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Once More With Empathy

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Thor wasn't sure what he expected when he returned to the barren world of the Dark Elves. He had convinced himself that there was nothing there to be found. Because, after all, his brother had faked his own death before. He had most likely done so again. His illusions were always convincing. His ashen color and the blood that had stained the dirt had most likely been further tricks. His brother was far too clever, far too angry, to allow himself to die for Thor. Truly, Loki must be laughing at him for buying it for even a moment. Thor would be angry about it later, after he found wherever his brother had run off to and given the Trickster a hug mighty enough to break ribs, the cad.

As the mighty God of Thunder reached the top of the rise, Mjolnir slipped from his hand to impact heavily upon the cracked surface of the planet. A small noise, half-strangled and far from worthy of a God, escaped his throat without him even realizing it. It wasn't... wasn't possible. Loki had tricked him. He had. His brother hated him, he would never have done this in truth. Not for him. Suddenly, Thor felt a jolt through his knees and he realized distantly that he was no longer standing. He put a hand to the ground to help brace himself as he stared at what he had convinced himself he would not see.

Loki.

His little brother.

His skin had turned unmistakably sapphire and his eyes, fixed unblinkingly on the desolate sky, were a clouded over red. The illusion used to mask his true species was no longer needed. Thor felt as if he had been punched straight in the gut so hard his lungs would not expand properly. Thor reached out almost without realizing it. A dark stain was spread out beneath his brother where his blood had seeped into the ground. "Loki..."

No. No, it could still be an illusion. Truly there were no lengths his brother would not go for his tricks. He could still be alive somewhere. It was possible... He would have to be nearby. But it could be...

"Loki!" His voice echoed through the barren landscape and was answered only by the distant rumble of thunder. "Loki! Brother, this joke has gone much too far!"

Fear started to clamber in his heart as no answer came. Thor looked around for any sign of a hiding place. There were rocks nearby, jagged things that ripped through the ground at strange angles. There was no shimmer, however, to tell of his brother hiding there. "Loki!" Thor pretended to not notice the crack in his voice.

There was nothing. No answer. Thor's eyes scanned the wasteland around him again, searching for any sign of a green shimmer. Any hint of magical concealment. Because there must be some. There just had to be. Another distant rumble of thunder echoed as Thor's eyes disobediently shifted back to the form in front of him. It was an illusion. It had to be. Once he touched it... it would fade. Just like the other illusions. He was positive.

Thor hesitantly touched his brother's far too inanimate face with one hand. He was ice cold and stiff. Nothing at all like he should have been. His smile, ever irrepressible even with madness driving it, was entirely too absent. Tears that Thor had been sure wouldn't come (his brother wasn't really dead, after all) seeped from his eyes without his permission. Finally, his need for air overwhelmed the strange hole in his gut and he was forced to drag in a ragged gasp. He moved closer, avoiding the dried blackish stained ground as best he could, to brush back the lanky strands of ink black hair.

He wasn't sure how long he sat there trying to process something that he'd convinced himself had in no way happened. Lightning cracked nearby in the grimy clouds but he barely noticed. Guilt clawed at him. This was all his fault. His brother, his baby brother, had saved him. Despite all the history between them, all the bitterness and ill will, Loki had saved him. And Fair Lady Jane. He'd had no reason to. None. And yet he had. And Thor had repaid such an act poorly. He'd repaid it not at all. Another bolt of lightning streaked from one cloud to another before splintering into a dozen white hot veins. He hated how his fingers trembled as they moved across his bother's face to close his eyes. He should have done that before. His brother should not have been lying here so long left exposed to the elements. Thor could only be glad this world truly was devoid of life for it spared his brother's body the dishonor of being desecrated by wildlife.

"I am sorry, Brother," Thor rasped as he bent over Loki. "I should not have left you here. It was ill done of me..." He hadn't had much choice at the time but he could have returned sooner. He should have returned sooner. Another snap of lightning split the sky.

Despite his reputation as a God, it took Thor far longer than usual to gather his strength to stand. Loki was still too stiff in his arms and far too cold. Thor had never had such a difficult time walking before. Even when freshly mortal and dazed from falling to Midgard he had not had such trouble. His eyes were blurred and burning and the weight of his brother's body seemed to drag him down. But somehow he made his way to the skiff that he had taken and carefully put his baby brother in the bottom.

The pain suddenly became too overwhelming and Thor had to brace himself against the side of the skiff as he struggled to breathe. He stared at the dirt beneath him, drained of richness and dry as sand. The sign of a dead world. Lightning cracked overhead and drops of water finally started to fall. Thor blinked as he realized spots beneath his head were wet from droplets that had fallen in the midst of the dry silhouette of his bowed head where no water should have been. It took him several minutes for him to realize the droplets had come from his own eyes. His hair hung around his face in dripping strands and his cape was plastered to his back from the pouring rain.

He had to take several moments to take a deep breaths until he could lift his head again. The rain had rinsed the dirt and blood from his brother's body slightly but it certainly didn't help much. Thor swallowed thickly before getting into the skiff. He felt far too large and far too awkward. A bumbling lummox like his brother had accused him of being. He hadn't realized he'd failed to breathe properly until the pain in his chest forced him to take another harsh gasp. He grabbed the rudder of the skiff but did not do anything further. He sat there in the rain and struggled to gain control of himself. It took several long moments of sitting there and letting the lightning crack with little pause while the rain came down in punishing sheets. Thor automatically pulled his cloak from his back and laid it across his brother even though both were already soaked. He shook and told himself it was the cold of the rain.

He stared for several moments at nothing before blinking it all away and forcing himself to focus on piloting the skiff. He wasn't the best pilot ever. He would need to pay attention to what he was doing.

The trip was a complete blur. Despite trying his best to pay attention to what he was doing he couldn't seem to manage. He must pilot better when he was in a daze, though, because he didn't hit anything and he still managed to get back. The sky was dark when Thor managed to finally reach the docks of Asgard. The violent storms had been left behind on the dead world but already clouds were forming above Asgard to block out the twinkling of the stars. Thor tossed the rope around one of the moorings to keep the skiff in place but then could only sit there and try yet again to process something he thought he'd never have to process again.

The clouds above had quickly darkened and already a fine mist-like rain began to fall. The precipitation was nothing like the harsh pelting force of the rain before but it was constant. Thor had just managed to gather hold of himself and left the skiff with his brother's body cradled in his arms. He heard hurried footsteps but barely bothered to pay much attention to who it was that approached. He heard Sif call to him but then, abruptly, gasp.

"Is that..."

Thor didn't even glance at Fandral but nodded some in answer to his question. He couldn't voice the truth more than that. All he could manage was a slightly choked, "I go to my father." His friends did not try to stop him, for which he was immensely grateful. He didn't think he could manage any sort of conversation at the moment.

The walk back to the palace seemed to stretch endlessly but Thor wasn't about to let his brother be carried by anyone else. He had left Loki on that planet alone but he wouldn't disgrace his brother further by not even carrying him inside their home. The rain was still misting over the whole of Asgard as Thor ascended the steps to the palace. He was distantly aware of his friends following behind but they continued to say nothing. He could tell they were worried but his only focus was on where he was going. He didn't worry about the water that he trailed through the palace or the servants that rushed out of his way. He knew that at least one person would tell his father what was going on. If he didn't already know.

Sif and the Warriors Three stopped outside in the hall as Thor entered the small chamber where his mother had been prepared for her own funeral so terribly recently. Thor felt another pang go through him at the thought. This room had been used far too much lately. Far, far too much. Thor laid his brother carefully on the plinth and took his cloak away. His fingers felt inordinately weak as he dropped his cloak over a nearby chair. He tried to take a few breaths to center himself as he reached over to brush some of the wet hair out of his brother's face.

Thor didn't hear him enter but he was suddenly aware of his Father in the room. Thor looked up at his Father. Odin's expression was entirely unreadable but Thor could tell from the white of his knuckles around Gungnir he was not as passive as his face would lead one to believe. The quiet was nearly oppressive and finally Odin closed his eye. Thor wanted to scream at his Father, to yell and rant and rave like a child, because it wasn't fair. It wasn't. And Odin should be doing something. Anything!

And then Odin opened his eye again and Thor was honestly taken fully aback by the wetness there. The unusual expression on his father's face made the tears form in Thor's own eyes instantly. "I... I did not think-I didn't believe that..."

Odin reached over and put a large but gnarled hand on Thor's shoulder. "It is not something we ever want to think about," he said, his own voice strained with grief.

"I should not have left him there."

"You did what you had to. And Loki would be glad that you went back for him," he said, though Thor thought it brought little comfort.

Thor looked down at his baby brother again. It still didn't seem real. How could this have happened? "We failed him, Father," Thor managed, tearing his eyes back up to Odin.

"Thor..."

"We did!" Thor said harshly. "We failed Loki. He thought we didn't care about him! That he wasn't truly part of our family! He died thinking that and it's our fault!"

Odin was silent for several long minutes. "You are right... he did not have to think such things and it was my mistakes that lead him to think it in the first place. I thought I was doing what was best for him but clearly not..."

Thor closed his eyes tightly and shook his head. "It wasn't just you, Father. I was not the Brother I should have been." Looking back with a bit more experience and wisdom he could see things had not been as good as he'd thought they'd been for some time. He'd simply ignored the tension because it was easier to do. Before, if people had a problem with him, Thor simply ignored it. He was allowed it for the luxury of his birth. He was Prince and didn't have to deal with anyone he didn't wish to. Avoidance was a habit he still had not fully shaken, for he had stayed distant from Loki even while the younger was locked away. Because it was easier to do. At least until he'd needed Loki's help.

The Allfather sighed heavily and put a hand on his adopted son's icy forehead. The markings of his blood relations were strange to feel under his palm after so long feeling nothing there but smooth skin. "I am sorry, Loki," he murmured. "I should have done much differently with you... I see that now."

Thor thought he'd never heard his father's voice so strained. He had spoken little after Frigga's death and now it sounded as if someone had tried to squeeze the very life from him just moments before. Odin closed his eye and Thor could not bear to see the tear that had managed to escape. "Father... can't we do something?" Thor asked as he focused instead on his brother's hand that he had cradled between his own. It was cold and seemed so small despite Loki being full-grown.

"No, Thor. I'm afraid not..."

"But Father-"

"No, Thor," Odin said firmly. "We must respect the sanctity of death. If we change the fates now, are we not being cruel to others who have lost loved ones? If we bring back Loki... then we start down a slope we cannot return from. Gods we may be, but sometimes we must know when to not use our powers," Odin managed though by the end his voice was even more strangled than before. Thor opened his mouth to protest but did not get a chance. "Do you think I do not wish to do so? That I did not wish to do so with your mother before? We cannot dishonor their sacrifices... no matter how much we wish them back."

Thor closed his eyes against the hot tears building there. He knew, on some level, that his father was right. That they couldn't just go around changing who died and who lived on their own selfish whims. But... but it was his brother. His baby brother. He shouldn't have died on that rock. Not for Thor -a brother that was less than he should have been.

The silence lingered for several more moments. "Come, Thor, help me with your brother..." Odin said softly. "Difficult our relations may have been, he is still yet a Prince of Asgard. He deserves to be sent off as such." All the God of Thunder could do was nod.

It was not as he thought it would be to prepare his brother's body for funeral. Before, they'd had no body to prepare and he had not prepared his mother's. It was far harder than he imagined it would be. Especially when he saw the massive slice straight through his brother's chest exposed for the first time. Thor had seen many serious wounds before but it was different when the wound was what had taken his brother from him. For the first time in a long time, his hands shook as he helped his father wash the blood and dirt away.

The funeral was set for the next day and despite Odin managing to coax Thor to go to his room and not linger over Loki's body, the Prince of Asgard did not get any rest that night. He tried as his father bade him to, but only half-heartedly. The rain kept up all night along with his melancholic mood while he stared at the ceiling and remembered better times.

He didn't eat the next morning and Odin didn't urge him to. It was if he knew it would be useless to try, which he probably did. The Warriors Three and Sif came to try and cheer the Thunder God but Thor was not in the mood to be cheered. His friends seemed determined to not let him stew over his sorrow but their efforts had little in the way of results. Thor found it hard to allow himself to be cheered up when he knew what was to take place later on. It didn't help that he now realized Loki had not been as good of friends with them as Thor had initially thought. In fact, he couldn't quite remember the last time Loki had friends of his own. Certainly it was before they were fully-grown. Just how blind had he been? Why could he have not have seen such things before?

The day, strangely, seemed to both crawl by and speed along at a frightening pace. Each minute seemed to slow to a crawl and leave Thor far too long to think and miss his brother but then suddenly it was time to go to the docks. Thor very nearly panicked. It couldn’t possibly be time already. It just couldn’t! He wasn’t ready yet. He couldn’t face something so horrible. He didn’t even have Jane here to help him through this time. How was he supposed to stand there and be a perfect stoic warrior when he watched his baby brother drift towards the edge that he’d once fallen from before? He couldn’t. He just couldn’t.

A hand landed on his shoulder and Thor was ashamed to admit he jumped in surprise. Turning his head he saw his Father standing there with a familiar sadness in his eye. “It’s time, Thor…”

“Father…”

He wanted to say it. To say he couldn’t. He wasn’t ready for this. He hadn’t been ready for Mother but somehow this was worse. He was the older brother. He was supposed to look after Loki. And he didn’t. He’d failed and it cost Loki his life and Thor couldn’t even say sorry to him. “I know,” Odin said and Thor forced himself to breathe again. If only to try and ease the knot in his chest. “But we must.”

Thor swallowed hard before nodding. He followed numbly as his Father led the way to the docks. The people had come out, far fewer than had come out for Frigga. Thor barely noticed them. Thor could barely even glance at his brother laying in the boat in his finest armor. He looked a proper prince again no matter what color his skin or the strange lines over his body. It took every effort Thor had to simply stand there and breathe as the boat drifted through the water.

He didn’t catch sight of the arrow that lit the funeral bier but it ignited with no difficulty. Thor struggled to remain silent as he watched the dark shape in the middle of the boat quickly become consumed by orange flames. His eyes struggled to make out the shape of his brother through the flames, wanting to keep him in sight for just another second longer if he could. The sparks seemed to glow green and purple as they escaped the top of the inferno. Thor supposed it was fitting, in a way, for even the flames to respond to the chaotic nature of his brother and fan and wave in different colors. God of Tricks. God of Fire. Even in his funeral he had to make things theatrical. Thor tried to smile at the thought. So like his brother. The tears in his eyes ruined it and made it more of a grimace than anything.

The boat fell away into the nothing of space just after Odin smote the ground with Gungnir. The sparks, a whirlwind of colors that shimmered like frosted crystals, floated into the air towards the stars and Thor tried to find comfort in the thought that perhaps finally his brother was at peace.

Slowly the funeral procession left for home but Thor stood there for much of the night just looking at where he’d last caught sight of the whirlwind of shifting color and shape that had been his brother. “Goodbye, brother,” he choked out after even Odin had left him to his silent vigil.

The hour was late and despite doing nothing all day but wait for night, Thor was more tired than he could recall ever being. Sorrow weighed on his shoulders and made his movements sluggish. Even still he had no real desire to sleep. He trudged along with no real destination in mind. His thoughts were a circular mess of regrets and where it had all gone wrong to lead them to this.

Odin was right. They couldn’t just bring Loki back. Especially if he had found some measure of peace in the afterlife. It wouldn’t be fair to anyone. It would be selfish and Thor was done being selfish at his brother’s expense. He had done it far too much. If he had done it less then his brother would still be beside him.

Thor walked aimlessly for most of the night and when he saw pink light on the horizon knew that he should at least head back for his rooms. As he made his way to the side door of the palace, which was the closest entrance, he heard a racket coming from the nearby stables. Slightly concerned, Thor veered off his path to come to the large entrance doors to the royal stables. Inside, at the back of the long building and in the largest stall, several hostlers were within trying to calm the grandest of their charges.

The golden hooves of the stallion slammed into the walls of his stall and noises of pure fury were exploding from his barreled chest. His sleek black mane and tail thrashed as his eight legs easily kept the Asgardians trying to contain him away. “Sleipnir…”

Without waiting to see if the hostlers could handle things, Thor stepped forward and let himself into the stall despite the danger. “Sleipnir! Calm yourself,” he said as he reached for the stallion’s tossing head. Thor cast a quick glance at the hostlers, who took the unspoken command and left. Sleipnir tossed and kicked at Thor angrily as he bellowed and shouted his distress. Thor stayed near the door with his hands up and open. “Easy, Sleipnir, it is me, Thor,” he said in the most soothing voice he could manage.

Sleipnir snorted and his blood red eyes were anything but calmed. He reared up to his massive full height and pawed at the air with another challenge. “Sleipnir!” Thor cried as he dodged those hooves that could easily crush skulls within their helms. “You must calm down!”

The stallion did no such thing and went from upright to kicking the stall again with his powerful back legs. Thor cursed and took the chance to dart forward to grab at the massive black head. It took all of his strength to hold tight and keep the head bigger than his torso nearer to the ground as Sleipnir tossed and fought against the grip. “I am sorry, Sleipnir,” Thor said harshly into his laidback ear. “I am sorry I could not bring him back to you!”

Sleipnir paused, huffing mighty breaths and eyes rolling in maddened grief. His tail whipped at nothing and his golden hooves stamped. “I will miss him too,” Thor said, trying his hardest to not choke on his own words. Sleipnir let out a much softer noise somewhere between a cough and a baying noise and Thor realized it was the closest the hot-blooded young stallion could get to a sob. Slowly Thor loosened his grip from a restraining one to something more comforting and ran his fingers through Sleipnir’s bangs. “It’s alright, Sleipnir…”

Thor nearly buckled under the weight of Sleipnir’s head and neck but kept standing despite that. The truth behind Sleipnir and Loki’s relationship was shrouded at best. Thor was very sure that his brother had not actually bedded a stallion. In any form. But the mortals seemed very enamored with that story for some unfathomable reason. What was clear though, was that, despite Loki’s usual ambivalence to horsemanship, Sleipnir had been the exception. The Trickster God had doted on the stallion almost as if they were blood, which was perhaps the reason the mortals came up with their fanciful version of events. Thor was more inclined to believe Loki’s original tale of making Sleipnir with his magic and accidentally giving him too many legs. Considering Loki’s age at the time, such a mistake seemed likely. And since both Sleipnir and Loki were oddities in Asgard (formidable oddities but oddities true enough) they had a particularly strong bond.

Thor ran his fingers through Sleipnir’s mane and murmured nonsense to him until the horse seemed to calm down fully. The sun was fully in the sky by the time Sleipnir pulled his head away and shuffled into the corner of his stall to lower his head and seemingly slip off to sleep. Thor wasn’t sure if he was really asleep or not but it seemed to be his signal to leave. He decided it would be foolish to press his luck with things how they were currently.

With one last glance at the magical horse, Thor silently left the stall and relocked the door, although if Sleipnir really wanted to get out no lock would stop him. He told the hostlers to leave Sleipnir to himself for the day and to not push him for the next several. If Sleipnir truly saw fit to do so, he could easily kill someone and Thor would rather not push the distraught stallion into such a thing through lack of patience.

Thor started for the palace again but then paused. No doubt Odin had told Sleipnir about Loki on his way up to the palace after the funeral. But… Sleipnir was not the only one who needed to be told. The Thunder God stood in place for many moments before going to his room to retrieve Mjolnir. He would not neglect his duties. No matter how painful they were. No matter how much he didn’t wish to do them. He was not a spoiled prince any longer. He knew he could not simply ignore that which he didn’t want to do.

It took longer than Thor thought to reach the valley. The hidden valley was in the middle of nowhere and -much like that horrid dead planet- was filled with cracked earth, jagged rocks, and little else. Although, Thor saw bones scattered about. Some were gnawed upon others shattered to tiny shards. Thor couldn’t quite tell what all the different species that had contributed to the mess were, but he supposed that didn’t matter much. Thor swallowed his unease as he stepped closer to the yawning cave at the end of the valley. Massive stalactites and stalagmites wreathed the entrance to give the appearance of a mouth full of fangs. “Fenrir!” Thor shouted. “Fenrir, I must speak with you!”

Several long minutes passed but Thor stood his ground and simply waited. In the cave he heard something large moving. Chains clinked together and rattled as the ground nearly shook beneath Thor’s feet. Thor shifted his grip on Mjolnir and did his best to remind himself he was not here to fight. The ground rattled again. And again.

Fur as white as snow brushed through the teeth at the top of the cave when the massive wolf stepped forward. Yellow eyes blazed with the fires of Ragnarok itself as Fenrir snarled. Thor couldn’t quite help but feel guilty at the chains keeping the towering predator restrained. Truly, Fenrir hadn’t done anything. Yet. So perhaps the restraints were unnecessary and perhaps overly harsh. Blood stained his pure white fur where the jagged spikes affixed to the chain around his neck had dug deep into his flesh. Another chain wrapped somewhat more loosely around each of Fenrir’s paws and the last chain was locked around the wolf’s massive head, preventing him from opening his mouth too wide. He could still eat but nothing too large. Of course, when one was the size of a small house too large became somewhat subjective. What do you want, Odinson?

Thor was slightly taken aback. He had not expected the wolf to be able to speak within his mind. Perhaps he should have known better. “I bring news of my brother. Loki.”

Fenrir snarled and came another step closer but halfway through a second the chains brought him up short. What of him?

“He… he is dead.”

Lies!

Thor couldn’t help but jerk back at the snarl and how Fenrir slammed himself to the end of the chains. The wolf snarled and tried to bite but Thor was just out of reach. “I tell you no lies,” Thor said as he slowly straightened to his full height again. “I was there.”

He tricked you!

“I wish he had, Fenrir. But I swear to you that he is with your Sister,” Thor said. Fenrir threw his massive weight against the chains again, drawing fresh blood and ripping tufts of fur from his coat.

You lie! He cannot be dead! He cannot!

Thor was quiet for a moment and forced himself to hang Mjolnir on his belt. He did not want to appear threatening. “Fenrir… I would not say such things if I were uncertain. He was my brother… I do not want him to be gone either,” Thor said as peaceably as he could while the wolf thrashed and fought against chains that were meant to never break.

Father would not leave me! Fenrir roared. Even to be with Hela he would not leave me here alone!

Suddenly, despite the earth shaking depth of the voice in Thor’s mind and the snarling house sized wolf thrashing in front of him, Thor could hear only a scared, broken, child. Thor swallowed hard. “You will not be alone, Fenrir. I am your Uncle. I will make sure you are taken care of.”

Fenrir’s burning eyes fixed onto Thor. I bite my Uncles, he threatened as he strained against his chains again. Thor remembered the mangled mess of Tyr’s hand and shivered. Now leave, liar! I have no use for you!

“Fenrir, I know you can tell when someone is lying and when they are not. Loki would not have failed to teach that to you. I promise. You will not be alone,” Thor said with conviction. He may not be able to bring his brother back but he could at the very least visit his distraught son.

Fenrir snarled one last time before turning. I will believe that… when I see it, Odinson. Now leave. Before my Father returns and turns you into something unpleasant.

Deciding there was little left to do here if Fenrir would not even listen to him, Thor began to swing his hammer by his side. He would return when Fenrir was perhaps in a less hostile mood. It would probably take a few visits. As Thor sped through the air he heard an ear splitting howl and closed his eyes against the guilt and pain that hearing it caused. Fenrir might growl and snap and threaten but just hearing that desolate howl and knowing that Loki would not be able to come… it broke Thor’s heart all over again.

Thor needed to leave this realm. He could not stand it any longer. Hela would already know of her father’s fate. She would have his soul safe with her in her own realm. She could wait to be visited. Midgard however was where he needed to go. Both to find the last that needed to know of Loki’s fate and to curl up with his beloved Lady Jane again. Perhaps such a thing would help mend the broken heart that continued to bleed poison into his self.

Midgard was a very large place. But there were only so many places that Jormungand could dwell without being disturbed and the giant serpent preferred his privacy. At least, from what Thor remembered of him, which was admittedly not much.

The shore was silent this late at night at least. Thor was glad for that. But, he also had no idea if he was in the right spot. Nor how, if he were in the right spot, that he would contact Jormungand. He studied the fairly calm surface of the inky black water thoughtfully. He had a feeling if he wielded magic this would be much easier. Very much indeed. Then again… He did have some magic. He did not control it with the skill of his brother or even have the amazing versatility that Loki had. But he did have something else almost as important.

A way to focus it.

Thor closed his eyes and lifted Mjolnir into the sky. Clouds swirled above and quickly darkened as lightning jumped from place to place. He continued to build the storm, causing the wind to chop up the surface of the water into rougher and rougher waves.

Lightning split the sky in half and slammed into Mjolnir’s head before Thor threw the bolt back up into the sky. Electricity ricocheted through the clouds and then down into the water with several smaller bursts of light to call up a fantastical show unseen in nature. He waited for a moment before unleashing the power of lightning again, this time waiting until the electricity running through Mjolnir was even more concentrated.

Thor continued this for several hours until he had to fall to the ground to catch his breath. Sweat streaked down his face and the wind whipped his damp hair back. He was certain at least some of those light shows had to have attracted attention. Was he being ignored? Or was this just the wrong spot? Perhaps he should have checked something like that before he threw so much into the effort… He knew it was a possibility but he hadn’t been patient enough. Now, he had exhausted himself and he might not have even done anything worthwhile.

You throw tantrums like my brother, a silky smooth voice whispered into his mind. It was impossible to really place if it was a male or female voice as it was ranged somewhere in the middle of the spectrum but it had a certain cultured aloofness that Thor couldn’t help but be reminded of Loki at his most charming and diplomatic.

Thor’s head snapped up and he looked around but he couldn’t spot any sign of Jormungand, for that was who it had to be. Perhaps he was still under the water? “Jormungand. I must speak with you,” Thor said as he pushed himself to his feet and looked around again as subtly as he could.

I gathered from the incessant flashing. What is it, Thunderer?

“I… I bring unfortunate news,” Thor said as he couldn’t help but spin in an effort to try and find the massive snake. How could something reportedly so large hide entirely? He didn’t particularly like not knowing where the person he was talking to was. And Jormungand could, like his brother, easily swallow Thor with a single bite. He had to still be in the water, but Thor was surprised that the massive snake could project its voice so far.

There was a vaguely interested hum in the Thunder God’s mind. Very few people bring me news… do tell me what it is.

“It is about Loki.” Thor found himself faltering there. He still had no idea where Jormungand was and he’d rather know that before telling him what had happened. Unlike Fenrir, there was nothing to keep the serpent from eating the bearers of bad news.

Yes? the voice questioned with what sounded to be utter patience. What about my Father?

Thor swallowed hard. “He’s dead.” He still hadn’t thought of any way to suitably soften the blow.

There was silence.

“Jormungand?”

Suddenly, the sand beneath Thor’s feet shifted and he had to scramble back to try and stay upright. He took one step back too many and tumbled down as a massive tapered head lifted up in front of him. Cold water rushed into the crater left behind and Thor had to half swim half claw his way out of the quickly filling pit onto nearby boulders. He stared up in slight shock as the sand fell away in great rivers to reveal black scales, the smallest of which were the size of shields. Golden rosettes ran along the snake’s back, which disappeared into the depths. Green eyes slit through with gold and black focused on Thor even as Jormungand reared up to tower over the God.

Thor, for his part, had not expected Jormungand to be as large as he was. His eyes drifted to the beach and quickly took in just how large of a hole had been made from the serpent moving. One of Stark's cars could have fit in the hole easily and still have room to spare. Movement caught the corner of Thor’s eye and he turned to see a huge coil of black and gold scales break the surface of the water what seemed to be at least a mile down the coast. His eyes darted back up to the serpent’s tapered face. “I am sorry, Jormungand. But Loki was killed in battle,” Thor said.

My father was an excellent warrior.

The sentence wasn’t really a question or even an argument really but Thor scrambled for an answer anyway. “He saved my life… and killed an enemy many times his own size! It was not for lack of skill that he perished…”

There was silence. When?

The God of Thunder blinked. “When?”

When did this happen? Jormungand clarified. How long has it taken someone to see fit to tell me of my own father’s demise?

“T-the funeral was only yesterday. I knew you hadn’t been told and came as soon as I could,” Thor answered. “We have no ill will towards you, Jormungand.”

No? the giant reptile asked lightly. He sounded amused but there was a dangerous edge hidden within that Thor could only hear because he knew Loki all his life. No ill will you say? And what, precisely, is stranding me here on Midgard without even my siblings nearby? Exile to a land full of foolish mortals to spend my life in hiding like I am some shame to the Gods is hardly what I would call ‘good’ will.

Thor tried to come up with some response to that and failed. He failed miserably. Words were not his strong suit. Jormungand gave a strange sounding snort and turned away. You have delivered your message, Thunder God. Now leave me… unless you are now here to kill me without my father here to protest.

“I would never-!”

Then I do not need your company and your fragile little lungs would collapse where I retreat to. Thor wasn’t about to comment on the slight tremble that had entered the serpent’s voice. Jormungand slipped beneath the dark waves and the God of Thunder could only sit there and stare after.

Thor had to admit he had never thought much on Jormungand, or Fenrir, or the others either. They were a part of Loki’s life he hadn’t paid much attention to, mostly because the only one he saw at all was Sleipnir. But… now that Loki was… gone. What would become of them? Guilt built up in Thor’s chest and he tried his best to not drive him to do something entirely irrational. There would be no Loki to tell a guard to warn their father this time. No. Loki wouldn’t be doing that ever again. Or seeing his children.

Loki had made mistakes. But, they had led his brother to those mistakes. This fate should not have been his. But Odin was right as well. Thor couldn’t just demand that Loki be brought back from death. And it was too late now anyway. Without a body he would have to be reincarnated and who knew where he would end up then.

No. That was simply not an option. He would have to think of something else. Surely there was some… work around he could find. He knew from Loki that magic was full of loopholes if you knew where to look. Thor didn’t. But… perhaps he could find someone who would know where to look.

Chapter Text

Finding a sorcerer in Midgard was less straightforward than Thor might have initially thought. It was only due to living in a realm where magic was more widespread that he found any clue as to where a sorcerer might be. He'd noticed the occult symbol in the window before but had little reason to take anything more than a passing glance at it. Up until now, that is. He wasn’t even entirely certain where he’d seen the symbol before. Probably in a book that Loki had been reading or perhaps his mother. He’d rarely seen anyone else flipping through magical tomes.

Finding the building with the window again took some effort, but after searching the city for a few hours, he did manage it. The symbol was distinctive although most in Midgard probably considered it entirely ornamental. Other than the window with the vaguely familiar magical symbol embedded in it, the building didn't look like a center for magic. But then, things were different here on Midgard. Perhaps they did not want to be easy to find.

Thor went up to the door and slammed his fist against it several times. He stood there for a moment and then the door opened for him. There was nobody behind the door, but Thor didn't let that worry him. It was magic after all. He was not well versed in it, but he was accepting enough to not question every little thing like Stark might.

The room on the other side of the door was two floors tall with an even taller ceiling and slightly curved stairs. The floor had the same symbol as was on the window embedded within the stone. On top of the stairs stood a man with a carefully cropped goatee and a large crimson cape. "Are you the sorcerer of this place?"

The man tilted his head slightly. "I prefer Doctor. Doctor Strange."

Thor inclined his head slightly. "Very well. Doctor it is. I have need of advice of a mystic nature."

"Then you came to the right place," he said before gesturing to the stairs with one gloved hand. "Come upstairs. We'll have ourselves a consultation."

The building seemed mostly empty except for the two men and Thor couldn't help but notice all of the different strange objects held within glass cases that were on display as they passed. Doctor Strange, whose cape fluttered even without any wind, sat down in a chair in front of a large circular window and gestured for Thor to take the seat across. "Now, what exactly do you need from me? I didn't think Asgardians would need the help of us 'mortal' types." Thor thought there might have been some amount of annoyance in that tone, but couldn’t be sure.

"My brother, Loki, he is-"

"I'm quite aware of who he is," Strange said. "He's on my list." Thor frowned a little at that. What sort of list? Still, it wasn't important just then. Before he could continue, however, Strange gestured to the table in front of him. "Tea?"

"Thank you, but I prefer a stronger brew," Thor replied. Before he could even say another word a large clear tankard of beer was in his hand. His eyebrow went up but then he raised the drink slightly. "My thanks."

"Don't mention it. Now, what about your brother?"

Thor sighed and fiddled with the beer in his hands. "He has perished in battle."

"I'll update my list."

Thor cast the sorcerer a bit of a glare. He knew his brother had done some unforgivable things but he deemed such callousness uncalled for, plus he was unaware of any time this Doctor Strange would have been personally wronged by Loki. "I wish to know if there is a way to change his fate," Thor said.

Strange narrowed his eyes slightly. "That's not a good idea, Thor."

"And why not? Are you saying my brother does not deserve a second chance?" Thor demanded. This meeting was not going as he had hoped it might. The God knew the idea of helping his brother would be… controversial but he hoped this meeting wasn’t setting the precedence for later ones.

"He did destroy most of New York," Strange pointed out.

The God of Thunder glared at the ground as he continued to fiddle with his beer. "And if I were to change that as well?"

There was a long moment of silence. "… you're talking about changing history. About meddling with time. And that's definitely not a good idea. You'd be going too far back. Changing too much. You could make what happened even worse," Strange said in a tone that he clearly thought would broker no arguments.

"I would not allow it to be worse," Thor said confidently.

"You can't make that promise," Strange said. "I got scolded by my teachers for using time to manipulate an apple… what you're talking about it infinitely larger than that. Besides, the amount of energy such a thing would take would be… far more than I would suggest using for anything. It would burn out a human."

"I am not a human," Thor stated.

"You also don't know how to do magic." Thor continued to scowl. "I'm sorry you lost your brother," Strange said, although he didn't sound very sorry, "but manipulating time is not the way to deal with it. And I won't help you do it."

Thor was not happy, but since Strange didn't sound as if he would be changing his mind, he would simply find someone who would. He quickly drained the beer in his hand before getting to his feet. "Very well," he said as he put the tankard down on the table. "I will take my leave then." Strange didn't bother to see him out, but Thor didn't much care either.

Once he got onto the street, he let Mjolnir slide down to its leather strap and began to spin it beside him. He was still determined to save his brother, but his mind was not providing him with any other options at the moment. Odin would most likely not have any different answer than Strange had. His mother was gone. And he knew very few other sorcerers. Thor was certain that this was the best solution, however. If Loki had not been ignored and mistreated so badly, then things would have been much better. For Loki, Midgard, Asgard, and Jotunheim.

He just had to think of someone who might be willing to help him. He needed something to help jog his memory. There had to be someone, somewhere who both knew magic and would be amiable to using it to help him…


Tony paused at the entrance to the main living level of the Avenger's tower and pulled off his sunglasses to better observe the strange sight in front of him. The entire table in the middle of the room was pretty much filled with empty bottles of all types, and one very large Norse God of Thunder and Flowing Locks was face down beside them. "Wow… what happened here?" he asked as he stepped fully into the room. "Did I miss a party? I hate missing parties."

"Apparently the requirement for getting pass-out-drunk for Thor is pretty much the entire contents of one billionaire playboy philanthropists' liquor cabinet," Clint offered where he was sitting nearby on the back of the couch. "When we got here he was already through about half of it… and making very little sense, I might add."

Just then Natasha came into the room hanging up a cell phone. "Jane says she'll get on a plane and head over."

"Right… and what caused Point Break to down my entire very expensive booze collection?" Tony asked as he reached over to pick up one of his favorite gins, which was now nothing more than a pretty bottle that smelled of alcohol. He never thought he'd have to get a lock for his booze…

"Jane says Loki died," Natasha offered as she leaned up against the back of the couch beside where her partner was perched.

"Died?" Clint echoed dryly. "Didn't he die before?"

"I guess this time it stuck," Tony said flippantly before bending closer to Thor and giving him a rough nudge. "Hey, Goldilocks. Point Break. Hammer time! Thor!" Thor didn't so much as twitch despite the shout right beside his ear. "Wow, are we sure he's still alive? I mean, even Asgardians have to get alcohol poisoning, right?"

"They drink pretty much pure hundred-proof alcohol back on Asgard, though. At least from what Thor says," Natasha said. "You know, stuff us 'mere mortals' shouldn't drink."

Tony grunted a little and straightened. "So, Jane tell you what happened or just that Loki finally kicked it?" He knew that Thor had been holding onto that 'my brother can be saved' thing for a while and Tony did feel a little bad for the guy to lose his brother but… well, Loki did throw Tony out of a window and mind control Clint and… so forth. He couldn't honestly say he himself was too broken up about it.

Natasha shrugged some. "They were fighting something called 'Dark Elves'. Jane wasn't too clear on what happened but apparently Loki saved Thor and got a sword through the chest for the trouble…"

"Huh, well, I guess Point Break was right that he wasn't all crazy and evil," Tony mused as he tried not to think about swords through chests. That had probably hurt like a bitch.

Suddenly, Thor sat upright. "Angrboda!"

The others could only exchange looks of confusion. "Uh, you okay there, buddy? Maybe you should drink some water…" Tony suggested as Thor clumsily pushed himself to his feet.

"Nay, I'm afraid I have no time for such things, Man of Iron. I must return to Asgard in all haste," Thor said as he swayed slightly on his feet.

"Thor," Natasha began, her voice somewhere between being gentle as if talking to a child and disapproving, "you just drank most of an alcoholic's liquor cabinet. You really should sit down and stay there."

"Hey! I'm a high functioning alcoholic, thank you," Tony said. Natasha rolled her eyes at the slight distinction. As if that really mattered in the grand scheme of things. Alcoholic was still alcoholic no matter how well one functioned.

Thor, however, had made his way across the room towards the door out onto the balcony. "Whoa now, I think Nat's right. Trust me, flying under the influence causes massive property damage," Tony said. "And I'd like to not rebuild half the tower… again."

"You have been most hospitable, but truly I must go," Thor said.

"How about you at least wait until Jane gets here?" Clint piped up. Thor did pause at that.

"She's worried," Natasha added when she noticed Thor's hesitance. "She's already on her way. It won't take very long."

Thor paused with his hand on the door handle. He had told Jane he would see her soon. She would be most unhappy if she knew he was on Midgard again and did not see her. Finally, he nodded and turned back to the room. "Very well. But, only until I speak with my Lady Jane. To ease her worries."

“Great. How about you sit down,” Tony said as he tried his best to shepherd someone who was larger than him into a seat on the couch.

“You are true friends, and I thank you,” Thor said as he sat down on the couch quite heavily.

“So, what’s an ‘Agrabadada’ or whatever?” Tony asked.

Thor blinked. “Angrboda,” the God of Thunder corrected. “She is my brother’s… I am unsure the proper word for it. Perhaps ‘mate’ would be best although that does not seem entirely correct either.”

“Mate?” Clint echoed. He could not have heard that right.

“Yes… it is probably the closest to correct. She and my brother had several children together,” Thor explained almost absently. He was still pondering if there was a better term to his brother’s relationship to Angrboda that he hadn’t thought of yet.

There was a somewhat awkward silence then although Thor didn’t notice it. Yes, he would have to simply accept mate as the best. He didn’t have his brother’s way with words to come up with something more ‘delicate’ or ‘appropriate’. They hadn’t been wed after all. “Children? The guy was a father?” Tony asked. When Thor nodded, Tony just let out a little noise of surprise. “He didn’t really seem the type…”

Thor looked up in surprise. “My brother is a very dedicated father.”

“Wait a second,” Natasha said, holding up her hand. “I’ve been reading up on you guys since the invasion. You wouldn’t be referring to the giant wolf and snake and eight-legged horse would you?”

“Sleipnir was not of Angrboda, nor birthed by my brother, he was made purely through magic. But yes, Fenrir and Jormungand are his sons by Angrboda,” Thor confirmed. “I am surprised the mortals knew of them… they were quite young when last Midgar was visited.”

“I’m sorry… did you say ‘giant wolf and snake’?” Clint asked.

“What kind of crazy genetics you people have up there in Viking land?” Tony asked, also looking very wide-eyed.

Thor frowned a little. To be honest, he had never really put much thought into it before. “I… I am not certain, to be truthful with you. I have never been a studious type. A healer or sorcerer may be able to answer your questions more to your liking. I can only assume that magic, either my brother’s or Angrboda’s, had something to do with my nephews’ forms. We could perhaps ask Jormungand, the serpent, he is on Midgard… although he has retreated to the depths beyond our reach after learning of Loki’s… death.”

“There’s a giant snake here on Earth?” Clint echoed. “How in the hell did we miss that?”

“Jormungand can hold his breath for a very long time,” Thor supplied. “He spends most of his time underwater where humans cannot reach.”

“Right, so, I’m never going swimming in the ocean again,” Tony said as he looked through the bottles on the table for one Thor might not have fully drained.

“Make that two of us,” Clint muttered.

Natasha nodded as well. Thor frowned. “My friends, there is nothing to fear,” he argued. He was a bit offended on behalf of his nephew. “Jormungand would not harm you. He would much prefer eating whales as they are more worth the effort to catch being so much larger.”

That didn’t get the reaction he had been hoping for. His three brave friends simply stared at him in amazement. “How big did you say this ‘giant’ snake was again?” Tony asked.

“Big enough to wrap around the world,” Natasha supplied in a tone of exasperation.

Thor thought for a moment and nodded a little. That did sound about right. “He did seem to stretch for many miles…” He hadn’t considered just how large his nephew would have grown by this point and he hadn’t seen much of him during his talk. “There was no room for him on Asgard, so my Father sent him here.”

“Gee, thanks, Odin…” Tony muttered. “What a lovely roommate you sent us… Snakes the size of planets. Super.” Thor frowned but decided that trying to change their minds probably wouldn’t be very easy to accomplish. They didn’t know Jormungand and, Thor had to admit, if he had only the little information that they had, he might be wary as well.

It took Jane several hours to arrive from England, and by that time all of the benefits that Thor had gotten from his consumption of Tony’s alcohol were well and truly gone. Although Tony had been kind enough to order more though this time his friends would not allow him much more than a few bottles. Such limitation was frustrating. He had no need for them to monitor his drink. Nobody had monitored his drink for many a year.

When Jane finally did arrive, Thor had to admit that he was glad he waited to see her. She calmed him like nothing else could, which was still a fascination to him as he’d never thought to find something like that with any person much less a mortal woman.

Jane was most understanding and as they secluded themselves on the roof of the Avenger’s Tower, Thor felt himself relaxing more. “We had his funeral yesterday,” Thor found himself telling her before he really thought about it. He wouldn’t have told his friends any of this. He knew they had mixed feelings (to put it mildly) about his brother, but Jane had been there. She had seen what Loki had done as his last act. She had slapped him, true enough, but Thor somehow knew that she would understand more than the other Avengers would.

“I’m sorry,” she murmured as she brushed his hair behind his ear. Her other hand was laid over his bicep. They were sitting side by side on one lounge chair that was near a large ‘H’ in a circle that Thor had never understood the purpose of. “I know how much you wanted to reconnect with him.”

“I half expected it to be another of his tricks,” Thor admitted. “But when I returned to the planet… he was still there. I have seen death before. But never before has it affected me so. Not even Mother’s.”

Jane gave a small attempt at a smile. “Part of us expect our parents to go first… but not our siblings,” she reasoned.

“It was not only that,” Thor said, finally looking up from his hands to face her again. “I was so sure that he could not be trusted any longer. I warned him that I would kill him myself if I thought he would betray us, and he still saved me. He saved you. I threatened his life, and still, he saved us… I am ashamed of that.” He looked back down at his hands again.

“There’s nothing to be ashamed about, Thor,” Jane assured him, wrapping her arm around his wide shoulders. “He’d betrayed people before. You were being cautious, and I don’t think Loki would have taken it personally.”

Thor couldn’t help but snort a little. “Loki took everything personal. When it came to what me and my father did, he became very good at finding offense where none was meant.”

“He was angry,” Jane pointed out. “He felt betrayed and abandoned. But he wouldn’t have done what he did if he didn’t still love you. I know that. People don’t run other people through with a sword and then stick a grenade on them to protect those they don’t love.”

“He should still be here, Jane,” Thor said before leaning closer to rest his head on hers. “So that I can throttle him for doing such a foolish thing.”

Jane laughed a little. “I don’t think that’s the best way to thank someone for saving your life,” she pointed out.

“I would do it with love.”

“I’m sure you would,” Jane agreed, still sounding amused. “I’d volunteer to smack him again for you, but I think he liked it a bit too much.”

Thor laughed some and opened his eyes to look over at her. “You surprised him, I think. I don’t imagine he thought a mortal woman would be daring enough to slap a God. Much less one with his reputation. He has always appreciated a fiery spirit. I think, if you had met under different circumstances, he would have liked you even then.”

“I’ll have to take your word for it,” Jane said as she rubbed his bare bicep. “Are you going to be alright?”

The God of Thunder was quiet as he thought about that. “In time perhaps,” he mused. “I must be mustn’t I?”

Jane nodded a little before leaning over and giving him a kiss. “I’m here if you need me, Thor.”

He reached up to trace the line of her cheek. “I appreciate that more than you can know, my Lady. I must return to Asgard. But if all goes well I will be back soon, and I will see you then,” he promised. If all went as he wanted, she would never even know he was gone at all.

“Don’t go destroying any rainbow bridges and keeping you from me too long now,” she warned.

“Never again,” he promised.

Once Thor returned to Asgard, he made his way out of the city and towards the hills where few went. The wilds were where many hunts were carried out and much of the beginning training for the warriors were carried out. But the most hidden away corners almost nobody ventured to unless they had a specific purpose in mind. Thor had to search most of the day before he could find the particular trail he was looking for.

He’d never before visited Angrboda, not even when she and Loki had been living together. Thor rather regretted it now, as even with a trail to follow, her home was difficult to locate. Finally, however, he came to a dark hollow surrounded by twisting ancient trees. Nestled in one corner was a small hut formed of roughly carved rock and had a mossy roof. He didn’t allow himself to worry as he went to the roughly carved door and knocked loudly.

Angrboda looked amused to see the son of Odin at her doorstep. "My, my, to what do I owe this pleasure? It has been some time since a son of Odin came to me for any reason. Not since Loki left me to make your father happy." Thor scowled a little since he recalled things between her and Loki ending quite differently. Though Odin had not been happy with the relationship, Loki had doggedly ignored their father's opinion. It was his first -more passive- attempt at rebellion and had lasted an entire decade. What had finally ended the relationship, Thor wasn't sure, but Loki had come home fuming mad and not -for once- at Odin. Thor had the impression it had something to do with the children but, again, he couldn't say for certain. He'd never thought to ask.

"It is because of Loki that I am here," Thor said. Angrboda's eyebrow went up, and she stepped back to allow the shorter God into the house. Angrboda was rumored to be half-giant with how tall she was, but nobody could confirm that. And it wasn't as if her height was impossible to reach for Aesirs, just unusual. When she was a bit younger, she had served as one of Odin’s Valkyries, for her unparalleled strength and reach made her an impressive force on the battlefield. Thor hadn't heard the story of why she had left that calling, but he assumed it had something to do with her changing interests. Now, she stayed by herself in the wilderness where very few people bothered her, and she could practice her occult magic. "You heard of what happened?" Thor asked.

"Aye," Angrboda agreed. "But somehow I doubt you are here to offer condolences for the loss of my children's father."

Thor's scowl deepened slightly. He didn't want to bring Loki's children into this conversation. Such a topic would be a minefield he didn't want to try and navigate. "Loki learned much of his darkest magic from you, Angrboda." Angrboda's pension for the occult had been part of Odin's argument against Loki being with her. But, of course, Loki had simply been fascinated by a new form of magic, and only too happy to dive headlong into learning it.

"And is the golden son of Odin interested in dark magics now?" she asked with a grin. "How very unusual."

"Is there a way save Loki from his fate with your magic?" Thor asked, ignoring the taunt.

Angrboda's grin dropped a little and was replaced with surprise. "I cannot bring someone back from the dead. I've tried... all I got was a misshapen blob of bone and flesh. Very unattractive. Little Loki wouldn't appreciate being brought back as such, I don't think. He was always so very vain about his appearance."

"I do not mean raising the dead," Thor denied while determinedly ignoring the slight against his brother. "Can you send me back to before... so that I can save Loki from dying at all?" Strange refused to do it, but Thor knew that Angrboda was far less scrupulous.

"Piercing through time is dangerous, son of Odin," Angrboda said, her taunting smirk returning. "It's not something to do lightly."

"But you can do it," Thor insisted.

"Aye. I can do it... in a manner of speaking," Angrboda said as she went to sit in a high-backed chair that was draped in different strings of bones and feathers and even a few chains, probably all of which were used in rituals of some sort or another. "But like I said... it's a dangerous prospect, Odinson."

"I do not fear danger."

"And if the danger were not to you?" Angrboda asked. "If you go back, there is no telling what might happen. When you change something, it will ripple outwards. The moment you start changing the past the future will be in flux. You'll never know what your seemingly tiny change will have on other events or on other people. Some things may change for the better, others for the worse."

Thor frowned in worry. "I cannot see how it would be worse to allow Loki to remain dead," he said firmly. And he would be there. He would make sure whatever 'ripples' there were didn't harm his brother.

Angrboda looked a little surprised again but then shrugged. "So long as you're willing to take the risk, I suppose I can help you. But, another warning, if you don't mind. Some things... cannot be changed, Odinson. You may wish to change them and do your best, but the fates won't allow them to be changed. Some things simply need to happen even if the nature of how they happen change. You may do all of this and not even save Loki's life. Are you still willing to try?"

"For my brother, I am willing to do anything."

The witch hummed a little, sounding somewhere between surprised and impressed. "Such a change in tune. If only he hadn't had to die to get it out of you."

"I have always loved my brother."

"Perhaps, but you certainly wouldn't have taken such drastic steps before," Angrboda replied. "Now... where do you want me to send you? The further back you go the harder it will be to predict how the future changes."

Thor shifted uneasily as he thought about that. He couldn't say precisely when the shift between himself and his brother happened so he couldn't reliably tell Angrboda when he wanted to go. "I... need my brother to trust me again."

Angrboda chuckled. "No more specific for me?"

The God of Thunder tried his best to not show his embarrassment. He knew he hadn't been the best of brothers, but that didn't mean he liked admitting it. "So long as my brother trusts me and lets me help him again, I do not care when you send me."

"It may be further back than you expect," she warned in a voice halfway to another taunt and halfway towards being a little song. Thor tried his best to not be annoyed, though he was beginning to see why his brother had left the witch despite all he could learn from her. If she was this superior sounding all the time, it was a miracle (or just a show of remarkable stubbornness) that Loki had put up with her long enough to have three children.

"So long as you can do what you claim."

Angrboda shrugged again and got to her feet. "Let nobody say I didn't give fair warning," she said as she went to the shelves that took up an entire wall of her small house. Thor watched as she opened various containers and muttered things to herself as she mixed the contents together. Thor wanted to be sure he saw everything to she put into the little glass phial even if he had no idea what half of it was. It would make him feel better about it.

After about twenty different things, Angrboda put a cork in the top and turned to hand it to Thor. "There. Mix it with water and drink it just before you go to bed. When you wake, you'll be where you need to be in the body of your younger self but with all the knowledge you have now… for all the good that will do you once you start meddling with things."

Thor took the mixture and stared at it with some slight amount of trepidation. But, if this would do what Angrboda promised, it would be well worth it. "Very well. You have my thanks, Angrboda."

She smiled a little. "Always a pleasure to help a son of Odin." Thor wasn't entirely certain how to take that statement. So he decided to just nod his goodbye and leave without a word.

Thor did not want to waste any time. He flew back to the palace and went straight to his room. He wouldn’t give his father a chance to find out what he’d planned and then try to talk him out of his decision. The hour was still early to go to bed but, somehow, Thor didn't think it really mattered when he took it and went to sleep so long as he did. He grabbed a goblet of water and filled it with fresh cool water.

When the powdery mix dissolved into the water, it turned the liquid a dark blue that was almost purple. Thor studied the potion for several minutes before going back to stand beside his bed. The liquid could, he supposed, be pure poison, but somehow he doubted it. Angrboda had seemed far too amused by his request to just turn around and poison him. No, it was more likely the potion did precisely what it was meant to do, and Angrboda thought that Thor’s own request would be punishment enough. Thor snorted a little. He would not fail. No matter what he would be a better brother this time and save Loki.

Thor sat down on the edge of his bed and watched the dark liquid seem to swirl as if constantly mixing with itself. He almost thought if he stared long enough he could see little veins of brighter purple magic threaded through the clouds of dark blue.

The God of Thunder pushed his indecision down and brought the cup to his mouth. Knowing better than to taste magical potions, he downed it as quickly as he could without spilling it. Surprisingly it didn’t taste as bad as he thought. The liquid tasted almost like mint and grapes mixed together, which was not an altogether good taste but not vomit-inducing either. Thor put the goblet down as a strange tingling began behind his eyes.

He could taste a too sweet residue in his mouth as a black spot appeared in his vision and slowly began to grow. Now Thor realized why Angrboda had said to go to sleep after. He would most likely not have a choice. He was getting dizzy, and his fingers were numb. A faint ringing in his ears made him shake his head, and he couldn’t help but try to blink as the dark spot grew in his vision.

The ringing was growing louder, and Thor thought that what little he could still see of the room was starting to spin. The numbness spread up his limbs even when he felt the bed come up to hit his back. Had he fallen? Or was the room truly spinning around him?

The blackness had now spread to all of his vision, and his head felt like it was being split apart. He groaned and tried to lift a hand to find it was impossible. That incessant ringing was growing louder! It was making his head hurt worse! Colors suddenly burst behind his eyes. An entire rainbow of colored rings that grew and disappeared one right after another. As if the colors themselves were splashing over him and he could only just catch sight of them. The ringing was still growing louder! Even though he couldn’t see it, the world was spinning. He felt like he would throw up and tears of pain escaped from the corner of his eyes. He was surprised he didn’t feel any blood from his skull because surely it had burst apart by now. It hurt far more than any headache he’d ever had before!

He thought he might be screaming, but all he could hear was that ringing! It had to stop! More colors flashed by faster and faster and the spinning of the world he couldn’t see made his stomach roll itself into a tight knot. It seemed to last for ages or more accurately a lifetime of an Aesir. And then, finally, Thor passed into unconsciousness…

When Thor awoke, his head was still aching, and confusion was the first thing on his mind. He heard birds in the distance and groggily pushed himself off his pillow. He was still confused and had to gather his bearings for several minutes. It was early morning judging by the shadows on his floor. He looked around and did not spot Mjolnir anywhere, nor his armor. He blinked again and looked down at himself to check that he wasn’t still wearing it.

His eyes widened at his body. He was so small! He had not been this small for decades! He was still a boy not even at his full height. Surely he had not had to go back this far!

Thor threw his blankets off of himself and ran to the washroom. Sure enough, in the mirror the face of a young boy stared back at him. Still as blue eyed and blonde haired as he’d ever been, but still with rounder cheeks and gentler jaw. He wasn’t sure what day this was, and he was unlikely to place it just by his appearance. It had been far too long ago.

Thor reached up and touched his cheek. No, he really was as young as he looked. How was he to save his brother like this? But then, Angrboda’s words came back to him. If he was in the body of his younger self… then Loki would be too. He would be more vulnerable than ever with only his basic knowledge of magic to call upon. If this were when things started to go bad between him and his brother, then clearly Loki would need his help now as well. So, he would not have Mjolnir, he was not without the ability to fight.

The young prince of Asgard ran back to his room and found a pair of trousers and a tunic that would serve. He pulled on his boots and ran out of the door without bothering to even tie them. He probably looked half mad as he bolted down the hallway but he didn’t care. He had to find his brother!

It didn’t take more than a minute. Thor nearly tripped over his own feet when he saw the familiar door open and another youth appear.

It was Loki. Loki.

Just as Thor remembered him. His black hair combed back neatly and his clothing perfectly in place. He had already taken to wearing greens and dark browns with a hearty supply of black intermixed. His boots were polished and, though he didn’t wear armor, he had a dagger on his belt and probably another hidden away somewhere.

Loki was coming out of his room already nose deep in some book on something suitably esoteric. He didn’t even look up as Thor barreled down the hall, but Loki was forced to give a little yell of surprise when Thor slammed into him and wrapped his arms tight around his middle, nearly taking them both to the ground. “T-thor!?”

“Brother! I missed you!” Thor said before thinking, tightening his grip on Loki’s thin waist. He buried his face into Loki’s shoulder and tried hard to not remember seeing the life drain from him on that dead planet. He couldn’t quite help the tears from building.

“What are you talking about, oaf? You saw me just last night… also, did you even comb your hair? It’s a mess.”

Thor choked on a mix of a sob and a laugh. “I had a strange dream, and you weren’t there,” Thor said, halfway telling the truth.

There was a moment of silence and then he heard Loki sigh. “It’s probably all that mutton you ate before bed last night. Honestly, you should know better than to challenge Volstagg to an eating contest. You’ll never win.”

Finally, Thor looked up and grinned at his brother. So young! Loki’s hair was still kept short and though he had less roundness to his face than Thor (at the moment at least), he still had that freshness of boyhood. He’d gained his height faster than Thor had but he’d taken ages to gain any width. “I like a challenge,” Thor managed to reply.

Loki rolled his brilliantly green eyes. “You like the impossible more like. Now let go already, you great lump.”

Thor obeyed somewhat reluctantly though he couldn’t quite keep the grin from splitting his face. Loki eyed him uncertainly. “Are you sure you didn’t hit your head getting out of bed this morning? You’re never this lively in the early hours… much less smiling.”

“I’m just glad you’re here,” Thor said though he made a supreme effort to tamp down his grin a little. It wasn’t easy. Because this was his Loki. The one he’d desperately missed.

“Where else would I be?” Loki asked even as his eyes skimmed over Thor again. “Mother is going to skin you if you break our fast looking like that. You need to at least tie your shoes.” Thor scowled a little, unable to really help it, and Loki grinned at it. “Not my fault you look like you were raised in a barn, brother.”

Thor stared for a moment before quickly ducked down to tie his boots, mostly to hide how hearing Loki truly call him ‘brother’ again made tears return to his eyes. It was ridiculous how such a simple word had come to mean so much. He would have given anything to hear Loki call him that again before the potion. Anything at all. Of course, this time, he wouldn’t make Loki stop calling him that. There would be no reason for him to stop. He swore it.

Chapter Text

Sitting at the table with his family was the strangest feeling Thor had in a long time. It was like a dream and a memory mixed together with the added strangeness of it being real. Loki was sitting beside him with his book 'discreetly' hidden in his lap under the table. Frigga was pretending to not notice what Loki was doing -since it was technically against the rules to have 'distractions' at the table- and Odin was talking with Tyr at the head of the table. It was odd seeing Tyr with both hands again. He hadn't had both hands intact in ages. The eldest son of Odin and Frigga had removed himself from the line of succession before Thor had even been born, which had been quite the scandal at the time but now was so normal it was rarely even mentioned. But despite no longer living in the palace or having a claim to the throne, Tyr still made time to join them for breakfast every so often. Usually once a week, sometimes more if something exciting was going on.

Thor couldn't quite focus on his food, he was too busy studying the once familiar scene in front of him. He wanted it so clearly embedded in his memory he would never get it out. He didn't want a single detail out of place when he thought back on this.

He wasn't sure what his father and brother were discussing but it hardly mattered. It was probably something to do with security or training the men or something involving the military on the whole. Baldr and Hodr were, of course, absent since they did not live in Asgard any longer. They rarely had a chance to visit home though they did try their best to appear at the important holidays and celebrations. They couldn't always, but they tried.

Neither Thor nor Loki were particularly close to their three elder brothers, mostly due to the rather large age gap between them. Thor knew now that he had been, what Midgardians called, a 'surprise' child for his parents, which had never occurred to him before since he had Loki so close to him in age. It had only seemed normal for him. But now that he had already lived through childhood once, he could realize that it was, in fact, strange. He always thought of himself as the older brother but if it hadn't been for Odin and Frigga adopting Loki he would technically be the baby of the family. Though, he doubted he would have felt like the baby. More likely he would have felt more like an only child with the age gap between him and the twins Baldr and Hodr.

Thor sat picking at his food for a moment as he tried to recall why exactly the twins were not in line for the throne. It wasn't something he thought on much. He felt somewhat bad. These were things he should probably know for certain rather than just have vague memories of. This was his family, after all. Had he really been so self-absorbed he didn't even know why his own brothers -that were older- were not to inherit the throne of Asgard? Was it some argument? Did they, like Tyr, decide to abdicate? Or wait… wasn't Hodr married? Or was it Baldr? That might have something to do with it… if it was a union with someone whom had their own title. Having multiple titles in the mix always complicated things. The laws of succession were… not something Thor studied all that much, which now seemed a catastrophic oversight he couldn't wrap his head around. Before he had just assumed that everything important would be told to him when it came up, actually learning it himself hadn't been a priority. Not for the first time since his return to Asgard after his exile (which now hadn't actually happened oddly enough), he thought perhaps Loki had more of a point about his readiness for the throne than he had wanted to admit. Perhaps this time, along with helping Loki, Thor might get a few other things right. He hated studying but obviously there were important gaps in his education that truly needed to be filled. And maybe his other brothers could be closer than they were now. It would be nice, though, Thor had no idea how to go about doing that. His first priority was still to ensure Loki was alright. That his life turned out better than before.

"Loki," Frigga said in a warning tone. Loki's head snapped up instantly at his mother's voice. "If you don't put more attention on your meal it will get cold." Apparently, she was done letting him get away with reading at the table.

His brother made a face of annoyance but reluctantly closed his book to focus more on his half-eaten oatmeal. Thor tried hard to not snicker but couldn't quite manage. Loki shot him a bit of a glare and Thor could only smile back. He had missed these mornings. It was quiet and peaceful; usually, he was still waking up, but for once he was perfectly alert. The sunlight that streamed through the windows was golden and warm. The food on the table was, of course, delicious and settled pleasantly in one’s stomach. The windows were open to the gentle morning breeze and brought with it the smell of early summer and the peaceful calls of birds. All of the things that made for a wonderfully lazy morning were in full evidence.

