kingship with a time limit,” he said. “I have never heard of such a thing.”

“Such a thing has never been done before,” said Thor. “But it has kept the peace, and Alfheim has prospered. It was one of my father’s more elegant diplomatic solutions.”

“And,” Loki said, with a glance to Thor out the corners of his eyes, “do you think Njord will keep to the bargain, and abdicate when the time comes?”

“I think so,” Thor said. “I think he will be glad to retire. He only took the throne to secure inheritance rights for his son. He and Nerthis loved their children above all else.” He chuckled dryly. “That tends to be a value held among the Vanir royal family, my mother included.”

Loki’s smile flickered forth at that.

“But,” said Thor, “I should warn you that there are still some voices of dissent among Njord’s court, saying he is a foreign overlord not fit to rule them. So, whatever you do around the Light Elves, do not mention Njord’s ears.”

Loki nodded. “First the Dark Elves, and now their king’s race. It appears there are a great many things they could be offended by.”

“They can be tricky to deal with,” Thor agreed. “But you will likely only deal with Princess Freyja, and she’s much easier to please than most.”

At the mention of his part in the royal visit, Loki stilled. Tensed, even.

That worried Thor. “What is it?”

“I just…” Loki’s hands started to fidget together. “…I’ve never entertained for someone before. And I don’t want to mess it up.”

“You won’t,” Thor assured him. “Most of it is asking Freyja what she wants to do each day. Let her take the lead. And, I have been thinking Prince Freyr and I could join you both sometimes. We could both take them different places around the city, things like that. It wouldn’t be every day, but sometimes. So you wouldn’t have to be alone.”

Loki’s eyes lit up at the possibility. “That would be allowable?” At Thor’s nod, Loki breathed out a sigh of relief. “Thank you, Thor. That would be…good. Yes.”

Thor was glad Loki relaxed at the prospect. He knew it wouldn’t be possible every day. But, if Loki could count on it every few days, it might make him less nervous in the intervening time.

xxx

The eve of the Elves’ arrival, Loki started shaking again. Thor hadn’t seen him do that for weeks, and it worried him.

It was Loki’s turn to sleep in the study, but his new armor was sitting in there, and he would get even more nervous if he looked at it. So, he sat in the bedchamber, and Thor went to sit beside him.

“What if they don’t like me?” Loki asked in such a small voice.

It broke Thor’s heart to hear how much Loki still doubted himself. He nearly blurted out, How could anyone not like you, when you are the loveliest creature in the Nine Realms?

But instead, he tried a different tactic. “I could have not liked you.” Loki’s eyes darted to him in trepidation. “So could have my friends, or my mother, or Sigyn.” Thor smiled. “But we do. Because you are a good person, and good company to be around. And if Freyja and her family are halfway decent people, they’ll see that, too.”

“And are they?” Loki asked. “Are they decent people?”

“From what I remember of them, yes,” said Thor. “I haven’t seen them for a few hundred years, but Freyja and Freyr were close companions of mine in our youth. We were inseparable when we visited one another.” He found himself smiling at the memories.

“And,” he added, “if at any point this becomes too much for you, you can always come find me, or send a servant to do the same. And I will make sure you are not alone with the situation.”

Loki didn’t look convinced. “But what about Freyr?” he asked. “You’ll be busy entertaining him.”

“You are my husband, Loki,” Thor said. “If you don’t realize by now that you’re more important to me than a Light Elf prince, I’ll have to try harder to make you aware of that fact.”

Loki’s ensuing smile was all Thor could think about for hours afterward. It was the last image his mind clung to as he drifted to sleep that night.

xxx

Everyone was awoken the next day at dawn with a chorus of silver trumpets. The palace burst alive with activity as everyone made ready for the imminently-arriving royals.

Thor took his time. He knew he would not be expected in public until later that day, when the Elves would arrive on the Bifrost. He was also well-accustomed to assembling his ceremonial armor, as he wore it nearly everywhere he went.

Loki, however, was new to the buckles, clasps, and fastenings of the many layers, so he and three servant boys spent nearly an hour in the study completing the ensemble. Thor waited patiently in the front room.

Eventually, the servants filed out the door, assuring Thor that Loki was nearly finished. Thor nodded, and returned to his breakfast.

Yes, it was not unusual for a royal husband and wife to prepare for state functions separately. And everyone in Asgard knew their marriage had been arranged, so it was not far-fetched to think that they were not an intimate couple beyond physical necessities. But it might have helped the façade if Thor had at least helped Loki put on his outer layers.

But, he hadn’t offered, and Loki hadn’t asked. Dressing was a physically intimate process. He knew better than to engage in such a task with Loki, invading his personal space so.

Better to fantasize about dressing each other (or better yet, undressing each other) in the dead of night, in his own cot, alone. Get those dreams out of his system that way.

“Thor?” Loki’s voice, from the still-closed study door. “Do I need to put the helmet on too?”

“Not if you don’t want to,” Thor replied. “That’s only for the highest state functions, like coronations and wed-”

He stopped himself just short of the full word. They did not need a reminder of their wedding day. Not now, not today. Not ever.

But the damage was done. “Oh,” said Loki. “That’s right, you wore yours at the ceremony that day.”

Thor pushed past the shudder that ran through him at the memory. “There’s no rush,” he said in encouragement, “if you are not re-”

Loki opened the door to the study, and all Thor’s faculties for coherent speech left him in a rush.

All he had seen Loki wearing up to this point were different variations of black leather garments. This was part of his current ensemble, but it was interwoven into layers of green cloth and golden armor. He even had a billowing cape behind him, identical to Thor’s, save for the emerald hue.

Loki had always been full of grace in his movements and speech. But now his clothing reflected it. He was no longer a forgotten son, but a glorious prince.

But clearly, from the way he looked at Thor for reassurance, he wasn’t used to being presented as such.

“How do I look?” he asked meekly.

It took Thor a few seconds longer than what was appropriate to give his answer. But it was mostly because he was trying so hard to not just say beautiful or stunning or like you sprang straight from my wet dreams.

He finally managed to say, “Like a Prince of Asgard.”

When Loki let out his breath of relief, Thor mentally applauded himself for his steady tone of voice.

xxx

A few hours passed before they were summoned to the steps of the palace. Loki still didn’t look completely comfortable in his new armor, but he did return to his usual grace quickly enough. Thor had to start reminding himself every five seconds not to stare at Loki. It was a near-impossible task.

Once they left their chambers, the excitement in the air was palpable. All the servants were rushing around with their last-minute tasks, and everyone else was crowding to the city streets, hoping to catch a glimpse of the royal visitors.

As they neared the chambers of state, Thor found all the Asgardian royal court assembled in their finery. Odin stood at the center in his steel and gold armor. Once his eye landed on the princes, Thor felt himself tense.

But thankfully, Frigga soon caught his eye and rushed to them. Thor relaxed as he embraced her.

After she next embraced Loki, she looked him up and down. “You look marvelous, my son,” she said, her blue eyes sparkling. “I hope you’re not feeling too nervous about today.”

Loki swallowed hard, indicating just how nervous he was.

Frigga patted his cheek fondly. “You’ll be fine,” she assured him. “Princess Freyja is a lovely woman. She’s easy to please. You are more than capable of this task.”

“And if you need to,” said Thor, “you can send for either of us, and we will help you.” Frigga nodded in concurrence. Loki still looked hesitant, but he nodded his thanks.

“It is time,” Odin announced from across the room. Everyone filed into place, and Odin held his hand out to Frigga.

Frigga left the princes with one last smile, and turned to walk in step with Odin. Thor led Loki to follow right behind her.

Thor did notice that, while she walked with her husband, Frigga did not take Odin’s offered hand.

The four royals took their positions at the steps of the palace, which afforded them a perfect view of the Bifrost humming to life. As it brought its passengers to Asgard, the citizens erupted in cheers.

The cheers got even louder as four distant figures on horseback emerged from the Bifrost chamber.

Thor glanced at Loki. Loki’s eyes were fixed on the approaching Elves, and he looked like he was going to be sick, he was so nervous. He must have felt Thor’s gaze on him, for he looked back to Thor. He met Thor’s smile with only a halfhearted imitation.

As the figures approached, Thor could start to tell who was who. First was Njord, a thick-set man with a shaggy mane of blond hair that flowed halfway down his back, and a full beard of equal length. Noticeably to Thor, his ears were hidden within his hair, to hide how un-Elvish they were.

In contrast, the pale woman who rode beside him wore her fiery red hair in a single plait down her back, so the Elvish points of her ears were on full display. Thor had never exchanged many words with Queen Skadi, but he knew she was every bit the proud, fierce woman she appeared to be.

However, she was the only one of the Elvish royals who had her red hair; the two figures behind her had the same blond shade as their father. However, they did keep their hair tucked behind their ears, displaying their Elvish heritage proudly.

But before Thor could get a better look at the prince and princess, Njord and Skadi had made it to the steps of the palace, and dismounted to approach their Asgardian counterparts.

“Odin!” Njord exclaimed, and clasped arms with the king. Thor slid a grin to Loki. Clearly, Njord had not done away with his jovial nature since Thor had seen him last, and it was thoroughly amusing to watch Odin attempt to ignore it.

“Njord,” said Odin in as placid a tone as he could manage. “I thank you for coming.”

“Nonsense, nonsense, it is my pleasure!” Njord replied loudly. Very, very loudly. “I am honored to be invited to your splendid realm, as always! And of course,” he said, looking over to Frigga, “how could I refuse a chance to see my favorite cousin?”

Frigga laughed at him. “You’re still an insufferable flatterer, Njord.” She accepted his kiss to her cheek with one of her own.

Next Njord looked to Thor, and his eyes nearly bolted out of his head. “Dearest Norns, this cannot be Prince Thor!” He clapped Thor’s shoulder. “You have to be the strongest man I’ve ever seen!”

Thor chuckled. “I try to keep up with my training.”

“Well, you’ve succeeded!” Njord laughed. Then, his gaze finally landed on Loki. “And this must be your new husband I’ve heard about.” He extended his hand to Loki, who tentatively took it. “I am Njord, King of Alfheim.”

Loki nodded. “Prince Loki, of Jotunheim.”

Njord smiled. “Well met, Prince Loki of Jotunheim. I look forward to getting to know you better.” Loki gave a dutiful single nod back, but Thor did notice that he looked a little more at ease.

Njord let go of Loki’s hand, and went to his wife. “You will remember my wife, Queen Skadi.”

She roved her eyes over the monarchs, then the princes. Only then did she incline her head. “Your Majesties, Your Highnesses.”

Well. Not the warmest of greetings. Especially in such contrast to her husband’s.

“And my children!” Njord said, as said offspring dismounted from their horses. “My son, Freyr, and my daughter, Freyja.”

As the pair approached Odin to pay him proper respect, Thor could finally take a good look at the two sometime-companions of his youth.

Freyr had filled out from his lanky adolescence, clearly sporting solid muscles beneath his silks. He was nowhere near as bulked-up as Thor or any other Aesir, but that was the Elvish way. He’d also started wearing a small plait right above each ear, to better show off their pointed tips.

Freyja wore the same in her hair. She also copied her brother’s fashion sense, as they wore the same shades of gold and sapphire in their respective attire. They weren’t technically twins, but Freyja had been born only forty years after Freyr, so they often acted as such.

But one rather noticeable difference between the prince and princess was Freyja’s sizeable breasts, which had filled out even more since Thor had last seen her. And the cut of her dress was doing little to hide them.

Well, there was a reason why all the men in Asgard were excited to see her again.

“Go on, you two,” Njord said to his children with a wink, “I know who it is you really want to see. I’ll see you at the feast tonight.” And with that, he started in to the palace with Odin. Frigga and Skadi followed them.

Freyr looked over to Thor as the monarchs departed. “I’m surprised to see you here, Thor. I thought you’d be off causing thunderstorms on Midgard, O Mighty One.”

“Just as I thought you might be off begetting more bastards in Midgard, Ye of the Giant Phallus,” Thor retorted.

Freyr laughed, and Thor joined him. They embraced heartily. It really had been too long.

“Why have we gone so long without seeing each other?” Freyr wondered.

“As I said,” said Thor, “you’re too busy getting bastards.”

“That was one time!” Freyr protested. “And I hear he’s a king of a country on Midgard now. Doing very well for himself. Well, I suppose he’s in the past tense now. Mortal lives are so dreadfully short.”

“Good thing too,” said Thor, “or else they’d stop worshipping you as a god once they realized you’re just another drunken womanizer.”

“Well, you’re one to talk, fertility god.”

Thor laughed. He, Freyr, and Fandral had all vied for that title when they used to visit Midgard. They’d quickly stopped, however, once they realized the mortals were honoring them by offering blood sacrifices in exchange for good harvests.

But surprising religious practices aside, Thor realized he was forgetting his manners. He put a hand on Loki’s back. “This is my husband, Prince Loki.”

“Ah yes!” Freyr’s face alighted on Loki’s. “I had heard you’d gotten married.” He took Loki’s hand. “I’m Freyr. I’m probably the worst influence your husband has ever had, so I suggest you stay far away from me.”

Loki froze at the comment, but Freyr laughed, not seeming to pay it any mind. “But you don’t have me to worry about!” he said with glee. “You get to spend your next month with my sister!”

He brought Freyja to his side, who immediately went to embrace Thor. “Hi, big guy,” she said with a giggle. “I’ve missed you on Alfheim!”

Thor hugged her back, but he made sure it was brief. “It’s good to see you, Freyja,” he said. “Loki and I are honored to have you both as our guests.”

She seemed to have forgotten Loki was there, but she laughed it off as she offered her hand to him. “Hi,” she said sweetly. “I’m Freyja.”

Loki took her hand and kissed it, as decorum dictated. “It is an honor to meet you, Princess Freyja.”

“Mm-hm,” she said, “although, why am I only meeting you now?”

Loki froze again.

“Yes,” said Freyr, “I have wondered about that. I’ve never even heard of you before you were married. I always thought Laufey had just two sons.”

“He still does,” said Thor, upon realizing Loki still couldn’t summon speech, “now that his eldest son is dead.”

“Ha!” crowed Freyr. “True enough! At any rate, Loki, try to keep up with Freyja. She’s quite demanding.”

Freyja slapped his arm. “I am not!” She turned to Loki. “Don’t listen to him. I have the simplest tastes in the universe. To get on my good side, there is only one requirement.”

She placed both her hands on Loki’s shoulders to get his full attention. She had to feel him trembling; Thor could even see it.

“Do you like cats?”

Loki blinked in confusion at Freyja. “Wh-what?”

“Do. You. Like. Cats?” she repeated.

Loki’s eyes flitted to Thor. “I…I’m sorry, I don’t know what you mean.”

“You know,” Freyr said, “soft fur, whiskers, pointy ears?” He held his hands to resemble said ears to demonstrate.

But Loki just shook his head. “I don’t think…I don’t believe we have cats on Jotunheim.”

“Oh,” said Freyja. But she didn’t look deterred. “Well, today’s your lucky day!”

With that, she motioned the now-arriving household servants of Alfheim to bring forth a mid-sized box. Thor didn’t believe quite what he was seeing. He looked to Freyr. “Has she really-”

Freyr gave him a long-suffering look. “Yes.”

All of them?”

“All of them. And the new kittens.”

Sure enough, the next thing they knew, Freyja was reaching into the box, scooping out cat after cat after cat. She had gotten to seven before Thor lost count. And there had to be at least twenty in the box, judging by its size.

“Here!” she exclaimed, pulling out a large tortoiseshell calico from the box. “You can hold Grindal, she’s the friendliest one.”

Before Loki could say anything, she thrust the creature into his arms. She laughed at the ensuing lost expression on his face. “Well, don’t be afraid, silly! She’s not going to hurt you! What do you think?”

Loki nodded. “I…she’s…quite soft.”

“I brush them every day!” she said with pride. “And you’re going to help me take care of them for the next month!”

Without waiting to hear his reply, Freyja grabbed his elbow to steer him into walking with her. “I’ll teach you all their names, and what they like to play with. You’ll want to have your own by the time I leave!”

“I look forward to it,” said Loki. Thor couldn’t tell if Loki meant it by his tone of voice.

But Freyja beamed. “Good. Now, walk me to my chambers. I would rest and freshen up before the feast tonight.” And she steered him into the palace.

Thor had shown Loki where Freyja’s chambers were, but they were the same chambers she’d always stayed in when she visited. If anything, she was leading him to her chambers, not the other way around.

Thor turned to Freyr’s irritated sigh, then to see him gently tip over the box of remaining cats on its side. The grateful felines scurried out of the box to scatter throughout the palace. Among them was a midnight-black female with eight identical kittens, who followed their mother in a disorganized cluster.

Thor would have chuckled at the sight, but his thoughts were with Loki. He knew Freyja wasn’t harmful, but she was quite adamant about what she wanted. He hoped Loki would be alright.

In the meantime, he had Freyr to attend to. “Are you also headed to your chambers?” he asked, as he led Freyr down the hall.

“Yes, yes,” said Freyr, “but now that I’ve got you on your own, I do want to ask you about an idea for tonight.”

Thor was confused. “Tonight? You mean at the welcoming feast?”

“Well…” said Freyr, with a twinkle in his eyes that usually preceded some kind of rule-breaking, “…I was thinking more…instead of the feast.”

“What?” Thor asked. “You love feasts. They have food, drink, and plenty of people wanting to sleep with you. Those are all the things your life revolves around.”

“I know, I know,” Freyr said, “but you know what else it will have? My father. And my stepmother. And your parents. All of them looking down their noses at us, watching our every move. Whereas, if we were to go to, say, a tavern…”

Thor shook his head with a disbelieving laugh. “Freyr, you really haven’t changed in the last three centuries. You’re given free food and company, and it’s still not good enough for you. Aren’t your parents used to watching your antics by now?”

“Well, yes,” said Freyr, “but that doesn’t mean I want them around when I’m trying to find someone to fuck. And imagine how much fun we could have! We could bring Sif, and Fandral and all them, and make it a real night on the town!”

Hm. That was tempting. Thor hadn’t been out with his friends in months, certainly not since he was married. And, he was to be entertaining Freyr by doing what the prince wanted…

He relented with a grin. “Alright.” Freyr gave a triumphant laugh. “But we’ll need to stay for at least part of the feast before we sneak away. And I’ll ask my friends if they want to come along. I’ll even ask Freyja and Loki, and we’ll all go together.”

Freyr abruptly stopped. “Woah, wowowoah. What are you doing? What? Nonono, not them!”

Thor raised an eyebrow. “You haven’t minded your sister joining us on these excursions in the past. After all, she’s usually after the same thing you are.”

“Oh, not her,” said Freyr with a wave of his hand. “I meant Loki.”

A burst of protective anger punched Thor in the gut. It was all he could do to keep his voice even as he asked, “What about my husband?”

Well, he hadn’t kept all the anger out of his voice, as evidenced by the confused twitch in Freyr’s brow. “Just that,” said Freyr. “He’s your husband. And…” He laughed again, but it seemed more unsure than was usual. “…I…well, forgive me if I assumed, but I thought you would…well…”

“I would what?”

“You’d want an excuse to find a good piece of ass, is what I thought!” Freyr said. “You didn’t choose to marry him, after all, so you’ve been sneaking around up till this point. But now, here I am, a prince you’re hosting, whose whims you must satisfy while I’m staying here. I’m your perfect cover story!”

Thor couldn’t believe what he was hearing. There was so much wrong with what Freyr had just said, he didn’t know where to start. He settled on saying, “I haven’t been sneaking around behind Loki’s back, Freyr. And I’m not about to start. You can feel free to look for other bedpartners tonight, but I will not join you in that pursuit.”

Then, he took a step closer to Freyr. Not enough to outwardly threaten, but he knew the intimidating effect it had on most men. “And you’d better let Loki come with us, because I’m not about to have him spend his first night of hosting visitors by himself. So, either he comes with us, or we don’t go.”

“Okay, okay,” Freyr said, taking a step back. “If it means that much to you, he can come.” He straightened his collar. “Norns, I didn’t mean to hit a nerve.”

“You never mean to,” said Thor. “But that doesn’t mean you’re incapable of it.”

“Clearly,” Freyr muttered. “But we’re on for tonight still? Or have I put the Aesir crown prince’s nose out of joint for the last time?”

Thor chuckled. “Yes, we’re still going tonight.”

Freyr gave a relieved sigh, and clapped Thor’s bicep. “Good. Because I can assure you, my friend, it won’t be the last time I offend you.”

xxx

Just before sundown, Thor and Freyr were leading Loki, Freyja, Sif, Fandral, Volstagg, and Hogun through the streets of Asgard City, hunting for the tavern with the most attractive patrons. Fandral had already flirted with Freyja and Freyr more times than was decent. Volstagg’s stomach had growled four times already. And most of them were already giggling with delight, as if they were already drunk. Even though they’d all only had one cup of ale at the feast.

Once they found their target, it wasn’t long before the tavern became the most popular establishment of the night, as people flocked from all quarters to spend time with the foreign visitors.

Nor was it long before Thor and Loki’s companions got absolutely shitfaced.

Hogun was smiling at everyone. Sif kept winning at dice. Volstagg soon led a group of people in a dance on top of the bar. Freyr then leapt up, and crowed, “Who could use some extra gold?” before throwing showers of coins into the crowd, who gave raucous cheers.

Fandral kept disappearing and reappearing, each time with a wider grin on his face. And, as was usual, someone on his arm appeared with him, wearing a matching dazed grin. Thor didn’t have to guess what his friend was up to each time he left.

Thor did drink, but not nearly to the extent he would have in such a situation. And that was because he had an important task, the same one he had allotted himself day after day for the last four months:

He had to make sure Loki was alright.

