Thor coughed as a wave of dust hit him in the face, making him drop the old book he had found straight back into the trunk. Rubbing at his stinging eyes, he coughed some more.
“Thor?” his mother asked from next to him, seeming to appear out of nowhere. “What is it that you are doing?”
Thor squinted up at her with tear-filled eyes. “I was looking for the book grandfather gave me. I thought Loki might like it - you know I hate reading.”
His mother smiled warmly at him and reached down to gently rub his still irritated eyes with the corner of her apron, successfully removing any dust that still clung to his lashes.
“I am certain Loki would be very happy about your gift, however I know not whether his father would appreciate you giving his son a book full of fancy horror-stories,” she said, sounding almost chiding.
“They are no horror-stories!” Thor protested with all the indignation of a nine year-old and would have stamped his foot, had he not still been on his knees in front of the trunk. “They are fairy tales! And grandfather said that they all have a grain of truth in them!”
His mother sighed, looking terribly put upon. “It is no secret that your grandfather failed to become an adult even in his advanced age, but there is no need to scare Loki with your ghastly stories.”
Thor pouted at her and made a show of folding his arms in front of his chest. “Loki would like them,” he insisted petulantly.
Instead of dwelling further on the subject, his mother closed the trunk in front of him and gently thrust a bucket in his direction, forcing him to unwrap his arms and accept it.
“I wish to scrub the floor and am in need of water,” his mother told him and helped him to his feet. “Be a dear and bring me some from the forest.”
“I hate getting you water,” Thor whined. “And I promised Loki I would meet him to play!”
Straightening herself, his mother put her hands on her hips, her gentle face tightening slightly in annoyance. “I am quite certain that Loki would not protest so much if I asked him to bring me water. You may ask him to join us for dinner, dusk is almost upon us as it is.”
“Is not,” Thor muttered darkly, but obediently made his way to the door, knowing that he had reached the end of his mother’s considerable patience.
“Be quick, dear, will you?” his mother called after him.
Thor ignored her, careful not to let his mother hear the curse that he had learned from Volstagg the other day and jumped down the last few steps at the front of their house. The wood was worn and creaky and would have fallen apart long ago if his father, the town’s smith, had not taken the time to fit iron casing on the edges to prevent further wear.
Dashing in the direction of the forest, Thor took the time to wave to Jane and Sif who where playing not far from their house, which adjoined the one where Thor lived with his parents, and spared a moment to cast a sympathetic look into little Hildegarde’s direction where she was crying over the small goat her father intended to sacrifice for the wolf that night.
The wooden replica of the full moon stared down at Thor from where it had been put up in the middle of the main square, towering over the villagers every month as an ominous reminder. As if anyone was able to forget. Shivering slightly, Thor quickly looked away from the scowling face of the wooden moon and picked up his pace.
Shifting his grip on the bucket’s handle, Thor made his way towards the edge of the forest, the area where his grandfather’s cabin lay. He knew what the other villagers called his grandfather, had heard their disdainful remarks about ‘crazy old Erik’. Thor did not understand their malice, could not fathom why someone should be shunned simply because he did not want to live directly in the village. When he had asked his mother about it one night, her hands busy tucking the furs around him, she had looked at Thor with sad eyes and kissed his forehead, telling him that people often feared things they did not understand, that it reminded them too much of their own shortcomings. Thor was not quite certain what that meant, but stored the words safely in the back of his mind all the same, in order to be able to come back to them when he was older. Everyone always assured him that things would be different then, and that he would come to understand all the things that he did not at the moment.
Kicking up some stray leaves, Thor spotted the pond and unceremoniously jumped into it, splashing water as far up as his knees. His mother would chide him mercilessly, but Thor was never one for elaborate consideration of his actions and regularly exasperated his parents with his impulsive behaviour. Stamping his foot simply because he could, Thor watched the water splash even higher, before shivering slightly as a cool breeze swept through the trees. Yellow and brown rained down upon him and the rustling of the leaves sounded like whispers in Thor’s ears.