As Thor muddled through his own bowl of oatmeal sweetened with honey and milk, he turned his thoughts resolutely back to his primary task. Keeping Loki safe and happy was perfectly easy in theory, but Thor hadn't all the information that he needed. He was sure there were things that had happened that Loki hadn't told anyone and Thor would have to do his best to keep them from happening. He probably should have prepared more for this, but he hadn’t so he had to make do with what knowledge he did have. Perhaps the biggest blow to his brother, after all, Thor did know about. Finding out he was adopted so suddenly after they were already grown had been a shock that Loki had never been able to properly deal with. He'd never had the time to deal with it. Thor would make sure that was fixed. But, how to broach that topic… well, that wouldn't be easy.

Firstly, how was he to explain knowing about it? He hadn't before. Nobody, not even the servants, had mentioned it. Thor never had any indication that Loki had not been born of Frigga and Odin. In a way, it was good, as it proved how little it mattered. But, on the other, it made such knowledge difficult to explain.

Secondly, after explaining the knowledge, how was he to get his parents to talk with Loki about it? Because Thor might not be the smartest being ever to exist, but he knew his parents needed to be a big part of this. Frigga had always said that she hadn’t believed keeping the truth from Loki was a good idea so Thor knew their mother would agree with him. It was more with their father that Thor saw the problem. He nearly winced as he tried to figure out a way to convince Odin Allfather to change his mind about something. Perhaps it would be better to ask forgiveness rather than permission? He knew he had heard that saying somewhere before. It seemed rather appropriate right now.

No, Thor knew enough to know he couldn’t just go blurting out the truth of Loki’s birth at the breakfast table. It had to be parceled out revelation by disturbing revelation. Well, disturbing in Loki’s mind most definitely. That way, hopefully, Loki would be able to handle the news better than he had before. Thor hadn’t been there when Loki found out the first time, but he’d heard about it afterward. Odin hadn’t said much about it, but Frigga had explained how pained and bewildered and lost his little brother had been. It hurt him to know that Loki had been so lost while Thor had been experiencing coffee for the first time and looking for a mount at a pet store (which Thor now knew to be a rather embarrassing mistake).

Suddenly, Thor felt a sharp kick to his shin and jerked himself more fully upright. His eyes flicked over the table and his family’s faces. Loki was giving him an exasperated look, most likely he had been the source of the kick to the shin, and Odin was looking mildly irritated. No matter how much Thor scrambled to think of what he’d missed, he simply hadn’t been paying the least amount of attention. All he could think to say was a very unintelligent, “What?”

Loki snickered a bit behind his napkin and Frigga sighed a little and shook her head, but it was done with fondness. Odin too looked more amused than truly angry. “My son, you really must pay more attention when people are speaking with you,” he said. Odin’s voice was stern but less harsh than it had been when Thor was full-grown. “I asked if you remembered what your lessons for today would be.”

Thor stared and fought to not look like a Midgardian deer caught in bright lights. He felt he failed if Loki’s continued sniggers were anything to judge by. “Uh… Swordsmanship?” Thor guessed. It was what most of his lessons were about at this age. That was all he could remember learning anyway.

Odin sighed. “Thor you cannot rule on sword alone,” he said with utmost attempts at patience. “No, today, you and your brother will be in the library with Vor.”

Despite knowing he needed the more classical end of his education and even his new resolve to try harder, Thor couldn’t help the wince of displeasure at the mention of the library. It just wasn’t a place he enjoyed being for any length of time. He liked fresh air and open spaces and exhilarating activities. Sitting inside, mostly quiet, with dusty tomes was sure to drive him to sleep. It certainly didn’t help that Vor the Wise was always so very difficult to listen to. She spoke slowly and deliberately with a pleasant but unremarkable voice that never failed to put Thor right to sleep.

“What are we to study?” Thor asked, trying his best to wipe the displeased look off of his face.

“Runes and their origin,” Frigga supplied. “I know it is far from your favorite subject, but it’s important.”

Thor sighed and nodded a bit before going back to his meal. Not his favorite subject was a little bit of an understatement. He knew the runes, of course, he could read and write just fine. But learning the history and meaning and lore behind each individual rune was mind numbing for him. So focused on pushing his oatmeal around unhappily, Thor didn’t notice the surprised looks on his family’s faces. Before he would have tried very hard to get out of such a lesson, though it probably wouldn’t have done him much good. But now, Thor just couldn’t find it in him to try and squirm out of it.

After a moment of awkward silence where Thor didn’t argue over a lesson in the library, Tyr cleared his throat some. “Well, little brothers, your lessons can’t last all day. How about this afternoon I take you riding?” Thor glanced up at that, instantly feeling a bit better about the day.

“Riding where?” Loki asked curiously. It had to be somewhere rather interesting to get Loki on the back of a horse. If Thor remembered right, it hadn’t been that long ago when he’d been thrown off one and shattered his elbow, Loki been rather ambivalent to the beasts ever since.

Tyr shrugged some and pretended to think -as if he hadn’t planned this already. Truly, it had been meant as a bribe to keep Thor from arguing over the lesson plans, but just because the little spark wasn’t fighting didn’t mean he’d give up his plan. “Well, I was thinking Noatun would be a rather nice afternoon for us.”

Thor grinned widely. “Noatun is always nice, brother,” he said. The bright, warm beach with cool splashes of crystal clear ocean was perhaps one of the most pleasant places in all of Asgard. Not the only pleasant place by any means, but one of the premier places to be certain. It had been ages since he’d been; even as a child, he rarely got a chance to go.

“So it is,” Tyr agreed. “Well, what do you say? Muddle through your lessons and come to Noatun with me?”

“Of course!”

Loki looked a bit less enthused at the idea but then his skin was always so sensitive to the sun. He would burn abominably without some precautions. Still, he glanced between Thor and Tyr (who were both far too rambunctious and cheerful at the prospect) and nodded. “Alright…” he muttered.

“Wonderful,” Tyr said as he got to his feet. “Come and find me on the training grounds after you’re done in the library and we’ll have a fun brotherly outing. Just us three.” Thor promised they would. Tyr gave them a smile before bending down and kissing their mother on the head and leaving the dining room. Thor watched him go and did his best to think back. When had Tyr taken him and Loki to Noatun? It seemed a rare enough occurrence to perhaps place when in his life Thor was now living.

And yet he was still struggling some to come up with an answer. Damn it all, he just couldn’t recall a day where they had gone to the famous beach with Tyr. He was still trying to wrack his brain for the answer as he finished off his meal and followed behind Loki towards the library. It took him half the walk before he finally managed to place the day. It was only a few weeks after Odin had taken the two young princes into the vault and promised one of them would take the throne although they were both born with the ability to rule. The reason he hadn’t remembered this day, though, was that Loki hadn’t gone with them. Loki had not really wanted to go so Thor had left him home and gone off with Tyr by himself.

Thor frowned and glared at the polished floor beneath him. So that was it then. He’d asked Angrboda to send him back to when Loki had trusted him and apparently this was the day when that precious trust had started to be worn down. But had the problem been that Loki really had wanted to go or just that he hadn’t wanted to be left alone as he had been? Thor had to admit that being left behind alone quickly and unfortunately became quite the theme in his brother’s life. It was something he resolved to fix.

“You are being very quiet,” Loki said.

Thor’s head snapped up. “Am I?”

“Considering you’re not talking off my ear about going to Noatun later on… or complaining about being in the library most of the day, yes,” Loki said as he fiddled with the edge of the book he had been reading that morning. “I’d have thought you’d complain a bit more. You hate studying.”

“I do,” Thor agreed softly. That acknowledgment made Loki appear even more surprised. Usually, Thor would have denied it, if only because he felt he should deny not liking something he knew he had to do. He had always tried to be the perfect prince after all, and princes didn’t outright say they hated lessons. “I’m not smart like you, brother. I’m not good at knowing Runes and History and Law. And I don’t like doing things I’m bad at.”

Loki blinked a few times -as if trying hard to process that- before smiling. “You can’t be good at everything, brother.”

“I know. But I still want to be,” Thor said as he reached up and rubbed the back of his head. Suddenly, Thor had an idea. Something that would have never occurred to him before due to his pride. “I’ll try to do better, but a lot of these lessons are just… so hard. Could you help me with them?”

His brother actually stopped in the middle of the hall and stared. “You’re asking my help?”

Thor couldn’t quite stop from scowling a little. Surely, it couldn’t be that shocking of a thing to say? “Well, if you don’t want to…”

Loki grabbed at Thor’s arm. Thor hadn’t even realized he’d started to walk again. “That’s not what I meant. I’m just surprised. You never ask me to help you with schoolwork. You usually just… ignore it,” Loki explained. “But if you really want me to help you with it I will.”

Thor smiled and -before he could stop himself- pulled his brother into a hug. Loki couldn’t help but let out an indignant squeak and drop his book as Thor lifted him several inches off the ground. “Thor!”

“Sorry, brother,” Thor said through his smile. “But I am just glad that you agreed.”

He finally put Loki back down and stepped back. Loki nodded some and straightened his clothes before getting his dropped book. “Yes, well, you didn’t have to bruise my ribs, you know. You need to control that stupid amount of strength you have. I swear I don’t know who is worse, you or Tyr…”

“Tyr, surely,” Thor supplied instantly.

Loki snorted a little. “I’m not so sure, brother. Tyr doesn’t nearly suffocate me with his hugs,” he pointed out as they began to walk again. “Of course, Tyr doesn’t really hug much of anyone…”

“He’s old and boring,” Thor said cheerfully. “But at least he’s taking us to Noatun today. You do actually want to go don’t you?” Thor asked. He made sure to keep a close eye on Loki. He had never been able to read his brother particularly well, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t try. He didn’t want to go around making mistakes this time.

The quieter Odinson frowned at the ground a little. “I don’t know… I’m not as fond of the beach as you are, Thor.”

Thor bit his lower lip as he tried to read what Loki actually wanted. “Well, if you don’t want to go that’s fine. We can do something else instead. It’s not like Noatun is going to go anywhere,” the not-yet wielder of Mjolnir said as casually as he was able. He didn’t want to push Loki one way or the other, but he wanted it to be clear he would follow his younger brother’s lead.

He didn’t get a chance to get Loki’s reply as they reached the library and were almost instantly set upon by Vor. The mature Asynja had surprisingly unimpressive features compared to most Asgardians. Her brown hair was peppered with streaks of silver and held back in a simple knotted braid. She wore a simple gown the color of a dusty rose, which was hemmed with dark olive. Her face was pleasant with a slightly too thin mouth but otherwise well-proportioned features. The only truly remarkable thing about her was her eyes. They were piercing like a bird of prey in the exact same shade as a steely ocean under a storm. Deep in the depths of those sharp eyes seemed to lurk a hidden light of knowledge that Thor had absolutely no hope of comprehending.

The only eyes that had ever come close to holding that much knowing had been his father’s singular one when he was sitting upon Hlidskjalf (or perhaps his mother on the rare chance that she sat upon it in Odin’s stead). But then Vor was renowned for her immense wisdom so perhaps it made sense her eyes would be so unforgivingly perceptive even despite not having the far-reaching gaze of Hlidskjalf to bolster it. Still, it was unsettling, and Thor wasn’t sure just how much Vor would know or see.

Vor let those terribly insightful eyes linger on Thor for several long minutes before gesturing to a table already set up for their lessons that day. “My Princes,” she invited.

Loki didn’t waste any time as he sat down in his seat and put his book on a pile of equally esoteric ones next to him. Thor knew that his brother’s lessons would be quite a bit more advanced than his own despite being on the same general subjects. Rune Lore could range from very simple to mindboggling complex, especially once Seidr and spell casting got involved. Thor followed his brother with a bit more reluctance and cast their teacher a wary gaze. Vor was still looking at him with that strange stormy light of just knowing, but she didn’t say anything. Vor was always exceedingly careful before speaking. She was one of the wisest but didn’t share her insights easily. The fact that she had even agreed to teach him and Loki had been surprising as she so rarely shared information. But, Thor could now realize with the clarity of looking back, that Loki had flourished under her teachings. That and the tutelage of their mother. Thor had not but he was beginning to think Vor had not been picked for his benefit.

The lesson was as dreary and incomprehensible as Thor feared it would be. He tried more than he would have before at any rate. He even listened in on what Loki was discussing with their teacher once and found he was completely lost after only the first sentence said. After that, Thor turned his attention to his own work and tried his best to make some sort of headway with it. If Vor found his new attitude towards book learning strange she didn’t mention it. She just came over and helped as much as she could to get Thor to understand, which took a bit of work on her part, admittedly. Something about the concept that ‘words create reality’ just was not easy for his mind to grasp. After all, they named things that already existed so how did the words change reality in any way? It was mind-boggling, and it gave him an enormous headache just trying to figure it all out.

Loki was practically devouring his lessons. Something about how runes change and alter destiny and how they worked together or some such that sounded like complete gibberish to Thor. The older prince tried to figure out how writing would do all that and came up short. Maybe it was his utter lack of Seidr that prevented him from truly being able to understand. Objectively, he could remember what Vor was telling them, but the understanding was out of his reach. It was as if he was missing an essential translation in his mind to be able to comprehend the language that was being spoken.

For the first time in what felt like far too long, Thor found himself prideful of his brother. For Loki to be able to actually understand and hold long increasingly obscure conversations about a topic Thor could only scrape the basics of was quite impressive indeed. Loki was smart enough to actually comprehend what Thor’s somewhat spiteful mind couldn’t help but call nonsense. Because, to Thor, it was nonsense and he had a feeling it always would be. Though, he did understand it was anything but to beings like Loki who could actually use their brains for more than just battle planning.

Thor didn’t know just how far behind his brother he was in terms of such topics, but he had a feeling it would be best to not know. It wouldn’t really help anything much less his attempts to not be jealous. It was a little surprising that he found he was jealous. He’d never thought he would be, especially for something he’d always largely ignored, but he was. Perhaps he always had been, and that was why he’d ignored and derided Seidr as much as he had before. Thor scowled at his book in front of him. He didn’t like that revelation much. He’d always considered Loki to be the jealous one. Realizing perhaps he was not as free from that shortcoming as he would like was a bitter thing indeed. But, Thor just let that bitterness go as best he could and added yet another thing to his seemingly ever-growing list of things to improve upon this time around.

Perhaps there was something to be said for actually trying in his schoolwork, Thor realized as the day in the library seemed to pass by much faster than he’d remembered them going by before. He’d been so consumed with trying to understand what was in front of him the day flew by at an almost alarming pace. When he had simply complained and grumbled about his work, the lesson had always seemed to last forever.

Vor had let her eyes linger on Thor again as she called an end to their lessons for the day and they packed away the various tools and books they had been using. Thor’s strange new attempts to actually understand the topics presented to him had not gone unnoticed by her, and she couldn’t help but see that some fundamental change had come over the fledgling God of Thunder. She wasn’t quite sure what that change was or even what had caused it, but she could see it. It worried her some, mostly because such changes were either caused from unrest or led to it and she had not been aware of any unrest recently. Still, she had little cause to speak up about it. Not at the moment anyway. If anything it was an improvement where she was concerned, seeing how he was actually doing his work for once. Despite that, her instincts told her to be wary, so she resolved to keep an eye on the situation.

“So?” Thor prompted as he and Loki left the library and entered the slightly less stuffy air of the corridor.

“So, what?”

Thor sighed. “So did you want to go to the beach or stay here?” he asked. “You never answered.”

Loki was quiet as he walked and Thor saw a slight frown on his face, most likely he was trying to decide on his answer. Thor let him have his time to think, nothing good ever came of pressing his brother before he was ready. He’d learned that the painfully hard way. After what felt like an eternity Loki sighed. “I don’t know, Thor. The beach hasn’t really been high on my list of places to go.”

He wonders if there’s more to it than that or even if Loki was being entirely honest. It was really quite impossible to tell and –not for the first time- Thor wishes he were better able to read his brother. “Alright then. We’ll stay here.”

“You’d really give up going to Noatun to stay here with me?” Loki asked a touch incredulously.

Thor made a show of shrugging as if it weren’t a big deal. Loki obviously thought it was a big deal, but it shouldn’t be. Thor hated that it apparently was. “I want to spend time with my brother. Like I said, Noatun will still be there some other day. And if you don’t want to go, I’m not going to drag you along.”

“You could go without me,” Loki pointed out.

“But I don’t want to,” Thor countered. He had done that before. Only too happily he had left his baby brother behind. He wouldn’t be so careless again.

Loki scoffed as if offended. “Sap. Fine. You’ll probably whine all day if we don’t go. Let me just… get something,” he muttered as he stalked down the hallway. Thor couldn’t help but grin as he followed his brother. Judging by how quickly Loki had given in and decided to go to Noatun, Thor was relatively certain he’d wanted to go, to begin with. Ergo, his mistake last time had been to just dismissively leave Loki behind without being certain his taciturn brother had really meant what he said. He should really know better than to take everything Loki said at face value. He had always thrown words he didn’t necessarily mean up as a distraction when he felt unsure or vulnerable.

Thor waited as patiently as he was able outside of Loki’s room. It took quite a while, and Thor was suspicious that Loki was forcing him to wait an exorbitant amount of time to test him in some way. A test he would pass, because Thor wasn’t so stupid and self-absorbed as he used to be. His brother could be as doubtful as he wanted to be, Thor would finally be the one to prove Loki wrong. He hadn’t been able to do it before because Loki hadn’t been wrong. But this was a new Thor, and he would be damned if he made the same mistakes.

After another few moments of waiting, Loki poked his head out of his door. He looked a little surprised but quickly hid the expression and came out of his room, closing the door gently behind him. “Sorry,” Loki muttered.

“Don’t worry, brother,” Thor said cheerfully. “I didn’t mind.” He wasn’t sure if Loki was apologizing for making him wait so long or for thinking Thor wouldn’t still be waiting or for needing to apply potions and salves to his skin before daring to expose it to so much sun in the first place. Thor didn’t care what he was apologizing for at any rate. It didn’t matter because Thor didn’t mind any of the possible reasons.

Loki rewarded his efforts with a genuine –if somewhat shy and unsure- smile that Thor had almost forgotten the sight of. It made his heart melt, and his own smile grew even larger. It had been so long since he’d seen that smile. Loki’s usual grins and smirks were all shields, and Thor had grown so used to them he’d forgotten that. But now he saw a genuine smile, and he could beat himself that he’d ever let himself forget the sweetness of his brother. He took Loki’s hand in his and practically dragged him through the halls towards the training grounds. Tyr would be expecting them, and Thor was beyond happy to have a chance to enjoy the afternoon with two of his brothers. He could worry about how to broach complicated topics later. For now just ensuring Loki didn’t feel left out would do.

Chapter Text

Thor winced a little in sympathy as he saw his brother lying on his bed. Loki looked downright miserable. Despite taking precautions about the sun, Loki had suffered under the bright rays. His face specifically had received the worst of it for some unknown reason. It wasn't as if Loki would have forgotten to protect his face. Giant chunks of pale skin had peeled off before they'd even gotten home and now Loki's entire face was a bright cherry red and swollen. Heat was radiating from every inch of fresh and raw skin while natural oils made his face somewhat shiny under the dim light of the room, obviously an attempt by his body to rehydrate the area. Their mother had just tsked lightly and made a medicinal cream that was supposed to help. The problem with it being that to put it on, Loki had to endure having the oils and dead skin cleaned off first. Considering just looking at his bright red face made Thor's tender in some odd sympathetic way, he was sure it would hurt.

"I shouldn't have gone with you," Loki muttered as the light breeze from outside brushed uncomfortably across his delicate skin.

"I'm glad you did," Thor said. "And we had fun didn't we?"

Loki grumbled a little in response but didn't argue any more than that. Just then their mother came back in with a basin of water in her hands. "Alright," she said sitting down on the edge of the bed. "Just try and lay still, Loki." She took a soft cloth out of the water and gently wrung it out over the basin before taking it to Loki's face.

She barely touched it to the fresh skin at all, but it was enough to cause Loki to whimper a bit. Thor winced again. He wasn't prone to sunburns being Aesir, but he had gotten one that he distinctly remembered. It had been on his shoulders when he was younger. The fresh skin that had been exposed had been uncomfortable for several days when anything vaguely rough had been brushed over the area. And that sunburn had been many degrees lesser than the one his brother was currently sporting. Considering how every little touch of the soft cloth their mother was using caused Loki to shy away just slightly, Thor couldn't imagine how delicate that area of skin must be.

Their mother shushed him gently as she very carefully dabbed at his face and continually rinsed out the cloth in the cold water beside the bed. It seemed to take forever for her to clean the fresh skin on his face. Then came the rather unpleasant task of spreading the very thick cream all over his face. Because of how thick and sticky the white cream was it took a bit of effort to get it from her fingers onto Loki's face and making it stay there. It was obviously painful as Thor saw tears welling up in his little brother's eyes. He took Loki's hand in his to help though he felt very inadequate. Perhaps he should have stayed here with Loki rather than them going to the beach. Then again, he'd rarely seen Loki enjoying himself like he had that afternoon. Sure, he wasn't one to be overly rambunctious and brain himself tumbling through waves but Thor had managed to coax Loki into the surf several times. Not as often as he would have liked but often enough that until he'd noticed how red Loki's face had turned he'd felt quite proud of himself.

It seemed to take forever for their mother to get the cream on when really it was only about five or so minutes. She wiped her hands of the leftover ointment and gave Loki a smile. "There we are. That should help. Don't take it off now and don't try to rub it in. It's working just fine how it is."

Loki reached up but managed to catch himself before touching the cold white layer over his face. "I'm not about to try it," he said, his voice somewhere between a pout and a whimper. Thor couldn't quite help but smile at the tone. Luckily, Loki wasn't currently giving Thor any attention and so didn't feel the need to retaliate. "I put the cream on before going..."

"He did," Thor piped up. He may not have actually seen Loki do it but he doubted that he would have made Thor wait while Loki did something completely different.

"I'll get you a new batch of it then," Frigga said before leaning down and kissing Loki's hair since his face was covered in the protective layer of lotion. "It's odd that it would only fail to protect your face but hopefully a fresh supply will keep it from happening again. Now, is there anything else you need, darling?"

Loki shook his head a little. "I'll stay here with him," Thor volunteered.

"I'm not a baby to need company, Thor," Loki grumbled, which the not yet grown God of Thunder blithely ignored.

Frigga smiled again and leaned over to kiss Thor's cheek. "Call me if you need anything," she commanded before getting up and taking her basin of water and jar of ointment with her. She gave them one last smile before closing the door to Loki's room behind her.

"You're acting strange today, Thor," Loki murmured.

"Am I?"

"Yes. It's been months since you spent so much time with me outside of lessons."

Thor frowned. "Perhaps I just missed you then."

Loki snorted some. "Sap," he accused although Thor could still hear affection behind it. "Are you just going to sit here beside me all night?"

"Well, we could do something instead," Thor suggested.

"Such as?"

"Tafl?"

Even through the thick cream all over his face, Thor could see his brother raise an eyebrow. "You're not going to complain when I whip you?"

"No! And you never know... maybe I'll beat you for once," Thor claimed, although he rather doubted it. He'd never been the strategist that Loki was. He'd hated losing such strategy games and so stopped playing them relatively young. Hence he'd never gotten better at them.

Loki's expression told Thor precisely what the younger prince thought of the chances of that. He also doubted that Thor would actually beat him. "Get the board then," he said pointing to one of the many bookcases in the room. "It's on the lower shelf."

Thor obeyed and sprung up from his seat to go get the board. He took a moment to examine the room he rarely visited anymore. He couldn't even tell what color the walls were any more since they were covered with bookcases. The only wall left not covered was the wall that the bed was against. The only other wall was primarily all glass and was located directly across from the bed. Two large doors were in that wall of windows and led to Loki's balcony. Loki's desk was between the two doors where there was always plenty of natural light and was stacked with papers and a few books that Thor realized were for their schoolwork. Thor suddenly realized that he didn't even have a desk in his room. That seemed odd now that he thought about it.

The thick golden brown carpet that was woven with vines of green and silver decorations muffled Thor's footsteps as he ducked down beside one of the shelves. It was only half crammed full of books but Thor knew that would eventually change. By the time he had been fully grown, Loki had filled each one of the bookcases to the brim and even managed to add a few more shelves for books in the corners and above his bed. Thor wouldn't be surprised if he had a more impressive collection than the library despite the difference in size.

Shaking his head at how obviously different his brother was from himself, Thor turned his attention to picking up the game. It was a lovely set carved out of three different kinds of wood set in intricate patterns. The lightest shade of timber was from Vanaheim and was also the color of the defending army. The darkest was some wood that Thor couldn't remember the origin of and was also used in the attacking force. Thor admired the construction for a moment before bringing it over to his brother. "Attack or defend?" Loki asked as the board was spread out beside him on the bed and the different pieces placed in their spots.

"Attack," Thor said instantly.

"So surprising," Loki drawled with a half smile. "One of these days I'm going to make you be the defender... just to mix things up."

Thor smiled and did his best to shove down his initial reaction to that. It was only because of the life he already lived that it sounded so terribly ominous. This Loki wasn't hiding threats in casual comments like that Loki might. "Maybe I'd be a good defender," Thor offered.

"Well, it seems we will never know," Loki said as he put the King in its spot. "Since you never take over the defender spot." There was an irony here. Thor was sure of it.

The game proceeded much like they both expected. With Thor utterly failing to capture Loki's King. Loki didn't seem to have any trouble at all in opening a way for his King to flee through Thor's troops. "I never understand how you do that," Thor muttered as they set the board back up. Since their games were usually so short, they almost always played a few in a row.

"You attack in the most obvious way possible, Thor," Loki said. "Plus you always do it the same way. Try something different for once."

"But you can't move diagonally!"

Loki gave a long-suffering sigh. "It's not about the way the pieces move, Thor. It's about how you get them positioned around the board. Here. You defend this time. I'll show you what I mean."

Thor was a little apprehensive but did as he was told. He found defending much harder than he was expecting, and he wasn't even expecting an easy time of it. He'd barely gotten the King out of the center when he was surrounded by attackers and summarily lost. He scowled at the board a little. "You made it look easy," he complained.

"Well, you've never played defender before," Loki said with a shrug. "Nobody starts out good at tafl."

"You did."

"I did not. Father and Tyr both still beat me when we play," Loki argued. "You've just never seen me play against anyone else but you. And you're rusty."

Thor made a face but didn't protest the 'rusty' comment. He hadn't played any games of tafl in... well, probably a century. To be honest, he hadn't even known Tyr played at all, although he should probably have known better. Tyr may not be as subtly clever as Loki was but he had always been a genius when it came to war games of any sort. Thor's ability to strategize really only seemed to kick in when he was in the midst of a battlefield and could really see what was going on. He couldn't seem to make the leap to a board with little pieces that had rules about how they could move and what meant they won a battle. It just didn't seem natural to him since that wasn't how real fights went. Real fights weren't determined by on what side of the opponent someone was standing. It was determined by the strength and skill of the combatants. "I think I'd rather go back to being attacker..."

Loki chuckled some and set up the board again. "Alright. But just try and be more creative and you might last longer."

He tried to do as Loki suggested. He lasted even less time than the first game and scowled darkly at the board. Loki laughed at him and, though Thor was glad to hear the laugh, he wasn't fond of it being at his expense. "This is what happens when I try and get creative..." he muttered.

"No, no, it was good, brother," Loki denied. "It's just you forgot to block this side over here. It happens when you try out new things. Don't feel so bad about it." Loki pointed to the gap that Thor had accidentally left and the King had escaped through. "I'm glad you tried something different, though. It might not work but at least it wasn't the same game we usually play all over again."

"We don't play the same game over again," Thor denied in confusion.

Loki snorted. "Oh yes we do, Thor. That's how I always win so quickly."

Thor frowned. "I think I'm done playing tafl for now..."

"Yes, I figured," Loki said, still looking amused despite the strange covering of white all over his face. "This is about as much as you usually want to play with me. Are you going to go off and practice fighting now?"

"It's kind of late for that," Thor mused.

"Never stopped you before," his brother pointed out as he put the game pieces back in their slots.

Well, that was certainly true. Thor could easily remember spending half the night practicing with all sorts of weapons. Then, once he'd gotten Mjolnir, he'd spent just as long with her. "Maybe I just feel sorry for dragging you to the beach and you got all crispy."

Loki rolled his eyes. "You think you're funny," he muttered. "I decided to go so don't go getting all guilty over nothing."

"You wouldn't have gone if not for me."

"You don't know that."

Thor opened his mouth to say that 'yes' he did 'know that' and knew it for absolutely certain but then managed to stop himself. Blurting out that he was aware of the future probably wasn't the smartest thing to do. Especially considering how Strange had reacted to the very idea of this. He wasn't even certain if Loki would believe him. So, instead, he just smiled. "Alright. But I still feel bad about it."

"Fine, feel bad. It's not like I can stop you. But you don't have to hang around keeping me company."

"And what if I want to?"

Loki gave him an odd look but seemed to decide to not argue with that. Thor decided to count it as a victory for him, even if it was really just him outstubborning his brother. After another few minutes of silence, Loki nodded to the bookshelf. "Grab me one of those books and put my game back."

Thor sprung up to do as his brother asked. "Any book you want, in particular, brother?"

There was a moment of silence. "No, Thor, whichever," he finally answered. Thor wasn't sure he liked the tone of Loki's voice but decided to ignore it. It was almost as if Loki was suspecting something although Thor wasn't entirely sure what he'd done to cause suspicion. Surely he hadn't been that distant from his brother in this time had he? He'd felt so incredibly close to Loki when they were first this age.

He got one of the books off the shelf and brought it back over to Loki, who he now saw was looking at him curiously. "What?"

"Nothing... It's just you've been so strange all day. You didn't even speak about Fandral or Hogun or the others all day."

"They weren't here," Thor replied as if it were obvious.

"You say that like it's stopped you before. Come on, Thor. Tell me what happened... I know something happened," Loki said, leaning forward slightly.

Thor shook his head. "I told you. I had a dream where you weren't there."

"It has to be more than that," Loki argued.

The fledgling God of Thunder sighed and ran a hand through his hair. Obviously, he would have to come up with something. His brother was not one to be put aside with unsatisfactory excuses, and he apparently thought Thor's first explanation was one such. "You're right," Thor admitted. "It wasn't just that you weren't there. You were standing right there in front of me. Just an arm's length away... and a monster came and killed you. Right in front of me... and I couldn't do anything at all."

There were several moments of silence. "What sort of monster?"

"One I've never seen before... a nightmare that I doubt we'll ever see the likes of," Thor muttered. He would do his absolute best to never allow them to see the twisted Dark Elves, although he might not be able to avoid that particular situation. "And it matters little. To see you perish in front of me... to not be able to do anything to save you made me realize I wasn't acting as a very good brother."

Again, Loki didn't say anything right away. Thor didn't dare look up to see the expression on his brother's face. "It was just a dream, Thor. And you are a good brother. Even if you are a giant lump most of the time," he finally said with a bit of amusement seeping into his voice near the end. "Don't be too hard on yourself. Nothing is going to happen to me."

Thor nodded in agreement because there wasn't any other reply he could possibly give. He couldn't say that it wasn't a dream. He couldn't admit that he'd been far from a good brother and led directly to Loki's demise. Even if Loki did believe him to have such future knowledge, Thor would never be able to voice the truth. He couldn't take losing his brother again in such a way, and he just knew that such an admission would lead to just that. "I just wanted to be sure you know I regret not being as close to you as we used to be," Thor said, finally looking back up.

Loki smiled a little. "You are such a sap," he said. "Don't worry so much, Thor. I know you. I know you get all single minded about things. The way you play tafl reminds me if I ever forget. Now, it's getting late. Head off to bed before mother comes and makes you."

He had half a mind to protest but then decided he couldn't spend every second of every day with Loki. He laughed a little, more at himself than anything, and got to his feet. "Alright. I'll see you in the morning."

"Try not to ambush me with back breaking hugs this time," Loki drawled.

"No promises," Thor said with a wide grin.

Loki groaned a little. "You are impossible."

"Goodnight, brother."

"Goodnight, Thor," Loki said with an eye roll.

Thor chuckled before leaving his brother's room. It was surprising how much more expressive Loki was. He hadn't realized how incredibly closed off his brother had become over the decades until he wasn't that way any longer. He was glad that his first day back had gone so well. Hopefully, he'd be able to keep fixing things. He had time to do so. Not slipping was going to be the hardest part, he figured. Because not every day was going to have something for him to do differently.

In fact, most days he was most likely going to have nothing to do but just live out his life again. Thor paused in his doorway as he thought about that. He hadn't really realized how long an Aesir lived until he was suddenly faced with living his childhood all over again. It was a little daunting. It wasn't like his mortal friends were yet born to visit. Although, he did still have Sif and the Warrior's Three. Well, it would be five currently. And not warriors. Oh, that wasn't even something he'd considered at all. The original group was still together. Some of those he used to play with at this age he hadn't seen since before the fledgling God reached his majority and now he'd suddenly be faced with them again. Thor wasn't entirely sure how to handle that.

Thor shook his head hard and went into his room. There was little to do but deal with these sorts of things as they came around. It might actually be fun to see those old friends again-

Oh.

Thor paused again when he realized that meant that she would still be around as well. Amora. He shifted uncomfortably at the very thought. The first time around, Thor had depended greatly on Loki and Sif to keep the overly affectionate girl away. She just had always left Thor uneasy. Perhaps some strange instinct of his had let him know she was a little too affectionate. She did border on obsessed although, at this age, she hadn't been so terrible. But then, Thor hadn't been all that interested in girls that way at this age. He supposed that neither had Amora and that was why she hadn't been as bad when they were young.

He rather hoped he wouldn't have to deal with all of that again. It had been awkward and uncomfortable most of the time. Somewhat dangerous at other points when Amora had been scheming. Loki had always managed to out think her but she had caused a bit of collateral damage and pain. Perhaps he should break off with Amora now before it got to that point. Surely, nobody would question if he just stopped being around Amora as much. Then again, she hadn't done anything yet. Was it really fair to cut ties with her when she hadn't actually done anything to deserve it? Oh, that question was giving him a headache. It seemed much easier to answer when he was considering that Loki hadn't done anything against Midgard now so shouldn't be punished for that. It seemed very obvious when it was in that context...

When it wasn't Loki though, things were a bit muddier. Thor groaned and went to go get ready for bed. Perhaps he'd be better served to not think about such things too much. He was here, really, to do one thing. Make sure his brother didn't go down the same path he once had. Amora, and his other brothers, and even his own education were all a backseat to that one task. Something to keep him busy while Loki didn't need him.

Thor sighed and quickly washed up before heading into his main bedchamber. He was again struck by just how different his room was from Loki's. Thor had a bookshelf... it was mostly untouched. A few loose daggers had ended up on the shelves along with a whetstone and a few other random items. Out of curiosity, Thor moved over to the rarely used bookcase to read the titles of what was actually there.

He tilted his head to the side to read along the spines and was actually a little surprised at what was there. "Huh... are these my schoolbooks?" he asked to nobody. That would make sense although he had no idea how they would have made it onto his shelf. Obviously, he used the ones in the library for his actual study but he couldn't remember even getting these copies. Thor shook his head and straightened again. He would have to at least try to use the books this time around. Maybe it would help him not be quite so lost during lessons. He'd liked that they had sped by faster today.

Not having much else to do, Thor went over and turned his lights out before climbing into bed. The moon was bright outside his window and cast spindly shadows over his walls. He stayed up for quite a while just watching the shadows slowly move while trying to silence his mind enough to sleep. It was unusually difficult for him, though. He was not one to often have trouble sleeping but then he rarely had such things as time travel and questions of morality relating to things that hadn't been done yet on his mind. These were always the sorts of thoughts that he left to the thinkers in his family and later the thinkers among his friends. He imagined the son of Stark would find such questions to be quite entertaining. Thor, however, simply found them tiresome and ache-inducing.

It took him quite a while to finally get to sleep. His mind was just too full of complicated and sometimes contradicting thoughts to really get to sleep too quickly. That, of course, resulted in him waking up very late the next morning. So late in fact that he only actually woke up when he was slapped upside the head with his own pillow.

Thor sat upright and blinked owlishly at his brother. "Nice to see that you're feeling more like yourself," Loki said with amusement. "Mother sent me to get you. Breakfast is getting cold." Thor could only groan and fall back over. He heard Loki's sigh and could just imagine him rolling his eyes. "Bright as the sun, indeed. Get up, Thor, before I put snakes in your bed again."

"I will dye all your clothing pink if you even think about doing that again, Loki," Thor grumbled as he pushed his frankly terrifyingly messy hair away from his face. That had been one of Loki's more cruel pranks and Thor was not interested in a repeat of that incident. He'd had to check his bedding for weeks after to ease his fears of snakes climbing up him.

"Pink, brother? My, I have been a bad influence on you," Loki said with a chuckled. "Too bad for you, I could just change it all back with a simple spell."

Thor groaned and tossed his pillow at his brother. He couldn't help the smirk of satisfaction when he heard the dull thunk of it impacting his brother's face. "You are so childish, big brother," Loki grumbled. After a little more prodding, Thor relented and got up despite his tiredness. He noticed Loki's face was still red and peeling in several places but was already looking better than it had the day before. It wasn't as swollen as it had been. He felt a little bad about throwing his pillow at Loki's healing face but, since Loki didn't mention it, decided to just not bring it up again. If it had really hurt, Thor had no doubt that Loki would have done something in retaliation.

"What is for breakfast?" Thor asked loudly from his washroom.

"The usual," Loki replied casually and Thor wondered just what he was doing.

A thought suddenly occurred to him. An absolutely terrible thought. "You had better not be putting snakes in my bed, Loki!" There was a rather disconcerting chuckle and Thor resolved to check his bed tonight to ensure that he didn't encounter any... unpleasant surprises. His brother did have an unfortunate tendency to take jokes just a little too far.

When he finally came out again ready for another day in his own past life, his brother was looking suspiciously innocent. "Why, Thor, that look!" he said in mock surprise. "One would think you don't trust me!"

"No, Loki... I just know you too well," Thor replied. "Now come, before Mother sends someone else after us."

"If you got up at a decent time this wouldn't be an issue," Loki pointed out lightly.

Thor frowned. "I get up at decent times."

"When I make you."

"I did yesterday!"

"A rarity, not the rule, Thor."

Thor glared a little and gave Loki a hard shove. His brother only laughed despite getting sent several steps to the side. "Truth hurts, brother." Thor felt his good humor sober a little at the usually innocuous saying. Truer than you know, Loki.

Chapter Text

Thor quickly found that his assessment that the hardest part of his task would be remaining vigilant was terribly, dreadfully true. After that first day, it seemed as if he was always waiting for something else to happen. The first week passed by with Thor tense as a bowstring. And yet nothing significant happened. Another week passed and still his days were filled with lessons, Loki’s minor childish pranks, and mock adventures with his friends. Usually, at this age, his group had consisted of Loki, Hogun, Fandral, Svipdagr, and Astrild. The boys five, his mind supplied in place of Warriors Three.

Hogun was as quiet as he ever was although at this age it was because he didn’t like anyone to take note of his Vanaheim accent, which Thor still couldn’t wrap his head around (why should Hogun be embarrassed about such a thing was beyond Thor). Fandral was missing his signature goatee but was no less calf-eyed around a beautiful girl and tended to do stupid things to try and get attention away from Thor and onto himself (odd how Thor hadn’t noticed that the first time he was this age).

Svipdagr, who usually insisted on being called simply Dagr, was the middle child of councilman Dellingr making him brother to both Sif and Heimdall. Dagr too could see much beyond what he should be able to see although not to the extent of his elder brother, this made him an excellent lookout for any pranks that the group may wish to engage in, usually pranks thought up by Loki and led by Thor. Thor had not seen Dagr in many centuries. Not since he’d left Asgard just before their majority, for reasons Thor did not know. He had, as mentioned, the same golden eyes that Heimdall possessed but the fairer skin of Dellingr and Sif. Which was understandable as Heimdall was a product of their father’s first marriage and had inherited his dark complexion from his mother who had died many years ago.

Astrild was, rather like Hogun, not the son of any councilman or dignitary but a commoner. He and Fandral however, were nigh inseparable. Unfortunately, Astrild had gotten on the wrong side of a maiden’s father and had to find somewhere else to live just after Thor had gotten Mjolnir. He looked typically Asgardian with sandy blonde hair and a healthy glow accompanied by dark blue eyes. He was not the best fighter in their year but made up for it with pure effort and determination. Where Loki simply focused on what he was actually good at, Astrild stubbornly pushed forward no matter how many injuries he received and as such was rewarded with more acceptance than Loki had gotten.

Sif (her hair still golden blonde) was on the very edges of Thor’s friendly group. Not quite yet daring to break the traditional placement of girls to join with Thor’s friends, but Thor knew that she would eventually approach them and Thor would skip the disbelief and jibes this time around and just welcome her. Amora too was on the edges of the group and yet was quite happy to trail after the boys albeit for different reasons than Sif (currently she didn’t seem to have a favorite, but Thor kept a watchful eye out for that possible problem). Volstagg was older than Thor and his friends and therefore took little notice of them (instead he was chasing after his yet-to-be-wife like a lost puppy, which Thor found incredibly amusing). Thor knew that soon enough the makeup of the group would start to change and eventually Volstagg and Sif would join them so he tried to not worry himself over it. He couldn’t force things, besides Volstagg wouldn’t care to be around those so much younger than him for long periods. Oh sure, he joked around with them and happily entertained them during feasts but that was not the same and Thor knew it.

But the weeks continued to tick forward without anything of note happening. Thor struggled with his schoolwork with the help of Loki, he kept wracking his brain for a way to tell Loki the truth about his heritage (and continually came up with less than satisfactory answers), and he tried to ensure nobody teased his brother for his pursuit of magic. As a full year passed, and then another, Thor couldn’t help but wonder if he had been sent back too far. Certainly there had been that first day where Thor had made sure to include his brother, but after that very little had happened at all. Had that really been the beginning of it all or had Angrboda’s potion simply sent him back too far?

He assumed it was entirely possible. After all, what did he know of magic? And Angrboda hadn’t even had a definite time to send Thor back to. He supposed that missing the target by a few years wasn’t too bad. So long as it really was only a few years and not a few decades.

Slowly, ever so slowly, Thor began to relax. Keeping his vigilance for so long was near impossible, even for a God. Five years slipped by and felt closer to five days before anything else happened at all that Thor noticed.

“Where is he?” Fandral asked in annoyance as he leaned back across the bench.

“He will come,” Thor replied.

“Oh come on, Thor, it’s been almost three hours,” Astrild pointed out where he was perched on the back of Fandral’s bench, looking rather like a golden haired eagle. Astrild was rather scrawny for an Asgardian but he was deadly fast, which allowed him to keep up quite well on the training ground now that he’d built up stamina through training.

“It’s been one,” Hogun corrected softly where he was leaning against a tree where it was shady.

“That’s still a whole hour we haven’t been doing anything,” Fandral complained.

Thor sighed. “We are waiting for Loki,” he insisted.

It had taken some effort on Thor’s part to get Loki to agree to a deal. Thor thought the agreement very generous really. So long as Loki left the library for half the day when he didn’t have lessons, Thor would not retaliate for one of Loki’s pranks that week. Considering Loki could spend literally all of his time in the library if allowed, Thor thought it a good first step in getting Loki friends of his own. Or at the very least better friends with Thor’s own. Even if it did leave Thor open to pranks. At least Loki hadn’t been terribly cruel with them. The worst so far was when Thor’s soap turned his skin a truly spectacular shade of green for a day.

“I see him,” Dagr said from up in the branches of Hogun’s tree.

Thor looked around instantly but did not see his brother. “Where?” he called up to the golden-eyed boy.

Dagr nearly fell from the tree but caught one branch with his leg at the last minute to hang down, nearly colliding with Hogun’s head in the process. Thankfully, Hogun was smart enough to dodge out of the way. Once Dagr had stopped swinging from his fall but was still hanging down, he pointed off towards the palace. “He’s coming out now but he’s with someone.”

“With someone?” Fandral echoed as he sat up. “Loki?”

Dagr nodded. “Yeah. A girl.”

Fandral perked up even more and looked over at Astrild for just a moment. “Is she cute?” Fandral asked. Thor cast Fandral a bit of a glare. He didn’t want his friend scaring away what might be Loki’s own. “Let’s go look!” Fandral said, and before Thor could protest he was off like a shot. Astrild was right behind him, of course, but Dagr and Hogun looked to Thor.

Thor sighed and hurried off after the two other blondes. He didn’t want the two of them upsetting his brother in some way and usually when a girl was involved Fandral and Astrild were oblivious to anything else. The Prince heard Dagr finish his fall (probably less than gracefully) but then two sets of feet were running just behind him. Thankfully, Thor managed to catch up with his two friends before they reached Loki and even grabbed them by the shirt to stop them from just running over like lunatics. Thor dragged them behind a tree where they wouldn’t be spotted. “What are you two thinking?” he demanded.

“We just wanted to see what girl would be hanging around Loki!” Fandral said.

Astrild nodded. “I mean, he’s in the library all day. Where would he have met a girl?”

Thor scowled a little at those answers and, despite himself, was a bit curious as well. He leaned around the tree as subtly as he could to take a look at who it was that Loki was speaking with. Fandral and Astrild bent around as well even as Hogun and Dagr caught up. Thor blinked in some surprise as the very attractive girl that seemed to have her full attention on Loki.

“Oh, she is pretty,” Fandral said leaning further out.

“I don’t think I’ve seen her before,” Astrild offered.

“Sigyn,” Dagr said, causing the others to look at him. “Her name is Sigyn. She’s one of the new apprentices under Eir.”

Thor looked back around and wracked his brain. Sigyn. Yes, he did remember her. Sort of. He hadn’t actually known that she was around when she was this young though. Hadn’t she come to the castle when they were nearly men already? Thor shrugged that off, it wasn’t as if he’d been paying attention the first time around. She was indeed beautiful. With long platinum blonde hair kept back in a simple braid and a lovely heart shaped face. He couldn’t see much else from where he was but for her clothes, which were straightforward and practical. A bright red tunic over a cream colored dress, all of it belted around he waist with a golden strap.

Thor let his eyes move from the petite girl to his brother and was a bit surprised at how relaxed his stance was. “Ooh, looks like Loki’s got a bit of a crush,” Astrild observed. Apparently noticing the same thing that Thor did.

“She’s too pretty for him,” Fandral objected.

“Hush!” Thor snapped. If Astrild was right and Loki was interested (and Thor acknowledged that Astrild did have an uncanny knack of being correct about such things), Thor was not going to allow his friends to ruin it. Loki had precious few people in his life that he’d ever shown interest in. Or, perhaps more appropriately, had shown interest back.

“Oh, come on, Thor,” Fandral whined. “At least let us go over there and say hello.”

“No,” he said firmly. He was not going to allow them to ruin it.

“What are you boys doing?”

Thor couldn’t quite help but jump in surprise and turned around quickly. “Sif!” He had not been expecting her by any stretch of the imagination. He wanted to come up with something to say so that he wouldn’t be staring stupidly, but nothing seemed to be coming to him.

Sif sighed and leaned to the side to look beyond them. She blinked in surprise. “Who’s that with Loki?”

“Her name’s Sigyn,” Fandral supplied as he turned back around to stare. “She’s a new apprentice…”

“They must have come from the library,” Astrild added.

“How can you tell?” Fandral asked.

“They both have books with them,” Dagr said with a bit of an eye roll. “Honestly, don’t you pay any attention? Why are you here, Sif?”

Sif crossed her arms over her chest. “I came looking for you,” she said as if it were obvious. “Mother tells me you need to return home.”

Dagr nearly fell with how fast he spun around. “What? Why?”

A smile crossed Sif’s face. “Something about your room and how embarrassing it is for all of Asgard that it even exists in the same realm?” Dagr scowled at his sister. “What? I keep my room clean, unlike some people.”

“You’re such a brat.” Sif just raised an eyebrow and looked entirely too unimpressed. Dagr sighed in annoyance. “Tell mother I’ll be back tonight to clean up. I’m busy now,” he said gesturing to his friends.

“Right sure, I’m sure Mother won’t tell Father you’re ignoring her wishes,” Sif said entirely too casually.

Thor wished they’d stop arguing right behind him. He was trying to see what was going on with his brother and Sigyn. Loki was actually smiling in that genuine sweet way he had. Not the fake way he used as a mask. Thor truly wished he’d noticed this before.

“You are so impossible,” Dagr huffed. “Fine. I’ve got to go,” he told the others. “I’ll try and hurry back.”

“We won’t hold our breaths for you,” Astrild said absently. He and Fandral were still staring at Sigyn and Thor made a mental note to tell them to back off. He didn’t want the far more forward pair of Asgardians to move in and push Loki to the side. Loki was never the best with direct competition. It just wasn’t his strong suit.

Dagr sighed heavily and hurried off back towards councilman Dellingr’s house. Thor cast his friend one last glance before turning back to Loki and Sigyn. “What do you think they’re talking about?” Fandral asked.

“Boring things,” Astrild offered with a satisfied nod. “Books or something.”

Fandral made a face. “That’s a shame.”

“Would you two give it a rest?” Thor asked. Sigyn was definitely pretty but there were many lovely maidens in Asgard. There was no reason for them to focus on her. Plus, just the other day they were both gushing over how pretty one of the daughters of Rán was. Well, really, they’d been gushing over how pretty they all were, but that was besides the point really.

“You’re no fun at all, Thor,” Fandral complained.

Thor rolled his eyes at that. “Look! They’re breaking it up,” Astrild said eagerly. Sure enough, Sigyn and Loki were slowly moving away from each other; Loki towards them and Sigyn back towards the palace. Thor was a little amused to see that Loki wasn’t even really looking where he was going. It seemed his brother really was taken with the young maiden.

Sigyn gave a little wave before she disappeared back into the palace and Loki just stood there. Suddenly, Fandral and Astrild left the safety of the tree. Thor couldn’t quite grab them in time, and the two blondes instantly fell on Loki. “Who was that? What were you talking about? Where did you even meet her? Is she going to be here long?”

Loki, trapped between two arms over his shoulders, looked utterly bewildered by the rapid-fire questions. Thor sighed in annoyance and hurried over. “Back off!” he said, pushing the other two blondes away from his brother. “None of that is any of your business.”

Loki sent his brother a thankful look even as he shifted his grip on his book that he’d brought with him. It only took him a quick glance to notice the absent number though. “Where’s Dagr?”

“His sister came and got him,” Astrild said.

“Sif?”

“Yeah. He said he’ll try and come back soon, but we’d best just go on without him,” Fandral explained. “What are we doing by the way? You know, we’ve been waiting for you for an hour.”

“I was in the middle of something,” Loki said with exasperation.

“Yes, we saw that,” Fandral said with a sly grin. “You still haven’t answered our questions, Loki.”

Thor was a little surprised to see Loki turn a little pink at his ears. He tried hard to bite back a smile and failed rather spectacularly. Still, he would at least try to save his brother from Fandral’s teasing. “Alright, alright, let’s just go. I thought you two were bored.”

“We were. Then we saw a pretty girl,” Astrild replied.

Loki frowned a little. “She’s not just a pretty girl,” he said.

Astrild and Fandral exchanged a glance at that. “Oh?”

Loki looked about ready to reply again before closing his mouth. Thor thought he was debating with himself about something. “Let’s just go,” he finally said after a moment of silence. Thor nodded in agreement and led the way back.

“What are we doing today?” Hogun asked quietly.

Thor shrugged. He didn’t come up with the plans usually. Loki smiled a little bit and glanced back at the quietest of their party. “I overheard that Idunn and Bragi were visiting Vanaheim… I figured with only Beyla and Byggvir there we might sneak into Idunn’s garden.”

Thor’s eyes widened a little at the boldness of that idea. “If we’re caught, Father will be most displeased,” he pointed out. Everyone was forbidden from the garden, but the very few Idunn had given permission. That included herself, her husband Bragi, her two servants Beyla and Byggvir, and Frigga.

“Well then, we should do our best to not get caught,” Loki replied casually.

It was then that Thor recalled another time (that hadn’t actually happened yet) where they’d sneaked into Idunn’s garden. They hadn’t had any particular reason other than it was a place they were not meant to go. They had, of course, overstayed their welcome and gotten caught. He recalled quite well how that punishment had occurred.

Thor and the others hadn’t thought twice about shifting all the blame to Loki. And while, yes, it was Loki’s idea they certainly didn’t need to just go along with it. He hadn’t had to do much convincing to have them join him. Perhaps Thor could… adjust things a bit. “What are we even going to do there?” Thor asked as he walked beside his brother.

Loki shrugged a bit. “I don’t know. I’ve never been in the garden to know what there is to do. Have you?”

“Of course I haven’t,” Thor said. “Not even Father’s allowed in.”

“My point exactly. I want to see what’s in there.”

“Probably just apple trees,” Thor said.

Loki gave him an exasperated look. “Just apple trees that make fruit that grants eternal life,” he pointed out. “Doesn’t that interest you at all?” Thor could only shrug in response. He didn’t really think often of Idunn’s apples. Why would he? He ate them like he was supposed to, end of story. Loki sighed. “You are hopeless.”

“Can’t we do something else?” Thor asked, using his best pleading whine that usually got Loki to give in.

Their other three friends were looking between the brothers curiously. It wasn’t really like Thor to turn down going somewhere that he shouldn’t necessarily go. But here he was asking for something else. Loki frowned at his older brother. “Why so reluctant, Thor? Scared?”

Thor couldn’t help but be affronted. “I’m not scared.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

Thor paused and thought about the situation for a minute. That drew him four very surprised looks but he ignored that. If he couldn’t talk his brother and friends out of this perhaps he could just make them leave sooner so they didn’t get caught. “Fine,” he agreed. “But only for a bit. I don’t fancy getting punished by father.”

Loki snorted a little. “Where’s the fun if there’s no risk?” he asked.

The Golden Prince of the Aesir sighed and followed along behind his brother. He would have to pester Loki to get them to leave before they got caught but that was alright. He was fairly used to harassing Loki. Thor was resigned to becoming even more used to it and even better at it as he made it his mission to keep Loki out of trouble as best he could.

The five of them headed across the city to where Idunn and Bragi’s home was located. It was one of the more distant estates due to the amount of space Idunn’s orchard took. Even the front of the property was lush with greenery but most was hidden behind a wall at least twelve feet tall. Vines were crawling up the sides of the wall and flowers spilled over the top of it like drapery. “How are we even going to get over that?” Fandral asked looking up.

Loki smiled mischievously and held up a hand glowing with green tendrils of magic. “I can get us over a wall,” he said confidently. “So long as you don’t move too much… I might accidentally blow you up.”

Fandral paled considerably. “Loki,” Thor said in warning. “Don’t tease.” He was all but positive that Loki wouldn’t actually suggest a spell he didn’t have complete mastery of. He was too proud of his own magical prowess to risk mistakes. Nor would he seriously admit to the possibility of making a mistake with his magic.

Loki pouted some. “You’re no fun today, brother.”

“Yes, well-”

A horn sounded out across all of Asgard and all five boys froze where they stood. Loki and Thor looked to each other with no small amount of trepidation. Though that had not been the call of Gjallarhorn, it was no less unexpected and serious a sound to hear. It was the sound of Olifant Horns of the royal guardsmen and only to be sounded if there was something serious going on. The magic flicked away from Loki’s upraised hand as the last of the horn call echoed softer and more distant.

Thor didn’t pause to think and reached out to grab Loki’s wrist before running back the way they’d come. If a guard was using his Olifant Horn then they needed to get to the protection of the castle in all haste. Thor didn’t have a weapon on him and Loki wasn’t likely to be able to cast many strong spells currently.

“Thor! You’ll pull my arm out!” Loki snapped, but he didn’t try to free his wrist.

Thor’s mind was racing. There was no time in his childhood that he remembered something like this happening. Surely, things couldn’t have changed that much from him doing so little? What could have possibly happened?

He heard behind him, his friends and brother rushing to keep up with him, but Thor didn’t even think of slowing down. Whatever was going on, he didn’t want to be caught so far from home during it. Thor raced through his memories again for anything that might warrant the sound of the guard’s horns. But no matter how hard he tried he simply couldn’t think of any reason.

Something had happened. Something that wasn’t supposed to happen. And Thor couldn’t help but worry. If it was changing so much so fast… how was he going to ensure his brother’s safety?

Chapter Text

When Thor and Loki arrived back at the palace, they immediately noticed everything was in disarray. Servants were only seen for brief flashes of time as they rushed between rooms. Thor assumed that they were delivering messages between various senators and council members. Most of the rooms near the front of the palace were populated, at least some of the time, by those influential politicians. The guards were seemingly on high alert without the usual casual attention that Thor tended to see. There were also more guards than usual. An entire extra squadron had gathered and was milling about in the entry hall before the throne room talking quietly amongst themselves. Thor tried to overhear something as he passed by with Loki still in tow but the guards were keeping their voices too low to hear more than a few words.

Thor was about to just hurry into the throne room to ask his father what was going on when he spotted Volstagg sitting on a stair looking uncharacteristically severe. Thor adjusted his path to that side of the room. Though Volstagg was one of Odin's guards, Thor couldn't recall him being in any special squads or patrols the first time around. "Volstagg, what's going on?"

The bearded guardsman frowned. "I am not certain I am allowed to tell you, My Prince," Volstagg answered.

"The warning horns would not have been used for no reason," Loki pointed out. "What harm is there in telling us what that reason is?"

"It is not my place," Volstagg argued. "And I doubt I know as much as Odin All-Father knows."

Thor figured that Volstagg had a point there, but he didn't really think their father would tell them too much information. Odin rarely informed Thor or Loki of anything at this age. The King of Asgard much preferred to keep his youngest sons away from anything that could be considered dangerous. Thor couldn't be a hundred percent certain, but he felt chances were excellent that Odin would believe the reason for sounding the alarm to be one of those dangerous things he didn't share. "You could at least give us a hint," Thor said.

Volstagg sighed heavily. "I truly do not know much."

"You know more than we do at this point," Loki said. "Surely, if you and the rest of your men have been told something about what's going on, then it is something not so sensitive we cannot know it as well."

Their red-headed adult friend looked skeptical for a moment before sighing again. Thor resisted the urge to smile as Loki used that silver tongue of his with incredible ease, even at such a young age. "Very well, there has been an attack near our borders."

"An attack?" Thor echoed. "An attack by who?"

"That, we do not know," Volstagg admitted uneasily. "It was a small farm that was razed. It was very remote, the owner was not the most sociable of Aesir. No survivors were left, and though we found some tracks, they could have belonged to several species that we have been ill at ease with over these last centuries."

"So, Father will be sending your group to track whoever did this?" Loki guessed.

"He has not given us our orders yet," Volstagg answered. "But that is what we think, yes. The scouts that were first dispatched are reporting to your father now."

Loki nodded a little. Thor supposed that coming back for assistance made sense. Scouts were quick and good at tracking, but if they were outnumbered, they would find themselves in a dangerous situation very quickly. If there was any evidence in the tracks of a vast number of these bandits, Thor would see why the Scouts came back first. Thor and Loki exchanged a brief look before turning towards the throne room doors. Volstagg wouldn't know much else besides what he'd already shared. If the Princes wanted more information they would have to ask their father, or perhaps their mother.

Thor led the way into the throne room. Hermod and Meili standing before Odin. Meili was a half step behind Hermod and seemed content to let Hermod do all of the talking. Thor figured that whatever had happened was most important for Odin to have sent Hermod and Meili out to investigate. He would have just walked up without thinking, but Loki caught his arm. "Wha-"

Loki's hand muffled his question quickly. "Hush. We'll wait," Loki murmured so softly that Thor almost didn't hear the words at all. Loki jerked his head slightly to the side, and Thor nodded in agreement. The brothers carefully moved over to the side to cross the expanse of the room in front of them. After crossing half the chamber, Thor could finally make out what Hermod was saying.

"-of the tracks rule out all but the largest of peoples," Hermod said. "The attack seemed too organized for Trolls, but the Giants don't usually raid our farms like this."

Odin was silent for a moment before fixing his one eye on Meili. "You share this opinion?"

Meili seemed mildly uncomfortable under Odin's gaze but, after a moment, straightened fully. Thor was suddenly struck by how much Meili looked like Steve Rogers. The golden light of Asgard seemed to match the blonde of Meili's hair, and his blue eyes were just as honest as the Captain of the America. Although, Thor had to admit, Meili was not quite as muscular as Roger's son and was several inches taller. "There was no obvious signs of Giants, All-Father, Frost or Fire. But we cannot rule them out for that alone. The destruction made it difficult to tell for certain. As Hermod said, it seems unlikely to be caused by Trolls, but I cannot think of who else would want to attack a small farm."

"Judging by how many tracks there were, the group of attackers was either an entire tribe of Trolls or a squadron of Giants," Hermod added. "A full tribe is not the usual attacking force for Trolls."

Thor found himself nodding in agreement. Trolls were large and brutally strong and sometimes quite dim-witted, but they were also tribal and stayed in small groups. If Trolls attacked or raided, they were most often in pairs or sometimes three at a time. An entire tribe attacking was virtually unheard of. The only time such attacks happened at all seemed to be between themselves when fighting over territory.

"Was there any evidence of sorcery?"

Thor nearly jumped at the question but managed to catch himself. Frigga stepped out from the shadows to stand beside Odin. Thor hadn't even realized she was in the room. Meili and Hermod bowed to the Queen. "We did not notice any signs, but neither Meili or myself are well versed in such things, All-Mother," Hermod answered.