Loki sat in the corner of the room, watching everything around him. He had been nervous when they’d entered the tavern, but Thor did see him start to relax once they’d all settled in. Maybe because staying to the sidelines was an activity he was used to.

But hours into their night, Thor looked up from his third cup of ale to see Loki looking completely petrified. The single cup of ale he’d been served tonight shuddered in his too-tight grip. He hadn’t even taken two sips of it all night.

His eyes were fixed at a table near the center of the room. Freyja lay atop it, and a rather large man had crawled on top of her. She was engaging him in long, luxurious kisses, hardly even stopping to breathe. One of his hands wandered to cup her left breast, and she giggled into his mouth.

“Oy!” Another man yelled, his face ruddy after hours of drinking. He shoved the shoulder of the man atop Freyja. “She promised I’d have her tonight, move off!”

The man came up for air and laughed. “Aye, but it appears she’s changed her mind! Now you move off, unless you’re asking for a fight!”

“Maybe I am!” the second man shouted, and fumbled for where his sword would usually be sheathed at his side. Unfortunately for him, he hadn’t left home with any weapons tonight.

The first man roared with laughter. “What, forgot your cock at home too?” Everyone in the vicinity joined him in his guffaws.

“Boys, boys,” Freyja said, sitting up. “There’s really no need for this.” She gave a seductive smile, and spread her arms (and legs) wide. “Didn’t your mothers teach you how to share?”

Both men gaped at her, then looked back to each other. Then they grinned. They shook hands, and everyone cheered.

Freyja laughed, preening under all the attention. She grabbed the second man and pulled him into a wet kiss. With her free hand, she grabbed the first man’s hand and replaced it on her breast. He happily obliged her.

Thor looked back to Loki. He hadn’t looked this clammy since their wedding feast. Thor chanced a touch on Loki’s arm to get his attention.

It worked, but only by making Loki jump at the sudden contact. He realized who it was soon enough. Still, it was easy to see how on edge he was.

Thor leaned in so Loki could hear him. “Do you want to leave?”

Loki looked startled at the suggestion. “I…but what about Freyja, and Freyr? We’re hosting them.”

Thor glanced around the room. Freyja was now pulling a woman in to turn her quickly-developing threesome into a foursome. Freyr, meanwhile, was sneaking to the kitchens, pulling a man and two women behind him who looked completely thrilled with the upcoming events.

“I think our company is not that which they seek,” Thor said. “We won’t be missed here.”

Loki nodded, and without another word, the pair snuck away toward the door.

Thor did pull Sif away from the woman she was kissing to murmur in her ear, “Loki and I are headed back.” She nodded, and he left her to the woman, sneaking away with his husband into the night.

xxx

The streets were quiet once they’d made it a few blocks away from the tavern. Thor knew they were perfectly safe, but he didn’t know if Loki knew that, so he kept an arm around Loki’s back to usher him forward.

Loki, for his part, was quiet for most of the way back to the palace. They were nearly through the gates again when he next spoke. “Will Freyja be alright?”

Thor glanced at him. He looked so afraid. “Of course. This isn’t her first time in a tavern by any means. She knows what she’s about.”

Loki looked surprised by his words. “But is she not required to keep her virginity till her wedding night?”

“Technically, yes,” said Thor. “And if she still behaves the way she did in our youth, she will still have her maidenhead.”

At Loki’s furrowed brows, he clarified his statement: “In the past, she was careful to not let men inside her cunt. But other acts, and acts with women, were fair game.”

Loki looked down at his boots at that. He seemed to be in thought, but Thor didn’t know what those thoughts could be. He wasn’t sure exactly what the extent of Loki’s knowledge of sex was.

And it didn’t feel right to pry into that knowledge right now. Not when Loki still looked so shaken by the whole evening.

“Sif was with a woman, too,” said Loki. “And I saw Fandral and Freyr also with men.”

Thor nodded. He didn’t understand why Loki would comment on that, so he waited to see if Loki would say something further.

And he did: “Is it not shameful in Asgard to do so?”

Thor was taken aback by the idea. What about it could possibly be shameful? “Of course not. Why, is it shameful to do so in Jotunheim?”

Loki nodded. “Especially for men in the…passive role. They are called ergi, and are cast out from their families if they are caught.” He cleared his throat. “Forgive me, I did not realize it was different here.”

“Quite different,” said Thor. “If it were shameful to lie with the same sex in Asgard, most people I know would carry the shame. Myself included.”

Loki stopped walking. The way he stared at Thor, it was as if Thor had said he engaged in periodic cannibalism.

“I…” Loki stammered, “…I…did not think…that you…”

“It’s alright,” said Thor, coaxing him to continue the way back to their chambers. “You were raised in one culture, and now live in another. I’m not offended.”

Loki didn’t say anything further, not even when they returned to their chambers. Thor decided to ask what was on his mind. “But am I correct in saying that wasn’t the only thing which caused your discomfort tonight?”

Loki shook his head. “I could have borne it and stayed longer. But…” He cringed further into himself. Thor felt him tense even more. “The way that man…climbed on top of her…”

Oh. Thor felt so stupid. Of course Loki’s mind had gone there.

“I’m so sorry, Loki,” he breathed. “I…”

Loki sniffed loudly. And now, Thor noticed the tears starting to fall down his face. Had he been fighting them back all this time?

Thor could kick himself. One night out with friends was apparently all it took to make him a shit husband.

“I didn’t even make the connection,” he admitted. “But I see now why it upset you so, when you saw it.”

Loki wiped at his eyes. “I know it’s different. She wanted those men to do that with her. And I should just be happy she can enjoy herself.”

“You have a very good reason to feel the way you do,” Thor pointed out.

Loki shrugged. “It just feels like…these Elves, and the Aesir in the tavern tonight…your friends, even…they’re all living in a parallel world.” His voice was really starting to break. “Where such relations are nothing more than harmless fun. And…I can’t understand it, no matter how hard I try.”

“Your experience in that realm,” Thor said gently, “was anything but harmless.” He moved his hand to Loki’s shoulder. “I’m sorry tonight was so hard for you. I didn’t think it through.”

“It’s not your fault,” said Loki automatically. “It’s not really anyone’s tonight, I suppose. But…” He took a breath. “…I don’t think I would want to go to a tavern again.”

Thor nodded. He could respect that.

“Well,” he said, “is there anything you would like to do with the rest of tonight?” He wouldn’t push the issue if Loki didn’t want to, but he didn’t feel it was fair to Loki to have him go to sleep right after being so upset.

Loki looked back to the study. “Um…” He wiped away more tears. “…Well, I thought I could read some, but…I also would like to be with you.”

Thor smiled. “Then I have the perfect idea.”

xxx

And that was how they ended the evening with Thor listening to Loki read aloud to him. It was difficult at first, with Loki’s voice wavering with what lingered of his upset emotional state. But, as they went on, his fear gave way to calm, and he read with the usual gentle lilt in his voice.

Thor soon lost track of the content of the story, as he became lulled by Loki’s speaking timbre. It really was one of the most alluring things about him. Loki could have read a government document and still made Thor shiver with desire.

When they finally went to bed, it was late in the night. He would be worried that they’d be too tired to entertain the Elves in the morning. But Freyr and Freyja would probably stay up even later tonight, and have terrible hangovers in the morning. Thor and Loki would be allowed to sleep in.

So instead of thinking what he would do with Freyr the next day, Thor thought on what Loki had said. How he couldn’t understand Freyja wanting a man on top of her. And, Thor suspected, how Freyja probably wouldn’t understand how Loki wouldn’t want a man on top of him.

But Thor had lived as Freyr and Freyja had for centuries, with sex as one of his primary pastimes. And while he couldn’t ever fully understand Loki’s experience, and hadn’t suffered to the extent Loki had, they did share some common ground in the realm of sexual violation.

He was in the middle ground. And yet, between Freyja and Loki’s ideas of a pleasant evening, Thor had surprisingly enjoyed the latter more.

But, that was most likely because he enjoyed Loki’s company above all others. He couldn't wait until the Elves left Asgard, so he could spend more time with the person most dear to him.

Chapter Text

Thor woke up later than usual. But, it didn’t appear to be a problem, as Freyr and Freyja hadn’t come looking for him yet.

Loki had slept in the bedchamber last night, but the door was ajar, and the chamber was empty. He must be in the study, so Thor could use the bathing chambers.

They’d worked out a system for their morning routine, where they could weave between the different chambers and prepare for the day without invading each other’s privacy. It had been awkward a few times, especially once they started alternating the rooms they slept in.

They’d had to knock on doors and wait patiently for a reply more than once, and several times Thor had been stranded outside the bathing chambers with a full bladder. But, as the weeks went on, their paths adjusted to each other’s morning habits, and within an hour they were always in the front room eating breakfast together.

Not for the first time, Thor mulled over how nice it was to be able to trust his husband so much regarding his time and space. And, to show Loki the respect he deserved in not trespassing over these domains himself. Not to mention that Loki felt able to afford him the same trust and respect.

He hadn’t expected to have either of those things with his spouse. Certainly not to the extent that existed between him and Loki now, after only four and a half months together.

Thor sat down to breakfast with a slight smile on his face, something that didn’t happen often when he thought of his marriage. Yes, many circumstances of it were the literal stuff of nightmares. But as far as the actual person he was legally tied to? Thor counted himself the luckiest man in the Nine Realms on that count.

It was even later than usual that Loki emerged from the study, awkwardly shuffling into the front room in his ceremonial armor. He must have spent a long time putting it on.

“Good morning,” he mumbled. “Forgive me for my tardiness.”

Thor smiled further as Loki sat down. “No need. We’re not on a strict timetable this morning. I assume our Elvish counterparts are still asleep at this hour.”

Loki’s hands started fidgeting together. The movement brought Thor’s eyes to the golden vambraces, and how the intricate designs on them caught the light with each shift of his forearms. Thor hadn’t expected the sight to be so alluring, but here he sat, his heart picking up speed with each movement.

It was probably too late when he realized how long he’d been staring in silence. He cleared his throat nervously. “How are you finding your new armor?”

Loki looked down at his chest, which was covered by a handsome breastplate inlaid with an arching stripe of gold. “It’s difficult, to remember which pieces go where,” he admitted, “and how they all fit together. But I am honored to wear it, and to be awarded the station they signify.”

“It is the station you were born to,” Thor said, “and that which you should have been treated as occupying all your life.”

Loki shrugged. “Also, it is quite heavy. I’m not used to the weight, I suppose.”

Thor chuckled at that. He often forgot how heavy armor was for most people, as even most Aesir didn’t wear it every day like he did. “It does take some getting used to,” he said. “But know that you don’t have to wear it every day. I just do because I enjoy it, and it does not burden me.”

Loki was quiet for a beat, then said, “I suppose it wouldn’t burden you.”

“What do you mean?”

Loki blushed, and bit into a pear as if it would chase the redness away. When it didn’t, he swallowed his mouthful and said, “Just that…as Sif once remarked, you are…” He ducked his head, and mumbled, “…‘built like a brick shithouse.’”

Thor laughed heartily. “She would say that.”

His laughter was suddenly interrupted by a knock at the door. That hadn’t happened previously; servants usually entered without warning to attend to their tasks, and they’d had no unanticipated visitors before.

Loki, unsurprisingly, looked quite unsure about the situation. “Is it the Elves?” he asked.

“Let’s see,” said Thor, and rose from the couch to investigate.

But when he cracked open the door, he was surprised to see Sif and the Warriors Three standing on the other side of it. They all had somewhat bedraggled hair and bags under their eyes, but were otherwise none the worse for wear.

“Good morning, my friends,” he said. Or well, started to say, before Sif shushed him.

“Quietly,” she hissed. “Some of us had more than three cups of ale last night.”

“What was that?” he said louder, with a fiendish smirk. “You mean you’re still hungover and I should not speak as loudly-”

“Thor, shut up,” Volstagg groaned. But, then he caught Loki’s eye over Thor’s shoulder. “Good morning, Loki,” he said, as cheerily as he could muster in his current state. Loki gave a silent wave back, in a more respectful greeting than Thor was giving him.

The other three waved at Loki as well, then Sif turned back to Thor. “We’re here to tell you that Freyr is awake. And once he stops grumbling at the servants to stop offering so many headache remedies, he’ll expect to spar with you today.”

Thor arched an eyebrow. “Is he in a state similar to yourselves?”

“More or less,” said Fandral with a grimace. “But he said that ‘exercise is the best hangover cure.’ I think he’s full of shit on that point, but since you’re the only one of us without a splitting headache, you’ll have the honor of proving him wrong.”

Thor chuckled. “An honor indeed.” Then, he realized he should ask about Loki’s part in all this. “And what of Freyja?”

“Last I heard,” Sif said, “she was alternating between vomiting and yelling at her cats to stop licking her vomit. But I’m sure she would enjoy Loki’s company, if it were offered.”

Thor glanced back to Loki over his shoulder. Loki gave a dutiful nod. It was clear he didn’t know how to approach the company of a vomiting princess, but he would do his best regardless.

“Oh, and Loki?” said Volstagg. “We want to apologize, if we neglected you last night.”

The other three gave him remorseful nods, but Loki looked taken aback at the display. “It’s…it’s nothing,” he stammered. “You were not remiss for enjoying yourselves.”

“But did you enjoy yourself?” Hogun asked.

Loki paused for a telltale beat too long. “In a way,” he said quietly. “But it is not your job to look after me.”

All four slid a discreet glance to Thor. They knew exactly who had taken it upon himself to look after Loki as a full-time occupation.

“Yes, well,” said Volstagg, “I expect today will go well for you. The state she’s in, Freyja will not demand too much from you today.”

Loki gave a small smile, and the four turned to leave. “So we’ll see you at the training yards, Thor?” Fandral asked.

Thor nodded. “Let me finish breakfast, then I will go.” But before he closed the door, he noticed something on Fandral. “What is that on your neck?”

Volstagg looked closer at Fandral’s neck, then scoffed. “It appears one of your companions last night left a mark, my friend.”

Fandral grinned, pulling his collar down further, displaying the beginnings of even more lovebites. “And if you think that collection’s impressive,” he said with a smirk, “wait till you see what’s on my-”

Thor hurriedly shut the door on that conversation.

xxx

As he promised, Thor finished breakfast with Loki, then escorted him to Freyja’s chambers. When they knocked on the door, they were promptly greeted with a “Just a moment!” followed by retching noises.

Thor shared a glance with Loki, and then the door was thrown open by a hair-tousled Freyja.

“Oh, thank the Norns you’re here!” she exclaimed, and pulled first Thor and then Loki into fierce hugs. Loki hardly had time to react before she was pulling him into her chambers.

“I’ve been at my wits end, trying to get them to stop!” she lamented. Thor couldn’t see into much of her chambers, but he did glimpse several cats perched on furniture and lying on the rugs. One of them had rolled in something that looked suspiciously like vomit, and was now licking its hind leg to get it out.

“Now I have to give Manja a bath, and she hates water,” she said, scooping up the protesting white cat. “Could you help me, Loki?”

“Of…of course,” said Loki with a shaking voice.

Freyja sighed in relief. “I’ll start running the bathwater!” And she rushed further into her chambers.

Loki gave Thor a nervous look over his shoulder. “I…I suppose I’ll…I’ll see you…”

Thor was about to say “Soon” or “This afternoon,” but then realized that neither would be the case. He was to spend his day with Freyr, and Loki would spend his with Freyja. Unless the siblings wanted to interact today, he and Loki would be separated until nightfall.

“Later,” was all he could say. He wasn’t expecting the sorrow that settled in his gut at the word.

Loki nodded, looking just as dejected as Thor felt. “Later,” he murmured. He reached to close the chambers’ doors, and with one last glance at Thor, the door shut between them.

Thor probably stood there for too long, looking at the doors and wishing Loki could reappear from behind them to join him for the day. It wasn’t that he was worried; beyond facing Freyja’s brashness and some yowling cats, Loki would be fine.

It’s just that Thor would miss him.

xxx

Once he got to the training yards, Thor was met by Freyr and his friends. Specifically, Sif and the Warriors Three were drinking water in a bid to ease their headaches, while Freyr was twirling his sword around his body to warm up.

“Still showing off?” Thor called out to him. “I thought you’d outgrown that by now.”

“Who, me?” Freyr shouted back. “I’ll always be an insufferable show-off; you know that!”

Thor chuckled, and headed over to the weapons rack to choose a sword of his own. Freyr swaggered over to him.

“You’re in a good mood,” Thor remarked over his shoulder, “considering you drank as much as Volstagg last night. And he’s in a terrible state.”

“Oh, don’t let me give you the wrong idea,” said Freyr. “I’m also in a terrible state. I’m just practiced at pushing through hangovers.” He smirked at Thor. “Besides, I’m still well enough to beat you in a fight.”

Volstagg rolled his eyes. “You’ve never beaten him in a fight, Freyr.”

“Excuse me?” Freyr asked. “What about the time we both visited Vanaheim, and we wrestled for the entertainment of the King Fjorgynn’s court?”

“Thor won that bout,” said Hogun.

Freyr opened his mouth to protest, then seemed to recall the fight and shut it. “Alright, but what about when we were captured by the marauders in Nidavellir, and-”

“Thor won that, as well,” said Sif.

“When we visited Krona, and they pitted us to the death?”

“Thor,” said Fandral.

“The tribes near that lake on Midgard?”

“Thor,” said Volstagg.

“The dragon near Muspelheim?”

“Freyr, you weren’t even in that fight!” said Sif.

“Okay, fine!” Freyr shouted, exasperated. He seemed pleased that Sif and the Warriors Three covered their ears at the increase in volume; evidently, their hangovers had not completely abated. “But there’s always a first time for everything, yes?”

“No,” said Thor. “That’s just an empty platitude.” He picked up his chosen sword, and pointed it toward Freyr’s chest. “But if you think you stand a chance against me now, then I’ll gladly let you test your theory.”

Freyr swatted the sword away with his own blade. “That’s the spirit,” he sneered.

The ambled over to the center of the ring and took their fighting stances. “Why aren’t you hungover?” Freyr asked.

“It’s called drinking responsibly,” Thor retorted. “You should try it sometime.”

Freyr laughed, and lunged for the first strike, just as Thor thought he would. “Are you kidding?” the Elf laughed as he was parried. “When have either of us ever been responsible?”

They traded offense and defense for a few more easy exchanges, before Freyr’s eyes alighted on a new possibility. “Wait, let me guess,” he said. “Did your new husband put you up to it?”

Thor growled. “Loki cares not how much I drink. And we both agreed to leave together, once we saw you and your sister were well taken care of!” Freyr grinned as Thor’s next attacks grew more wild and powerful.

It was always dangerous to lose one’s head in a fight. An enemy’s taunts were just another weapon, and part of a warrior’s training was to learn to shield against them. If Thor had reacted with rage at every Jotun’s jape about the Aesir in the last war, his head would be decorating a spike in Laufey’s palace by now.

But fortunately, his newly-stoked aggression paid off in this instance, and a hard shove sent Freyr sprawling in the dirt. His friends applauded at the edges of the ring.

“Have you had your fill, Freyr?” Fandral called out to him. “Can we please go back to bed now?”

“You stay where you are!” Freyr shouted back, panting. “I’m hardly finished here!” Fandral and the others slumped down on the railings with a groan.

Thor helped Freyr up, and handed him a waterskin. Freyr gulped some of it down gratefully. After he was done, he looked to Thor. “It seems I hit a nerve with you again.”

Thor didn’t reply. Which was all the reply Freyr needed.

“I didn’t realize you were so devoted to your new spouse,” he remarked. “You’ve only been wed less than half a year, after all.”

Thor shrugged. “He is worth the devotion.”

Freyr’s brow raised, and he smirked. “I should hope so. After you left the tavern so early, I hope you at least got laid last night.”

“Shut your mouth, Freyr.”

Freyr visibly flinched from the sudden fury in Thor’s command. He spread his hands in surrender. “Apologies,” he said, though he phrased it more as a question. “Your bedtime exploits were never off-limits in the past.”

“In the past, they did not involve my husband,” Thor growled. “What happens in my marriage bed is none of your business.”

“Fine, fine,” said Freyr, “I get it, you and Loki don’t kiss and tell. Sounds boring as shit, but whatever.” Then, a new light appeared in his eye. “But what about this: if I beat you in a sparring match by sunset today, you’ll tell me every detail of what you and Loki did last night. If I don’t beat you, I won’t ask again. Deal?”

Thor considered. His honor told him to say no. His and Loki’s private dealings, no matter what they entailed, were not to be the object of a bet, to be traded about like a pool of winnings at a game of dice.

But, the practical side of him – the one he hated listening to and yet was the side Loki himself often spoke for – told him that if he took this bet and emerged triumphant, he could keep his and Loki’s secrets on terms that Freyr would understand. It would ensure Freyr would leave it alone, and it also would not rouse the suspicions of anyone else in the palace of why Thor refused to tell him.

Freyr had inadvertently offered him the perfect way out.

So, he made a show of relenting with a sigh. “Fine. You have a deal.”

He and Freyr shook on it, and returned to the ring.

xxx

He was a sweaty mess by the time he returned to his chambers at nightfall. Loki was already there, examining his hands. When he saw Thor enter, his eyes lit up. He even sprang forward to meet him.

Thor’s immediate instinct was to embrace him, but he caught himself at the last second. He cleared his throat to mitigate the awkwardness, with mixed success.

Loki brought one hand to his own shoulder. “I was…um, waiting for you. Not that you took too long, just…”

Thor smiled. He brought his hand to Loki’s same shoulder, covering his hand there. “I missed you too,” he said softly.