Shaking his head to clear it, Thor bent down with every intention of filling the bucket, but was distracted once more. A worn pair of familiar dark boots appeared in his direct line of sight and Thor shot back up, a grin already splitting his face. He found Loki regarding him with his customary, broody expression, a slight frown creasing his forehead.
“You were supposed to come and play with me,” he accused, folding his arms in front of his chest very much like Thor had done only minutes before.
Bucket forgotten, and grin still firmly in place, Thor scrambled out of the pond. Loki reluctantly reached out a hand to help Thor to his feet, even though it only led to Thor having to grab Loki’s arms to steady his scrawny form as Thor’s bigger frame unbalanced him.
“Sorry,” Thor said, still holding on to the other boy. “Mother sent me to get water.”
Loki eyed the abandoned bucket, before looking back at Thor with the smallest smirk. “I can see how that turned out.”
Thor playfully cuffed him in the side, careful to mind his own strength so as not to knock the smaller boy over. Even for being two years younger, Loki was small for his age, thin as a rake and with a sickly pale complexion. Thor had spent many a week sitting at Loki’s bedside when the other boy had been struck down by sickness and was unable to leave the house.
The other children thought Loki was strange and tended to avoid him on all costs. The girls thought he was creepy, repeating what their mothers gossiped with one another and calling him strange like his father, claiming that something was wrong with him, and the boys called him weak and a girl, making cruel jokes about how he would never be a proper man.
When Loki had been four and Thor six, Thor had rescued him from a group of bullies, all of them older and much bigger than Loki. Thor had punched the cruelest of them in the face and had shouted at the rest, calling them cowards. Thor, in contrast to Loki, was bigger for his age and often thought to be older than he was. It was already obvious that he had inherited his father’s burly frame and that he would make a great blacksmith one day. This, combined with his fierce temper and the knowledge that his father would be anything but pleased should one of them decide to attack Thor, led the others making themselves scarce and Thor had helped Loki to his feet to check him for wounds.
From that day on, they had been inseparable.
Thor’s friends didn’t really understand his attachment to Loki. Though they kept their opinions about Loki to themselves - or at least to conversations when Thor was not present - it was clear that they thought Loki strange as well. They accepted him well enough, but never interacted directly with him if it could be helped, shying away from Loki’s ever-sharpening tongue and over-developed wit.
For Thor, Loki was the cleverest person he knew and he would have gone with him to the ends of the world. Loki might be a bit strange, but Thor did not doubt for one moment that the other boy loved him just as dearly as Thor did him. Considering the type of father Loki had, it was no surprise that he was a little strange - at least that was what he had heard his parents say one day when they had thought him asleep.
Laufey was creepy. Even Thor had to admit to that. In contrast to his son, Laufey was huge, at least one and a half heads taller than Thor’s father and easily the tallest in the whole village. He was thin, but not without muscle, his shoulders broad and his arms strong from felling trees and chopping wood. As long as Thor had known him, he had never once seen him smile. If he could, Thor would have taken Loki from his care and never let him go back to his father. He would let Loki sleep with him and protect him from creepy Laufey, force-feeding him his mother’s delicious cooking and putting some meat onto his scrawny form.
But Loki never spoke of his family and Thor had learned to leave the topic well alone, loath to see the sad look on Loki’s face whenever it came up. Loki’s mother, Fárbauti, had died when he was still an infant. That much Thor knew from the gossipers in town, and it was said that Laufey had never been the same since. Thor had a hard time imagining the man ever having been different.
"So will you bring your mother the water she requested?” Loki asked, tearing him from his thoughts.
Unable to resist, Thor reached up a hand and gently ruffled Loki’s raven hair and grinned at him. “I am sure she can wait a while longer.”
Loki batted at his hand, trying to duck out from under Thor’s arm and gifting him with one of his darker scowls. “Dusk is near,” Loki told him, successfully having dodged Thor’s ministrations. “We should not venture into the woods at this hour.”
Thor’s grin only widened. “Scared?” he goaded him gently. “Worry not, Loki. I will protect you. I promise we will be back in time for dinner!”
Slinging an arm around Loki’s thin frame, Thor tugged him into the direction of the woods. Loki let him.
