After Sleipnir is born, Loki spends all of his spare time in the stable built specially for the eight-legged foal. He knows that people mutter behind his back; some don’t even bother doing that. The common opinion in Asgard seems to be that Sleipnir is a beast. The offspring of a stallion and a god; he is an abomination that shouldn’t be allowed to exist. Loki has heard it said that Odin is punishing him for his foolishness. That he’s allowing the horse to live long enough for Loki to grow attached before killing it.
If anybody intends to harm Loki’s child, they’ll need an army to get past him first.
Sleipnir is affectionate, whinnying happily whenever he sees Loki approach, nuzzling into his shoulder once he is close enough. The stable has become Loki’s favourite place; home to the outcasts of Asgard. Sleipnir isn’t afraid of Loki’s magic, he listens to the tales that he is told, and he has nothing but affection in him. Loki has loved him from the moment he was born. Perhaps his conception hadn’t been planned, and perhaps it had been cause of further ridicule for Loki among the other Æsir, but that changes nothing.
So when Odin approaches the stable one afternoon, with Thor a step behind, Loki immediately begins gathering his magic.
Odin raises a hand to placate him. “Stand down, my son. I do not threaten.”
“Then why are you here?” Loki’s gaze flicks to Thor—they’ve barely exchanged a word since Sleipnir was born—and he frowns. “Why is he?”
“You’ve heard what they say about your son,” Odin says calmly. “About my grandson.”
Loki blinks, struggling to understand. He’d never even dreamed of Odin acknowledging his kinship to Sleipnir. “What of it? I care not for what they think.”
“You never do,” Thor mutters. The words burst out of him, like he is unable to hold them back. His face is twisted in anger, his hands balled into tight fists at his sides.
This anger doesn’t go unnoticed by Sleipnir, who tucks his head over Loki’s shoulder protectively. He snorts, his breath producing steam in the cool air.
“Sleipnir,” Loki murmurs, placing a hand on his muzzle to calm him down.
“Your son has the spirit of a fighter,” Odin observes, stepping forward. He looks at Loki, waiting for the small nod of permission before reaching out, stroking Sleipnir’s growing mane. “He will be strong when he’s fully grown.”
“He already runs faster than any other foal his age,” Loki says proudly.
“I’ve seen him.” Odin smiles, dropping his hand to Loki’s shoulder. “A fine creature like this shouldn’t be hidden away. If the others see just how strong Sleipnir can be, I’m certain they would speak of him quite differently.”
Loki likes the thought of this. He can just see it; Sleipnir outrunning any other horse in the nine realms, his eight hooves thundering against the ground.
“If I train him myself,” Odin continues, “he will become the finest war horse to ever exist.”
“I would like that,” Loki murmurs. From the way Sleipnir nuzzles against Loki, it’s clear that he does, too.
“No,” Loki roars. “I refuse.”
Thor scowls. “Why? I would treat him with respect. I would care for him. You know the others still judge Sleipnir—and you—for his conception. There is nobody who would treat him better.”
“You will not ride him into battle. I will be a withering corpse before I allow that.”
“Why am I not good enough?” Thor asks, stepping into Loki’s space, large hands settling on his shoulders. “Why do you treat me like an enemy now, Loki? Have you forgotten all that we once shared?”
Loki snarls, pushing Thor away with both his hands. Outside, Odin’s men are preparing for war. Somewhere out there, Sleipnir is saddled up, stamping his hooves on the ground nervously. He deserves better than Thor, who can never quite hide his resentment when he sees Loki with Sleipnir.
He will not ride Sleipnir himself; it feels wrong to use his own child in such a manner. Stalking out of the room, Loki searches for Odin in the crowd of warriors. They part before his fierce scowl as he approaches his father.
“Was it your idea to send Thor to me?” he demands. “Did you think I would accept?”
“Loki…” Odin says carefully.
“I do not have the patience for this, and you do not have the time,” Loki cuts him off. “I entrust Sleipnir to you, Father. If he is hurt…”
“I will do everything in my power to keep him safe,” Odin replies, nodding. “It is an honour, Loki.”
Turning away, Loki goes to where the horses are waiting. Sleipnir is waiting with all the others; none of the other chargers seem to have an issue with him, and Loki is glad for this fact.
As ever, Sleipnir stands a little straighter when he notices Loki approaching, tail flicking from side to side. Fully grown, he stands taller than the others. His sleek black coat makes him look fearsome but when he lowers his head to Loki’s, his eyes betray his fear.
“You’ll be fine,” Loki promises in a whisper, pressing his forehead to Sleipnir’s. “You will carry my father into battle. He will take care of you. Fear not.”
Sleipnir neighs quietly and Loki laughs chuckles.
“Yes, I will be there as well. We will be fighting together.”