He realized too late that the gesture might have been more intimate than a hug. But Loki’s eyes were shining at him with that gentle warmth, so perhaps it was allowable. Still, his hand didn’t linger long.

But, as he took it away, he noticed Loki’s hand had a few small cuts. They weren’t bleeding, but they were still fresh. His face must have expressed his concern, for Loki glanced at the hand and said, “Oh, this was from one of the cats. They appear to not like water.”

“Indeed,” said Thor. “We can send for one of the healers, and they can close the wounds within an hour.”

Loki shook his head. “I already applied a salve to prevent infection. But I thought I would save these for my lessons with Frigga, so I can attempt healing spells.”

“Ah.”

They soon sat down to dinner, and Loki told him all about his day wrangling the cats with Freyja. It sounded like a trying day to Thor. Indeed, when he studied Loki closely, he could see how much tension remained in his husband.

So, at a pause in the tale, he put in, “You know you can ask me for help if you become overwhelmed.”

Loki’s glance slid down. “You are helping me now.”

They continued, with Thor speaking of Freyr’s clumsy attempts at beating Thor in sparring. Thor left out the bet about his and Loki’s supposed nightly exploits. But it didn’t matter. In the end, Freyr had never beaten him, just as Thor knew would happen. Thus, he hadn’t had to lie outright, just by omission.

But as he and Loki spoke, and Thor felt that familiar cocoon of sanctuary settle over them both, he realized with dread that he and Loki would be spending the next month without its constant presence. All they’d have were the evenings together, until Odin and Njord came to an agreement over the trade regulations.

It was going to be a long month.

xxx

Eleven days into the Elves’ visit, Thor had had enough. Every day, Thor had gone sparring, riding, fishing, and feasting with Freyr. Loki, meanwhile, had been caring for cats and playing chess with Freyja. Only for the few hours in the evening did Thor get to reconnect with Loki, where they were both able to decompress from their day.

Thor was adapting well enough, as Freyr and his activities had all been part of his life before. Loki, meanwhile, was shaken from the princess’s presence, and it was clear to Thor that he was falling apart at the seams under the pressure of entertaining her.

So, Thor suggested that he, Freyr, Loki, and Freyja go to the marketplace together.

Thor loved the markets. His people were so industrious with their work, and he thrived on their crackling energy as they plied their wares. Everyone greeted him with such enthusiasm here, eager to have the crown prince as a patron.

Technically, today he was leading Freyr through the streets and stalls. But in practice, he spent less time with the Elf prince, and more time keeping an eye on Loki.

But as he stopped to admire a local silversmith’s handiwork, Freyr ran up to him. “Thor, you would not believe the tits on that farrier’s daughter! She’s been ogling us all afternoon!”

“Good for you,” said Thor. “Just leave me out of it.”

Freyr rolled his eyes. “That’s right, I forgot, all of a sudden you’re monogamous. But it’s been what, five months now? How are you not bored?”

Now the beast stirred in Thor.

“Freyr,” he growled, shoving his forearm into the Elf’s chest. He gave his most predatory glare. “That is the last time you are to speak of Loki in that manner. As of our wedding day, my bedtime activities are no longer any of your concern.” He leaned in closer. “Is that understood?”

Freyr shoved Thor’s arm away. “Alright, fine, fine.” But he didn’t look fine. He looked furious. “Fuck the three Norns!” And he stormed off into the crowd.

Thor glowered at the Elf’s exit. Was he supposed to go after Freyr and try to work things out? Probably. But that was the last thing he wanted to do. Fuck Freyr and his sex-crazed mind.

Instead, he headed over to a competing silversmith’s stall, where Loki was standing next to some the pendants on display. He was handing over some coins to the smith, who bowed in thanks. The smith’s young son then handed Loki two small packages wrapped in brown paper and twine.

“Most kind, Your Highness,” the smith kept saying, punctuating each sentence with another bow. “Most kind, indeed.”

“Thank you,” Loki said quietly. He tucked the two packages under his arm, and turned to leave. In doing so, he nearly ran right into Thor.

“Sorry,” said Thor. Loki gave him a timid smile. Thor looked to the packages. “You found something?”

“Oh,” said Loki, looking to the boxes. “Yes. I thought a necklace for Freyja would be a kind gesture.”

“Indeed,” said Thor. But he kept looking at the boxes. Specifically, that there were two of them. “You…bought her two necklaces, then?”

Loki shook his head. “Just the one. The other…um…well…” His ears started to turn red. “It’s…just something for myself.”

His last words came out so quickly, and so quietly, that Thor didn’t feel it wise to press the matter. So, he nodded with a smile. “I hope you found something you liked.”

Loki finally met his eyes with a shy glance that thirsted for approval. “I did.”

Thor ushered Loki away, saying “Let’s go find Freyja, then.” Signaling that he wouldn’t pry any further.

xxx

Finally, on the fifteenth day, it was announced that the kings had reached an agreement in the trade negotiations. A feast would be held in celebration, and the two crown princes would be the ones to lead the hunt for the main course.

So, Thor would ride out with the hunt. Once again, it was an activity he enjoyed. Physical, simple, with a clear objective and good company.

But, he would be gone for several days. And that meant at least seventy-two hours without Loki.

Loki’s nightmares had worsened since the Elves had arrived, signaling his renewed stress and diminished support while away from Thor. But the night before Thor was to ride out, Loki hardly slept at all.

He woke up screaming in the middle of the night. So much so that it sounded like he was in actual danger, and Thor burst into the bedchamber without thinking. He found Loki sitting hunched over at the edge of the bed, holding his temples and failing to hold in his sobs.

Thor sat beside him. He chanced rubbing Loki’s back in an attempt to soothe. He and Loki had done this enough now that it was an easier assumption of what was needed. Loki accepted the comfort as best he could.

“If you need to,” Thor murmured, “you can ask for sleeping potions for the next several nights. At least until I return.”

Sobs were all that answered him. His throat clenched in sympathy with each sound of Loki’s.

“H-how will I…will I do this?” Loki finally said. “W-without you?”

Thor didn’t know how to answer that right away. He was wondering the same question about himself.

“You are strong, Loki,” he finally said. “You can do this, however long it takes. And before you know it, we will be together again. It won’t be long.”

Somewhere, between his words and his soothing motions on Loki’s back, Loki found some peace. They didn’t go back to sleep. They just sat together on the bed, counting each moment of their companionship before the dawn snatched it away.

xxx

Hunts usually took at least three days. Some still held to the old beliefs that the three Norns told the targeted animal of its fate, and each Norn gave the beast one day to say its goodbyes to the physical world.

But if that were true, this damn golden boar was taking advantage of the Norns’ courtesy, because four days later they still hadn’t caught sight of him.

Now, the hunting party set up camp near the river banks. The hounds had lost the scent at the stream, and everyone was tired from riding all day. But no one seemed to mind that it was taking so long; hunts weren’t just about the prize at the end, but about a chance for men to carouse and bond together. If anything, they were all thrilled that they were about to enter the fifth day of their expedition.

Everyone, that is, except Thor.

He sat on a large tree root, staring at the meandering stream, while his fingers traced over the runes carved into Mjolnir’s edges. She warmed in his touch, but he hardly noticed. His thoughts were on the one person he wanted to see, but couldn’t.

Four days now without Loki. Four days without his gentle voice, his warm smiles and bright green eyes. Four days without the person who he knew would comfort him if he needed it. Four days without being there to comfort him in return.

He hoped Loki was sleeping alright. Thor himself was restless during the past three nights.

“I assume it’s not the boar you contemplate with that morose look.”

It was Fandral, who had taken the liberty of sitting beside him on the tree root. Thor’s mouth pulled up into a half-smile; his friend’s presence was rarely unwelcome.

“You would assume correctly,” he said.

“Mm-hm.” Fandral turned his attention to the knife he carried, twirling it between two fingers. It would have been reckless were he not so practiced at the movement.

With their attention on their respective weapons, they settled into an easy silence. Thor heard Freyr, Volstagg, and a few Einherjar placing bets over who could skip a rock across the water the farthest. But though they were but a dozen yards downstream, they seemed far away to Thor’s mind.

“Loki will be alright, you know,” Fandral’s voice broke through the calm. “You both will. As long as you both stay the course.”

Thor paused in his fingers’ movements over Mjolnir. “What makes you so certain?”

“I know people,” Fandral replied. “I know a compatible couple when I see one. Not to mention, the look on your face when you think of him gives the whole game away.”

Thor started to give a rueful smile, but a sudden uproar of Freyr’s laughter stopped it short of its goal.

Fandral seemed to notice Thor’s shift in attention. “What?”

Thor took an even breath. “Do you know the remarks he has made about Loki? And the assumptions he has made about us?”

“No,” said Fandral. “But I can guess. Although, I would not expect otherwise.”

Thor finally turned to his friend with an arched brow. “What do you mean by that?”

Fandral gestured with his knife toward Freyr. “Look at him.”

Thor did. Freyr was shoving the other warriors in jest, making lewd gestures with his hands, then laughing and embracing them. They all laughed with him, but Thor could tell that Freyr had just made some comments that were too close for everyone’s comfort. Even for a group of seasoned warriors.

“He still acts like he’s six hundred,” Fandral said. “And everyone goes along with it because he’s a crown prince.”

Thor’s mind completed the equivalent of a double take. He turned back to Fandral. “Is Freyr the only crown prince of whom you speak?”

Fandral grinned. But he shrugged good-naturedly. “Now it is. But you remember Midgard, and all our adventures back then. We were all that way in our youth.”

“But we’re not anymore.”

“He is. And until you called him out on it in recent days, no one else ever has. So why should anyone expect him to change?”

Thor sighed. “But we changed.”

“Yes, but we have real friends who keep us in check,” said Fandral, playfully swatting Thor’s shoulder. “Who does he have? A grieving father who never stopped indulging him? A stepmother who can claim no real authority over him? A sister who is cut from the same cloth? A court full of sycophants who would never dare challenge him?”

As Thor mulled that over, he found some dredge of pity for Freyr. It wasn’t strong, but he couldn’t deny it existed.

“Seeing him again, after so many years,” Fandral said, “I think we were the closest thing to friends he’s ever known.”

Thor’s ears caught on the word ‘were’.

“Well,” he said, “I’m glad my court won’t be full of sycophants. Not entirely, at least.”

“Good,” said Fandral. “I’m glad you remembered that our association is purely transactional. The others and I expect senior positions in your council!”

“Just as I expect your loyalty to my future reign.”

“Of course. A fair bargain. And remember, that was the only reason we attached to you as children. There has been no real friendship stirred between us in the slightest!”

“Of course not.”

They laughed at the practiced jest between them, and Fandral stood. “Well, if your mind is satisfactorily put at ease, I’m going to go charm someone’s trousers off.”

Thor glanced at the warriors around the camp. There didn’t appear to be any obvious target. So, he asked, “Which someone?”

Fandral smirked. “Anyone who wants it, of course!”

Thor scoffed. He should have known; Fandral always cast as wide a net as possible in his flirtations. “Well, I wish you luck.”

“I would thank you, Thor,” Fandral replied, as he zeroed in on a target of several soldiers huddled around a fire, “but I don’t need luck!”

Thor watched as Fandral eased into the group, chatting up the nearest three warriors with all the charm he possessed. As smooth as water down a gullet.

Yes, he and Fandral, and all his companions, had been like Freyr during their youth. But they’d smoothed over their jagged edges, easing into the roles suited for them in adulthood. Fandral could seduce, but didn’t push; Volstagg would make merry, but wouldn’t destroy; Hogun would sit back, but wouldn’t lash out when asked to lighten up; Sif would join the men, but without the constant chip on her shoulder.

Thor would lead, but wouldn’t take glory from others, trampling over others’ feelings like a herd of Bilgesnipe. Their hard lessons learned in youth had now molded them into the young men and woman their kingdom needed them to be.

He looked at Freyr by the river’s edge, taunting another warrior’s pitiful throw of a rock. The Elf prince had yet to learn those lessons, and they didn’t look to be arriving anytime soon.

xxx

On the fifth day, they finally rode down the damn boar. He was a massive creature; Thor only came up to his shoulder. The beast had tried to resist them, but a lightning strike from Mjolnir landed three feet from the boar’s face, startling him. He’d turned tail and run into striking range of Freyr’s spear. It was all over from there.

They lashed the felled beast to the team of spare horses they’d brought along, and dragged the boar back to the palace kitchens. Everyone in the hallways marveled at the sizeable kill. Freyr bragged about his dispensing the killing stroke. Thor let him.

But as Thor headed to his chambers again, Freyr stopped him in the hallway. “Hey Thor, are we still speaking?”

An uncharacteristic question for someone so disinclined to social tact, but Thor went with it. But he spoke while continuing to walk down the hall. He wasn’t about to be waylaid from seeing Loki again, so if Freyr wanted a conversation, he’d have to keep up.

“That depends,” Thor said. “Are you going to refrain from your untoward comments about my husband?”

“I didn’t know they were untoward!” Freyr protested. “What would you have me do?”

“I would have you think, Freyr,” Thor snapped. “Imagine if someone spoke as such about my mother. Would my father have stood for that?”

He could tell that put Freyr’s mind to work. Especially by his next words. “I see. Alright, if that’s what you ask, I’ll shut my mouth. But no hard feelings, yes?”

Now he was pushing it. “Of course there’s still hard feelings,” Thor replied. “But, if you really wish to remain in my favor, avoid such topics at the feast. Then we’ll see.”

“Great!” said Freyr. “I’ll see you tonight!” And off he went back down the halls to his chambers.

It was just as well, because Thor was about to reach his and Loki’s chambers. Thank the Norns, finally he could see Loki again…

But when he entered their chambers, Loki was nowhere to be found.

xxx

He had left a note on the table in the front room, where they usually ate their meals:

Thor – If you return and I am not here, I am with Freyja, Queen Skadi, and your mother. We are preparing something for the feast. I will see you then.

I have missed you terribly. – Loki

Thor ran his fingers over the sloping, elegant handwriting. It was as graceful as Loki himself. And Loki had touched this, put a pen to this paper to impart these words to Thor. He had left it here for Thor to read. Thor didn’t know why he was so touched by all this, but he was.

He stared at that last sentence for much longer than was reasonable. He read it over and over. I have missed you terribly. Loki had missed him.

Of course, there was the darker truth of that statement, that Loki had suffered day and night without the presence of the one who understood it best. He’d had to keep his mind’s burdens locked inside him while pretending to Freyja that nothing was wrong. Even if he’d found a way to be around Frigga, she would be with Queen Skadi, so no meaningful words could be exchanged with his mother-in-law.

But still. Loki had missed him. Thor couldn’t help but grin with delight at the sentiment.

He went to the bathing chambers and submerged himself in the pool set into the floor. The bath was much larger than what he’d had in his old chambers. Then again, these were chambers built for a married couple, who might wish to bathe together.

As if.

But that didn’t stop Thor from imagining it as he relaxed at one of the ledges at the edge of the pool.

He’d refrained from touching himself during the hunt. Before that, the five months of his marriage had only allowed for quick jerk-off sessions in his bed, either before Loki woke or after Loki retired for the night. Thor had always been quick about it, and careful to keep quiet, so Loki wouldn’t be subjected to any knowledge of it.

But now that Thor was alone in his chambers for the first time in months, and would be for a few hours, he could finally, finally take his time.

He sat there in the bath, idly palming his cock, and imagined Loki approaching him in their bedchamber. Thor would kiss him, gentle and slow, bringing his hands to Loki’s face. Loki would moan as Thor’s hands took liberties, running down to his hips, sliding to feel both the bulge and the wetness between his legs.

Thor’s hand sped up under the water, his cock now fully hard and throbbing. Now the fantasy changed. They were naked and entwined. A lock of Loki’s hair was plastered to his face with sweat. So many little moans and gasps came from Loki’s throat as Thor plunged his fingers in and out of Loki’s cunt. He was so wet, so much so that Thor’s fingers made squelching noises with each movement, a counter-harmony to Loki’s soft cries.

The bathwater splashed as Thor shifted on the ledge. He imagined Loki climbing on top of him, sinking down onto Thor’s cock, while Thor thrust up to meet him.

At the thought of that contact, Thor moaned, just as Loki did in his mind. He thrust into his palm again, starting to fuck his hand under the water, as he imagined giving those same urgent thrusts inside Loki.

Loki keened with each thrust, his body arching so beautifully as he bounced with Thor’s rhythm. So many images came to Thor’s mind then, Loki’s flushed face, his quivering thighs as he struggled to keep up with the tempo, the way his cunt would look stretched around Thor’s cock as it moved in and out…

But then Thor realized something crucial was missing, and his cock jumped in his hand as he pictured it.

Loki’s cock would be there too, jutting out just above where their bodies would be joined. And he could touch that, and start bringing Loki pleasure that way, and Loki could start moving his hips in different ways, trying to fuck into Thor’s hand and onto Thor’s cock with even higher moans than before, oh yes-

Thor yelled as he came hard and long into the bathwater. His orgasm barreled over him, sending spasms and shivers through his entire body while white stars exploded in his vision. Even long after he finished spilling his seed, the aftershocks tingled in his limbs.

It took a while before he came down from that one. A few more low, involuntary moans escaped his throat. He gave his cock a few more easy strokes, squeezing the last drops of seed out into the water.

He slumped fully onto the edge of the pool, staring at the ceiling and reveling in the warmth seeping into his limbs. He couldn’t remember the last time jerking off had been so satisfying.

All because he’d imagined his husband, the one person his body desired as a mate, and whose heart, mind, and presence were the only ones Thor craved.

And, apparently, the only set of genitalia Thor wanted to interact with. He had only seen it once, in circumstances he didn’t want to contemplate right now. But his fantasies, now that they were in more detail, confirmed to Thor that Loki’s dual sex wouldn’t be a turn-off for him. In fact, it would be quite the opposite.

Thor stayed there in the bath for the next hour, alternating between dozing and more self-pleasure. He hadn’t had that luxury in a while. When the bathwater eventually turned cold, and he leapt out to towel off, his thoughts returned to the note. He smiled at the thought of it.

He missed me.

xxx

Dressed in his finest once more, Thor arrived at the feast. It seemed half of Asgard was packed into the main hall, and the din was already beginning to grow.

He headed over to say hello to his friends first. It wasn’t long, however, before Sif stopped their conversation. She gestured over to the high table.

When Thor looked, his eyes landed on the face he’d longed to see the last several days.

Loki was saying something to Frigga. His hands fidgeted together. He still looked stilted and uncomfortable in his green-and-gold armored ensemble.

But then his eyes landed on Thor’s. The change in his face was unmistakable. The most prominent lines of worry smoothed away, replaced by that small smile he had.

Thor’s heart forgot how to beat for a few seconds. When it remembered, it thudded hard in his chest to make up for the lost time.

Thor barely heard Sif’s laugh to his right. “Go,” she said. “Don’t keep him waiting any longer.”

Without another word to his friends, Thor headed over to his husband.

When he made it to Loki, the words tumbled out of his mouth before he could give thought to them: “I saw your note.”

Loki nodded. “I did not want you to-” He cleared his throat. “-to wonder where I was.”

“Yes,” said Thor, “thank you for that.”

Another jerk of a nod from Loki. It looked strange to Thor, that he was acting thus.

“Are you alright?” Thor asked.

Loki’s mouth opened and closed a few times, as if he were searching for the right words and then swallowing them up again. But just as he took in breath to speak again, the hall burst into applause, as Odin and Njord entered the room.

Thor ushered Loki to take his seat at the high table. His place was right beside Loki’s.

It was time for the feast to begin.

xxx

Diplomatic feasts were full of toasts. They dragged on and on, as each diplomat stood to give the same mindless prattle about unity and cooperation between two peoples. At least they sounded more sincere to Thor’s ears than those at his and Loki’s wedding feast.

But in between speeches, food was served, and drinks were poured. Choruses of “Skol!” filled the hall after each speech. It was a jovial atmosphere in the hall as Asgard and Alfheim rejoiced together.

Then came the performances. The skalds told the histories of Asgard and Alfheim’s cooperation. Vanaheim was always present in the tales as well, to honor Njord and Frigga’s bloodline. But it was never mentioned as the focus of the stories. Probably on Odin’s orders, so as not to rankle the Elvish guests about their king’s heritage.

But as the stories drew to a close amid cheers and praise, Njord rose to speak. “Bravo, wonderful! How splendid to be reminded of our peoples’ friendship. I thank you all for your hospitality.” Everyone applauded.

“However!” Njord continued. Everyone stopped to listen. “Just because we are friends does not mean we do not enjoy some good-natured competition! And so, my son Freyr-” More applause. “-and your own crown prince, Thor-” Even more applause. “-shall have the honor of testing their strength before your very eyes!”

Everyone cheered and egged them on. Thor sighed inwardly, but rose with a handsome grin. This had been somewhat of a tradition among him and Freyr on occasions such as this. But, it wasn’t a distasteful task in the slightest.

So, he and Freyr stripped their torsos bare, and proceeded to wrestle one another in the middle of the hall.

They knocked over a few tables and spilled more than one person’s drink in the process. Freyr was certainly determined, and Thor had never been one to back down from a physical challenge like this.

It ended as it always did, with Thor pinning Freyr to the ground, locking him in a chokehold. “Do you yield?” he asked, both to the prince and to the hall at large.

There was a smattering of “Yes, yield, Freyr!” and a few more of “No, don’t give in yet!” But in the end, Freyr raised his hands in the signal of defeat. Everyone cheered for their prince and a bout well-fought.

“Yes, well-fought!” Freyr said, climbing to his feet. “Everyone, you all know how far back Thor and I go.” He turned to Thor. “I may not be as strong as you, but I will always have your back should you need it. So-” He grabbed someone’s cup of ale from a nearby table. “-here’s to your future king, and the closest thing I have to a brother-” He raised the glass with a smile. “-Prince Thor.”

