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Arenas Temporis

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Now the question falls to you, my friend
No begining has no end
Will we ever learn, will the world still turn, 
Will the circle start again?

The Circle

 

They call him a 'stormy' lord instead of storm lord (or the god of thunder, as they should) behind his back. He knows where that moniker is coming from: he is unhappy – has been unhappy for centuries, in fact – and he has no patience nor reason to hide it.

 

Thor Odinson suffers a curse.

 

The curse is not the reason for his unhappiness, at least not on its own.

 

He also tends not to call it a curse when he's in a better mood.

 

He sits on the throne in the Great hall, steady streams of visitors and diplomats coming to pay their respects. None of them realize that he is capable, willing, and more than a little inclined to burn the realms to the ground.

 

Thor Odinson lives his twenty-second life. Twenty-one times the universe was reborn – and he in the midst of it – and twenty one times he's loved and fought his brother Loki.

 

In truth, Loki is not always his brother. Sometimes, he is a charming Jotun prince, scarred and hardened, ready to draw Thor into a fight or tumble him into the sheets. Often, they are raised alongside each other by their parents, as they were the first time that Thor remembers. Their feuds are small or big. Sometimes they die of old age, sometimes they slaughter each other. Sometimes, their touches remain fraternal, other times they fuck as soon as they bodies allow them.

 

And through it all, Thor remains aware. Only him.

 

But this time... Thor has lived for centuries and there is no sign of his heart. It's as though the universe is lacking the most important aspect and Thor cannot stand for it.

 

A large party from Alfheim is finishing their speech, a pile of gifts left at the foot of Thor's throne. He nods at them, inclining his head automatically in thanks.

 

Thor Odinson is a brilliant politician, a strong king.

 

He has enough experience to be the best.

 

His awareness doesn't come right away in each life. It would be too much for a child's mind to handle. Neither does he remember every detail, every moment. His memory is subject to all of its usual frailties. But the memories eventually always come to him and he always remembers.

 

The pathway to the throne is cleared and the party from Jotunheim is announced. Thor cares not. There is no prince Loki in Jotunheim; he has searched thoroughly. Asgard has good relations with every realm that is subject to intelligent rule. Thor knows all the tricks to achieve this and he does so with ruthless efficiency. There are figures that change in his lives, but there are some that remain hopelessly predictable and he is used to taking advantage of it, often for the simple reason of securing many decades of simple, slow life at Loki's side.

 

But there is no Loki now and Thor is merely this – a feared monarch that has achieved everything even though he cares nothing for it.

 

The towering figures appear, walking slowly through the hall. Thor's interest is piqued almost against his will. Jotunheim is... volatile. When Loki is raised by his birth parents, Thor never knows what to expect and frankly, it usually excites him.

There is a new rule in Jotunheim and this is the first time that Thor meets Helblindi as a king and not merely as a prince. Farbauti and Laufey, Loki's birth parents, are both dead. The party surrounding Helblindi is huge – not only in appearance as they tower over everyone else, but in number also.

 

“King Thor,” Helblindi inclines his head a mere inch – he would move more were he chasing a fly away. “Greetings. I thank you for the invitation.”

 

Helblindi pauses and slowly looks around. Thor straightens, his instincts telling him there will be more than mere formality here.

 

“The realms are lucky to have Asgard's generous protection,” Helblindi continues and a slow murmur goes through the crowd. One does not need to be an excellent diplomat to grasp the slight sarcasm under such proclamation. “We are all glad to offer you gifts in ex-change. I have personally given thought to what I might present you with to make sure you saw the extent of my friendship and I have overseen the preparation of a gift that I hope will be like no other.”

 

The tension in the room is palpable now and Thor stares at Helblindi, severity twisting his brow. The gift will be an insult; he is sure of that. Question remains – how big will the insult be? If the offence is grave enough, Thor might be forced to attack right there, in the Great Hall, during a diplomatic event. Perhaps that would give him the excuse he needs to let a war rage and end this miserable turn of a life...

 

His thoughts are cut short as Helblindi gestures and the tall Giants parts, revealing a smaller figure in their midst.

 

Loki.

 

Thor knows it must be him before he even gets a chance to truly look. So he is a prince of Jotunheim after all, Thor's mind races. But how-

 

No. It is not so. Loki steps forward, head bowed and a sick sensation fills Thor's stomach.

 

“I present you a pleasure slave, trained in all manner of skill,” Helblindi says, only barely keeping his voice from sounding smug.

 

He doesn't say his name, only gestures and Loki drops to his knees smoothly. He is fully naked, only wearing bracelets – or cuffs – from silver fox fur on his wrists and ankles. Thor forces his gaze away from Loki's cowed posture and onto Helblindi.