Loki stirred slightly, as if he wanted to say something, but managed to stop himself from actually voicing whatever was on his mind. Thor was almost willing to bet on Loki thinking something disapproving about the two grown Aesir's lack of basic knowledge about Seidr. "Trolls know little offensive magic, however, if they were behind this attack and you find an entire tribe during your search, Seidmadr or Seidkona will undoubtedly be with them. Be cautious," Frigga warned. Usually, Trolls were led by a user of Seidr as they tended to also be the more intelligent in any given group. Sorcery couldn't be used by the entirely stupid. Ignorant, perhaps if given guidance (Thor tried hard to not think about his own situation being a good example of such a thing), but the outright stupid would never be able to stumble their way through the use of Seidr.

"Be sure to be careful as you follow the trail," Odin said. "There is a squadron outside waiting for you, as well."

Hermod and Meili bowed low before following the unspoken dismissal. Thor watched as the two scouts left the throne room without so much as a backwards glance. "Boys." Thor and Loki both flinched at Odin's voice. Though they hadn't exactly been hiding (something that would have been hard to do considering the door they'd come in through was so vastly tall), neither had they been expecting to be called out.

The two princes exchanged an uneasy look before shuffling out from the shadows to stand in front of the King and Queen of Asgard. "It is good you came back as soon as the alarm was called," their Mother said with a smile. "But you should have waited until your Father was done speaking with Hermod and Meili before entering."

"As I'm sure you can understand, this attack is very concerning. I don't want either of you leaving the palace grounds until it is resolved and those responsible are dealt with," Odin said firmly. "Especially you, Loki."

"Father-"

"No arguments. You tend to wander, and I do not want you to be caught by whoever committed such a crime," Odin said. Loki looked mutinous but folded his arms across his chest and said nothing else. "Pout all you wish, Loki, it will not change my mind."

Thor thought that this conversation would go best if he stepped in before Loki could protest with words as well. Loki never liked being accused of 'pouting.' "How many people perished, Father?"

Odin was quiet for a moment as he seemed to consider the question. "More than should have. It was not a large family, but there were several farm hands as well that were slaughtered. But any loss of our citizens is more than it should be."

"Trolls attack mostly at night," Loki pointed out. "It isn't as if I wander the countryside in the dead of night."

"There is no guarantee it was Trolls, Loki," Odin pointed out, sounding a bit exasperated. "If this attack was caused by Giants then they will not care about night or day."

Loki looked off to the side, and Thor hoped that, for once, Loki would just do what their Father asked. Odin only wanted Loki to be safe, it was unfortunate that Loki hated to be told he couldn't do something. Thor's little brother loved being contrary to rules he thought were unnecessary and this was just the sort of decree that Loki would find pointless. "It shouldn't be for long. Right, Father?"

"Just until the culprits are found," Frigga assured, apparently seeing the displeasure on Loki's face as quickly as Thor now saw it.

"With an entire squadron and Hermod searching, it should not take long," Odin agreed.

Thor understood what Odin meant instantly. Hermod was the fastest Aesir in Asgard, and with him in the lead, he would ensure that the others kept a quick pace. Thor hoped they wouldn't have to search too far or too long. For the good of everyone. Loki's pranks would get incrementally worse if cooped up for more than a few days.

"Stay near the palace until this is resolved," Odin repeated. "You can go now."

Still wearing an unhappy look on his face, Loki followed Thor's lead to bow to their parents before leaving the throne room. Thor didn't particularly like the feeling of ushering his brother away in case of emergency but he'd rather that than watch his family start arguing. They only got halfway down the corridor leading to their rooms however when Loki shrugged his arm out of Thor's grip. "Thor! I'm fine! You act like I'm going to explode or something with how quickly you dragged us out of there."

"What? No! Nothing like that," Thor said quickly. He hadn't realized until that precise moment he had more than half expected Loki to become violent, which was only something he'd done during the whole... banishment incident. Thor hadn't realized how easily his sense of which Loki was beside him could get thrown off. Just one scowl from Loki set off far more alarm bells than it really should considering this Loki still thought he was born of Frigga and Odin. "I just knew you weren't happy and thought we could find something to do that'll cheer you up!"

Loki gave him a look that reeked of suspicion but finally gave a single nod. "Fine. But one of these days you really must tell me why you seem to think I'll lose my temper all the time..."

Thor felt some alarm build. "I don't look at you like that!"

"You do," Loki insisted as they continued their walk, although at a slower pace than what they began with. "Sometimes this look just comes over your face like you're worried I'm going to do something. Especially when we're talking to Father."

The alarm Thor was feeling multiplied. He hadn't thought he'd been so obvious about his concern. Now he had to find a way to disguise his residual fears and lies did not come nearly as natural to him as they did to Loki. Thor turned his gaze to the ground as they walked and struggled to find some way to vocalize his thoughts that were lies mixed with half-truths and genuine concerns. "I just... I know you do not always tell people when something bothers you," Thor began, "I suppose... I simply worry that one day you may try to hold back too much."

There were several moments of silence. "I wouldn't do that, Thor."

The fledgling God of Thunder looked over. Loki was staring off at nothing while they walked, his green eyes fixed forward. "I don't know why you're so worried about me lately, Thor. But you shouldn't. After all, I don't keep secrets from you, Brother. And I know you don't keep them from me. Well, you do, considering you won't tell me why you sometimes act so strange... but you're such a bad liar I imagine you can't keep any real secrets for long," he said, smiling some near the end from his own light jab.

Thor felt his throat clog instantly and quite painfully. Hot tears tried to build in his eyes, but he ruthlessly fought them back. He felt terrible and thankful all at once. A terrible conflict of emotions that were fighting for dominance. He loved that Loki trusted him and hated that he knew things that he had yet to tell his brother about. Keeping secrets was what caused all the problems, and yet here he was doing the same thing all over again. He had to find some way to get the truth known. Before what he kept fearing would happen did happen.

He wrapped his arm around Loki and brought him into a hug. "I worry about you only because I care for you, brother," Thor said.

Loki rolled his eyes. "You giant sap, get off me," he ordered with an elbow to Thor's ribs. "I swear you get softer and softer with each day that passes."

"I do not," Thor protested. "I simply wish for my brother to know I love him."

"Yes, yes, I know. And I, you. Now, come on, if we're going to be trapped inside, I'd rather be spending our time doing something actually entertaining," Loki said as he finally escaped from under Thor's arm.

"What do you have in mind?" Thor asked.

"Oh, nothing too serious, I promise you. Just a bit of fun," Loki said with a grin.

Thor suddenly had the impression that until this situation with the attack was sorted, he and his brother would be getting into quite a lot of trouble. He probably shouldn't enjoy that realization as much as he actually did. So, Thor found himself trailing after Loki into the kitchens and watching with some amount of awe as Loki sweet talked Ilmr, the old Asynja in charge of the kitchens, into giving them a truly remarkable number of desserts. Then again, Ilmr seemed rather fond of Loki, and it hadn't taken the fledgling silver tongue much at all to convince her.

As Thor and Loki walked down the hall with a basket each full of pastries of all sorts, Thor couldn't help but fix his brother with a questioning look. "How often do you go in there and get snacks like this?"

Loki painted the most laughably innocent expression on his face that Thor had ever seen. "Why brother... you have your late night activities... I have mine," he said. "You sneak out to the practice grounds despite Tyr telling you to rest... I sneak out to ensure the kitchens are up to the standards befitting a royal palace."

Thor snorted. "Yes, I'm sure they're quite glad for your quality control efforts, Loki."

"Oh, they are," Loki replied loftily.

"What are we going to do with all these snacks anyway?"

"Watch the show, obviously."

Thor wanted to ask what Loki meant by show. But considering the mischievous smile on his face, the elder prince had a feeling he wasn’t going to be told. He hoped it wasn’t anything too outlandish. He probably shouldn’t allow himself to get roped into any pranks but Thor found himself unable to resist. Plus, when Loki stopped by his room to pick up a large jar that Thor was sure he’d never seen before, his curiosity couldn’t help but be piqued.

The 'show' as it turned out, was greasing all of the recruit's weapons before the afternoon practice. Loki had targeted he class several decades above their own. Most of the warriors were nearly full grown and had picked weapon specialties already. Every swing sent weapons flying off into the distance, usually at the very end of a swing or at the very peak, which was a good thing as it kept the weapons either going much too high and far or much too downwards to actually hurt anyone. Loki had found them a safe and well-hidden spot to watch on top of one of the lower balconies while they munched away on their snacks. Thor glanced over at the smiling and giggling Loki. He seemed so very amused by the flailing and curses down below. "Don't ever do that to me."

"No promises," Loki replied in a sing-song voice without even looking away as one, particularly large, recruit dropped his own battle axe on his foot.

"Loki..."

"Oh, alright, fine. Big baby."

Thor rolled his eyes and shook his head at his brother before turning his attention back to what was going on down below. Really, he was surprised that none of the recruits had questioned why they couldn't hold their weapons yet. They had been watching for almost half an hour already.

Eventually, Tyr came over to see what all the commotion was. After only a few seconds of watching recruits lose weapons mid swing and dropping them all over the place, he seemed to put the pieces together. He put his fists sternly on his hips and scanned the grounds with his eyes, "Loki!"

Loki winced and nearly dropped his pastry with a curse. "Quick! Run, you idiot!" Loki hissed as he jumped up and dashed back inside. Thor was left blinking in confusion for another two heartbeats before his brain caught up and he scrambled after his brother.

"Loki! Don't leave me to take the blame!"

"I thought you loved me!"

"Not that much! Take your own lumps!" Even before Tyr had a metal hand his knocks upside the head could give more than just a few bruises. Thor wasn't eager to re-experience that sort of brotherly discipline.

"Traitor!" Loki accused.

Thor reached out and pushed Loki with one hand. The lighter boy gave a yelp and nearly toppled into a suit of armor before managing to save himself. "You can't call me that when you were going to use me as a scapegoat!"

"I thought you liked goats!"

"Oh, shut up!"

That only got a laugh in response.

The two brothers ran straight through several halls until they came out in their mother’s garden. Frigga didn’t even look up as her sons came tearing into the lush flowering yard. She only sighed and pulled her thread through the piece of cloth she was embroidering. Loki and Thor both dove behind a hedge. “Shh, quiet!” Loki hissed at Thor, who was trying and failing to scold his brother for getting him into this. He conveniently ignored the fact that he’d cheerfully gone along with the whole thing.

Loki clamped a hand over Thor’s mouth as he heard footsteps approaching. There were several moments where the only thing that they heard were those steps growing steadily louder. “Mother!” Tyr called as he came to a stop just inside of the garden. Loki shrunk down with Thor behind the hedge and peered through the branches of the bush as best he could. “Have you seen Loki and Thor?”

“Why? You look upset Tyr, darling.”

Tyr made a face. “The little brats thought greasing my recruit’s weapons would be funny,” Tyr complained. “I plan to teach them otherwise. One should not disrespect a weapon in such a way. It is unbefitting a Warrior or a Prince… much less a pair.”

Frigga’s lips twitched a little. “Perhaps your recruits should be respectful enough of their weapons to notice when the handles have been greased,” she said mildly. “Did anyone get injured?”

“No,” Tyr answered almost reluctantly. “That’s the only reason I won’t be tanning their hides,” he added in a growl. “Honestly, whoever heard of such a thing?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Darling… I seem to recall a young Prince that made a paste of flour and water to replace the leather polish in all the barracks…” Frigga said without looking up from her work. “He seemed to think such things were quite hilarious.”

Tyr turned bright red. “That’s not the same,” he grumbled. “Nobody could have gotten hurt from that.”

Frigga hummed a little and pulled her bright green thread through the cloth in her hands again. The golden tunic had just needed that extra touch and some beautifully embroidered vines were working perfectly. “If I see Thor or Loki, I will be sure to send them to you for your punishment, Tyr. But nothing too severe. Nobody got harmed.”

The oldest of Odin’s sons huffed a bit but nodded in agreement. “Very well. I promise I won’t actually give them a lashing.”

“Very good.”

Tyr bent down and gave his mother a kiss on the cheek before turning and leaving the garden, still looking displeased but at least mildly less explosive. Loki could only barely wait until Tyr was out of earshot before springing up from behind the bushes, “Did Tyr really do that?”

“Loki, that was not the point,” Frigga said calmly.

Loki frowned a little. Thor popped his own head up over the hedge to look at his mother, still looking as beautiful and serene as she always did. How many times had he seen her precisely this way? Sewing or weaving or just reading in her garden with the warm Asgardian sunlight shining all around? Thor found himself smiling before he could stop himself. “Are you really going to send us to Tyr, mother?” Loki asked a little petulantly. “It’s not our fault his men don’t have two brain cells in all their heads put together…”

“Yes, Loki,” Odin’s Queen replied. “Because even if you are far cleverer than anyone else doesn’t make it acceptable to be cruel to them.”

“It was just a little prank,” Loki protested. “It wasn’t even close to cruel,” he added in a low mutter.

Thor quickly looked over, but Loki wasn’t paying him much attention. Something about the way Loki had said that triggered an alarm of some sort in Thor’s head. Normally, he’d have just brushed off the comment as Loki’s mean-spirited streak raising its head, but now Thor wasn’t so sure. He couldn’t really ask what Loki meant however as Frigga had finally looked up at them. “Loki, Thor, I expect you both to accept your punishment gracefully. And to actually voice an apology,” she seemed to direct the second part of that solely to Loki, who again just huffed in response.

“Yes, Mother,” Thor agreed softly.

There was a moment of silence before Loki sighed. “Yes, Mother,” he also agreed.

Frigga smiled. “There’s my boys. Come give me a kiss and then go back to Tyr,” she commanded, holding her arm out.

Thor and Loki knew it was best to just do as their mother said. Loki was obviously far from happy but accepted Frigga’s embrace without protest. Once they’d given her the requested kiss, Frigga gave them both a gentle but firm swat on the backside with her sewing frame to get them moving. Both Princes left quickly before that could become something slightly more forceful. “Do you think they’ll tell Father?” Loki asked as they walked.

Thor winced. “Probably.”

Loki sighed but nodded. Such a thing wouldn’t be surprising, which meant that depending on how Tyr decided to punish them, they could be in store for two. Thor couldn’t help the slight rush of fear and shame at the very thought of upsetting his Father again. Though he understood now why Odin had banished him the whole ordeal was still a rather painful memory. He’d been punished before that, of course, but never so firmly. That might have been part of the problem, he reluctantly admitted. He couldn’t really be certain; he just knew he didn’t want to ever see that look on his father’s face again. The sheer disappointment had carved out his insides remarkably well and was without a doubt the worst part of the punishment. Mjolnir’s rejection following closely behind that and then Loki’s lie while Shield had kept Thor prisoner. In truth, Thor had rather enjoyed the rest of his banishment. He’d never before been able to talk about the most basic of Asgardian concepts and been considered highly intelligent. He wasn’t stupid, but he certainly wasn’t like Loki.

Thor didn’t attempt to direct Loki to a more direct path down to the training yard despite having passed by the same statue of their Grandfather Bor three times as they walked. Loki was obviously delaying, and Thor wasn’t going to stop him from doing so, as he didn’t want to face Tyr’s punishment either. Instead, he turned his attention away from punishments both past and future and focused on what Loki had said earlier. Rather than Loki’s usual light tone, he’d sounded bitter and unhappy, too much like how he’d been before Thor came back. Thor had hoped he’d never hear his brother’s voice like that again.

Loki wasn’t really paying Thor any attention at all. He was just focused on the ground as they walked. “Loki…” Bright green eyes instantly snapped to Thor. “What did you mean when you said what we did wasn’t even close to cruel?”

Loki’s eyes slid away. “Just what I said. What we did was harmless. It wasn’t cruel. And even if it were cruel… there are people that deserve such things.” Thor wanted to ask. To find out what exactly Loki was talking about because he had the feeling it was important. But the words just wouldn’t come. Thor tried several times but didn’t get any further than opening his mouth and then staring blankly like a fish. Thor dug his fingernails into the palm of his hand and swore, even as they finally made their way to Tyr again, that whatever had happened or had been threatened or whatever it ended up being, did not happen again.

Chapter Text

Going to get their punishment from Tyr didn't turn out to be so terrible. The oldest son of Odin ranted and raved for a little while (something to which neither of his baby brothers paid much attention to) and then sent them to go clean up all the weapons they had 'vandalized'. Cleaning the weapons was far from fun but wasn't difficult per say. Not even unexpected really. Loki hated the punishment more than Thor did. "Surely there is cleaner that does not smell so foul," Loki muttered as he gingerly dipped his cloth in the small bowl beside him. He was trying his utmost best to avoid getting even the slightest residue on his skin. Thor would have told him that it was a pointless thing to try and do but didn't think Loki would appreciate the observation.

"I've never found any," Thor commented as he scrubbed the grease off the handle of a particularly heavy sword. Despite the cleaner and conditioner being specifically made for the leather wraps of weapons, the grease was clinging stubbornly. "Where did you get this grease from anyway, Loki?"

"The docks," Loki answered as he flung his rag over the handle of a mace and tried to scrub it with as little touch as he could manage. "It is used for weatherproofing the ships. Keeping water out of the engines and all."

Thor grunted a little and adjusted his grip to scrub harder. "Well, it certainly is stubborn."

"I suppose it needs to be," Loki replied. "Sea water is quite corrosive."

"Next time, how about we use something... a little less industrial," Thor suggested. They had already been working for hours and hadn't quite finished half the weapons yet. The sun had set about an hour and a half ago so now they also had to contend with working by lamplight rather than sunlight. "That way we won't be here through dinner again."

"Oh, please," Loki said. "As if I would ever stoop to doing the same thing twice. I'm not nearly that predictable."

Thor shook his head a little and suppressed his urge to laugh. "Apologies, Brother, I don't know what I was thinking," he drawled.

"You weren't," Loki replied. "It's a common affliction with you. I've learned to just do the thinking for both of us," he said with an exaggerated sigh. "Everything is so much easier that way."

Thor rolled his eyes and flung one of his rags at his brother. He smirked some at the indignant noise of protest that got. "Thor!"

"I thought you might need another rag," Thor said sweetly.

Loki gave him the deadest stare ever. "My thanks..." he said sarcastically.

"If you two would stop chatting you might be done by now," Tyr said as he came in from the door behind where his brothers were sitting amid a clutter of half cleaned weapons. Both Loki and Thor half turned to look at their older brother. "Loki, are you even scrubbing those?" Tyr asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Yes," Loki answered indignantly.

"It doesn't look it," Tyr said as he put a tray down between the two younger princes. On the tray was two plates of bread and roast with two tankards. "Mother said to bring this to you. Enjoy it because this is the only dinner you're getting tonight."

Loki looked down at the plate beside him and made a slight face. "Joy."

"Be glad you're getting anything," Tyr responded. "If I had my way, you two wouldn't be eating at all until you finished in here."

"Then I'm glad it's not up to you," Loki replied in a sugary tone.

"Brat," Tyr said although his voice sounded rather affectionate. "Just get to work. If you're out here all night long, Mother will be upset about how little rest you got. Even if it is your own fault."

Thor chuckled a little as Tyr left the barracks again so that the two youngest princes could get back to their work. "Are you actually going to be helpful with the rest of these?" Thor asked as he bent back down over the sword he was cleaning.

"I am helping," Loki protested as he used two fingers to fling the extra cloth he had been hit with into a pile of similarly discarded rags.

"Yes, I see that," Thor replied.

Loki chuckled a bit at the expression but nonetheless bent down to continue with his half of the work, albeit with a far lighter touch than Thor was using. He was still not terribly enamoured with the smell of the leather cleaner and wanted to avoid getting it all over him. The grease had been bad enough in his opinion. There was no need to add to the smell.

With Loki only barely helping and Thor in no particular rush, it took the brothers most of the night to actually finish cleaning the weapons that they had greased. By the time they finally trudged out of the barracks the moon was starting to descend again towards the horizon. "If you were more help we would have finished hours ago," Thor said as he rubbed his sore shoulder with his hand. Loki just rolled his eyes at that and folded his arms behind his back. They walked along the path that led back up to the castle at a leisurely pace.

As the two brothers walked, Thor turned his attention to the 'Loki Problem' as it kept coming up in his mind. Telling his brother of his heritage was a dilemma that Thor kept turning over in his head unsuccessfully. But Thor figured he could at least perhaps help his brother see Midgard differently. "Loki?"

"Hmm?"

"Do you ever wonder about other places?"

Loki looked over at his brother with obvious confusion. "... yes, but I did not think that you did."

"I wonder about other places once and a while," Thor said a little defensively. "Midgard interests me a lot."

"Midgard?" Loki echoed in bewilderment. "There's hardly anything on Midgard."

"Maybe not yet, but it's still young, isn't it?"

"Well, yes, I suppose," Loki acknowledged. "But there's still nothing there. Why do you think the Jotunns had such an easy time there? There are far more interesting realms to explore if that's your wish, brother. Vanaheim sounds particularly nice to me." Loki's eyes practically glittered with excitement and Thor could tell his brother was thinking about all the sorcery that he could possibly learn in such a realm.

Thor snorted a little. "Of course it does. You just want to ogle their libraries."

"I do not ogle libraries," Loki protested.

"You do," Thor insisted with a laugh.

Loki gave him a half-hearted glare before turning his attention back to where he was going. "How about we make a deal," Thor said after they had walked for another few minutes. "I will go to Vanaheim with you and you go to Midgard with me."

"I still don't understand what your interest in a realm with virtually nothing in it is but fine, Thor," Loki said. "If that's what you want. We'll probably be bored out of our minds there, though."

"Don't be so pessimistic," Thor said cheerfully. "I'm sure even you can find something worth while there if we just give it a chance. Perhaps they are very good at brewing beer or something."

Loki snorted. "That sounds more like something you'd be interested in. I prefer to not act like a complete fool just because I drink something," he said dryly.

"Ah, loosen up, Brother. It isn't so bad," Thor said.

Loki just gave Thor a rather bland look. "I recall the first time you were allowed to try beer... and the mess that had to be cleaned up after it," he said. "Just how sick did you get again?"

Thor felt his face heat up. "It wasn't that bad," he muttered.

"You say that but I remember differently," Loki said lightly. "Well, I remember it at all, which is already an improvement over yourself." Thor scowled a little more but decided it was best to not protest further. Loki did have a point. Thor had managed to convince his parents to allow him to try beer again after returning to this body and he'd perhaps overestimated his young stomach just a bit. He'd gotten terribly ill from the amount he'd drank without really thinking about his change in physical size. He doubted he would ever actually live it down.

Loki chuckled some but didn't bother hiding his smile at all. "Alright, well, as fun as this is... it's late and I smell like leather polish. So, goodnight, Brother," Loki said as they reached his door.

Thor murmured his own response and waited until Loki's door was closed before continuing on to his own room. He smelled even more like leather polish than his brother did since he hadn't bothered trying to avoid it in the first place. He imagined it would take a bit of his own scrubbing to get the smell off his skin fully.

Even after scrubbing his hands and arms for a good hour the smell wasn't fully gone, but at that point, Thor gave up and went to bed. He didn't care that much and he was exhausted. His forearms were sore from all the scrubbing as well and he just knew they would be more so when he woke up in the morning. Probably almost as bad as when he first started using Mjolnir. Nothing could truly top Thor in his early days of wielding the mighty hammer but the soreness from scrubbing all night was definitely coming close.

The next morning, Thor had the very unpleasant wake up call of about twenty chickens being let loose under his covers. Beaks and claws tore at his exposed skin and feathers flew everywhere as Thor thrashed to try and get free. He was cursing by the time he managed to fall out of his bed and away from the now rampant and terrified birds. "Loki!" he roared as he scrambled back from a chicken that had landed beside him and was looking particularly murderous. He didn't spot his brother anywhere but Thor knew that didn't mean much.

Feathers were flying every which way and Thor's legs were bleeding here and there from particularly deep scratches. The annoyed God of Thunder kicked at one of the menaces and it squawked with indignation as it tried to fly away and only barely avoided the hit to its feathery backside.

Thor went to the door that led to his balcony and opened the door. Several of the chickens rushed the exit leaving a trail of feathers behind while a couple of the stupid birds just hid around Thor's bedroom. With more than a few grumbles of annoyance, Thor set to shooing the rest of the birds towards the balcony. The stupid chickens were acting more than a little difficult and running from Thor, but only of course when they weren't heading towards the door. More and more feathers escaped and Thor's floor was covered with what looked to be the contents of an entire pillow before he finally got all of the fowl outside.

He must have looked at least a little crazy as he left his room and hurried down the hall to his brother's. Thor didn't bother to knock as he burst into Loki's room and tackled his brother where he was reading sprawled out on his bed. Loki let out a yelp as they both went flying over the side of the mattress to land hard on the ground. "Thor!"

"Take your punishment, Loki!" Thor replied as he attacked his brother with relentless fingers against the few ticklish spots he knew the trickster to have. Loki shrieked and tried to squirm away but Thor easily managed to pin the other boy in a hold against the ground. "My room is covered in feathers, Loki!"

"Oh? Did you finally molt, brother?" Loki shot back. "Good for you!" He yelped and squirmed more as Thor managed to worm several fingers down Loki's back to get that particularly sensitive spot near his neck. "Thor!"

Thor ignored his brother's protests and continued to get his (admittedly, somewhat childish) revenge until Loki's face had turned bright pink and he was gasping for air. Thor finally released his brother and sat back. Loki gave a halfhearted glare as he sat up and kicked Thor lightly in the side. "Brute."

Thor chuckled some and used Loki's bed as a backrest. "Where did you get so many chickens from, anyway?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Loki said as he straightened his shirt in a very dignified manner. "I don't even like chickens."

"I'm talking about the twenty chickens that were dropped very suddenly in my bed and carved up my legs," Thor said holding up one leg and gesturing to the scratches on his calf.

"Poor baby," Loki said sarcastically.

"It was obviously magical," Thor added.

Loki blinked innocently. "Why, Brother... I wouldn't expect you to find barnyard animals in your bed to be 'magical,'" he said lightly.

"Oh, ha ha," Thor snapped before pushing his brother again. Loki laughed even as he fell over onto the ground. "You are such a pain sometimes."

"Am I now?"

"Yes."

Loki grinned widely and pushed himself back up. "I wouldn't be nearly as charming if I weren't," he said. There was a knock on the door, and Loki cleared his throat. "Yes?"

"Loki, darling, come to breakfast. You as well, Thor," Frigga called.

"Coming, Mother," Loki called back. Loki got to his feet and straightened his clothes before holding a hand down to help Thor up. "You need to get cleaned up and dressed," he observed as Thor popped up to his feet. "You look like you came from a barn."

Thor gave him a dull glare. "You're hilarious."

"I think so."

"Of course you do," Thor said as he made his way towards the door. "Tell Mother that I'll be there in a minute."

Loki nodded and headed out of the room. Thor groaned a little as he headed back to his room so that he could get ready for the day. He wasn't sure what they would be doing today since they were confined to the castle and its grounds but Thor imagined that Loki would be able to think of something. Hopefully it wouldn't involve anymore chickens.

At the first meal of the day, Thor and Loki received an official scolding from their father. Thor was barely listening and, considering the way his oatmeal kept forming strangely chicken shaped lumps while he was eating it, he didn't think Loki was paying much attention either. Keeping a straight face while stabbing little oatmeal chickens was surprisingly challenging, and Thor figured the easiest way was to not look at what he was eating all that much. Loki was keeping his nose almost buried in his own bowl but Thor wasn't fooled in the least. Occasionally, the Trickster's shoulders would jerk as he muffled his amusement.

Odin finally seemed to wind down from his lecture and sat back in his chair heavily. "I take you two have learned your lesson yesterday?" he asked.

"Yes, Father." Thor kicked Loki as subtly as he could under the table and got the younger Prince to quickly look up with his own agreement.

The King of Asgard didn't look entirely convinced. "Very good. But just to be certain... Lady Vor has agreed to supervise your activities today."

Thor couldn't help the face that announcement caused. His Father's voice had been rather ominous there. "What activities?"

Frigga cleared her throat and leaned forward just a little to better address her sons. "The art wing of the library needs cleaning. I'm afraid the maids have not been able to get to it lately. Your Father and I thought you might like to help them." Both Princes groaned aloud at that. While Loki wouldn't mind being in the library, cleaning the art wing most likely meant a copious amount of dusting, which he hated. Frigga didn't bother suppressing her smile any. "Now, now, I do believe I told you both to take your punishments gracefully."

"... yes, Mother."

"Very good."

"Perhaps this will remind you both that you are Princes of Asgard. Such petty tricks are beneath you," Odin said as he picked up his goblet.

Frigga sighed some and reached over to put a hand on Odin's forearm. "Yes, dear. They've already heard all of this. I doubt you need to repeat yourself," she said firmly. "Besides, Kings should not feel the need to repeat themselves."

"If my sons listened I would not have to," Odin muttered into his cup.

Frigga patted Odin's arm comfortingly although it was clear from her expression she thought he was being patently silly. "If you two are done, go on and see the Lady Vor," she told her sons. Thor quickly shoved the last bits of his breakfast down his throat before jumping to his feet. Though he didn't want to go dust all day, staying around to possibly have to listen to Odin's lecture over again wasn't much more appealing.

Loki seemed to agree with that idea as he drank down the remains of his cup even while moving. The two of them hurried out of the dining room. Thor swallowed down the last bits of his meal and wiped his mouth of any residue. "I thought we'd be stuck in there another hour," he admitted.

"I think Mother tires of hearing it just as much as we do," Loki said. "But dusting... she could not have thought of a more tedious task..."

"If she tried, I imagine that she could," Thor muttered. "Mother is quite clever herself."

"True," Loki admitted as they made their way through the halls of the palace. "But I think dusting plenty unpleasant enough as it is. No need to go searching for what could be worse..."

Thor nodded a little. "Does that mean no more pranks?"

"Why, Thor, whatever is the matter with you?" Loki asked, looking mildly offended. "How slow the day would pass without any sort of entertainment."

"This is why we keep getting into trouble, you know," Thor said with no small amount of exasperation.

Loki shrugged. "I'm practicing my spell casting."

"I don't think I believe you."

Loki put a hand to his chest and looked incredibly wounded. "Brother... you cut me."

"I think you'll survive."

"Mm, your concern for my welfare is noted, Thor."

Thor chuckled some and followed Loki down the hall to the great library where they would no doubt be spending an obnoxious amount of time trying to remove dust from all of the ancient statues and pottery that was on display in the art wing. Though there was artwork on display throughout the palace, the rarest and most historical pieces were kept under lock and key for their own protection. Thor thought it a little silly to do, after all, who would go out of their way to destroy statues and tapestries? Though he supposed it did keep all of the rarest of the Royal collection in one spot. Having to traipse all over the palace cleaning things that were spread out would probably be even less enjoyable than being stuck in the art wing all day.

Lady Vor was waiting for them and the two Princes barely got out a greeting to her before they were handed special cloths and cleaning supplies. "Now don't you two fool about in here," Vor said as she opened the door to the long hall filled with various pieces of art and history. "There are quite a few fragile pieces and none of them can be replaced."

"Yes, Lady Vor," Loki said obediently as he picked up his currently bright white cloth. Thor wondered idly how long the fabric would stay so clean. Probably not very long at all. Lady Vor nodded to them and went to sit at a small table at the top of the hall where she opened a thick leather bound book covered in runes. Loki and Thor exchanged a long look before glancing at the different artifacts. "You start down there and I start up here?" Loki suggested with a vague gesture towards the nearest statue.

Thor sighed but nodded in agreement. "We'll meet in the middle," he said before trudging down the hall to the very end where Thor recognized some of his mother's own weavings on display. Thor was a little surprised to see Frigga's tapestries on these walls, but then again, they were all depicting events that had happened ages ago so perhaps that was why they were there.

Tapestries were not particularly easy to dust, so Thor had to carefully knock the dust and dirt out of the weave without damaging them. The whole thing was an exercise in restraint with his massive strength. Thinking of his punishment as a strange form of training helped pass the time surprisingly well. By the time he realized he was getting hungry for the midday meal, he had made it through a good portion of his half of the room. Although the tapestries were starting to become scattered between statues and pottery, which slowed his progress down significantly.

Thor climbed up on top of a nearby step stool so that he could reach the top of a large stone slab. There weren't many carvings on display in the hall, mostly because of how heavy and cumbersome they were. The one that Thor was currently cleaning off was the largest in the room and thoroughly covered in reliefs and carvings.

"Thor!"

The Golden Prince of Asgard nearly toppled to the ground but managed to catch himself. He leaned back from the stone slab to peer down the hallway at his Brother. "What?"

"Why is it all our punishments involve cleaning things?" Loki asked from where he was cleaning off some tiny pot that had been painted with blue that had been flecked away over the years.

"Perhaps because they know how much you dislike it?" Thor suggested.

Loki made a face. "I don't mind cleaning up... when it's my own mess..."

Thor grinned widely and turned back to the slab of stone that he was cleaning off. The big piece that was held against the wall had been shattered at one point and then painstakingly put back together. Giant cracks were running through the entire scene and several pieces along the edges were missing. The scene was, rather unsurprisingly, a battle scene of some sort where the King of Asgard was wielding some strange blocky thing.

Thor paused in his cleaning and looked closer. After just a moment, he straightened in surprise as he realized just what he was looking at. The Tesseract was right there carved in stone and he'd never even noticed it. Then again, Thor rarely spent time looking at these ancient works of art. Thor leaned back enough to peer down the hall at where Vor was still doing whatever it was she was doing at the front of the room. Satisfied she wouldn't notice anything, Thor turned his full attention to what was right in front of him and by all accounts had been for all his life.

Lines were coming from the Tesseract, and Thor traced them with his cleaning cloth as he tried to recall what the older version of the runes in front of him translated to. He wasn't nearly as good with these older runes as he was with newer versions. Luckily, the helm on the King of Asgard was easy enough for the fledgling Thunder God to identify. His Grandfather Bor was always shows with that same down-pointing horned helm. But Thor had never heard anything of his Grandfather using the Tesseract.

The army on the opposing side looked to be Elves, which made sense as Bor's most well known foes had been the Malekith and his Dark Elves. But what was strange was that the one in front of the Svartalfr was not an Elf at all. Really, the inclusion of someone other than Aesir or Alfr was just mind boggling. There shouldn't have been any Giants in the fray at all and yet Thor couldn't help but recognize the form as that of a giant. Whether it was a Frost or Fire Giant was rather harder to tell but the figure was definitely beyond the stature of an Aesir.

Unfortunately, almost all of the runes that told of what was actually happening in the scene had been broken off or otherwise obliterated from time. Thor could only make out a few unimportant details such as his Grandfather's name and a few praises for the Aesir army. Nothing that really helped explain who was getting destroyed with the Tesseract by his Grandfather. Normally, Thor would think perhaps Sutur but he was positive that Odin himself had dealt with Sutur and not Bor. And that it had not been done with the Tesseract.

Thor stood there pondering the strange scene for another few moments before his curiosity got the best of him. "Lady Vor!" he called, pulling back enough to look over at her. "Who is this?"

The unexpected question got not only Vor's attention but also Loki's. Both of them came over to where Thor had been cleaning the slab. Lady Vor seemed very surprised when she realized what Thor was asking about. "Ah, well, that is a depiction of the early days of the war with Svartalfheim. The Jotunn Loptr betrayed King Bor and sided with the Elves after swearing fealty to Asgard. King Bor then destroyed him during the battle."

"Jotunn Loptr?" Loki echoed. "I've never heard of him..."

"He is not spoken of very often," Lady Vor said in a sort of agreement. "He was raised here in Asgard by Queen Bestla and King Bor along side their three sons as one of their own but his nature was too treacherous."

Thor was taken aback by the striking similarity between Loki and Loptr. Why had he never heard of this Loptr? Thor tried hard to not look at his brother but couldn't quite manage it. Loki was studying the engravings carefully and Thor felt another sting of guilt that he hadn't told Loki the truth yet. Perhaps this was the opening that he needed? Thor turned to look at Vor. "Why did our Grandparents raise Loptr?"

Vor waved a hand slightly. "Loptr was orphaned during the journey of Queen Bestla to Asgard. She adopted him afterwards and raised him here as part of her family," Vor explained.

"How bizarre..." Loki murmured, still studying the image in front of them. "I suppose it didn't work out too well for them, though. Must be what happens when you take in Jotnar."

Thor nearly winced. "Not all of them are like that, surely," Thor said quickly. The last thing he wanted was the hear Loki say something like that against his own people.

Thor's quick reply caused Loki to look over at him in surprise. "Really, Thor?" he asked. "They attacked your oh-so-interesting Midgard, you know... surely you would dislike them for that alone."

"Well, I don't," Thor said firmly. He might have once. But that was another life and another, less informed, time. He simply couldn't make such sweeping statements anymore. "I don't know any of those Jotnar to dislike and even if I did, they were defeated. Honored Enemies are just as important as Allies... just in a different way."

That got him another surprised look from Loki and Vor. "Very wise indeed, my Prince," Vor murmured. "I must say, I am impressed to hear such a thing from one so young."

Thor turned back to study the carving of his Grandfather killing someone he'd raised as his own son and felt very uneasy. He sincerely hoped history would never repeat. Just the idea of Odin killing Loki made Thor's entire chest seize up painfully. Perhaps that was why their Father made no mention of Loptr? Thor glanced over his shoulder at Vor again. "Why does Father never mention this? Loptr was raised as his brother wasn't he? Our Uncle?"

"Father doesn't speak of his other brothers either," Loki pointed out.

Thor had to admit that was true. The only reason he knew about his Uncles Vili and Ve was because of the stories about the fight with Sutur. When he was even younger than he was now, Thor had loved being told the story of his Father and Uncles defeating the massive Fire Giant King. He hadn't realized back then that Odin had never stayed when Thor begged for that story. He'd always heard it from Frigga rather than Odin. Thor couldn't help but worry that his childish exuberance had hurt his father unintentionally. That Odin wouldn't want to relive his grand victory had never occurred to a young Thor, despite the fact that it had cost his Father two of his brothers. Now that Thor had a better idea the pain that such a loss caused, he couldn't help but want to kick himself for his thoughtlessness.

"Our King prefers to focus on the future rather than the past," Vor said. "We cannot change the past. Only the future."

Somehow, Thor managed to avoid looking at Loki while he stood there trying his utmost best to not look as incredibly guilty as he felt. He was unsure how successful he was.

Chapter Text

Odin Borson, King of Asgard, stood at the very edges of the room as the healers did their work. There had been another attack upon his people. Another secluded farm on the very outskirts of Asgard raided in the middle of the night with no warning. Nobody had stepped up to take responsibility for the strikes as of yet, but after four such incidents in as many weeks, they now had a few more clues.

Eir moved away from the body she and her assistants were examining to stand beside Odin Allfather. Odin didn't look at her. He was too busy staring at the small figure on the Soul Forge. The boy was far too young to be dead. He couldn't have been much older than Thor or Loki and still in his night clothes though he had been found many yards from the farm in the woods. His arm was blackened from his wrist to his bicep. "We've confirmed it's frostbite," Eir said. "He was probably grabbed as he tried to flee."

"Jotnar then," Odin murmured. He had been desperately hoping it wasn't Jotnar behind this.

Eir nodded. "There are no other marks upon him, and so, we cannot be certain what precisely killed him... but then you are also more knowledgeable about Jotnar magic than myself, my King."

The memory of his father turning to snow flashed in his mind's eye briefly even as he nodded in agreement. Odin blinked the image away impatiently to move on to the situation at hand. The touch of a Jotunn shouldn't have killed. The boy would have lost the arm most likely but shouldn't have died from the frostbite damage alone. Unless, Odin supposed, the child had a preexisting condition such as difficulty breathing or a weakened heart. Such a thing would be much harder to detect. "The others?" Odin asked. There had been six bodies that had been brought in that morning.

"Much easier to identify," Eir said. "Sword wounds on all of them. No more frostbite, however."

"They were most likely trying to conceal who they were and so avoided touching their victims during the fight," a new voice from the doorway offered.

Odin moved his eye to the side and frowned a little as Councilman Arngrim, one of the more outspoken against Jotnar, stepped into the dimly lit room. Under the glow of the Soul Forge his already dark brown eyes seemed entirely black, and his wispy grey hair almost disappeared against his head. Arngrim needed a cane to walk ever since he nearly lost a leg during Bor's war with the Dark Elves, but that didn't seem to change his smooth gait very much. He was still quite the formidable opponent when he felt the mood for a fight, which was often. "I told you we could not trust Laufey to keep control of those animals, Allfather. How many more of our people will die because of those monsters?"

"Careful, Arngrim. Laufey is a King. Afford him the appropriate title," Odin said as he turned his attention back to the information still being recorded above the body of the young boy.

Arngrim scoffed lightly. "As you say, Allfather." The old man didn't sound terribly happy, but Odin let that go for the moment. Arngrim never seemed happy when told to keep his dislike of Jotnar contained. "But still, we should retaliate. Too much Aesir blood has been spilled with no repercussions."

"Repercussions?" Odin echoed as he turned to face the senior Aes. "Without so much as an attempt to speak with Laufey King?"

"He has not spoken to you! For all you know he's commanding these raids himself!" Arngrim near roared.

"And for all you know he's no more aware of this than I was aware of those 'hunting' incidents," Odin said, trying very hard to not growl as he did. He thought he was fairly well successful considering how angry he still was about that situation. The fact that some of his guards had apparently thought it was not only okay but good sport to cross the border between realms and hunt Jotnar down to kill had infuriated Odin beyond belief. The last thing his kingdom needed was even more strained relations with Jotunheim.

"I find that unlikely, Allfather," Arngrim replied although he sounded a little more subdued.

Odin frowned. "No matter how unlikely you find it, it is still possible," he pointed out before turning to look at one of his Einherjar. "Contact King Laufey. Tell him to meet me at our usual conference spot at midday." The guardsman looked somewhat startled but bowed and went to go send the message.

"Tell me that you will be taking some Einherjar with you, Allfather," Arngrim said.

"I will take Tyr, as usual. And you have no room to complain, Arngrim," Odin said firmly. "Now leave, this is not a place for arguments."

Arngrim looked like he would very much rather keep complaining and arguing but, after a moment, thought better of doing so. Instead, Arngrim bowed low and left the room. Odin waited several minutes to be absolutely certain Arngrim was gone before turning back to Eir. "Is there anything else, Lady?"

"No, Allfather," Eir said. "I shall have a complete and formal report ready for you by supper."

Odin nodded in understanding before leaving the healing chamber. He was very much not looking forward to meeting with Laufey later on, but then he was never really looking forward to meetings with the Jotunn King. Odin started for his office, which was just off of his bedchambers. Though the business of raiders on his borders was pressing, there was also countless other things that required his attention. The Vanir, for instance, were requesting a complete renegotiation of the current trade agreement. Considering Frigga was from Vanaheim, it seemed prudent to at the very least hear the Vanir out. And then Hodr had sent a letter asking for his advice on unrest in his own realm and Odin wasn't going to just ignore his son asking for help.

Odin sighed as he walked. There was just so much to do. He was almost to his office when he caught sight of his two youngest darting down the hall. Thor was laughing, and Loki looked the very picture of exasperation as he chased behind. Odin watched them disappear down a side corridor before beginning to walk again. He was glad they were enjoying themselves, but he did wish they would try to contain such energy while inside.

Just as he was reaching for the knob of his study door, he heard a loud crash followed by Loki shouting his brother's name. Odin paused mid-motion and closed his eye to pray to the Norns for patience. He didn't recall being this bad with his own brothers. Hodr and Baldr had been a pair of little troublemakers, but they were twins and as such expected to be a handful. There were a few more clatters from around the corner and down the hall, and Odin caught the faint noise of one of his guards on duty stifling his amusement. Odin looked over at where said guard was standing at his position fighting against his smile. "Do you have children, Delgr?"

"No, Allfather. Me and my wife have not yet been blessed as such."

Odin grunted a little. "You might want to hold off another few decades," he said before entering his office. He heard Delgr stifle another snort of amusement but paid it little attention. Odin closed the door and tried to not worry about whatever mess his sons had just made. Whatever that crash had been, probably armor by the sound of it, it probably wasn't anything too terribly expensive.

By the time Odin had finished his reply to his son's letter, there was little time to spare in getting to his meeting with Laufey. There was a knock on his office door just as he was pulling on a thicker cloak. Tyr was waiting outside, having already been informed of the meeting. Tyr gave a slight nod, and the two Aesir started walking through the corridors towards the side exit that was nearest to the stables. "Do you think Laufey condoned these attacks, Father?" Tyr asked after several minutes of walking.

"I somehow doubt it. Starting a fight with us now is not something he'd be willing to do. Laufey is many things but not suicidal," Odin answered. Tyr nodded but stayed mostly silent. Odin glanced over at his eldest. Tyr wasn't the loudest of his sons, but it was always rather obvious when he was preoccupied with something. "What is it, Tyr? You seem to be thinking rather hard."

"Just that this seems an odd move," Tyr said. "Attacking our farms, even if it is not condoned by Laufey doesn't seem like something that the Jotnar would do recklessly. And the fact that there has been only one victim of Frost Touch is particularly odd. I've never known a Jotunn to care if they freeze anyone."

Odin hummed a little in thought as the two of them reached the stables and called for their horses. "You think they are being accused unjustly?" Odin asked.

Tyr sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "I do not know," he admitted. "There has to be at least one Jotunn involved, I would think, to have given such a severe case of frostbite."

"A Jotunn is not the only one to be able to freeze another," Odin pointed out softly. "But combined with the tracks and our rather... uncomfortable relations with Jotunheim, I find it unlikely that someone is manufacturing all of the evidence against them."

"Circumspect at best," Tyr said. "We should just be careful with how we deal with this situation. Laufey is... not your biggest fan, Father."

"Nor am I his," Odin muttered as a hostler brought the two warhorses forward already saddled and bridled.

Although Arngrim would most likely prefer Odin to take an entire battalion of forces with him, Odin left with only Tyr by his side to go to the meeting. Long ago, when the terms of the surrender had been finalized, Odin and Laufey had chosen a neutral spot to sign the formalities. A plateau of a mountain in Asgard that was so very tall and the atmosphere thin that the temperatures dropped well below freezing. The climate was still rather warm for a Jotunn but survivable even without spells to keep them comfortable.

The Allfather and his General son arrived at the top of the mountain where several stone pillars and a large slab-like table were still standing from the signing of the surrender all those years ago. The wind was only blocked from one direction, so snow drifts had piled high against the pillars and icicles were hanging from the lip of the table almost all the way to the ground. Waiting for them were two Jotnar by one pillar that had several rows of runes carved along the surface. The slightly shorter of the two turned and took a few steps towards the center of the flattened area. "King Laufey," Odin greeted.

"Allfather. Might I ask the cause of this rather... sudden summons?" Laufey asked arms folded unhappily.

"Several of my people's settlements near the border have been attacked," Odin said.

"A pity."

Tyr shifted slightly, but Odin paid him little attention. "The latest victim was frostbitten," Odin said, locking eyes with the taller ruler. "It's not been particularly cold in Asgard this season... and it was in a rather odd location."

Laufey's eyes flared in anger, and his shoulders stiffened ever so slightly. "You accuse me of arranging these attacks?"

"I accuse you of nothing," Odin replied calmly. "But I would be grateful if you could shed any light on these unsettling circumstances."

"There is a ban on anyone crossing our borders from either side," Laufey said. "The entire stretch of land up til three miles in our territory is military only. No citizens may even approach the border."

"How well is the border patrolled?" Tyr asked.

Laufey's eyes flashed again as they moved from Odin to Tyr. "They are patrolled, General, as well as we can afford. With our people struggling to survive our forces are spread rather thin at the moment," he hissed.

Odin shifted so that Laufey's blood red eyes flicked back. "I understand you cannot patrol every inch at every moment... but my people are being attacked."

"And mine aren't?" Laufey demanded. "I still get reports of Asgardians crossing the border and attacking my people for sport."

Odin's eyes darkened. "I told my men to stop that." He was very displeased to hear that the situation was still happening but there was little else he could do. There wasn't any way to keep the portals closed.

"What of your watchdog?" the other Jotunn asked. "Should he not see all of this and tell you who is murdering our people? How can you claim ignorance when you have one such as Heimdall to spy on others with? You have used him against our people enough times!"

"Byleistr!" Laufey snapped. "Do I appear to need your help?"

Byleistr shifted where he stood. "No, My King," he grumbled.

"Then keep silent," Laufey said. Byleistr bowed low though he had a thunderous scowl on his face. Laufey turned his eyes back entirely to Odin. "Though they do have an excellent point, Allfather. How is it that your people keep disobeying you if you have Heimdall to watch your borders?"

Odin sighed. "I shall investigate that when I return. Perhaps Seidr is somehow involved," Odin said. Truly, such determinations were hard to make so early. Heimdall saw nearly everything, but there were ways to hide from his sight, and if there were something more pressing happening, well, Heimdall would only naturally turn his attention towards that. He only had the two eyes.

"And I shall make it clear to my people that raiding is not to be tolerated," Laufey said almost pleasantly. Odin thought it rather clear that Laufey didn't expect much to come from that declaration. If he were honest with himself, Odin didn't expect much either, but a public statement against certain actions never hurt.

"I suppose that is all I can ask," Odin said. He didn't feel like much had been resolved, but then without more concrete evidence, he couldn't do much else.

Laufey nodded but then, after a brief pause, jerked his head ever so slightly to the side. Odin gestured for Tyr to remain where he was before walking to the edge of the cliff with Laufey where the two Kings would not be overheard by either of their offspring. Laufey didn't look down at Odin and instead fixed his eyes on some distant point along the horizon. "How fares the child?"

"He's well. Healthy and happy." Laufey nodded almost absently and continue to stare out across the distance for several minutes before turning. Odin almost dared to grab the other ruler's arm but didn't. "You could ask more than that you know," he said. He was almost begging for Laufey to ask more, but Laufey had rejected any and all information about 'the child' as he continued to call him.

Laufey stopped, and half turned back to look at Odin. "It's not my place to know more than that. I shouldn't even ask that much."

"He's your son."

"No, he is not, and you know well why," Laufey said.

"It is a foolish law that you, yourself, overturned," Odin hissed with more than a little venom.

Laufey straightened to his fullest height though it was hardly needed. "I overturned that law due to the grief of my child dying. It made quite the compelling argument that my own offspring died senselessly right as so many of our people were killed by your forces. If that child were to suddenly be alive, my people would be far from pleased at the deception inadvertent though it was."

Odin knew that, in a way, Laufey had a point. But he also knew that he was just wrong as well. Jotnar didn't tolerate leaders who were untruthful, or at least not ones that got so obviously caught in a lie. And so, if it suddenly became known that Laufey had changed a law based on something that hadn't actually happened he would be endangering his own life and that of his two other offspring. Still, Odin found himself more than a little incensed on his son's behalf. Because it was a stupid and cruel law that disallowed the survival of any Jotunn that was not properly formed or sized. Many had broken the law over the centuries, and Laufey had finally gotten rid of it but far too many had died before that had happened.

Seeing how Laufey wouldn't be changing his mind; however, Odin was forced to just accept things were the best they could be. For now. "Just because he cannot return to Jotunheim does not mean you cannot ask about him."

"And what good would that serve, Odin?" Laufey asked, sounding as if it was very difficult to keep his voice calm and low enough to not be overheard. "How would knowing who is raising my child or the name given to it help either of us in any way?"

"Perhaps it would help ease your conscience," Odin said a little haughtily.

"My conscience does not need easing," Laufey denied.

There was a long moment of silence between them as they both weighed whether or not they would accept that lie as truth. "Are you absolutely certain you want to know nothing about him, Laufey?"

"I would just be tempted to steal the child back," Laufey muttered. "And that is a complication none of us need." Laufey gave Odin a short nod before beginning to walk back to where Byleistr was waiting.

"What if he finds out and asks about you some day?" Odin asked.

"Tell the truth, Odin," Laufey replied without turning. "That I left the child to die."

Chapter Text

He was utterly crazed. Thor could tell by the look in his eyes. Part of him wanted to reach out and grab his brother by the arm and yank him back from this madness. Surely, there must be some way. But that part of the Thunder God was pushed to the very back of his mind under the unbridled anger. The Son of Coul had not deserved to die. Loki did not have to kill him. He could have just as easily incapacitated the Midgardian but had decided to go for a mortal blow.

Mjolnir hummed in Thor’s grip as he faced his not-brother on Stark’s tower. Loki didn’t seem to realize he was in any danger. His face was twisted into a cruel smirk that had, at some point, replaced his easy laughter. Thor hated that smirk. How dare Loki look so smug after what he’d done!?

"How angry you look, Thor..." Loki drawled. "And for what?"

"You killed Agent Coulson," Thor said, gripping the handle of Mjolnir tighter.

Loki looked darkly amused as he shrugged. "What difference does it make to have one less insect in the world?" he asked as he took a step closer. "They are such fragile things, Odinson. Their lives are over in a mere blink... you cannot protect them, Thor. They are driven to destroy themselves. I simply sped up the process for one of them. It barely took any effort at all... like piercing a potato with a fork."

"They are not so lowly, Loki!"

Loki raised an eyebrow. "Tell me, Thor... just how gentle need you be around these mortals? You can crush them with barely a thought, and you still persist in pretending them worth your time? One little hug from you would pulverize their bones. It very nearly broke my bones enough times... I can't imagine these tiny creatures withstanding it any better."

"You seek to frighten me with the truth of mortality? You do not!"

"Prepare yourself, Odinson... all of them will die. The Norns are not kind to such tiny lives. If they were... your Agent would have put up at least an attempt at a challenge. But he didn't. A child could have defeated him..."

Thought left entirely as Thor flew at his brother. The whole world went red as Thor swung his mighty hammer with all his strength over and over and over again. And then again. And yet again. He didn’t bother to count as he heard nothing but his own roars of anger and the ear-rending boom of nearby thunder.

Something warm spattered against Thor’s face, but he paid it little mind. He swung his hammer again, cracking the strange smooth stone of Stark’s tower. Lightning lit up the sky and rain began to pour. As the freezing droplets stung his eyes, Thor finally managed to rein in his anger.

The tower was a devastation. Scorch marks littered the area around Thor, and huge holes had been smashed into the ground. Loki lay at Thor’s feet a bloody smear. His entire face had been caved in, and several of his limbs were bent where there was no joint. Red spread out from beneath the traitorous son of Laufey and began to slide down the side of the tower. Thor just stood there and felt dark satisfaction. Finally, he had shut Loki up.

Thor woke up with a gasp of horror and soaked in a cold sweat. He looked around in confusion at the library and tried his best to regain his bearings. Never before had his nightmares been so horrible. Thor spotted some water nearby and grabbed it to take a long drink. His stomach churned unpleasantly at the memory of his dream, but he was hoping that the water would help.

The fledgling God pushed himself more upright in his chair that he’d fallen asleep in and shakily put the book he had been reading off to the side. The violence of the dream had not been what had frightened him so, although the thought that he could do such a thing to his brother was disturbing indeed. The feeling of satisfaction had been much more unsettling. Thor didn’t want to feel satisfaction at the sight of his brother beaten to a bloody pulp, much less being the one to do so in the first place. He knew that what Loki had done was horrible, but that strange joy had felt too much like revenge for Thor’s liking. Thor had done his best to move on from the anger and bitterness the whole situation had caused. He’d come back here for a fresh start with his brother. All of those things had never happened now. So then, why was his subconscious doing such unpleasant things?

Just then, Loki rounded the bookshelf with his own book open in his hands. He looked up and seemed surprised. “Finally awake again, are you? It's been almost two hours. You’re never going to get better if you fall asleep while studying… what’s the matter with you?”

Thor startled a little at the sudden question. “What? Nothing!”

“You don’t look like nothing. It looks more like you saw a draugr,” Loki said as he put his book to the side. “What happened?”

Thor shook his head. “It was nothing.”

Loki frowned and folded his arms over his chest. “You know, you are a terrible liar,” he said as he leaned back against the table.

Thor didn’t want to even attempt to recount his nightmare to Loki. Without knowing what had happened, the entire thing would make no sense whatsoever, and Thor wasn’t about to try and explain the situation to Loki. Not that Loki wouldn’t be able to understand the magic involved but Thor didn’t think he could actually make himself tell his brother that he’d gone insane in the future. Or that Thor still wasn’t sure what exactly had led to his brother’s madness. He could guess, with some degree of certainty, but he could not know for certain. “It was just a nightmare, Loki. Nothing to worry about, I promise,” Thor said.

Loki looked far from convinced. “You’ve been having a lot of nightmares lately. Isn't this the third this week?”

“Oh, don’t start. I’m fine.” The last thing Thor needed was Loki to be worrying over him due to a few insignificant nightmares. His mother was already doing that despite Thor trying his best to assure them all it was nothing. He had only woken up from one a few times this week. And none at all the week before. They really weren't that prolific.

"Am I not supposed to worry when my brother wakes up in the middle of the night calling me like the night before last?" Loki asked.

Thor didn't have any real answer for that so decided that not answering at all was the best course of action. He was just glad he hadn't yelled Loki's name again this time. Loki had not wanted to let that previous version of the dream drop at all. Thor had needed to spend a solid two hours that night nearly pleading before Loki would go back to his own room.

Loki frowned and moved to perch on the edge of Thor’s chair like one of their father's Ravens. “Thor… brother, come on, please talk to me? This is not normal for you. Something must be bothering you,” the younger Odinson said. Thor tried to not be touched by the genuine concern on his brother’s face but found he wasn’t quite able to manage the distance he wanted. The last time Loki had been so obviously worried about Thor was many decades ago. At least for Thor.

Still, telling Loki that Thor might still have some issues he hadn’t worked out dealing with his brother, from something that hadn’t even happened yet, was not something that Thor was willing to do. There must be some way to get Loki to drop the subject without actually giving away anything sensitive. After a few moments thought, Thor came up with what he hoped would be a good solution. “I will speak with Mother if that will make you feel better,” Thor said.

For a moment, Thor thought that Loki might protest. His younger brother looked particularly mutinous, but he finally nodded. “Alright, but you be sure to actually do it, Thor. If you don’t, I’ll go to Mother myself,” Loki warned. "And I won't hold back."

Thor gave a huge grin of relief and happiness. “Of course, brother. Now, what were we studying?”

Loki sighed heavily, “Hopeless. Utterly hopeless. It was Great Uncle Mimir? Grandfather’s brother?”

“Ah. Right,” Thor picked up his book again and flipped it open. After several pages flipped by, Thor came to a rather gruesome illustration of Mimir’s beheaded body. “Why are we studying this? We know what happened…”

“Really?” Loki drawled before sliding the book out from under Thor's hands and slamming it closed. “When did Mimir get killed?” he asked while keeping the book soundly shut with his one hand. “If you know what happened this shouldn’t be a hard question.”

Thor’s eyes widened, and he scrambled to think up the appropriate answer. He had just read this a little while ago. “S-seventy… nine oh three?” he answered hesitantly.

“No. That was the year the Aesir-Vanir War ended. Great Uncle Mimir died three years previous in seventy-nine hundred,” Loki corrected.

“Ah, right…” Thor muttered. “Seventy-nine hundred…” At least he was close. That should count for something.

Loki sighed and sat down in the seat he had vacated several hours ago when Thor had drifted off to sleep. “Alright, how about something easier… what did end the war?”

“Mother and Father getting married,” Thor answered with much more confidence.

Loki looked rather amused by the answer. “Half right. There was a treaty, and their marriage was part of it,” he said.

"Well, it's essentially the same thing," Thor said a little grumpily.

"Do you know what started it?" Loki asked.

"The treaty? Or the war?"

Loki's eyebrow went up. "Either if you know them," he said, sounding a little surprised.

"The war was due to the dispute over Idunn's apples. The Vanir said that because Idunn was a member of the Vanir her apples would, therefore, be their property and not the Aesir's... and the treaty was because some important bystander got killed when trying to protest the war..." Thor said although his voice grew a little more hesitant at the second part.

"Nerthus," Loki supplied. "I'm impressed, Thor... you've actually been studying, haven't you? Most people completely forget why the treaty was made in the first place and just assume that the Vanir gave up because Bor was so difficult to fight."

Thor couldn't quite help but feel rather proud of himself. He may not have recalled Nerthus' name, but he'd remembered part of the situation. Much better than he'd ever done before. He gave his brother a grin. "I have a good tutor, I guess, Brother." Though Loki often seemed entirely too exasperated with the idea of tutoring Thor, the fledgling Thunderer couldn't deny the results.

"A tutor is only as good as the amount of effort the student puts out, Thor," Loki said. "Even Lady Vor says you've been improving and you know how hard she is to impress."

Thor's smile grew wider at that compliment. "Maybe she won't look like she bit into a lemon next time we have a test then," he said cheerfully. Lady Vor didn't smile really at all, but the expression that she got when looking over Thor's papers had always made him uneasy. The unpleasant expression hadn't changed Thor's studying habits the first time, but he was determined to be better this time.

"It might take a little more studying to get that much improvement," Loki said with a crooked little smile.

Thor frowned and shoved the chair Loki was on with his foot. The whole piece of furniture nearly toppled, but Loki was quick to grab the table and prevent the tumble. "Thor! So rude! Such a reaction to a little friendly advice..."

"Hardly friendly advice, Loki," Thor replied as he got to his feet and stretched. He groaned as his back cracked in several places. Falling asleep in the chair had not been the best thing to do. "You're a know it all."

"I can't help it if I do know it all," Loki shot back. "Or... more than you, at least. I don't fall asleep when I'm studying."

"I can't help it if it's all boring," Thor said in nearly the same tone as his brother.

Loki rolled his eyes. "Alright, alright. Since you've been doing so well, how about we take a break?"

Thor was definitely willing to do that. "I thought you would never suggest such a thing," he said as he stretched his arms up over his head again. "What shall we do for our break?"

The darker son of Odin hummed a little as he thought about that question. "Considering we are still forbidden from leaving the grounds... oh! I know. Come with me, Thor. I've been meaning to show you something!"