The war horns sound, signalling that it is time to leave. Loki places his hand on Sleipnir’s muzzle one last time.
“Fight well. Be safe.”
The battle with the fire giants of Muspelheim rages for days on end. By the time the warriors of Asgard emerge victorious, there have been many casualties and those who are still able to stand on their own feet are so exhausted that they can barely help their comrades up.
Loki sits on a blackened rock, his head in his hands. He's used his magic beyond its limit and feels utterly drained, and the throbbing headache is only making matters worse. It's a long march back to the Bifrost site to return home, and the warriors are resting as much as they can before they start making their way there.
The battlefield is littered with bodies, fallen fire giants, Æsir and Vanir alike. There are animals still struggling under the weight of their dead riders, crying out in alarm as other men try to cut them free.
Loki cannot see Sleipnir. He knows, with certainty, that his son still lives. The left side of Loki's armour is charred from when he'd stepped in front of a fire giant aiming its great flames at Odin, the skin underneath healing slowly with whatever little magic Loki can gather. It's painful, but it's a price that Loki will gladly pay.
A great shadow is cast over Loki for a moment before Thor sits down beside him. Mjölnir is covered in ash, but is unharmed. Thor, on the other hand, has cuts all over his face from the battle. His arm is cut and while it's not bleeding profusely, Loki knows that it will not stop unless tended to. Without a second thought, Loki redirects his weak magic, leaving his own burns for now and tending to Thor's.
Startling a little at the sensation of magic on his skin, Thor looks at him strangely before dropping his gaze to his hands, to Mjölnir.
"You fought well, brother."
"And I suppose you've been told the same thing several times over by now," Loki replies coolly, "so I won't repeat it."
Frowning, Thor turns to him. "Why do you brush me off? It was a noble thing what you did today, protecting Father—"
"You think I was protecting Father?" Loki asks with an incredulous laugh. He shakes his head, getting to his feet. Thor's cuts are already healed, but Loki doesn't tend to his own wounds just yet, the sting of his skin nowhere near as painful as the way his heart clenches. "That's the only way you see it, don't you? It's just the Æsir, the Vanir, who matter to you. He was riding Sleipnir, Thor. Do you think I would have allowed my child to be harmed?"
Thor's face falls. "Of course. I didn’t even realise—"
"Of course you didn’t," Loki snaps, turning away. "And you wonder why I refused to allow you to ride him into battle. Where is your steed now, Thor? Rotting away as vultures pick at its remains?"
"Loki, please…" Thor gets up, reaching for his hand, but Loki snatches it away with a snarl.
"Don't you dare, Thor. I don't want to hear it."
He walks away, determined to put as much distance between himself and his brother as possible. Odin had kept him from seeing Sleipnir while his wounds were being tended to, but none of that matters to Loki any more. He makes his way through the Æsir camp, pushing past the healers who try to make him sit down. Odin's tent is at the very centre and Loki glares at the guards until they allow him to pass.
"Loki." Odin looks weary, glancing up from his seat. "I thought you would come."
"How is he?" Loki demands, stepping further into the tent, where Sleipnir is curled up, his eight legs tucked beneath him. There are a few scratches that mar his hide, but nothing serious.
"He would have been much worse without you," Odin says. "We both would."
"I was so worried…" Loki begins and then takes a deep breath. "If any harm had come to him… anything that I couldn't heal…"
"I know, my son." Odin's hand is a reassuring weight on his shoulder. "How do you think I feel each and every time you or Thor march off into battle? It is every man's rite, but that does not make it easier for a parent. The same for you and Sleipnir."
Blinking his eyes open, Sleipnir nickers softly when he sees Loki, muzzle bumping against his shoulder. Loki smiles fondly, wrapping his arms around the horse's neck.
"He rode well," Odin says with an air of pride. "He was fierce, unflinching, intimidating… everything I could ever ask for in a steed."
"Do you plan to ride him again?" Loki asks quietly, unsure of what he wants to hear. He can't bear the thought of Sleipnir riding into war again, getting himself injured more seriously next time… but the thought of him wasting away in the stables is even worse.
Odin must sense his dilemma because he pats Loki's shoulder. "I will take good care of him. I will keep him safe. You will fight alongside us, and we will both make sure that no harm comes to him. Thor as well."
"Do not speak to me of Thor," Loki warns in a low voice. "Not now."
"Your brother…" Odin begins and sighs quietly. "He means well, Loki. He may upset you at times, but he always means well. Remember that."
Loki tries to smile, but it's clear from the sad look in Odin's eyes that he cannot quite manage it right now.
Their return to Asgard is celebrated with a large banquet. There is drinking and singing and dancing, and Loki ignores it all to spend his time in the stable instead, with Sleipnir.