“Thor!” everyone toasted in unison, and drank and cheered.

Thor clapped Freyr’s shoulder. “Now you’re on the right track,” he murmured.

Freyr smiled. “I’m glad to hear you say so.”

They headed back to their seats and pulled their shirts back on. Thor looked to see what Loki thought of the whole display, but saw that his husband was pale and trembling.

He was about to ask him why, but Njord stood again.

“Magnificent!” Njord said. “It warms my heart to see such deep bonds forged between two future kings! And now, we have a special treat for you.”

Everyone quieted down to hear what this was. Njord had the biggest smile on his face.

“My dear wife, Queen Skadi-” He smiled down at his wife, but Skadi didn’t even look back at him. Njord paid it no mind. “-has been working with my cousin, Queen Frigga-” She nodded with a grin at him. “-to tutor a prize student in the arts of seidr in recent weeks. I hear he has extraordinary talent. So now, to perform for us all tonight, Prince Loki!”

Oh. That was why Loki was so nervous.

Thor sat up a little straighter in his seat. Beyond that time Loki had reached out to him with his seidr all those months ago (and Thor had set fire to their chambers with lightning), he had never seen Loki’s displays of magic. And it had been months that Loki had been studying and learning with Frigga. Who knows what he was about to do now.

Loki stood, and took a shaky breath. Thor smiled up at him. Loki happened to catch his gaze, but he couldn’t summon a smile in return.

Thor watched him walk to the center of the room. He looked so alone, especially with everyone’s eyes on him. Thor felt himself readying for action, just in case. He had no idea why it would be needed in this circumstance, but his instincts with Loki always had a protective edge to them.

At the center of the room, Loki held out his hands, and began.

What happened next would be known as the greatest light show in Asgard’s history.

Loki’s hands wove through the air, guiding the lights and illusions. He wove clouds above everyone, with thunderous booms that echoed through the hall. He summoned fell beasts and dragons to slither above the crowd’s heads, with real wind conjured with each beat of leathery wings. He even heated the air where the dragons’ fire blazed, inches from a nearby table. Everyone gasped in awe.

Then, a blizzard emerged. Now the wind whipped fiercely from the doors and windows, blowing out all the torches and braziers in the hall. Everyone shivered from the conjured chill. The snowflakes disappeared inches from everyone’s faces, but otherwise held their form remarkably well.

And then, at last, a faceless hero emerged. He was too ambiguous to determine his race, so he could have been Aesir, Vanir, or Elf. But that was probably the point.

He held up the howling gales with a single hand. He roped up the fell beasts and smote the dragons where they stood. And finally, he approached a single maiden on a grassy hill. She too was faceless and ambiguous as to her race, but her physical form was perfect.

She accepted the hero’s gift of a single rose. When she touched it, the rose transformed into three shining stars, which she wore as a crown on her head. She took the hero’s hand in the universal signal of peace and love.

Then, all the illusions faded except for the crown of three stars. They gleamed brightly in the darkened hall. Everyone held their breath in anticipation; usually a token of the display would be bestowed upon someone in the hall.

Loki lowered the stars to his hands, then gestured them to find the head he had in mind. The crown floated halfway down the hall, and landed to adorn the brow of Lady Sigyn. They lingered for a long time, while she blushed under their soft light. At last, they faded, and the fires flickered back to life in the hall.

Everyone burst into a frenzied applause.

Loki stood there, as if stunned that this was the reaction he was receiving. He looked round the hall, at all the excited faces offering him congratulations on his performance.

Thor couldn’t help but stand as he clapped. Everyone else in the hall joined him.

Loki, now with a bright shade of red on his cheeks, gave a bow to the hall. He turned to give the same to the two kings seated at the high table.

Odin was the only one in the hall still seated, and he wasn’t clapping. He did not look amused in the slightest.

Njord, on the other hand, looked delighted. “Bravo!” he cheered. He took his glass and raised it. “To Prince Loki!”

“Loki!” everyone shouted, and took a swig of their drink. Thor drained his glass in one go.

xxx

After his display, the rules for royalty staying apart from the rest went out the window, as everyone wanted to give personal congratulations to Loki.

Thor didn’t feel he should intrude, but he did want Loki to know where an exit could be if he needed it. So he decided to move to a place Loki could see him easier.

He didn’t notice Njord come up next to him. “You must be very proud of your husband,” he said.

Thor nodded. “I am fortunate to have been married to him.”

Njord chuckled. “As I saw you looking at him just now, I thought to myself, ‘That’s what I must have looked like when I met my dear Nerthis.’ It was so long ago, and yet it feels like yesterday.”

Thor noticed Njord’s voice drop in volume when he spoke of his beloved first wife. It might have been in part to not offend his current wife further down the table, but Thor suspected the sentiment in the words was part of it, as well.

“I hear you both were very happy together,” Thor said.

“We were,” Njord nodded. “When she succeeded to the throne it was hard on her. But when we were together, we knew we could overcome anything.” He paused in thought. “Don’t ever take that for granted, Thor. Enjoy these moments with Loki. They are precious things.”

He patted Thor on the back, as if urging him to go join Loki. Thor didn’t need telling twice.

But as he headed over, he heard Freyja’s voice from a nearby table. “Thor! Bring Loki over here!”

He nodded at Freyja, and managed to find a way in the crowd to Loki’s side. Loki looked to him, and Thor swore his husband looked relieved to see him.

“Would you like to join Freyja over there?” he asked. Loki nodded, though it appeared he was just eager to leave the middle of the crowd. So, as Thor led him over to the table in question, he murmured in Loki’s ear, “We can leave soon, if you’d like. I’ll make our excuses.”

“Thank you,” Loki murmured back.

At the table in question, Freyja was sitting with Freyr. Freyr, meanwhile, had found Sigyn, and was sitting her on his lap. He was having a servant pour her another glass of ale, though from her giggling it didn’t look like it was her first of the night. Or her fourth. Or even her seventh.

“Loki, why didn’t you tell me this is your friend?” Freyja asked him over the din of the room. “She’s delightful! We should have her join us tomorrow!”

Sigyn hiccupped loudly. “I would -hic!- I would be honored, Your Highness!”

Loki nodded as he and Thor joined them at the table. “That would be lovely.”

“Yes, yes,” Freyr said loudly. Apparently his seventh cup of ale had also passed him by hours ago. “Enough about tomorrow. My lady, what is it you’re doing tonight?”

“I haven’t made any plans,” Sigyn said.

Freyr laughed. “Excellent! Because I would love to make plans with you!”

He then proceeded to whisper in her ear. Thor could easily guess what his words entailed, especially as he saw Sigyn’s face grow redder and redder. But, she gave a slight giggle, so she wasn’t repulsed by his brazen advances.

Thor turned to Loki. They still hadn’t said much to each other; there hadn’t been the time or space for it since Thor had left for the hunt. Yes, they were with the Elves and Sigyn right now, but that could be borne.

But just as Thor was about to say something to Loki, Freyja interrupted. “Loki,” she said, “LokiLokiLololoLokiiii…”

Okay, the only people not completely drunk at this table were Thor and Loki.

“Freyr and I, we were…” Freyja laughed, “we’ve been meaning to ask you something.” She shoved her brother’s shoulder. “Ask him, dummy!”

Freyr looked up from where he was laying kisses onto Sigyn’s shoulder. “What now?”

“Didn’t we have something to ask Loki?” Freyja asked. “About, you know…”

“Oh, that’s right!” Freyr exclaimed. He smiled up at Sigyn. “One moment, my dear,” he said, with another kiss to her shoulder. “Yes, Loki, we’ve been wondering for ages now, do you really have a cock and a cunt?”

Thor froze, and he felt Loki freeze beside him.

Freyr and Freyja burst out laughing.

“It’s just…” Freyr said through his laughter, “...you’re a man and all that, but you can also have children, or you wouldn’t have been married to Thor. So, we just-”

“What’s it like to fuck with that?” Freyja asked. She was still giggling profusely. “Can you come with each of them separately, or do they both go off together? Oh, or have you ever had two orgasms at once?”

“Now that’s just stupid,” said Freyr. “What would that even be, two orgasms at once? You’d pass out if that were the case.”

“It is not stupid!” Freyja retorted. “It’s a legitimate question!”

“The bigger question,” said Freyr, “is whether you like it, Thor. Is it like fucking a woman, or a man? Does it feel-”

Loki stood up and ran from the hall.

At the same moment, Thor felt himself unfreeze, as well. But instead of running, he prowled over to the Elves’ chairs and shoved a hand around each of their throats.

“What. The. Fuck. Do you think you’re DOING?” he roared in their faces. The hall was loud enough that he didn’t attract the attention of everyone at the feast. But those in the immediate vicinity were probably staring.

Let them stare. Thor didn’t give a flying fuck.

“Heyheyhey!” Freyr yelped. “I didn’t mean it like that, I’m not encroaching on your territory or whatever-”

“This has nothing to do with that,” Thor shouted. “This is about affording him basic respect!”

Sigyn gave a loud hiccup in fear. “Prince Freyr, maybe you should-”

“Stay out of this!” Freyr snapped.

“Thor,” Freyja pleaded, “we weren’t trying to be-”

Thor didn’t even let her finish. “Well it clearly didn’t work! You both can go to Hel!”

He was about to storm out, but Volstagg and Sif had come rushing up to him, Fandral and Hogun right behind them. “Thor?” Sif said in a disapproving tone. “What is going on-”

“Ask them,” Thor snapped at her. “Loki and I won’t be speaking to either one of them ever again!”

And he brushed past his friends to go find Loki in the halls.

xxx

Thor couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t believe what the Elves had said. It didn’t matter that they were drunk. It didn’t matter that they didn’t know how fragile Loki’s relationship was with his own body. It didn’t matter that they had assumed Thor and Loki were regularly having sex.

Even if all their assumptions had been correct, it still would have been crossing a line.

He didn’t know how he would ever explain it to his father, but Thor knew in this moment that he meant what he had said to Sif: he was done spending any amount of time with Freyr and Freyja for as long as they lived. Let alone for the rest of their visit.

He finally found Loki in a deserted hallway. Loki might have been standing a minute ago, trying to rein in his tears. But he seemed to have given up that course, as he was now sitting on the floor next to a large column, his face in his hands as he sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.

He startled at Thor’s approach, too. He really was in terrible shape, then, if he was so jumpy right now.

“Let’s go to our chambers,” Thor said. He helped Loki to stand, and put an arm around his husband’s shoulders to lead them forward. Loki didn’t argue.

When they finally made it back to their chambers, and Thor shut the door on the world behind them, Loki went straight for the couch. He sat with his knees pulled up to his chest, and his arms wrapped around his legs. He looked so much like a child needing comfort.

Thor sat beside him. His hand went to Loki’s back, rubbing up and down in an attempt to soothe. There had been so many times he’d comforted Loki like this, where he’d had no idea what to say or do. But he knew from his own experience, when the tables were turned, that Loki just being there for him was a balm on his heart.

However, this time he knew things he wanted to say; he just didn’t know if Loki was in a state to hear them.

So, he waited, as Loki cried beside him, and shuddered with sobs under his hand.

They sat there for several long minutes. Finally, the crest of Loki’s sobbing seemed to be behind them, so Thor decided to try speaking.

“They were wrong,” he said in a firm voice. He could feel himself start to shake with the anger that now reared its head again. “They were wrong to ask you such things. It was incredibly disrespectful.”

He swore he heard Loki whimper.

“I told them that we wouldn’t be spending any more time with either of them. You won’t have to put up with them any longer.”

That was what made Loki look up to face him. “B-but…” He took in a stuttering breath. “…But what about…don’t we have to-”

“I don’t care about what we’re supposed to do,” Thor ground out. “I’m not going to stand by and let you be subjected to such humiliation. Ever again.”

The silence between them hung heavy with the other night those words referred to. Even now, those memories wouldn’t leave them alone.

Loki looked down and shook his head. His face looked incredulous, as if he couldn’t believe he’d expected anything other than defeat tonight. “I’m a freak,” he said. His voice was still thick from his tears. “That’s all they think of me, that-”

Thor reached to Loki’s face, to turn him to meet Thor’s eyes. “No, you’re not,” Thor said, in a low but firm voice. “You are not a freak. Your body is not an object for others’ judgments. It is a part of you, and you owe them nothing from it.”

Loki’s eyes searched his, but Thor couldn’t tell what he was looking for. Eventually, Loki looked away, and Thor released his hold. He probably shouldn’t have reached for his face in the first place.

“The people in the hall tonight don’t think you’re a freak either,” Thor said. “They loved your illusions performance.”

Loki gave an audible breath out. He started wiping his tears away, which was a good sign. “I didn’t expect them to like it so much.”

“Loki, I don’t think you realize how talented you are,” said Thor. He couldn’t help the wonderment seeping into his voice. “Most sorcerers can only display such skills with light tricks after years of study. You have done so after mere months of practice. I can only imagine what abilities you’ll have in a year’s time, let alone in the centuries you’ll have to learn more.”

Finally, Loki gave him a weak smile. “You really think so?” At Thor’s nod, Loki looked back down, as if embarrassed. “Forgive me, I am not used to such praise.”

“You are worthy of it,” Thor said quietly.

They fell into silence again after that. Thor kept rubbing up and down Loki’s back, a reminder that he was still there to support him. Loki was still curled up in a ball, but his limbs weren’t drawn in as tightly anymore.

But he still had an unsettled look on his face. When Thor inquired what troubled him, Loki said, “I just keep imagining…what it would have been like if I’d married Freyr.”

That threw Thor for a loop. “What do you mean? Why would you-”

“I could have been married to any prince or king,” Loki said. “Any way my father could make use of me, he would take. If he had attempted to negotiate something with the Light Elves, as your father has just done, I could have easily been part of the bargain.”

That made sense. Perhaps Loki hadn’t just been looking at the family tree of Alfheim. Thor now imagined Loki looking through every genealogy book he could find, learning the names of royal sons to see whom his fate could have been tied to.

But imagining Loki with Freyr brought a shudder to Thor’s spine. Loki must have felt it, for he said, “I cannot imagine he would have been so considerate on our wedding night.”

As much as Thor hated to contemplate that notion, he had to agree. He didn’t think Freyr would outright rape anyone if they actively protested. That being said, Thor remembered how silently terrified Loki was when they first met. He probably wouldn’t have been able to express his wishes; they hadn’t ever been considered before.

Thor’s arm tightened around Loki at the thought. How Freyr might have ridiculed Loki upon seeing his body, how he would have gotten on with things for his own pleasure and amusement. Oblivious to how scared, injured, and humiliated Loki was.

“And you,” Loki said, “might you have married Freyja?”

Thor shrugged. “Perhaps. It must have crossed my father’s mind when we visited Alfheim in the past.”

“It would have been a more palatable match,” said Loki. “To Odin, and to the rest of Asgard.”

“But not nearly as palatable to me,” said Thor.

“See, that’s what I don’t understand,” Loki said, shifting to face Thor more directly. “You must know how much you provide for me. You are-” His voice started to break again. “-you are my comforter, my protector, my…” He seemed to struggle to find the right words. But he looked determined to find them. “…You give me a safe place to discover…who I really am, and what I want. And I feel most myself around you. You are…my haven, my…”

“Home,” Thor suggested.

Loki seemed startled Thor had found the perfect word. “Yes,” he said, his eyes shining, with more tears perhaps, but also with warmth. “You are my home, Thor.”

Thor felt his arms erupt in goosebumps upon hearing Loki say that. I am his home. He missed me while I was gone, and now I am his home.

“So,” Thor said slowly, “what don’t you understand?”

Loki had to take a breath to fortify himself for his next question. He seemed afraid to ask it. But finally, he said, “What do I provide you? Why do you act in such devotion to me as I do to you?”

Thor was struck by the question. Not because he could think of nothing to say in response, but because there was so much he could say.

And yet, several things he should not say.

So, he paused, to pull his thoughts together, lest any forbidden words tumble past his lips. “You are also my comforter, Loki,” he said. “You give me that same safe place to be myself. I look forward to being with you, and I mourn your absence when we are apart.

“And…I think differently, because of you.”

Loki’s brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that…” Thor sighed. What exactly did he mean? “…I mean that you think in terms of strategy, playing the long game. Appeasing and laying low. I’ve always been one for tactics, to win the battle in that moment without regard for the larger war. But lately, I find myself considering your approach, and it has helped me many times.”

He was starting to talk too much now, but Loki was still listening intently.

“I will be a better king because of that, I think. Because of you. And…” He sighed. “…I find myself even stronger now, because I fight for you, for both of us. I’ve found something worth fighting for, something worth protecting. I used to be so impulsive and inconsiderate. More like Freyr than I’d care to admit.”

Loki looked stunned at that admission. “You have never been as such in the time I’ve known you. Not even from the first moment.”

“I had mostly grown out of it by then,” said Thor, “but you accelerated that further, I think.” He blew out a nervous breath. “What I’m trying to say is…you make me a better man, Loki. And I want to be the best man I can be, so I can be the husband you deserve.”

Loki let out an exhale that sounded almost like a sob, but it spoke of such relief. As if he’d been praying to the Norns that Thor found him acceptable as a spouse, and got something out of their relationship as he did.

They sat there for a long moment, Thor’s arm still over Loki’s shoulders. They just looked at each other, quietly reveling in the joy of what existed between them.

“I’m so glad I married you,” Thor murmured.

“I’m glad I married you,” Loki replied.

Then it was quiet again.

Thor hadn’t ever just stared into someone’s face like this. It would probably have gotten awkward after a while. But he found he couldn’t stop staring at Loki, at his talented, resourceful, kind, brave, beautiful husband.

It hit him all at once when he felt an overpowering urge to kiss Loki.

He’d imagined it before, yes. But this was different. This felt like an opportunity, that if he didn’t kiss him right now, he would never get the chance again.

It took every fiber of his will to resist the urge. Loki didn’t want that from him, so if he did it now, everything between them, everything they’d just professed tonight, would be shattered.

Loki started to withdraw, slinking out of Thor’s arm. As always, Thor let him.

Thor cleared his throat. “Do you want to go to sleep?”

Loki seemed reluctant, but he nodded. “It’s probably best.”

So Thor let him go. As they moved toward preparing for bed, weaving around each other in their different chambers, Thor wondered if Freyr and Freyja would attempt to patch things up with him and Loki. Well, if they did, he would send them packing. There was no mending that bridge, ever again.

Later that night, as he stretched into the bed in the main bedchamber, he saw fit to congratulate himself on resisting that urge to kiss Loki tonight. He’d won that battle with his desires.

The moment was gone, and it wasn’t ever coming back.

Chapter Text

Thor was stirred awake by Loki’s lithe movements to the bathing chambers. They always had to move through the bedchamber to get there, so Loki usually tried to be as quiet as possible when Thor was sleeping in the bed. Most mornings he succeeded, but today Thor must have been in a shallower stage of sleep.

But Thor didn’t mind. He kept his eyes shut, listening to Loki’s whispering footfalls. He waited until he heard the bathing chamber door click shut before he opened his eyes.

It must be early. But he felt rested enough, so he might as well be awake.

He stretched his arms above his head. It was then that his mind decided to start working, and therefore ruined everything.

Because that meant anticipating what he would be doing today. And that meant his thoughts turned to Freyr and Freyja.

His mood immediately soured. He knew he wasn’t going to seek them out today. He had told them as much. But he also suspected they would try to find him and Loki anyway.

Which meant a confrontation was at hand, on Loki’s behalf.

He sighed. As if avoiding his father wasn’t enough of a preoccupation.

Could there be a day in his and Loki’s future when they could be free from that worry? When they could live in peace in what was supposed to be their home?

He got up and started to put on his armor in the front room. If such a day awaited him and his husband, it wasn’t here yet.

xxx

At breakfast, Loki must have been thinking along the same lines as Thor. He barely mumbled a reply to Thor’s “Good morning,” and his anxiety was writ large on his face.

Thor reached to his shoulder. “Don’t worry,” he said with what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “They won’t be bothering you anymore.”

Loki didn’t meet his eyes. “But...we’re still supposed to be their hosts here. Is it not our duty to-”

“Would you feel safe around them today?”

That was what it took; Loki’s eyes startled up to his at the question. He hesitated to answer for too long for it to be a definitive yes.

“Then we won’t be around them,” Thor said softly. And that was that.

Loki opened his mouth to say something further, but before he could get it out, a knock sounded from the door.

They both tensed in preparation, Loki to hide and Thor to confront.

Thor tightened his grip on Loki’s shoulder. “You don’t have to say anything to them, if you do not wish it,” he said.

And with a deep breath in, he rose to answer the door.

But it wasn’t the Elves. It was Sigyn, in a gold-embroidered gown and an unsure look on her face.

She took a step back upon seeing Thor, which made Thor realize he must look more menacing than he’d thought. He tried to school his features to something less intimidating, and asked, “Sigyn, what brings you here?”

“Oh, um…” Her hands started worrying at her neckline. “...Um...is...is Lo- I mean, Prince Loki there?”

Thor turned back behind him. Loki must have heard the familiar voice, for he was rising from the couch to greet Sigyn. But he still looked wary of the situation. “Yes, my lady?”

She looked down. “Um...I just wondered…” She blew out a breath. “Are you alright?”

Loki was now at Thor’s shoulder. Thor opened the door a crack further, allowing Loki more space to speak.

At Sigyn’s question, a flush crawled up Loki’s cheeks. Again, he hesitated for too long for his answer to be yes.