Thor blinked a little in surprise, but since Loki was already darting off, he hurried to follow. He figured this was another prank that would undoubtedly end poorly, but his curiosity wasn't about to let the inevitable trouble they'd get into, stop him. The two boys tore through the hallways and almost collided with a few servants and guards. "Don't run!" someone scolded, which they ignored entirely. The voice hadn't sounded like their father or brother, so it was very easy to act as if they hadn't heard it.

Thor was surprised when Loki went to his room and quickly ushered them inside. Loki quickly closed the door behind them. "I've been experimenting with my powers, and I figured something out," he said as he went over to lock the windows as well.

"Oh?" Thor couldn't help but be very intrigued. He didn't recall his brother coming to him all excited the first time they were this age. "What did you discover?"

Loki stepped back into the middle of the room and held his hands out. "Alright, just watch this. I haven't quite gotten the hang of it yet, but it's amazing..."

Thor's eyebrow went up in interest. Loki seemed to concentrate hard, and the green of his Seidr began swirling around his hands. The mist-like green energy wrapped up around his arms like twin snakes. Thor wanted to ask but, at how Loki was obviously focusing, decided to just watch. The verdant magic continued to swirl and spread until it had enveloped all of Loki's body. There was a brief flash and Thor was momentarily blinded.

When he finally blinked enough to see again, he thought his brother had gone invisible for a moment. But then he spotted a salmon on the ground. The fish flopped around and gasped for air. "L-Loki?" Why had he turned himself into a fish!?

There was another flash and Loki was sitting on the ground looking a little embarrassed. The pink of his cheeks seemed to match the bright underbelly of the fish he'd just been. "I... meant to turn into something different. I've not quite mastered it yet..."

"Oh. Right... it does look difficult," Thor said as he went to offer his brother his hand. "How did you even figure out you could do that?" Loki certainly hadn't come to Thor before he'd mastered shape shifting the first time.

Loki shrugged a little. "About a month ago I was trying to get aw... somewhere," he said awkwardly. Thor narrowed his eyes at that last word. He was almost certain Loki had changed what he'd been about to say, and he didn't like that. "And I suddenly turned into a tiny little fly," Loki said in a rush. "I couldn't figure out what happened at first, but then I started trying to turn into other things, and I've been getting better at it. It's happening a lot faster than the first time I tried to do it on purpose."

Thor hesitated for a moment and tried to figure out the best way to frame his thoughts. He knew from Loki in the future that transformations could sometimes be tricky to control. Becoming stuck in a form was not unheard of: like what happened to Fafnir the dragon. But the fledgling Thunder God also knew how much a part of Loki shapeshifting was. He wasn't entirely sure why Loki had such an affinity for it but also supposed that didn't matter at this point. "It's amazing, Loki," Thor said with a smile. "Even if a fly and a fish aren't terribly useful creatures."

"I can turn into other things," Loki said defensively. "I was trying for a wolf," he added with a pout. "I did it once, but I can't seem to figure out how to get back to it."

"I'm sure it's just a matter of practice," Thor said as he put a hand on his brother's shoulder. "Like mother and her weaving. Or Tafl."

Loki gave Thor a sideways glance. "You don't seem all that surprised by this..."

"Loki, brother, you have magic," Thor said. "I try my best to not be surprised by anything that you do. I don't always succeed, but I try."

Loki looked contemplative for a moment before looking back down at his hands. "I'm not sure that it is Seidr..." he murmured. "It doesn't feel quite the same."

"That was definitely Seidr around you," Thor pointed out in confusion. "I've seen you do enough magic to recognize your sorcery."

There was a moment of silence before Loki nodded. "Yes, I do use Seidr but... it still feels different. I'm not casting a regular spell like when I put an illusion on something. It seems more like I'm absorbing my own Seidr and then using it differently. I don't really know how to explain it."

Thor had never heard of this before and regarded Loki carefully. Though he did sound very calm yet interested in the difference, Thor could see that Loki was a bit disturbed by his own observations. Using Seidr in some way other than to cast a spell wasn't something Thor had ever heard therefore he had no way of knowing if it was even possible. Thor supposed from a rather elementary standpoint, Seidr was just a form of energy, and so it should be able to be transformed. Thor did a similar thing with the electricity that runs through his body every time he summoned lightning. There was just no way for Thor to avoid being hit by some of the energy and he'd become very skilled at absorbing it and then dispersing it harmlessly as heat and light. Thor hoped this was something similarly benign. "Perhaps you should mention this to Mother," Thor offered. "She has been training you with Seidr after all."

Loki frowned a little. "I was sort of hoping to keep this transformation power between us," he said.

Thor was very surprised by that. "Really? Why?" he asked. Loki shrugged and looked uncomfortable. "Loki... what is it?" Loki still didn't respond, and Thor found himself worrying a bit more. Loki was secretive and always had been, but he rarely didn't take a chance to talk about his own skills. "Loki. Tell me..."

"Aesir don't usually get such abilities," Loki murmured. "It's not like Hermod's speed or Tyr's strength... This is just... strange."

Thor bit his lower lip uneasily. Loki had a point. Transformation was not something that Aesir had much affinity for. But it was an ability that Jotnar tended towards. Perhaps this was the time to come clean. The truth would ease Loki's mind about his powers at least. "It's not common in Aesir," Thor agreed carefully. "But it does show up in Jotnar..."

Loki gave a start. "What do Jotnar have to do with any of this?"

The way Loki said Jotnar gave Thor pause. Thor's brother sounded vaguely disgusted and a bit afraid. Thor cursed the monster stories of Jotnar that no doubt led to such a reaction. He'd tried to avoid them since coming back, but that didn't mean they hadn't heard quite a bit of it before he'd woken up in his bed. "Well, it's just... Father's half Jotnar," he said although he hadn't meant to say that. He mentally cursed his own tongue for failing to just tell the full truth.

Loki eyed Thor for a moment. Thor was about to quickly add to his truth but also strange omission before Loki sighed. "You have a point... maybe that's part of this... Thank you, Thor. You're probably right, and I should talk to Mother about it. I was just worried about what she would say."

"Loki, you know Mother would always be proud of all of your abilities," Thor said. A part of Thor was jealous at how much closer Loki was with their mother, but he tried his utmost to not be. They simply had much more in common than Thor and Frigga did.

"I know..." Loki muttered as he went to sit down on his bed. "I just... worry."

Thor tilted his head slightly to the side as he watched Loki. His brother was picking at the blankets beneath him. Thor could honestly not recall an incident where he had seen his brother looking... unsure before. Loki always knew exactly what he wanted and how to get it. Even if he was misguided at times, he was always confident in his choices. "Loki, what is it?"

Loki just shook his head a little and continued to look down at his knees. After a moment's hesitation, Thor moved to sit down beside his little brother. "Loki. Tell me. Please, don't keep secrets from me."

Loki looked up sharply, "You mean like you aren't?"

Thor recoiled slightly and guilt rose. "What are you talking about?" he asked as calmly as he could.

"I know you aren't telling me everything, Thor!" Loki said. "I know something's been bothering you and you don't tell me what it is. So, why should I tell you what's bothering me? Don't be a hypocrite... I hate that..." Loki looked off to the side as he grumbled the last bit of his complaint.

Thor wanted to argue. The two situations were completely different but how exactly would he get Loki to believe that? Thor already knew the answer to what was bothering Loki but couldn't explain that knowledge and sharing his own fears would only bother Loki more. He supposed, since Loki didn't know the whole of it, the situation might seem a tiny bit hypocritical. But it really wasn't! Thor was certain of that! "My nightmares won't ever happen but what's bothering you is real. I just want to help, Loki..."

"And I don't want to tell you," Loki said.

Thor tried to remain calm despite the anger he heard beginning to build up in Loki's voice. "Is it really that bad? It can't be that bad... does it have to do with transforming yourself? Your shapeshifting is unique but not bad..."

Loki jumped to his feet and turned to face Thor. "Of course, you think so! It's not happening to you! You don't wake up in different forms and spend an hour each morning trying to get back to how you are!"

Thor blinked. This was not something he'd ever heard. Not having perfect control of a new skill wasn't really that unheard of but waking up different was a bit beyond a lack of control and focus. "What are you waking up as?"

Loki turned bright pink. "It's none of your business!" he hissed. "Forget I even said it! It's not important!"

"It sounds important..."

"Well, it's not! I don't have to tell you anything, Thor! Not a single bit! I shouldn't have even shown you that first part. I knew it was a bad idea! I never should have brought you here!"

"Loki!"

"Just go back outside and run around with your friends! I don't know why I thought you'd understand! I should have known better!"

"I can't understand if you don't tell me what's going on!"

Thor suddenly realized he had stood up at some point and the two brothers were a bit closer to each other. Loki looked on the verge of either strangling Thor or breaking down into tears. Thor wasn't sure which was more likely given how upset his brother was. "It's none of your business!" Loki said. Thor blinked, a bit surprised at how different Loki's voice sounded. His normal voice was strangled and oddly... high pitched?

Before the strangeness could fully process, Loki was yelling at him again. Thor didn't really listen to what the words were, though. Some strange instinct told him to look down. Without permission and without any real thought, Thor's eyes slid down from Loki's face. "L-Loki?"

Loki froze and looked down. Thor didn't see the flush that swept over his brother's face as he was too focused on trying to process what he was looking at. Due to how neatly Loki dressed and how well fitted his clothes were the strange lumps suddenly straining the front of his shirt were incredibly obvious despite their rather small size. "H-how..." Thor had heard of Loki transforming into female animals on occasion, but he'd never considered... this.

Loki quickly closed his arms over his chest. "G-get out, Thor."

"But... Loki, wha-"

"I said get out!"

Thor finally managed to pull his eyes back up and noticed the slightly softer curve of Loki's face. His brother (?) was so obviously mortified, but Thor had been rendered entirely off guard. He'd had no response for this. It wasn't something he'd even imagined before this moment. Loki's cheeks were blood red and tears were clinging to his (her?) suddenly very feminine looking eyelashes. "Out!"

Green magic swirled and suddenly slammed into Thor's chest. A grunt of pain escaped as Thor was flung magically from the room. No sooner had his back walloped the ground before Loki's door slammed closed. Thor heard locks click into place and pushed himself up onto one elbow. He could only stay there on the ground and stare at Loki's closed door with a slightly agape mouth.

Thor stayed on the floor for quite a while just struggling to process what he'd seen. Somewhat numbly, Thor pushed himself fully to his feet, and he absently brushed himself off. His chest was stinging from the impact of magic charged with such unstable and volatile emotions, but he ignored that for the most part. He was struggling to not be repulsed by the idea of changing one's self in such a way. Asgardians were very clear in what men and women did and that those boundaries shouldn't actually be crossed. But... Loki looked as if it was entirely out of his control. Which was far worse, in Thor's opinion.

Thor began to walk though he had no real destination in mind. Living in Midgard off and on had softened his view on unmanly behavior some, but he still didn't understand the idea of changing how the Norns made you. Appreciating the beauty of the same gender and even finding yourself attracted to some of them Thor could understand. Most Asgardian youths did experiment a bit, but essentially all outgrew it. Thor thought that entirely normal and even acknowledged that some didn't grow out of it and accepted that as part of those people. Especially since most that he suspected of such things also stayed attracted to the opposite sex like biology dictated and kept their more unusual tastes to themselves. But Asgardians didn't... change.

Thor had been distantly aware of that sometimes Midgardians changed their gender in such a way, but he'd never met one. He'd just written it off as one of those strange bits of Midgardian-ness that made no sense and that they would grow out of as a species. But if his own brother (sister? what was the best word here?) could change himself so easily, what was he supposed to think?

When Thor tried to put himself in that position of having his manhood taken away and being in a woman's body, his mind violently protested the very idea. The very thought was horrifying and made him more than a little uncomfortable. He clenched his fists to prevent himself from checking that he hadn't changed. He knew he hadn't and that the very thought to 'check' was silly but he couldn't quite help the urge.

He had more than half a mind to go back to Loki and demand he never do such a thing again but considering the horror on Loki's face, Thor didn't think such a demand would get him anywhere. Loki obviously hadn't meant to do that and so demanding him not accidentally change again would amount to nothing. Besides, Thor was certain Loki still enjoyed women. The way he looked at the lovely Sigyn was proof enough of that.

"Thor, darling?"

Thor gave a start and turned to see his Mother standing there with a cluster of flowers from her garden in her hands. Her smile quickly fell when she saw his face. "Thor? What is it? You look upset."

No answer really came to him at first. He just stood there gaping at Frigga and struggling to find words to explain he'd just seen his brother turn into a girl of all things. "M-mother... I just..." How could Thor say that out loud? Every instinct as an Asgardian man was screaming to hush this up and never speak of it again. But secrets were not going to help here. He knew that. Still, saying it didn't seem acceptable either.

Frigga must have seen Thor's difficulty and quickly bent down just slightly beside him. "Thor, dear, you can tell me... what's happened?" Thor opened his mouth again, and again, nothing actually came out. He knew he had to say something. Thor glanced around for anyone that might be nearby. There were guards just down the hall standing at attention.

Frigga followed his eyes down the hall and frowned. She quickly covered the scowl with a small smile. "Come, Thor... we'll speak in my sitting room," she said.

Thor just nodded and took the hand she offered. Frigga's sitting room wasn't very far, and when they got there, she quickly dismissed all of her attendants. Thor sat down on a couch and stared down at his hands as Frigga arranged the flowers she had picked in a beautifully cut Vanir Crystal vase. The silence wasn't oppressive, and Thor was definitely not in any sort of hurry to break it.

His mind was still spinning with contradicting thoughts. Thor loved his brother. He really did. But how was he supposed to deal with this? How was he going to keep his brother from pain when his brother was turning into his sister for no reason? That was... that was insane, and he had no basis for how to deal with a sister. He'd never had one before and certainly hadn't considered Loki a sister figure. He might have been... feminine, and Thor knew that others teased him about his magic and female hobbies, but Thor had never really thought of him that way. Not before that moment when he actually saw his brother as a girl. He wanted to protect Loki but at the same time pull as far back as possible. Thor didn't understand any of it, didn't like it, and wanted to avoid the whole thing.

Frigga didn't press with any questions. She just continued to arrange her flowers and hum a quiet tune that Thor vaguely recognized from when he was younger. Thor started wringing his hands a little, waiting for a question or a statement or anything from his mother.

Thor was quiet for several more minutes before looking up at where his Mother was adjusting where on the table the vase was sitting. Had these sorts of things happened to Loki before? Was that part of why Loki pulled so far way? Did he have some strange affliction that changed his body like that? Thor hoped such a disease didn't exist. Or... would that be better? Diseases meant that there was a cure somewhere. Could Loki be cured of this strangeness?

Desperate for any sort of simple solution, Thor's mind latched onto that idea. "I think Loki is sick," he blurted into the quiet of the room.

Frigga quickly turned. "Sick? What's wrong?" she asked, eyes wide with worry and held still.

"We were arguing, and he turned into a girl!" Thor explained quickly. "I know he didn't mean to! So... so there must be something wrong with him, right?"

Frigga, if possible, went even more still than she had been before. Thor's wide eyes moved over his mother's carefully neutral face for some sign that he was right. That this was a simple thing that could be fixed. "He turned into a girl?" Frigga repeated carefully.

Thor nodded quickly. "I could... see... breasts beneath his shirt..." Thor answered awkwardly and quietly. That entire sentence felt so very wrong. He was impressed with himself that he'd managed to say it all.

Frigga was silent for another moment before crossing the room to sit down beside Thor. "Thor... this is very important. Did Loki change any other way?"

At first, Thor was confused by the question. After a moment, Thor's stunned mind realized that she was subtly fishing for any signs that the glamour on Loki had failed. Thor almost answered truthfully that, no he hadn't appeared as anything but an Aesir girl, but then realized that this was the perfect chance to have 'found out.' He was a little surprised he'd managed to think of it but took the opportunity presented. "W-well... he looked a bit... blue."

Frigga went still again. "Blue in what way?"

"Sort of... all over," Thor said.

The silence that stretched on after that statement made Thor think perhaps he'd been too hasty. Perhaps saying he'd seen his brother turn into a blue girl was really a terrible idea. "Thor... you mustn't tell anyone what you saw."

"I wasn't going to... but what's going on, Mother?"

Frigga hesitated a little. "It's nothing, Thor. Rest assured it's nothing serious."

Thor was surprised. Did she really think that such a non-excuse would put him off asking? Perhaps not and Frigga was just going through the motions. She had been keeping the secret for quite a while already. Thor looked back down at his hands as he thought of how to pry the truth out without letting onto his own secrets. "Thor... dearest. Truly, your brother will be fine. I'm sure it was just his magic reacting and trying to scare you... you know magic is a bit unpredictable."

Thor wasn't really listening to his mother trying to comfort him. Nothing he was coming up with would manage to make his mother tell him the truth without bringing up other questions, he didn't think. He simply wasn't that good with words. "Mother, I know," Thor said abruptly.

Frigga went silent for several heartbeats. "Know what, dear?"

Thor took a deep breath and looked up at her. "I know Loki's a Jotunn..."

The Queen of Asgard's face went nearly ashen. "Thor-"

"It's alright, Mother," Thor said quickly. "I still love him... he's my brother, but... what's going on? Why did he turn into a girl? Why haven't you told us about this? Is he sick?"

Frigga was quiet for a moment. "Have you told Loki about this, Thor?"

"... No. I figured you would... or father would."

"Your father does not think it's something that Loki needs to know," Frigga said as she stared at the flowers she had just arranged. "But now that this has happened... perhaps I should speak with Loki about it."

"Why? Please, Mother, I'm worried."

Frigga sighed and turned back to look and Thor. "There is nothing wrong with Loki, Thor," she said softly. "He's a normal young Jotunn is all. They develop differently from us."

"But he turned into a girl," Thor insisted. What sort of people turned into girls randomly during arguments?

"Thor... you cannot judge a different species based on what Aesir find normal," she said. "For Jotnar, such unexpected changes happen quite a bit at his age."

"Why?"

Frigga sighed again. "Darling... Jotnar do not have male and female. They are all the same," she said gently.

"The same?" Thor asked, unable to fully help the dislike from being obvious. He liked knowing what to expect from the people he was dealing with. But if they were all the same, how did they... make babies in the first place? And how did they decide which one took care of the children? Did they not take care of them? Is that why their father found Loki abandoned?

"Yes, dear," Frigga confirmed. "Where we find it strange that they are only one sex. They find it very odd that most other species have two. In a way, it makes their life much easier. Everybody can be whatever they wish because there are no set rules based on gender since that is all the same."

Thor frowned a little in confusion. "But... that doesn't make sense... how do they..."

Frigga put her hand on his shoulder. "Don't worry, Thor. It's just the way they are. And nothing is wrong with Loki. I promise you. I will go speak with him."

"Are you going to tell him what he is?" Thor asked. Frigga hesitated. Thor could almost see her desire to do so warring with Odin's decree to not do that very thing. "I think you should," Thor volunteered. "He seemed really scared..."

Frigga glanced off to the side for a moment before nodding a little bit. "I think you might be right, Thor... Though it will be a very difficult conversation..."

"Do you want me to help, Mother?"

"No, Thor. This is something I think your brother would prefer to be kept to himself. For now."

Chapter Text

Frigga sent Thor off to play by himself after many assurances and, though the young Thunderer seemed reluctant, he eventually did do as his Mother asked. He still looked troubled, and Frigga knew that she'd have to have another few talks with him as well to help with the revelation he had just had. She wasn't sure how Thor had found out his brother's true species unless this was not the first time Loki's glamour had failed. The idea that Odin's guise had not been sufficient in hiding Loki’s species was a little alarming to Frigga. Not because she didn't want her children to know about Loki's heritage but because Odin's magics rarely failed. Her husband might not consider himself a Seidmadr or even be actively continuing his studies into seidr, but he was quite skilled with the magic he did perform. Frigga knew that was just another thing she would have to bring up with him after she dealt with her youngest.

Frigga had honestly been expecting something like this to happen for the past decade or so. Ever since Loki had hit his most recent growth spurt around his seven-hundredth birthday. From her research, seven hundred was the typical age where Jotnar started experiencing such gender fluctuations. But when he never came to her about it or made even the slightest indication of anything bothering him, Frigga thought that perhaps Odin's guise had hidden the fluctuations from being apparent. Now, though, she was fairly certain she knew that Loki had been hiding them -most likely out of some misguided shame he shouldn't feel, to begin with- which wasn't really healthy for him mentally or physically.

Frigga paused in her private library off her sitting room to collect a book that she'd put aside for this very sort of thing. The thick book had no title but was bound in leather such a deep blue as to be nearly black. The edges of the pages were yellowed slightly, and little bits of paper were sticking out of the top and sides to serve as bookmarkers. She paused long enough to open the front cover and examine the interior illustration. Over the two-page spread was a very detailed icy shorescape. The drawn waves were shattering across the ice-covered land to the right and foaming around the pounded smooth black rocks that separated the two domains. Again there was no title even though there was room for one within the open sky of the illustration.

The book, Frigga knew, was full of everything needed to raise a young Jotunn and had been written by Queen Bestla. Apparently, every Jotnar family had some variation of this very same book, copied by the expectant 'mother' (for want of a better term) from a master version, which was passed down to the eldest child. Bestla, not having been the oldest, had copied this book from her family's master shortly after first coming to Asgard. Frigga had found the book absolutely invaluable in raising Loki. Not only had the manual warned Frigga about the near inevitability of these gender swings, but the pages had also given her the recipe for the salve that helped Loki's sunburns and an appropriate substitute for mother's milk. From what Bestla had written, problems producing milk for their children was a rather typical issue among Jotnar, and since Frigga had not carried Loki, she hadn't the means to feed him at all.

Frigga closed the cover of the journal again and then picked it up off the table beside her favorite chair where it essentially lived for the last seven hundred years. Knowing that Odin would disapprove of her making the decision she had without even consulting him, Frigga wasted no time in heading to Loki's room so that she wouldn't somehow accidentally talk herself out of her task. This was going to be a tough conversation, but she couldn't allow that or the fact that her husband would argue stop her. Frigga knew her husband truly did mean well, that he believed wholly that Loki didn't need to know about these truths, but now that their youngest was changing genders unwillingly, Frigga was certain continuing with the ruse would only be damaging to him. She would talk with Odin about it later, no doubt he'd have a few things to say, but she didn't care.

Shifting the book fully into one arm, Frigga raised her other hand to knock on Loki's door. "Loki? Loki, darling, may I come in?" There was no answer, and Frigga found herself worrying even more than she had when Thor had first blurted out that Loki was 'sick' in her sitting room. When she knocked again and again received no answer, Frigga decided to do what she never had before and removed the wards Loki had erected around the door. They were somewhat sloppy barriers and were relatively easy to dismantle. Even the simplest spells were not as strong as she knew Loki could make them, which worried her immensely. The door was locked, but that was equally easy to deal with.

Frigga stepped into Loki's room and shut the door behind her as quietly as possible. She frowned deeply at Loki's bed. The sheets and coverlet had been ripped off and thrown into a corner, and several shelves around the room had broken, allowing the contents to spill off and onto the floor. The Queen of Asgard knew her youngest was very neat and tidy, rather shockingly so considering his age and being raised as an Asgardian boy. Thor certainly had never been so clean. Not even when he 'cleaned' his room on the rare occasion she had managed to get him to do it. So to see Loki's room in such disarray was very disturbing. "Loki?" A quick glance told her the bathroom was empty and she was beginning to worry that Loki had fled when she heard a small sniffle.

With the noise to help, Frigga quickly realized that the mass of bedding in the corner hadn't just been thrown there but was hiding her youngest. "Loki..." Frigga immediately went over to the mass of fabric.

Loki let out a noise somewhere between a whimper and a cry and crouched down even further into his blankets. Frigga put the book she was carrying off to the side as she knelt down in front of him. At first, even knowing that Loki was within the mass, she couldn't see him. But then he looked up enough for her to see his big beautiful green eyes filled to the brim with tears. Without even considering he might not want to be touched just then, Frigga wrapped her arms around him, blanket and all. "Shh, it's alright, my love."

"... Mother."

Frigga shushed him gently again and just held him. The blankets were thick enough that she couldn't tell if he'd managed to turn himself back fully male, but that didn't matter much either. In his mother's arms, Loki quickly reached a small breakdown, which he had been fighting against since Thor had left. He clung to her tightly and buried his face in her chest as he cried. Loki was trying to say something through his tears, but Frigga couldn't understand what. She tightened her arms around him and pushed back the blankets enough to expose his head. Loki didn't look up as Frigga ran a hand through his silky smooth hair in an attempt to comfort him. Her heart hurt to hear him crying as he was, but until he calmed a little more so that she could explain, all she could do was comfort him.

She rubbed his back through the blankets still wrapped around him as he cried so hard that his shoulders shook with them. She pulled him entirely into her lap even though he was too big for such a thing now. Loki buried his face into the side of Frigga's neck, and she could feel his hot tears against her skin and struggled to not cry for him herself. She hated that he was so distressed about something that was entirely natural. He hadn't cried like this since he was a tiny thing with untied shoes and half outgrown baby teeth. Even more than before, she was certain that she was right to ignore Odin's decree. As a baby, it hadn't hurt to keep Loki's heritage to themselves, but now her baby was older and needed to know these things.

"I'm sorry," Loki whimpered.

"You have nothing to apologize for, Loki," Frigga said instantly and perhaps a little more fiercely than intended.

Loki almost flinched from her tone of voice. "I didn't mean to," he whined as his grip on her dress tightened. "I swear I didn't."

"I know," Frigga assured him as she rubbed his back again. "It's alright, Loki. I'm not upset with you."

Loki still didn't look up at her. "B-but Thor..." his voice broke at the mention of his brother. "His face..."

"Shh, Thor was just shocked," Frigga reasoned gently. "He's not upset with you either."

"Am I... turning Argr?" Loki asked in the saddest and lost tone she'd ever heard. “… because I use seidr so much?”

She was surprised by the question though she supposed she shouldn't have been. "No dearest." She wished dearly that her son had never heard such a horrible word and she wished even more that it didn’t cause him to second guess himself and what he enjoyed. He was truly gifted with seidr, and it was a shame that nobody seemed to properly appreciate it.

“They say that u-using seidr makes you… that boys shouldn’t and I have been…”

“That’s not true,” Frigga insisted. She wanted to ask who ‘they’ were that thought they knew what using seidr was all about but decided to hold off. “You believe me, don’t you? I would never lie about something like this. Using seidr doesn’t change who you are.”

"Then I don't know what's wrong with me," Loki cried. "It just keeps happening. I swear I've never tried to do it. Not once." He finally looked, up again and Frigga felt the pain in her chest increase at how red and tear-swollen his eyes were. Seeing how upset he was, Frigga was positive that he'd been trying to hide that these changes were happening for some time.

She reached up and wiped the tracks of tears off of his face gently. "I know. How long has this been happening, Loki?" He looked very uneasy at the question and tried to retreat, but Frigga kept him from doing so. "Loki. I promise I will not be upset, but I need to know if I'm going to help."

The youngest Prince of Asgard looked like he wanted to pull away and curl up again. "A-a few months," he finally murmured though he was looking off to the side and not at her.

"Loki," she said firmly but gently. She was his mother and knew when he wasn't telling the whole truth of something.

He winced and clung to the blankets around him. "M-maybe since this year," he admitted uncomfortably.

Frigga frowned. They were at the beginning of fall already, which meant that for over half a year he'd been struggling with his body changing without knowing what was going on. "How often does this happen, Loki?" He whined at the question, and she knew he was going to try and escape answering. "Loki, I know this is uncomfortable for you but please."

Tears built in his eyes again and pulled his blanket around his shoulders tighter. Frigga glanced down at the quilt and could guess at why her son was so desperately hiding himself behind it. "Loki," she said in the tone that never seemed to fail to make him look at her. After a tense minute, he did look over. "You won't be able to change back if you stay this upset," she reasoned as she brushed his hair back. "I promise you, you're not in trouble, and I'm not upset. I love you and just want you to not be so scared anymore."

Loki bit his lower lip uneasily. "Mother... what's happening to me?" he asked.

"I promise it's nothing bad," she said.

"Nothing bad?" he echoed, his voice cracking from how upset he was.

"No," Frigga said before Loki could continue. "Nothing bad. I swear to you."

Loki's eyes were a bit wild, and Frigga was surprised when he pulled his blankets wide open. Though his shirt was disheveled and pulled half out, Frigga could see what had alarmed Thor. Just like she had supposed, Loki hadn't managed to turn back. Frigga had to admit that Loki's slender frame was odd to see with developing breasts where they hadn't been before. "How is this not bad, Mother?" he asked as his eyes overflowed again.

Frigga reached out and brushed his tears away with her thumb. "Because you are still my beautiful son. Even when you are a girl," she said.

His lower lip trembled, and he quickly closed the front of the cocoon of blankets. Loki didn't want to look at Frigga at all. She pulled him close for another hug. He cried again into her shoulder. Frigga rubbed his back comfortingly and just let him have another mini-breakdown. After another fifteen or twenty minutes, Loki finally seemed to get a handle on himself.

Frigga didn't say anything right away and just held him as he sniffled and wiped at his face. She ran her fingers over his head as his trembling slowly calmed and he relaxed. "I have something I want to show you, Loki," Frigga murmured. "It will help you understand what is happening to you."

Loki looked up a little uncertainly. Frigga gave him what she hoped was a reassuring smile before reaching to the side where she had put Queen Bestla's book. Loki didn't say anything as Frigga found the bookmark that was most relevant and flipped about the first quarter of the book open. Loki's eyes widened at the very detailed drawing of a young Jotunn with large runes beside it identifying the section as one on 'The Change.' "M-mother?"

Frigga tightened her hold on Loki's shoulders. "It's alright, Loki. I'm here, and I'm not going anywhere," she murmured as she flipped the first few pages of the section. "Now, tell me how much of this you've felt," she said drawing his attention back down to the book. Loki stared down with wide eyes at the long list across the page. Despite looking at the list, none of the words actually registered in his head.

Loki gripped the book in front of him so hard his knuckles turned white. "M-mother... this is a book about Jotnar," he said in a small voice.

"Yes, darling," Frigga confirmed. When Loki didn't respond again and just kept staring, Frigga sighed and put the book back to the side. "Come with me, Loki."

Frigga got to her feet, and after a little pulling and coaxing, she managed to get Loki up as well. Getting him to his feet was one thing, but he kept his death grip on the blankets around him. Frigga decided to let him keep them and just guided him into the bathroom. Loki looked ready to run back out as Frigga stopped them in front of the mirror. Loki was trembling under her hands again, but Frigga knew that this had to happen. Part of her wanted to just let this go, Loki looked so terrified and upset, but she knew that if he was going to truly understand he had to know about this as well. She wondered if he had already partially guessed considering how he was staring at his own reflection.

Frigga kept her hands on Loki's shoulders and allowed her Seidr to supplant Odin's spell. She watched carefully as royal sapphire spread up Loki's neck and face in a flush of color. His eyes widened and his mouth opened in a silent cry as the blue continued to spread over his skin. Faint whorls appeared on his skin, not nearly as thick as an adult's but still visible. She felt him tensing, and his nails turn dark as the flush reached them. Red blossomed around his pupils like a flower and completely erased the emerald green. Tears built in his now Jotunn red eyes and he backed away as much as he could from his own reflection. "It's alright, Loki," Frigga said, wrapping her arms around his chest in an effort to both keep him from bolting and to comfort him.

"M-mother..."

"I'm here. This is who you are, Loki, and there's nothing wrong with that," she assured him. Feeling his tension building more and seeing the anguished look on his face, Frigga felt it was enough and allowed Odin's guise to return.

Loki stared in just as much horror as before as his coloring turned snow fair and the red of his eyes seemed to slide away again into green. He was shaking and couldn't seem to tear his eyes away from his own reflection. Frigga gently pulled him away and guided him back to the bedroom. He didn't protest as Frigga helped him back onto the bed. Though the bedding was in shambles, she imagined it was still more comfortable than the floor. Finally, as Frigga sat down with Loki curled against her side, he managed to make more than just vague noises of horror. "I-I... I'm..."

"A Jotunn, Loki," Frigga finished gently.

Another distressed noise escaped, and Loki clung to Frigga's dress again. "B-but how?" he asked, turning his wide eyes back up. "How can I be a... a..."

"Jotunn," Frigga said. Loki didn't seem able to say the word himself, but Frigga wouldn't allow him to avoid the truth. She noticed that Loki physically shied away from the word. "It's the way you were born, Loki. There's nothing wrong with being a Jotunn."

"But you and Father... how?"

Frigga sighed and brushed his hair back again. This was the secret that she had been most dreading, if she were honest. She loved her son as if she had borne him herself and she didn't want him to ever doubt that. "Loki, you were born on Jotunheim. I don't know to whom, but you were orphaned at the end of the war. Your Father brought you home with him."

"You... you aren't-"

"I am your Mother, darling," she interrupted before he could finish the question. She knew what he would ask. And why he would ask it. But she didn't want the question even voiced because it was ridiculous. "I might not have carried you or borne you, but you are my son. And I love you."

"B-but I-"

Frigga put a gentle finger to his lips. "Hush now. There is nothing wrong with being a Jotunn. Nothing. You are beautiful and intelligent and incredibly skilled, and both your father and I love you with all our hearts. It doesn't matter how we came to be your parents. We are your parents. And don't you ever doubt that."

"But Jotnar are monsters," he said, voice somewhat strangled. "I'm a monster..."

"No!" she said firmly. "They are not monsters, and neither are you."

Loki looked up at her again. "But I am," he said. "I keep turning into a girl."

Frigga frowned. "That's normal for Jotnar, Loki," she said. "That doesn't make you a monster. Please, darling, I know this is scary for you but let me explain it. You will feel better when you know what is going on." She was certain of that. Loki was highly intelligent. Once he calmed down and actually began to learn about what was happening to him, she knew the fear would start to abate.

Loki didn't look as if he believed that nor did he look enthused but he gave a shaky nod. Frigga gave him a smile and kissed his forehead. "Thank you, darling."

Frigga waited for Loki to say something or try to escape but he didn't. He stayed clinging to her side like he hadn't done in centuries but Frigga couldn't blame him. She gave him another tight squeeze of a hug before retrieving the book and opening it between them to the list she'd shown him a few minutes ago. "Now Loki... I know you might not want to discuss this with me, but I truly do need to know how much of this list is going on."

Loki stiffened a little but gave a shaky nod. Despite agreeing Loki didn't seem to be in any real hurry to share. Frigga didn't press him, knowing how awkward it must be for her son to admit to some of the things on the list. She kept stroking his head and just let him take as much time in silence as he needed.

Finally, after what Frigga felt might have been nearly an hour, Loki pointed to one of the more benign symptoms on the list. Aches and Pains. Hardly surprising. Even Asgardian boys felt those while growing. When Frigga remained silent and just continued to let Loki cuddle up against her, he reluctantly pointed to a few more bullet points. The Queen allowed her son to admit things when he was ready, especially when they came to bullet points that Asgardian boys would never have to worry about such as growing breasts. They slowly worked through the whole list until Frigga noticed Loki stiffen and hesitate even more.

"And this one?" Frigga asked pointing near the bottom of the list. Loki curled up a bit more and tucked his head down. She had a feeling she knew the answer to the question. "Loki... why didn't you go to a healer if you've been bleeding?" Eir would have come straight to Frigga if Loki had come to her.

Loki whimpered and clung tighter to his blankets while shifting away from her. "I... I didn't..."

Frigga brought Loki closer to her side. "It's normal, Loki. But if you were bleeding and you didn't know why you should have come to Eir or me. It might have meant something was wrong."

"I would... wake up and... I..." Loki broke off entirely and buried his face in Frigga's shoulder. Just the memory of waking up to blood all over his legs and bed was horrifying to him. He had utterly panicked and had hidden all the evidence away as quickly as he could.

"It's normal, Loki," she repeated for him. "All Jotnar experience the very same bleeding. So do Asgardian and Vanir girls."

"But I'm not a girl," Loki whimpered.

Frigga sighed some and rubbed his back. She was beginning to somewhat regret choosing to raise Loki as a boy, but really they hadn't had much choice. Jotnar, externally, looked very male. Especially to the unaware. "You are Jotunn. That means that you are neither boy nor girl. And yet you're both."

"I am a monster..."

"No, you're not," Frigga corrected. "You are just perfect the way you are. You don't have to ever live life as a girl if you don't wish to. But it is part of your body, and you'll have to learn how to deal with it."

"I don't want to deal with it."

Frigga sighed. "I'm afraid you don't have a choice, my dearest." Loki was quiet, and Frigga knew it would take more than one talk to get Loki to accept the female part of himself. "What did you do when you woke up bleeding, Loki?"

"I... spelled the bed clean," he murmured so low that Frigga almost didn't hear. "Then I... turned back to a boy. As soon as I could."

Frigga frowned. "That's not healthy, dear. Your body still functions even if you change the outside. Didn't it hurt to be a boy then?" From what Frigga had read in the manual, Jotnar cycles were much like any other female cycle with some differences in length. But if Loki had blocked it by forcing his body into a male configuration there would have been considerable problems, which would have been painful. Judging by the way Loki looked off to the side it had indeed hurt. He had just stubbornly endured it for as long as he could. "Loki, you must not do that again. You could hurt yourself permanently."

Loki didn't look happy. "I don't want anyone to know about this," he muttered.

Frigga wanted to argue with him for the sake of his health, but she could understand why he wouldn't want to accept being female for even a short amount of time. She decided the best she could hope for was a compromise. "I can teach you how to change only what you need to. Please, Loki, it isn't healthy how you dealt with it before... and I don't want you hurt. And you must have bled so much while you slept. It could have been dangerous." If the only time his body had been allowed to function normally was when Loki was not consciously focusing on being male that would mean it all happened while he slept, Frigga could only imagine what that would have been like to wake up to.

Loki's cheeks were bright red as he looked off to the side. "I don't want it to happen at all."

"We can't stop it from happening, Loki," Frigga said soothingly. "But I will teach you how to better deal with it and how to hide it. This is nothing so horrible that we cannot accommodate."

"Don't tell Thor about this."

"I would never tell your brother about something you find embarrassing, Loki," Frigga told him truthfully. "But even if he were to know, he would not shun you. He loves you, Loki. We all love you."

Loki didn't respond. He just stared down at his lap and fiddled with his blanket. "Can you help me... turn back?" he asked.

"Of course, dear," Frigga said as she took his hand in hers. "You will regain full control of your gender soon enough, I'm sure. For now, though, close your eyes and relax. Just stay calm and remember what you want to look like. The calmer you are, the easier it is to resist the shifts, and your guise will respond to show you how you want." Technically, the image masking Loki's appearance to that of an Aesir was what was having trouble. Since Aesir only had two genders, Odin's guise had to conform to whichever was closest at the time. When Loki's emotions triggered different hormones, the guise responded the only way it knew how. Perhaps Frigga would bring up the problem with Odin and together they could make a way for Loki's guise to no longer fluctuate. She knew it would make Loki feel better.

Frigga watched as Loki closed his eyes and took several deep breaths to try and relax. Perhaps five minutes later, Loki's face subtly shifted, and Loki sighed again. Frigga couldn't see his chest due to the blanket but from how he opened his eyes and murmured a 'thank you' she knew that he had managed it. "I never wanted you so very upset, Loki," Frigga whispered as she brushed his hair back from his slightly sharper featured face.

Loki remained quiet even as he absently tucked his shirt back into his waistband. He began to pick at the blanket still wrapped around him after a moment or two. "Does this mean... No matter who I like... I'm wrong?" he asked quietly.

Frigga tried hard to not show her surprise. Though she knew both Thor and Loki were getting closer to the age where they would start noticing other youngsters, she hadn't thought either of them had anyone already catching their eyes. "I think that no matter who you like, you can't be wrong," Frigga said with a smile. "Jotnar have always been much freer in their love than Asgardians. Much to their benefit, I think."

"I like girls," Loki said instantly and perhaps a little more defensively than he'd meant to.

Frigga couldn't help her smile from growing. "That's fine, Loki," she said. "And it's fine if you don't. You're far too young to worry about such things like that."

"I'm not that young," he said with a pout.

Frigga wrapped her arms around him and pulled her baby into a tight hug. "Of course, Loki. Are you feeling better now?" She could, of course, go further into depth with all of the changes a Jotunn of his age went through and the possibilities of the future but didn’t think this the best time. He was struggling as it was and bringing up such things, which may not even matter, wouldn’t help him feel more at ease.

Loki hesitated in his answer. "A bit better, Mother," he murmured. "But... why didn't you ever tell me about… this before?"

That was another question that Frigga had been dreading. She wasn't sure how to defend the decision when she hadn't been entirely in agreement with it herself. "Your Father thought you would be happier if you didn't know," she finally admitted. She couldn't think of any way to say it differently. There wasn't any other excuse that she could think of that would make it 'better,' and besides, Odin really had thought that Loki would be happier that way. They had argued over it for several months after Odin had first brought Loki home.

“Does Thor know?”

“Yes. But not because I told him,” Frigga said. “He said he already knew you were a Jotunn, but he didn’t care because you were his brother. He was just worried because he thought you may be sick. He did not realize either that Jotnar were singularly gendered.”

Loki’s eyes widened, and he wrapped his arms around himself. “H-how could he have already known?”

“I’m not certain,” Frigga admitted. Though Thor had said he’d seen Loki turn blue, Frigga wasn’t convinced that would have been enough for Thor to immediately realize his brother was a Jotunn. Someone might have told him, she supposed, but there were only a handful of people that Frigga and Odin had entrusted with the truth about Loki’s heritage: Eir and Ilmr for both needed special instructions for Loki’s care and their eldest son Tyr. “But does it matter, dearest? He loves you still, and once he gets over this shock, I’m sure you’ll find he doesn’t care about your gender either.”

“I care…” Loki muttered.

Frigga brushed a hand through his hair yet again and kissed his forehead. “I know you do.” That was the problem with raising such a powerful and label-defying child in a society that put so much value on those same labels. “But you needn’t care about that. Your father, your brothers, and I will love you no matter what.”

Loki nodded but didn’t look entirely convinced. He had a distant look on his face as if he were deep in thought. Judging by the way he continued to pick at his blanket with his fingers, Frigga assumed it wasn’t altogether happy thoughts. Frigga let her son work through his thoughts at his own pace and magically repaired the broken shelves along the walls. Once the shelves were fixed, the Queen got out of bed and went to go put the scattered items where they belonged.

Frigga had managed to get most of the various books and containers and other knickknacks back in their spots when she heard Loki shift. She glanced over to see him wrapping his arms around his knees and staring at a picture of a Jotunn in the book Bestla had written. She wasn’t sure that she liked how Loki was staring at it, though. There was a bit of hostility and fear and only the slightest amount of curiosity. She had been hoping that by this point Loki’s natural and inexorable curiosity would have won him over, but that did not appear to be the case.

“Why?”

Frigga almost missed his question he said it so softly. “Why what, darling?”

“Why did you and father take me?” Loki asked, still staring at the illustration. “I’m… I’m Jotunn… why would Father want me after fighting them so long?”

“I told you, dearest, you were orphaned from the war,” Frigga said as she went back to sit on the side of the bed. “You were much smaller than most Jotnar, and your Father felt you’d have trouble finding a family. He didn’t want that, so he brought you home.” She reached up to run a hand through his hair again.

Loki didn’t respond, but Frigga had a sinking feeling that he didn’t really believe her. She was about to try and convince him when he suddenly looked up at her. “Can I… can I be alone?”

“Are you sure you want that, dear?” He nodded. Frigga was tempted to press further but in the end decided against it. “Alright,” she agreed before bending over and kissing his forehead. “But call me if you need anything. I’ll leave the book here for you to look over if you want.”

Loki swallowed hard but nodded again. “… thank you.”

“Of course, darling,” Frigga said as she got up. “I know this has all been a shock to you, Loki. But don’t doubt that we love you no matter what.” Loki looked off to the side and gave a vague attempt at a nod. Frigga decided to accept it as good enough considering the situation.

When she left, Loki was still huddled on his bed with the book and looked entirely too miserable. Frigga truly wished that she could comfort him more, but these were shocks that she knew Loki would have to come to terms with in his own time. Frigga stood beside Loki’s door for several more minutes before straightening and heading down the hall.

Odin was still in his study when Frigga found him. From how he was bent over his desk and several reports, Frigga assumed it was a safe bet that he hadn’t heard any of the drama with Loki yet, which was very good as Frigga had wanted to be the one to bring it up. Odin glanced up when his wife came in with some surprise. She didn’t often interrupt him while he was working. “Frigga, my dear, how unusual. Is something wrong?”

“You could say that,” Frigga said. “I have just come from Loki’s room. I know you may not approve, Odin, but I told him.”

For a few heartbeats Odin looked confused, but then he clearly realized what Frigga meant and scowled. “Frigga, we agreed that was not a good idea.”

“No, you agreed with yourself,” Frigga pointed out. “But I had to, Odin. He’s been turning female and needed answers.”

Odin’s frown increased. “He shouldn’t have been turning female…”

“That’s nothing compared to waking up bleeding, Odin,” Frigga said with her hands on her hips in disapproval. “He was terrified and thought he was turning ‘argr’ because of his seidr.”

“I thought the guise would handle that…” Odin muttered, still frowning as he tried to think of the reasons his magic wouldn’t have been able to keep such things from happening. “Just how much did you tell him?”

Frigga raised an eyebrow. “Everything. Just how was I going to explain it to him otherwise?” she asked back. Odin got up and even began to reply when Frigga held up her hand. “You said, Odin Borson, that if it became inevitable for him to know, then you would agree. Well, it’s inevitable. He had to know. I’ll not argue with you over it because I’ve already done it and we can’t change that. But he has questions, and you’re the only one that can answer them.”

“Questions? What kind of questions?” Odin asked unhappily. He definitely would have preferred having this conversation before Frigga had done anything. “What do I know about Jotnar that you don’t also know?” Honestly, Frigga probably knew more than Odin at this point with how she studied his mother’s book.

“Not about Jotnar,” Frigga said. “About you bringing him home. I have never asked you the specifics because I don’t really care. But he does, and he needs to know.”

“I don’t see why,” Odin protested. “What does it matter how he came to be our son? He is.”

Frigga sighed in frustration. “It matters to him. He’s already asked me why you would want him. I told him what I could, but it would mean more coming from you, Odin. He needs reassurance from his father. So give it to him.”

“Frigga-”

“Don’t you ‘Frigga’ me, husband,” she snapped. “I’ll not have your excuses about this. He’s a sensitive boy and is questioning everything he thought he knew about himself because you decided it was best to keep this from him. If you don’t talk with him, we’re going to have problems. And not just between you and Loki.” With her piece said, Frigga turned and left the office. Odin called after her, but she ignored it. She knew her position on the matter was clear and if Odin wanted to have a happy marriage he’d do as she said.

Chapter Text

Thor was getting concerned. Three days had passed since ‘the incident,' and he hadn't seen Loki at all. Their mother occasionally went into Loki's room, but Thor's little brother didn't come out. Not even to eat with the rest of the family. Thor knew that his parents were fighting over the situation though it wasn’t something he’d actually witnessed. The tension between his parents at the breakfast table made it obvious that they were arguing, and Thor was willing to bet that the fighting was, as usual, over Loki. More than one breakfast had been uncomfortably quiet all through, and Frigga kept giving Odin looks that made Thor rather uneasy. Thor was almost in awe of how well his father ignored these looks (if it weren't for the fact that he was sure problems would come of the whole situation), and so wished his father weren’t pretending to not notice.

Frigga told Thor to be patient. That his brother was going through quite a lot right now, but Thor had never been a particularly patient boy or man. He'd tried knocking on Loki's door several times over the three days, but he never got an answer. He knew that Loki was ignoring him and that was not a good sign. Thor didn't want his brother to shut himself away again. The whole reason he had come back was so that this time, Loki wouldn’t have to deal with all of this alone, but that was ruined if Loki hid from everyone. Busting down the door to get inside was probably not the best thing to do if he wanted Loki to listen to him, though, no matter how tempting the option was.

Thor stood outside of Loki's door yet again and thought carefully. How was he going to get in to talk to his brother without getting himself in trouble by destroying something? Could he somehow convince Loki to open up? Unlikely. Loki could be terribly stubborn when he wanted to be.

"Thor!"

The Golden Prince gave a start and turned to see his friends coming down the hall. Fandral was waving enthusiastically at the front of the little group beside a grinning Astrild. Dagr seemed a little put out where he was trailing behind the others, and Hogun had his usual indecipherable and reserved look on his face. "My friends, what are you doing here?"

"We should ask you that same thing," Dagr said with a distinct pout. "We thought we were going out to the woods today."

Thor winced slightly. He had entirely forgotten about their plans to go explore what with his brother's reclusion, not at all helped by the fact that they’d planned the trip ages ago. "I'm afraid I will be unable to join you today, my friends."

"What? Why? We've been planning this for a month, Thor!" Fandral said with a frown.

"Something has come up," Thor said. He knew that Loki would not want Thor to blurt out his personal information to their friends so thoughtlessly, but he wouldn't get out of their plans without some sort of an excuse. "Perhaps we can venture to the woods next week."

Hogun looked between Thor and Loki's door thoughtfully. "Something came up... involving Loki?" he guessed.

"With Loki?" Astrild echoed before Thor could even attempt to answer himself. "What happened?"

"Maybe he finally stopped mooning over Sigyn and tried to court her, and he got shot down?" Fandral suggested.

"I don't know. She doesn't seem to dislike him..." Astrild mused. "Plus, I don't think he's been bold enough to ask her for anything that might remotely be leading to courtship..."

"Well, what else could have happened?" Fandral demanded rather cockily.

"If you give him a minute, maybe Thor would tell us," Hogun drawled.

Fandral and Astrild blinked in surprise before giving Thor a sheepish smile. "Sorry, Thor," Astrild muttered. "Please, tell us what happened. We'll be quiet."

"What makes you think something happened?" Thor asked uneasily.

There was a moment of silence. "... the fact that you said something came up?" Dagr pointed out in confusion. "How could something come up and yet nothing happen?"

Thor felt his face heat up a little. When Dagr said it like that, it did seem to be a stupid question. "It's nothing serious, is all," he said quickly while his mind scrambled for some acceptable excuse. "Loki is simply... not feeling well. I thought I would spend the day with him until he feels better. That's all."

"You're staying with him... outside of his room?" Dagr questioned.

"... maybe."

The long somewhat uncomfortable silence after that made it clear that Thor's friends either didn't believe him or thought that something was wrong with him. "So, next week then..." Hogun said after another few minutes. He still wasn't even slightly certain what was going on, but Thor didn't seem interested in going out exploring that day.

"Yes! Next week. Most assuredly, my friends!" Thor agreed with no small amount of relief.

"We can't do it next week," Dagr protested. "Mother is taking Sif and me to Vanaheim to visit our grandmother tomorrow. We'll be gone all next week. How about after that?"

"After that Tyr has said we'll be starting a new training regiment," Thor argued. All of the other boys made faces. Whenever Tyr decided that he had something new to teach them it always took two weeks or so for them to adjust to the increased workload. They would probably be black and blue and far too sore to go adventuring.

The five boys stood there for a moment thinking. "Well, we still could go to the woods after training," Hogun mused. "We just wouldn't go as far into the forest as we normally could have."

"I don't know how fun that sounds..." Fandral muttered.

Suddenly, the door beside them opened. "Oh, alright, fine," Loki said in exasperation. "Let's just go if you five are going to whine outside my door all day."

"Feeling better, Loki?" Dagr asked pleasantly.

"He looks like he's feeling better," Fandral said with a grin.

Loki rolled his eyes, and bodily turned Dagr around with a hand on his shoulder and then gave the blonde a hard shove. "You think you're funny, but you're not." Thor smiled widely as he followed his brother down the corridor. He hadn't anticipated Loki coming out, but he was more than a little pleased that he had. Even if it was simply because Loki had gotten fed up with the talking outside of his room, it was an improvement. Loki could have easily shut them up without even opening the door, but he'd chosen to come out and join them instead.

"What are we even going into the forest to find, anyhow?" Astrild asked.

"It's not about going to find anything," Dagr said. "It's about the adventure of it."

"Dagr is right," Thor chimed in. They had spent quite a bit of time planning out the trip. They’d scoured all the maps of Jarnvidr they could find to figure out where they hadn’t yet gone. To be entirely honest, that was most of the Jarnvidr, but Thor and his friends had explored the very edges nearest the palace quite thoroughly. Thor wasn’t sure why he felt the need to explore every inch of what would eventually be Angrboda’s home, but he didn’t think anything bad would come of it. So long as they didn’t venture in too far, they shouldn’t come across anything dangerous. Perhaps, at most, a lone wolf exiled from its pack for being too old or sickly, which they could handle even at their young age.

“Perhaps we’ll find another cave like the last one,” Loki mused.

“You only liked that because it was full of those queer clear stones…” Fandral muttered.

Loki sighed heavily, “Crystals, Fandral. They were crystals, and very helpful in spell casting.”

“You shouldn’t mess so much with seidr. It’s not natural for boys,” Dagr said, parroting off the common misconception of Asgard without hesitation.

“My father uses seidr,” Thor snapped before Loki could do more than open his mouth. “Are you saying the King and a Prince of Asgard are unnatural?”

Dagr’s golden eyes widened, and his mouth snapped shut. “Er, no, course he wasn’t, Thor,” Fandral said uneasily before elbowing their friend. Dagr nodded in agreement though he was still staring in surprise. So were Loki and Hogun, though, the dark-haired members of their group seemed more thoughtful at the unexpected defense.

“Good,” Thor said. He did his best to ignore the looks he was getting. “Anyway. Let’s hurry it’s already almost midmorning.”

The six boys had planned to spend the full day in Jarnsvidr and then camp outside of the borders of the forest before heading back early the next morning. This meant that they had accumulated and packed away plenty of necessary camping supplies into saddlebags. Already having everything prepared ahead of time meant that the six of them only had to stop by the stables briefly to pick up their mounts and supplies before heading out. Thor had a niggling feeling in the back of his mind that he had forgotten something, but after ten minutes of being unable to place what it might be, he dismissed the sensation. Whatever it was, he’d just have to endure without it.

"You would not believe what my sister did last night," Dagr said as the group rode towards the wood at a relaxed pace. He twisted around in his saddle to face the others. "She asked our father if she could get a sword. A sword!"

"What's wrong with that?" Hogun asked.

"What's wrong with that?" Dagr echoed. "She's a girl that's what's wrong with it. Girls just aren't as strong as boys. It's obvious."

Thor caught sighed of Loki rolling his eyes. "There's more to fighting than strength," Loki said with no small amount of exasperation. "Even Tyr says so, and he's all about hitting things hard."

"Well, of course you'd say that," Dagr muttered.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"What do you think I mean?" Dagr asked. "Everyone knows you're not able to even lift half the weapons."

Thor reached over and whacked Dagr upside the back of the head but was surprised when Astrild turned. "And what about me then? I'm not the strongest either, but I whipped your butt last practice. Or did you just take a fancy to that patch of ground?"

"Alright, alright, I take your meaning," Dagr said before sullenly rubbing the spot on his head that Thor had slapped. "But it's still silly to expect Sif to be a warrior. I mean, can you even imagine it?"

"Yes," Thor said instantly. That got him a wide array of stares. "Well, I can," he said defensively.

"Really?" Loki asked.

Thor shifted in his saddle but then nodded. "You do realize that she would look ridiculous trying to dodge an enemy and tripping all over her skirts," Fandral said.

"It's not like she'd be fighting in a skirt," Thor argued. "We don't fight in our best clothes."

"He has a point there," Astrild agreed. "Still, maybe it's just a fancy for her, and once she sees how difficult it is, she'll want to do something else."

"Yes, I can see that," Fandral agreed. "Most girls are flighty with what they think they want to do."

Loki shook his head and sighed. "I think you'd be surprised how entirely untrue that is," he said.

"Oh, how would you know," Fandral asked. "You know one girl."

"Sif, Amora, Lorelei, and Sigyn... already I'm up to four girls I know," Loki drawled.

"I think Fandral has a point," Astrild put in before Fandral could reply. "Girls are fickle. Always have been."

Thor glanced over to the silent Hogun. Their friend from Vanaheim just shook his head and stayed soundly out of the argument. "I'll just tell Sif you said that then," Loki said lightly. "I wonder if she'll agree with you or not."

Fandral's eyes widened. "Alright, let's not be hasty!"

"What?" Loki asked innocently. "Don't you think she'll agree?"

"This whole argument is pointless," Dagr said. "Father wouldn't let her have a sword. Said that he wasn't about to let his Princess get hurt by letting her fight." Dagr snorted a little. "Too bad he doesn't realize his 'Princess' is a little monster pretending to be a girl."

Out of the corner of his eye, Thor noticed Loki stiffen and his brother's grip on his reins tighten. "You shouldn't call your sister a monster," Thor said. "What if something were to happen to her?"

Dagr made a face. "Depressing, Thor. Besides... you don't have to live with her! Every time Mother says something to me she gets this insufferable smirk on her face. I wish I had a little brother rather than a sister. Then I could at least punch him..."

"You have a brother, Dagr," Fandral pointed out.

"Yes but he's older. And Heimdall is Heimdall. I can't compete with that!" Dagr complained.

Loki scoffed. "Try having four older brothers..."

"Can you even call Thor an older brother?" Dagr asked. "I mean... there's a decade between you. That's hardly anything."

"Then why do you call Sif your younger sister?' Hogun asked. "She's only fifteen years younger than you."

"Because she's a brat," Dagr said instantly.

"I'm just glad to be an only child," Astrild said lightly.

"Agreed," Hogun said.

Dagr scowled darkly at the two of them before settling into a huffy silence. The conversation began to get away from sibling troubles and venture more towards their past adventures into the woods. Fandral seemed intent on bringing up every single misadventure including, but far from limited to, the time Thor and Astrild had tried to cross a river, and the makeshift bridge had broken. They'd fallen in the water from several feet up, thereby discovering that the river was actually much more shallow than it appeared because Astrild broke his collarbone. Astrild had not appreciated that story being told and nearly tackled his best friend off his horse.

After perhaps two and a half hours of travel, the six youngsters reached the edge of Jarnsvidr. The large grey trunks of the trees were scattered in a very faint border. Most of the woods this far from the center were tangled underbrush, and they could see for several hundred yards into the woods between the tree trunks. Further inside Jarnsvidr. The trees began to get clustered closer together, and the canopy grew thicker which led to the feeling of darkness and claustrophobia. All of the most dangerous creatures of the forest lived deep in the center, and only fully-fledged warriors were to venture into such a place.

"Let's leave the horses here," Thor said as he got off. "They'll not like being in Jarnsvidr." Most peaceful animals got spooked inside the Ironwood, so it was generally better to not take them in, to begin with.

"If we're leaving them here we should unsaddle them," Hogun commented as he led his own horse over to a shady spot. Since they weren't sure how long they would be off exploring, the shelter provided by the trees would be safer for the horses.

"Right," Astrild agreed as he got off his own bloody bay mare.

Once the horses were secured and the baggage stowed away in a tree where no bears or boars might try to get into it, the six youngsters followed Thor into the woods. When Thor was first so young, Jarnsvidr held little interest for him until he was old enough to be allowed into the darker and wilder areas. He had also most often flown above the woods until he reached the very depths of Jarnsvidr. So, he had rarely been exposed to the less dangerous edges of the forest. Loki had been more adventurous in their youth than Thor although he was not seeking battle like Thor would have been.

Even now, Loki would sometimes pause to examine some piece of flora or investigate a strange marking in the dirt. He was much quieter than Fandral and Astrild who were still bickering about past misadventures and other things, but Thor was glad to see that Loki seemed happier than he had on the ride over. Perhaps he’d needed this little trip more than any of the others.

The six of them eventually found a small game trail and began to follow it through the brush. “Bah, I hate these thorn bushes,” Astrild complained as he fought to untangle his sleeve from one branch without tearing massive holes into the fabric.

“They’re called Steel Brambles,” Loki supplied absently as he used a stick to push several of the reaching bramble limbs off to the side so that they were easier to pass. “Don’t let them stick you. They have a layer of oil on the thorns that act as an anticoagulant.”

“A what now?” Fandral asked.

Loki sighed and carefully moved yet another thin grey branch covered in very large black thorns off to the side. “Anticoagulant. It means your blood won’t clot. So any cuts you get from them will keep bleeding for hours longer than it should,” Loki explained.

“Sounds pleasant,” Dagr muttered as he paused in their line to unhook several thorns from his pant leg.

“How do animals move through all this mess?” Astrild demanded as his sleeve got caught yet again.

Thor tried his best to not get himself caught on the bushes. “Beasts are stupid compared to us. They probably do not know of the ability of these… Brambles. One can’t expect animals to act intelligently.”

“Or this is an old trail, and the Steel Brambles have grown here while it hasn’t been used. Apparently, they grow quite fast,” Loki suggested as he finally managed to break through to the other side of the bushes where the trail took them into a clearing.

In short order, the rest of the boys came out into the clearing. “On the way back can we avoid any bramble patches?” Astrild asked as he fingered a large hole in his crisp white shirt. “I rather liked this outfit.”

“You shouldn’t wear outfits you like into the woods,” Fandral said with an eye roll.

“You’re one to talk. How long did you spend getting ready for this trip this morning?” Astrild demanded.

“Not the point, Astrild!”

Loki sighed heavily and rubbed his forehead as the two blondes quickly devolved into a small scuffle. Thor looked on with a little smile as the two roughhoused. “It’s hard to believe they’re best friends sometimes,” Dagr said.

After several minutes, Fandral came out the victor by pinning Astrild to the ground with a knee digging into the unfortunate boy’s spine. “Alright, alright! Get off me!” Astrild demanded as he squirmed and tried to dislodge his friend.

Fandral hopped up and grinned widely with his arms above his head. “And again! I win! That makes five hundred and ten to three-hundred and twenty-one!”