 

Asgard doesn't have slaves. In fact, Thor has fought to dismantle slavery in Svartalfheim many centuries ago. Therein lies the insult, Thor suspects. How Loki comes into this – whether he was born a prince and betrayed thus – Thor doesn't know.

 

Oh, but he will find out.

 

“I thank you. I will be glad to employ your countryman in my service,” Thor responds calmly, putting emphasis on the word employ.

 

Helblindi merely scoffs and nudges Loki with his foot, almost sending him flying forward and Loki scrambles to his feet, head still down. Thor's stomach clenches with swirling emotions – rage at seeing Loki treated so, a desire to finally look at the beloved face after so long, impatience aimed at the entire court – no, the entire universe... Loki scurries towards the throne, taking the steps until he arrives at the third one and kneels again. The stairs are of course too narrow for him to face Thor, or indeed the hall, so he's knelt sideways, head bowed as he sits on his heels and folds his hands in his lap. Thor stares at the familiar profile, now left so expressionless.

 

The Giants leave. Thor can tell that Helblindi is not satisfied and he knows he will have to deal with such impertinence later, but then it's time for the visitors from Vanaheim and Thor forces himself to sit still through it.

 

Loki seems to have no such problems. He kneels, perfectly motionless. Thor's gaze is drawn to him often even as the ambassador from Vanaheim speaks and he likely is not the only one in the room who is looking.

 

Thor is growing steadily more unsettled. He is well used to Loki in the blue skin of Jotunheim, but there are changes to him. He is very thin, for one. Thor knows Loki to always be lacking in fat, but not in muscle. But this Loki's limbs seem to have very little strength in them and the sight makes Thor's stomach churn.

 

It's a disgrace. Thor's hand curls into a fist and something in him snaps. Mindless of the still speaking Vanir, he seeks Fandral out with his eyes in the small crowd to the right of his throne and jerks his head toward Loki.

 

“Cover him,” he mouths at Fandral, knowing that his command will be understood. Then he turns back to the ambassador and gives him a bland smile. The dark-haired Vanir seems unperturbed.

 

Fandral steps forward, loosening his cape and he approaches Loki matter-of-factly and throws the dark blue garment over Loki's shoulders. Loki recoils – his first true reaction so far. His head snaps back and he glances at Fandral briefly before he turns to Thor with an expression of wide eyed horror.

 

Twenty two lives later and Thor is still struggling to understand his brother. Fandral walks away; the cape stays on Loki's back, granting him at least a modicum of modesty. His nakedness was highly inappropriate in such setting, a fact that was certainly not missed by the entirety of the court, though it was not in the forefront of Thor's mind – at least at first. And now he can't even be sure if Loki appreciated the action of being covered.

 

A feast is planned and Thor stands up to extend the invitation to all those who are staying in Asgard, mainly the parties from Alfheim and Vanaheim. The rest of the realms are not quite as friendly. He waits for the Great hall to file out before stepping slowly down the steps to where Loki is kneeling. Up close, Thor can see him shaking underneath Fandral's cloak.

 

He dearly hopes this is all some farce. Perhaps Loki was sent here by Helblindi to attack Thor – it would not be the first time that Jotunheim-raised Loki tried to assassinate Thor. He once even succeeded and Thor almost smiles at the memory. His other two attempts were foiled by the fact that Thor recognized him right away while Loki's plans relied on stealth and deception.

 

He crouches next to Loki and spends a moment looking at his shadowed face, then reaches out, offering his hand palm up to him. “Come. You've had a long journey.”

 

Loki stares at Thor's hand like he doesn't know what to do with it. Thor waits and when Loki doesn't move, he wriggles his fingers a bit. “Give me your hand.”

 

Finally Loki does and Thor squeezes Loki's cool hand in his own with a quiet breath of relief.

 

Despite the unsettling circumstances, Thor's heart swells. Finally.

 

Fandral and Volstagg are waiting for him; Hogun is likely talking to the other Vanir and Sif is charged with security.

 

Thor helps Loki up and then releases him, leaving him to loosely hold the cape about himself.

 

“Find me Auga and have her prepare rooms for our guest.”

 

“I shall go,” Volstagg says. The large man's tone is light, but there is a crease of worry on his forehead, one that quite matches Fandral's despite their vastly different looks. “And I will make sure to tell her send a word to the kitchens.”

 

Ah. Trust Volstagg to try and fatten Loki up. He always does. Fandral, Thor is sure, is meanwhile disgruntled because the amorous man loves nothing more than the act of courting and seduction and is insulted by the idea of forced relations.