“I’m sorry,” Sigyn said. Now she was blushing, too. “I should have said something, last night. When they said those things. But it just...it happened so fast, and I was so shocked, I…”

Loki looked taken aback. “It was not your duty to say something.”

“Wasn’t it, though?”

Loki had no reply to that.

“I just…” Sigyn fumbled for words, “...I know I made a similar comment, once. So I may be a hypocrite. But it was wrong then, and it still is now. Even if they are royalty.”

“I agree,” Thor said, looking pointedly at Loki. You see? I’m not the only one who thinks so.

He knew Loki was not accustomed to having so many people stick up for his rights, let alone that he even had any rights. But he didn’t know how much of Loki’s history was known to Sigyn, so perhaps the overwhelm on Loki’s face didn’t make as much sense to her.

“Th-thank you,” Loki finally stuttered. “For your kind words.”

Sigyn beamed for half a second, before she returned to an awkward expression. “Um, so...also, Prince Loki, I...I wanted to ask you...that is...may I speak with you about something else?”

Her eyes flashed to Thor’s before returning to Loki’s. Thor understood perfectly: she wanted to speak about something with Loki alone.

Thor looked to Loki, to see what he thought about that.

Loki hesitated, but he gave a stiff, near-imperceptible nod. “Of course. We could go to our usual spot?”

She agreed, and looked ready to go right away. But Loki then asked, “Could you excuse me one moment?”

Her face fell slightly, but she stammered, “Right, yes, of course.” And Loki closed the door again.

Thor was surprised when Loki reached for his hand, but he squeezed it gently. “What is it?”

“If…” Loki said so quietly, “...if Freyja comes looking for me…”

“Then you can come straight back here,” Thor said. “I’m sure Sigyn will understand. She knows what made you uncomfortable. Also, am I correct in assuming you will be going to the library?” At Loki’s nod, he smiled. “Then you should be safe. Freyr and Freyja have never willingly gone near a book in all their lives.”

He managed to draw a timid smile from Loki at that.

xxx

It was hardly an hour after Loki left, however, that Sif knocked on the door with a livid expression on her face.

“Our favorite Elf prince,” she seethed, “is refusing to speak to anyone with civility until he speaks with you.”

“Then he can spend the rest of his visit in silence,” Thor retorted.

“I told him that!” she said. “And he near bit my head off!”

Thor leaned his head against the half-open door with a groan. This was the last thing he wanted to be doing today.

But he didn’t feel it wise to delay this. If he did, Freyr would probably come seeking him out in his chambers.

And this was his and Loki’s space. He was quite certain that Loki had in part suggested to speak to Sigyn in the library so she wouldn’t enter their chambers. Sif had, and the Warriors Three, and Frigga, but they all understood the violation that had occurred within these walls, and were sensitive about their presence under such circumstances.

Whereas Freyr’s presence here would be crossing yet another line.

So, with no small amount of reluctance, he scribbled a note to Loki informing him of his whereabouts, and went with Sif to the training grounds.

“Is he at least repentant and pleading for forgiveness?” he grumbled on the way.

“What do you think?” Sif asked.

Thor swore under his breath.

xxx

Once Freyr caught sight of him, he started storming over to Thor. But before he could get one word out, Thor cut him off. “You have exactly ten seconds to say what needs to be said before I break your nose.”

“Oh?” Freyr scoffed. “And what is it you think needs to be said? Because you need to apologize to me and my sister! We didn’t know Loki would take it the wrong way, we were just being curious, so it gives you no right to-”

It had only been eight seconds, but Thor punched him in the face anyway.

Freyr grunted with the impact. His hands flew to his nose; Thor could see it start to dribble out blood.

When Freyr looked back to Thor, he looked shocked that Thor had actually followed through on his threat. But once he caught up with what had just happened, fresh outrage flared up in his eyes.

With a cry of “You bastard!” he threw himself at Thor. But just before he did, the Warriors Three had made it to him, and held him back. Their combined strength was more than enough to push him to the ground.

Before he could get his breath back, Volstagg removed his axe from his belt. “You stay down, Freyr,” he warned, “or your nose won’t be the only thing that bleeds today.”

Thor swore he saw a flicker of fear in Freyr’s eyes. But he covered it up quickly. “You would dare?” he spit at Volstagg. “You would dare to threaten a-”

“A prince?” Sif sneered, grabbing Volstagg’s axe and holding it closer to Freyr’s face. “Do you honestly think we give a shit?”

“Besides,” Volstagg put in, “it was a prince you insulted, and a prince who is giving you the consequences. So I would say the daring one is you.”

For a second, it looked like Freyr was going to continue challenging their points. But when he caught Thor’s remorseless glare, something in him started to deflate. Marginally. “Okay, okay, okay,” he said. “I won’t fight you anymore, now can you please let me up?”

The four warriors surrounding him all glanced to Thor. Thor nodded. They backed up to give Freyr space, but none of them made any moves to help him beyond that.

So, Freyr clambered to his feet alone. His nose was a smashed-up sore in the middle of his face, bent at an unnatural angle and still leaking blood. He sniffed deeply to stem the flow, and trained his eyes on Thor again. “Well?”

“Well, what?” Thor bit out. “You’re the one who wanted to speak to me. So say your piece, then leave.”

Freyr sniffed again. It wasn’t achieving much. “I don’t understand-”

“That much is clear,” Sif muttered.

“How is what I said so terrible?” he protested. “Three hundred years ago, if we had met someone like Loki, we would’ve all gathered around to ask the same questions! It was simple curiosity, how-”

Thor was shaking his head with disbelief, rolling his eyes up to the sky. “Freyr, there are so many basic tenets of decency and respect that you fail to grasp, I don’t think it possible to explain it all to you.”

“But-”

But Thor was already turning around to leave. He had no more patience for this conversation.

There were so many factors of why Freyr had been wrong to say the things he had said. So far, the only one he could barely comprehend was that he was asking about the body of his friend’s husband, and that Thor’s outrage was one of territorial protectiveness.

He couldn’t even understand that asking such a question to anyone was poor taste in itself. Let alone Loki’s personal history with his body, how others had treated him for it all his life, or what he had endured with Thor in regard to it.

And Freyr had no right to any of that explanation.

“Since when did you stop being fun?” Freyr called out to Thor’s back.

Against his better judgment, Thor stopped, as the cold anger jolted to life with more heat.

He turned. “Since when did I what?”

Freyr was stomping up to him again. “You heard me. And that goes for all of you!” He glared at Sif and the others, who were keeping pace beside him in case things got out of hand again. “You were the life of the party! We used to have so much fun together! And now-”

“Yes,” Thor ground out as he prowled forward, “we were, as you put it, ‘so much fun.’ But you know what happened? Do you know what changed in those three hundred years?”

“Oh, pray tell! Do enlighten me, Odinson!”

“We all grew up!” Thor bellowed in Freyr’s still-bleeding face.

Freyr flinched as if Thor had punched him again. Now there was real pain in his eyes.

But Thor didn’t relent. He just toned his voice down as his anger turned cold once more. “We grew up,” he uttered. “And you never did. This isn’t the only incident the last few weeks, either. You have to have seen how others react to your words.”

Fandral raised his eyebrows at the Elf, gauging his reaction. Freyr looked more incredulous than anything else.

“But,” Freyr said, more softly than before, “what’s wrong with having fun?”

“It’s not ‘fun’ anymore if you’re dragging others down to achieve it,” Thor retorted. “That’s just called ‘being an asshole.’”

“Well, I never said I wasn’t that!”

“I know. And I’m saying that’s not something to be proud of!”

Freyr rolled his eyes. At the sight, Thor went for the jugular. It may have been unfair, but he couldn’t stop himself. “As someone who has a definite start date for his kingship, I thought you would have understood that by now.”

Freyr snapped. He lunged at Thor again. Thor’s friends holding him back were the only thing that saved Thor’s nose from a similar fate as Freyr’s.

He knew it would happen; he knew how much Freyr clung to the pretense that he wouldn’t have to be a king one day.

Sure enough, Freyr’s next words erupted out with those insecurities. “You think I want that?” he screamed at Thor. “You think I asked for your father to arrange my family’s succession the way he did? That I asked for my mother to die, and my father to agree to step down in a few years? Why else do you think I need to have fun right now, when these are the last chances I’ll have?”

“Your life won’t end when you’re king,” Thor shot back. But even as he said them, he could feel the words ring hollow. For both Nerthis and Njord, neither wanting the throne but taking it out of duty, their previous, happy lives had ended when they became monarchs. And that was the only progression Freyr knew.

Besides, Thor didn’t know what it was like to be a king, either; he hadn’t taken up Hlidskjalf yet.

“Oh,” Freyr drawled, “here we go, the man who has it all figured out. Everything’s just perfect for you, isn’t it? You have friends, you have a stable kingdom-”

“Shut up, Freyr,” Sif warned.

“-you have an entire realm who would bed you if you but said the word-”

“Freyr,” Fandral growled.

“-but even that’s not good enough for you! So now your luck goes even further, and while all of us have to work for our bedmates, you get assigned a warm body beneath you whenever you plea-”

Thor grabbed him by the collar and dragged him close. “You think that’s all marriage is?” he hissed.

Freyr just stared at him, seemingly bewildered as to Thor’s meaning.

The Elf looked as if he were about to say something else, but Thor shook his head. He was not going to explain the ways his marriage had needed to become a partnership, a source of strength and comfort for both parties when their world seemed too much to cope with.

So all Thor uttered was, “I pity the poor woman who has to become your wife.”

With that, he shoved Freyr away, making him stumble back a few paces. Freyr’s face was still a cocktail of confusion, shock, and hurt, but Thor did not intend on ameliorating any of it. Even if it were his responsibility, he couldn’t find much motivation to handle it right now.

And fortunately, it wasn’t his responsibility. Let Freyr figure out his own sorry life. Thor had his and Loki’s to worry about.

Sif and the Warriors Three seemed to be of the same mind, for they were leaving Freyr’s side to head back out to the training yards. “Will you be joining us, Thor?” Volstagg asked.

Thor was about to say he should check on Loki first, but before he could say anything, Fandral pointed at the palace. “Ah, look! It’s the star maiden from the feast! What was her name, again?”

“Sigyn,” said Thor, looking toward where Fandral pointed. Apparently, Loki had found his note. It was strange that he was seeking Thor out here. Thor had expected him to wait in their chambers rather than go where Freyr would be.

But when he saw Sigyn’s breathless form approaching them, the smile growing on his face abruptly withered.

She was running toward them with an urgent, worried look on her face. And Loki wasn’t with her.

Something was wrong.

Thor strode to meet her. “Prince Thor!” she called out, panting. She looked like she was going to cry.

Something was wrong.

“Where is Loki?” he asked.

Now his friends were making their way over to him. “What’s happened, my lady?” Volstagg asked. “Why look you so worried?”

“I…” Sigyn said in a trembling voice, “...I didn’t know what to do! We were in the library, and then some guards came in to find us, and started asking questions, and I didn’t...I didn’t understand what they were saying, or what they meant, and now...there’s all these people, and I thought you should know-”

Thor grabbed her shoulder to snap her out of it. But fuck, his hand was trembling, too. “Where is Loki?” he repeated.

Sigyn gulped. Her eyes were wide with terror. “He’s been brought before the Allfather.”

Thor’s heart stopped.

“Something about his fertility, I didn’t know why they were-”

Thor’s awareness tunneled. Sigyn’s words no longer reached his ears. Those of his friends, or Freyr’s, or the damned arrival of Ragnarok could have been crashing around him, and he wouldn’t have heard it.

All could hear was his restarted heart slamming in his chest as he summoned Mjolnir to his hand, and flew toward the throne room.

xxx

In all his years of adventures, quests, and even war, Thor had never felt such a combination of terror and fury. Never together, never to this extreme. Never.

He and Loki hadn’t made any backup plans for this day. They’d talked about it, and worried about it, and given that up to comfort each other when the prospect became too much to bear. But none of their comfort could help them now. Their luck had run out.

Loki’s strategy of hiding and enduring couldn’t work any longer. Now, it was time for Thor’s go-to tactic.

He was going into battle. That’s what he knew, and if it didn’t work, nothing would.

But he wouldn’t entertain the possibility that it wouldn’t work. They had to win. They had to.

He landed in the corridor right outside the throne room. Mjolnir crackled with lightning in his hand. He knew it would have been arcing around his entire body if she weren’t controlling it for him.

As he raced onward, he was surprised to hear what was happening in the throne room. And then he saw that the golden doors were ajar.

And in that massive chamber, crowds of people were gathered in morbid curiosity, as a Gungnir-wielding Odin bellowed over a cowering Loki.

“And why have you not seen fit to provide my son with an heir? Do you not know your duty?”

Loki trembled. “A-Allfather, I-”

“Have you been taking the potions that prevent conception? Or is your womb simply incapable of producing a child?”

“My...my king, plea-”

“Five months now without an heir! I have been patient, but that patience has run out! WHAT USE ARE YOU TO ME IF YOU WILL NOT DO YOUR DUTY?”

And he slapped Loki hard across the face.

Thor’s awareness filled with nothing but red. All else disappeared to him. Eyes, ears, conscious thought and perception, was all shut down as nothing but unadulterated rage filled him.

xxx

The next thing he knew, his throat was sore, so he must have yelled.

He was standing in the center of the throne room, so he must have run forward.

And Mjolnir was held aloft, so he must have used her.

He was still thrumming with his seidr, which usually did not overtake him so when he employed it in battle. Outside the palace walls, an unmistakable boom of thunder resounded over Asgard.

And there, in front of him now, was Odin. Gungnir had flown out of his hand.

The hand which was now crisped black, with a light trail of smoke still snaking up from it.

For all of five seconds, the hall was stunned into silence. Then, the whispers and murmurs started.

But Thor didn’t care to hear them. He kept his awareness locked on his father while he caught his breath.

Odin was clutching his wrist just below where his skin was still smoking. Thor had never seen such a murderous glare from the Allfather.

“You would dare!” Odin finally exploded. “You would dare attack your king, you ungrateful-”

“You will never strike my husband again,” Thor replied in a dark voice. “Never.”

“I will do whatever I please in my own kingdom!” Odin retorted. He took a step forward. “And the Jotun must answer for its lack of conception! It-”

But before he could utter his next words, Njord’s voice rang out through the hall.

“Odin!” His voice usually sounded like he was always on the edge of a full belly-laugh, but that mirth was fading fast as he approached the king and princes. “My, my, I heard there was some sort of commotion going on, but what in the Nine Realms is this all about? Odin, what happened to your-”

“This is none of your concern, Njord,” Odin barked. “You will leave my hall at once!”

Njord crossed his arms in front of his chest. “I will do no such thing. If this were a private matter, you wouldn’t be having it out in front of your people like this. Now tell me, what is the issue?”

“He struck my husband,” Thor said through gritted teeth. He could still feel himself shaking. And he still hadn’t lowered Mjolnir. “After he shouted at him in front of everyone here for who knows how long!”

Njord’s eyes widened. “What? Odin, why would you-”

“I will do what I must to ensure the security of my realm,” Odin snapped. The dark storm in his eye returned as he glowered at Thor. “And the wretched Jotun has failed to conceive a child to ensure the line of succession!”

“Why are you so concerned with all that now?” Njord asked. “It’s only been a few months since they were wed-”

“You worry about your own family line, Njord, and I shall worry about mine! Especially since the creature has remained infertile after months of attempts-”

“It is not his fault there is no child!”

It was the wrong thing for Thor to say.

Odin’s face turned even more ruthless. “What,” he uttered, “could you possibly mean by that?”

Another thunder boom. It was too late to take back the words. In attempting to shield Loki from blame, Thor had just sealed their fate. There was no turning away from this course.

So, he quietly uttered the truth. “I have not attempted to conceive a child since the wedding night.”

Now the whispers really started to grow in the hall. The thunder roared again.

Odin advanced toward Thor. “So, I am now to believe that my own son. The future of my kingdom. Has not only been neglecting his duty to the realm, but has been lying to me about it for months?”

“Odin,” Njord said in an attempt to bring calm, “I’m sure there’s an explana-”

“There is no excuse for this!” Odin roared. He was getting closer and closer to Thor. “You have betrayed me, and you have betrayed your people with this behavior! No matter how distasteful the deed may be, you have an obligation to carry it out! What pathetic reason could you possibly have to-”

“You want to know the reason why?” Thor yelled. “It’s because of what you did!”

“Oh? Please, of all the imagined slights you perceive I have done to you, what have you conjured up this ti-”

“YOU FORCED ME TO RAPE HIM!”

The words echoed through the hall. Everyone could hear it, because an oppressive silence had descended over the crowd. No one even dared to breathe.

Odin was staring at Thor with a curled lip and a merciless gleam in his eye.

Njord was the one who broke the silence. His voice was uncharacteristically quiet, and his usual cheery tone gave way to something much colder. “Odin, could you please explain what Thor means by that?”

Odin sneered, and was about to say something, but a voice from the crowd behind him cut him off: “Thor speaks the truth.”

Everyone turned to the voice. It was Tyr, standing with the rest of the council near the throne. Balder and a few other councilors looked outraged that Tyr had spoken, but the vast majority were staring at the floor, refusing to meet anyone’s eyes.

But Tyr looked directly at Njord as he spoke. “After the wedding feast for the princes, the kings arranged for a bedding ceremony. Both royal councils witnessed the consummation.” He looked pointedly at Thor then, with a sting of remorse on his face. “Neither party was willing.”

Hushed gasps murmured in the hall.

Njord slowly, slowly turned to Odin. His expression was one of incredulous ire. “How, Odin. How could you have done such a thing?”

Odin rounded on him. “It is not your right to decide what happens in my kingdom-”

“Thor is your son!” Njord bellowed. “And Loki is your son by law! And you see nothing wrong with forcing upon them a tradition so barbaric that it has been abandoned for thousands of years?”

“Abandoned, but not outlawed!” Odin roared back. “And when your realm is concluding a terrible war with another, then you can tell me what is barbaric and what is not!”

“This is not a case of moral relativism! This is a case of you putting two young men through an act of cruelty for...for the sake of what? A more expedient diplomatic solution?”

“Enough!” Odin barked. “You are owed no explanation for my realm’s affairs. Nor is anyone!” His glare shot back to Thor. “It is time that these lies ended, once and for all! Guards!”

The guards stationed outside the doors of the hall marched in. As Thor saw them enter, he was finally afforded the chance to look behind him. Which meant he could finally see Loki.

Thor had never seen him so petrified.

Silent tears were running down Loki’s face. Upon meeting Thor’s eyes, his lip quivered. Thor reached to hold him close to his side without a second thought.

“Seize the Jotun,” Odin barked. “Return it to its chambers.”

Thor’s grip tightened around Loki’s back. He wasn’t going to let this happen. He wasn’t. He knew then, without any doubt, that he would kill every last one of the palace guards who tried to lay a hand on Loki.

It was a terrible thought; these guards were only doing their duty, and most had families of their own. But Thor’s mind was already set to the task, and his body tensed to prepare for it.

But then the guards did something Thor had never seen them do after being issued an order.

They hesitated.

And not just for a second. They didn’t move at all. Confusion was etched into all their faces.

They looked to their leader, the head of the palace guard. A man Thor had great respect for; Fjaldur Norison had served the royal family since before Thor was born, and had served them well.

His hesitation was a sight Thor had never thought to see.

Finally, he took a step forward, and spoke. “My king, I cannot.”

More exclamatory murmurs from the hall.

“Cannot?” Odin growled. “Or will not?”

“Both,” said Fjaldur.

“And what prevents you from doing your duty? And remember, Fjaldur, you have sworn upon Hlidskjalf to serve your king.”

“I know of my oath, my king. I have fulfilled it for over a thousand years.” said Fjaldur. He took a deep breath. “But I cannot carry out an order in the service of what I know to be wrong.”

“Then you will carry out no more orders!” Odin lashed out.

Fjaldur looked stricken, but he gave a somber nod. “If that is my king’s wish.” He unbuckled his sheathed sword from his belt, laid down his spear, and left the hall.

“The rest of you,” Odin growled, “do as I command.”

The other nineteen guards looked at one another. Apparently, they had not as much moral courage as Fjaldur, for they reluctantly picked up their spears and marched toward Loki.

The room erupted in shouts and cacophony.

The tension in the Asgardians who had been standing by and just watching the proceedings released in a charged explosion of outrage.

Some were yelling for the guards to stop, condemning Odin for his folly. Others were shouting that the guards put their duty first and obey their king. Eventually, they moved beyond yelling and started putting action to their words, swarming around the guards to either stop their progress or protect them while they carried out their orders.

It wasn’t long before a full-scale brawl broke out in the throne room.

Odin yelled for everyone to be quiet, but no one was hearing him in the chaos. He had to move to reach Gungnir from where it had fallen when Thor had blasted it from his hand. But Njord intercepted his path, continuing to berate him for his deeds.

Thor saw his chance. With his arm still around Loki, he picked a path around the edge of the crowd to get them both out of the hall.

He swore he heard Odin’s voice shouting “Stop them! Don’t let them get away!” But the next second, they had made it out the doors, and Thor swung them shut behind him.

Now that they were in the relative quiet of the hallway, he could hear Loki hyperventilating. More tears were falling from his face. If he was trying to speak, his words kept getting lost in his sobs.

Thor knew they had to keep moving; it was only a matter of time before Odin got control of the crowd and called for reinforcements. But before he could take another step, Loki crumpled to the ground and bawled even harder. There were screams mixing in with his sobs now, as he hurtled into hysterics.

“Loki,” Thor said, kneeling beside him. “We have to go. Before-”

“What does it matter?” Loki sobbed. “He’ll find us, he’ll make us-”

“Thor! Loki!”