It did not lie in Thor’s nature to be complicated or suspicious. He did not dread things the way others seemed to, simply because he did not let himself. For him, there was no uncertainty, no doubt in what he wanted.
From the moment he had saved Loki from those bullies, he had wanted him by his side, had wanted to protect him and keep him. If Thor had made up his mind about something, he stuck to it. He had wanted Loki then and it was no surprise that he still wanted Loki now. Growing up might have shed some light on the way he wanted him, but want him he did.
At sixteen, Thor had quite a good idea of how many ways he wanted Loki, knew that his love for him had remained the same constant, only that he finally knew that it wasn’t the same love he had for all his other friends, but rather the love that made him dream of marrying him as soon as they were both old enough and Thor had taken over his father’s smithy and was able to support them both. His parents seemed aware of that fact and Thor had never bothered to conceal his love for Loki. They seemed not to mind his choice, rather taking great pleasure in embarrassing him and smiling knowingly at Thor’s ever-growing infatuation.
Loki had always welcomed his affections. Despite his otherwise sharp tongue and cold stares, Loki was only ever warm with Thor, visibly holding his more vicious side inside when in the presence of Thor’s friends - entirely for Thor’s sake. He seemed just as eager to receive Thor’s touch as Thor was to give it, curling into Thor’s embraces and letting Thor rest his head in Loki’s lap when he read, his long fingers curling into Thor’s hair until Thor felt sleepy and ready to stay that way forever.
It was not in Thor’s nature to be complicated or suspicious, life had not taught him to. Not yet.
Wiping sweat from his brow, Thor regarded his work with a critical eye. Amora had asked for a small cross, a pendant to give to her wife for her birthday and Thor wanted it to be perfect. Despite his young age, his father trusted him to do his work well and Thor wanted to do him proud.
His father was getting old and it seemed to Thor that he noticed new lines every time he looked upon his familiar face. The responsibility of becoming the master of the smithy, of caring for his parents grew with every passing day, but the burden was an old one and to Thor did not feel like a burden at all. He enjoyed working at the smithy, the feel of metal beneath his hands and the knowledge that he could shape it however he wanted. He wished everything in life was as easily shaped as this.
Thor looked up from his work, squinting slightly through the heat of the fire and at the sudden change of light as he looked towards the bars shaping the entrance of the smithy. The iron was old, but well cared for, the bars ensuring that enough air reached the inside and an easy exit for the smoke and heat of the fires within. A familiar basket in hand, Jane stood backlit by the bright light of midday, the sun high in the sky, and shot a glance at his father’s back from where he was working at the other end of the room.
“May I have a moment of your time?” she asked quickly, her fingers curling around blunt iron as they had many times before, but Thor thought he could see a tightness in her features. “I brought your lunch.”
Thor frowned but did not comment on it, looking instead to his father, who waved him away with a smile of permission. “You are due for a break, my son. The pendant will still be here after you have had your lunch.”
Hastily stripping away his apron, Thor put his tools away and followed Jane into the cool air outside. Autumn had started to colour the leaves of the forest with yellows and reds and the air was already turning crisper. They settled outside on a wooden bench against the the outer wall of the smithy and Jane handed him a bundle wrapped in one of his mother’s cloths, which Thor accepted gratefully.
“Where is Loki?” he asked as he unwrapped the parcel, plucking an apple from it and taking a hearty bite. Most days it was he that brought lunch to Thor and they would eat together before Loki had to return to the forest to help his father and the other woodcutters.
“He felt out of sorts and has remained at home today,” Jane told him, listlessly picking at her share of the food.
Thor lowered the apple he was gnawing on and turned concerned eyes to his friend. “He is unwell? Then I should take the time to visit him before I return to work.”
Jane stood alongside Thor, putting a gentle hand on his arm before he could rush off. “He was sleeping last I saw him. Maybe you should not wake him.”
Thor’s frown deepened. “Is there something you are not telling me, Jane?”
Jane gave a helpless shrug, her hands twisting into her apron. “That is not it. I am merely…” she trailed off, seemingly uncertain how to continue, before looking up at Thor. “Have you noticed anything strange about Loki of late? I mean, anything stranger than usual?”