 

Thor is loathe to go, but he knows he must. “This is Fandral,” he says to Loki, “he will escort you to your rooms. Fandral, find me when you are done.”

 

Fandral nods while Loki doesn't react at all, save perhaps for lowering his head even more. Thor looks at him for several seconds more, heart aching. Then he departs.

 


 

Thor stops his pacing, tapping his lips with the tip of his finger.

 

It has been two days since Loki's arrival and Thor has not seen him in that time, held back by his duties, but more importantly by an odd feeling of anxiety.

 

Jitters.

 

And something else odd happened too. Fandral was eyeing him during the dinner feast and Thor makes a snap decision to call for him. There is a general sense of unrest regarding Helblindi's “gift,” though all his advisers are concerned with is the insult from Jotunheim's king. Loki himself seems to be in the forefront of no one's mind but Thor's, but Fandral has been the one to install him in his rooms and Thor is curious.

 

Fandral arrives and Thor pours them each a goblet of wine.

 

“Speak your mind,” he tells his friend without preamble after they've taken a sip. Fandral is quiet at first and sits down, loosening the collar on his fashionable jacket.

 

“Helblindi is a pig.”

 

Thor's eyebrows rise. “Crude talk for one as smooth as you, my friend.”

 

“It took a while before a set of chambers was prepared to Auga's standards, so the Jotun and I stood around. His conduct... chilled me. Then I took him there and he was... confused to say at the least.”

 

Thor opens his mouth to ask for more, but Fandral stops him in his tracks. “The whole situation is disgraceful and yet you seem happier than ever.”

 

“I beg your pardon?”

 

“There is change in you. Sif noticed too.”

 

Thor straightens in his chair, staring his friend down. “What is that supposed to mean?”

 

Fandral's voice is light and devoid of almost any discernible tone, but it is clear that he means to get an answer anyway. “What do you plan on doing with him?”

 

“I have not decided yet,” Thor shrugs brazenly. There is something coiling in him – a defensiveness. Loki is his. They always come together no matter the circumstances. Thor has had his face spat into and his teeth bloodied (the latter once by his own father) whilst being yelled at and denounced for perversion and incest. He tends not to care about what people think.

 

Fandral purses his lips and says nothing, giving Thor ample time to calm down. Thor does, eventually, and sighs. Fandral has been a true friend to him for more lives than he even knows.

 

Pleasure slave. It's nonsense. Do you truly think I would exploit him as such?”

 

“I would never think you capable of it had I not seen myself the way you looked at him.”

 

Thor gets up and walks off, the words rattling him more than he wants to let on. He thought he was more careful, but clearly the centuries of feeling bereft had left him more exposed than he suspected.

 

Of course he yearns. He yearns for Loki so badly that breathing troubles him sometimes. But it is not all carnal – not nearly. He wants his brother's company, he wants the pleasure of seeing his face daily, he wants to converse and laugh and argue. And now these desires have trickled through – enough of them for his close friends to notice and interpret them badly.

 

“I admire your honour, Fandral,” he says, facing the window. “I am deeply intrigued by... Helblindi's gift and I feel that perhaps his presence might shed a light on some of our relations with Jotunheim.” Most of those words were lies, but what he plans on saying next will not be, so he turns and looks Fandral in the eye. “But I do not mean to cause him any harm or abuse him in the way you suggest. You may rest easy.”

 


 

The worst of his confusion has been solved by a long rest and the solitude that allowed him to think. Some of the puzzle pieces came together and he has calmed.

 

Asgard is grand and rich, filled with luxury. There is wealth and plenty for everyone – it must be, as even the walls of the royal palace are covered with gold. As such, he should not be that surprised to be led to a beautiful and large set of rooms. At first, he thought they might be the rooms of the king – or perhaps of Fandral, the man charged with guarding him – but he was rid of the notion by the man's repulsed look and he cursed his own stupidity.

 

He probably insulted him, and by extension, the king too. Somehow, he couldn't even find it in himself to be surprised that he cocked things up so promptly.

 

Meals are brought to him four times a day and, as he carefully eats all he can, he recalls the cape thrown over him when he was presented to the king and the mention of food from the large, red man. It crystallizes into a realization – he is not attractive as he is.

 

Well, if it is his thinness that bothers them, he will eat. He likes to eat, except that he hardly ever got a chance to in his life.

 

A surge of bitterness comes over him. He knows that king Helblindi doesn't mean for him to succeed – doesn't expect that he will please king Thor. It is said that nothing can and he knows he possesses nothing to change that, thin or not.

 

Then he feels guilty even for his private thoughts. He is lucky to be still breathing.

 

Or so he was told.