They looked up to the familiar voices. It was Fandral; Sif, Volstagg, and Hogun were right behind him.

Thor wondered why they had not come sooner. But as they approached, he saw why: they were armed to the teeth with swords, daggers, axes, maces, and all other weapons afforded them in the armory.

Their faces were set in the same steel-edged determination as their blades. Ready to defend their princes to the death.

“What happened?” Fandral asked.

“Odin knows,” said Thor. He was trying to fight the edge in his voice, whether from his rage or his impending dread, he wasn’t sure. “And Njord. And half of Asgard, apparently.”

"Norns,” Volstagg swore under his breath. “What would be most helpful to you now?”

Thor cast about for the answer to that. But the answer readily supplied itself in the form of Fjaldur running up to them.

“My prince,” he said with a quick bow. “More guards are on their way to handle the crowd. I am sure the king will send them to find you and Prince Loki before long.”

“Then we’ll be ready for them when they arrive,” said Sif. She snapped out both ends of her double spear to demonstrate said readiness.

Thor would have told them not to risk so much on his behalf, but they had never listened to such a speech from him before. Besides, he had no idea what a better course would be at this point. “Thank you,” he said to his friends. “And thank you, Fjaldur, for what you did.”

Fjaldur’s mouth quirked up into a smile he tried to hide. “I could not do otherwise, my prince. Now you must go!”

Thor agreed, and returned to coaxing Loki to stand and join him, until he stumbled upon the crucial question:

Where could they possibly go?

Their chambers were out of the question; that’s where Odin was going to take them anyway. Anywhere else in the palace, or in the entire realm, would be visible to Heimdall.

And while the guardian of Asgard hadn’t revealed his and Loki’s secrets up to this point, that was because Odin had had no reason to ask him about it. Whereas now, if Odin were actively searching for them and couldn’t find them on his own, he would ask Heimdall. And he would be bound to give an honest answer.

But before Thor could come up with any tangible conclusion, he saw the most fearsome and most heartwarming sight.

Frigga.

She was marching toward the throne room with a level of ferocity Thor had never seen in her. The green energies of her seidr sparked at her fingertips.

But the moment she saw Thor and Loki, she sealed the magic away and knelt to give them a fierce embrace.

“It’s all out in the open then, is it?” she asked.

Thor just nodded. He wished he could disappear in her arms with Loki and find shelter that way.

She released them just enough to hold Loki’s face in her hands. “Easy, my son,” she soothed. “This isn’t over yet.”

Loki sobbed again. “B-but, he’ll find us, and we’ll-”

“You know I would never let any more harm come to you,” she said, with more firmness in her voice than before. “In the meantime, you both should go to my private apartments. I will cast spells around them to allow no one else to enter, not even Odin. They will not hold forever, but they should last for the rest of the day. Stay there until I send for you.”

“But Mother,” said Thor, “what are you going to do?”

She gave him a dangerous smile. “The same thing you will be doing. You will take care of your husband.” Her eyes turned from warmth to wildfire as she looked to the golden doors. “And I will take care of mine.”

She rose, gathered her seidr once more, and prowled to the doors to slip inside. Even in the continuing turmoil within the throne room, Thor could make out her screech of “ODIN BORSON!” before the doors thudded shut again.

Volstagg sighed. “I’m so glad she’s our queen.”

“Agreed,” said Sif. “Now hurry up, you two, before the guards come!”

Just as she said it, the marching footfalls of two units of palace guards entered the corridor.

Thor’s friends readied to fight. Thor had never run to hide when a battle was to be had, but now his duty wasn’t just to his own honor and glory. It was to protect Loki.

So, he hauled Loki to his feet, keeping one hand on Mjolnir, and fled.

xxx

Frigga’s apartments were connected to her gardens. It was commonplace that a queen had her own set of rooms apart from the king’s, to allow for disagreements in an arranged marriage, while minimizing their interference with the affairs of state. Yes, it was the among the most glaring displays of sexism inherent in the monarchy, but Thor had never been more grateful for it.

As he led Loki through the doors to the front parlor room, he could feel the strange warping of the atmosphere that signaled some magical ward was in place. But once he was through it, there was no physical signal that there was anything different about this door. It felt so strange to just leave it, and not add more obstructions to barricade them in the chamber.

So, Thor placed Mjolnir on the ground, directly in front of the doors. They couldn’t swing inward if the uru hammer blocked their path.

That is, unless it were Odin seeking ingress. He was the only other person Thor had seen lift Mjolnir; he had been the one to bestow her upon Thor, after all.

Thor let his hand linger on her handle. Please, please don’t listen to him. Don’t betray me, not now.

He couldn’t guarantee she would listen.

But he wouldn’t tell Loki that now. Not when he needed Thor’s strength.

Loki had crumpled onto one of the several settees in the room. His hysterics had dwindled on the way to the chambers; now he just stared into middle distance, trembling with such force Thor thought he might break apart.

It was just like his trembling in the moments right before the consummation.

Thor went to sit beside him. He didn’t know what to do, what level of comfort or proximity Loki needed. But when Loki looked up to him with such dread in his eyes, Thor knew just sitting next to him wasn’t going to cut it.

He did what he had done only once before, and gathered Loki into his arms. Loki clung to him. A building, then cresting sob rattled out of him.

The weight of everything that had just happened slammed Thor in the chest.

He had confronted his father. Odin knew. He knew that the marriage would remain childless if left to Thor and Loki’s devices. And they couldn’t remain childless if the peace treaty was to remain valid.

Why had Thor opened his stupid mouth? Why couldn’t he have just stopped to think?

But he’d stopped thinking the moment he’d seen Odin hit Loki. And then he’d attacked his father, the very definition of treason. Such matters could always be forgiven by the monarch if it involved another member of the royal family, but forgiveness was now the last thing on Odin’s mind.

The Norns only knew what Odin would do to retaliate. Thor couldn’t think of a response that wouldn’t end in pain.

So he clung to Loki tighter, squeezing his husband to his chest. He didn’t usually employ such strength in the contact he initiated with Loki, as he always wanted to give him a way out if he needed. But now, he couldn’t bear the idea of letting Loki go. As long as he kept Loki here, in his arms, away from the world, he could keep him safe.

Loki wasn’t fighting the contact, either. He was holding on just as tightly, shuddering in Thor’s arms.

“He’ll make us do it again.”

There it was. The thought Thor couldn’t bear to contemplate, so Loki had been the one to voice it aloud.

“No,” Thor murmured. “He can’t make us. He can’t make me. I won’t-”

“You’ll have to-”

“I have a choice this time.” Norns, Thor did not mean to sound that desperate as he said that. “He can’t kill me, and Laufey isn’t here.”

As he said that, he realized that Odin could be summoning Laufey here right now. He could be on the Bifrost within the hour, and both kings would make their way to these chambers to apprehend their sons…

“I won’t hurt you again,” was all he could say.

It sounded so unconvincing out loud. And he knew Loki would hear his real meaning: I don’t want to hurt you again.

He couldn’t imagine it. He couldn’t. It would destroy him, and destroy Loki. Even now, he could feel the despair threatening to crush all the air out of his lungs.

But he had to keep breathing, and holding on to Loki. Otherwise, it would all be over.

“If you won’t do it...” Loki said, in a voice that was quickly losing to the tide of hysterics again. “...then your father will make his own choice.”

Thor swallowed. “What do you mean?”

“Y-you heard him,” Loki sobbed. “If I...if I don’t conceive, I’m of no use to him. So w-why would he keep me...keep me here w-with you…”

Thor’s already-racing heart screamed even louder.

“H-he’ll send me back to...to my father…to Jotunheim-”

“No.”

Loki whimpered into his chest. “He’ll give me to my brother-”

“I won’t let that happen, Loki.”

Now Loki was full-on crying again. All Thor could do was hold him, and assure him that the second option wasn’t an option at all.

It couldn’t be.

Thor let his lips hover just above Loki’s ear, so he could speak softly while still being heard over the sobs. “I won’t let anyone take you away,” he murmured. “You’re my husband. You’re staying with me. You won’t ever have to see your father and brother again, and you aren’t going back to Jotunheim.”

It was a horrifying thought, one Thor hadn’t ever considered. And the fact that Loki had immediately concluded that, rather than Laufey beating or even killing him for failing to serve his purposes, he would give Loki over to Byleistr as punishment…

But it wouldn’t happen. It wouldn’t.

Now Thor was realizing just how impossible a dilemma they were in. The pressure started mounting in his head, clouding out rational thought. He had to focus so much on breathing, to resist the panic that had overtaken Loki.

Think, Thor, think. What were the options here?

Odin could force them to fuck again, perhaps even with the palace guards pointing spears at their necks if they didn’t get on with it. He might summon Laufey to join the viewing, or he might attend it alone.

And the Allfather wouldn’t be content with just one instance, either. He might order it every single night, until they conceived an heir.

Thor had to forcefully swallow down the bile that rose in his throat. Time to imagine something else.

Odin could annul the marriage, and pick out a new wife for Thor. Perhaps Freyja, to appease Njord. And Loki would be sent back to Jotunheim, and to Laufey’s nonexistent mercy.

His arms tightened around Loki even more. That could not happen.

Thor could fight. He could raise Mjolnir to the palace guards, and anyone else his father ordered to seize him and Loki. That had the chance of working for a time.

But eventually, Odin himself would come. He could reclaim Mjolnir, and force Thor into submission.

Thor could take Loki and run, find one of the hidden bridges between realms that lay in Asgard’s forests and mountains. Alfheim might grant them asylum, or maybe Vanaheim. Even Nidavellir could be persuaded if they brought enough gold with them.

But wherever they went, Heimdall would see them, so Odin would find them.

Either way, it all amounted to the same conclusion: either Thor would rape Loki until an heir was conceived, or Loki would be sent back to Jotunheim to whatever Byleistr would do to him. Perhaps the same thing Thor would have to do, except the sick bastard would enjoy it.

Thor’s next breath sounded closer to a sob than he would’ve liked. Loki must have heard it. Interspersed with sniffles, his voice trembled out:

“Please just make it quick, Thor.”

It was like a knife in Thor’s gut. His throat clenched tight at the thought of it.

“Please,” Loki kept whispering. “I-I know I said slower might...might be better, but...please just end it quickly-”

Thor buried his face in Loki’s neck. He swallowed down what tears he could, but it wasn’t enough.

All he could do was hold Loki tight to him with trembling arms, warring with the impending deed ahead of them. His thunder boomed its dull roar throughout the skies of Asgard.

xxx

They sat in Frigga’s personal chambers for hours. The thunder never ceased, and the storm never broke into rainfall. Their tears dried, any sobs receded, as exhaustion won the day. They couldn’t run the risk of relaxing, so Thor kept vigil over Loki’s shoulder toward the door Mjolnir sat in front of.

Never once did they let go of one another.

When Thor realized how long he had been holding Loki, it was far too late to worry about any discomfort in the gesture. Loki hadn’t moved from his embrace the entire time.

In fact, now that he paid attention to it, he could feel Loki leaning heavily against him. Seeking shelter with the one person he could.

Thor hadn’t thought they would ever be cradling each other like this, let alone in these circumstances. But here they were. And try as he might for Loki’s potential comfort, he couldn’t find the will to move away.

He found himself resting his head on top of Loki’s, while he felt Loki’s breath against his chest.

In the distance, he sometimes heard shouting from far away, and people running in the palace corridors. Each time, new spikes of adrenaline stabbed him in the gut, as he waited for the time they would get louder, moving closer to the door, pounding on it to demand entrance-

But it never came. So Thor kept Loki clutched close to his chest, and waited.

xxx

It was dark by the time Thor realized he was ravenous. He hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and the physical effort to stay vigilant had used up precious calories.

He knew he couldn’t leave Loki’s side. But they also had to eat, to keep up their strength in case…

...in case of what?

Just...in case.

It was then that he heard a quiet knock at the door.

Loki’s trembling renewed at full tilt. Thor’s stomach clenched.

They waited. Nothing.

No “Prince Thor, we demand entrance!” from a guard. No “Open this door, boy, before I blast it open!” from Odin.

Nothing.

Thor started to rise, but Loki’s arms tightened around his shoulders. “Thor, don’t!”

So he went back down again. Loki was right; it was too risky.

Still they waited. Still nothing.

Maybe ten minutes later, Thor decided to risk it. “No one has demanded entrance, Loki. I just want to see who’s there. It might be someone from my mother, and they might bear good news.”

What good news there could be was a difficult question, but Thor didn’t try to answer it.

He padded over to the door. He could feel Loki’s terrified stare behind him.

With Mjolnir in hand, he cracked the door open an inch.

No one was there. But there was a delightful smell, one that drew Thor’s attention to the ground. Sitting outside the door were two trays of food, just like their dinners that were always brought to their chambers.

There was a once-folded piece of paper tucked onto one of the trays. Thor opened it. The note was scrawled in a messy handwriting, with many words crossed out and rephrased.

Prince Thor and Prince Loki,

I brought you this food. I thought you must be might be hungry. You were not in your chambers. My father said you might be here. I hope it helps.

I don’t know what’s happening. Everyone’s shouting and talking about rape. My mother said she would explain tonight. She said not to tell anyone where you are.

I hope you are both well okay alright.

-Runir

Thor could have hugged the boy if he were here.

xxx

Thor finished his food in record speed. Loki just stared at his own tray, quivering. Halfway through his own course, Thor soothed a hand onto Loki’s shoulder. “You need to eat, Loki,” he coaxed.

Loki didn’t look at him. He reached to take three obligatory bites of the roasted golden boar. He didn’t touch the rest.

Thor didn’t push him further. When it was clear they were both finished, he set the trays aside and returned to Loki.

It was getting dark in their chambers now; the glowing light spheres that lit every room in the palace had flickered to life, signaled by the darkness left after the sunset.

Which meant they’d spent most of their day here, waiting. And beyond Runir, no one had come to the door.

Thor had assumed that Odin would regain control of the crowd and the guards, and would hunt Thor and Loki down to do his bidding. But for some reason, he hadn’t.

He hadn’t changed his mind, obviously. Which meant something had waylaid him.

Whatever it was, Thor hoped it would keep working. In the meantime, he was exhausted, and he was sure Loki was as well.

When he looked to his husband trembling beside him, he could see the sickly pallor on Loki’s face, how glaring his cheekbones were in the dim light. His eyes were red and puffy from all his crying.

“We both need to rest,” Thor murmured.

Loki’s lip quivered as he shot a nervous glance to Thor. “But...what if Odin-”

“If he comes here, we’ll be less prepared for it if we’re exhausted,” said Thor. “We need our strength.”

Loki’s glance slid back down. Considering. After a few seconds, he relented with a tiny nod. “Where?”

Thor understood. “I will sleep in here, closest to the door. You can take a room further in. My mother won’t mind.”

Loki gave a reluctant nod. He stood, his arms drawn up around his chest. Thor saw his face crumple, heaving a near-silent sob, as the day’s events rose up to overwhelm him once more.

“Loki,” Thor soothed, standing as well. He wrapped his arms around his husband before he could think about the action. They’d been holding each other for most of the day, so it didn’t feel like that far of a step anymore. Not in the context of this day, at least.

Loki’s sobs were small this time, contained in Thor’s arms instead of screaming to get out. There was no more energy for hysterics, just a resignation to the exhaustion and dread.

Then, Thor heard Loki’s small voice. “When you-” -more sobs- “-When you came into the throne room...I was so afraid. So...so afraid…”

“Shhh,” Thor hushed him, trying to gentle that fear out of Loki. They’d somehow made it out of the throne room, after all. “I could never let anyone hurt you like that and not do something.”

“But...it was your father...our king-”

“And you are my husband.”

Loki’s sobs kept going. Thor held him through it, until they receded into the quiet once more.

When at last Loki came up for air, Thor relaxed his hold. Against better judgment, he didn’t let go of Loki entirely. He was so drained. They both were.

Loki’s voice was hardly more than a whisper when he spoke. “Thank you. For everything.”

“It wasn’t just me,” Thor said. He realized just how many people had contributed to their cause today.

Sigyn, for running to tell Thor.

Njord, for defending them.

Tyr, for telling the truth.

Fjaldur, for refusing to seize Loki.

All the Aesir who had stood up for them in the mob.

Sif, Volstagg, Fandral, and Hogun, for waylaying the guards.

Frigga, for lending her influence to the fight, and giving them this place of refuge.

Runir, for bringing them food.

It would have eased Thor’s mind to know so many supported him and Loki. But it didn’t. Because even with all those who backed them, he still didn’t know if it would be enough.

“Maybe you weren’t the only one,” Loki said quietly. “But you were the first.”

Thor didn’t understand what Loki meant by that. Not right away. But when he looked at Loki, into those green eyes imploring into his, he realized.

Loki meant the first in his entire stay in Asgard. Loki meant the first in his entire life.

Thor had been the first to be kind to him. To recognize that he had inherent worth, and therefore rights. To give him hope that his life didn’t have to be a waking nightmare for the rest of his days.

Thor didn’t know what to say in response to that. The weight of that realization kept his mind from forming words.

Then he noticed that Loki was looking at him. Not just looking at him, but with some intention Thor could not place. Maybe curious, but hesitant, and yearning. So many emotions flitted by that Thor couldn’t keep up with them all.

It stayed that way for perhaps five seconds, before Loki inched into movement.

Toward Thor.

Thor didn’t understand. His stomach was getting knotted and warm from the anticipation.

Then Loki closed his eyes, and his lips pressed softly to Thor’s.

Thor froze.

He couldn’t breathe.

His mind shut off.

The contact was so gentle, with barely any pressure. But it burned, and Thor’s heart was pounding, but he couldn’t fucking move he was so paralyzed-

Then the contact broke, as Loki pulled away. He looked up at Thor. His eyes were brimming with so many emotions Thor must have missed half of them in his dumbstruck state.

Until the dominant emotion won out, the one Thor never wanted to see on Loki’s face:

Fear.

Finally, Thor’s stupid brain let his body unfreeze. He moved his arms to grasp at Loki’s shoulders. “Loki…”

But Loki shied away, stepped back. His eyes welled with tears and fresh waves of terror.

He sobbed again, and Thor couldn’t take it.

“Loki.” He stepped forward. “I-”

But Loki shook his head. He kept stepping away from Thor, but no, he couldn’t run, Thor needed to make sure he was alright, he had to figure it out-

Yet with Thor’s every step forward, Loki stepped back, further out of his reach.

“Loki, wait-”

Loki turned tail and fled, running to the nearest chamber in Frigga’s suite.

“Loki!”

Too late. Loki slammed the door behind him.

Thor ran to the door. He reached to the door handle several times, only to pull away at the last second.

At last, he gave up. It would be wrong.

Wouldn’t it?

Thor sighed, all the tension and turmoil and fear and fury from the day coursing through him. He slumped against the door, resting his cheek on the cool mahogany. His lips still tingled from the previous contact.

He knew he had to stay vigilant, for his father could appear at any moment. But it didn’t stop the singular thought coursing through his mind:

What in Valhalla had just happened?

Chapter Text

Thor paced.

And sat down.

And paced some more.

And went to the door Loki had shut, trying to figure out if he should go in after him.

And paced some more.

Again, and again. For hours.

He didn’t want to sleep, as his anxiety wouldn’t make it restful. Especially with what had happened with his father. And especially after what had happened with Loki.

He ended up sitting on the floor with his back to the wall, right next to the door Loki had disappeared behind. His thoughts wouldn’t stop churning.

Loki had kissed him.

He’d kissed him.

His heart pounded as he thought of it again. It hadn’t lasted long, and he’d been too stunned and overwhelmed to react. But that didn’t mean he didn’t remember every millisecond of it. How soft his lips had been, how gentle and warm they were even in their barely-there contact.

Loki had kissed him.

And yet, try as he might to savor the memory, he couldn’t help but ask the question:

Why?

It was too much to hope that Loki did it because he truly wanted to. If Thor started considering that option, his mind would never put it down, until the fantasy was inevitably crushed by reality.

But that left the only plausible option: that Loki had done so out of some kind of obligation.

It was difficult to remember exactly what they had been talking about beforehand; the night’s stress and exhaustion didn’t aid Thor’s memory. But he knew that Loki had thanked him for his protection and kindness at some point.

So, the kiss could be out of gratitude, and held no other meaning behind it. But that didn’t make sense. Loki had expressed his gratitude before, and hadn’t done so by kissing him.

But now, there was another variable at play: the immediate prospect of what Odin would once again force them to do.

Had Loki been...attempting to make that easier? To draw Thor in somehow? As if by kissing him, Thor would get the idea that Loki consented, and would be assuaged that another bedding wouldn’t be rape at all?

The thought made Thor’s throat clench. A kiss did not equal a free pass to anything else. He’d been sternly warned as much by Frigga once he’d reached adolescence. He had been many things in his premarital exploits, but a rapist wasn’t one of them.

But did Loki know that Thor grasped such a concept? Did he even grasp it himself?

The more Thor thought down that path, the more he recoiled from it. He didn’t want to partake in any sexual act with Loki that was unwillingly given, whether it was kissing, fucking, or anything in between. Thinking that Loki had been counting the seconds until the kiss was over brought such a bitter taste to Thor’s mouth.

He had to talk with Loki about this. He should at least reassure him that he owed Thor no favors from his flesh, no matter the circumstances.

But it was late, and Loki was probably asleep. Thor needed sleep himself, however restless it may be.

So, no matter what else happened tomorrow, they would speak about this.

In the morning.

xxx

He shouldn’t have put it off till the morning.

After reattaching the pieces of armor that would have been the most uncomfortable to sleep in, Thor steeled himself with a breath, and went to the chamber Loki was in.

But the door was ajar.