Astrild scowled even as he accepted Hogun’s offered hand to get up. “Don’t get so cocky,” he muttered as he tried to brush the dirt off of himself. “That’s hardly the best record in the Nine Realms…”

“He’s still got more wins than you,” Dagr pointed out with almost as wide a grin as Fandral was sporting. After having his own defeat in the training ring to Astrild, he found watching the slighter boy get beaten rather therapeutic in a way. Not that he was holding a grudge or anything…

“If you two are quite done?” Loki asked.

The two blondes at least looked a little sheepish, but since them devolving into petty arguments was fairly routine they weren’t feeling that guilty. “At least they waited until we were out of the Steel Brambles,” Hogun pointed out even as they began to follow the game trail again.

The six boys quickly found the problem with following a game trail for directions. For seemingly no reason whatsoever, the faint line of dirt where the grass had died disappeared in the middle of nowhere. The boys didn’t worry about it too much just then. Because they hadn’t gotten very deep into the woods getting out again should, in theory, be fairly straightforward. Plus, they still had a little less than half a day to explore before they even thought about heading back.

Suddenly, Dagr put out a hand to stop them in their aimless wandering. His golden eyes were fixed into the distance. “I see something out there,” he informed them.

Thor instantly moved closer. “What is it?” he asked, looking into the same direction but not being able to see anything at all.

Dagr seemed to consider his answer for a moment before shaking his head. “I’m not sure. I thought it was a rabbit, but it’s much too large… and much too dark. Its fur is entirely black. I’ve never seen a rabbit that was black before.”

“How large is too large?” Fandral asked, leaning over Dagr’s shoulder as if that would help him see into the distance as his friend could.

“Perhaps three feet tall when on its hind legs?” Dagr guessed. “It's hard to tell because there’s not much around it to judge….”

“A three-foot tall black rabbit? That would make quite the coat,” Astrild said.

Thor wasn’t so interested in a black fur coat, but he was interested in beasts he’d never seen before, so he gave Dagr a little nudge. “Can we get closer to it without it knowing?”

“I think so,” Dagr agreed.

And with that, the six boys were slowly moving through the underbrush at Dagr’s direction. Often times they would freeze and just stay standing or crouching where they were for many long minutes before Dagr motioned that they could continue on again. Sneaking up on wild animals was a tension-filled exercise that all the boys had done at some point, usually to no real reward. Most animals they snuck up on were domesticated animals in Asgard and had no reason to be nervous around six young boys. This strange creature they were stalking would no doubt be much more difficult.

Dagr kept his golden gaze fixed on their target the whole time he was moving. Very slowly, the six of them spread enough to hopefully catch the rabbit unaware from multiple sides. Almost an hour of slow stop and go movement passed, before the others were able to catch sight of their prey.

Just like Dagr had said, it was a very large pure black rabbit. The rabbit’s eyes were hard to see as they were glowing and the creature was angled slightly away from the boys. The rabbit sniffed over a blackberry bush with great interest as its ears twitched and its fluffy tail flickered around.

“That’s a-”

Before Loki could finish the ground under the boys suddenly gave way, and they were tumbling down with many cries of surprise and a little fright. The sudden slope was muddy and ended in a very unpleasant puddle of foul-smelling muck. The boys cried out as they smashed into one another and splashed more of the watery mess onto each other. A loud cackling laugh echoed, and Thor saw a dark black figure leap over the ravine they had fallen into. For just a moment, Thor could hear a heavy pounding noise as their prey left them behind.

“A Puki…” Loki finished with a groan as he dropped his head back onto Thor’s chest.

“I didn’t think they lived in Asgard!” Dagr protested.

“Well, apparently one does!” Loki snapped back as they all began to get out of the tangle they had ended up in.

“It just had to drop us into mud didn’t it?” Astrild protested as he accepted Fandral’s hand to get up.

Hogun had landed face first and so was busy trying to clear the muck off of his face. Judging from the grimace and the way he was spitting, he’d unfortunately gotten quite a bit in his mouth, and the mud tasted as bad as it smelled.

“How are we getting out of here?” Fandral asked as he glared up at the muddy slope they had fallen down.

“I can get us out,” Loki said as he shook his hands in a rather vain attempt to get some of the mud off of himself. The nearly black mud was sticky and the green streaks of mold or whatever it was made it stringy in places as well. They would all need a very complete scrubbing when this was over.

“Please hurry,” Astrild said. “This place smells absolutely foul.”

Loki nodded, and green seidr started to build around his hands. Thor doubted the Puki was aware that Loki could magic them out of the unpleasant trap. No doubt the devious little hobgoblin had figured they’d be stuck in the pit for hours slipping and sliding as they tried to climb out. Getting out still took some time as Loki could only lift them one at a time. But it certainly didn’t take hours.

Of course, getting out of the pit was only the first problem. “Now we need to find a river or something. This muck is sickening,” Astrild said. “Serious, the smell might make me actually vomit.”

“Try tasting it,” Hogun muttered.

“I think I’ll pass.”

“I will as well,” Fandral said in agreement.

“I think I saw a stream a little over that way,” Dagr said pointing to the east and further into the woods. “If we make it quick it probably wouldn’t be too dangerous to go further in.”

Thor hesitated for only a second. Though he didn’t want to go deeper into the woods without Mjolnir to call upon, he also really wanted to get the mud off of him. Already it was hardening his hair into thick clumps that were very uncomfortable. “Let’s go. The sooner we clean up, the sooner we can go set up camp. I think we’ve had enough adventure for one day…”

After a short hike towards the east, they came across the small river that Dagr had spotted. It wasn’t much of a river. More correctly it was a stream, and they couldn’t even dunk under the water to have a proper bath, but it was better than nothing at all. “I’m somewhat offended, actually,” Loki muttered as the boys spread out slightly and started washing the worst of the mud off themselves.

“Why’s that, brother?” Thor asked as he aggressively ruffled his hair with his hands.

“I’d think a Puki would rather like me,” Loki said. “But it put me in that damned mud pit the same as you.”

Thor laughed a little. “You are kindred spirits, I would think. Perhaps it didn’t want to show favoritism.”

“I’d much preferred it if it had,” Loki replied as he wrung some faintly brown water from his hair. “Ugh, there’s no way we’re getting this all off of us out here.”

“Couldn’t you… spell us clean or something, Loki?” Astrild demanded as he tried desperately to get the mud out of his own pale locks. He seemed to be having about as much luck as Thor was. At least Loki and Hogun had dark hair, and so the mud didn’t show as obviously on them. Not that Thor imagined it was any more comfortable having giant chunks of dried mud for them as it was for him.

“I could,” Loki said. “But it’ll be draining so get as much off with the water as you can first.”

Astrild grumbled but went back to scrubbing himself. Hogun had nearly face planted in the water to try and get every little bit off of his face. Thor wondered idly if he was planning on drinking the stream as well just before Hogun finally surfaced again.

“I could use a beer after this,” Fandral said as he began to pull off his shirt to get the mud out of the cloth.

“I think the clothes are a lost cause, Fandral,” Dagr said. “Even with magic.”

“He’s probably right,” Loki agreed. “Although, ruining our clothes is likely going to get us into trouble with mother…”

"You boys are already in quite a bit of trouble," an amused voice said.

Thor jumped nearly straight out of his skin and whipped around. "Baldr! Hodr!" The infamous twin sons of Odin were both standing there with almost identical smiles on their handsome faces. Baldr's shiny blonde hair was held back in a low ponytail, and his sky blue eyes sparkled as he leaned with his arm on his twin's shoulder. Hodr didn't seem to notice he was being used as a leaning post and just stood there with his arms folded over his compact but well-muscled chest. Unlike his twin, Hodr had his long raven hair hanging loosely down his back. "What are you two doing here?"

"Father wrote to us and asked us to come," Hodr said.

"What do you mean we're in trouble?" Dagr asked shifting his weight between his feet uneasily.

"The forest is still off limits," Baldr pointed out. "Or did you forget Father's decree?" Thor felt the blood drain from his face. He had entirely forgotten their father had forbidden them from leaving the palace or city grounds. Baldr chuckled. "You should see the look on little Thor's face... I'd say it's pretty obvious that he did forget," he informed his twin.

Hodr's dark eyebrow rose over his pale milky eyes. "Oh? Now how could he forget that?"

“I would say he didn’t consider it important enough to remember,” Baldr said cheerfully.

“It was an honest mistake,” Thor muttered. “Are you going to tell Father?”

Baldr’s smile widened. “Thor, Thor, Thor. Dear little Sparky… who do you think sent us out here to get you?” he asked lightly. “Neither of you were in the palace, so Father asked Heimdall to find you.”

Thor flinched. “Oh, wonderful,” Loki muttered darkly. “I knew I should have stayed in my room…”

Hodr hummed a little. “Yes, he was quite put out when we arrived, and the two of you weren’t home. I think he meant for us to surprise you.”

“Surprise us? Why?”

“Couldn’t say,” Baldr replied. “But it would probably be best if you six came back with us now. Or… after you finish cleaning up.” There were quite a few groans but all six of the boys knew better than to argue. Besides, heading home early meant a hot bath, which, after washing in the cold stream, seemed a very welcome prospect.

Chapter Text

"Of all the irresponsible things to have done! Did I not make myself clear enough that you two were to stay near the palace?" Odin demanded. "Or is your safety simply not a concern for you? Did you want to scare your mother half to death?"

Thor and Loki both flinched. "Odin," Frigga interrupted. "No harm was done. Please calm yourself."

Odin exhaled heavily through his nose and tried to regain control of himself. Going to get his sons from their rooms and finding both chambers empty had been a surprise and a rather nasty one at that. But when he realized that his boys were nowhere in the palace or the gardens he'd been terrified. Knowing that raiders were coming and killing his people out in the wilds and that his sons were prime targets for anyone trying to get a foothold in Asgard, the King had been beside himself. Odin was far too aware of how many ways royal hostages could be used. But terror was not helpful, and so he buried that beneath anger at being disobeyed.

"We didn't mean to disobey you, Father," Thor said. "We simply forgot..."

Odin resisted the urge to growl in a mixture of frustration and anger but only barely. "These were rules set for your own safety, Thor! Raiders are killing our people, and they would be only too happy to kill two princes of Asgard!"

"Nothing happened!" Loki protested.

"Then you got lucky!" Odin snapped in frustration. "Being lucky does not excuse you for putting yourself at risk! What if the Raiders had come across you within Jarnsvidr? How would you have defended yourselves? Between the six of you, you were barely armed! Even if we weren't currently being beset by raiders, you should not have entered Jarnsvidr so casually! It is too dangerous!"

"We've gone into Jarnsvidr plenty of times!" Loki argued.

"That does not mean it to be safe!"

Loki glared up at him, but Odin narrowed his eyes in warning. He was not going to budge on such a thing. The King of Asgard was fairly certain that, if there were any place within the Golden Kingdom the Raiders would be hiding, it would be Jarnsvidr, and even if they weren't hiding within the Iron Wood, it was not a place to play around within. The two of them stared each other down for several moments before Loki finally looked away. Odin only then allowed his gaze to soften. "You must understand... neither of you are strong enough yet to go into such a perilous place."

"Father... it was my idea-"

"It does not matter whose idea it was, Thor," Odin interrupted. "You both chose to enter someplace you were expressly forbidden to go. Return to your rooms. You will stay there until I decide what further punishment you shall have."

There was a certain discomfort in the throne room before the two youngest sons of Odin left to do as they were told. Odin sighed heavily and turned to ascend the stairs in front of his throne. He sat down rather heavily on the golden seat and rubbed his forehead. If only his sons would just listen to him. "They weren't very far into Jarnsvidr, Father," Baldr said.

Odin cast his son a sour look. "That is hardly the point, Baldr. We have been under siege, and I made it clear they were not to leave the palace grounds."

"We often went into Jarnsvidr when we were younger," Hodr added.

"And I grounded you for that as well," Odin pointed out gruffly.

"But you did not yell at us as you just did them," Baldr pointed out. "But I doubt that you called us here solely to watch you scold our brothers..."

Odin sighed heavily. "No. I did not. I was hoping to get your help with Loki."

The same look of surprise crossed both twin's faces. "With Loki?" Baldr echoed. "What help do you need with Loki?"

There was an awkward silence before Frigga stepped forward. She cast her husband an annoyed look before addressing the twins, "You remember that we adopted your brother, yes?"

"Of course. It was rather hard to miss," Baldr said. They had been nowhere near young enough to assume that their parents had simply had another child. Most of their people hadn't seen their Queen much near the end of the Jotnar War and so simply dismissed the fact that Frigga had not shown any signs of being with child. But her own children knew better.

"We had to tell Loki about it recently, and I'm afraid he is taking it rather hard," Frigga explained.

Hodr frowned and turned his head slightly. Even though he couldn't actually see his mother, he could pick out the slight change in her voice. "You're not saying something... why is he taking the truth so hard?"

There was another uncomfortable silence in the room. "I took him from Jotunheim," Odin said from where he was slumped on his throne. "I could tell just by looking at him he was too small. Jotnar call those like him runts and at the time had laws against raising them. So, I brought him here."

Baldr stared at his father in surprise even as Hodr frowned. "He's a Jotunn? Why did you never tell us this?"

"Because it was not important," Odin declared. "But he seems to be taking the news... badly."

Hodr and Baldr exchanged a one-sided glance. "Badly how?" Hodr asked.

Frigga sighed heavily. "He has locked himself in his room many times since finding out and refuses to come out no matter how I urge him to."

"And...?" Hodr could tell that there was more that his mother simply didn't want to say aloud. Something that was disturbing both her and their father judging by how Odin was shifting uneasily on his throne.

"He has broken every mirror in his room. And if we replace them he will simply break the glass again," Frigga admitted. "I am afraid he will start taking even more drastic measures if we cannot help him now."

"He's breaking mirrors?" Baldr echoed with no small amount of alarm.

"He says it's an accident," Odin grumbled.

"I'm inclined to believe him," Frigga said with a somewhat dangerous edge. Odin didn't dare meet his wife's eyes with his own. Frigga huffed in annoyance before turning back to her twin boys. "He is so distraught that his magic is lashing out for him and breaking things. It's not unheard of for young mages."

"It's not just his magic either," Tyr said from where he was leaning against a massive column. Baldr looked over at his older brother with a frown. Up until now, he had been entirely silent and just watching. "I've been teaching him how to wield knives since larger weapons are often too heavy for him. He's been doing quite well, but he hasn't shown up for his last few lessons," Tyr explained before Baldr could even ask.

"And... what do you want us to do, exactly?" Hodr asked curiously. Though they cared about their brother, the twins hadn't the closest relationship with Thor or Loki. They hadn't even been living in Asgard when the two youngest had been added to the family tree.

Odin got up from his throne and descended the stairs to stand in front of his twin sons. "If you were to speak with him as well, I would be grateful. He needs to understand his fears are unfounded. That you are his brothers no matter what his birth may be."

"Of course, Father," Baldr said. "We don't want our brother to doubt himself. But... Thor is much closer to Loki than we are. Have you spoken about this to him?"

Odin sighed in pure exasperation. "I had intended to do that today but now... this has happened."

"And you lost your temper," Frigga said sharply.

Another sigh escaped the King of Asgard. He knew he'd lost his temper some, but he didn't think Frigga really should blame him for it. Thor and Loki had been entirely too reckless, and it was only through luck that the worst they'd gotten was dumped into a mud pit by a Puki. "I will speak with Thor about this as well... but not tonight."

"Thor is another issue, actually," Frigga said.

Odin turned to his Queen instantly. "What do you mean 'another issue'?" He wasn't aware of any problems with Thor.

"Thor said that he was already aware that Loki was a Jotunn, but I've not been able to determine how he could," Frigga admitted with a sigh. "He said that the glamour you cast over Loki failed and showed his true skin, but I cannot help but think that would not be enough. Jotnar are not the only species that has blue skin."

A dark frown crossed Odin's face, and he looked over at Tyr. "You did not tell Thor of Loki's heritage did you, Tyr?"

Tyr's eyebrow went up towards his hairline. "No. You were quite clear that you didn't want anyone knowing besides Lady Eir and Lady Ilmr. I told no one."

Baldr thought on the question for a moment before shrugging. "Perhaps he simply guessed," Baldr said. "Though Jotnar are not the only race with such a skin color, as mother said, they are the ones we speak about most often here in Asgard. Other options may not have occurred to him."

"Possible, I suppose..." Odin murmured. "Although Lady Vor has mentioned to me that a strange change has happened concerning Thor lately. She is not certain what it is exactly, but she says he seems more thoughtful and mature than usual and she isn't certain why..." He hadn’t actually considered such news to be a ‘problem,' however. If anything it was welcome news.

Tyr shifted where he was standing. "I've noticed it as well. He has become more serious in his training and making massive improvements I wouldn't have expected so quickly."

"So, he has had a sudden spike in maturity... is that a bad thing?" Hodr asked.

"Not bad," Frigga denied. "Simply... unexpected."

"Especially since we can find no reason for such a change," Tyr added. "As Lady Vor has said in the past... Sudden maturity like this is usually brought about by some monumental event, which we can find no evidence of."

Baldr hummed thoughtfully. "Has anyone asked him about it?"

"He is rather... evasive when it is brought up," Tyr said. "Although it's hard because we're not even sure what we're trying to find out..."

Odin frowned. “Thor may not be acting entirely normal, but he is not being destructive… Loki is the one we should be worrying about right now.”

"Yes, but, speaking of Thor and all of this... business with Loki," Hodr began, "perhaps since the issue with blood relations has been brought up, it is time to tell Thor the truth of his own birth as well?"

There was an awkward silence following that suggestion. "Not now," Odin said firmly. "I would prefer to not have to try and reassure both Loki and Thor at the same time for something that isn't even important." Frigga looked like she had something to say but didn't actually voice her opinion. None of the three sons of Odin thought it particularly wise to push the matter further.

Tyr finally stepped away from the column and went to stand beside his younger brothers. "Well, since you have ordered Loki and Thor both to their rooms for the night. I think it is a good time for us three to catch up. Come Baldr... you can tell me all about that nephew of mine over a drink or five. And how is Nanna?" he asked as he took the twins by a shoulder each and guided them towards the door.

Baldr seemed a little surprised but didn't put up a fight as they were led out. "She's well. She would have come along with Forseti but Father made this seem rather urgent, and it's hard to simply drop everything at a moment's notice... Plus, Forseti is still so young Nanna didn’t wish to travel with him just yet."

As the three of them left the room, Frigga turned to Odin. "Odin... having Hodr and Baldr come is good... but you should speak with Loki as well. I've told you this already."

Odin frowned and turned back towards his throne. "And how would you have me convince him, Frigga? If he does not listen to you, I don't think he'll listen much more to me. He never listens to me. This entire debacle with Jarnsvidr is proof enough of that."

Frigga huffed. "Childish exploration is hardly the same thing, Odin! What are you so afraid of?"

"I am not afraid!" Odin denied fiercely as he spun back around.

"Then why do you resist just speaking with him?"

"Frigga-"

"No, Odin! Tell me!"

"How am I supposed to tell him?" Odin demanded in a near roar. Frigga recoiled slightly. "How am I supposed to tell him that if I hadn't found him in that temple, he would have frozen to death? That the one who gave birth to him left him there deliberately knowing that he would most likely die? Tell me, Frigga... how do you tell our son that?"

Frigga was quiet as Odin sat back down on his chair and slumped down. Odin's Queen moved up the stairs to kneel down beside Hlidskjalf and put her hand on Odin's forearm. "Is that what has been holding you back? Dearest, you needn't tell him such things... just assure him that he is wanted and loved. That is all he needs to know."

Odin glanced over at Frigga and attempted a smile. It fell somewhat flat as the topic itself was so very saddening, but for her, he tried. He reached over with his free hand to cradle her cheek. "Loki is too smart for his own good, my lovely sun. He will not be satisfied with such reassurances. He will want to know why and what else can I tell him but such a horrid thing?" His thumb brushed over her cheek affectionately. "What am I supposed to do in a situation like this, love? How do I not hurt him when everything I can say sounds so callous?"

Frigga reached up with her own hand to cup her husband's face. "Perhaps, instead of telling him the ugliness of why he had to be left in that temple, try telling him why you love him. Why you gave him the name that you did... make him understand you," she counseled.

He closed his eye and turned his head to kiss her palm. "For the life of me, I cannot understand why I am known as the wisest... You are far wiser than I, my love," Odin murmured against her creamy skin.

"You could be just as wise if only you would stop trying to control everything," Frigga reasoned. "You cannot protect them from heartache, you old bear. No matter how much we may want to do so. It is a part of growing up..."

Odin sighed and leaned forward to give his wife a gentle kiss. "It sounds so simple when you say it like that, but I feel as if I were to try, I would muck it all up. I haven't your way with the boys," he said. "If I wait I can find a better time to do this... when things are calmer, and danger is not on our doorstep."

"Avoiding the situation will not make it easier, Odin. There is no perfect time for such a conversation," Frigga said firmly. "You know that if you put it off, you will just continue to find reasons to keep putting it off. And you cannot do that. You do not allow others to fool you in court... don't fool yourself now when it matters the most."

Another heavy sigh escaped Odin’s chest even as he nodded. “You are right… but I still do not know how to approach such a topic. Give me a little more time, my love… I swear to you I will speak with him, but first I must figure out how.”

Frigga frowned and thought seriously about protesting but then relented. “Alright. But soon, Odin. He’s hurting, and in this you are the only one that can ease those hurts.”

Odin leaned over to give his Queen another brief kiss. “You are too good for me, love.”

Frigga smiled a little. “Yes, you’re probably right,” she said before getting to her feet. “Now, are you really going to punish the boys for simply doing what all boys do?”

“I will if it helps them remember that my rules are made for reasons,” Odin said firmly. “They could have been killed, Frigga. These raiders… they’ve killed children before… I’ll not see my sons on a slab as well.”

“Be careful, Odin. Children have a way of rebelling, as you well know, and nothing causes it better than rules they do not wish to follow,” Frigga warned. “They’re good boys. But boys will be boys no matter how hard we try. And you know how trying too much can backfire… That was your father’s mistake.”

Odin’s eye flashed. “My father was cruel. I’m trying to protect them. It is nowhere near the same.”

“Be sure they know that then,” Frigga said calmly. She knew that Bor was a tender spot for Odin and most likely always would be, but if he weren't careful he’d end up making similar mistakes.

There was a tense silence between the King and Queen before Odin sat back with a sigh. “I would never do what my father did… Never, Frigga. His death was too good for the likes of him.”

“I know, dearest,” Frigga said.

Just then the sound of ravens filled the throne room. Odin and Frigga both looked up as Huginn and Muninn flew through an open window. They cawed as they circled before landing on either side of Odin’s throne. Odin sat still as his Ravens shared with him what they had seen and heard. Odin’s face grew even graver as he listened to the pair.

“Husband? What is it?” Frigga asked after several minutes.

Odin tore his eye away from Huginn’s own glittering black ones to look at his wife. “There has been another attack…”

“In the day this time?”

“They are growing bolder… this must be stopped.”

 

Chapter Text

Hodr traced the familiar gouges in the table beneath his fingers as his twin chattered on, quite proudly, of every minor accomplishment of his son. Forseti was at that age where he was starting to hit all of those exciting benchmarks and, while Hodr was happy for his brother and proud of his nephew, he had heard all of these stories before. Multiple times, actually. Baldr tended to repeat every little accomplishment each time he started resulting in the same hours of conversation over and over.

Through ages of practice, Hodr tuned his brother out and instead listened to the chatter of the pub, Odrerir, which they had frequented ever since Tyr first brought them out drinking. There was plenty of drinking and merriment to be had at the palace, but going out was still a favored pastime of the ex-princes. Odrerir was the best pub in the entirety of the nine realms, at least in the opinion of the three sons of Odin. Heidrun, who owned and ran the bar with her friend Svanhild brewed absolutely fantastic beer. Hodr knew that many also came to fawn over Svanhild who, from what the blind god had heard, was one of the fairest unmarried women in all of Asgard. She ran the front while Heidrun stayed in the back cooking and brewing the beer but more than a few men had made the mistake of thinking that Heidrun, the larger of the two women, was the one that kept the order. They'd quickly discovered that it was Svanhild that dragged drunkards out bodily and threw them into the street, which considering her waifish figure and honeyed voice was very surprising. Hodr heard many people calling out to Svanhild and the sound of her heels along the floor.

After a moment, Hodr heard Svanhild come to a stop beside their table by the fireplace. "If it isn't my favorite patrons... we've been missing you two, my lords," Svanhild said, her voice lightly teasing. Judging by the liquid he heard right by her voice, Hodr assumed she was carrying a tray of drinks.

"Ah! Svanhild, my sweet! Sometimes I think it too bad that I'm married," Baldr said.

"It is too bad," Svanhild replied. "Your poor wife must get quite the headache."

Hodr couldn't help but laugh, and Tyr snorted in his seat across from the twins. "You wound me, Svanhild!" Baldr claimed dramatically. "Truly your temper has soured without us here to cheer it regularly."

"I think it more likely that those three idiots in the far corner are who soured her to us, brother," Hodr commented with a slight tilt of his head towards said corner.

"Mm, shall we throw them out for you, my darling?" Baldr asked thoughtfully.

Svanhild laughed her voice a distinctly pleasant sound high above the usual din. "I think I can handle them. They are no drunken Tyr, so they'll be easy enough to escort out if need be."

"I've never gotten drunk in your bar," Tyr protested.

"No, but I've heard stories about you, Lord Tyr," Svanhild said with her smile easily heard in her voice.

"Tyr!" Baldr exclaimed with false surprise. "Have you been out causing a ruckus and drinking without us? You wound us, brother!"

Hodr rolled his blind eyes at his brother's antics. "You seem to be wounded quite often today, Baldr," Tyr said dryly. "I didn't think you'd had enough to be quite this ridiculous yet."

"I am never ridiculous," Baldr claimed. Hodr coughed but decided to otherwise stay silent. He got a nudge to the ribs anyway, not that he cared. "Hush you. Anyway! Svanhild! I have wonderful news. Nanna has given me a son since last I was here!"

"Yes, I heard," Svanhild said mildly as she put a new tankard in front of them and took away Tyr's empty one. "In fact, I think all of Asgard has heard just from you talking in here. I know I could hear you from the other side of the room without a problem."

"Father made an announcement, you know," Tyr added.

Hodr could hear the pout in his brother's voice. "That does not mean I cannot still announce it myself..."

"You're a proud Papa, it's understandable," Svanhild said while continuing to change out their mugs with new drinks.

"Mm, and what about you, Svanhild?" Baldr asked. "Any little ones in your immediate future?"

Svanhild chuckled a bit. "I think I would need a man in my life before I could have any bairns."

"Aww, nobody's dared sweep you off your feet yet? How terrible," Baldr teased.

"Many a man have tried... but all are lacking," Svanhild replied.

"It's because you turned me down, Svanhild," Baldr said. "I would have done it, and you'd have been blissfully happy."

Hodr shook his head and picked up his drink. "Don't be obtuse, brother."

"It's a game we play," Baldr replied dismissively.

"Yes, a game. Be careful you don't break a rule though, my Lord. I'm not opposed to dragging a son of Odin out of my tavern," Svanhild said before walking off.

There were a few moments of silence where Hodr was sure his brother was watching Svanhild walk off. Baldr was very loyal to Nanna, but that didn't mean he was like his brother and blind. "She breaks so many hearts... and arms," Baldr said almost wistfully.

"It's a good thing she knows you aren't serious," Hodr replied. "Otherwise we'd never be able to drink here." Svanhild was not one to accept unwanted advances. And all advances were unwanted by the beautiful barmaid. Even Hodr was not so blind as to not be able to read between the lines. Svanhild and Heidrun had been 'roommates' and 'business partners' for as long as any could remember. Neither of them seemed even remotely interested in the suitors that would come around and would sometimes send the more persistent ones away with injuries. The few times Svanhild couldn't handle an unruly patron, Heidrun would come rushing to help and would fuss if the slighter woman even had a bruise. All in all, the truth of their relationship was fairly obvious to any who actually paid attention. Most, however, willfully ignored what they didn't want to think about.

Same-sex relationships were not illegal in Asgard. Not anymore. The battle to achieve that right, however, had been very drawn out and there was still tension about the issue. But the punishments for bigotry and hate had been made clear by Odin, so those that had a dislike for those couples were often best served by pretending ignorance. That wasn't to say that situations didn't flare up and an overall feeling of disapproval wasn't still hanging over Asgard that made more than a few Asgardians hide, but acceptance was, unfortunately, a process. Hopefully, the fight to have real equality would move faster now that Bor had been dead for a while. Odin's Father, Bor, had been a true master of propaganda, so his own views had shaped Asgard's society for thousands of years.

"Now, if you're done flirting with women who aren't remotely interested..." Tyr began. Hodr heard his brother's chair and table creak as Tyr leaned forward. "Any thoughts on Loki and Thor?"

"Should we have?" Baldr asked back. "Father sort of sprung this on us, you know. I still don't even really know what he wants us to do in the first place. You're better equipped for this sort of thing, Tyr, seeing how you're around them so much more."

Hodr hummed and traced the runes gouged under his fingers again. "Perhaps we should take them on a trip," Hodr suggested. "Take them back home with us and let them have a little vacation to absorb everything... though it does sound like Loki needs that more than Thor."

"That might be a good idea... It might also help Father not be so worried about their safety," Tyr commented. "If you haven't noticed he's a bit paranoid about it lately."

"A bit?" Baldr echoed. "I haven't ever heard him go off about breaking the rules before. He certainly never did that to us. Grounding and a talking to, yes... but he ranted for at least fifteen minutes."

Tyr sighed, and after a moment Hodr heard the tankard be set back down on the table. "We were lucky we were born before... that. He's being overprotective of Thor and Loki, but especially Loki. That's why he didn't want anyone finding out about where Loki actually came from... he was afraid some of the soldiers from the Jotunheim War would want revenge and take it out on him. And Loki was already so weak as a baby... I think Father really thought he'd be assassinated and you both know how he would have reacted to that..."

Baldr let out a gusty breath. "The Nine Realms wouldn't be able to recover from that sort of a reaction... Yggdrasill nearly collapsed upon itself the first time he unleashed the full power of Odin-Force." Baldr shivered a little beside Hodr. "I thought for certain we would all die."

"Is he still worried about this?" Hodr asked.

"I'm not sure. Probably not as much before, if at all," Tyr said. "Though now he worries about other things. Loki is naturally more rebellious than Thor, and I think it worries Father. He's even less able to talk with Loki than he is Thor. He's never been particularly able to do the latter, in the first place." Tyr's beer sloshed again before the mug gently tapped the table again. Hodr fiddled with the handle of his own drink as he thought about the situation.

Baldr rapped his knuckles against the tabletop in his own habit of thinking. "I think I will make the suggestion that they come to Vanaheim to visit with Nanna and me. I'm sure Forseti will appreciate meeting the Uncles closer to his own age. Not that he doesn't adore Hodr," Baldr said.

Hodr shook his head slightly. "He adores anyone who gives him attention. You and Nanna spoil him you know," Hodr drawled. "He's going to be a terrible adolescent. Those Centidir years are going to be terrible..."

"Hush your lying mouth. He'll be no such thing," Baldr replied.

Tyr chuckled some in his seat. "I feel for my sister-in-law," he said wryly. "How she puts up with you and your bursting fatherhood pride is beyond me."

"Spare a thought for me. I've been dealing with him from the womb... although the fatherhood part is new," Hodr said before lifting his tankard again. He nearly drained half of his drink in one go and then set it back down. "I have missed the beer here... Vanaheim is more into wine than beer and mead."

"Picked it up from the Olympians," Baldr commented in a derisive tone. "Nanna loves it. I hate drinks that don't tell you you're getting drunk, though. I mean really, beer has the common decency of telling you it's messing with you as you drink it. Wine's too sneaky."

Tyr snorted. "I think you will find the Olympians disagree with you there. When King Zeus was last here, I believe he had something to say about the flavor of our beer, and not too much of it was a compliment," Tyr offered. "Then again... I suppose if you'd never had it before, our beer would be a little overwhelming..."

Hodr smiled at the almost offended noise his twin let out. "And he calls himself a King. He's got not a single working taste bud in his tongue to have an issue with our beer," Baldr claimed. "Really... someone should educate the Olympians..." he added in a low mutter.

"Are you volunteering, brother?" Hodr asked.

"Of course not," Baldr said quickly. "I'd be surrounded by Olympians for who knows how long... I think I'd go utterly mad before I made them see reason."

"If it makes you feel better... he seemed to like mead a bit better than the beer," Tyr said and Hodr could hear the smile in his voice. "He still gave Mother three casks of wine, however. She seemed appreciative although I've noticed not a one has been opened."

Baldr grunted in approval. "Mother always has shown sense."

"Maybe she's saving it for an important event instead," Hodr suggested in his most innocent voice. He knew his brother would be glaring at him but he hadn't been able to resist. "Well, that is what you're supposed to do with such Royal Gifts, isn't it?"

"I wouldn't know... I don't run an entire realm," Baldr said dryly.

"Neither do I, technically," Hodr pointed out blandly. "I govern a province..."

"Close enough."

Hodr scoffed some. "There is a huge difference, Baldr. You'd know that if you actually helped Nanna with the one you're supposed to be handling."

Baldr stretched his arms above his head noisily. "The governors don't like me," he dismissed. "I think it's because I'm Asgardian."

"It couldn't possibly be that you ran off and married Nanna against her father's wishes and ruined her arranged marriage," Tyr said sarcastically. "You nearly started a war and I still hear about it from time to time."

"But I didn't start a war," Baldr pointed out. "And I got the woman I loved to marry me. That's the important thing."

"Let's just hope Thor and Loki don't fall in love with already engaged women," Tyr said with a sigh. "I don't think I could take that drama twice..."

Hodr nodded. "Not to mention listening to the bemoaning," he said pointedly. "I thought I'd go crazy listening to it day in and day out."

"I wasn't that bad," Baldr protested.

"Yes, Baldr, you really were," Hodr replied. "You were like a Centiendir girl with how much you were sighing over Nanna. Not to mention all the time in the morning spent in the bath-"

"Hodr!"

Hodr smirked and lifted his drink again. "Thank you, Brother, for telling me something I had absolutely no desire to know about," Tyr said, sighing heavily. Hodr hummed a little as he drank the rest of his beer. He was more than happy to embarrass his twin from time to time.


Thor lay back in bed and stared up at the ceiling of his room. So much for their grand adventure. They’d ended up drenched in mud and then being yelled at. Thor wasn’t sure what the punishment was going to end up being but he wasn’t looking forward to it. More cleaning perhaps? He hoped not. Thor was rather sick of cleaning.

Thor had also been hoping to get a word or two with Loki while they were out and about but that hadn’t panned out well for him either. The others had been too close to bring up the Jotnar issue with Loki and then their brothers had dragged them back home before night had even come, ruining any chance he had at talking with Loki overnight. Thor sighed and pushed himself up into a sitting position. He didn’t want to go too much longer without trying to speak with Loki. Though he knew enough to realize that Loki appreciated his time alone to collect his thoughts, if Thor’s little brother was given enough time alone, Loki tended to obsess and over think things. But, of course, now they were both confined to their rooms, making it all but impossible to have that important talk.

After several minutes of thinking, a memory that Thor had all but forgotten popped into his head. Thor had walked into his room and been very surprised to see his brother sitting on the balcony railing. When Thor had asked how he’d gotten there, Loki had just given a bland look and told him that it wasn’t exactly impossible to climb from one balcony to the other. “There are mother’s trellises beneath us and above us, there are more balconies that are easy to reach, Thor. I can’t believe you never even tried…” Well, Thor mused, now seemed like a good time to do what Loki suggested.

Thor got off his bed and went to the balcony. He didn’t keep much out on his and rarely even used it but there were two chairs in the corner and a small table. Thor looked over and instantly recognized Loki’s veranda not too far in the distance. Far enough away that Thor wouldn’t dare try to jump the distance but close enough that he could recognize his target. Then again, Loki’s outdoor living space was a bit more used than Thor’s own. Several strange metal objects were hanging from hooks and spinning in the breeze and catching what little light there was outside. Thor could make out the leaves of several plants crowded around the railings and he was pretty certain that Loki had dragged a small workbench out onto the balcony, though what he could use it for, Thor hadn’t the slightest idea.

Thor turned his attention to figuring out how he was going to get from his veranda to Loki’s. Climbing down and then up again was probably the safest route but it would also take the longest. The balcony that was a floor above Thor and Loki’s stretched most of the distance so that might be the fastest path. Getting up to it wouldn’t even be that hard. Each of the faces of the columns on either side of Thor’s windows was carved deeply with legendary battle scenes and at the top of each side was a large angry looking goat with massive horns. Climbing it shouldn’t be difficult at all with the number of handholds the stone carvings gave.

Even though Thor was certain it wouldn’t be difficult, he still took his time in climbing up the column. He hadn’t ever actually tried to do this and he didn’t want to hurt either himself or break the carvings under his fingers. He could just imagine what his father would say if the outside of the palace were broken apart by a climbing misadventure.

Getting up the column was as easy as Thor thought but then he had to carefully get to the edge of the other balcony from his position beside the wall. The stone braces were also carved but not nearly as deeply as the columns. Still, it was the only way to climb outwards, which made sense, so Thor cautiously started moving. His entire body had to hang and his fingers were practically screaming at how difficult it was to climb with his full weight hanging by them. He tried to hurry to save his fingers a little bit, but he also couldn’t hurry too much or risk slipping and falling. He would most likely land back on his own balcony but it still wouldn’t be a pleasant accident. Sweat was trickling down from his temple and his arms were burning from effort when he finally managed to grasp the railing of the other balcony.

After scrambling up and then all but dropping down onto the veranda, Thor leaned back against the rail to catch his breath. How had Loki done this? The climb was far harder than Thor had anticipated and Loki had never been one for upper body strength. Maybe he’d magicked himself over the gap? Oh… right. Thor cursed himself for not having realized that. Loki probably had never climbed this distance and had just been teasing him. Again. Thor let out an annoyed huff, but since he’d already made it halfway, he wasn’t about to stop. Why did he always believe Loki anyway? He should really know better.

Thor walked to the very edge of the balcony and carefully climbed over the side again. This was going to be the trickier part, he knew. Thor would have to somehow get to the window ledge beneath him to then jump the much more reasonable distance to Loki’s balcony railing. And not falling down four stories to hit rocks and die was also a priority. “This is one of the stupider things I’ve done since coming back,” he muttered to himself as he climbed over the balcony to try and climb down. He managed to get his foot on the top of the window and then started to crawl down to the ledge.

After nearly slipping off the ledge when his attempt to crawl ended up more of a fall, Thor had to take a slight break to catch his breath where he was clinging to the wall with his fingers locked around the carvings. He really really wished he had Mjolnir with him right now. If he had his magical hammer, he wouldn’t have to worry about falling to his death. Thor glanced over his shoulder at the ledge he was trying to reach. Suddenly, the jump looked a lot further.

He really should have climbed down and then back up like a sane person. Thor shook his head and then readied himself for the jump. He should be able to make such a distance without a problem. He’d jumped further before. Thor took several calming breaths before finally pushing off from the window ledge to hurl himself across the gap.

Nearly all the air escaped his lungs as he slammed into the railing a bit harder than he’d thought. Thor groaned and pulled himself up onto Loki’s balcony. Yes, next time he was going to do this the saner way.

Still, he had made it. Thor rubbed his ribs a little before shaking the last of the harrowing climb off and going to Loki’s door. His brother was sitting on his bed with a large book in his lap and a distinct frown on his face. Thor hesitated for just a moment before reaching up to tap on the glass. Loki’s head snapped up and his surprise to see Thor at his balcony was evident.

There was a moment where Loki just stared before he put the book off to the side and went to let his brother in. “What in the world are you doing, Thor?” Loki asked as he stepped back to let the older Odinson inside.

“I wanted to talk to you,” Thor explained as he shook his somewhat scraped and numb hands out by his side. “You know it’s not so easy to climb over here.”

“What did you have to talk about that was so important you had to climb over here?” Loki asked, sounding rather disbelieving.

“It’s about what mother told you.”

Loki’s face instantly closed off. “No.”

“Loki-“

“No, Thor. I’m not going to discuss it with you,” he said firmly and turned away.

Thor sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He had known getting Loki to talk about this wouldn’t be easy but he’d thought given a few days to absorb it all, he’d have softened just a little. “I’m not a monster.”

Thor blinked and looked back to his brother. Loki was still facing away but Thor knew what he’d heard. “No, you’re not a monster,” Thor said. He put a hand on Loki’s shoulder and felt the shudder that ran through the younger boy’s frame. “You’re my brother.”

Loki half turned to look back at Thor. “How can… how can you even touch me… knowing what I am?” he asked in a small, wounded voice.

“You’re my brother,” Thor repeated with more insistence. Loki still didn’t look convinced. “You surprised me before… but just because you surprised me doesn’t mean you get out of being my little brother that easily.”

A pained expression flit across Loki’s face. “I’m not even a boy… not really…” he whispered. “I’m some freakish… other thing that I can’t even fathom…”

Thor threw the reasoning out of the window and pulled his brother in tight for a hug. Loki gave a strange noise somewhere between a surprised squeak and a sob even as Thor kept his brother trapped against him. “Do not speak of yourself in such a way. I’ll not tolerate it from anyone. Not even you.”

“Thor…”

“No, Loki.”

Silence filled the room for several long minutes. Loki just stood there and let Thor hug him before pulling away. “You don’t need to worry about this you know…” Loki muttered without looking up.

Thor snorted some. He knew all too well what would happen if he ignored the revelation of Loki’s true heritage. He had no desire to repeat that mistake. “I’m your big brother, Loki. It’s my job to protect you,” he stated firmly.

“I thought your job was to be heir to the throne,” Loki said sarcastically.

“I can have more than one,” Thor said. “And besides, I wouldn’t be much of a king if I couldn’t even keep my brother safe and happy.”

Loki rolled his eyes. “I’m infinitely more difficult to keep safe and happy, Brother, than a rabble of commoners.”

Thor grinned, not minding Loki’s self-depreciating joke and considered it far more truthful than Loki probably realized. “I consider it good practice.” His eyes wandered to the book still open on Loki’s bed and he was surprised to see a detailed drawing of a Jotunn on the pages. Without bothering to ask he reached over to pick up the book. Loki, realizing what he was reaching for, tried to grab it first but Thor was closer. “What’s this?”

Loki turned bright pink. “… mother gave it to me.”

“A book about Jotnar?” Thor questioned as he flipped through the pages. Out of the side of his vision, he saw Loki nod. There were plenty of very detailed drawings in the book and Thor caught a few words as he skimmed the contents. The brief glimpse was enough to tell the fledgling thunderer that the book was almost disturbingly informative. He finally stopped at an image of a pregnant Jotunn and put the book back down. He didn’t really want to think about that. “It’s a good thing to have,” he told Loki.

Loki nodded but wouldn’t look up at Thor. “I thought it… best, to learn everything about this… curse.”

“You’re not cursed, Loki.”

“I feel cursed,” Loki spat.

Thor sighed and dropped the book back to the bed. “But you’re not. Now come on, I went to all the trouble to sneak over here… we should make the most of it before we get into worse trouble,” Thor said. He had to get Loki off such depressing thoughts, at least for a little while.

Loki looked over at Thor questioningly. “And what do you propose?”

Thor thought for a second before going over to one of Loki’s many bookcases and grabbing the tafl set. “I’m going to beat you one of these days,” Thor said.

“Not today though,” Loki replied.

“I might just surprise you, brother.”

Loki tilted his head to the side thoughtfully. “You surprise me plenty as it is, Thor.”

Thor decided to take that as a compliment as he set up the tafl board beside the thick book about Jotnar. Perhaps he would be able to pry more talk about the subject out of Loki as they played but that wasn’t Thor’s main goal. He just wanted to reassure his brother that nothing was going to change because of this.

Chapter Text

”So, what do we think, lads?”

“Think of what?”

The group of mostly grown Asgardians jumped and turned to see Loki leaning against a tree with his arms folded over his chest. His dark clothes and hair almost seemed to blend into the shadow he was standing in. “Loki! You’re just who we need!” Fandral said excitedly.

Loki’s eyebrow went high on his forehead. “I am?”

“Yes! You and Sif still talk even after you cut all her hair off! How did you get her to forgive you?”

Loki unfolded his hands and held up two fingers on each one. “Talk,” he began with air quotes around the word, “Is rather generous. As is ‘forgive.' We’ve reached an understanding is all. She doesn’t annoy me, and I don’t disfigure her in her sleep anymore.”

“But still!” Fandral said as he crossed the distance to grab hold of Loki’s coat. “You have to tell us how you avoided being gutted!”

“I teleported away,” Loki said blandly.

Fandral’s face fell. “You are absolutely no help.”

Loki smirked. “I’m so terribly sorry about that,” he said cheerfully. “What did you do to annoy her anyway?”

“Nothing,” Fandral said indignantly. At Loki’s disbelievingly raised eyebrow, Fandral shifted where he stood. There were several long minutes of silence. “Well, we might have… implied -slightly mind you- that she’s only a shield-maiden because her brother is watchman to the entire realm…”

Loki laughed loudly and knocked Fandral’s hands away from his coat. “You are idiots. You said something that foolish to the first shield-maiden of Asgard in centuries?” Loki shook his head and stepped back from them. “You deserve whatever you get.”

“Loki, please! I really don’t want to die!”

“You should have thought about that before you were an idiot.”

“Are you really going to let Sif kill your brother?” Volstagg asked with a sweeping gesture towards where Thor was sitting on a nearby tree stump.

Loki looked over at Thor before snorting. “Like Sif would ever hurt Thor seriously,” he said. “If you’re so afraid of her… leave Asgard for a while and let her calm down. I was about to go to Olympus… apparently, they have a monstrous half-man-half-bull trapped in some maze I thought might be interesting to take a look at.”

At the mention of some beast that could prove a challenge to them, the other young Asgardians perked up substantially. Loki rolled his eyes. “I take it you’re interested?” he asked. At their instant agreement, Loki sighed. “Oh, very well. Go home and grab some supplies… apparently, this maze is magicked to keep it from actually having an end. It’ll be easy to get lost and starve to death if we aren’t careful.”

As the others quickly ran off to go do as Loki suggested, Thor got up and walked over to his brother. “Although, I suppose if we all have to, we could eat Volstagg and survive several years,” Loki mused aloud.

Thor chuckled at that and wrapped his arm around Loki’s neck to bring them closer together. “I thought when I asked to go with you last night that you didn’t want me ‘bumbling around and getting us killed,' Loki,” he prompted. Thor had been rather put out by his brother’s denial but since there were plenty of creatures to fight in Asgard as well he hadn’t put too much time or energy into being upset about the dismissal.

“Yes well, that was before you, and your friends found mortal danger here in Asgard. A giant half bull that rends people limb from limb seems preferable to an angered Sif,” Loki replied flippantly. “What sort of brother would I be if I let you meet such a fate… besides, Fandral will be good bait, I imagine.” Thor could only laugh in response to that.

Thor woke up when bright sunlight hit him in the face and birds decided to sing seemingly right beside his ear. He groaned a little and buried his face into his pillow in trying and blocking it out. Thor had been in the middle of a wonderful dream, and the young prince wasn’t terribly thrilled to be pulled out of it. Truly friendly encounters between his brother and their friends had been depressingly few, and Thor would much prefer remembering them than all of the other things he’d been dreaming about lately. Thor smiled as he remembered that venture. They had indeed gotten very lost in the Labyrinth, but they’d managed to fell the Minotaur successfully. And when they’d gotten back Sif was more annoyed that they’d left her behind than the insult that had driven them into another realm in the first place.

Thor finally opened his eyes, and his smile widened when he came face to face with Loki’s still sleeping face. Last night, after playing hours of Tafl and Loki soundly beating him each and every time, the two Princes had stayed up late talking. Thor had tried to subtly bring up the topic of Loki’s actual species again, but Loki had not been willing. Instead, they had whiled away the time discussing anything and everything else. Loki had told some truly outrageous stories, which Thor had dutifully listened to, and then Thor gave Loki a brief summary of everything that had been happening while Loki had been holed up in his room.

By the time they had finished, Thor had been far too tired to bother climbing back to his own room. So, he had just curled up in Loki’s bed and they’d both fallen asleep. Thor shifted to rest his forehead against Loki’s and tried hard to not wake his brother. The brothers had not done this sort of thing, sleeping curled up with each other, in many decades. There had been a time when Loki would often find his way into Thor’s bed late at night and vice-versa.

Loki let out a soft exhale and shifted closer to Thor under the blankets. Thor automatically reached out to adjust the sheets to not be quite so tightly tangled around them. As he did so, he noticed that the deep ‘V’ in Loki’s sleep shirt, which was a common style for male’s sleeping garments, was showing a very distinct curve of skin. Thor quickly looked back up at Loki’s face instead. Loki’s words from days ago came back instantly. ‘You don't wake up in different forms and spend an hour each morning trying to get back to how you are!’

Thor frowned at the memory. This must have been what Loki was talking about. He could easily see why this sort of thing would be bothersome to Loki. Asgaedia’s Eyes, Thor would be disturbed by it too. Actually, he was a bit bothered by it even though he was trying his best to not be. If what their mother had said was true, this was as much a part of Loki as… as his ability to turn into a fish apparently was. Thor wasn’t comfortable with it but what could he even do?

Loki made a noise and shifted where he was lying. After a moment, Loki slowly opened his eyes. The younger prince seemed very confused for a moment before his green eyes cleared up. “Thor… you’re still here.”

“I was too tired to go back to my room,” Thor said.

Loki chuckled some, and his long lashes fell again. “You’d probably have fallen to your death if you’d tried…”

“I would not.” Loki’s laughter just continued. Thor frowned and poked Loki hard in the stomach. “Show some respect to your big brother,” Thor ordered despite knowing he’d never be getting that.

Loki opened his eyes again. “Make me.”

Before Thor could respond there was a rapid knocking on the door, and both princes looked over. “Loki! Is Thor in there with you?” Frigga called, sounding mildly panicked.

“Yes, Mother!” Loki called back.

Thor rolled over so that he wasn’t craning his neck as uncomfortably as Loki began to push himself up. The door opened before Loki could do more than sit up and Frigga came into the room looking frazzled but also relieved. “Thor! You were supposed to stay in your room. Not come to Loki’s. Your Father thought you were kidnapped and is about to call all the Einherjar into a search.”

Thor winced. “I’m sorry, Mother. I didn’t mean to worry you…”

“I didn’t ask him to come,” Loki added.

Thor sent his brother a slight glare. “Thank you, Brother,” he said dryly.

Loki had given a wide grin before Frigga cleared her throat. “Your shirt, Loki, dear.”

Loki blinked at their mother in confusion before turn his eyes down to his shirt. He gave a strangled sort of yelp and quickly moved while also grabbing at the wide opening of his tunic. Thor winced a little as Loki actually fell out of the bed before yanking a dressing gown off a nearby chair to hide behind. Loki’s face had turned bright red as he looked up over the edge of the bed. “Thor! Why didn’t you say something?”

“What was I supposed to say? Hey, Loki, your breasts are showing?” The blonde prince asked.

“Of course not!”

Frigga cleared her throat again, louder this time. “Thor, I think we should let your brother get dressed. You should go to your room and get ready for the day, as well. No doubt your father will want to speak with both of you.”

Thor winced but climbed out of Loki’s bed to leave the room with Frigga. “Thor, next time you are told to go to your room. Do not leave it. Your father was very worried something had happened to you.”

“I didn’t mean to stay all night…”

“You shouldn’t have gone in the first place,” Frigga replied in a lightly scolding tone. Thor couldn’t quite help hunching his shoulders as he walked. He did so hate it when his mother took that tone. “How did you get to Loki’s room without anyone seeing you, Thor?” There were two guards stationed between Thor and Loki’s rooms. One of them should have seen the young Prince sneaking about.

Thor stared down at the polished floor and tried to think up a reasonable lie. He didn’t want to add to his inevitable punishment by admitting to climbing over the side of the castle. “Just… lucky, I guess?” Thor gave his mother his best smile to hide how unsure of that excuse he was.

Frigga studied the wide and slightly nervous smile she was given and hummed thoughtfully. “I see,” she said despite in no way believing her son. Thor was simply not very good at lying. He always tried to look too innocent. Still, Frigga didn’t think it was worth a more complete questioning. Unless this became a habit of her son’s to sneak out of his room and go to Loki’s. Then she would press for a more truthful answer. She stopped walking beside Thor’s door and gestured. “Get ready for the day, Thor. I’m sure your father will want to speak with both you and Loki over first meal.”

Thor winced but nodded and went to go get washed and changed. Not being terribly interested in the scolding he knew that he was going to be getting very shortly, Thor took his time in scrubbing himself and brushing his hair. The golden prince wished that his hair were longer so that Thor could use that as further excuse to delay, but his hair grew slowly and hadn’t yet gotten long enough. Thor tried to push his hair back several times but it just fell in his eyes again, and he gave up to finish getting dressed. The young Thunderer picked out a clean blue tunic and pair of dark brown trousers before pulling his boots back on.

Thor was surprised when he opened his door, and he saw Loki leaning against the wall waiting for him. “Loki. I thought you’d be at the table already,” Thor admitted.

“I wanted to talk to you first,” Loki said without actually looking over.

“Alright…”

Loki shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “You… you’re not going to tell the others about… this are you?” Thor could only stare uncomprehendingly. Loki sighed in exasperation. “About what I am,” he hissed with a vague gesture towards his once again flat chest.

“Oh. No, I’m not going to tell anyone,” Thor assured him. “It’s not any of their business anyway.”

“And… you’re really alright with this?”

Thor sighed this time. “Loki. You’re my brother. Nothing’s going to change that… not even… not being my brother,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, Loki, it’s still… weird. But I know you didn’t ask to be this way, and you can’t help it. I’m just sorry I can’t help you more, but I know nothing about being a girl.”

“You’re lucky that way,” Loki muttered.

Thor reached over and grabbed the back of Loki’s neck to pull them close enough so that their foreheads were touching again. “I am lucky. But no matter what, Loki. I’ll not abandon you. Especially not over something you can’t help.”

Loki closed his eyes and brought his own hand up to grasp the back of Thor’s neck. Though he never fought Thor’s touch he rarely returned it in such a way. “You are the best of brothers, Thor. Truly, I don’t know what I would do without you.”

“Not have nearly as much fun,” Thor responded with a smirk. “Who else would you play your pranks on?”

Loki chuckled darkly. “Who indeed. Now, we should go, we’re going to be quite late if we linger here any longer.”

Thor lightly squeezed the back Loki’s neck for just a moment before breaking away. The brothers made their way through the golden halls to the dining room. All of their brothers were already there although Baldr looked a bit rough. Hodr seemed to be teasing him mercilessly, and Tyr was laughing at them both. Frigga and Odin weren’t paying their sons much attention, however. They were listening to an Older Aes that was reading off a piece of parchment. Thor instantly recognized the braided moustache and rather large gut of the one-legged Aes as Andhrimnir, Ilmr’s husband, and the ‘official’ head of the palace kitchens. Really, Andhrimnir was never all that interested in the tedium of running the kitchens, he just liked to cook and was the best at it. So, he let his wife handle the day-to-day running, and he focused on his cooking and any feasts that might be in the works.

Andhrimnir was listing off a truly mind-boggling number of dishes, and Thor realized a feast must be planned for the next few days. Not only was that one of the only ways to get Andhrimnir out of the kitchens, but that would be the only reason for so much food to be prepared. “What’s that about?” Thor wondered as he took his usual seat at Loki’s left.

“Probably because Hodr and Baldr are here,” Loki murmured back. “You know how mother and father like to try and bribe them to stay longer with feasts.”

Thor chuckled and grabbed a nearby basket of fresh bread. “You alright there, Baldr?” he asked, perhaps a little louder than he really had to, considering that Baldr was only two seats down and across the table from him.

Baldr opened his reddened eyes and glared through a curtain of hair and his own hand. “Brat. Why did you get me up for this, Hodr? I’d have been happy to sleep until midday meal…”

“Because if I let you sleep that long, Nanna will be on me for letting you get off schedule, and I’d rather not have your wife mad at me. She might be a joy of a woman but she’s also far too terrifying now that she’s a mother,” Hodr replied as he carefully spread some butter on a piece of bread.

Baldr groaned and let his head fall to the table. Tyr shook his head and called a servant over. “Get my idiot brother something for his hangover, please. His whining is going to drive us all mad if it goes on much longer,” he asked.

“I would yell at you, but I’m too glad for relief, so you get off easy this time, Tyr,” Baldr’s voice, muffled by the table, said. “You’re a better brother than this one,” he added with a very obvious kick to Hodr’s leg under the table.

“Boys, no fighting at the table,” Frigga said without even looking at them.

“Yes, mother,” came the automatic response from all five sons of Odin.

Thor paid only a sliver of attention to all the beasts that Andhrimnir was saying he was going to be roasting along with the various other dishes that no doubt Ilmr would be in charge of making over the next few days. After another few minutes, Odin gave his approval of all the plans. Andhrimnir gave a bow before leaving, the metal of his prosthetic leg clacking loudly along the stone floors for a full minute after he’d left the room.

Odin turned his attention to Thor, and the young Thunder God instantly felt tiny under the disapproving glare. “Thor-” Thor flinched, “was it not obvious, that when I sent you and Loki to your rooms yesterday that you were to stay there?”

Thor turned his eyes down to his eggs and pushed them around with his fork. “Yes, Father.”

“Then might I ask why you weren’t there when I went to get you this morning?” Odin demanded with a slam of his fist against the table. Baldr’s head snapped up, and he looked very pained, but Odin didn’t seem to notice. “Do tell me just how much trouble you are looking to get into before you are done, Thor! It will make all of this much easier if I just give you all the punishment at once rather than doling it out as you break my rules!”

Thor didn’t have any sort of answer for that, so he settled for the next best thing. “I’m sorry, Father. I wasn’t thinking.”

“Obviously!”

Baldr lifted a hand to his forehead to rub there. Frigga reached over to put a hand on Odin’s forearm. “Dear, the shouting is unnecessary, I think,” she said calmly. The servant from earlier brought a tankard over to Baldr who downed nearly the whole thing in three massive swallows.

Odin took several deep breaths before sitting back. “I should keep you grounded for the next decade for this stunt you pulled,” he said. Thor turned pleading eyes on his father instantly at that. He had never been grounded for such a long time. The longest he’d ever been confined to his rooms in either life was three months, and that had been bad enough. Thor wouldn’t be able to make sure nobody was cruel to Loki if he was stuck in his chambers for a decade. Odin didn’t seem bothered by Thor’s puppy dog eyes in the least. “You are lucky that your Mother’s already spoken to me about this or you’d be getting just that.”

Thor let out his held breath in relief. “What will I be getting then?” he couldn’t help but ask.

“When you get back to Asgard, you’ll be helping in the stables for the next year on top of any and all other responsibilities,” Odin decreed. Thor winced a little at the thought of both having to wake up early to help with the horses and then go tend them after his training as well. That would make for some very long days indeed.

“What do you mean ‘get back to Asgard’?” Loki asked.

Odin was quiet for several minutes, and Thor thought that perhaps his father hadn’t meant to say that. At least, not right then. Because Odin had his lips pursed rather tightly. “I have decided to send both you and your brother with Baldr and Hodr to Vanaheim,” Odin finally answered.

“You’re sending us away?” Loki asked, sounding utterly horrified.

Thor was equally alarmed. Their father hadn’t let them visit their brothers in Vanaheim until they were almost fully-grown the last time. “To Vanaheim? Why?”

“For your safety,” Tyr offered before Odin could.

“Safety?” Loki repeated in disbelief. “No place is safer than Asgard! How many times have you said that to us, Tyr? Why are you really doing this?”

“It really is for your safety, Loki,” Hodr said.

“Don’t lie to me!”

Thor was even more alarmed now. This wasn’t the reaction he would expect from his brother. Loki had always loved visiting Vanaheim. “Darling,” Frigga said. “With these raids on our people we are concerned with you safety. You and Thor. It will not be forever.”

“Then why only now?” Loki demanded, his grip on his fork was so tight his knuckles were turning white. “They have been raiding at our borders for months now, why only now do you want to send us away?”

“The Raiders are growing bolder. It isn’t safe for you here,” Odin said.

“But that’s not it is it?” Loki pressed. “You’re not sending us away because of raiders. It’s because of me… isn’t it?”

“Loki-”

“Isn’t it!?”

“Loki!” Odin got to his feet, and Thor felt no small amount of alarm. How had this breakfast turned so badly so quickly? “That is enough of your outburst! This is not a matter for debate. You and your brother will stay with Baldr in Vanaheim until things are safe here in Asgard and that is final!”

Loki put his fork down a little harder than necessary, and he glared down at the table. Thor reached over to put a hand on his brother’s shoulder. Loki shrugged it off angrily. “Leave me alone, Thor.”

“You will be leaving at the end of the week,” Odin told them. “Lady Vor has graciously agreed to send you work to do so that you will not fall behind in your studies while you’re gone.” Loki grew even tenser in his seat. “This truly is for your safety. No matter what you think.”

Loki looked up again and gave Odin a heart-stopping glare. “And you’re going to make us go even if we don’t want to, aren’t you?”

“It is my job as your Father to ensure you’re safe,” Odin said. “And that is a responsibility I take very seriously, Loki.”

“But you’re not my Father are you?” Loki yelled, jumping to his feet.

“Loki!” Frigga’s voice was both shocked and somehow scolding.

For the first time in Thor’s memory, Loki ignored their mother entirely. “I’m not your son at all! I’m just some orphaned runt you picked up, and now you’re ashamed of me! That’s why you’re sending me away, and you’re sending Thor because otherwise, everyone would be suspicious! You don’t care about our safety! You just want me gone!”

“Loki!”

But Loki had already turned and ran from the room. Thor quickly jumped to his own feet to hurry after his brother. “No, Thor,” Odin snapped. “You stay here and finish eating.”

“But Father-”

“I will speak with Loki,” Odin said firmly.