Having now completely lost his appetite, Thor offered the apple to Heimdall’s steed, where it was waiting to be shod by his father. The horse accepted the apple, taking it from his flat palm in one bite and chewing happily on it.
“I know not of what you speak,” he told Jane, concern slowly twisting his insides now that it had taken root. “Has he said anything of concern to you?”
Jane sighed. “You know very well that Loki speaks his mind to no one but you. It is just…” she hesitated once more before forcing herself to continue. “Laufey seems in a darker mood of late and I simply thought that Loki had perhaps told you something? He seems troubled when he thinks you do not see him and I worry for him.”
Everything, including the pendant he had so feverishly worked on moments before, was forgotten as he handed the parcel of food back to Jane. “I must see him,” Thor told her firmly, a feeling of dread spreading in his chest. “If what you say is true I must ask him about it myself.”
Jane accepted the food and hugged it to her chest. “Let me know if I can be of help.”
Thor nodded, before taking off into the direction of Laufey’s house.
When he knocked for propriety’s sake, he did not expect the door to swing open to reveal Laufey. Usually, the man would be at work at this time, even on the days that Loki was struck down with fever. Thor’s stomach twisted painfully as concern tightened his chest. Was Loki more unwell than usual?
Glowering down at Thor with one of the darkest expressions Thor had ever seen on Laufey’s face, the other man held the door open only far enough to allow conversation.
“Good day, Laufey,” Thor said with forced calm, anxiety vibrating through his body and making him shift his weight. “I wish to see Loki. Jane told me he is ill.”
“My son is asleep and requires rest,” Laufey growled at him, his scowl, if possible, darkening further. “You are not welcome in this house, Odinson. Your association with Loki has gone on long enough. I do not wish for you to distract my son from his duties. He has more important things to do than to gallivant around the village with you.”
Thor stared at Laufey, thunderstruck, feeling as though the ground had been plucked from under his feet.
“What is it that you are saying?” he asked numbly, his fingers curling towards his palm in the hope that the pain from his fingernails digging into his flesh would ground him.
“I forbid you from seeing my son,” Laufey snapped at him. “You will stay away from him and refrain from speaking to him should your paths cross.”
Thor’s chest tightened further, his breath stolen by shock and a rage that made him shake. Blood boiling in his veins, Thor had never wanted to punch someone as badly as he wanted to punch Laufey at this moment. “You cannot do this!” he cried and instead of landing it in Laufey’s face, let his fist connect harshly with the door to stop it from closing.
The wood trembled beneath the force and creaked in protest, Thor’s bones grinding together painfully. He did not move his fist.
Laufey glowered down at him, spearing him with his icy glare, colour rising to his face. “Loki is my son and I will do with him as I please! If you do not honour my wishes it is he that will suffer! If you care for him at all, you will do as I say!”
The words had the desired effect and his grip unwittingly slackened. Laufey wasted no time in taking advantage and slammed the door in Thor’s face, missing his nose by a hair’s breath. Jolted back to life, Thor’s rage burned anew and his fist had slammed against the wood before better judgment had time to set in.
“You cannot do this!” he roared at the closed door, repeating the words because he had not the mind to form new ones. The art of clever words was Loki’s department.
Thor’s eyes stung as soon as the thought of Loki rose in his mind. Loki who was ill and needed Thor’s care, who deserved so much more than a bitter father who thought his son was his property.
Muscles suddenly weak with grief, Thor bowed his head, his forehead coming to rest next to his fist against the rough wood.
He did not know how long it took for him to be able to move again, his breath torn from him in harsh chokes, but when he did, it was with dry eyes and the knowledge that he would return. Instead of anger it was determination that burned in his veins.
Thor would not give up.
That night, protected by the cloak of darkness, Thor sneaked from his house, careful to avoid the steps he knew would creak. His parents had gone to the village tavern, leaving Thor at home under the pretence of a headache. He did not have to act much to look sick, Laufey’s words still lying heavy in his stomach.