Thor poked his head in. “Loki?”

No answer, no movement. Nothing.

Thor went in further. But beyond the indentation in a pillow on one of this chamber’s settees, there was no indication Loki had been here at all.

Thor went further, trying to ignore how his heart rate was speeding up. But the adrenaline that flooded his system only grew as he went into room after room after room.

And Loki wasn’t in any of them.

He stopped in what had served as Loki’s bedchamber. He had to breathe. Loki had to be in here somewhere. Mjolnir still guarded the external doors, and if the doors could not swing inward to allow others inside, Loki couldn’t have moved them to escape.

But why would he even try to escape? Beyond these walls, Odin’s guards could be anywhere, searching for the pair of princes. However much Loki might be afraid of Thor after last night, it couldn’t be more than he feared capture by Odin.

…Right?

Thor made up his mind to search again. When that failed, he searched again. In each chamber of his mother’s apartments, around and underneath every piece of furniture that could hide Loki.

He felt he was going mad after the fourth attempt. What was going on?

And then he saw what he’d missed, in the chamber Loki had taken refuge in. The curtains on the window were fluttering.

He moved them. The window was open.

Thor’s heart dropped from his chest.

Loki was gone.

xxx

With that, Thor didn’t waste any time running out the door with Mjolnir. He had no idea where Loki could have run to, or if he’d been found by Odin. So he’d search everywhere he could assume Odin wouldn’t be, and pray that he found Loki first.

But when he burst past the hedges of his mother’s garden, he ran right into a servant.

He hastily apologized, but she called back to him. “Prince Thor, wait! I have an urgent message for you!”

Thor stopped cold. His mind flitted through all the possible sources of the message: Frigga, Odin, Njord, his friends, Loki himself-

But the girl said the name of someone he did not expect: “It is from Lord Heimdall. He requests your presence at the Bifrost.”

Thor turned back to the girl. “Heimdall?”

She nodded. “He said to tell you that he could answer the urgent questions you have this morning.”

The notion piqued Thor’s interest. Heimdall could see where Loki had gone. He would know where Odin was. He had most likely seen Thor scrambling to find Loki this morning.

Although, Heimdall was sworn to his king. Which meant this could be a trap.

But surely, if Odin was going to send a fake message to lure Thor into an ambush, he would have said it were from Frigga.

But wouldn’t Odin know Thor would think that of him, and give him a less-obvious name to make it seem he wouldn’t think of it?

It would make Thor go cross-eyed if he tried to anticipate all his father would think and do, all the iterations of response and counter-response they could go through. The urgency of his search for Loki cut the process short, anyway.

At the end of it all, what mattered was that Heimdall could tell him where Loki was. So, he would go.

“Thank you,” he muttered to the girl, and turned back to find some sort of cloak in his mother’s apartments. Now that he had been slowed down enough to think, he realized it wouldn’t be amiss to appear less conspicuous.

But as he turned, the girl asked him, “Is it true what they’re saying? About you and Prince Loki?”

Thor stopped. “What are they saying?”

A silence. Then, “Something ladies should not discuss.”

An antiquated notion of gender; women probably had more familiarity with discussions of rape than men. Still, Thor understood the girl’s meaning.

“Yes,” he said softly, and left it at that. He wished he could comfort her as she sat with the idea, but he had neither the time nor the emotional energy to do so.

xxx

He found a black cloak that would suffice in keeping him from standing out. He was surprised how well it fit around him, considering it was his mother’s. It reminded him of when he’d ‘borrowed’ one of the drapes from her windows as a young child, using it as an oversized cape as he barreled around the palace.

This cloak wouldn’t cover his hair and face, so he would be recognized at more than a cursory glance. But it would give him enough cover to leave the palace.

He kept Mjolnir tucked on his belt underneath the cloak, just in case.

The walk along the Bifrost was longer than he remembered. Usually he just flew to the chamber if he needed to leave the realm or speak with Heimdall. But if he was aiming for relative stealth, flying above the city would achieve the opposite.

Even in its dormant state, the Bifrost chamber hummed with magic as he approached it. It was an ancient and elegant machine, the crown jewel of the Aesir’s achievements in engineering.

And at the center was that machine’s inventor, staring into the stars as was his duty. Though Thor wasn’t outright afraid of Heimdall the way he had been as a child, he still felt some wary awe when he approached the gatekeeper.

While the Aesir and most other races of Yggdrasil lived for a few millennia, Heimdall had lived for hundreds of thousands of years. He never aged, and never faltered in his capacities. He required neither food nor rest. He was blessed with gifts like none other in the Nine Realms or beyond. And Asgard was the realm blessed with his obedient service.

Heimdall didn’t turn around to Thor’s approach. He just said, “It’s good to see you well, my prince.”

Thor cautiously strode into the chamber. “I’m not sure ‘well’ is the word I would use.”

Heimdall chuckled as Thor walked over to his side. “Considering your attack on the king yesterday, I would say you are quite well, as you still have your freedom.”

That gave Thor pause. Heimdall was still his father’s man.

But Heimdall must have seen his hesitation (of course he did, he saw everything), for he said, “If I was charged with your arrest, I would have done so already.”

The assurance gave only the barest hint of comfort. “So, who is charged with my arrest?”

“No one.” Heimdall still stared at the stars. “As of yesterday morning, any orders concerning yourself and Prince Loki have been put on hold.”

Thor squinted at that. “‘Put on hold’?”

“The king has spent the last twenty-two hours in the council rooms, at Queen Frigga and King Njord’s insistence. The three have spent day and night attempting to determine your future course.”

Thor shot a startled glance back to the palace.

It wasn’t that he expected less from his mother; he trusted Frigga more than anyone else to advocate for his interests. And Njord had expressed moral outrage once he learned the truth, when it would have been more politically savvy not to interfere.

But still. At their ‘insistence’?

Since when had Odin Borson allowed anyone’s insistence to overrule his will?

“How did they manage that?” he asked.

“Njord is a king,” said Heimdall. “He has spun his own webs of alliances beyond Asgard. And how do kings enforce their will?”

There were many answers to that question, but Thor now understood the one Heimdall referred to. “With armies.”

Heimdall nodded. “Even now, Alfheim, Vanaheim, and Niflheim are marshalling their forces. If they wished it, they would be within striking range of the palace in two days.”

Thor felt a shock go through his system, as if he’d been struck with one of his own lightning bolts.

But before he could reply, Heimdall continued. “Do not fret. They will not attack Asgard. They know their quarrel lies not with the people, but the king. And they know that such a display of power is the only message the Allfather will listen to.”

“Then what good does the message do, if they will not follow through with it?”

He swore he saw a smile flash on Heimdall’s face for half a second, before it vanished into the same impassive stare forward.

“They are not the only armies making demands of the Allfather.”

Thor didn’t understand.

So Heimdall explained: “All day and night I heard their cries at the injustice done to you and Prince Loki, how they could never defend a king who commits such acts. A treasonous statement, perhaps, but one cannot imprison over half of one’s own citizenry.”

At that last statement, the pieces finally fell into place.

“Asgard’s people?”

Heimdall slid his golden gaze to Thor. “You are surprised?”

Thor scrambled out his thoughts. “My father said his actions were for his people.”

“Yes,” said Heimdall. “And now that they know the truth, they are making it clear that such is not the case. Walk among them today and see for yourself.”

Thor had half a mind to do just that. But before anything else happened, he attended to the matter he should have asked about first: “Where is Loki?”

“He is quite safe,” Heimdall said, with more of a smile in his voice. “Although he may not know that. He left the queen’s chambers early this morning, and has taken refuge in the stables, with his favorite horse.”

Thor breathed a sigh of relief. Loki was safe, and he would find him.

He was halfway out the Bifrost chamber before he stopped, as another thought came to him.

He turned back to Heimdall. “You saw what happened on my wedding night.”

“Yes.”

Thor felt something young in his heart squirm at the word. Sometimes the impassivity in Heimdall’s voice could be so uncomfortable.

“And you have seen every night in my chambers since then.”

“Yes.”

“Then why-”

“Why did I not alert the king that you did not continue your duties?”

Thor nodded. Though Heimdall did not face him directly, he knew he would see him.

He saw Heimdall incline his head upward. “My prince, I have seen generations of Asgard come and go. I have watched her grow from a collection of villages to a leading power in the universe. My motives are always to serve her interests.”

It was a cryptic reply, and one that didn’t answer Thor’s question. “But does your oath to serve Asgard not require your service to my father?”

Heimdall turned to Thor. His glittering golden eyes looked amused more than anything else. “That depends. Is Asgard her people, or her king?”

Thor opened his mouth, then shut it. Hesitated. “That sounds like a question for the philosophers.”

Heimdall chuckled. “Perhaps. But it is one every king must one day answer for himself.”

Thor sighed. It wasn’t the answer he wanted to hear. “I know what my father’s answer is.”

“As do I.” Heimdall’s gaze softened. “But you are not your father.”

As Thor left, he had the feeling the gatekeeper had just given him some kind of test. And he just might have passed it.

xxx

On the way back, Thor decided to take a more indirect route, bypassing the palace to reach the stables behind it.

It involved walking through the city streets, which also served his curiosity about Heimdall’s words.

Sure enough, as he walked past the shops and tenements, the usual morning activity of the citizens hushed in his wake.

Everyone was stopping to stare at him. Not an uncommon occurrence, but this time there was an air of uncertainty rather than delight.

He nodded at those who caught his eye. They nodded back, with murmurs of “My prince,” but then they returned to the cautious stares.

After a dozen or so blocks, an aproned woman with streaks of gray in her dark hair spoke up. “Prince Thor?”

He stopped. “Yes?”

She worried her hands on her apron. “Is it true what they say happened at your wedding?”

He didn’t know why he hesitated to say yes. Perhaps because it was so personal, and still such a tender area. But eventually, he nodded.

She looked stricken. Everyone around her took on looks of sympathy.

“It’s a terrible thing,” a red-bearded man said. “Just terrible.”

“We won’t let the Allfather get away with it,” said a younger adolescent boy, with all the bravado of one his age.

The aproned woman shook her head. “Such a thing should not happen in Asgard. Not in our time.”

Such a heaviness settled in Thor’s heart at their words. He appreciated their sentiment, he really did. But it couldn’t change the fact that it had happened in Asgard, and could very well happen again.

He pushed that last thought away. Hard.

“I thank you all for your kind words,” he said. “But I cannot ask you to put yourselves at risk by speaking them.”

An older man with shaking knees stepped forward from the growing crowd. “My prince, if we do not stand against what is wrong, how will it ever be righted?” He smiled. “Fear not, Your Highness, you have not coerced us to defend you. We stand of our own choosing. And we stand with you, and your husband.”

Others nodded around him. Old and young, men and women, all from a dozen different trades, smiled at their crown prince.

It warmed Thor’s heart more than he thought it would. Heimdall had been right.

A young woman with an infant snuggled to her breast then stepped toward him. She looked hesitant to speak, but she soon found her words. “My prince, is Prince Loki alright?”

Thor’s eyes flitted to the direction of the stables. It was such a complex question he didn’t quite know how to answer it.

He sighed, and looked back to the woman. “It has been difficult for him,” he said quietly. “For both of us.”

She nodded as she took that in. Her baby squirmed, so she hitched the little one up higher in her arms.

“Well,” she said, “if there’s anything you need, either of you, from any of us...you need only ask.”

Everyone else murmured their agreement.

Thor nodded at the crowd. “Thank you, all of you. You do Asgard proud.”

“As do you, Your Highness!” a man called down from a second-story window. “Long live Prince Thor!”

“Long live Prince Thor!” everyone cried out.

Thor smiled, and continued on his way, still surrounded by the well-wishes and smiles of his people as he went.

It didn’t escape his awareness that the chant of ‘long live a royal family member’ was usually reserved for the king. This was the first time it was now applied to him.

He didn’t know what he thought about that.

xxx

Along the way, he stopped at a baker’s shop to buy two pastries. He hadn’t eaten yet today, and it was nearing midday. He munched on one as he walked, and intended to bring the second one to Loki.

When he entered the stables, he was equal parts relieved and surprised to see Thialfi still in his stall. He had thought Loki might go riding somewhere to escape the situation in the palace.

Instead, his husband was sitting in the far corner of the stall, surrounded by hay and staring at his knees. He had fresh tearstains on his cheeks, which Thor could understand.

“Loki?”

Loki startled up to meet his eyes. His breathing picked up, and he started curling into himself. Not good signs at all.

Thor held up his hands to indicate he meant no harm - and in doing so, also held up the pastry he’d brought. “I thought you might be hungry,” he explained.

Loki’s eyes flitted between Thor and the pastry. Perhaps warring with the hunger and his fear.

But Thor wasn’t entirely sure why Loki was afraid of him right now. If he had to guess, it had to do with the kiss last night, but the thoughts in Loki’s head about it were still a mystery to him.

Maybe he could unravel them now.

Thor put his hand on the stall door. “May I?”

Loki hesitated. He looked dreadful when he acquiesced with a nod.

Still, Thor took the opening, and entered the stall. He absently patted Thialfi’s neck as he passed him, in thanks for keeping his husband company. Thialfi tossed his head.

Thor settled beside Loki in the straw. He swore he saw the beginnings of a flinch in Loki’s body in response.

He handed Loki the pastry. Loki kept his eyes lowered as he took it. He bit into the flaky crust with all the timidity of a mouse.

They sat in silence for a few moments, before Thor felt he should explain how he’d found Loki here. “I spoke with Heimdall.”

Loki finally looked at him as he swallowed the next bite. He looked equally afraid and confused. “What did he say?”

“He told me your whereabouts, and that you were safe,” said Thor. “And he explained why my father has not yet come for us.”

At the mention of Odin, Loki stilled. “And why is that?” His voice was barely above a whisper.

“Apparently,” said Thor, “he has been speaking with my mother and Njord all through the night. About our situation.”

Loki squirmed at that. He shrank in further.

“At least three other realms support us,” said Thor. “The people are with us, as well. I walked through the city on my way here. Everyone I met expressed their sympathy and support.”

Loki still didn’t look mollified. “So what does that mean for us?”

Thor paused. What little hope he’d conjured started to deflate. “I don’t know,” he finally said.

They fell into silence again. Loki stopped eating; the pastry idled forgotten in his hand.

Thor knew Loki was right: it was unwise to start hoping. Relaxing now, only to have it stripped away if another bedding commenced, would hurt far worse than staying guarded.

Thor wanted to pivot to a different topic, but there was only one that intruded on his thoughts, squeezing room for all others out of his head.

Well, if it had to do with the prospect of the bedding as Thor suspected, it would be better to discuss this now.

So, he fortified himself with a breath. “Also, Loki, about last night…”

Loki’s face crumpled in shame, bright red and trembling.

“I’m not upset,” Thor assured him, “or whatever else you might think, I only-”

He was interrupted by golden horns trumpeting from the palace.

He and Loki both looked to the sound. It heralded a royal announcement that all should attend.

Thor looked back to Loki. They locked eyes. He knew Loki understood it as well as he did:

Their moment of reckoning had arrived.

Thor offered his hand. No matter what had happened last night, he still didn’t want Loki to feel he had to face this alone. He didn’t want to face it alone, either.

Loki took it. They rose to their feet together, and walked with leaden limbs to the palace.

xxx

Throngs of people were filing in to the throne room. But when they saw the princes, they wordlessly parted to let them through.

Thor wasn’t sure if he was grateful for it. The announcement wouldn’t start right away. So he and Loki would be standing in the throne room, with Odin’s eye on them, for some time before the proverbial axe would swing.

But he didn’t know any way to communicate that to the onlookers. So, he took a deep breath, and walked beside Loki through the golden doors.

He saw a sight not usually seen at Hlidskjalf: Odin sat there, yes, but Frigga and Njord stood on either side of him. They looked almost like bodyguards, except Thor knew the situation was vastly different.

All three looked exhausted. Odin’s hair and beard looked even grayer, the lines on his face more pronounced. Njord’s hair was disheveled. He huffed, in a manner uncharacteristic for his usual cheery self. Frigga looked like she might have been crying recently.

But when she caught Thor’s eye, she gave him a small smile. Thor’s heart surged with the hope he’d been trying to tamp down since he spoke with Heimdall.

Had his mother been successful?

More people filed in. As much as Thor would have liked to stand to the side, no one was going to let him and Loki do that. Everyone knew this announcement was about them. There wouldn’t be any hiding from this.

Everyone was watching him and Loki as they entered the chamber. He could feel all their eyes on him. Whether they were sympathetic or not, Thor didn’t want any of their scrutiny in this matter.

So, he turned to Loki at his side. Their hands loosely brushed together as he did so. Loki returned his gaze, and he knew that all the anxiety and dread on Loki’s face was probably mirrored in his own.

Loki swallowed. Thor just nodded.

He was surprised to feel Loki’s arm fold into his, and Loki’s hand grasp his own tightly. He returned the pressure to echo the unspoken sentiment.

The boom of Gungnir sounded throughout the realm.

Fire burned in Thor’s lungs as the spike of adrenaline hit him. He could hardly breathe as he left Loki’s gaze, and turned to face his father.

It was some time before Odin spoke. Thor didn’t know why. The hall waited with bated breath.

The waiting was almost worse than any words he could have said.

Then, finally, the Allfather spoke.

“Many of you have heard by know what occurred in this chamber yesterday morning. Many of you also have loved ones who were arrested in the aftermath. All those who were imprisoned in this matter shall be released, and no further charges brought against them.”

The people applauded. Thor stood rooted to the spot. His mind flashed briefly to his friends. They had most likely been among those arrested, or else they would have shown their faces to him by now.

But Odin still hadn’t addressed the matter at hand. Until his next words:

“As to the matter of Prince Thor and-”

He cut himself off. Frigga cleared her throat loudly. Njord glared at Odin, who glared right back.

“-and Prince Loki…”

It was the first time Odin had referred to Loki as a man, rather than ‘the Jotun’ or ‘that creature’. It obviously wasn’t his idea, but Thor didn’t care right now.

“The princes have refused to continue carrying out their marital duties.”

Odin’s glare now turned to Thor. Thor hoped his returning gaze was one of ire and defiance, and that none of his dread showed on his face.

He could only wait for his father’s next words. And they took a long time to arrive. When they did, the first word sent a clamor of hope into Thor’s chest:

“However.”

Thor could hardly breathe.

“In light of the circumstances-” -Njord grinned at Odin’s side- “-I have decided that the princes will no longer be required to carry out such duties within a specified time, and only require that they leave an heir for the throne before the end of my son’s future reign.”

The hall burst into applause, but Thor hardly heard it. It was nothing compared to the deafening roar in his mind.

He could scarcely feel his limbs, like they’d fallen asleep after he’d been sitting on them too long. He was breathing so hard, and it still wasn’t enough to keep up with his body’s demands.

For a moment, the world around him didn’t feel real. Was he even standing here?

He turned to Loki. Loki looked just as numb as he did. But he was panting just as hard as all the tension bled out of him.

When their eyes met, Thor saw that Loki was on the same page as him: they needed to be alone. Right now.

Still with his hand in Loki’s, Thor led them out of the throne room. Everyone cheered and congratulated them as they walked past. Thor hardly heard them. His mind was buzzing with what had just happened, and the urge to be with his husband in this moment. All else was secondary.

xxx

It felt strange at first, to be back in their chambers.

Everything was as they’d left it yesterday morning. But the energy was entirely different. It was like a heavy atmosphere was purged from the air. The lights were the same, but everything seemed brighter.

As the door shut behind them, giving them their privacy, Thor realized that this was the first time their chambers had actually felt private.

No one would be barging in ever again. No one would be forcing violation in here, or would watch it be carried out.

It was their space. And it was theirs for good.

All at once, the blocks in Thor’s mind that prevented the relief from overtaking him lifted. His happiness washed over him in full force.

He started laughing. And laughing. Laughing and laughing with so much delight and relief he didn’t know when he’d be able to stop.

He turned to Loki. Loki had a hand clasped over his mouth, like he was trying to hold back tears. But when he looked to Thor, his sob was one of laughing relief as well.

Without thinking, with his laughter still tumbling out of him, Thor embraced his husband fiercely. Loki yelped as Thor lifted him up and spun him around in the air.

They were safe they were safe they were safe they were safe they were SAFE-

When he set him down, he still clutched Loki to his chest with such strength it probably crushed all the air out of his husband’s lungs. But Loki was hugging him just as tightly, crying and laughing and laughing and crying and they were safe!

“Is this really happening?” Loki asked into Thor’s shoulder. “Did it really happen like this?”

“Yes,” Thor kept saying into his ear. “Yes, yes, yes.” His hands were both on Loki’s back, and one started rubbing an easy rhythm. Feeling Loki’s solid warmth under his palm. “You won’t ever have to give of your body again. That part of your life is over. You’re safe.”

Loki sniffed. Thor felt his own tears threatening to overwhelm him. Everything was just bleeding out of them both all at once now.

Including Thor’s still-present hunger, as his stomach loudly protested. One pastry wasn’t going to cut it.

They both giggled at the sudden rumble from his belly. “We should send for some food,” Loki said. Thor agreed wholeheartedly.

xxx

Of course, it was Runir who brought their food. When he came into their chambers, he had a wide smile on his face. Thor matched it with one of his own.

“I’m so happy for you, my prince!” the boy said as he set the food trays down. “I prayed to the Norns last night it would turn out this way!”

“I thank you for your prayers, then,” Thor said with a chuckle. “And for the food you brought last night. It was a comfort we sorely needed.”

Runir nodded. “My mother said that would be the case. She made sure to prepare your favorites, just to be sure.” Some of the boy’s jubilance started to quiet, and he looked at his shoes. “It helped distract her, I think, from what we feared would become of my father.”