“Do you need any help, Father?” Hodr asked uneasily.

“No, Hodr. I will do this myself,” Odin said. When Frigga went to get up from her seat, Odin put his hands on her shoulders. “I know, Frigga,” he said before his wife could even open her mouth.

Thor shifted in his seat uneasily. He wanted to go and talk with Loki. He’d never seen an outburst like that before, and Thor couldn’t help but think that it was the beginning of the same dark spiral his brother had gotten caught in before. Odin left the dining room, and Thor tried his best to return to eating. He’d found his appetite had entirely disappeared and all he could do was worry that his brother had been suffering more than he’d let on. Again.

Thor looked over his shoulder at the door that Loki and Odin had left through. He bit his lower lip anxiously and prayed to the Norns or Asgaedia, or whoever might be listening, that things worked out better this time. He didn’t think that he could take seeing Loki self-destruct again.

Chapter Text

Odin Borson, King of Asgard, All-Father of the Nine Realms, tried his utmost best to not storm down the hall after his child. In all of his years of raising his sons, never had he had one act the way Loki just had at the breakfast table. Such disrespect was entirely unacceptable. Judging by the way his guards stiffened as he walked past he wasn’t sure he succeeded in not showing how angry he was. Several maids ducked down various side halls as he passed but he barely spared them a glance.

Loki had spelled his door closed against all but himself. When Odin reached for the handle, it snapped with green and gold sparks, and a faint illusion of poisonous vipers rose up to hiss at him. Odin ignored the slight sting of seidr against his skin and dispelled the illusion with barely even a thought. His own seidr, pale gold and silver combination like the essence of light, easily unlocked the door. Though Odin was in such a rush, the latch had barely finished moving back before he stormed through.

Odin’s one eye instantly found Loki, who jumped up from where he’d been sitting on the bed and scrambled to the other side of it so that the furniture was soundly between them. Odin closed the door behind him with a bang, and his magic obediently slammed the lock back into place and then shot out across all the walls of the room to ensure nobody could get in or hear what was about to happen. “Loki! I will not tolerate such disrespect from you! Nor such disrespect to your mother!”

“It’s not disrespect if it’s true!” Loki shot back his own venomous green seidr wrapping around his hands and arms.

“You know nothing of what you speak, Loki!”

Loki actually laughed although it was strangled and slightly hysterical. “No? I heard you clear enough, Odin! You called me a runt! I know what that means! It’s all in the book that mother gave me!” he said pointing to the book left open in the middle of his bed.

“You were eavesdropping!” Odin hissed in outrage. He had never intended for Loki to hear the word ‘runt’ at all. Bor's son made sure to never say it unless it couldn't be helped. The only time he had in the last hundred years was to Hodr and Baldr to explain what was going on when he’d asked for their help. Loki shouldn’t have known anything about that talk. But to realize that his son had been snooping around where he shouldn’t angered him greatly. Eavesdropping was a dishonest tactic, and he had raised his sons better than that, he’d thought.

“I wouldn’t have to if you were honest!”

“Do not presume to lecture me on honesty, Loki!” Odin snapped. His seidr flared where it coated the room, and with great difficulty, he pulled back to ensure it did nothing more than keep this private.

Loki was trembling in rage where he was standing and glaring through his tears. “What do you know of honesty anyway?” he asked. “After all the lies you have told me! I don’t even really look like this!”

“The guise is for your own protection, Loki. Do not make the mistake of thinking you know more than you do,” Odin order.

“I know enough!” Loki snapped.

“No, you do not!” Odin growled. The tears hadn’t escaped Loki’s eyes yet, but Odin was all but certain that was through strength of pure will. “You know nothing of it other than your own childish fears.”

Loki breathed with deliberate slowness for a few minutes. “… They left me to die… didn’t they?” he asked, his voice ragged.

Odin felt the very real urge to lie. He hadn’t realized the laws about runts had been in the book his mother had left and if he had known it, he would have forbidden Frigga from letting their son hold onto it. But Loki obviously already knew the answer to his question so lying wouldn’t save him any of that pain. “… yes.”

“Then why did you take me?” Loki demanded, the tears finally breaking free from his lashes. Though he made a play at trying to still look angry, he looked far more heartbroken than furious. The obvious pain on his youngest’s face made Odin want to say something, but he didn’t get a chance. “You had just fought a war with Jotunheim! Was I supposed to be some-some war trophy? Some horrid plaything for your real son to be kept entertained with?” he demanded, pointing off to the side in the direction of Thor’s room.

“Of course not!” Odin growled. How dare Loki even make such a suggestion!

“What then? I know that I am disappointing to you! I’m not some… perfect Aesir like Thor! And now I know why! I’m just some pathetic little cast away that you picked up!”

“You know not of what you speak, Loki,” Odin repeated in a warning tone that was getting close to anger again. He would not allow this sort of talk.

Loki’s eyes blazed. “I know everything about what I speak! You’re the one that doesn’t know! You think I can’t tell? I can! I know you love Thor more than me! Of course, you do! He’s your real son! You have no idea how it is to be me! The weak, sickly, little brother that nobody actually wants to tag along! I can’t believe I thought for even a second I was meant to be here! You should have left me there! Then at least I wouldn’t be some dirty little secret you keep hidden away like the monster I am!”

The second the words actually left Loki’s lips the young prince looked horrified but he forced himself to close his mouth and just stand there. Odin could tell that Loki was trying desperately to cling to anger even though he’d just said more than he’d meant to say. What anger Odin still had evaporated and was quickly replaced with regret. “You are laboring under mistaken ideas of my intentions Loki,” Odin murmured.

Loki gave another somewhat hysterical laugh. “Am I? I don’t think so. If I wasn’t something shameful then why am I only hearing of all this now? Why wait until I think I am going crazy to tell me what I am?” Odin winced a little. He definitely hadn’t meant to lead Loki to that conclusion. “You have no idea what it’s like… to wake up and no longer be a boy… to be afraid to leave your room because it might happen again and the one thing you’re good at… that you love to do is making you that way…”

Loki turned and sat down on his bed, but Odin could still see his thin shoulders shaking. Odin made his way around the bed to stand in front of Loki again. Hastily, Loki wiped the tears away from his face and looked away. “I never intended that, Loki. And I am truly sorry. I underestimated your physiology. I thought the guise would make it so that you would never have to deal with such thoughts or fears.”

“But it didn’t work…” Loki said and wiped his cheeks again. His fair complexion had become blotchy, and his eyes were swollen and bloodshot, but still, he was trying to put on a brave face. Odin almost smiled, but the sorrow in every line of Loki’s body prevented that. This was the boy that thought Odin was disappointed in him. Even at such a young age and in the throws of a fit of pique and sorrow Odin had never seen before, Loki displayed more dignity than some members of court.

“I am sorry it didn’t, Loki,” Odin said sincerely. “If I had realized I would have told you sooner.”

Loki stifled a scoff behind his arm and continued to look as far away from Odin as was possible. Odin could easily guess that Loki didn’t believe him. “… you still love Thor more… you can’t deny that.”

Odin studied Loki’s closed off face and sighed heavily. Perhaps… perhaps Frigga was right. His son was in pain and just brushing it off wasn’t going to fix things. He hated these sorts of talks, however. They made him feel like an idiot grasping at nothing and not at all like King of Asgard. Oh, over the years he’d gotten better at the diplomacy aspect of ruling, but he’d never actually improved when it came to having heart to heart conversations with anyone. Especially not his children. Still, he should probably start out with the most important thing. “I do not love Thor more than you, Loki,” Odin murmured sincerely as he sat down beside the distraught boy he’d taken in. He had never meant to do anything that would lead to such an impression. “And, I do know how you feel.”

Loki didn’t bother to hide his scoff of disbelief this time. “No, truly,” Odin said. There were several long moments of silence as Odin thought on how to best say what he needed. “I know that you know about my mother. Bestla. It seems… when one is half-Jotnar what traits you inherit from which parent is rather unpredictable. I turned out much like my father in size and strength… my brothers were all far stronger than I in hand-to-hand combat. Compared to the other Aesir I was more than capable, but against them I was the weak runt.” Odin tried his best to not sound as bitter as those words tasted on his tongue but judging by the look Loki was giving him he hadn’t fully succeeded. He couldn’t help it, though. Odin hated that word, and perhaps it wasn’t only for Loki’s benefit that he tried his utmost to avoid using it.

“Vili and Ve had father’s complexion -like I did- but they were taller than I. And Loptr… Loptr was full Jotnar… It has been so long, perhaps I forgot how it felt to be the smaller brother,” Odin conceded. Looking back he could recall being outpaced too easily by his brothers but he’d long forgotten that in light of simply missing their presence.

“But I am not Thor,” Loki said, his own bitterness shining through. “I am not really your son.”

Odin felt a flash of anger rekindle, and he tried his best to temper it with patience. “You are my son,” he said firmly. “And say that again, and I will prove it by tanning your backside, Loki.” That at least got Loki to look at him fully again although the boy looked more than a little startled. Odin took a breath to try and regain some calm. “Do you know why I named you Loki?”

Of course, the youngest in the house of Odin shook his head. “It is a Vanir form of my brother Loptr’s name. I thought it fitting to name my son that looked so much like him after him.”

“You mean the one that is blue…” Loki grumbled unhappily.

“You don’t look like him just because of your skin, Loki,” Odin denied with a slight frown. He examined Loki thoughtfully for a moment before elaborating further, “It is in the shape of your face… especially your cheekbones. Loptr had the same structure…”

“I loved my brothers, Loki. All of them. And I love my sons. Each and every one of them,” the Allfather said firmly. “When I saw you so small and helpless and reminding me so much of Loptr… Loptr who was so kind and good and taken away so cruelly… there was no way in all the Realms I could not take you home and keep you safe.

“I did not disguise you for my sake, Loki. But for yours. As you said, we had just come back from a war with Jotunheim. If they saw your skin, the people would have assumed, as you did, that I took you as some penance or some sort of trophy. My father did that on occasion. But that is not why I took you in,” Odin explained as he hesitantly put a hand on Loki’s shoulder. He didn’t want to make his son recoil further, but he was desperate to make certain that Loki truly understood. “I brought you home because you are my son.”

A ragged noise somewhere between a gasp and a cry escaped Loki and Odin reacted on instinct before he could even register the sound fully. He used his hand on Loki’s shoulder to bring his son close and brought his other hand up to brush over Loki’s hair. Little noises were escaping Loki as he turned into Odin’s chest, suddenly looking much younger. “I don’t want to be a Jotunn! Please… can’t you change me? Make me like you and Thor?”

Odin closed his eye and tightened his hold on his son. He hadn’t wanted this. Not in the least. This exact reaction was why he’d wanted to keep the whole thing silent. “I cannot, Loki,” Odin murmured. “No more than I can change who I am… or who Thor or your Mother are. But you do not need to be changed, Loki.”

“I do!”

“No, you do not,” Odin insisted. “This all has been a shock to you, but I promise you that it is not as bad as you are thinking.”

Loki curled up against his father’s side, and Odin let him simply let all of the pain out for however long it would take. “Why do you want me if they didn’t?” Loki asked, though his voice was muffled.

Odin tried to be as patient as he could. He couldn’t expect Loki to be able to process everything when he was so upset. He’d worked himself into a painful misconception, and it would take time to get through that. “Why would we not want you, Loki?” Odin asked back. “You are skilled, intelligent, and perhaps a bit more clever than is truly good for you. And, I am not so convinced that your parents left you because they truly wanted to.”

Loki finally looked up at that. “How can you say that?”

Odin sighed and brushed some tears away from Loki’s face. “The actual wording of the Law says that they were supposed to drop you into a pit, Loki. I found you in a temple. Inside shelter… admittedly not enough to have kept you alive for long but it wasn’t the drop to certain death that they were supposed to give you,” Odin reasoned. That very reason was why he kept pushing Laufey to acknowledge, even if it was just between them, that he regretting following his own laws.

“They had no way of knowing you’d take me!” Loki argued.

“No, I know that,” Odin agreed. “And I’m not saying that they were right, Loki. But the only reason you were alive when I came upon you was because of the fact you were in that temple with a blanket wrapped around you. They would not have done that if they’d cared not a shred for you.”

Loki seemed to struggle with that thought. “Do… do you know who they were?” he asked although Odin wasn’t convinced that Loki really wanted to know. He studied his son’s torn face. Lying here would most likely only lead to a similar argument later on, and he would prefer to avoid this situation in the future.

“I do,” Odin said. “Your markings are distinctive… but I think you should honestly consider if you want to know or not. There is no rush. The information will not change if I tell you now or if I tell you years from now. Wait until you are ready, Loki.”

The green of Loki’s eyes seemed even more vibrant due to the red around them. “You think I can’t handle knowing?” he demanded. A challenge if ever Odin had heard one.

“Do not twist my words, Loki,” Odin warned. “I want only what is best for you, and I don’t think you really wish to know. Not right now. Do not force yourself to ask only for your pride. What is important right now, is not knowing who gave birth to you, but knowing that your mother and I do care about you. That you are our son no matter your blood.”

Loki looked off to the side and released his grip on Odin’s jacket. “And you will make me leave Asgard to prove that will you?” he asked with no small amount of petulance.

“No matter what you think, it is for your safety,” Odin said. “You are right that is not only for your safety that we want you to go to Vanaheim but do not be so quick to say that reason is untrue.”

“Then why do you want me to go?” Loki demanded.

“Vanaheim is much more open than Asgard is currently,” Odin said. “It’s unfortunate but true. It would be good for you, we believe, to go to where you can adjust without worrying about what Asgard expects. You brothers will be there, we are not sending you to the middle of nowhere or some tower to lock you away, Loki. Besides, did you not always want to go to Vanaheim?”

Loki grumbled something under his breath and shifted. Odin sighed heavily and shook his head. “Stubborn boy… you are determined to be unhappy about this, I see. Well, that is unfortunate because your mother and I are not going to be changing our minds about it.”

“Thor will be bored stiff,” Loki muttered.

Despite himself, Odin couldn’t help but smile. “I’m sure you can keep him entertained well enough, Loki. But do try not to embarrass him too badly,” he said as he got to his feet. “Your mother may be going with you at first. She has been eager to meet your nephew Forseti since he was born and we haven’t had a chance to leave Asgard yet.”

Loki snorted a little. Odin would have left, but it looked very much as if Loki was trying to work himself up to saying something else, so he waited there for several minutes. “… you won’t leave me there, will you?”

Odin felt a pain in his chest at the quietly asked question. He should have expected such a question, but he honestly hadn’t. Odin felt foolish for the possibility to have never crossed his mind. He had an unpleasant flash of foresight telling him this was not the first time he’d be hearing this particular question. “No, Loki. I will not leave you there,” he promised.

Loki nodded but still looked apprehensive about the idea of going to Vanaheim. Odin wasn’t entirely certain what was giving Loki such reservations about the trip besides the obvious fear of abandonment. He decided Loki needed more incentive to want to go if he was going to be in the least bit agreeable. The trip to Vanaheim was not terribly long, but an unhappy Loki could make even a short trip seem to take ages. Odin’s eyes drifted back to his mother’s book on the bed. “How much of the book have you read, Loki?”

The young prince gave a slight start of surprise. Loki blinked at his father for a few moments as he tried to process the sudden question. When he realized what Odin was asking, his face flushed and he reached over to close the book. “Not as far as I should… but it’s… I don’t like reading it…”

Odin tried hard to not let his surprise show. He’d never heard of a book that Loki didn’t enjoy reading. Then again, this particular book was far more personal than any other he could find to read. “Well, I think that I perhaps know of a way for you to find out anything you would want to know without having to read something that embarrasses you,” Odin mused. He wasn’t sure if asking would be any less uncomfortable for his son but the more the thought was in his head, the more Odin thought he should at least make an effort.

Loki shifted in his seat. “How?”

“You know of Freyr, yes?” Still looking confused, Loki nodded in agreement. “His partner is Jotunn. Gerd. I’m sure that Gerd would be willing to speak with you and answer any questions you might have,” Odin suggested.

Loki looked almost horrified by the thought. “You don’t have to,” Odin added. “I just give you an option that I think you should think about.”

Loki still stared. “I did not know Freyr was married to a Jotunn… I thought that Aesir could not touch a Jotunn without frostbite appearing instantly…”

“That is a defense mechanism, Loki,” Odin explained. “It is part of their own magic, and if they are not in danger, they have little need to use it. I highly doubt Gerd feels the need to defend against Freyr.” Loki still looked skeptical. “Think about it, Loki. You have time.”

“I will,” Loki agreed softly.

“Good. Now, though I understand you were upset, I don’t want to have another outburst like the one at the table this morning,” Odin said firmly. “Understood?”

“Yes, Father…”

Odin smiled and reached over to brush Loki’s hair back comfortingly. “Come along then. You haven’t eaten yet, I don’t think, and your mother would be most vexed if I allowed you to stay here instead of returning to the table.”

Loki winced. “Must I?”

“You must,” Odin confirmed. Loki just sighed, and Odin waved his hand to release the spell surrounding the room.

Chapter Text

When Loki and Odin reappeared in the dining room, Thor noticed that his brother's eyes were red and puffy as if he'd been crying. Though, considering that he was allowing Odin to have his hand on his shoulder and that he muttered a sullen apology for 'disrupting breakfast' before retaking his seat, Thor hoped that their talk had gone better than he'd feared it would. The young Thunderer imagined that if it had blown up too severely that Loki wouldn't have come back to the table at all no matter how Odin demanded it. There seemed to be some unspoken agreement that nobody bring up what had happened just twenty minutes earlier and, despite the fact that Loki still looked unhappy, Baldr and Tyr spent quite a bit of effort in coming up with other, more amusing topics of conversation.

Loki kept his head down and poked at his food on his plate with his fork as if it would suddenly spring upwards and give him the answers to all of life's questions. Thor leaned over closer to his brother. "Are you alright, Loki? Father didn't upset you did he?"

Loki shook his head a little but continued to stare at his plate that was now a mixed up pile of potato and egg. He poked at one particularly well fried chunk so that it slid around the plate. Thor's frown grew at the lack of response. Loki rarely went quiet. Usually, when he was unhappy he'd have something to say about it, even if he disguised his opinions behind jokes and double speak so that it was harder to respond to. Thor hadn't ever noticed Loki acting sullen. Something had to be done to distract his brother, that much was clear. The question was, what?

They may not be allowed to wander from the castle but there were things inside that they could do. Practicing their fighting was discarded nearly instantly as an option. Even if Loki were in a better mood he most likely wouldn't choose to train. The library would almost certainly bore Thor to no end, so that was something he'd resort to only if he had to. So, what else was left really? After a moment's thought, Thor came up with something that he was fairly certain would get his brother to act more like himself.

Thor poked Loki's leg to ensure he had his brother's full attention. "Loki. Come out with me to the gardens after breakfast?"

Loki finally looked away from his plate to fix Thor with an appraising gaze. "Why?"

"Because I'm bored inside," Thor replied instantly. "Come on, I'll even let you lead the way. Surely there's something in the gardens to keep us busy." The 'gardens' of the palace were separated into three distinct sections. Their mother's garden which she insisted that she tend to herself, the kitchen gardens which was a working field that the cooks could draw from, and the formal gardens which were open to the public. The formal gardens spanned almost four hundred fifty acres and was packed full of winding paths, fountains, various greenhouses, and more than a few places for public gatherings. The formal gardens wrapped around the palace and the private gardens in a large half oval shape. Anyone could spend hours wandering the paths and not retread any areas at all. Unfortunately, to Thor, most of the different flower beds and greenhouses began to look the same to him after only an hour or so in the gardens.

Loki's eyes scanned over Thor carefully. "You're sure?"

"Of course I'm sure," Thor replied. "Maybe we can go through the maze or something..."

Loki raised an eyebrow. "We've both solved that thing at least ten times," he said. The public gardens had two hedge mazes one was always being cut down and replanted into a new configuration while the other was open, but since it took years to regrow hedges large enough to not see over, they still had solved the current one many times in boredom.

"Well, I'm sure you can come up with something for us to do in four hundred acres," Thor said.

"Why do I always have to come up with something to do?" Loki asked, a bit of his usual haughtiness coming back.

"Because you always hate my ideas," Thor answered. "You just shot down the one I gave. So you come up with something."

Loki gave a large sigh. "You are so utterly hopeless. Fine. It just so happens I do have an idea of what we can do. But we'll need someone taller..." he mused as he glanced over to their brothers thoughtfully. Thor raised an eyebrow at that and wondered what was going through Loki's brain this time. "Tyr..." Loki called to their tallest brother his most beguiling tone.

Instantly the table's attention shifted, and Tyr looked over somewhat warily. "Yes, Loki?"

"Are you doing anything today?"

Tyr still looked a little wary at Loki's tone. "Nothing besides training my recruits... as usual. Why do you ask?"

"Well, I was just thinking you could help me and Thor today," Loki said innocently. "But if you're too busy... maybe Hodr could help us instead..."

"Hey now," Baldr complained. "Why go to Hodr before me?"

Loki continued to put up the innocent front. "Well, you were so hung over earlier... I didn't want to disturb you," he said as if it were entirely obvious.

"I'm fine!" Baldr protested. "What do you need help with?"

"I never said I couldn't help," Tyr said with a frown.

Thor watched as his brothers shot arguments back and forth and couldn't help but be amazed. How had he missed how easily Loki could do that the first time around? He'd barely said anything and somehow got their brothers clamouring to be the one to help. "Well," Loki interrupted lightly. "You could just all help," he pointed out.

And so, to Thor's bewilderment, after breakfast all five sons of Odin were out in the gardens, having been roped into whatever Loki had planned. "You are amazing, Loki," Thor murmured as Baldr loudly chattered on to Tyr behind them. Loki just gave a smug smirk and continued to lead the way through the winding paths of the public gardens.

"You do realize we got played, right?" Hodr said as they walked.

"Don't be silly, Hodr. We're helping our baby brothers," Baldr replied. "It's a perfectly normal thing for us to do."

Hodr sighed heavily. "How in the world did I get roped into this along with you?" he muttered.

"Because when faced with puppy dog eyes from both Thor and Loki... there is no force in the Nine Realms that can fight them," Tyr replied matter-of-factly.

"That might work on you... but I'm blind. I'm immune," Hodr argued.

"Well then you have no excuse and are just a pushover," Tyr said.

"Rude," Hodr said.

Thor glanced behind him at his three elder brothers. Even though Hodr was protesting he had a slight curve to his lips that said he wasn't really that upset at being dragged out into the gardens. Tyr sent Thor a quick wink and Baldr was staring at the large pool of water that they were now walking behind that reflected the golden palace. "You know... Nanna would love a new garden... perhaps I can get mother to help make one for her..."

"Didn't you just give Nanna a ship?" Hodr asked. "That she has no use for?"

"Everyone can find use for a ship," Baldr replied instantly. "And besides, my ship is too large to get into most ports. Hers is more versatile."

"And the ship for your son that isn't even old enough to sail yet?" Tyr asked.

"It's called preparation, Tyr," Baldr responded haughtily. "I thought you of all people would appreciate that!"

"I think you just like spoiling them," Hodr muttered. "You're going to get into debt if you keep it up."

Baldr snorted in derision. "Hardly. I know my limits."

"No, I don't think that you do," Tyr said.

Thor couldn't quite help but laugh though he did try to at least stifle it behind a faked cough. "Oh, I see how it is," Baldr said indignantly. "Ganging up on your poor brother Baldr."

"Yes, our poor brother Baldr who is so blissfully and sickeningly happy in his life it makes people want to throw rocks at his head," Hodr drawled.

Baldr gave an utterly fake and exaggerated gasp. "Hodr! You wish to throw rocks at my head? I thought you loved me!"

"I do love you," Hodr replied. "From a rock throwing distance."

Loki finally lost his composure and laughed along with Thor who was failing even worse than before to hide his own giggles of amusement. "This family is so cruel," Baldr pouted. "Now you laugh at my pain. I shall never get over the mistreatment today."

"I think you'll be fine," Tyr said dryly as Thor's amusement quickly dried up. He knew that Baldr wasn't being serious but such things echoed unpleasantly of other things in Thor's mind.

"Well, so long as Baldr is scarred for life... would you mind telling us what we're doing out here, Loki?" Hodr asked. "What did you need our help with?"

Loki turned to flash a smile even though Hodr wouldn't be able to see it. "You'll find out," he said before taking a sharp turn to the left. The path he chose led further away from the large reflecting pool and towards the nearest edge of the gardens. "I'm glad you all came, though. I've been needing the help."

"Help with what?" Baldr asked again.

"He's not going to tell you," Thor said. Loki never told anyone anything until he was ready. "He loves the reveal almost as much as keeping the secret in the first place." Loki gave Thor a sharp jab in the side with his elbow. A grunt of pain escaped the young Thunder God and he rubbed his side where Loki's elbow had hit. "You are so boney... your elbow is like a dagger."

Loki rolled his eyes. "Don't exaggerate. I'm not that thin..." he muttered.

"Well, you didn't exactly make records with how much you ate at breakfast, Loki," Baldr said, suddenly dropping into a much more serious demeanor. "You think we didn't notice you pushing your food around, but you'd be mistaken. You barely touched anything on your plate. You should definitely make more of an effort at midday meal." Never before had Baldr sounded more like a gentler and younger version of their father. Then again, he was the only one of them that had children of his own so perhaps that wasn't so shocking after all.

Loki made a face at the mention of him not eating breakfast. "I simply wasn't hungry," he muttered.

Baldr frowned. "You 'weren't hungry' after you were sent to bed without dinner last night?"

Loki's face turned pink. "It's not a crime to not be hungry."

"Leave off, Baldr," Tyr said. "Practice being a father to your own son. You know Loki's always been a dainty eater."

"I am not a 'dainty' eater..." Loki grumbled, his face still pink. Hodr thankfully decided to change the subject from Loki's eating habits to the gardens around them. As they walked, Loki's face slowly returned to his usual color.

After another ten minutes walking, the brothers reached the edge of the public gardens. A large flowerbed of Vanaheim Sky Lilies bordered the gardens. Vanaheim Sky Lilies were their mother's favorite flower, probably because they were from her homeland and also because the flowers were incredibly unique. The petals changed colors from bright orange and yellow to rich purple and blues depending on the day-to-day conditions around them. Currently the countless long ruffled petals of the lilies were a deep purple with streaks of blue. "Wow... I forgot these lilies were over here," Baldr murmured.

"So, what are we doing here?" Tyr asked even as Loki stepped carefully into the flower bed.

"You'll see," Loki said as he made a line across the thick band of flowers. Without much choice, the rest of Odinsons had to follow along until they reached a wooden fence that was not in the best shape but separated the flowers from a seemingly endless expanse of golden wheat. Off in the distance were mountains but Thor could honestly not tell if there was anything between the rolling hills of tall grain and the base of the peaks. Thor assumed these were some farmer's fields. Loki kept walking, making a somewhat arcing path back around closer to the side of the palace.

A river, probably made for irrigation, cut through the fields and Loki began to follow it. After a few hundred yards, the brothers crested another hill and spotted a massive gnarled oak tree. The thing looked like it had been growing on the side of the river for over a few thousand years it was so huge. Quite a few branches that looked as thick as some other tree's entire trunks spread out low enough to climb and even shaded the whole bend of the river. A thick rope hung down from one branch over the river and a platform was wedged in between two of the higher limbs.

"How did you find this place?" Baldr asked as they approached the tree.

Loki shrugged. "I was exploring."

"Did you put that rope up?" Tyr asked. "And the platform?"

"No... I found it this way. But it's a good idea. I'm just... not so good at building," Loki said a little sheepishly.

Thor couldn't stop the wide grin from crossing his face. "Don't worry, brother! Together we can make the most magnificent place to spend our time!" The idea of having what the Midgardian's would call a 'tree house' had always appealed to him and now he had a chance for one.

Suddenly Baldr gave a shriek and jumped back from the tree. He hid behind Hodr bodily. "What is your problem now?" Hodr asked with a put-upon sigh.

"Save me, brother! It's got mistletoe growing in it!" Baldr cried from his spot behind his twin.

"Asgaedia save me..." Hodr muttered. "It's not like it's going to jump out and maul you to death, Baldr. It's just a plant!"

"You wouldn't be saying that if it could kill you!" Baldr snapped. "It's a devil plant..." he added darkly.

Hodr sighed again. "It is not a devil plant... it's hardly the mistletoe's fault you're allergic to it..."

"... it is a demon in plant form..." Baldr continued to mutter.

Loki snickered some and even Thor had to try hard to not smile. Though allergies were rare for Asgardians, when they did develop them they were almost always the most severe forms. And Baldr was indeed deathly allergic to mistletoe, as was discovered one midwinter when Hodr had decided to be festive and decorated their, at the time, shared room with the plant. They probably shouldn't find Baldr's reaction to a legitimate danger to his life funny but it was hard not to. "Kill it for me, brothers..."

Tyr rolled his eyes. "Oh, for the love of... fine, Baldr. We'll protect you from the big bad plant that you can crush under your foot," he said as he went over to the tree. He reached up to the first branch and hauled himself up.

"I cannot believe you, you big baby," Hodr said as Baldr continued to use him as a human shield.

Luckily for Baldr, and Hodr who was still an unwilling barrier between the tree and his brother, the infestation of mistletoe was not very severe. Between Tyr, Thor, and Loki, it only took a hour or so to rip all of the invasive plant-life away from the oak and discarded. Only once he was sure the tree was safe did Baldr step out from behind Hodr’s form. “Thank you, brothers, you have saved my life.”

Hodr rolled his blind eyes. “Yes, I’m sure we have. Now let’s help with what we were actually here to do rather than deal with your phobia of a simple plant.”

“It isn’t a phobia if the fear is reasonable,” Baldr said with a huff. “The damn stuff can kill me, Hodr.”

Tyr shook his head and climbed up the tree to stand on the platform. Like Loki had said the platform had obviously been in place for a while. There were even some spots along the edges where the tree had started to grow around the platform and absorb it back into one form. “This looks like it’s been here for centuries…”

“I wonder who built it,” Thor said as he climbed up onto one thick arm and shimmied his way further up so that he could take in the view. He hadn’t gotten very high in the branches yet but he didn’t doubt that if he tried he would be able to see for miles around.

“It’s hard to say at this point,” Tyr said as he watched a black bird circle high above. One of his father’s ravens no doubt. “I’m rather impressed the old thing has lasted this long. I would have thought that the farmer that owns these lands would have cut it down for firewood well before now. Or one of his ancestors at least.”

Loki shrugged. “Maybe it has sentimental value. I found a carving in the bark there on the far side of the trunk where you are, Tyr.”

“A carving?” Hodr asked. “What kind of carving?”

Tyr went to go look at where Loki was pointing. “It’s a lover’s mark,” he informed. “Kind of hard to make out really because it looks like someone tried to take a hatchet to it.”

“So it didn’t end well then,” Baldr surmised. “You’d think they’d just chop the whole thing down…”

“Perhaps it was someone else who was jealous who defiled the mark,” Hodr offered. “Then whoever owned the mark might still want to keep the tree around anyway. But if the mark’s as old as the platform… whatever happened is now old news.”

“That’s kind of sad…” Thor said as he sat in a comfortable dip in one of the tree’s limbs. “Are you sure it’s alright for us to take this place over?” He didn’t want to offend anyone or defile someone’s pleasant memories.

“I think so…” Loki said although he sounded thoughtful. “I’ve never seen anyone by it and nobody’s come to complain when I’m here.”

“Just how often are you here?” Tyr asked curiously.

Loki gave a deliberately casual shrug. “Not that often,” he said.

Tyr hummed but looked disbelieving. “Of course not… so you want us to help you build a… structure here?” he asked, looking for some appropriate word. The idea of building in a tree was not exactly common on Asgard. Many smaller and less primitive creatures lived in trees and climbing trees was a fairly popular activity among youths, but building a real structure of some sort was decidedly unusual.

“A fort!” Thor offered from his seat above Tyr’s head. “It is in the perfect vantage point for a fort!”

Loki’s eyes instantly lit up with excitement. “Yes! This is the perfect place! Please, Tyr?” Tyr tried hard to be practical. The land wasn’t even part of the royal gardens and so they didn’t exactly have the right to even be wandering on it much less building structures in ancient trees. But huge green eyes pleading up at him crumbled his resolve far easier than he’d like to admit. He sighed heavily and nodded his agreement. Loki beamed and instantly scrambled up the tree. “Thank you, Tyr! I know you will make a wonderful fort for us!”

“And you called me a push over,” Hodr muttered.

“Shut up,” Tyr said although there wasn’t any venom behind it. He was just glad that Loki was acting cheerful again. So he had to build a strange… fort in a tree to make that happen. All in all not that steep a price.

Thor reached down to offer his brother a helping hand and the two youngest were quickly up near the top of the oak while the elder sons of Odin discussed how one might go about building something in a tree. Thor wrapped an arm around the still large trunk of the tree. “So, how did you really find this place?” he asked quietly enough for only Loki to hear.

“I was exploring,” Loki said a touch defensively as he leaned over to peer into a birds’ nest a few branches lower. The nest was cradled in between a few particularly large branches right beside the tree trunk and was currently empty.

“What kind of a nest is that?” Thor asked when he noticed where his brother was looking.

“Magpie, I think… hard to say for sure without any eggs in it, though.”

“Magpies…” Thor echoed thoughtfully. “Will they come back if we build a fort here?”

Loki hummed and thought for a moment. “They should so long as the fort doesn’t come up this high. “We’ll just be careful to not disturb their perch. This nest is part of why I like this tree so much.”

“The nest is?” Thor echoed.

“Yes, I’ve always rather liked Magpies… I don’t know why,” Loki mused. “You’d think what with Huginn and Muninn always hanging around I’d be done with all the crow family… but I suppose not.”

“Maybe you’re more like father than you want to admit,” Thor ventured.

“Bite your tongue. I’m nothing like him at all,” Loki grumbled.

Thor rolled his eyes. “Right. Nothing at all in common,” he drawled.

Loki scowled at Thor. “Sarcasm doesn’t suit you, Thor. You should leave it to the experts.”

“But I learned from the experts,” Thor said sweetly.

“You’ll learn how to fly in a minute…”

“I think I’d be pretty good at flying, actually.”

Loki sighed heavily. “You are such a never-ending pain.”

“And yet without me you’d be so bored.”

“I’m not entirely convinced it’s worth it…”

“Brat,” Thor said as he reached over and lightly kicked the branch that Loki was on. The branch jerked even from that light a kick. His brother yelped and grabbed hold of the limb before glaring at Thor.

“You could have killed me,” Loki hissed in annoyance. “I’m going to turn you into a tiny little bug!”

The young Thunderer smiled. “Maybe if you could catch me,” he said before quickly climbed down the tree as fast as he could.

“Thor! Get back here!”

“I’m not that stupid!” Thor yelled back before jumping the remaining distance to land heavily between Hodr and Tyr. He gave them a smile before another shout of his name had him darting back towards the palace.

Chapter Text

The Royal Library of Asgard was several stories tall in the main chamber with a seamless domed glass roof above, which was sitting atop a row of intricately carved wooden arches. Pillars of the purest white Vanaheim marble were scattered throughout with gold filigree twining like vines around them and holding up lights like clusters of fruits. The stone floors were covered with runners in Asgard's Royal colors of vibrant red and gold. The massive bookcases were made of a light blonde wood imported from somewhere that Thor didn't know and silver nameplates were affixed to indicate what subjects were to be found in each section. Scattered throughout the library were rich red leather couches worn soft through centuries of use and tables to study at that had a slab top of Muspelheim Petrified Wood polished to a high sheen.

Spiral staircases were placed in all four corners of the room and decorated with even more gold filigree. The second levels and above overhung by a dozen feet and were left with their beams exposed so that detailed wood carvings were visible. Identical carved dragon heads were peering down at the main chamber from each level at regular intervals with perpetual snarls that Thor actually found very off-putting. Lights hung down from the floors above with sturdy golden chains so that even in the shadow of the other floors one could easily read their selected book.

At the very end of the room was an alcove where a forty foot tall statue of Mimir was standing behind of a large metal brazier that was kept burning even during the day. The warmth from the always burning fire never failed to make Thor sleepy if he sat down for too long. Particularly in the central chamber where the couches seemed to absorb whoever sat on them. The main room was only the general collection, Thor knew within the side rooms there were rarer or more specialized collections and of course the Art wing that wrapped around the whole library that Thor and Loki had cleaned so recently.

Thor could predict that what he was looking for wouldn't be found in the general collection and so made his way to the nearest staircase. In each riser of the stairs was carved knot work that looped back on itself so that it had no end. Thor followed the stairs up to the third level of the library and then started through the stacks to one of the side rooms that his brother frequented.

The silver plate hanging above the door spelled out Advanced Energies. Thor had never tried to read any of the books or scrolls inside, but Loki had probably memorized all of them by the time he was eight hundred. So, when Thor opened the door and didn't see Loki sitting at the desk with piles of books around him he was rather confused. He'd known that Loki had been planning to come to the library today and yet he wasn't in his usual room?

Thor glanced around a few more times just to be sure, but Loki truly didn't seem to be there. Confused, the young Thunder God went back out to the main chamber and looked down at the first floor more carefully. He didn't see Loki down there either. Without any sort of clues as to where his brother was, Thor began to wander the library aimlessly. Here and there within the massive room were students and servants and some librarians but nobody seemed to be paying any attention to who was walking past so Thor didn't stop to ask if they'd seen Loki.

Thor had never realized just how many people could be hiding away in the library until he started looking for one in particular. There were dozens of little alcoves and reading nooks that seemed to spring up out of nowhere. The perpetual quiet of the library didn't help Thor's continual surprise when he stumbled across someone new or yet another set of chairs he hadn't even known existed.

After perhaps half an hour of wandering through stacks and poking his head into the different study rooms and special collections, Thor finally spotted the familiar dark silhouette of his brother. Thor was about to call out when Loki's demeanor finally registered as odd. Loki hadn't even noticed Thor and was instead looking down at a lower floor while leaning against the inside of one wooden archway.

"Loki! What are you doing?"

Loki actually jumped in surprise and whipped around quickly. "Thor! What are you doing here?" he demanded and Thor paused in confusion to see a pink blush begin to creep up Loki's neck and cheeks.

"Mother asked me to find you. She says we must finish packing for Vanaheim..." Thor explained. "What are you doing?"

"Nothing," Loki said. "Other than being given heart attacks by you."

Thor didn't believe that and walked over to the banister to look over even though Loki had tried to step in the way. Thor wanted to see what had gotten so much of Loki's attention that he hadn't noticed Thor coming up to him.

"Alright, let's go then!" Loki said quickly, grabbing Thor's wrist and beginning to walk off. Thor didn't let himself be dragged and leaned further over the rail. "Thor!"

Then Thor spotted what must have had Loki's attention. Sigyn was sitting the next floor down and across. Many books were on the table that she was sitting at. Her long hair was tied back in an intricate braid, and her pretty face was screwed up slightly in concentration. "Oh... I see," Thor said as he straightened and looked back to Loki. His brother was now entirely pink in the face. "Have you spoken to her?" Thor asked.

Loki's eyes widened almost comically. "Of course I have spoken to her! You saw me speaking with her!"

"I meant after that first time," Thor said, slightly amused by how flustered his usually calm and collected brother seemed to be.

"Yes," Loki said. Thor narrowed his eyes to try and read any minuscule tells in Loki's expression. Loki stood there calmly for a moment before breaking. "Alright, no. But can you blame me? Girls don't exactly flock to me because I'm attractive or anything..."

"You know more females than I," Thor protested.

Loki waved a hand dismissively. "Because I helped them with their studies. Over half are studying Seidr in some way... the only one who isn't is Sif, and I only know her through Dagr... I am not exactly the sort of boy they'd be looking for..." he said as he looked back down at Sigyn sadly.

"That's not true!" Thor argued. "You have many excellent qualities that I certainly don't possess!"

"Thank you for the defense, Thor, but we both know that's not really a plus in this case..." Loki muttered. "I'm far from the ideal... Not of Aesir... not even of Jotnar. Besides, Sigyn's been speaking with Bjarke..."

"Bjarke is an idiot," Thor said immediately. Even by Thor's rather lax standards, Bjarke was all muscle and little thought. He was in the class ahead of Loki and Thor and was a typical boisterous Aesir. He had a mass of bright red hair and used a heavy staff modeled off of the ones employed by the berserkers, which he idolized with no small amount of zeal.

"He is... but he's the one Sigyn is interested in..."

"I doubt that," Thor said. "She doesn't seem as if she would be interested in loud pig-headed boys."

Loki looked over at the girl the next floor down and sighed. "It doesn't matter anyway since we're getting shipped off to Vanaheim tomorrow..." he muttered.

"We won't be there forever," Thor pointed out. "You should go and say something to her."

Loki looked apprehensive and almost seemed to be about to do so before shaking his head. "I'm not going to go and embarrass myself, Thor."

Thor frowned. "You won't be embarrassing yourself," he argued. He knew for a fact that Sigyn had always adored his brother. Even through a somewhat rocky marriage that resulted in Sigyn moving back to Vanaheim, they had always ended up drawn back to one another given enough time. Usually, once Loki managed a grand apologetic gesture to Sigyn for whatever he had done that upset her.

"That is easy for you to say," Loki muttered as he turned away again and started walking.

"Loki!"

Loki didn't stop, and Thor had to jog a few steps to catch up. "Loki, you underestimate yourself. I think she would like you much more than Bjarke."

Loki gave Thor a look that was some mix of anger, hurt, and annoyance. "Stop harping on this, Thor," Loki snapped. "What business is it of yours, anyway?"

"I just want you happy, brother," Thor said, unable to hide his own wounded tone.

"I'll not be tricking myself, Thor," Loki grumbled.

"Tricking yourself?" Thor echoed in confusion as they descended the stairs. "What do you mean by that? How would talking to Sigyn be tricking yourself?"

Loki paused and whipped around to look up at Thor, who was still standing a stair above Loki. "Because what if you're right?" Loki demanded. "What if she does like me? What will I do when she finds out what I am? She'll be disgusted, and I can't blame her for that! Who wants a man that... is like me..."

Thor reached out and grasped Loki by the back of the neck and lowered his own so that their heads were close together. "There is nothing wrong with you, brother. Any woman would be lucky to have you in her life."

"You're a terrible liar..."

"I'm not lying, Loki."

Loki looked away first. "Before all this... I actually thought I'd finally found someone I had a shot with... even though I wasn't you..."

"You still do," Thor pressed. "I think that you should give her the chance to get to know you and decide for herself if she wants to be with you or not."

"Your optimism is sometimes very frustrating, Thor," Loki muttered. "Do you know that? You run the very fine line between delusion and optimism, and have completely unrealistic expectations of success..."

Thor frowned. "Or maybe you're projecting your own issues onto others," he shot back. Loki blinked, quite obviously taken aback. Thor sighed. "You see yourself as this horrible monster, but that is not what you are, Loki. Nothing is wrong with you."

Loki was silent for a few long minutes before grabbing Thor's arm. "Come with me," he ordered before continuing down the stairs. Thor could have refused, and Loki wouldn't have been able to drag him but decided to not do so. He was curious as to what Loki wanted.

The two princes left the library at a fast pace and went to Loki's room. Loki dropped Thor's wrist once they were inside and went to grab the large dark tome from where it was sitting on his desk. Thor sat down on the edge of Loki's bed as the trickster began flipping through the book. Thor wanted to ask but decided to remain quiet until Loki walked back and put the open book on Thor's lap.

Thor looked down at the book open across his knees. A drawing of a scrawny Jotunn child was across one page. Written beside the image of the rather unhealthy looking youngster were the words "Banthum Syndrome: Runts" in the largest runes on the page. Thor glanced up at Loki, but his brother wasn't looking at him. Thor wasn't sure if he was going to like reading the page but figured that Loki wouldn't have put it in front of him if he hadn't wanted Thor to do so. With no small amount of trepidation, Thor began to read.

 

Banthum Syndrome: Runts

Banthum Syndrome, named after the first known sufferer of the condition, is a syndrome in which one does not grow above 180 cm tall even as an adult. Banthum sufferers (colloquially known as Runts) lack the ability to properly absorb growth hormones resulting in short stature and difficulty in producing ice and maintaining Frost Touch. Runts are better able to withstand warmer temperatures due to an underdeveloped thurmenial gland, but conversely have more trouble surviving the cold of Jotunheim, particularly while children or when otherwise weakened. The first hundred winters of a Runt's life are often the most challenging and, without near constant attention, they will likely die from external conditions.

Other genetic conditions often are found in conjunction with Banthum Syndrome that can lead to a variety of other problems. Some of these possible complications include mental deficiency, fragile bones, and others that may result in a severely shortened life span. Even those Runts born without accompanying conditions have a bleak prognosis. Lack of stature and muscle development means that even as adults, Runts are physically inferior to other Jotnar and can easily perish in accidents that would not otherwise be fatal to one of average size including crushing and drowning.

Runts are ill-suited to life on Jotunheim, and there are few tasks one of such small size can easily do. Interpersonal relationships are also complicated due to Runts' short stature as most Jotnar feel uncomfortable being themselves around such fragile persons. Fear of damaging Runts often lead to few friends and almost no family.

Though it is possible for Runts to produce children of average stature such a thing is ill-advised at best. The strain of carrying a child of average size in their smaller body may prove fatal, and Runts lack the capacity to be dominate during a coupling.

Due to the many difficulties that Runts will face in their life, most of which result in either death or misery, it is far kinder to end their suffering early. If you find you have given birth to a Runt, easily discernable by a babe, the size of one born prematurely yet is not, the most moral choice (and lawful) is to drop the unfortunate Runt into the Crevice of Myrun.

Thor was no less uncomfortable after reading the passage, and was, in fact, less at ease. "... And?" he asked, still not sure why Loki had given him the book.

"And?" Loki echoed in disbelief as he whipped around. "And there are things wrong with me, Thor! It's all right there on that page! Did you even read it?"

"Yes," Thor said as he closed the book. "But you are far from stupid, and we do not live on Jotunheim among those so much larger than you." Thor got to his feet and grabbed Loki by each bicep. "So, you are more like us than them. That is not such a bad thing. You live here in Asgard."

"I should be dead..."

"But you're not," Thor said. "None of what is in that book matters here in Asgard. What they wrote shouldn't stop you from being happy or finding someone special."

Loki shook his head. “You would not say such things if it was you who had learned that you were some misshapen thing that shouldn’t have even survived…”

Thor sighed heavily. “You’re not misshapen. You’re just smaller than they are. That’s all. I’m shorter than you. Does that mean I’m misshapen?”

“It’s not the same thing, Thor!”

“I think it is,” Thor insisted as he folded his arms over his chest. “Other than being smaller than them there is nothing wrong with you. And all of that talk about trouble surviving in Jotunheim doesn’t matter because we aren’t there and Asgard gets nowhere near as cold as that realm.”

“No, here I’m just some nightmare monster,” Loki spat.

Thor was more than a little fed up with the conversation and huffed. “Can you look like that when you want to?” he demanded.

Loki was startled by the sudden question. He had been about to say something else and hadn’t expected Thor to even want to know something like that. “I… haven’t really tried. Why would I?” he asked. He didn’t want to look like that. He didn’t even want to think about how he actually looked.

“Try. I want to see.”

Loki gaped at Thor. “You want to what?”

“See,” Thor repeated. “What you actually look like.”

“No!” Loki denied instantly.

Thor sighed. “Loki, please. I’ll tell you if you’re as hideous as you think you look or not. I’ll tell you the truth. I promise. Just let me see.” Loki was too caught up in his own fears to judge his appearance anything but badly so Thor would have to throw his opinion into the mix and hope that helped somehow.

“I’m not going to show you, Thor,” Loki said firmly, no longer looking shocked but now a bit angry. “And don’t ask again.”

Thor growled and rubbed the back of his head in annoyance. “I thought I was supposed to be the stubborn one here,” he grumbled. “I want to help you, Loki, but I can’t if you won’t let me. I just want to see for a minute. I won’t ask again. I promise you.”

“And what if you do find me monstrous? Am I supposed to stand here and let you kill me?” Loki asked.

Thor figured it was a good sign that Loki didn’t want to be killed, but he was rather annoyed that Loki thought that he would be if Thor didn’t like what he saw. “I won’t ever hurt you, Loki,” Thor said firmly. “Just let me see.”

Loki frowned and folded his arms. “No, Thor. Absolutely not.” Thor ruffled his hair in agitation, but before he could try and argue his point anymore, Loki spoke again, “I know you won’t hurt me, Thor…” Loki wasn’t looking at him anymore. “But I don’t think I can have you seeing me like that. Please, try to understand.”

Thor didn’t. Not really. No matter what he looked like, Loki was still his brother, but he could at least see that Loki really didn’t want to lower the glamour. Thor supposed that, if Loki really wasn’t comfortable with the idea, he couldn’t in good conscience demand he change. “I don’t understand,” Thor said. “But I’ll stop asking…”

Loki visibly relaxed and gave the smallest smile. “Thank you, Thor…”

Thor nodded. “I’m just trying to help, brother. Truly.”

“… I know, I’m just not sure how you can… other than helping me pack,” Loki said with a smile.

Thor made a face. “I don’t want to help you with that,” he protested. Packing was one of his least favorite tasks. Once he’d gotten old enough to have a page he had made the boy do it every time he had to go somewhere. Loki had been the opposite however and never allowed anything he owned to be dealt with without him at least there to oversee it. He claimed it was because he had fragile tools and trinkets in his things but Thor just thought he was a little paranoid about his possessions.

Loki chuckled at the face that his elder brother made. “Consider it compensation for pestering me earlier.”

“I was not pestering,” Thor denied.

“You were. It’s one of the things you do best,” Loki replied before pointing to a bag open and half filled on the desk chair. “Think you can put clothes in that without messing it up too badly?”

“Depends… do you want all your clothes or just the most uncomfortable ones?” Thor asked.

Loki rolled his eyes. “Oh come on… you help me I’ll even be nice and help you afterwards. I know you can’t have done any of it yet.” Thor made a face but decided to not agree and prove Loki’s point.

“Fine, but only if you really do help and don’t just sit on my bed and ‘supervise’ like you like to do,” Thor stated firmly. Loki put a hand to his chest and looked remarkably wounded.

“But Thor… I am so good at supervising you,” he said with mock innocence.

“You are good at avoiding work,” Thor replied.

Loki snorted at that and went to his dresser to pull out several clothes that he was going to pack away. “You’re one to talk. I seem to remember not that long ago when you escaped cleaning your room by deciding that you should go to the other side of the city to get Rødgrød, which you could have easily gotten here.”

Thor frowned; it had been a long time since that particular story had been brought up for him. He had gotten into quite a bit of trouble for the misadventure, but it hadn’t exactly stopped him from avoiding chores to go revisit the little old lady and getting some treats. “Lady Solveig makes it better is all…”

“Oh, does she now? I’m sure that Ilmr would be interested to hear that,” Loki said loftily.

Thor snorted. “Ilmr doesn’t scare me.”

“That’s because you don’t know her as well as I,” Loki replied as he handed Thor another set of pants from his chest of drawers. “Why do you think Andhrimnir only has one leg?”

For half minute, Thor almost believed his brother. “Don’t lie! I know he lost it in battle!” Thor said as he carelessly shoved the pants into the bag with the rest of the clothes.

“… battle with his wife,” Loki said solemnly.

Thor paused and thought back to everything he knew about Andhrimnir. Now that he thought about it, nobody ever had spoken of the exact circumstances behind the cook losing his leg. Suddenly he realized he was letting himself be fooled and shot Loki a glare. Loki was smiling far too innocently. “Why do I listen to you?” Thor demanded as he tossed a nearby book at his brother.

Loki dodged easily with a laugh. “You’re so gullible, Thor. And don’t throw my things… throw your own.”

“I don’t have anything of my own here.”

“That’s hardly my fault.”

Thor was about to retort when there was a knock at Loki’s door. “Loki, darling, are you packing in there?” Frigga asked.

“Yes, Mother. And Thor is helping,” Loki said with a wide grin. Thor could hear Frigga laugh on the other side of the door and glowered.

“Well, the feast will be starting soon, so you boys be sure to finish up and come,” Frigga called through the door. Both brothers called their agreement, and Thor tried his best to start hurrying Loki along. A feast was a lot more appealing than packing their things.

Even with Thor trying to hurry things along, by the time both brothers had their things pack and had changed into something more appropriate the feast was already started. Luckily, not yet being full-grown, they didn’t have to change into anything too grand. But Frigga always insisted that they be in something clean and with no holes or stains or anything else that might have happened over the day (a rule made mostly due to Thor himself, he admitted).

In the center of the feast hall, a huge bonfire was burning on the stone floor, and a massive boar was roasting above it. Several other beasts were already cooked and stretched out on golden platters to be cut into. Long tables were filled with food and drink, and all the members of the court were sitting around talking loudly and eating. In either corner by the entrance to the room were musicians playing enthusiastically even though they weren’t being listened to very closely.

Thor and Loki made their way through the room, dodging servants carrying even more platters filled to the brim with meats, potatoes, vegetables (some of which were stuffed or mixed with more meat), thick stews, dark loaves of bread, and tankards of beer. Though the path through the party wasn’t entirely straight, the two brothers managed to get to the high table that the rest of their family was sitting at without too much incident. Odin was seated in the middle of the table in a large high-backed chair that had every inch of its surface carved. He was leaning far to one side with his cup in his hand as he whispered to Tyr. Almost absently, Odin lifted one bit of meat with his free hand up above his head. Huginn (or Muninn, Thor couldn’t tell them apart) leaned down from where he was perched on the back of Odin’s chair to snatch the bit of flesh. The other squawked in protest and flapped so that the King of Asgard lifted another for it in only a moment.

“There you boys are,” Frigga greeted with a smile. She was sitting at Odin’s other side and beside her was Hodr and beside him Baldr. Both twins seemed to be in the middle of a rather heated debate about something. “I was beginning to worry about you,” Frigga added before glancing to Odin. “Odin, dear, don’t feed them at the table!”

“Hmm? Oh, of course, dearest,” Odin replied although Thor knew it was only a matter of time before another bit of meat disappeared into a pair of sharp beaks. Odin had a habit of not eating his own food at feasts due to how distracted he’d be, so he fed his familiars instead.

“Well, you boys better have a seat and eat something before Huginn and Muninn eat it all,” Frigga said with a sigh.

Thor grinned widely and dragged Loki around the long table to their seats on the other side of Tyr. “I don’t know why she bothers trying,” Loki said as he took his seat beside Thor.

“Habit?” Thor suggested as he didn’t even bother sitting before loading his plate with meat and potatoes. And after Frigga’s warning voice, Thor put a few vegetables on his plate as well. Loki snickered a little as Thor finally sat down with his plate heaped with food. “Oh hush, you’ll have to eat them too.”

“I know, I still like seeing you cringe though,” Loki said with his wide grin still in place.

Just then, Thor felt hot breath on his hand. He looked down and saw the panting face of a wolf. Judging by how dark brown the fur of the face was with just a little grey around the base of the nose and along the mouth and the almost eerily light amber eyes, Thor knew it was Geri. He just stared down at the wolf looking up at him. “You’re not getting it,” Thor said abruptly.

Loki chuckled some. “Poor, Geri,” he said as he lowered a hand to rub the frosty grey ears of Freki who was chopping on a piece of something and beating the floor with his tail. Geri, upon seeing this, abandoned Thor’s lap in favor of Loki. Thor sighed and shook his head. Though he wasn’t too surprised, the wolves had always preferred Loki over him. Loki laughed a little at the other wolf now begging him for scraps and gave Geri a piece of roasted boar.

“Loki,” Frigga warned leaning forward to look down at them. “Don’t feed them scraps either.”

“Yes, Mother,” Loki said even as he slipped another bit of meat down beneath the table.

Thor snorted and reached for his tankard. “You are so bad,” he muttered.

“I am perfect,” Loki replied haughtily. “Isn’t that what you’ve been telling me a lot lately?” Thor elbowed his brother in the side. Loki grunted and then kicked Thor under the table.

“Boys,” Frigga said with some exasperation. “No fighting.”

“Yes, Mother,” both Thor and Loki said automatically.

After quite a while, Thor finally pushed his plate to the side having eaten his fill. Loki had, as usual, finished much earlier and was palming off more scraps to Geri and Freki who were so close Thor couldn’t even see Loki’s legs. The eating around the hall wasn’t fully winding down yet, though. Platters of food were still coming out to all the tables although more and more of the servants were carrying trays full of mugs. The musicians were getting more attention now that people were less hungry. Some were even getting up to start dancing although they didn’t all bother going to the space cleared out to one side for that purpose.

Thor was reaching for the fresh tankard that had just been put in front of him by one of the servants when something out of the corner of his eye caught his attention. He paused and nudged Loki. “What’s going on there, do you think?”

Loki looked up from where he was ruffling Geri’s fur to where Thor was nodding. By one of the balconies quite a few ambassadors sons had gathered into a clump. “Don’t know… let’s go see,” Loki said as he got up. Thor got up as well and together they made their way towards the group. Geri and Freki pranced along with them, still looking for attention from Loki.

When they quickly spotted the source of all the commotion. Sif was looking particularly enraged as she stood facing Lorelei. The redhead had a haughty expression on her face and tossed her hair over her shoulder. “Well, it is true after all,” she was saying.

“I will knock your teeth from your skull, Lorelei!” Sif snapped and was just barely stopped from lunging by Dagr who caught her under the arms. “Let me go, Dagr!” she demanded as she struggled.

“Not a chance,” Dagr grunted as he fought to keep hold of his sister.

Lorelei grinned and put her hands on her hips. “Now that’s hardly lady-like, Sif,” she taunted.

“What’s going on here?” Thor asked as he pushed his way forward.

Everything went surprisingly quiet in the group and Lorelei’s grin faded almost instantly. “Why… nothing,” Amora said as she stepped forward from the other side of the group. “Just a slight… disagreement, Thor. That’s all.”

Loki hummed loudly as he looked between Lorelei and Sif. “Slight disagreement about what, exactly?” he asked neutrally.

Lorelei and Amora exchanged a wary glance but before they could come up with something Sif managed to break free of Dagr’s grip. Nobody could quite grab her before she slammed into Lorelei and both hit the ground. There was the sound of a fist hitting flesh and Thor hurried to pull Sif off the now screaming Lorelei. After a slight struggle, Thor managed to get Sif up and pushed away towards Dagr. Amora quickly pulled Lorelei up from the ground. “You dirty little cow!” Lorelei nearly screeched. “How dare you!”

“Calm down, Lorelei!” Loki snapped. “Dagr, hold her!” he added when Sif tried to go after the redhead again. Thor managed to catch her that time and placed himself between the two.

“What is going on over here?”

The sound of Odin’s very unhappy voice had everything stopping. Only when Thor looked over did he realize that the wolves must have gone to get him because they were now standing behind the King of Asgard staring down the kids like they were waiting for one to run. When nobody answered Odin narrowed his eye. “Well? What is going on? Thor? Loki?”

There was another awkward moment. “Sif and Lorelei were having a… disagreement of some sort,” Loki finally answered.

“About?” Odin asked.

“We… hadn’t gotten that far,” Thor admitted.

“Sif? Lorelei? Explain,” Odin ordered.

“She hit me!” Lorelei said pointing to Sif accusingly.

“And why did she do that?”

There was another long silence. “I was just telling the truth,” Lorelei said.

“And what truth is that?” Odin asked, his patience visibly beginning to wear dangerously thin at the lack of information he was getting.

“She said I was a troll pretending to be a girl!” Sif spat.

“It is true! All your talk of fighting and swords! You’re a brute!” Lorelei snapped back.

“Enough!” Odin ordered. “Lorelei, I will mention this to your father next I see him. Sif, you shouldn’t hit those that insult you. We have other methods,” he said. He studied Sif thoughtfully for a moment. “You are Dellingr’s daughter aren’t you?”

Sif nodded a little. “Yes, Allfather…”

“And yet you are not in any Seidr classes…”

“I’m… not very talented with Seidr, Allfather,” Sif muttered.

Odin hummed thoughtfully. “You would rather a sword?” Sif shifted uneasily but then nodded. “It wouldn’t be easy for you. There are no special exceptions, no different classes, for girls.”

“I know that. But you can’t just get better at Seidr if you don’t have much,” Sif pointed out.

The King of Asgard grunted slightly. “Then I’ll tell Tyr to expect you tomorrow. The rest of you get back to the feast. This was supposed to be a celebration,” he said. “Thor, Loki, come along.” With no small amount of surprise, Thor and Loki hurried after their father as he went back to the high table.

“Father, are you really putting Sif in warrior training?” Loki asked.

“Yes, Loki. If she feels that strongly about it that she’s attacking others over insults then I see no reason not to,” Odin said. Though Thor was a little shocked at the turn the night had taken, he wasn’t quite as surprised as Loki was by Sif being put in warrior training. Sif had managed to get into their class before but it hadn’t been Odin that put her there. In Thor’s other life, she’d managed to get Tyr on her side and he’d recommended it. A recommendation from Tyr was one of the few sure fire ways to get Odin to put you in the elite training classes at the palace.

Loki looked over at Thor, who just shrugged. He knew better than to fight the inevitable and that Sif would grow into one of their best warriors. “I guess we’ll find out when we get back,” Thor said.

Loki made a face. “All the more reason to not want to go… this sounds as if it will prove to be amusing…”

Thor shrugged, “I guess we’ll just have to hope we get back before everything exciting ends.”

Chapter Text

Hringhorni was perhaps the biggest ship that Thor had ever been on. In order to travel through the void between realms and space itself, any ship would have to be large, but Hringhorni was even more so. Baldr’s ship was half a mile long from bow to stern and all along the golden hull were intricate carvings of dragons and sea serpents. Hringhorni could carry ten thousand Aesir easily and was one of the fastest ships in the entire fleet of Asgard even if it was rarely near the Golden Realm. Though the ship could get into Asgard’s port, it usually wasn’t brought that close due to the amount of delicate handling that was required to not bash into anything especially smaller ships which weren’t easily seen while on Hringhorni’s decks.