The moon above him was but half full, setting the village at ease and brightening the moods of its inhabitants. Thor kept to the shadows of the houses, more villagers than usually on the streets on their way to or from the tavern. He managed to reach Laufey’s house without incident, creeping along the back and craning his neck to look up at Loki’s bedroom window.
The faint light of a single candle flickered and cast shadows against the walls inside and Thor did not hesitate to climb the small, unused stable at the back of the house. Careful not to make a noise, Thor searched the wall for the familiar crack and forced the tip of his boot into it. Reaching up, he wrapped his hands around the base of the window and heaved himself up.
He found Loki, who was still unaware of his presence, huddled in his sheets, back pressed against the corner where his bed stood and looking so heartbreakingly lonely that Thor wanted nothing more than to slip under the covers with him and hold him in his arms. His gaze was vacant and he looked a thousand miles away, the absence of a book saying more about his troubled mind than anything else.
“Loki,” Thor whispered and Loki’s head immediately snapped up, eyes widening as he saw Thor at his window.
Not waiting for further invitation, Thor crawled into the room, once again careful not to make a sound. By the time he straightened himself, Loki had scrambled out from under his blanket and was standing on shaking legs next to his bed. Thor hastened to his side, wrapping careful arms around his thin waist to steady him.
Loki’s hands were cold enough that Thor could feel it seeping through his tunic when the other boy put them on his chest. Now close enough to see Loki properly, Thor took in his drawn, pale face and the cold sweat gathering on his forehead. Reaching up from a reflex born from years of concern, Thor felt Loki’s forehead and found that it was ablaze with fever.
Loki allowed the familiar touch, letting his eyes slide closed as Thor brushed several stray strands of dark hair from where they stuck to his overheated face.
“Thor,” he whispered, re-opening his eyes to turn green eyes up at him. “What are you doing here?”
Bestowing a caress to Loki’s cheek, Thor helped him sit on the bed and dragged the blanket back over his shivering form before answering him.
“I needed to see you,” Thor answered, careful not to let his voice carry. “Your father wouldn’t let me when I came by today. He was speaking madness, claiming I was not allowed to see you again.”
Loki briefly closed his eyes in defeat and sank deeper into his blanket, before meeting Thor’s gaze once again. “He told me as much.”
Unable to hold back, Thor cupped Loki’s face with his big hands, gently running his thumbs over the soft, heated skin of Loki’s cheeks. “I will not let him keep us apart,” he swore passionately. “I will climb through your window every night if it is the only way I am allowed to see you. There is nothing that can make me stay away from you!”
Loki sighed, curling his long, delicate fingers around Thor’s wrists and gently removing them form his face. In the process, his sleeves slid up his arms and revealed two identical, thin silver bracelets that Thor had never seen before. The skin around them was sore and irritated, swollen as if burned.
Forgetting everything else for a moment, Thor caught one of Loki’s hands and used the other to push his sleeve further up his arm, bringing Loki’s wrist closer to his face in order to inspect it. “What is this?” Thor asked, his voice more forceful than he had intended. “Who gave these to you? Your father?”
Loki wrenched his hand free, catching Thor by surprise and making him release the other boy abruptly, stung by the uncharacteristic rejection.
“It is of no concern to you,” Loki hissed, glaring at him with bright green eyes.
Stunned, Thor let his hands fall into his lap, giving Loki some space. “Loki…”
Loki looked away, putting even more distance between them as he curled further into his blanket and hid his hands from sight.
“Will you not tell me what ails you?” Thor asked softly, carefully reaching out once more, unable to bear the distance between them.
Loki allowed the tentative touch to his shoulder, but refused to raise his eyes. “My father is right.”
Thor froze, the grip on Loki’s shoulder tightening in alarm, as if it would be enough to keep Loki with him. “What?”
Finally raising his head, Loki met his gaze with hard eyes. “He’s right. We cannot keep seeing each other.”
Thor felt frozen to the core, both his hands now cradling Loki’s thin shoulders in his palms. “You cannot mean this!”
Loki rose, extracting himself from Thor’s grip. “Do not make this any more difficult than it has to be,” there was an edge to his voice that almost sounded like pleading. “We were never meant for each other.”