“What do you mean?”

Runir shrugged. “He refused the king’s order in the throne room.”

Thor started to nod, until he realized exactly what Runir was referring to. “Wait...you mean Fjaldur?”

Runir nodded.

"Your father is Fjaldur Norison?”

“Yes,” Runir stammered, “and I am Runir Fjaldurson.”

Thor stood up and went over to the boy. “You told me your father was one of the palace guards, not the captain of the guards. Why did you not say?”

Runir gave a sheepish look up to Thor. “He told me I should not boast about it.”

Thor’s eyes listed from Runir as he took that in. Such a statement fit perfectly with what he knew of Fjaldur. And it explained why Runir was so dedicated to his duty, as his father lived and breathed it every day.

Both Thor and Runir were surprised to then hear Loki’s quiet voice from the couch. “If your father had not disobeyed the Allfather yesterday, mine and Thor’s circumstances would be much worse at this moment.”

Thor met Loki’s eyes. He knew they were both imagining the same chain of events that could have unfolded. Loki would have been apprehended, Thor would have been subdued by Odin, and by now another bedding would surely have commenced.

But Fjaldur’s refusal had given others in the room the courage to protest, allowing Thor and Loki the time to escape, and Frigga the time to join them.

Thor looked back down to Runir. This boy’s father had risked his life to do what was right, and he and his mother had resolutely carried on to feed their princes.

Thor knelt down to look Runir in the eye. He placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Your family has saved mine. There is no other way to say it. You all have saved us. And we will never forget it. Even when I am king one day, we will not forget.”

Runir’s eyes lit up at the words. “Thank you, my prince. I will tell my parents!”

He raced off toward the door, and Thor stood with a smile. It was short-lived, however, as Runir suddenly stopped, and turned back.

“Also, my prince,” he said more quietly, “I wanted to ask you…” His mouth twitched. “Last night, my mother explained to me...um…”

Oh. Thor’s smile faded. He remembered the second part of Runir’s note now. It occurred to him that, judging from the boy’s age, he might not have even known what rape was before yesterday.

And he probably hadn’t been the only child to have that talk with their parents last night. In the course of a single day, all of Asgard had lost so much innocence.

Runir looked so uncomfortable, but Thor could tell he had a question. When it finally came out, it was with a quiet voice and averted eyes. “Is that why you have both been so sad in your chambers?”

Thor’s next breath was slowly heaved out. “Yes.”

Runir looked down. His brow furrowed. He looked about to give voice to the puzzled expression, but then quickly shut his mouth.

“If you have a question, Runir,” Thor said, “you might as well ask it.”

Runir shook his head. “It is not my place to ask this.”

“Let me be the judge of that,” Thor said gently. As much as it might be uncomfortable for both of them, he didn’t want the boy to walk away with any misconceptions about this topic. Especially when his family had risked so much because of it.

So Runir looked up at Thor again, still looking confused. “I don’t understand. What my mother said yesterday...it sounded terrible.”

“And it was,” Thor murmured.

“But…” Runir’s glance flitted to Loki. “...You both seem so close.”

Thor pieced together the unspoken questions in Runir’s words. He looked over to Loki, who returned it with such uncertainty of how to proceed.

So Thor spoke. “We are close. But such was not always the case. We have both had to work very hard for what we now share.”

A flicker of warmth sparked back to life in Loki’s eyes. Thor was so glad to see it; it felt like ages since he’d seen the real Loki underneath all his fear.

“Well,” Runir said, “I hope that now you won’t be as sad.”

Thor looked back to Runir. “I hope so, too.”

xxx

After Runir left, Thor joined Loki again. They ate in a more-or-less comfortable silence.

Thor’s thoughts were still attempting to settle in the wake of all that had happened. In the span of thirty-six hours, they had hurtled from one precipice to another, as all their worst fears had very nearly come true.

To think that yesterday morning, their biggest concern was confronting Freyr and Freyja. It was almost laughable to think of now. It felt like a lifetime ago.

But now, dust was settling where it had been kicked up five months ago. That nagging worry in the back of Thor’s mind, ever-present since the wedding night and louder since Loki’s menstruation, had abruptly vanished in the last thirty minutes.

Perversely, he felt empty and on-edge without its presence. He kept catching himself thinking he was still supposed to be worrying about something.

Seeing Loki’s movements in his periphery made him realize that this must be similar to his husband’s state once he’d married Thor. Unable to believe without constant coaxing that he was finally safe, as the whispers in his mind to watch out had been so essential to his survival for so long.

Eventually, even anxiety could be a comfort, if one wore it long enough.

Well...there was still one worry Thor’s mind could latch onto.

“Loki...about last night…”

Loki stilled. He didn’t meet Thor’s eyes.

Thor wasn’t sure why Loki was so afraid; there was no longer the immediate threat of the bedding. So he pressed on. “I just want you to know-”

“Must we speak of it?”

That threw Thor off. “Um...I think it would be best if we at least addressed it, to prevent misunderstandings.”

Loki was turning a bright shade of pink. He ducked his head even further.

But he didn’t volunteer anything else to say, so Thor forged ahead. “I just...I know you - we - thought that we might be forced into another bedding soon. And that you thanked me for my kindness. But…um…I just wouldn’t want you to think you are obligated to…”

Loki squirmed, with his body ending up angled away from Thor.

Fuck. Thor knew he was losing Loki, but he had no idea why.

“You owe me nothing, Loki,” he said. “Nothing physical, or otherwise.”

It was so still in the wake of his words. He didn’t know what else to say, how to draw Loki’s spirit back to his own.

Part of him regretted speaking up now. They had been so at ease just moments ago. Why did he have the need to ruin Loki’s mood so quickly?

When Loki spoke next, it was a small little squeak. Thor had to strain to hear his words.

“That wasn’t the only reason why I did it.”

“What do you mean?”

Loki buried his crumpling face in his hands. “It’s embarrassing.”

“What is?”

“You’ll hate me.”

“I very much doubt that.” A gentleness stirred in Thor, as he stepped into the familiar role of consoling Loki. “I can’t imagine any reason for your actions that would make me upset, or angry.”

Loki took a big, slow breath. Thor waited.

“It’s hard to explain,” Loki said, still muffled by his hands. He must have realized this, as he folded them at his chest. They started fidgeting soon, anyway. “I...I don’t know what this is. But last night...it just...it just felt right.”

Thor’s heart started picking up speed. He barely kept his voice steady as he asked, “It felt right?”

Loki nodded. “The last few weeks...maybe a little while before the Elves came, I... I started feeling...um…”

He shrank further. “...I don’t know. It’s a warmth, a heat, and just wanting to be close to you, and noticing you, and…” He shook his head. “I don’t know. I’ve never...never felt this before, so I’m not sure, but...I think...I think it is desire.”

Thor’s mouth fell open.

His eyes drifted away from Loki. His thoughts were both flying at light speed and frozen in place.

“You desire me.”

“I think so,” Loki whispered. “I think that’s what it is. I don’t know, it’s just so new, I…” He paused, as if scrambling for breath and words. “All I know is that last night, kissing you felt right. So I did. And I’m sorry, Thor, I know I shouldn’t have…”

Thor blinked hard at that. Wait, what?

Loki was trembling beside him now. “...I know you didn’t ask for it. And I should have known better, I’m sorry, I’m…” His voice was breaking. “I know you can’t feel the same way, and I’m sorry I have burdened you with this, and I...I hope we can-”

“Loki, stop.”

“-I hope we can...still be close somehow-”

“Stop talking, Loki.”

Loki did. He was probably terrified of Thor’s sudden firmness, but Thor couldn’t bear to look at him. He kept his gaze straight ahead.

He had to do this. He couldn’t think any further about it, or he’d waver, and Loki would misinterpret it, and all of this would be ruined. They were on a knife’s edge now, and he couldn’t let them slip.

He had to say this now.

“I think I need to tell you something, which I have hidden from you for months. So please, before you say anything further, please listen to all I have to say first.”

He paused for a reply. Loki stayed silent.

It was quiet for what was probably a beat too long. After so long of keeping this hidden, the words now stuck in Thor’s throat. Shit.

His hands were shaking as he steepled them underneath his chin. He couldn’t formulate the best plan for his words, so he just started talking.

“For as long as...no, since you first arrived on the Bifrost, I saw your looks appealed to me. And since then, within the first week of our marriage, I…” Don’t falter now, you can do this. “...I have been entranced by you. By your heart and your mind, yes, but...also by your body. Your presence. I have…”

He realized too late the territory he was now venturing into: “...I have dreamed of you, and fantasized of you.”

Was he really going there? Apparently, yes he was.

“I am immensely attracted to you, Loki. I harbor such desire for you. And I have kept it hidden from you, because I assumed you would feel threatened by it, and could never return such feelings. But now that you say you do, I...I just feel you should know that they are reciprocated a thousandfold.”

The air felt so heavy after that. Neither of them dared to move.

It felt like Thor had stepped onto a slanted surface and was struggling to keep his balance. After keeping these thoughts within his mind for so long, speaking them aloud to Loki felt so emptying.

But he couldn’t feel any relief, until he knew what Loki thought of it. So, trying not to hope for too much, he turned to face his husband.

Loki was staring at him like he’d said the planet was about to explode.

He didn’t say anything, though. Just stared. And Thor couldn’t take it. “Please say something.”

Loki blinked. Shifted. Looked down, then back up. It was killing Thor, and all he could do was wait.

“I don’t understand,” Loki finally said.

“What don’t you understand?”

Loki peered at him harder, like he was a textbook in a new language he was learning. “You’re attracted to me?”

Thor just nodded, his mouth dry.

But Loki still looked so lost as he said, “Why?”

If there were any defenses left around Thor’s heart, they crumbled at the question.

It wasn’t that Loki was afraid, at least not yet. It wasn’t that he was angry or hurt that Thor had kept this hidden. No, what confused Loki was that he didn’t understand why Thor could be attracted to him.

Thor couldn’t help the single, quiet laugh as the relief settled in. This he could handle, easily. “How long do you have?”

Loki’s brow creased further. “For what?”

“For me to list for you all the reasons why you are attractive.”

Loki still just looked at him, and before Thor could stop himself, the words started tumbling out with hushed awe.

“There’s the way your hair falls on your shoulders, how it curls before you’ve washed it. How your voice is so rich, yet so delicate. How nimble your fingers are as you turn pages in a book. How the light plays off your cheekbones. How elegant and graceful you are, the way you carry yourself, without even trying. How bright your eyes are, how much your whole face lights up when someone is kind to you. How your smiles can be so shy, yet so full of warmth. How well your hand fits in mine when I hold it. How-”

Loki cut him off with a sob.

Thor had gotten lost in his words, but now that he paid attention to Loki properly, he saw the wetness beginning to gather in those bright green eyes.

“I’m sorry,” Thor said, “that was a lot at once.”

Loki nodded, wiping at his eyes.

“I’ll stop,” Thor assured him, his heart pounding, “but know that I could go on for hours. I have said nothing of your cleverness, or of your heart and spirit which have so enchanted me.”

Loki looked at him again, with so much overwhelm in his face. And yet there was a yearning too, like a dream was about to come true that he never thought could happen. “You…” he stammered, “...you really think all that of me?” When Thor nodded, he sniffed. “I just...I was always told that I was ugly.”

Something tender clutched Thor’s heart. He looked straight into Loki’s eyes with a small smile, trying to convey it.

“Loki, I think you’re beautiful,” he murmured. “Inside and out. The person you are, and the body you have. You’re beautiful.”

Loki clutched a hand to his mouth, squeezing his eyes shut to fight all that must have surged in him at Thor’s words. Thor didn’t know what might be helpful, so he let Loki do what he needed.

At some point, he wanted to bring Loki in front of their bathroom mirror, and point out every beautiful aspect of his features. See? he would say. You’re lovely. You always have been.

A few minutes of silence passed between them, save for Loki’s muffled sobs. Thor wanted to physically comfort him, as he had in the past, but now there was so much more meaning attached to any touch they shared. He didn’t know if Loki wanted that right now.

Loki eventually regained enough composure to look at him. Thor smiled. “Are you alright?”

Loki took another breath. “I...I don’t know. I think. But...this is all just so new.”

“It is.”

A crease of Loki’s brow a moment later signaled something new occurring to him. “So...when I kissed you last night…”

“I didn’t expect it,” Thor admitted, “but it was not unwanted. In fact, it was quite the opposite.”

Loki’s eyes darted to him, then away, then back. Thor hoped he wasn’t reading too much into the expression.

Then Loki asked in little more than a whisper, “Would it be alright if I kissed you now?”

Heat rushed from the core of Thor’s being, infecting his whole body.

He nodded. “Yes,” he breathed.

Loki also looked electrified, but only for an instant. Then, he squirmed into the realm of self-consciousness.

Well, his experience of initiating kisses was limited to last night, and he’d immediately regretted it afterward.

But, Thor wanted to err on the side of caution here. He still wasn’t sure where Loki’s boundaries were in this realm, so he didn’t want to be too forward. He would let Loki come to him.

After the eternity that the seven seconds of waiting felt like, Loki scooted closer to Thor. Hesitated. Leaned in. Looked at Thor.

Then closed his eyes and kissed him.

He was so gentle, just like last night. But when he made contact, he just held himself there.

So, Thor kissed him back.

He moved his lips against Loki’s in a gentle, slow rhythm. Loki, probably not knowing what else to do, followed his lead, accepting each motion.

The room was quiet, save for the little smacks of their lips, Loki’s breath mingled with Thor’s, and Thor's own heartbeat pounding in his ears.

It was like diving underwater. Everything else outside them was muffled, but everything between them was amplified.

Thor was a pounding mess of hormones in overdrive. Even though this was new territory for him and Loki, it felt so right.

He kept kissing Loki, neither passive nor insistent. He was gentle. Warm. Soft. Tender. Everything Thor felt in his heart for Loki, he gave. It was an extension of what they already shared, but now with a physical act to express it.

It felt like coming home.

Thor ended it with a long, slow press of his lips, savoring how soft Loki’s were against his. Slowly, slowly, he withdrew.

They stayed there for so long, their lips a centimeter apart. Breathing in quiet gasps together. Taking in each other’s closeness.

Loki’s breath stuttered, causing Thor to open his eyes to see if he was alright. Loki’s eyes were still closed. He didn’t appear to have broken from the trance of the kiss.

Thor reached his hand to Loki’s face. In as gentle a touch as he could muster, he stroked his knuckles down Loki’s cheek. Loki’s gasp was quiet as he leaned slightly into the caress.

At last, those green eyes fluttered open, and there was so much warmth and longing in his gaze that Thor couldn’t help but smile at it.

“Was that alright?” Thor asked.

Loki gave an embarrassed grin. “I was going to ask you that.” The smile started to fade; now he was just embarrassed. “I know I’m not experienced in this.”

“And yet you are wonderful.”

That light came back to Loki’s eyes, that quiet glow Thor wanted to get lost in forever. Thor let his thumb trace Loki’s cheekbone. He swore he felt Loki shiver from it.

He wanted nothing more for the rest of his days than to give Loki as many kind touches as he could.

“You’ve wanted this for weeks now?” he asked.

Loki nodded. “I didn’t know what it was, at first. But the night of the feast, it became clear. I almost kissed you that night.”

Thor couldn’t help the breath of a laugh that escaped. “I almost kissed you that night. I wanted to so badly.”

Loki smiled at that. It soon faded, however, and he sat back, moving away from the intimate closeness between their faces.

Thor was taken aback by the withdrawal. “What’s wrong?”

Loki looked down. His hands slid together. “Is that all you’ve wanted to do to me?”

Shit. This was exactly what Thor had been afraid of.

But he knew if he tried too hard to pull Loki back, he’d shy away even further. So, he didn’t try to reclaim the close proximity. He had to stay calm.

“Are you asking if I want to fuck you?”

At the phrasing, Loki’s eyes darted to his in panic. He nodded.

Thor tried to take a deep breath. “I would be lying if I said I didn’t desire that with you one day. But, that doesn’t mean I would ever put that desire over your comfort.”

He took a chance, and reached a hand out for Loki’s. He didn’t try to grab Loki, though; he just held his hand out, hoping Loki would take it.

After a second of looking at Thor's hand, Loki took it. The heat from the touch sparked in Thor’s veins.

“No one is ever going to force you into a sexual act again,” Thor said. “And that includes me. Even if you want something and then change your mind halfway through. You always have a choice, and I will always heed your wishes.”

From the look Loki gave him, he hadn’t expected Thor to say that. Still, he wore a sheen of concern on his face.

“What if I don’t know what my wishes are?” Loki finally whispered. “What if I don’t know I don’t want something until it’s too late?”

Thor thought about that. It was a fair question, considering Loki’s lack of experience. He’d kissed Thor and enjoyed it, and been forced into vaginal intercourse and been traumatized. There were whole realms of intimate acts in between that could either be just as pleasurable as the former, or just as painful as the latter.

So, all Thor could do was reassure him of his previous point. “If something causes you pain, or fear, or you want to stop for any other reason, all you have to do is say the word. And I will stop, and do what I can to help you feel safe again.”

Loki nodded, but he didn’t look reassured.

So, Thor tried a different tactic. “May I ask you something else?” Loki nodded. “Is there anything right now that you know you don’t want, beyond any doubt?”

Loki shrank away. Thor could hear his breathing pick up.

“Whatever it is,” Thor assured him, “I will know not to do it.”

Loki took in an audible breath. At length, he answered in a whisper. “Fucking me. Or...or touching me...between my legs.”

Thor nodded. He had expected as much, but it was good to hear it from Loki’s mouth. “Okay. So I won’t do that.”

“B-but…if you desire it-”

“If it causes you this much fear to even think about it, I’m not doing it.”

Loki met his eyes then, and looked surprised at the earnestness he must have found in Thor’s face. “Okay,” he finally squeaked out.

Thor smiled. His thumb brushed over Loki’s where their hands were joined. He looked down at the sight. It brought such joy to his heart, knowing that he could have such simple contact with Loki, and know that it was wanted.

“Is it alright that I touch you in the ways that I already have?” he asked. “Your hands, and your back and shoulders?”

He saw the tension ease out of Loki immediately, and his small smile returned. “Yes,” Loki said. “And...earlier, when you...touched my face…”

“That was good?”

Loki nodded. His eyes took on a look that Thor couldn’t call anything other than pleading.

So, he let go of Loki’s hand, and brought his own to his husband’s face. He stroked over Loki’s forehead, down his temple, to rest at his jaw. Loki’s eyes fluttered shut. Again, he angled his face to lean into the touch.

Thor realized then that this was the same cheek Odin had slapped yesterday.

And he wanted nothing more than to purge all memory of such violent contact from Loki’s skin, until he remembered nothing but tenderness from another’s touch.

“Would it be alright if I kissed your face as well?”

Loki’s eyes snapped open. But it didn’t look like an I can’t believe you would think of that face. It was more of a How did I not think of that before? face.

Loki looked like he was about to cry when he nodded. Thor didn’t need telling twice.

He leaned in. He smoothed his thumb over Loki’s cheek once more. Then, still resting his fingertips on Loki’s jaw, he gently pressed his lips to that prominent cheekbone.

He felt a puff of air on his neck where Loki sighed. He kept going. Inch after inch, he laid the softest kisses on Loki’s cheekbone, before moving down to the hollow below it.

He stopped when he felt something wet slide onto his nose.

When he pulled back, another tear slid down Loki’s cheek. “Was that too much?”

But Loki shook his head. His voice came out so choked. “It’s just...so good…”

So much fondness tugged at Thor’s heart then. He reached to thumb away some of the tears, still as gentle as the previous touches.

Loki moved forward, wrapping his arms around Thor’s shoulders. He kept his small sobs muffled into Thor’s neck.

Thor held him just as firmly. He pressed a kiss to Loki’s hair. “This is what I would want for you, Loki. To have intimacy help you feel so cared for, and so cherished. So you can feel how precious you are to me.”

Loki sniffed. “But will that be enough for you?”

Thor thought about it. He knew this would not be as straightforward as with any previous lover. He was prepared to face that reality, as he had for the last five months.

But if these same touches and kisses were all Loki would ever be comfortable with, would Thor be willing to forgo all other intimacies for the several thousand years he would live?

When the answer came to him, it felt so obvious.

“You are enough for me,” he murmured into Loki’s ear. “You always have been.”

It was quiet for a moment more, as Loki’s sobs died down, and they just held each other, content in their husband’s arms. Thor chuckled, and said, “Besides, I didn’t think I would even have this with you.”

He felt Loki’s mouth pull into a grin against his neck. “Nor did I.”

Thor sighed. He didn’t know it was possible to feel so content.

But before he completely succumbed to it, he had one more question to ask Loki: “So, is being held in my arms among the activities you know you want?”

Loki didn’t answer for a few seconds. “It’s still new to me. I never thought I would want anyone so close to me. But...last night, when we were so scared...and right now…” He shrugged. “I feel so safe, and so wanted.”

Thor smiled so hard it hurt. “In that case, I’ll keep holding you.”

He ended up leaning his side against the back of the couch, taking Loki with him. Loki’s shifted hold on his shoulders sent a pleasant thrill through his spine.

“And know that I feel the same, when you hold me,” he murmured.

Loki held him tighter in response.

For the first time in Thor’s marriage, he knew that both those feelings were true: they were safe, and they had discovered they were each wanted by the other.

He didn’t know what lay ahead for him and Loki in this newfound part of their relationship. All he knew was that it couldn’t be nearly as difficult as what they’d just survived.

They’d come through the last five months of worry, nightmares, pain, and isolation. They’d find their way through the next few months in the same way.

Together.