Though the magnificent ship Hringhorni was long, it did not have very many levels, only five, in fact. The lowest of these decks was where all the propulsion came from, and the very first thing that Thor and Loki were told when they boarded was that they were expressly forbidden to enter there. Loki seemed less than pleased when he was given that rule, but didn’t outright argue about it. Perhaps he knew that the rule wasn’t going to be changed even though he didn’t like being told where he couldn’t go.

Getting all the passengers and luggage onto Hringhorni took several trips, and as everything was getting brought aboard, Thor and Loki explored the decks. Within the primary deck of the ship, there was a sunken section. The lower portion of the floor held a huge table straight down the middle and through some skills Thor couldn’t fathom it seemed as if the table was a single piece that had been pulled up from the deck itself. Long benches were equally melded into the floor on either side of the table. Little else was on the primary level but the table and benches, so the brothers headed down below.

The first level down was when the chambers for passengers began. There was a hall circling the deck and one going straight down the center with some of the grandest rooms ever found on a ship placed between. The largest rooms were on the first deck below the primary and below that the rooms became smaller with multiple beds in each. The lower chambers were meant for transporting soldiers or servants.

The next level down had rooms only on the outside ring of the deck and in the middle was a series of public rooms. Thor noted that there was another room with a long table within it. Large golden shields were hanging off the walls between magnificently woven tapestries.

Before the pair could explore further, Baldr came to find them. “Alright, you two. We’re ready to leave. Father wants to speak to you both before we go,” he said gesturing for them to head back up the stairs. “What were you two doing down here anyway? Your rooms are on the first deck.”

“We were just exploring,” Loki said. “We’ve never been on your ship before, brother. It’s huge. What do you even use it for?”

“To show off mostly,” Baldr replied with a smile and a wink. “It was first made for grandfather’s conquests. As wonderful as the Bifrost is, it’s very risky to transport scores of people through it. All the forces arrive in the same place, and if something goes wrong, the whole of our army would be trapped. Not only that but keeping the Bifrost open long enough for a large group of people to use it could very easily cause damage that Grandfather Bor wouldn’t want. So he commissioned Hringhorni. It’s quite impressive to see my ship arrive on a horizon filled with Asgardian warriors. But since we’re at peace with everyone there’s no reason to use it to transport troops.”

“How long does it take to travel this way?” Thor asked. Thor had never actually taken Hringhorni before. In his first life, by the time Odin had allowed his sons to visit Vanaheim they had used Bifrost and not Baldr’s ship.

Baldr hummed in thought. “Well, usually it takes two days for us to navigate Ginnungagap and arrive in Vanaheim,” Baldr said. “But it's hard to travel through nothing at all and not lose your way. Should we stray, it might take longer. Though we don’t usually. My navigator has travelled this path many times.”

On the primary deck, Odin was standing there beside Frigga with his spear in his hand. Whatever the royal couple was discussing, they went silent as their three sons approached. “Father,” Thor greeted. “You wanted to speak with us?”

“Yes,” Odin agreed as he turned fully to face his sons. “I know that you’re worried about this trip, but you shouldn’t be. Vanaheim is a peaceful place, and I’m sure you will both find something to do to entertain yourselves. I hope you will not have to be away from Asgard too long.”

“As do we, Father,” Thor said. “We’ll wait for word that we can come back home.”

Odin reached out and put one hand on both Thor and Loki’s shoulders. “I will come up with a way to stop these raiders soon. Until then, try to enjoy yourselves,” he said with a particularly stern look at Loki who was still looking incredibly unhappy.

“Yes, Father.”

“Listen to you Mother. And your Brothers.”

“Yes, Father,” Thor and Loki answered automatically, barely even registering what they were saying they would do.

Odin grunted. “I’m sure you will. Try not to cause trouble.”

Again, they answered automatically without actually listening to his words, “Yes, Father.”

Odin looked unimpressed, and Frigga tried to hide her smile. “Alright, Odin. It isn’t as if they are going off without anyone to watch them,” she said in amusement. “They will be fine and while we’re gone do try not to miss us too much.”

The King of Asgard grunted. “I’ll enjoy the quiet,” he declared.

“Of course you will,” Frigga agreed neutrally before leaning over and kissing Odin’s cheek. “I will be back in a few months. Hopefully, by then, you’ll have a plan to enact to protect our lands.”

“I’m sure I will,” Odin agreed. “Do be careful, dearest.”

“We will be fine, you Old Bear,” Frigga said. Odin didn’t look terribly thrilled but after a little more prodding from his wife, finally left the deck to return to Asgard’s docks. Once the last of the skiffs that had loaded Hringhorni were fully clear, the massive warship of Baldr began to move.

Loki and Thor moved to the railing of the ship and looked out as the ship slid silently through the endless black of space. At first, Thor was quite disappointed, but as Asgard fell away, he realized something odd was happening before his eyes. The stars seemed to dance and swirl and, as Hringhorni sped up, streams of starlight shimmering in a rainbow of colors, not unlike Bifrost, flowed out from beneath the ship’s hull. The stars continued to swirl, and massive galaxies entirely unfamiliar to Thor slipped past as if they were clouds.

Tangled nets of stardust and light in every conceivable color in fantastically elaborate shapes seemed to morph as they sailed past. Loki leaned further out and stared wide-eyed at the galaxies that neither prince had ever imagined before. “Amazing…” Loki breathed. “Have you ever imagined?”

Thor shook his head. “No. Never.” Thor doubted that he could ever have imagined such an amazing sight. As he continued to stare, a massive comet blazed past a yellow nebula that looked like mountains and was radiating green streaks of stardust. The bright stars shone like hundred colored gems around the nebula.

The two princes continued to stare in awe until they reached a massive hole in space. Stars, light, dust and other particles swirled into the hole, which was glowing a blinding white. A radiant pillar was exuding from the middle of the hole like a spear going through an orb. “What is that?” Thor asked, inexplicably uneasy at the sight of the swirling shape.

Hringhorni was heading dead for the white hole in space. “I’m not sure,” Loki said with a frown.

“That is how we will leave the realm of Asgard and enter Ginnungagap,” Baldr supplied. “From the void, we can then find a large enough portal for Hringhorni to go through so that we can reach Vanaheim.”

“We are going into the Void?” Thor asked, more than a little alarmed.

“Going through it,” Baldr said. “But that is the same thing that the Bifrost does. Only the Bifrost does it faster than even Hringhorni can. I’m afraid that there isn’t much to see in the void, but there is little else for it. Part of the reason there aren’t many windows.”

Loki shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “Is it entirely safe to take Hringhorni into that? I mean… it’s moving very fast…”

“We go through it all the time,” Baldr assured him. “But… we should go down below. The entrance and exit are always a bit rough. We’ll want to be inside for it.” He put a hand on both of his brothers’ shoulders and guided them down below.

“I didn’t think we were going to be going through the void,” Thor said. He didn’t know what he had been expecting but not the void. He didn’t really want to see what the void was like. Passing through it in a blaze of rainbow light was one thing… sailing through it for two days was a very different prospect.

“Don’t worry. It’s perfectly safe. There are dozens of entrances and exits to the void that we know of. It’s rather impossible to be stuck there forever if you have some form of propulsion,” Baldr explained.

Thor hummed and somehow, through pure will, kept his eyes on the ground instead of glancing over at Loki. Baldr took them to the rooms that their things had been put in. “You two should stay in here until dinner. Things are going to get a bit hectic around here until we manage to get situated in the void.”

The two cabins were larger than Thor had been expecting. The bed in his room wasn’t as big as the one he had in the palace but considering they were on a ship it was impressively sized indeed. An entire corner of the room was dedicated to a wash area that was hidden behind a partition wall. There was a window in the cabin, but a heavy curtain made of thick tapestry fabric was pulled over it. Against one wall was a large bookcase and a pair of armchairs. The wall where the door was also kept a huge dresser that Thor couldn’t imagine actually needing to use. What trip would take so much time it would warrant unpacking their luggage into a dresser? You would just have to pack it all up again and to Thor that was not worth such effort. He’d have to be stuck on the ship for months to warrant the need for a dresser.

A door that Thor hadn’t noticed at first opened and Loki poked his head in. “Ah, it’s a joined room.”

“Joined?” Thor echoed as he walked over. “That seems odd.”

Loki shrugged. “Perhaps at one time this was all one suite, and they broke it into two bedrooms,” he suggested. “Either way. It’s handy. I did want to talk to you.”

“About what?”

Loki came entirely into Thor’s room. “I wanted to apologize.”

Thor blinked several times in confusion. “Apologize for what, brother?”

“For dragging you along with me. I know you’d probably be more happy back in Asgard, and Mother and Father are making you come with me,” Loki said as he leaned back against the bookcase with faux nonchalance.

“I’m not being dragged along anywhere,” Thor denied. “I might not have picked Vanaheim myself, but there are worse places… besides, I’d rather be with you no matter where we are.”

Loki’s head tilted to the side. “You know… a few years ago I could have sworn you were beginning to forget all about me. You kept going off with Fandral and the others and half the time you never even bothered to ask if I wanted to go too… I’m glad I was wrong.”

Thor couldn’t quite find it in him to not look ashamed. “I… I might have been a bit… but when I realized you weren’t there I missed you,” he said. “It won’t happen again, Loki,” he added with fierce certainty.

There was a long silence between the brothers that neither made any real effort to fill. Loki seemed to be thinking, and Thor wasn’t sure what else to say. He felt awkward and didn’t want to somehow stick his giant foot in his even larger mouth like he was prone to doing. There was a reason he’d always allowed Loki to do most of the talking whenever they were in trouble. Loki always knew what to say. Thor wished he had such a gift.

A sudden knock on the door had both Odinsons looking over. “Thor, midday meal will be served shortly. Come along,” their mother called.

“Yes, Mother!”

The room that Thor and Loki had discovered when they first boarded turned out to be a private dining chamber. The crew ate on top at the massive sunken table. The food wasn’t exactly like what Thor would have expected. He had been prepared for less elaborate dishes and smaller portions, but that didn’t seem to be the case. The Thunderer wasn’t sure if the meal the sailors were getting was the same, but the one he and his family was served was every bit as fine as what he’d expect in the palace. Perhaps with a bit more emphasis on pickled and dried foods but still with a wide variety of fresh dishes as well.

After their meal, Thor and Loki went back to their exploring. Well, as much as they could with the engine deck magically sealed by their mother. She didn’t seem to trust them to not wander into it. Loki made a show of looking very hurt by the realization, but Thor didn’t take him seriously.

Unfortunately for Loki, who always loved getting into things he shouldn’t, there wasn’t much of any interest to explore on the ship. Mostly it was arranged to carry things. Either people or supplies. Thor remembered from his first life a news story about a ‘cruise ship’ having beached itself somewhere. He’d been baffled and asked his friends about it. He still wasn’t sure he understood the concept of paying lots of money to sail in a ship that was so laden down with things it didn’t really need just so that one could ‘relax.' He’d never needed pools or ‘casinos’ to enjoy himself or relax.

Still, exploring every corner of the ship’s many store rooms kept them occupied for the majority of the day. Once they’d sufficiently gone through everything to explore, Thor could see that Loki was getting bored. A bored Loki was never a good thing. He tried to intervene but somehow found himself going along with Loki to play a joke on Baldr. Thor truly hoped that in the morning they wouldn’t be thrown overboard when their brother discovered that all of his soaps gave his body a truly annoying sparkle.

Thor supposed there was no point in worry about it then, however, and tried just pretend as if he knew nothing about it. He also made a mental note to check his own soaps on his foot or somewhere first before daring to use them. Thor didn’t put it past Loki to have tampered with more than just Baldr’s bathing supplies. Thor pulled his covers up higher over his side and closed his eyes, only vaguely registering the fact that there was still light coming out from under Loki’s door.

The air was freezing cold; so much so that Thor could see his own breath. The fact that there was no light and so Thor shouldn't be able to see anything at all didn't occur to the Thunder God. He shivered causing little flecks of ice to break away from his skin. He stared in a strange fascination as the bits of frost slowly floated away into the lightless space. The specks of white moved as if caught in gooey black tree sap. Thor looked around him, but, aside from the ice off of his own body, he could not see anything. He wasn't even sure what he was standing on now that he thought about it. There was no pressure under his feet as if he was on something solid and yet he didn't feel as if he were floating either.

Some of the frost pirouetting through space stopped dead and drew Thor's eye. As he watched, all the rest of the frozen flakes were drawn towards the same area and stopped near each other. More ice than Thor had thought had been floating around him began to cluster before his eyes. Speckled spots of frost grew into larger blotches of sparkling white.

Suddenly, Thor realized shapes were forming from where the ice was clustering. No sooner had he figured that than the last of the frost collided with the shape and Thor was staring at his brother's pale face. "Loki..."

Loki stared silently, and Thor felt uneasy at the anger and hate in his brother's green eyes. This wasn't his Loki. This was the other Loki. The one that was full of hate and bitterness. "Why look so surprised, Thor? Did you think yourself rid of me?" Loki's impassive face twisted into an ugly sneer. "It will take more than dropping me into a void to end me, Thor!"

"I did not drop you," Thor denied. "You let go."

Loki's mouth curved into a wicked smile that seemed to curl his whole face unnaturally. Thor saw streaks of red along his teeth, and slowly blood began to drip down Loki's mouth and chin. "Did I now? How can you be so sure when we both know Odin is not above using his magic to erase his problems?"

"Because I was there, Loki," Thor said as his fist clenched around nothing. "You didn't want to be saved... you've never wanted to be saved. No matter how I tried. And I did try. I did everything I could think of to save you..."

"And yet here you are... doing it all over again," Loki said in a mockingly sweet tone. "Just how much punishment do you want from me, Thor? I can dish out a plenty... just ask. It will save us so much time. Just tell me which of your friends you want me to kill in front of you this time. The righteous Captain perhaps? Oh no... the redheaded little quim. I am still rather annoyed at her..."

Thor's teeth ground together as he tried to suppress his rage. "You can't hurt them, Loki. They are mortals and have not been born yet," Thor pointed out although it was partially to remind himself of that. The threat to Lady Natasha and Rogers-son triggered every protective instinct that Thor had. His friends were dear to him. More so because they were so fragile and mortal.

Loki's smile somehow, impossibly, grew even more. "But they will be," he said, as his eyes started to sink into his face. "And when they are, I will rip them limb from limb and feed them to my sons. Fenrir is always so hungry... I swear he could eat the whole sky..."

A shiver went down Thor's spine but somehow managed to remain mostly stony faced. "You will not hurt my friends, Loki. This time your insanity will not take root. I swear it," he said firmly.

Loki's pale face started to turn translucent, and Thor could see the thick blue veins under his skin. Blood still dripped, and the Trickster's face almost began to sag as if hanging off his bones. "You seek the impossible, Thor," Loki said before pulling a section of darkness against him. Thor watched in fixated horror as Loki's bony white fingers dug into the void as if it were solid.

Blood from Loki's face dropped and landed on something solid. Color slowly seeped out from that drop. Another droplet hit near the first and began to trail down a pale, smooth curve. Thor's eyes widened as the image of a much younger Loki suddenly made sense to him. The other Loki was gripping the younger version of himself to him tightly as the blood curled along young Loki's cheek. His young green eyes were wide, and pleading as another drop of blood hit his face from his elder self. "... Thor."

The Thunderer felt his skin break under his nails he was clenching his fist so tightly. "Let him go, Loki!"

The older Loki's bloody smile didn't even falter slightly. "I can't let him go... no more than you can let him go. Face the truth, Thor. We are the same. No matter what you do... I am the future. My children and I will destroy your precious Midgard and Asgard. And all the Nine. Nothing but ash will be left in our wake."

"That's not true!"

"It is. You are just blinded by your misguided optimism... You cannot keep me from existing, Thor. I already do."

The darkness began to thicken and pull as if they were suddenly sinking into a lake of pitch. The two Loki's didn't seem to be affected even as Thor struggled to not be dragged away. As the two versions of his brother grew further away, Thor struggled even more. "Loki!"

Thor woke with a gasp he very nearly choked on. After a minute where he tried to calm his breathing, he became aware that someone was sitting on the side of his bed. "Are you still going to try and tell me it's nothing?" Loki asked softly.

"Loki..."

"You kept screaming for me..." Loki said, his green eyes shining in the dim light coming through the mostly closed door that led to Loki's room. Thor hated how worried Loki seemed to be. "Please, Thor... just tell me what these dreams about me are at least."

Thor pushed himself more upright and pushed his sweat damp hair from his face. "It's just I know that it isn't real... and I don't want to upset you over things that aren't real."

Loki tilted his head to the side. "Thor... what is upsetting me is how you won't tell me what keeps making you scream for me in your sleep," he said as he shifted and laid down beside Thor. Thor was too tired to protest being pulled back down or how Loki made himself comfortable over at least half the bed. "Tell me, Thor."

"You can't get upset..." Thor warned, looking over.

Loki smiled. "I promise I won't get upset, Thor," he said before adjusting his head so that his chin was resting on Thor's shoulder. "So, spit it out."

Thor sighed but couldn't quite help the smile, which unfortunately faded once he thought of the disturbing dream he had just woken from. "... you hate me."

"I hate you?" Loki echoed, looking confused.

Thor nodded. "Yes, you hate me and are yelling at me for things that I did."

"... like what things?"

"I'm not sure," Thor murmured. Well, that wasn't true, but he couldn't tell Loki the truth. If he told Loki the truth, then Thor was sure that all his work would be undone. "It doesn't really make sense, but I know that you're blaming me for something terrible that happened, and now you hate me. You got all bloody... like a corpse, and then I'm being pulled away, and that's when I woke up..."

Loki was silent for several minutes. "You know I don't though, right?" he ventured.

Thor nodded. "Yes, I know. And even if you did hate me I don't think you'd tell me like that," he said, trying hard to lighten the mood.

"No, probably not," Loki agreed with a half smile. "But I don't, you know. I love you more than anything."

"I thought I annoyed you," Thor replied, mostly teasing.

"Well, you do that too," Loki said. "But I suppose I can overlook that for a while."

There were a few minutes of silence between them. "... I'm sorry," Thor said, unable to hold back from the urge to say it any longer.

"Thor, you haven't done anything to be sorry for," Loki pointed out.

"I still feel like I should say it," Thor replied. "You were so angry, Loki... If I ever upset you like that... know I would never do so intentionally."

Loki tilted his head to the side again. "Thor... you're worrying over nothing. I can't imagine being that angry at you. You're my brother." Thor grabbed Loki in a tight hug, ignoring the slight squawk of protest from the young trickster. "Thor! Don't squeeze me to death!"

Thor loosened his grip a little but kept his arms wrapped around Loki's middle. "Sorry."

Loki sighed. "Stop apologizing, Thor," he said. Thor buried his face in Loki's shirt to keep himself from saying sorry yet again. Especially since he was apologizing for something that hadn't even technically happened. Thor abruptly stopped when he realized Loki wasn't currently male.

Thor pulled back sharply. "Sorry."

"I told you to stop that," Loki said, looking annoyed and blushing faintly. "We're both clothed. Just try and get back to sleep."

Another apology almost left Thor's mouth before he caught himself. Bringing more attention to Loki's body wasn't going to help anything. Loki was doing better than Thor would have thought. Certainly doing much better than how Thor would be if their positions were reversed. So, Thor forced himself to swallow his protests and just settled in bed. "... does this happen every night?"

Loki didn't seem to want to answer, but after several minutes he sighed, "No. But most of them..." Loki stared up at the ceiling of Thor's cabin. "Mother says I probably go back and forth all night long... I'm glad I'm asleep for most of it... Although sometimes it gives me weird dreams."

"What kind of weird dreams?"

Loki shook his head. "They don't make any sense. I keep seeing these children that... aren't children. I don't know how to explain it. I don't even know how I know that they are children." Thor bit his tongue and fought the urge to panic. Just because Loki was dreaming about 'children that aren't children' didn't mean anything. Besides, Thor wasn't going to give Loki or his children reason to hate Asgard this time. "Makes about as much sense as you having dreams about me being upset with you," he added with a slight grin.

"I guess we should try and get some sleep," Thor said as he shifted to give Loki more room. Loki took the space instantly like the bed hog he was. "Greedy," he muttered.

"If you want something, take it," Loki answered as he closed his eyes.

Thor let his own eyes close and tried to make himself relax. He was still exhausted, and that wouldn't be changing if he didn't get any sleep. Loki shifted closer and curled up against his brother. The silence and dark of the room slowly began to help Thor relax back towards sleep. He was only half awake when Loki murmured something else. "Mm?" Thor asked, not having caught whatever it was.

"It's too quiet here..." Loki murmured slightly louder than before. "I don't like it. It shouldn't ever be this quiet. It's not natural."

"It's night... it's always quiet at night," Thor answered.

Loki shook his head. "Not like this, Thor. There's no noise at all outside. Usually, you can hear insects or bats, or sounds from the city, or even owls and other night animals. There's nothing like that here. It's just... nothing." Loki sounded profoundly disturbed. "I don't think I could stand this for many nights. I'm glad we will only spend one in this place."

"I suppose you're right," Thor muttered. "I never really thought about it, but there is a lot more noise in Asgard." Now that Loki had mentioned the unnatural silence around them, Thor found it much harder to relax. He was right that it was eerie and disturbing for there to be so little noise. "Great, now I'm not going to be able to sleep."

"Sorry, brother," Loki said with a small chuckle.

"Yeah, you sound it," Thor grumbled.

"Think of it this way... now you can stay up with me. Your favorite pass time."

Thor grumbled some more. "So you were already awake when I was having my nightmare?" he asked.

"Partially," Loki answered. "I was trying to fall asleep again by reciting runes..."

"Yeah, that'll put you to sleep."

Loki snorted in amusement. "Well, I figured that if it worked so well for you, it was worth a shot."

"You are so cruel to your big brother."

"My sincerest apologies."

"I'm sure."

Despite what Loki said, the Princes of Asgard did eventually get to sleep and slept long into the next day. Not even when their door was knocked on by an irate and sparkling Baldr did they wake up. But they could not sleep forever, no matter how tired they were. Eventually, their stomachs got them up around midday.

When they finally got changed and made their way to the dining room, the only one there was Hodr drinking from a mug. “There you two are… Baldr has been complaining all day. What did you do to him? He wouldn’t say…”

“I enchanted his soap,” Loki said as he and Thor sat down at the table still laden with food. “… It’ll make him sparkle for a day then it’ll wear off. Really it’s nothing that terrible.”

Hodr chuckled into his tankard. “And he has volunteered to put up with you in his home while you’re in Vanaheim… I think he forgot your pension for practical jokes…”

“It’s harmless,” Loki replied. “And there’s nothing to do on this ship… what else do you expect me to do?”

“I suppose it would be too much to ask you to just stay in your room and keep yourself entertained,” Hodr mused.

Loki gave his older brother a sour look, which was utterly wasted on the blind God. “None of the books in my room are interesting,” he said. “And my books are all packed away somewhere.”

“Ah, well, we won’t be on the ship too much longer,” Hodr said. “We should be arriving in Vanaheim just after dinner.”

Thor put down the piece of bread he’d been devouring. “I thought it would be later than that.”

Hodr smiled and waved a hand to the side. “Baldr is proud of this ship for good reason,” he said. “Plus he is eager to get home to Nanna. You will get sick of him fawning over her soon enough, I promise you that.”

“What is Sister Nanna like?” Loki asked curiously.

“Oh, beautiful I imagine… most people say so. And very nice,” Hodr answered. “She’s always been very polite to everyone that I know of and rather quiet. I think you’ll like her. Although she’s spending most of her time looking after Forseti right now so we might not see too much of her.”

Thor hummed in thought while chewing on a piece of dried meat. “How old is Forseti?”

“Hmm… Sixty-four, I believe?” Hodr said thoughtfully. “That sounds about right anyway.”

“So… we can play with him then?”

“He’s not a toy, Thor,” Loki said. “He’s our nephew… don’t break him.”

“I’m not going to break him! I’ll be very careful,” Thor said indignantly. He was capable of being gentle. He had many mortal friends in his other life, and he hadn’t ever hurt them!

“I’m sure you will, Thor,” Hodr said before Loki could shoot back what was undoubtedly something clever and a little scathing. “But seeing how it will be quite late when we arrive in Vanaheim, I doubt you will see Forseti right away. He will probably be asleep.”

“But we will see him tomorrow,” Thor pointed out.

Hodr smiled. “Yes, I imagine you will. Nanna will probably appreciate you distracting him for a few hours. He’s quite the rambunctious child. I’m sure you and he will get along quite well, Thor.”

There were a few minutes of quiet as the younger Princes focused on eating. Loki, always a quick eater, finished his plate first and turned back to Hodr. “Hodr… Do Freyr and Gerd live near Baldr?” he asked quietly.

“Hmm, Freyr and Gerd? Not really. Baldr and Nanna are outside of the city while Freyr and Gerd are on the other side, at their own estate. Why do you ask?” Hodr asked as he turned more fully and put his now empty tankard down on the table in front of him.

Loki shrugged and turned back to his empty plate. “Just curious, is all…” Hodr hummed thoughtfully but decided to not voice any of what he was thinking about. He could guess why Loki would be wondering about Freyr and Gerd but didn’t think that Loki would appreciate it being said aloud.

Thor glanced between his brothers with a bit of confusion even as he continued to eat his way through the massive pile on his plate. He was fairly sure he’d missed something. Perhaps it was because of how often such a thing happened, but Thor was usually pretty good at telling when he had missed something even if he didn’t know what that something was. “Freyr and Gerd?” He echoed.

“What about them?” As far as Thor could remember he’d never met Gerd. He’d met Freyr lots of times, of course, but not his beautiful wife. Thor’d only heard about her. He’d heard lots actually since Freyr always talked about her.

“I suppose they visit Baldr and Nanna often enough that I should at least tell you,” Hodr mused mostly to himself. “Gerd is a Jotunn, Thor.”

“A Jotunn?” Thor echoed, a bit sharper and louder than he’d intended.

Loki winced visibly, but Thor just couldn’t help his reaction. He never would have imagined the wife that Freyr called the most lovely thing to ever inhabit the nine realms to be a Jotunn. The young Thunderer couldn’t imagine a lovely Frost Giant no matter how hard he tried. They just were not a beautiful species to him, although he was trying his utmost to not see them as monsters any longer.

“Yes, Thor,” Hodr said calmly. “Though Gerd will sometimes disguise themselves to avoid staring they much prefer to not do so.”

“I… I just, didn’t expect you to say that…” Thor said as he wiped his mouth off with the back of his hand. “I promise if I see them I won’t say anything stupid or be upset,” Thor added quickly. Well, he would do his absolute best to not anyway.

“Good, Freyr doesn’t take kindly to his partner being slighted for being a Jotunn and the last thing we need is Freyr upset with the house of Odin,” Hodr said.

Thor nodded in agreement and noticed that Loki had gone incredibly silent. He gave the quiet Trickster a little nudge and was pleased when he got an annoyed glare back. “What should we do until landfall, Loki?” He asked to keep his brother’s mind off of Jotnar or whatever else had gotten him looking so sullen.

“Well, I don’t know… if we do anything else to Baldr he might really kill us,” Loki mused. “Tafl?”

“I’m sick of tafl,” Thor admitted. “Isn’t there anything else?”

“Well, if you two would like something to do…” Hodr began. Both young Princes looked over instantly. “I might have a thought or two.”

“Like what?”

Hodr got up from his seat and dropped the napkin he’d had in his lap on top of the table. “Follow me, and I’ll show you.” Now insanely curious, Thor and Loki scrambled to get up and follow after their blind brother.

They travelled back up to the first deck where the grand bedrooms were, and Hodr led them down the hall to where Frigga was staying. Thor and Loki exchanged a few suspicious looks. Usually, they had done something very wrong if they were being led to their mother, which probably shouldn’t be the case, but it was. Frigga opened the door only a moment or two after Hodr’s knock and gave them a bright smile. “Oh, there you two are. Finally woke up? Have you boys eaten?”

“Yes, Mother,” they answered automatically.

“It seems that Loki and Thor are bored,” Hodr said. “And I think it best if no more of our family is sparkling like a pixie than already are.”

Frigga laughed merrily at that. “Yes, that is probably best. Well, come in then. I have just the thing that they can help me with.”

“You do?” Thor asked.

“Oh, yes. The perfect thing for bored little boys looking to get into trouble,” Frigga replied. Thor wasn’t sure he liked the sound of that.

Twenty minutes later, when he was stuck in a chair with so much yarn and thread tangled around him he wasn’t sure he would ever get out, Thor was certain he didn’t like the sound of it. Of course, he wasn’t the only one ‘helping’ Loki was similarly caught in all of their mother’s weaving supplies. Loki had the added difficulty of having several bolts of fabric cradled in his arms while his hands held dark black threads between them.

“That’s right, darlings, don’t move,” Frigga said as she swept around them and rolled the balls of yarn back together. “Honestly, I knew that entry into the void was violent, but I never thought it would topple my chests over.”

“Unfortunate,” Loki grumbled to which Thor nodded in agreement.

“How many more chests of weaving supplies do you have, Mother?” Thor asked as he gratefully let Frigga take one of the many lengths of yarn he was holding from him. That only left him with about thirty others now to get rid of.

“Only a couple, dear,” Frigga replied as she tucked the bright red yarn into one chest and came back over to her captive sons. “You two are being very helpful.”

The door opened, and Baldr came in. Thor suppressed the smile of seeing his brother literally sparkling. “Hello, mother. I heard you had a few helpers and had to come see for myself.” Thor’s smile fell at that, and he glared at Baldr darkly. Maybe it wasn’t so bad to sparkle like you’d gotten hit in the face by a fairy after all. At least Baldr could move around.

“Yes, they were bored, and Hodr thought they might like to help me,” Frigga said as she took a light yellow mass of yarn from Loki this time.

“Ah, of course,” Baldr said with a huge smile.

Frigga glanced over at the smug looking Baldr. “Darling, do tell your navigator to be more careful next time. It might be something more delicate than threads and fabrics that fall.”

“There’s only so much we can do, Mother,” Baldr said. “But I will let him know.”

Baldr stayed and made many sly comments until Frigga suggested that he might like to help her as well. He quickly found something else to do and left his younger brothers’ to their yarn drenched fates. Judging from the dark look on Loki’s face, Thor was willing to bet revenge was already being plotted in his clever brother’s mind. Probably for both Hodr and Baldr this time. Thor wondered what it was going to be and rather hoped it was something worse than just being made to sparkle. Being a living post for their mother was not the most entertaining things that Thor had ever done. Not by a long shot. He’d much rather they’d have played tafl now.

Chapter Text

When the ship finally arrived outside of Vanaheim's port, the sun was set, and the moon had risen high in the sky. Vanaheim's moon seemed larger than that of Asgard (or perhaps it was just closer) and was currently just beginning to wane. Across the night sky, there was a long streak of stars and bits of pink cosmic dust making it almost seem as if the sun hadn't set after all. The harbor of Vanaheim was an elongated crescent shape that had many lamp posts glowing in various shades of pink, purple, red, and yellow. Though Thor couldn't see details from on the deck of Hringhorni, he knew that right in the middle of the docks was where the Bifrost landed. The runes had been engraved into the grey paving stones from continued impacts over the centuries.

Beyond the harbor, the capital city of Vanaheim spread out and up. Thor didn't think he'd ever seen a building in Vanaheim that wasn't at least three stories tall. The tiered buildings almost all had green roofs although a few here and there were grey or brown colors. The city, like the buildings, was tiered upwards with the palace on the highest level. Thor could see the many-storied building clearly from any part of the capital. The palace had a more elaborate roof than most with sculptures of winged horses at the peaks and more sunset colored lanterns hanging from the eaves. At night, like it was currently, the palace glowed softly like its own version of the sun.

Vanaheim had more than a few canals and rivers cutting through the lowest level of the city, which often times came right up to the sides of the houses. Due to a long rainy season and how they were positioned in a valley, Vanaheim could be a very wet place. The canals were meant to ensure the waters were kept under control although sometimes floods were inevitable. When building the city the streets had been carefully graded to direct water into trough-like gutters, but even that wasn't enough to prevent their walkways from sometimes getting flooded in heavy rain. Side streets had the channels placed in the center to help separate the traffic, but the largest ones, including the main thoroughfare, had the gutters put on the outside with small bridges stretching across them for people to walk over. These channels dumped rainwater into canals and rivers so that the streets would hopefully keep from getting swamped. Thor had tripped many times while drunk over the center channels in the smaller streets, much to his chagrin, and so tended to stick to the main roads whenever possible, where it was less likely to happen.

After perhaps an hour of boat trips back and forth from Hringhorni, the royal family of Asgard had reached the docks and was standing right where the engraved circle of the Bifrost was. Loki, despite trying his best to still be unhappy, was looking around with an expression that Thor recognized as the one when Loki had a million questions to ask. They were not standing there waiting for very long when a group of Vanaheim warriors in their golden yellow cloaks came towards them. At the front was an elderly God with his stark white hair braided back and a circlet of silver and sapphires resting on his brow. Frigga smiled widely and stepped forward with her arms open. "Father!"

"Frigga, my dear, it is so good to see you," Fjorgynn, King of Vanaheim, greeted with a broad smile. After Frigga and her Father embraced, the elderly King turned kind grey eyes to where Thor and Loki were standing somewhat awkwardly. The youngest sons of Odin rarely interacted with their Grandfather, as he disliked travel immensely and they weren't generally allowed to travel due to their age. "Ah, and my other grandsons... last I saw you two, you were barely walking," he said with a chuckle.

"Hello, Grandfather," Loki muttered as Thor shifted and gave his own greeting. Baldr was much more jovial in his greeting and gave the King a hearty embrace. Hodr stayed back, but then he wasn't one for hugs or any large displays of affection like his twin.

"Ah, Baldr, Nanna would have come down as well, but Forseti had a nightmare and was refusing to go back to sleep," Fjorgynn told him.

"I had better go to her, then. I'm sure that I can help," Baldr said before leaning over and kissing Frigga on the cheek. "I will see you in the morning, Mother."

Frigga smiled. "Of course, dear." And with that, Baldr hurried away towards the palace. "How have you been, Father?" Frigga asked.

"Oh, well enough," he replied. "Somewhat lonely. The Palace seems even larger when I'm not visited for so long. I'm glad that Nanna and Forseti have been here with me for almost a month waiting for Baldr to return. It's been a lovely change of pace."

"I'm sure they were glad to keep you company," Frigga said hooking her arm around one of Fjorgynn's. "I do wish I could visit more often, but it's so hard to get away."

Fjorgynn patted Frigga's hand. "I know how it is, dear. You forget... I've been doing this for a while myself," he said. "Although now, Freyr takes over most of the work. He'll make a good king... hopefully soon. I'd like to retire."

Frigga laughed as they started walking. "You will have to convince Gerd to come to the capital first, and you know how that conversation will likely go." Thor and Loki exchanged a glance but were ushered along by Hodr behind them. “Besides, he cannot be the ruler of two realms. That would be far too much work even for Freyr.”

Vanaheim's King sighed heavily and nodded. "Yes, I know, but one can dream." Frigga laughed again as they walked. The handful of soldiers flanked them as they made their way back through the city streets towards the palace. “Perhaps if Baldr would stop offending my council he could take Freyr’s place,” Fjorgynn said.

“You may have to wait a while for that, Grandfather,” Hodr said.

“You could do it too, you know,” Fjorgynn pointed out a little sourly.

Hodr shrugged. “I would make a poor King.”

Thor paid little attention to the conversation as it started wandering to statecraft. Apparently, something very complicated with the Dwarves of Svartalfheim was going on. Although, Thor had to admit absently that he had no idea that any Dwarves still lived on Svartalfheim. He had been all but certain both the Dwarves and the Dark Elves that lived there had been wiped out entirely. He noticed Loki studying the buildings they were walking past intently and wondered what exactly had caught his attention. "What is it?" Thor asked quietly.

"The walls..." Loki answered without looking away.

Thor blinked several times and looked closer. When they passed by a lantern, Thor realized their own images were being reflected off the wall. "They're windows," Thor said. Vanaheim liked windows, and they had developed a unique glass that turned a milky cream color for privacy at a touch. These windows were massive, in as many places as the Vanaheim people could conceivably put them, often times taking up entire walls, and most were currently set to opaque.

"I wonder how they are made," Loki mused as he continued to study the ones he walked past. A breeze made chimes somewhere jingle, and Thor looked around for the source. He didn't spot the wind chime, but he did notice a large tree in a planter nearby that had been decorated with hundreds of colorful ribbons tied to branches and even wrapped around the trunk. Thor wasn't exactly used to seeing such a sight, but he found it rather charming in a way.

After another few minutes of walking, Thor realized something that hadn't actually registered to him during his first life. There were many more trees and planters in Vanaheim city than there were in Asgard. They framed walkways and canals, and large trees created a barrier between the different levels of the city. Most planters displayed their famous Sky Lilies, but some had other sorts of native foliage including a smaller tree that flowered a soft peach color all season long and lush green bushes that were lightly veined with yellow. That wasn't to say Asgard didn't have courtyards and small gardens sprinkled throughout and even vines that got out of control on peoples houses, but the plant life wasn't nearly as prominent as it was here in Vanaheim.

Vanaheim appreciated more foliage around them than Asgard seemed to. Or perhaps it was just that their plant life looked more… colorful than the plants in the golden realm. Thor supposed that must be it.

There were three tiers to the capital city of Vanaheim with a set of stairs between them that Thor thought had to be nearing two hundred steps each. His calves were burning with the effort by the time they finally reached the top of the second set of stairs and came to the front of the palace. He thought that there were a lot of stairs in Asgard. They hadn’t even reached the Vanaheim Palace yet.

The courtyard outside of the palace was very carefully manicured with several large statues on either side of the wide paved walk. The statues, which were of lions, each held some sort of glowing ball beneath their paws that lit up the path but also made them look very ominous with harsh shadows. Thor heard wind chimes again and again couldn’t seem to figure out where the noise was actually coming from. He was confident he didn't imagine the sound and yet he couldn’t spot a wind chime to save his life.

Fjorgynn lead them into the central hall of the palace, which was filled with carved columns and more of the lanterns that were outside. The room was not as tall as say the rooms of Asgard but it did not feel any less spacious, partially because of the many windows that were scattered about. The walls didn’t seem all that sturdy either. Thor thought he might be able to rip through the walls with a sneeze they were so thin looking, but he figured that there must be something else to them he didn’t know about because otherwise a palace wouldn’t be built from them. Well, at least he didn’t think that his great-grandfather or whoever built the castle would have made it out of something flimsy. Where would be the sense in that?

Suddenly, Thor had a flash of himself trying to fly a ship out of his father’s throne room and stifled a snort of laughter. Loki looked over at him in confusion. “What’s so funny?”

Thor shook his head, “Just… Nothing really.”

Loki raised an eyebrow at that. “You get more and more strange every day. I think you might be the one adopted after all…” he muttered.

“And people call you the clever one,” he said sarcastically.

“I am the clever one,” Loki said even as several servants came to gather up their things and take them wherever it was they would be staying for the next few nights.

Frigga had already informed them that, since they so rarely got to see her father, they would be staying at the palace for a month before they would continue to Baldr and Nanna’s home outside the city. Then Frigga would visit for another month before returning home. The fact that the Allmother was able to get two months away from Asgard was impressive, but trying to get any more than that would most likely never happen. Though much of the governing of Asgard fell on the shoulders of Odin Allfather, Frigga took care of most domestic issues and couldn’t be away for too long either.

“Boys, it is late. Go with your things and get ready for bed,” Frigga said. “You got up very late today. I don’t want to hear you’ve been up until all hours tonight as well.”

Loki made a face but wasn’t about to argue outright with their mother. Thor didn’t feel remotely tired either but let himself be led out of the main chamber while Frigga began talking with their grandfather about something or another. He was certain he heard his mother mention something about a shipment of Pegasus from Olympus, which since only the Valkyrie used them, Thor found only mildly interesting. He’d never even been allowed to see the stables that the Valkyrie used for their winged mounts.

One of the servants paused to wait for them. He was a light elf as evident by his lightly golden hued skin and long pale hair held back in an intricate braid to expose his long ears. The servant led Thor and Loki through several long hallways that seemed to have no doors whatsoever. As they walked, Thor took note of the directions that the servant was giving to places such as the dining room and their mother’s room. No matter how Thor paid attention to the walls they walked past, he could not for the life of him see any doors; though, he knew they had to be passing some. Therefore it was a little confusing when the servant showing them the way paused at one spot and found a handle that had been sunken into the door to be flush. Only a few indents where one put their hand showed where the handle even was, making it very easy to miss. The door to the left was Loki’s room apparently, and Thor was just across the hall.

Thor had to admit that his room in his Grandfather's palace was impressive. The room was large, and the windows were currently turned to their opaque eggshell color. A section of the floor in the corner of the chamber was raised up by one step and upon this raised area sat a large low bed. The bed was a large circle and had a dark wooden ledge all around it that blended seamlessly into a decoratively carved headboard. Gauzy curtains hung around the bed but were currently pulled back against the wall on either side of the headboard where they were held in the crook of the tail of angry looking lion sculptures. Many tapestries and walls scrolls with thick, elaborate, borders that must have taken ages to create hung on all the walls. Thor could see that there was a second room on the same side that the bed was on, though it was hidden behind a heavily painted screen that would have been mistaken for the wall itself had the door not been slid back.

Thor glanced into the second room to see it was a bathing chamber with a large stone tub that had a spout that looked like a lion's roaring head. There was a dressing screen across most of the room, blocking what else was in the bathroom from Thor's view at the door. A short dresser against one wall had a wide assortment of bottles and containers on top, probably bathing salts and the like for him to use in the tub if he wished.

After a quick glance behind the dressing screen, Thor went back to the main bedroom. There was a large table with thick legs that ended on ball feet almost twice the size of Thor's fist. On the table was a tray with heavy looking gilded tea pot and matching cups. In another corner of the room, was a dressing table with a large three-fold mirror propped up on it. Several containers on the dressing table were gilded just like the tea set. Thor picked up a weighty but small jar and turned it in his hands. The scene was of a shorescape with a windmill in the back and Sky Lilies wrapping around the lid. Thor wondered if this room was really meant for a woman or a girl because flowers weren’t a theme he was used to seeing anywhere but in his mother's presence.

Thor put the jar back down and made his way over to the windows. After about a dozen attempts, Thor finally found the spot that turned the windows from opaque to clear. Outside, there was a huge deck that Thor knew wrapped around the entire building, or near enough to it. The moonlight cast everything in a silvery hue and down below the lights of the city were twinkling between the tree branches. Thor hummed thoughtfully before reaching over to the controls again. Instead of turning, the window back to opaque the window slid to the side. Thor frowned and looked more carefully. The controls were just barely visible circles on the edge of the window frame and bore no markings.

"It's the top one."

Thor turned to see Loki leaning against his doorframe. "Top button opens or closes it, and the bottom changes the color," he added as he walked over to where the young Thunderer was standing. With a quick press of his fingers, Loki had closed the door again, and another turned the window opaque. "There you are."

"Can't they just mark them?" Thor asked a little sourly. Leave it to Loki to have already figured out how the windows worked.

"I suppose they consider which button does which obvious," Loki said. The darker son of Odin turned to look around the room Thor had been given and hummed as if thinking about something.

"What?" Thor asked, as he too looked around his room. Was there something wrong with these chambers that he'd missed? He really had no idea, but Loki's thoughtful hum worried him. "What is it?"

Loki shrugged. "Just noticing that your room is reversed of mine."

Thor relaxed instantly, "Is that it?"

"Well, what did you think I'd notice?" Loki asked. "That your room has a mirror while mine is distinctly absent?"

"You don't have a mirror?" Thor echoed questioningly.

Loki sighed and went to sit on the wooden ledge around Thor's bed. "No. I can see the faint outline where it's supposed to be, but it's been taken down..."

"Why would they take away your mirror?" Thor asked in confusion. That seemed a very odd thing to do. Especially since they had left Thor with his and he barely ever used a mirror. Loki was always the one to be more concerned with his appearance than Thor was.

"I suppose Mother told them it would be a good idea..." Loki grumbled.

That statement only made Thor even more confused. "Mother told them that?"

"... she stopped replacing the ones in my room back home."

"Why would she need to replace them?"

Loki looked far to the side and not at Thor. "You know when you are angry at something, and so you throw something at it?" he asked softly.

"Yes," Thor agreed. He still had a problem with that impulse, and he'd lost a fair number of trinkets and practice weapons due to tossing them as if they were Mjolnir and therefore never being able to find them again. Remembering that what he threw would not magically be returning was incredibly hard for Thor, especially frustrated or angry.

"Well... I suppose my magic does something similar," Loki said as he held up his hands to stare at. "I just... I hate looking at myself and before I know it the glass shatters. I can't seem to control it. It is frustrating. I haven't broken anything by accident in decades, and now it just keeps happening. So much so that they don't even trust me with a mirror in the room anymore..."

The young Thunderer frowned and sat down beside Loki. "Why do you hate it so much? I mean... you refuse to look Jotunn so why does seeing your guise upset you? I don't understand..."

Loki shook his head. "I don't know..." He sighed and dropped his hands to look up at Thor. "I guess... it doesn't feel like me anymore." Thor couldn't quite help but laugh, causing Loki to glare at him. "It is hardly funny, Thor!"

"I'm sorry, Brother. Truly," Thor said though he couldn't wipe the smile fully from his face. "It's just that I never thought you, the one who can shapeshift into whatever he wants, would ever say something like that. Loki, it doesn't matter what you look like because nothing will ever change who you are. My little brother."

Loki gave Thor a sidelong look. "You know sometimes you say things that I swear should never come out of your mouth. You sound more like... like Mother sometimes," he said before letting himself lean over, and his head landed on Thor's shoulder. "... Thank you. It doesn't help me hate myself any less, though..."

"I think you're worrying about it too much," Thor said. "You get all worked up about this when it probably will never even matter."

"Spoken like someone who's never had to worry about what he looks like," Loki drawled.

Thor snorted. "More like I don't care," he said. "You're the one who always wants to look nice. And it's not like you need a mirror to make sure that happens. You just do."

Loki finally chuckled at that. "Oh, do I now?"

Thor nudged Loki in the side. "Don't go fishing for compliments."

"But I like them so much."

Thor rolled his eyes. "You're such a brat."

"Oh, but you love me anyway," Loki said with a wide grin.

"Somehow, yes."

Loki's grin widened and he leaned a bit closer. "Come on then, give us a kiss, brother." Thor pushed Loki away with just enough force to send Loki listing to the other side, but Loki's sour mood had already dissolved into laughter. Thor couldn't help but grin back. Seeing Loki brighten again, even for a few moments, was something Thor had desperately wanted after how depressing their talks had been of late.

"Go to bed and stop bugging me, Loki. It's late," Thor said though he couldn't make it sound as firm as he would have liked. Loki just laughed but got up. "Surely you have something better to do than annoy me."

"Nothing comes to mind," Loki replied. "But I will leave you to your sleep, old man," he added as he headed back towards the door.

"I am not old!"

"You sound old," Loki shot back before hurrying out so that he would have the last word. Thor sighed and shook his head before getting up and going to get ready to sleep. He was glad that they had come to Vanaheim. Loki already seemed to be cheering up a little. Of course, Thor had no idea how he would fall asleep when he felt wide awake but directly disobeying their mother was just a terrible idea from start to finish so he would try.

The next morning, Thor was a bit faster than normal to get up and out of bed. He quickly washed and dressed before darting down the hallway. Thor arrived at the dining room and instantly spotted his little nephew sitting on his mother's lap gnawing on a toasted bread roll. Baldr was sitting beside them with a huge smile on his face. "Thor!" Baldr greeted. "Aren't you up early? Come meet my Nanna and Forseti."

Thor moved closer with a toothy smile. Forseti turned huge blue eyes up to Thor without stopping his gnawing on the bread. Nanna gave her own beautiful smile. "Hello, Thor," Nanna greeted. "It's good to finally meet you."

"You as well, Sister. Baldr has told me a lot about you," Thor greeted.

"I'm sure he has," Nanna said with a glance at her husband.

Baldr grinned and leaned over to give her a kiss. "You cannot blame me. You are the finest woman I have ever met," he declared. "I am a lucky man to have you."

Nanna laughed and gave Baldr a slight shove. Nanna's dark Chesnutt hair was pulled back into an intricate braid that was bound with a few small golden chains. Her lovely grey eyes were warm and kind, and Thor liked her immediately much like he had the first time they'd met in Thor's other life. Forseti was still staring at Thor, but then suddenly dropped his bread to try and reach out for the young Thunder god, nearly squirming out of Nanna's lap as he did so. Nanna laughed again and helped Forseti reach Thor who automatically picked his nephew up out of his mother's arms. "He seems to like you, Thor," Nanna said.

"Oh good. Thor can babysit for us," Baldr said with a grin of his own.

"I would be glad to," Thor said as Forseti tried to climb up higher. Thor had to bend a bit awkwardly in order to not drop the boy but didn't protest. He did enjoy playing with children even if he'd never had any of his own.

Once Forseti got to sitting on Thor's shoulders he clapped and squealed with laughter. "Daddy! High up!" he said loudly. Thor caught hold of Forseti's legs as the boy nearly bounced himself off his perch.

Baldr laughed. "I see that, son."

Thor caught sight of Loki come in out of the corner of his eye and grinned. "Loki is taller," Thor said innocently, looking up at Forseti. "You should climb on him next."

"Don't volunteer other people," Loki said as he came closer.

"Ah, Loki! There you are. Come meet Nanna," Baldr shouted despite the fact that the youngest Odinson had already crossed half the room.

Nanna turned and gave Loki a smile. "Hello, little brother. It is good to meet you finally as well."

Loki gave a slight bow. "Sister Nanna. You're just as lovely as Baldr said. Perhaps even more so," said the Silver-Tounged Godling.

"My what a compliment," Nanna said, her smile growing.

"Loki always has had excellent taste, my dear," Baldr commented. Thor felt his nephew tilt way too far to the side and had to move so that Forseti didn't fall off his shoulders. Forseti grabbed hold of Loki's hair, and the darker son of Odin gave a yelp as the young boy tugged. "Oh, sorry, Loki. He does that to Hodr too. I think it's the black hair... he seems to have an affinity for it."

"Wonderful," Loki muttered as he reached up and tried to gently pry Forseti's little fists out of his hair. Forseti just laughed as he was pried off and then wrapped his arms around Thor's head instead. “Now he’s definitely not climbing on my shoulders…”

Forseti bounced some more, and Thor was a bit worried the boy’s energy would send him tumbling to the ground. “Careful, Seti Darling, don’t make Thor drop you by accident,” Nanna said, observing her son as he squirmed and moved.

“Oh, he’s fine,” Baldr said. “You know how he is in the mornings. Besides, Thor won’t drop him. Will you, Brother?”

Thor moved to better be under the squirming toddler even as he gave his brother and his wife a smile. “I will definitely try not to,” he said. He wasn’t entirely sure how successful he’d be even with a gentle but firm grip on the boy’s legs.

Loki chuckled a bit and went to go sit down at one of the spots at the table. “Is he always this full of energy this early in the morning?” he asked.

“He is this full of energy all the time,” Baldr replied. “By all means, wear him out for us.”

“Ah, now isn’t this a lovely sight to be greeted with in the morning,” Fjorgynn said as he came into the room with Frigga. “My dear grandchildren and great-grandson all getting along.”

“Did you think we would not?” Thor asked, slightly confused.

“Of course not dear,” Frigga said. “But it is still very nice to see.”

Nanna smiled widely and looked back up at Thor. “After breakfast, we usually go out to play in the gardens. You are very welcome to join us, Thor. And you as well, Loki. I am sure Forseti will not pull your hair too much.”

“That sounds fantastic, Nanna,” Frigga said before Thor or Loki could give an answer. “It is a lovely day after all. Why don’t we all go out and enjoy it?” Thor glanced at Loki, who just shrugged in response. They both knew when their mother wasn’t really asking a question.

Chapter Text

“This… is far from what I was expecting…”

Thor looked around in confusion. Everything around him was utterly dark, and though he could smell the very familiar and usually comforting scents of wood burning in a hearth and thick furs, he found himself uneasy. There was a biting cold, and nowhere Thor looked did he see anything beyond darkness. “Who is there?” he demanded as he spun in a circle. Thor realized voice sounded deeper. Older. With a quick hand to his own chin, he determined that his beard was full. This was not the first time he’d dreamed of being grown again, but this seemed… Different somehow. He couldn’t put his finger on why exactly but it definitely was.

Thor could hear the wind and the creaking of tree branches moving. He took a few steps in a random direction and heard the snow crunching beneath his feet. The wind blew past him, and Thor felt a tug against his cape. He looked down at himself to see that he was in his armor although Mjolnir was absent. Thor frowned in confusion. Though he was older, it seemed even stranger somehow that he would be in his armor.

The sound of a fire whooshing to greater heights attracted Thor’s attention away from pondering his appearance. The Thunder God turned again, slower this time, and spotted the flickering light of a fire in the distance. Still uneasy, but unable to help himself from wanting to know what was going on, Thor moved through the dark. His footsteps crunched a few more times across snow before they began to echo as if in a large room that was entirely empty.

As Thor neared the fire the room slowly came into view around him. The cold did not disappear despite what should have been a source of warmth. Tarnished golden pillars were cracked on the edges of the firelight and Thor noted a thick layer of dust on the ground. Holes were punched through the walls, showing a desolate landscape covered in snow beyond.

Abruptly what he saw made sense and Thor froze in horror. The destroyed throne room of Asgard was littered with skeletons still donning their golden armor and reaching for broken weapons. Some of the bones were pulled apart and scattered, and the dark brown of ancient blood was splattered across the golden floor tiles. “You look upset…”

Thor managed to pull his wide-eyed gaze from a skeleton holding a very unique double ended sword to what was in front of him. On the other side of a bonfire that was ringed with a pile of skulls, was Hlidskjalf. The gold plating of the throne was bent back in several spots, and giant claw marks ripped into the seat itself. Curled around the ruined throne was a massive skeleton of a wolf with its lower jaw lying far away from the rest of his skull. And there, sitting among the rubble and death, was Loki.

This was not a young Loki or the grinning maniacal Loki that haunted Thor’s dreams and memories. This Loki was older and tired looking. He sat slumped on the broken Hlidskjalf with a spear loosely held in one hand. After a moment, Thor recognized the half-broken off head of the spear and realized it was Gungnir. Loki’s robes were tattered, and ill looked after, the embroidery fraying, large tears that hadn’t been repaired, and a fur collar that was matted from lack of care. Loki’s long black hair was streaked with silver around his face, and his emerald eyes had lost all of their sparkle. Deep furrows were etched into Loki’s face almost unnaturally. The horned helm that Loki wore was more elaborate than any that Thor had ever seen his brother don before with the graceful golden curves looking more like splintered and stained tree branches. “Loki?” This elderly God was his brother and yet nothing like his brother at the same time.

Loki shrugged but didn’t move from his seat. Judging by the one dust free area around his brother, Thor couldn’t help but wonder how long the worn looking trickster had actually been sitting there. “What… what happened here?” Thor asked, looking around at the ruins of his home. “How did this happen?”

“I won. Every once and a while I have to win, Thor…” Loki said. “Basic math really… Welcome to my Kingdom… Such as it is.”

Thor looked around again, still as horrified as he was when he first recognized the place. He had never thought that such a thing could befall Asgard. What had led to such a disaster? Surely, Loki did not hate them this much…

“You look upset, Thor…” Loki said. Thor turned back, but the sharp words never made it past his lips. Loki didn’t look in the least pleased or triumphant. The Trickster’s words were mild to the point of emotionless. “I suppose I can’t blame you for that. I really have let the place go…”

“What is this?” Thor asked again. This didn’t feel like his usual dreams. This felt too real to be a dream. He could smell the old blood and dust mingling and feel the cold from the broken walls. Outside he could see snow drifts and dead trees. Every detail felt so incredibly real.

Loki tilted his head to the side and then sighed. “Something I hope you don’t repeat, brother. But then… I suppose you’re already working on that. What is this strange magic wrapped around you, Thor? It seems quite dangerous.”

Thor recoiled slightly. “Why should I tell you anything?”

“What harm could it possibly do you, Thor?” Loki asked. “You are not really here, and I am not really there. My magic is strong but crossing such barriers in dimensions is somewhat beyond me. Especially now.”

“So what? This is just some vision?” Thor demanded.

“It is not something manufactured from your own mind if that is what you are asking. This is the culmination of my path in my reality. Your Loki could pick a very different one… If he wants. Honestly, Thor, I was just peering through time, and space like Odin used to do when I noticed such a strange aura around you. I have watched the same stories played out over and over again, but you are the first Thor I have come across to have this magic around you. So, I brought you here,” Loki explained. “I suppose some of my old curiosity has finally been roused again. It’s been a few hundred years…”

Thor wished he had Mjolnir. He didn’t trust this strange aged Loki in the least. There was something very off about him, and Thor couldn’t help but think he was incredibly dangerous. “Come now, Thor…” Loki said after several minutes of silence. “I cannot affect whatever it is you’re doing. I can only reach your unconscious mind and bring it here in front of me. What harm could there be in telling me what dangerous magics you’ve somehow gotten your hands on?”

“I do not know, but I am sure that you would find a way to bring harm,” Thor replied as he carefully stepped around the bones of one of the defeated Aesir on the ground. The fact that they were left to rot where they lay was disgraceful, but Thor didn’t think he could argue about that right now. “You have clearly destroyed Asgard once… Why should I believe you won’t do it again? To my Asgard?”

Loki sighed. “Because there would be no satisfaction in that for me,” he said. “I am no longer interested in your suffering, Thor… And especially not the suffering of myself. Whatever you are doing, it could backfire immensely. The spell you’ve used is dark and powerful… Two things that should never be mixed carelessly. And you don’t have the best track record with magic.”

“You don’t know what I’m doing,” Thor snapped.

“Then tell me. For once in your life, trust me.”

“You, sitting on a broken Hlidskjalf with the bones of our people scattered around you, doesn’t exactly inspire trust, Loki!” Thor yelled with an angry gesture at the room around them. How could Loki even think to speak of trust in such a setting? It was utterly ridiculous. Loki was drenched in the proof of his own ill intentions and Thor was not so dense to not believe his own eyes.

There was another very long span of silence, and then Loki sighed heavily. “No, I imagine that it doesn’t… But, Thor, if nothing else trust that sitting on this throne surrounded by nothing but death and decay is far from my ideal… I did not want to be the last. To be sitting here alone for all eternity… Defeating you and winning the throne was quite a bit more hollow than I expected it to be.”

“I will not allow it to happen this time,” Thor said firmly.

Loki’s dull eyes sparked with just a hint of his old self. “Then you are trying to interfere with time. I thought I recognized those rune combinations. Where did you get such a spell, Thor?”

“… Angrboda,” Thor admitted reluctantly. He didn’t think that bit of information could possibly be used against him now that he had already taken the potion and sent himself into his younger body.

Loki leaned forward to rest his elbow on his knee. “Be careful, Thor. Angrboda is not to be trusted. Even less so than me. She does nothing if she does not think it will benefit her as well. Or that she can turn it to her advantage,” King Loki warned grimly.

“I knew she would not do anything for nothing,” Thor said. He wasn’t as stupid as Loki always claimed. “But I will deal with whatever I must to save you.”

King Loki straightened on Hlidskjalf and stared at Thor with wide eyes. “What?” he breathed as if what Thor had said was utterly impossible.

“You think I would send myself back to my childhood for anything else?” Thor demanded. “In my life, I held you as you died. I will not allow it to happen! Never again, Loki! I have watched you die in front of me twice I cannot permit it to continue!”

For the first time in Thor’s memory, Loki seemed entirely speechless. But it wasn’t for long. “After everything I’ve done… You would perform such dangerous magic for me? Why? I do not deserve this.”

“You are my brother! I am sick of having to remind you of this!”

Loki’s eyes shimmered wetly, but he took a steadying breath and then held out a hand. Green Seidr swirled in his palm and then Loki was holding a golden amulet with a stylized black shape upon it that was reminiscent of Loki’s horned helm. Loki ran his thumb over the surface before tossing it across the distances between them. Thor caught it automatically despite the possible danger.

The amulet was heavy but strangely warm in Thor’s palm. “What is this?” he asked with suspicion.

“A way to reach me when you wish it,” Loki said. “It only exists in your dreams so don’t bother looking for it on your person… but think of this place as you fall asleep and you will be brought here… should you need me.”

“Why would I need to come back to this place?” Thor asked. He didn’t want to be here in the first place, and he had no idea why he’d deliberately subject himself to the ruins of Asgard that this Loki had caused.

King Loki smiled, but it didn’t seem as cruel as the smiles from the Loki that haunted Thor’s dreams. “Because, you dolt, if I know you, and I do, you barely thought about this before doing it. How will you save him if you don’t know what you’re saving him from?” Loki asked. “I have lived it… and if I haven’t I can use Hlidskjalf to see what it is that threatens his life. Can you say the same?”

Thor scowled. “I still can’t trust you.”

“Perhaps not,” Loki said mildly. “But you can at the very least trust my self-preservation instinct can you not? I’ll do nothing to hurt myself. So, if something does happen that will endanger his life… I will tell you about it.”

The God of Thunder still didn’t trust this King Loki in the least. He hated that this Loki had a point, however. Thor truly didn’t know everything that had happened to his brother. Loki wasn’t one for sharing. This might be the only possible way that Thor would be able to find out any of what Loki had kept hidden. “I do not promise to use this,” Thor said.

King Loki shrugged. “I do not ask for your promise. It is yours to use or not… But keep it anyway. Just in case.”

“Do I have a choice on if I keep it or not?” Thor asked darkly.

Loki smiled. “Not really. But the illusion of choice is almost as important as actually having a choice.”