They'd discovered on the return journey that Sleipnir had hurt one of his forelegs. It had been an easy enough injury to heal— with Loki's magic fully recovered, it had taken merely a thought—but it doesn't stop the guilt.
There's a light bandage, bright and white against the dark horsehair and Loki's gaze keeps falling on it, causing the guilt to swell once again. He'd wanted to heal the cut entirely, along with the muscle pain, but Odin had reminded him that there were other warriors who needed healing magic much more desperately. There had been apology in his eye, but Loki had still been angry at his father for the length of their journey home.
Now, however, Sleipnir is recovering just fine. He is happy for the time Loki is spending with him, and moves about with perfect ease. He was quite the sight on the battlefield, Loki remembers, and now with his magic fully restored, the thought of Sleipnir going into battle doesn’t fill him with as much dread. There will be nothing to worry about, as long as Loki is there to watch over him.
Looking up when he hears footsteps outside the stable, Loki sighs wearily when he sees Thor.
“What are you doing here? I thought you’d be in the palace, boasting about your valiant feats of strength.”
Thor gives him a sad look, stepping into the stable. “Loki, you have been angry with me for such a long time now, and I do not understand why. I wish to put an end to this.”
“And you think that’s up to me, of course,” Loki replies. “How else am I meant to feel when you look at Sleipnir with such anger? Are you even aware of the look in your eyes when you look at him? At my son?”
Thor’s eyes darken at the words and Loki points. “See? You don’t even realise, do you? Every time I mention Sleipnir, every time you are around him, it’s clear that you don’t want to be. If you want to resent him for whatever reason, then do not expect me to be civil to you.”
“You think I resent him?” Thor asks incredulously. “He is your son, Loki. My nephew. How could I?”
Loki scowls, “I’m not blind, Thor.”
“No, brother. Just defensive. And rightfully so.” Thor reaches out, stroking Sleipnir’s muzzle with the same strange look in his eyes that Loki has struggled to decipher all this time. “The amount you have suffered since Sleipnir’s birth… since you were first with child. I have heard them talk about you, even when they think I am not listening. That is what makes me angry, Loki. Not Sleipnir. Never him.”
“You expect me to believe that this has all been righteous anger on my behalf?” Loki asks, raising an eyebrow.
“You let them say whatever they want about you. I cannot understand how. If I were in your place, I would do everything in my power to stop them from talking.”
“If you were in my place,” Loki points out, “they wouldn’t be talking.”
“And yet you accept this unfairness.” Thor shakes his head. “It frustrates me. I—I love you too much to let them speak of you or Sleipnir in such a way.”
“Well, they will stop now,” Loki murmurs. “They can say what they want about Loki’s monster son, but none will dare mutter behind their hands about Odin’s steed.”
Thor sighs. “As long as you are happy.”
“Oh, I’m very happy. I look forward to seeing the looks on everyone’s faces when they realise that the little foal they’ve been teasing all this time has grown into the fiercest warhorse Asgard has ever known.” Loki smiles brightly. “And then the talking will stop. Are you happy now?”
“No.” Thor admits. He pulls Loki close and rests their foreheads together. “I miss you.”
Loki doesn’t reply. I miss you too, is on the tip of his tongue, but he’s too proud for that. Instead, he allows himself to be drawn into Thor’s warmth. “Well I’m here now.”
“Loki,” Thor murmurs, kissing the tip of his nose and then his lips. “I have not held you like this since before…”
“Yes, well I didn’t imagine that you would want to, after. You were not particularly pleased to discover I was carrying Svaðilfari’s child.”
“Of course not. I was jealous.” Thor drops his hands to Loki’s sides, his grip possessive. “So incredibly jealous, Loki.”
Unable to help the way this makes him smile, Loki holds Thor’s face in both his hands. “Did you want it to be yours, Thor? Imagine what everyone would say then.”
“I would not put you through that again,” Thor declares. “Besides, you were a mare at the time. It was an entirely different set of circumstances and—I was a fool for hoping otherwise.”
“Oh, but you’re my fool, aren’t you?” Loki smiles fondly. He can’t help the words now, “I truly have missed you.”
With a deep kiss, Thor takes Loki’s hand. “We can fix that. …Elsewhere, perhaps.”
Loki grins, looking over his shoulder to find Sleipnir intently looking away. “That’s a good idea.”
Thor loosens his grip on Loki briefly, just long enough to pet Sleipnir. “I will come back again soon. I do wish to spend more time with you.”
Loki smiles at him warmly, taking Thor’s offered hand as they walk back inside. Sleipnir’s affection is warm and fills Loki’s heart, but the devotion in Thor’s eyes is something else entirely. It’s something Loki had not realised he was missing until he had it once again.
He doesn’t intend on letting it go again.