“Do not say that!” Thor’s voice rose to a dangerous level and he struggled to force it back under control, jumping up from the bed. “What did your father tell you? What is it that makes you act this way?”
“Thor,” Loki hissed, anger blazing from his eyes. “Will you not see sense? I am not good for you! So go and find someone who is!”
Grabbing Loki by the shoulders once more, Thor leaned close enough to fill his nose with his scent, the desire to kiss him so overwhelming that Thor had to close his eyes for a moment. When he re-opened them, Loki was looking at him with unreadable eyes, his jaw clenched and his every muscle shaking, whether it was from sickness, anger or something else, Thor did not know.
“I do not want anyone else,” Thor growled, suppressing the urge to shake Loki in the hope of returning some sense to him. “I want you. I have aways wanted you and I always will and if you will not have me now than I shall wait for the day that you will.”
“And what if that day never comes?” Loki whispered, eyes bright with something more than simply fever.
“It will,” Thor swore, believing every word. “I will make sure of it.”
“You are a fool, Thor,” Loki choked out, tears finally welling up despite how hard he seemed to be fighting them.
“For you, always,” Thor promised.
Loki looked at him for another moment, before coming to some sort of decision. Thor had hardly time to react before Loki was in his arms, his cold hands threading into Thor’s shoulder-length hair as he pressed his thin body against Thor’s, lips feverishly hot against his own. Thor reacted completely out of instinct, wrapping his arms around Loki’s narrow waist and holding him close as tightly as he dared.
It was not how Thor had imagined their first kiss, far from it, but he was helpless against his desire and his lips parted before he knew what he was doing, letting Loki’s hot tongue push insistently into his mouth and seeking out his own. When Loki found it, Thor could not help the deep moan that was wrenched from his throat, thankfully muffled between their mouths and Loki dragged him even closer, opening his mouth further to deepen the kiss. There was a sharp sting as Loki bit his lower lip almost hard enough to draw blood and Thor winced, both in surprise and in pain, before another moan escaped him as Loki sucked it into his mouth.
An then, as suddenly as it had started, it was over.
Wrenching himself free, Loki pushed him away, stumbling back and away from Thor until there was enough distance between them to prevent them from touching anymore. They were both panting, sucking in lungfuls of air and staring at each other from across the room. Thor’s lips felt bruised and tender, the spot Loki had bitten still stinging and he ran his tongue over it born from a reflex to soothe it.
Instead of feeling alarmed by it, however, Thor had the urge to feel it again. He would let Loki do whatever he pleased to him, would let him bite at his lips until they bled only to lick them clean again. The thought frightened him, shocked him to the core. It made him feel more like an animal than a man and he wondered whether there was something wrong with him.
Loki was the first to recover, straightening his still shaking form and drawing even further away and into the shadows of the room.
“Leave, now,” he ordered, quietly but firmly. “And no matter what happens after tonight, remember what you told me. Will you promise me that?”
“I promise,” Thor answered without hesitation.
“Good,” Loki’s face was hidden by shadow, so Thor could not be sure, but he thought he could hear a smile in his voice. “Now go.”
Thor went, but his heart stayed right there leaving behind an empty ache that nothing would be able to fill until, one day, they could be together again.
On Thor’s eighteenth birthday, his grandfather gave him a red cloak. It was heavy and warm, keeping the winter chill from his body and fitting him as if it were a part of him. Grandfather told him that his grandmother had made it for him when he was still an infant, intending to give it to him as a coming-of-age present. Now that she had passed on before being able to give it to him herself, his grandfather had done so in her stead.
Thor thought Loki would look beautiful spread out upon it and swore that he would make that happen one day.
When next he saw Loki in town, he sent him a secret smile and though it remained unreturned, there was a gentle brush against his new cloak from where it hugged his broad shoulders. By the time he had turned to look, however, Loki had caught up to the tall form of his father and was tailing him and the other woodcutters into the forest.
The empty space in his chest ached, but Thor forced himself to ignore it. He tugged his hood up against the sharp wind and walked back to the smithy, his cloak trailing behind him. Blood red on white.