“I don’t think I agree,” Thor said in annoyance. “An actual choice would be much nicer.”

“Well, it would hardly be the only thing we disagree on,” Loki said flippantly. What little humor he seemed to have gained faded quickly as he looked dead in Thor’s eyes. “Perhaps in time, you will come to believe I mean no harm. If nothing else… Believe me about Angrboda. The two of us were far too similar to ever work together, and that should scare you far more than I do.”

“You don’t scare me,” Thor denied.

Loki hummed and leaned forward on his elbow again. “If I did not scare you, brother, you would not have so many reservations about trusting me,” he said.

“It couldn’t just be that you lie as easily as breathing,” the Thunder God replied sarcastically.

“I lied to my Thor, true enough… but I haven’t lied to you,” Loki said. “And you’ll come to find that such a distinction truly does matter. Nothing that you do can save this Asgard, or me, from the fate I made for us. But perhaps I can earn a sliver of redemption through this fool plan of yours.”

Thor couldn’t quite stop the scoff. “And now you care about redemption?” he asked.

Loki leaned back in his throne, and his clothing shifted just enough for Thor to make out a dark stain along his side. Thor frowned but before he could bring it up, Loki tugged his cloak closed more fully. “Let us just say that I’ve had a very long time to sit and think about what I’ve done,” Loki said with a hint of sarcasm but perhaps a bit more sincerity than Thor thought he was meant to catch.

“How long have you been sitting here?” Thor asked, looking yet again at the lack of dust in the small area around Loki.

Loki smiled crookedly. “Long enough that you have caught my interest,” he said.

Thor huffed at that answer although why, after everything he knew, he had expected any better of an answer he didn’t know. He always seemed to leave himself open for foolish things like that. “Goodbye, Thor. Don’t forget to come visit… I’m sure I can help if you’d let me.”

Thor opened his mouth to respond, but before he could say even the first syllable, he was waking up in his bed in his Grandfather’s Palace. He sat up and looked around for a moment before lying back with a groan. The once again young Thunderer wasn’t sure what had happened or if what he’d just experienced was actually real, but Thor wished that it hadn’t happened. The last thing he wanted was trying to save Loki while also trying to figure out if a different Loki was up to something sinister. None of this seemed fair. Thor just wanted to save his brother. Why must it be so complicated?

Thor heard birds outside his window and groaned before rolling over. Though he’d apparently slept through the night, he didn’t feel like he had. The day should still be early enough for him to get a few more hours of rest in. Thor resolved to forget about the other Loki immediately and to never try out the strange medallion that he’d been given. Or whatever it was. Thor didn’t really understand it, but he knew that he didn’t want to walk right into King Loki’s trap.

Chapter Text

Something small but hard hit Thor right in the temple and he couldn’t help but flinch. Only a moment later another hard something hit him on the cheek followed by a third that skimmed the bridge of his nose. Thor finally opened his eyes and glared to the left. Loki, who was sitting on the other side of the boat that they were on, just grinned widely. “Stop it,” Thor growled.

Loki’s grin, if possible, grew even larger. “Why, Brother, I’m just making sure you don’t miss all the lovely scenery,” he said innocently.

“I will push you overboard,” Thor threatened.

Loki rolled his eyes and didn’t seem worried. “You look tired, brother.”

“That’s why I was sleeping,” Thor grumbled as he looked around him to see little pebbles and twigs around where he had been slumped over the table. “Just how long were you hitting me with things?” he asked as he brushed some debris from his hair.

“Not long,” his brother answered mostly convincingly. Too bad that the pure number of little projectile around Thor’s head proved Loki wasn’t exactly truthful. “Besides we’re getting close to wherever we’re going so I figured I should wake you up.”

Thor looked at the table around him again. “And how long have we been ‘getting close’?”

“Oh, as if that matters,” Loki said. “Point is, you’re awake now.”

“Whether I want to be or not,” Thor agreed as he straightened fully and then stretched his arms high over his head. “Any clue as to where we’re going?” he asked after he had slumped back into his seat again.

Loki shook his head. “Not really. Grandfather does seem excited about it whatever we’re doing.”

“I’m sure it’ll be very much worth this entire morning spent travelling up a river,” Thor groused as he laid his head on the table again. Even after the attempt to get more rest that morning after his dream of the other Loki, he had not managed much more sleep. He was definitely regretting it now.

“My goodness, such sarcasm, Thor,” Loki said. “One would think you weren’t enjoying yourself.”

Thor shot Loki another glare. “What are you so cheerful about anyway? I wouldn’t believe that you’d be one to enjoy river trips.”

“Oh, I don’t usually,” Loki agreed. “Nothing really to do during them. But I did overhear something interesting.”

“What’s that?” Thor asked, lifting his head off the table to more directly look at his brother.

Loki hummed as if thinking. “Oh, I don’t know if you’ll be interested,” he said. “After all, you are so tired you barely noticed my very kind attempts to wake you up.” Thor scowled and kicked his brother under the table. Loki yelped and lifted his leg up onto the chair to rub his shin. “Such a bear in the mornings, my goodness. Fine, I’ll tell you, you big lummox.”

Thor waited, but Loki still didn’t say anything after almost a full minute. “Loki,” Thor warned. “You and the river are about to meet.”

Loki rolled his eyes. “No patience. Well, if you really must know… Grandfather said something about a present to commemorate our first visit to Vanaheim. He made it sound like it was going to be something awe-inspiring. Maybe it’s a weapon you won’t break like the last ten.”

“It is hardly my fault all the weapons are so flimsy,” Thor said. He’d always had a problem breaking weapons that weren’t Mjolnir and this time around it was even worse because he knew what it was like to have an unbreakable weapon in his hand. Restraint was hard to remember when he hadn’t had to practice it for several hundred years.

“Thor, after this many weapons… I think the problem is you and not them,” Loki said.

Thor shook his head and decided against arguing with Loki. Thor looked around at the river that was passing by instead, which seemed a smarter choice. One side of the river was dominated by fields upon fields of Sky Lilies; streaks of different colors that had been grown right to the edge of the water. Thor wondered briefly how the farmers had maintained the colors considering the flowers would change. On the other bank were tidy rows of houses and at the end a windmill with distinctly curved blades. A small red bridge crossed over the river just beyond the windmill and Thor worried they’d run into it with their boat. As they got closer to the bridge, the structure split into two sections and swung back like a gate to allow their boat through.

Thor hummed thoughtfully and turned back to Loki. “How long have we been travelling upriver anyway?” he asked curiously. Judging by how far the sun had moved across the sky, Thor could assume at least a couple hours.

“Oh, I’d say two and a half maybe three hours,” Loki supplied. “Like I said, we have to be getting close by now.”

Thor grunted in agreement and got up from his seat to stretch his arms over his head. “I hope you’re right. This trip is boring.”

As it turned out, it took nearly forty more minutes for them to reach wherever it was that Fjorgynn was taking them. Thor was getting very hungry by the time they were pulling up to a long dock. Other than the simple wooden platform, Thor could see no evidence of people around at all. There was just a field. Admittedly, it was a very picturesque field full of wildflowers and fluttering butterflies, but it was still just a field. There was a mostly destroyed fence off in the distance that looked like it had once separated the forest from the field but was now just a place for vines to climb over.

Thor and Loki went wandering through what Thor assumed was an old pasture while their mother and Grandfather brought things out of the boat. “So there’s nothing out here,” Thor said as he climbed on top of a few rocks that barely reached his waist.

“I’m sure there’s a reason that they dragged us up here, Thor,” Loki replied as he crouched down beside a flower that had long almost pocket-like yellow flowers on a thick stem with very spiky leaves. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen this flower before…” he mused. “I wonder if it’s useful at all.”

“I guess you’ll have to ask,” Thor said as he decided to try and make the jump from the rocks he was on to the fence post nearby. He jumped and missed by several feet. Thor frowned and climbed up onto the post this time. He had sworn that the distance was shorter than that.

Thor tried to jump the distance again and at least got closer to his target this time, probably because of the higher start point. “Thor! Loki! Come here. We brought lunch!” their mother called. Thor immediately abandoned his attempts to jump from one perch to the other and hurried to where their Mother and Grandfather were waiting.

A large blanket had been laid out on the ground beside a wide tree stump, and on the stump, there was a grand array of food just waiting to be devoured. Frigga laughed at the expression on Thor’s face. “You didn’t think I would expect you to skip a meal, did you, Thor?” she asked with amusement.

“Thank you, Mother,” Thor said before grabbing a plate and filling it with as much food as he could balance in a pile.

Loki was only just wandering over, still peering down at the flower from before. “Mother, what is this?” he asked. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen one before…”

“Ah, that’s a plant called Yellow Rattle, dear,” Frigga answered. “It’s grown in fields to help make hay for animals. Now come and eat.”

Loki looked down at the flowering stem again thoughtfully before dropping it to the side. He grabbed a plate and piled it high with his own food and took a seat beside Thor. Loki, despite starting later than Thor on his lunch, finished first and then reached for a book that he’d brought with him.

Thor went back for seconds and then thirds on his lunch before he finally finished and stretched. “So why did we take this trip, Mother?” Thor asked once he was full and content again. “Seems a long way to go for a picnic.”

Frigga smiled. “You’ll both find out soon enough,” she said.

“Surprises,” Loki muttered without looking up from his book. Thor struggled to not smile. His brother wasn’t fond of surprises. At least, not ones that he was not behind. Loki was more than happy usually to surprise other people.

They sat there in the field for nearly an hour before anything happened. Thor was very bored of waiting by that point so when he saw the cloaked figure at the edge of the clearing he noticed almost immediately. “Who’s that?” he asked.

“Ah! There he is!” Fjorgynn said as he got up and went over to where the figure was waiting.

Thor frowned, and Loki too looked up to see what was going on. “That’s a suspicious looking character…” Loki muttered. “Why won’t he come closer?”

“He is a very reclusive craftsman, dear,” Frigga said. “He doesn’t like to be the center of attention. He rarely even leaves his home, and he never comes to the city. We’re lucky that he came here to meet with Father at all.”

Loki didn’t seem satisfied with that answer, and if Thor were honest, he wasn’t all that happy with it either. “And the cloak?”

“Reclusive, darlings,” Frigga repeated. “He likes to remain anonymous.”

Thor and Loki watched as their Grandfather spoke with whatever mysterious craftsman that was by the edge of the clearing. After a few minutes, Fjorgynn handed over a small pouch and took a larger package in return. The cloaked figure bowed and then disappeared into the woods. “Very suspicious indeed,” Loki muttered as the King of Vanaheim came back across the field.

“Here we are,” Fjorgynn said when he finally came back to the blanket they were sitting on. “I had these commissioned for you two when I heard you were coming. Well, I had them commissioned to be presents for your next name days, but I asked for my friend to finish them early when Frigga told me that you were coming.”

Thor and Loki exchanged a look, and Loki shrugged. “And what did you have him make for us, Grandfather?” Thor asked after a few minutes.

“Ah, this is for you, Thor,” Fjorgynn said as he pulled a thick belt from the bag he was carrying. “And this for you, Loki.” A sword came out next and was handed over to Loki. After only a brief glance, Thor could already place the two items that their grandfather had produced.

Thor was surprised to see Megingjord handed over to him, as his grandfather had said, he’d expected it as a present for his next significant name day not for simply visiting Vanaheim. The leather belt in his hands was familiar even though it was new and the gold embellishments were shining in the sunlight in a way they hadn’t for centuries. Two lines of strengthening runes went down the length of the leather, and the golden clasp was decorated with a fresh carving of Yggdrasil. "Its name is Megingjord, and it’s enchanted," their grandfather began, "to increase your strength even more than you already have. It'll be very handy, I think."

"It is wonderful, Grandfather. Thank you," Thor said sincerely. "I will wear it frequently, I promise."

Loki was eyeing the long sword he'd been handed with a skeptical eye. "And that, Loki, is Laevateinn. Your mother said you had been having trouble with the swords found in Asgard. This one will suit you better. It is much lighter than the swords you’d find made by the Aesir.”

Loki studied the rune engraved length of shining golden metal carefully before his eyes widened. "Who made this?" he asked. "It's wonderful!" Loki moved a hand wreathed in green and gold tendrils of seidr along the dangerously sharpened blade. The young Trickster's seidr was quickly absorbed by the blade and made the emeralds embedded into the pommel glow. Loki usually had trouble with full-length swords, but the one he was holding currently was barely heavier than a stick that he used to play with Thor back before they began weapons training. He might actually be able to swing this sword around.

"When your mother told me you were studying seidr so avidly, I thought you might need a weapon that was geared towards such a thing. Asgardians never seem to bother creating such weapons," the King of Vanaheim said with a very disapproving frown.

"Oh, Father, don't start," Frigga said. "You know that we have plenty of enchanted weapons in Asgard."

Their Grandfather grunted. "None of which the Asgardians made, and most are locked away in that weapon's vault. An absolute waste."

"Father," Frigga sighed in exasperation.

"Alright, alright, I'll stop... still a waste though. I mean, look at Mjolnir. Hasn't been used in ages!"

"Nobody can use Mjolnir. That is hardly our fault."

Loki managed to tear his attention away from his sword. "Why can nobody use Mjolnir?" he asked curiously. Thor was a little curious as well. In his first life, nobody could use Mjolnir that was not worthy, but that was only after he had been exiled.

"Simply put, it is too powerful a weapon," their Grandfather explained. "The last few who tried, I believe, lost those arms when they did. Even Bor couldn’t use it. He kept dropping it mid-swing. He was very annoyed, I hear.”

“Father,” Frigga said in a warning tone. Though it was well known and documented that Bor had made exceptionally few friends in his time as King of Asgard, Frigga thought it best to keep such obviously bitter talk away from her sons. They would never meet Bor, but they didn’t need to hear their own relatives bad talking the dead.

Fjorgynn sighed but nodded. “We will be here for another few hours yet. Why don’t you boys go have fun?” he suggested to Thor and Loki.

Thor glanced over at Loki and then nodded down at the sword he was still staring at with awe. “You want to test it out?” Thor asked.

Loki looked up and blinked. “What do you mean? Spar?”

“Of course. Come on,” Thor said as he got up and put his belt on.

“But you don’t have a weapon. We can’t spar with only one of us armed,” Loki protested.

Thor frowned but before Thor could say that he was fairly sure he could handle Loki or at least disarm him since he’d never even wielded Laevateinn before, his Grandfather got to his feet. “Here, Thor, use mine. Just be careful with it. I’d like to still have a sword before the day ends,” he said as he pulled a sword free from his belt and handed it over.

“Thank you, Grandfather,” Thor said as he tested the feeling of swinging the blade. The longsword definitely wasn’t what he was used to. The blade was lighter, like Loki’s apparently was. Thor would have to be very careful to not smash it to bits. “I’ll be gentle with it. I promise. Come on, Loki.”

“Don’t hurt each other,” Frigga called as the two brothers ran a little ways off so that they would have plenty of room.

Loki looked uncomfortable as he brought his new sword up. “I haven’t trained much with swords…”

“Are you not up to the challenge?” Thor asked as he settled into a familiar battle stance. Though in his adult life he always used Mjolnir he wasn’t unfamiliar with bladed weapons by any means. Young Asgardians were expected to be well-versed in at least three or four different weapons even if they had a preferred one.

“I’m just saying I’m not exactly well practiced so try not to slice my hand off or something. I need both,” Loki said as he finally took his own stance.

Thor frowned and nodded down to Loki’s feet. “You’re off a bit.”

Loki sighed in exasperation and shifted so that he was better positioned. “I wasn’t asking for a lesson, Thor.”

“You’re the one that doesn’t want a hand cut off,” Thor replied.

“Who would want a limb chopped off?” Loki muttered. Thor didn’t bother to answer and instead made his first move. He could tell Loki was a little startled, but his brother managed to bring Laevateinn up to block just in time. The clang of metal on metal rang out across the clearing. “We really shouldn’t be doing this with real swords,” Loki said. “It’s not exactly good for them.”

“I’m sure an enchanted sword can take a little metal on metal,” Thor replied before bringing his sword around again to make another attack. This time Loki just sidestepped and thrust with an attack of his own. Thor quickly abandoned any thought of talking as he focused instead on the action of fighting his brother also without breaking anything.

After only a few minutes, Thor felt sweat start to coat his skin, and Loki’s face was flushed from exertion. The brothers had sparred many times in the past with swords, but Thor had always easily bested Loki. Now with a sword that wasn’t as heavy, Loki was holding his own much better. Not well enough though.

“You’re rusty,” Thor told Loki as he finally managed to knock Laevateinn out of the Trickster’s hands. The blade had gone flying into the woods somewhere, and Loki looked particularly peeved. “You’ll have to practice more often if you want to get any good at using that.”

“Shut up, Thor,” Loki said sourly as he started for the woods. “It’s hardly my fault none of the swords of Asgard suit me. Besides I can fillet you with my knives…”

“You’d have to get close enough,” Thor pointed out as he followed along a step behind Loki. “And you don’t like getting close to your opponent.”

Loki cast Thor a sour look. “You’re so very irritating. Help me look for my sword.”

“What do you think I’m doing?” Thor asked as they wandered into the forest.

Loki shook his head. “I don’t think you actually want me to answer that,” he said as he peered into a bush to see if his sword had landed within it. “Why did you have to fling it so far, Thor?”

“I didn’t mean to,” Thor muttered. “You should have held onto it better.”

“My arm is tired,” Loki shot back. “We’ve been sparring for almost an hour already.” Thor blinked in surprise. Had it really been that long already? He could have sworn they’d only just started. “Don’t give me that blank look, it’s true,” Loki said as he stepped over a protruding root.

Thor frowned. “It didn’t feel that long…”

“Yes, well, you’re much more used to such sparring matches,” Loki grumbled.

“You’ll get better,” Thor said as he looked around for any hint of where Loki’s sword might have gotten off to. “Your sword could not have gone this far,” Thor said. “I didn’t fling it that hard…”

“Your 'not that hard' is a lot harder than you always seem to think it,” Loki pointed out.

“Ah!” Thor said as he saw the sword handle poking out from a bush just a few feet ahead and to the left. “There it is. I knew it couldn’t be much further.”

Loki shook his head and went to go grab the sword from the bush. “You are lucky. If you had lost my brand new sword I would have been very vexed with you,” he said as he turned Laevateinn over this way and that to see if it was damaged at all. Once he was satisfied with his inspection, he turned. “And you’re lucky it’s not damaged.”

“It’s an enchanted sword, Loki. I think it will take more than that to damage it,” Thor replied as he rested his own borrowed sword on his shoulder.

“No reason not to be careful,” Loki grumbled.

“Let’s just head back,” Thor said as he turned back to the edge of the forest. They had only just started to move when it Loki suddenly stopped. Thor paused as well and turned to look at his brother. “What is it?”

Loki didn’t answer at first and instead looked around at the forest. “Do you hear that, Thor?”

Thor listened for a few moments but then shook his head. “I hear nothing.” Without another word, Loki started off towards whatever it was he was hearing. “Loki!” Thor called before hurrying after his brother. “Loki, we should not wander!”

“It sounds like something’s hurt…” Loki murmured distractedly as he continued to wander through the forest.

“That is unfortunate but we know nothing about these woods,” Thor pointed out. “And I really should not be the voice of reason here!”

Loki did pause and look over at Thor. “Is it very uncomfortable for you?” he asked. “You could always go back to Mother and Grandfather.” Thor did not find that particularly amusing, but before he could do more than open his mouth, Loki shushed him. “There it is again. Are you telling me you honestly can’t hear that?”

“No, Loki. I don’t hear anything,” Thor said.

The darker son of Odin gave Thor an exasperated look before starting to walk off again. Thor really didn’t think he had any choice but to follow his brother. They continued walking for several minutes and as they walked Thor began to hear the noises that had attracted his brother’s attention. It sounded like some wounded animal. Little cries of pain and distress that Thor couldn’t quite place.

As they got closer, Thor was also able to make out the sound of running water. A small stream nearby most likely. Loki didn’t seem in the least concerned that injured animals could be dangerous and just kept walking. When they finally found the source of the noise tucked under a large fallen log, Thor had to struggle to not rip his brother backwards.

“Calm down, Thor,” Loki said as he crouched down to peer into the dark.

“That’s a wyvern, Loki!” Thor hissed. “You know they’re venomous!”

Loki just gave Thor a bland look. “I’m surprised that you do,” Loki said before turning back to the small scaly creature. “It’s not very big… it must be close to a newborn.”

“Can still make your flesh turn black and fall off the bones with its bite,” Thor grumbled as he watched the creature for any sign it was about to jump out and try to attack them.

Loki didn’t seem to share Thor’s worry. “Calm down, would you? The poor thing is terrified. It shouldn’t even be here. They aren’t native to Vanaheim. They live in colder climates…”

“Then how did it get here?” Thor asked despite himself. He still thought they should leave it, but he couldn’t just let his brother get bitten by the thing either.

“Not sure… perhaps it fell into a portal or was smuggled in for some reason,” Loki said absently as he tilted his head to better see the reptile. The wyvern hissed at them and stayed curled up in a tight ball. The pearlescent blue scales were rimmed with black, and its eyes were so bright a blue they almost seemed to glow. The wings of the wyvern were much too small for it, and the boney claws at the top joint seemed undersized and weak. Clearly, not yet the wings that would actually be able to hold the creature up in the air. A long tail covered in dangerous spikes was wrapped around it, and already the tiny thing had a mouth full of sharp teeth.

Thor put a hand to Loki’s bicep. “We really should leave it, Loki.”

“Thor. It’s fine, calm down,” Loki replied. “It probably can’t even see straight the poor thing.”

Thor sighed in exasperation. “Would you stop calling it that? It’s far from a ‘poor thing.’ It’s a wyvern, Loki.”

“And it’s suffering heat exhaustion,” Loki shot back. “Do you know what it’s like to have heat exhaustion, Thor? I can tell you, it’s not fun. Not in the least. It’s miserable from start to finish. So, yes, it is a wyvern, and it is a poor thing.”

Thor wanted to argue further but couldn’t come up with a response to what Loki had said. After a few minutes, he sighed. “Well, it isn’t as if we can do anything for it, Loki,” Thor pointed out.

“Oh, can’t we?” Loki asked before slowly extending a hand towards the hollow that the unhappy wyvern was curled up under. Thor went to grab Loki’s wrist, but his brother stopped him from doing so with his new sword. As Thor watched, Loki’s hand turned first a pale blue and then darker. Soon his whole hand was a rich sapphire color, and Thor could feel the cold air wafting from his brother’s hand.

Thor couldn’t help but be very surprised and stared at Loki. Loki, for his part, seemed to be ignoring Thor entirely. His full attention was on the wyvern. The reptile was still hissing, but after a moment the hiss stopped. At first, nothing happened, and then, ever so slowly, the two-legged serpent crawled forward towards Loki’s hand. Thor couldn’t help but stiffen and grab Loki’s shoulders tightly. He was ready to pull his brother back at a second’s notice. “It’s alright. He likes the cold,” Loki said without taking his eyes off the baby wyvern.

The lizard didn’t come entirely out from under its log and instead extended its long neck out as far as it could to sniff at Loki’s fingers. Loki just waited and kept his hand Jotunn blue. Thor thought he might go mad from the tension.

Finally, the wyvern let out a strange noise somewhere between a chirp and a purr before rubbing against Loki’s cold hand. Loki smiled and let the little creature nuzzle him. Thor watched with no small amount of awe as the lizard slowly moved out from under the log and right into Loki’s lap. “He really is too warm,” Loki murmured as he brushed his cold hand over the wyvern’s back. The lizard chirruped again and wrapped its long tail around Loki’s waist while clinging to his shoulders with the clawed fingers of its wings.

“Mother is never going to let you keep that,” Thor warned.

Loki didn’t seem concerned. “I think I’ll name him… Ofnir.”

“Loki… it’s venomous,” Thor tried yet again.

“He’s really a lovely creature isn’t he?” Loki asked, entirely unconcerned as he continued to use his icy hand to cool the newly named wyvern down. “Quite elegantly shaped.”

Thor groaned and let his head fall back. Why must it always be something dangerous that got Loki’s attention? Why not a cute fluffy bunny for once? No, it had to be a venomous cousin to dragons. “Mother will kill you.”

“Let’s go back, Thor,” Loki said as he carefully got to his feet with the wyvern still curled around him.

Chapter Text

To say that their mother had... reservations about a wyvern would have been an understatement. Thor had never heard her shriek in any life before but when she spotted the dangerous lizard that her son was carrying she came very close to it. Frigga instantly demanded to know 'what he was thinking,' and Loki gave her a perfect image of innocence. As if he didn't realize that the wyvern clinging to him was terribly dangerous.

"I told him you would not like it," Thor volunteered. Being the older of the two, he could just see how he would be blamed for Loki's new pet.

Loki sent Thor a brief glare of annoyance. "Traitor," he grumbled. Loki turned back to their mother with every trace of annoyance disappeared as if it was never there. "We found him in the forest, mother. He's just a baby, he won't survive on his own."

"Wyverns are not native to Vanaheim," Fjorgynn said, eyeing the reptile with mistrust.

"Loki, wyverns are dangerous wild animals, you cannot just pick them up like that. What if it had attacked you?" Frigga asked.

"We wouldn't have had the antidote for the venom," Fjorgynn added. "You'd have lost your life. Painfully."

Loki still looked utterly oblivious to the danger. "But he didn't. Ofnir likes me," he said petting the wyvern's long scaly neck. Ofnir practically purred and rubbed his head on the young prince's shoulder.

Fjorgynn sighed. "You should not have named it, Loki."

"Everything needs a name," Loki said innocently.

"Loki," their mother said in warning.

Immediately, she was met with wide green eyes, and Thor was glad he'd never been on the receiving end of that look. His brother had the perfect mix of pleading and wide-eyed innocence. A deadly combination that Thor wasn't at all sure he'd be able to resist. Frigga didn't seem much better. She stared down at Loki and the wyvern clinging to him as if he were a tree for several minutes before giving a heavy sigh. "We must discuss this with your father, Loki."

Instantly, the young trickster made a face. "But Father's not here," he pointed out. Thor supposed Loki had been trying to get their mother to agree before bringing up their father.

"No, he's not," Frigga said. "But I'll contact him tonight and discuss it."

Loki probably wouldn't like to know that Thor judged Loki's next expression as a pout, but there really wasn't any better word for it. Frigga sighed again at the expression, "I promise you, darling, that even if you can't keep him, I'll make sure he's taken care of. There are several rescues and zoos for misplaced animals. One of them is sure to be able to handle a young wyvern."

Loki still looked sullen as he ran his blue hand over Ofnir's head. The wyvern pup pulled itself up higher using Loki's shoulders as leverage. Loki winced as the thick claws of his desired pet dug through his shirt but otherwise made no indication to have noticed. Thor supposed that if Loki complained any chance at keeping Ofnir would be soundly lost.

"Now, Loki," their grandfather began. Thor thought it best to make himself scarce for the next few minutes and went to go help put away the blanket and dishes from their lunch. Fjorgynn had never tried to argue with the Silvertounge before, and though it might be amusing to watch him lose due to underestimating Loki, Thor didn't want to somehow get dragged into the debate.

By the time Thor returned with the packed up basket, Fjorgynn was obviously entirely too exasperated, and Loki was barely concealing his smugness. Whatever argument their grandfather had tried, Loki had clearly dismantled it with little effort. "We should return to the palace," Fjorgynn said grumpily.

Thor went to sit down beside his brother as Ofnir curled up in Loki's lap and apparently went straight to sleep. "What did you tell grandfather to make him look so perturbed?" Thor asked as everything was put back on the ship for their return journey.

"Oh, nothing really," Loki said as he stroked Ofnir's back, brushing down the thick quills that ran along the young wyvern's spine. "I just pointed out that if Ofnir were going to become violent, he would have already done so."

Thor was sure that there had to have been more to the conversation than that, but Loki didn't seem inclined to share. "You know, even if Father allows you to keep him, you won't be able to hold him forever. And soon enough he'll become too big." Wyverns averaged the size of large Midgardian Pachyderms not counting the length of their tail and neck.

"I know, but I've been working on a spell that should help keep him cool," Loki said.

"You have? Why?" Thor asked. There was no way that Loki would have known that he'd find a baby wyvern that would have such a need.

Loki gave Thor an exasperated look. "Well, I haven't been developing it for him," he said as if it were obvious. Loki hesitated for a moment then shrugged as casually as he was able, which didn't seem to be very much at all. "Summer is miserable for me... I thought I could do something about it."

"Summer?" Thor echoed. "It's not that bad is it?"

"When is the last time you've seen me out and about during summer?" Loki asked. Thor thought back but didn't get more than a moment to do so. "Exactly. I pass out from heat exhaustion before midday if we're outside doing anything remotely active."

"They say the summer on Svartalfheim is worse," Thor supplied. "And it's no Muspelheim."

"That is like saying the surface of the sun is worse than a desert... as if either is remotely enjoyable," Loki shot back. "A Jotunn would shrivel up and die within seconds of taking a step on that magma covered volcanic rock they call Muspelheim."

Thor couldn't help but be surprised. That was most certainly the closest he'd ever heard Loki come to admitting to not technically being Aesir. "Well, when we go exploring we'll be sure to leave Muspelheim alone."

"Honestly, you wouldn't be much better off there than me, Thor," Loki said. "Your boots would catch fire within seconds, I'd wager. You need dragonhide boots... or be a fire elemental or giant."

"Dragonhide boots it is then," Thor said.

Loki hummed and continued to pet Ofnir in his lap. The delicate bones of his wings were folded tightly against his back and side while his long tail was curled loosely around himself. The little wyvern let out a low whistle noise every now and again, and slowly Thor realized Ofnir was snoring. "You know, Father is going to have some things to say about you wanting to have a pet wyvern."

Loki's face twisted into a scowl. "Oh, what? Is he going to yell at us again? I tremble."

Thor sighed. "You know he only does that when he's worried," Thor said. "He hates being scared, and you have a tendency to scare him."

Loki rolled his eyes. "He acts as if Jarnsvidr is so very dangerous. It hardly even makes the top ten most dangerous places in the nine realms. Ofnir is from more hostile environments than Jarnsvidr could ever hope to be."

"Yet another reason father will have issue with Ofnir being your pet," Thor pointed out.

Loki just huffed and turned his attention to petting Ofnir's back as if he was a particularly dangerous and overgrown house cat. “Both of you worry too much. I can take care of myself.”

“I’m sure,” Thor said obligingly. Thor studied the sleeping reptile for a moment before looking up at Loki. “If father lets you keep him… what are you going to do when he gets larger than your room?”

“I’ll think of something,” Loki replied. “Perhaps some form of stable or a shelter out by the gardens where he won’t be stumbled across.”

Thor frowned as he tried to imagine that. “It would be an awfully large shelter, I would think…”

“Because the palace is so tiny?” Loki asked sarcastically. “Stop trying to poke holes in things. Ofnir will be a wonderful pet. You’ll see.” Thor wanted to argue further but then the ship they were on started to move down the river again, and he decided the conversation should probably just be dropped instead. He wouldn’t win any argument with Loki if he didn’t really think about what he’d say beforehand. Thor had lost enough debates to know that.

By the time they arrived back at the palace, it was nearing dinner, and the sky had turned into a rainbow of reds, yellows, purples, and dark blue. Ofnir had woken up and explored the boat, although he kept very close to Loki. The little reptile only seemed able to wander a few feet before wanting Loki’s cold hand.

Fjorgynn wouldn’t let Ofnir at the table, so Loki and Thor ate in Loki’s room with Ofnir crawling over the bed and rubbing against Loki regularly. After eating their own food, Loki took a scrap of beef and held it out to Ofnir. The wyvern looked interested and crawled back over from where he had been pulling Loki’s pillow out of its casing. The baby reptile crawled back up into Loki’s lap as he examined the meat still being held out for him.

Loki and Thor both preferred their meat on the rarer side, and by this point, the beef had cooled off entirely so it should be the perfect thing for a hungry little carnivore. However, Ofnir didn’t seem all that interested. Loki frowned and cut a piece closer to the bone and therefore even more rare. "I don't think he likes beef," Thor observed as the wyvern just sniffed at the meat and then turned to curl up under Loki's chin again.

Loki frowned and rubbed Ofnir's head and neck with his cold hand. "That's odd. I would think that he would eat any meat that we gave him. I haven't ever heard of wyverns needing special diets..."

"Well, I don't imagine too many people keep wyverns as pets to ask," Thor replied. "Maybe a different sort of meat he'd like better."

Ofnir nuzzled closer to Loki, and the dark-haired prince thought for a moment. Finally, he got up from his seat, still cradling the baby wyvern in his arms. "Would you like to go to the market, Thor? I'm sure there's something down there Ofnir will eat."

"You want to take a wyvern into a crowded marketplace?" Thor asked incredulously.

"He's harmless," Loki dismissed. "Besides, until I make him a collar and enchant it so that it will keep him cool, he needs to stay near me."

Thor frowned. "I still think it's a bad idea."

"That's because you are a complete killjoy," Loki said as he started walking. Ofnir peered over Loki's shoulder at Thor like a giant cat, and the young Thunderer frowned at how... smug the little creature was. Was it even normal for wyverns to look smug? Thor didn't think so, but then again this was a creature that Loki had adopted so perhaps he should expect such strangeness.

"If you frighten an entire city with that thing I doubt mother and grandfather will be all that impressed with you," Thor said as he hurried a few steps to better keep pace with his brother. Ofnir never took his eyes off of Thor even as he laid his scaly cheek against Loki's shoulder. "And your pet is very creepy with how he stares... I feel like he's eyeing me as a future meal..."

"Don't be ridiculous, Thor," Loki said. "Ofnir doesn't have a stomach big enough to eat you yet."

Thor gave Loki an unimpressed glance. "Why, thank you, brother, that is so very comforting."

"You're quite welcome," Loki replied cheerfully.

Thor reached out to give Loki a slight shove of retaliation but quickly jerked his hand back when Ofnir attempted to bite back. Thor swore and held his hand behind his back. "He tried to bite me!"

"Aww, he was just protecting me, is all," Loki said as he reached up to stroke the wyvern's head indulgently. The little beast nearly purred in happiness, and Loki's grin widened. "He's just a baby, Thor. You can't expect him to know not to bite when you go waving a hand in his face."

"I was hardly waving a hand in his face," Thor protested. "I think you love that thing more than me..." he grumbled.

Loki rolled his eyes. "Oh please, Thor. Don't tell me you're jealous of Ofnir."

"No!" Thor denied instantly. "But I'd really rather you didn't find him trying to bite me amusing given what his bites can do."

"Oh alright, I'm sorry for finding it amusing," Loki said although Thor noted he didn't really sound all that sorry. "I'll make sure he learns not to bite you when you try to push me around," he added sarcastically.

Thor shook his head and just turned his attention to where they were going. There weren't too many people out and about right then, but those that were couldn't help but stare. Loki seemed oblivious to it as he continued to scratch his new pet behind the jaw. Ofnir's bright eyes slowly closed as Loki lavished attention on him. Thor supposed he should really be used to Loki's desire to be the center of attention by now and in a way it was good to see him not being so reclusive like he had been lately, but perhaps it would have been nice to not take a dangerous creature to draw it out of him.

The two princes wandered around the city for about twenty minutes before Loki found the marketplace. Although quite a few stalls had closed for the day, there were still plenty of food vendors open. Thor noticed all the civilians gave them a very wide berth, but the young Thunderer certainly didn’t blame them. “So what do you think he will eat, Loki?” Thor asked as they wandered past a few carts that were selling primarily spices and luxury items like perfume.

“I’m not sure… perhaps fish?” Loki mused. “I read something about fish being a part of dragon diets before… Not sure where.”

Thor frowned. “Somewhat late for fresh fish…” Most fishermen brought in their product in early morning and by this late had already sold out.

“Well, who said it had to be fresh? I think Wyverns are known to be scavengers,” Loki supplied as he made his way through the streets. Ofnir lifted his head and sniffed at the air a few times before turning his head to the left and letting out a noise that Thor hadn’t yet heard before. Loki obviously heard it too as he stopped and turned. “I think he likes whatever is down that alley,” Loki said pointing to the narrow and somewhat wet alley that was between two shops.

The brothers made their way down the narrow alley, being sure to avoid any puddles or unsightly piles of mess left by animals. When they were about halfway through the passage, they could make out banging and clanging. Thor and Loki exchanged looks before continuing on. The alley split, and down the right fork they found the source of the noises. A small boy was struggling to push open a large dumpster with one hand while also balancing a trash bin with the other. “Hello there!” Thor greeted.

The boy startled so badly that he dropped the trash he was carrying and slipped from the precarious perch on an old box to fall to the ground with a painful-sounding thud. “Nicely done, Thor,” Loki muttered even as Thor hurried over.

“I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to startle you,” he said as he stepped around the trash that had spilled to hold out a hand to the young boy. “I was just trying to be frie…” Thor broke off as the boy looked up with a face that was shockingly familiar.

The boy had a truly frightening resemblance to the Captain of America, although he was definitely thinner and had slightly finer features he had the same strong jaw and honest blue eyes. The blonde curls of the boy were pulled back enough that Thor could see the slightest of points on his ears, telling of at least partially Alfr blood probably mixed with Vanir. The boy was blushing a bright pink of embarrassment even as he took Thor’s hand. Thor automatically pulled the other blonde up from the ground. “It’s alright. I thought you were someone else,” the not Rogers-son said while brushing himself off.

Loki chose that time to walk over, which was good as Thor was still reeling from the unexpected reminder of his shield brother. “Sorry about him,” Loki said nodding towards Thor. “He’s overly loud. I’m Loki, and he’s my brother Thor.”

“The princes?” the boy asked. Loki nodded. “What are you doing back in an alleyway like this?”

“Well, Ofnir here seemed interested in what you’re throwing out there,” Loki said nodding down at the spilled trash. The wyvern was sniffing again and squirming to be let down. Loki sighed and awkwardly untangled Ofnir’s claws before putting his pet on the ground. Ofnir immediately started rummaging through the trash. He crawled halfway into the can and extended his long neck to poke around inside. After a moment, Ofnir pulled out a large chunk of meat and pinned it to the ground with one foot before starting to tear large pieces off.

The boy with the resemblance to America’s Captain frowned. “Are you sure he should eat that? It’s very old…”

“Wyverns have iron stomachs… what sort of meat is that?” Loki asked. “He wouldn’t eat the beef we offered him in the palace.”

“Um… I think that’s seal,” the boy answered. “I’m not sure though. I just clean up the shop.”

Loki hummed thoughtfully. “I suppose it makes sense he’d prefer water mammals to eat. What store do you work in?” he asked, turning fully to face the scrawny blonde.

The boy pointed behind him at the brick wall. “The owner sells all sorts of imported and exotic foods,” he supplied although he still looked a little bewildered. Ofnir was chomping noisily on a piece of bone he had found and ripped the flesh into smaller pieces for him to swallow whole.

Loki hummed thoughtfully and gave a slight nod. “And you are?”

The blonde looked even more surprised but answered anyway, “Sven Ó Ruairc, but like I said, I’m just an errand boy mostly.”

“Well, Sven. It is your lucky day, would you be so good as to go get your master for us?” Loki asked. Sven nodded and, though he gave the princes a confused look, went back into the shop through a door right beside the dumpster. Loki waited until the door closed again before turning to Thor. “Alright, what is it?”

Thor startled a little. “What’s what?”

“You’re staring at him as if he’s a ghost. Why?” Loki demanded as he bent down to pick up Ofnir again. The wyvern snarled, and Loki rolled his eyes before picking up a bit of meat to give to his pet. Ofnir quieted down and started eating the bits of seal he’d been offered.

“I just… he looks familiar is all,” Thor said. “Don’t know why.”

Loki gave his brother a look that screamed disbelief. “How in the Nine would an Alfr shop boy look familiar to you, Thor?”

“I don’t know. He just… does. Haven’t you ever seen someone that looked familiar even though you know you’ve never seen them before?” Thor asked. His tone was more defensive than he really meant for it to sound but he couldn’t help that.

Before Loki could press any further, the door to the shop opened, and Sven came back out with a rotund Vanir in tow. The shop owner had a thin mustache and goatee and seemed entirely too curious as to what was happening. “I’m Geir, I own this shop. Sven tells me you two are princes?” he didn’t seem entirely convinced of that.

Loki gave a charming smile. “Loki and Thor Odinson of Asgard, yes,” he greeted. “My pet Ofnir seems to like whatever it is you threw out today. What sort of meat was it?”

Geir still looked a little skeptical but also didn’t seem willing to risk being wrong and offending the sons of Odin. “Seal, wolf, shark and some goat,” he answered.

“Ah, well, could we find out which of those he’s eating now?” Loki asked as he hoisted Ofnir up a little higher so that Geir could see. Geir looked uneasy at the sight of Ofnir but supplied that it was indeed seal he was devouring. “And do you have more of it?”

Geir nodded. “A little. Not that big a seller.”

“Well, that looks like it might be changing. Could you send whatever you have left of it to the palace?” Loki asked. “Our grandfather will make sure you’re paid for it. Oh, and you might also want to be sure to get more in. Growing animals need plenty of food and all that.”

Geir still looked bewildered but nodded again. “Sven, go wrap up whatever is left of the seal. You can take it up to the palace. You know the way.”

“Do you now? How convenient,” Loki said with his smile still in place.

Sven nodded. “My mother works in the laundry.”

“Wonderful, thank you,” Loki said before starting back down the alley. “Come on, Thor. We’ve found what he’ll eat. We should head back before mother begins to worry.”

Thor looked back and forth between the two bewildered citizens and Loki a few times before offering Sven and Geir a smile. “Nice to meet you,” he said before hurrying after Loki. “What’s the big rush?” Thor asked as he finally caught up with his brother.

“No rush,” Loki said casually.

“Loki, tell the truth,” Thor said. “You’re in a hurry for some reason.”

Loki sighed and shifted Ofnir in his arms. He held up his blue hand. “It’s so warm out here my hand is starting to hurt.”

Thor frowned. “Is that normal?”

“How should I know?” Loki asked in annoyance. “It isn’t like I’ve ever walked around without a glamour on before.”

Thor held up his hands defensively. “Alright alright. Sorry, I asked,” he said. Ofnir swallowed the rest of his meal whole before starting to lick his chops. “Is that going to be enough for him?” Thor wondered aloud. “He ate it all very fast.”

Loki shrugged. “Who knows when the last time he ate anything was. We have no idea how long he was out in the forest on his own like that. It could have been days to weeks.”

“I’d think he would have starved to death if he was out there for weeks,” Thor said. “Don’t most babies need to be fed regularly?”

“Well, he is in the serpent family, and a lot of them have very slow digestion,” Loki pointed out as they walked. “It could be that he can go a while between meals. Or maybe you’re right, and he wasn’t out there that long. I would love to know how Ofnir ended up in those woods in the first place…”

“We’ll probably never know for sure,” Thor said, and Loki nodded in agreement.

With Loki in a hurry, it didn’t take very long for the brothers to reach the palace again but when they got there, their mother was waiting for them. “Where were you boys?” she asked.

“Out looking for something that Ofnir would eat,” Loki said, hefting Ofnir higher in his arms. “We found a shop that sells seal, and he seemed to very much like that.”

“That does make sense,” Frigga agreed. There was silence between the three of them for a few minutes. “I spoke with your father.” Loki visibly winced. “He says that you may keep the wyvern… if precautions are taken.” Judging by Frigga’s expression, Thor could tell that she was not pleased by the decision and Thor was incredibly surprised to realize that their father had agreed to this without prodding from her.

Loki was clearly surprised as well. “R-really? I mean, of course, yes! I’ll be very careful, I promise!”

Frigga pointed at Loki warningly. “You be sure to be because the second he becomes aggressive I will send him to somewhere better equipped to handle such a dangerous animal, Loki. I’ll not have you or your brother endangered. Do you hear me?”

“Yes, Mother,” Loki answered solemnly. “The utmost caution at all times.”

Their mother still did not seem entirely happy but nodded. “Go on then. And be careful.” The brothers immediately said they would before hurrying off. Ofnir crawled back up to half drape himself over Loki’s shoulder again, and now Thor was very sure that the little reptile was being smug.

“I can’t believe that Father said yes,” Loki said as he opened the door to his room. “I was sure he’d say no the second he heard wyvern.”

“Me too,” Thor agreed. “I wonder why he didn’t…”

Loki frowned and pet his wyvern’s neck. “Perhaps he’s trying to earn my favor for something later…”

Thor rolled his eyes. “Or, maybe, as crazy as this sounds, he’s just trying to make you happy.”

“You’re right… that does sound crazy,” Loki said as he fell back on the bed with Ofnir. The little wyvern crawled off of Loki’s chest to investigate the pillow he had been playing with earlier. “Still, I was expecting to have to convince him when we got back home that it wasn’t a bad idea.”

Thor sat down heavily beside his brother. “Looks as if Mother has more reservations than Father does. You might want to work on her instead. Figure out a way to make your pet seem less dangerous or something.”

“He’s a poisonous reptile… there’s only so much I can do,” Loki said as he pushed himself up to rest on his elbows. “I’ll need to make a collar for him soon though. My hand really is not comfortable,” he added holding up his blue hand. His skin slowly shifted back to his pale complexion, and then Loki shook it off to one side. “Feels like I’ve been holding it in boiling water for hours.”

“How close are you to figuring out the cooling spell or whatever it is?” Thor asked.

Loki shrugged. “Nearly there. I should only need another day, or so, I would think. I’ll work on it tomorrow.”

“What am I supposed to do all day then?” Thor asked.

“I don’t know… go entertain yourself by hitting things,” Loki said flippantly. “I’m sure you can come up with something.”

Thor thought hard for several minutes before he realized he had the perfect thing to do while Loki was working on his spell. He wanted to find out more about Sven and figure out if he was just freakishly similar looking to the Captain or if there was something more there. “You’re right. I’m sure I’ll be fine. You just do whatever you need to, Loki,” Thor said confidently. Loki looked a little concerned but nodded and didn’t question his brother further.

Chapter Text

Finding Sven the next morning was not so difficult. Thor made sure to get up as soon as he could make himself to go around the back of the palace where the servant entrance to the kitchens was. Thor tossed a stone in the air and then caught it again as he contemplated Sven's presence. Either it was mere coincidence that he had found someone in Vanaheim so similar in appearance to the good Captain, or the fates had always planned to bring Thor and his shield brothers together.

Thor didn't think that his presence in the past could have possibly changed whether or not Sven had existed. Especially since he had never left Asgard until the current trip. Thor caught the pebble in his hand again before tossing it even higher into the sky. Had he merely missed Sven the first time? That didn't seem all that far-fetched considering there was no reason to think that Sven was anything more than a regular shop boy if not for his striking appearance.

As Thor caught the stone again, he noticed the familiar yet not shop boy coming near. Sven hadn't seemed to have seen Thor was there yet, which was exceedingly good for Thor since, despite having been waiting, he hadn't put much thought into what he would say.

Of course, Sven noticed Thor sitting there as he got closer. Thor was expecting Sven to say something about his presence there, but the shop boy just kept walking towards the door with a heavy looking package of meat in his arms. Thor frowned but then jumped off the rock he was sitting on to hurry the few paces that separated the two of them. "Ho there, Ó Ruairc!"

"Prince Thor," Sven murmured in greeting with the slightest ducking of his head.

Thor frowned. "Come now, no need for titles. I would like to be your friend."

Sven looked up at that with a slight frown. "Why?"

"Why not?" Thor shot back. "Is there some reason why I shouldn't wish to be your friend? My brother and I will be in Vanaheim for the foreseeable future, but all of our friends are back in Asgard."

Sven still looked confused. "You know I'm just a shop boy... right?"

"So?" Thor asked. "Some of my best friends are nothing more than merchant's sons. I don't see how you're all that different. Or do you have so many friends already that you do not desire any more?"

"Well, no..."

"Then it's settled!" Thor announced. "We're friends now."

Sven looked at Thor with bewilderment. "... right. Well, I have to deliver this package for your brother."

"I will go with you," Thor said.

"It's just to the kitchens."

Thor sighed. "And? I'll walk with you. I haven't been to the kitchens here yet."

"They're only kitchens. Not that special," Sven muttered as he shifted his bundle in his arms with some difficulty and then started walking again.

"This palace is much different than the one back home," Thor pointed out as he walked. "I find it easier to simply assume everything is different and go from there."

"How is it different?" Sven asked as Thor opened the door to the kitchens for Sven.

"It is taller. And golden. Without these tiers that Grandfather's Palace has," Thor explained. "Loki would be better at describing it... I haven't his gift for words," he admitted.

Sven shrugged awkwardly as he carried his load into the kitchen, "It's alright. I have a good imagination." The young half-Alfr lifted the meat he was carrying up as best he could before dropping the paper wrapped package on one counter. "It's a good skill to have since I doubt I'll ever leave Vanaheim to see any of the sights of the realm myself."

"Who says you won't?" Thor asked. "If you join the army you could see any untold number of worlds throughout the realms."

"I'm no fighter," Sven said with a laugh. "I'm a scrawny half-Alfr who didn't even get magic to supplement it."

Thor frowned. "I wouldn't call you scrawny..."

Sven raised an eyebrow. "Oh no? Then what would you call me?"

"... compact?" Thor offered. Sven didn't look all that convinced, and Thor tried to sound more confident than he really was. Alfr, even half-blooded ones, did tend towards more slender frames and lithe muscles but Sven's frame really was more waifish than most. Not helping matter was the fact that he wasn't terribly tall for an elf. If Thor was right in his guess to Sven's age, the blonde was right about the same as Sif, and yet he was shorter than her by several inches. Thor gave an awkward smile, and Sven just shook his head and turned back to the door.

"Sven, dear," a sweet voice called, bringing up the shop boy short.

Sven turned back around and smiled. "Hello, Mother."

Sven's mother was the Alfr of his parents. Her long ears and golden tinted skin gave her away in an instant. Her pale platinum hair was twisted back into an intricate knot to keep it away from her face. "Are you working hard?" she asked.

"Yes, mother," Sven said as he straightened his posture automatically.

She smiled and reached over to brush her fingers along Sven's chin. "You're such a good boy," she murmured. "But don't work too hard. You need to be careful to not over exert yourself."

"I won't," Sven said with the same exasperation as Thor used when told to focus on his studies. Suddenly, Sven seemed to remember Thor was standing there. "Oh, um, Mother... this is Prince Thor. Prince Thor, may I present my mother Sorcha Bean Mhic Ruairc," he introduced formally.

"It's good to meet you, Prince Thor," Sorcha said. "I had heard of your visit."

Thor bowed to her. "It's good to meet you as well."

There was a call for Sorcha off in the distant corner of the kitchen beside where a large pig was rotating over an open flame without any spit. Thor stared for a moment and wondered if that was really a good use of magic. "If you'll excuse me... I have to get back to work. It was good to meet you, Prince Thor."

"Oh, you as well," Thor said as he tore his eyes away from the floating boar.

Sorcha smiled at them before going back to help with whatever it was they were making to drip over the boar as it turned. Thor shook his head. "In Asgard, we'd be using a spit," he murmured as he turned away.

"Yes, well, I had best be going back to work as well," Sven said. "It was nice talking to you, Prince Thor."

"I told you that you needn't be so formal, Ó Ruairc," Thor replied teasingly.

Sven made a face. "If you call me by Sven and not Ó Ruairc then I will not call you Prince," he said.

"Then a deal we have," Thor agreed as he followed Sven out of the kitchen and back outside. "So, what do you do when not working?" Thor asked, ignoring the fact that Sven had tried to end the conversation.

"There... isn't much," Sven muttered. "I... I draw mostly," he added though he sounded very embarrassed to be admitting it.

Thor was hard pressed to contain his excitement. Steven had also been an artist before he became the America Captain. Thor had seen his shield brother still drawing from time to time and thought his friend quite good at it. "I can barely draw a line figure," Thor chirped. "There is little time for such pursuits, but no epic would be complete without illustrations beside them."

Sven looked bewildered by that statement. "Er, yes, I suppose that's true," he said. "You know, you're not much like what I was expecting..."

"What were you expecting?" Thor asked curiously as they followed the path through the gardens to the back gate that servants used.

"Someone more like your brother, I guess. Self-important and... dismissive," Sven explained with some distaste.

Thor blinked several times. "Which brother is that?"

"The one you were with yesterday," Sven clarified. "The one that came flouncing in and ordered things before walking off like he had a million more important things to do."

"Loki wasn't feeling well yesterday," Thor said. "So he was a bit shorter of temper than normal. Please, do not take it personally." Sven didn't look convinced but nodded anyway. "How often do you work in the shop, anyway?"

"Every day nearly," Sven answered. "Mostly in the mornings. Yesterday was rare as we were cleaning and throwing out meat we couldn't sell."

Thor smiled widely. "Fantastic. Then after you are done your chores at the butcher you can return and have fun here at the palace," Thor said. "There aren't nearly as many our own age here in the palace as there are back home."

"There's plenty of kids in the city though," Sven pointed out. "Are you sure you wouldn't rather them be around instead? They... seem more your type, if you'll forgive me saying so."

"I am seeking to expand my type," Thor replied although he couldn't help but get defensive.

Sven held up his hands quickly. "I meant no offense. It's just... I'm not used to guys your size... being nice to guys my size. And I am half-Alfr..."

"What does that have to do with anything?"

"Well, it shouldn't have anything to do with anything at all, but a lot of people seem to think that it does," Sven said. "Bunch of bullies, really. But I promised my mother I wouldn't get into any more fights."

Thor frowned at that. "So what are you going to do if you aren't going to fight them?" he asked.

Sven hesitated. "I... hadn't thought of an answer to that yet. Maybe I'll just get good enough to avoid getting hurt so she won't be able to tell," he murmured thoughtfully.

"I'm sure that if you ask, Loki will help. He's used to fighting those larger than him," Thor offered.

"But he has seidr doesn't he? Doesn't that mean he'd fight with that more?" Sven asked.

"How did you know that?" Thor asked. There was no reason for a shop boy in Vanaheim to know that Loki preferred his magic to physical fighting. They weren't well known in other realms yet.

"His hand was blue and cold yesterday... wasn't that a spell of some sort?" Sven asked back in confusion.

"Oh, yes! Of course! Well, Loki is still a Prince of Asgard, so we've been training with hand to hand for all our lives," Thor pointed out. "I'm sure he could show you something." He was glad that seidr was so much more accepted here. Mainly since it led to show of Loki's true skin to appear as a simple spell to those that live here. That should put his brother more at ease. He'd have to remember to tell Loki about it later.

Sven didn't look as if he was happy with Thor's suggestion. "I... don't think that would be the best idea, Thor. Surely, both you and your brother have better things to do with your time?"

"We will be helping a friend, and that is a very noble and most worthwhile cause. Hardly a waste of our time," Thor declared. "And as I said before, you are my friend." Sven still looked bewildered but seemed to come to a decision not to question Thor further. Thor was glad for that as the more he heard, the more the young Thunderer became convinced that Sven truly needed a friend. That was a role which Thor was more than happy to fulfill.


Meili knelt down beside a trampled path and hovered his hand over the different footprints. Luckily, it had rained in Asgard the night before, and that made excellent conditions for tracking the most recent batch of raiders. Odin had sent several guards to the outlying farms to try and prevent any more slaughters but he couldn't force the farmers to take the extra protection. The Aesir family that had been killed the night before had been one that had rejected the offer. The rain had saved more evidence than normal, so when Hermod had arrived early that morning, they'd been able to trail the raiders all the way into Jarnsvidr. The squadron of soldiers that they had been assigned were trailing a bit behind, and Hermod was rushing forward to try and scout the area.

Meili carefully traced the ridges in the mud where the different footprints slammed down over older ones. He was still mentally picking the different layers apart when Hermod came jogging back to where he was kneeling. "Any new clues?"

"It's odd..." Meili murmured. "I think they doubled back."

"Doubled back?" Hermod echoed. "Why in Asgaedia's name would they double back?" Meili didn't answer. He just kept studying the prints in the mud. Hermod looked around uneasily at the wet woods around them.

Though Hermod had been within the Jarnsvidr, the wood was far from his favorite place. They had tracked the raiders deeper into Jarnsvidr than most went and the woods had gotten darker and more dangerous. There was just an unpleasantness over the whole area, he thought. Especially when it was too quiet like it was currently. Hermod rested his hand on the hilt of his sword as he kept an uneasy watch on the trees around them. "How much further do you think they went?"

Meili shook his head and stood up fully. "With them running over their own tracks like this, it's hard to say," Meili said.

"They've never doubled back over their own tracks before," Hermod muttered.

Meili looked at the tracks and then in the direction that the majority of the footprints led. "Perhaps we're close to wherever they are hiding... or they knew they would be easier to track due to mud."

Hermod frowned. "If we were close to their hideout I would think that we would see smoke rising or some other evidence of it." The cold rain wouldn't be comfortable to be camping in without some source of heat. "We can still follow the tracks right, Meili?"

The other God nodded. "They are disguising their numbers... not the trail itself."

"Good," Hermod said before starting to hurry down the path again. Meili waited for a moment for the squad behind them to catch up a little more before starting to follow his friend. He didn't want the fighting force that they were with to lose track of them.

They tracked the group of raiders another half mile before they abruptly lost the trail at a river. Hermod scowled at the slightly swollen and fast-moving river that was in their way. "Fantastic..." he grumbled as the fastest God took a running leap to clear the water. He landed hard on the other side and nearly slipped back into the river on the mud that was there.

"Careful," Meili said as he looked up and down the river. He didn't see any obvious signs of the raiders having gotten out anywhere nearby. Though, it seemed likely to Meili that they had used the river to keep their tracks from being followed.

Hermod went a little further into the forest to try and find any sign of where the tracks might pick up again. By the time the squad following them caught up to where Meili was waiting, Hermod had returned with a displeased look on his face. "We lost them. I can't find any tracks up or down the river in over a mile."

"The All-Father will not be happy," Meili muttered.

"No. But there isn't much we can do about it," Hermod said. "We can't follow tracks that aren't here. At least we now know for certain they are hiding somewhere in Jarnsvidr."

Meili nodded in agreement. He would have preferred better news to give to Odin, but these raiders were crafty and knew how to hide. "It is definitely no band of trolls," he murmured. Trolls wouldn't have thought to double back or use rivers to cover their tracks.

"Even more news he will not like," Hermod sighed. "We should head back. There is little else we can do here without a trail to follow. Perhaps we should ask Odin to send Geri and Freki out with us to try and find these raiders."

"Going into rivers will confound the wolves just as badly as us," Meili commented.

"This feels bigger than just random raiders," Hermod said as he turned and started back the way they came. Meili looked around one last time before following. "They have shrouded the border in magic, they hide their numbers, they manage to elude all the forms of tracking we've tried... whoever is behind this, knows our defenses better than they should."

Meili was quiet although he nodded in agreement. King Odin and Heimdall were working together to try and disperse the magical fog over the outlying reaches of Asgard that was blocking Heimdall's sight. The block had to have appeared slowly to escape notice, which was unlike any other shielding spell that the King had knowledge of. That, of course, meant that the method to break sorcery was also yet unknown. The Queen may be of more use in removing the barrier, but she was not in Asgard.

"I dislike failing King Odin..." Hermod said as they trudged back through Jarnsvidr. "I hope he will not be too disappointed with us."

"He may want to assign other scouts to the job," Meili replied.

Hermod looked over at his friend with a stricken expression on his face. "Meili! Don't say such things! I don't want to be removed from my duties!" he exclaimed. He hadn't thought that would be an option but now that Meili had brought it up, Hermod couldn't help but worry.

"The All-Father will do what is best for Asgard, and we cannot seem to find the culprits," Meili pointed out.

"Well, we'll just have to try harder!" Hermod declared. "There must be something that we have missed. There just must be!"

Meili shrugged. "If you say so, Hermod."

"You are no help whatsoever."

Chapter Text

Thor was playing with Forseti in the gardens situated in the middle of the castle. Their mothers were both sitting at a nearby table as Forseti played in some sand that had been previously sculpted into a wavy area around a large perfectly spherical stone placed dead center in the garden. Thor was allowing Forseti to bury his feet in a giant mound of white sand. "Loki, darling," Thor heard his mother say and turned his head. "Did you eat the breakfast I sent to you?" Ofnir was still not welcomed at the table and though Loki had been working on a way to allow Ofnir to be without him all of yesterday he hadn’t deemed to come to breakfast that morning.

"Yes, Mother," Loki said as he stepped down into the garden. He put Ofnir on the sandy ground and Thor noticed the Wyvern was sporting a new collar. Primarily it was made of thick braided leather, but there was a metal plate full of inscriptions sitting at the base of Ofnir's long neck. Ofnir sniffed over the sand before wandering over to some bushes as Loki sat down beside Thor and Forseti.

"Dear, are you sure you should let the Wyvern wander?" Frigga asked. Nanna looked mildly nervous as well as Ofnir continued to investigate the bush.

"He doesn't stray far from me, Mother," Loki answered without worry. "Hello, little nephew, I see you're making progress hiding Thor... usually you should wait until he's laying down though. It would be easier to bury him."

Thor rolled his eyes. "We've been waiting for you," Thor told him.

"Oh?"

"Woki! Pretty wights!" Forseti said grabbing Loki's wrist and tugging lightly.

Loki smiled some and glanced at Thor who just shrugged. "Pretty lights, Loki," he said. "Who can say no to such a request?"

Loki's smile widened, and he used his free hand to summon his seidr. Forseti nearly squealed with delight as the air around them was suddenly filled with transparent green animals running and flying and practically dancing for the toddler's amusement. Foresti let go of Loki's hand to try and catch hold of a dragonfly that buzzed past.

"Perhaps I should study the art of illusions," Nanna said thoughtfully. "Forseti tires of traditional toys so quickly."

"These sorts aren't that hard," Loki offered without looking away from the illusions he was manipulating. A green and gold rabbit poked its head out at Forseti from behind the rock, and the toddler quickly went to chase it in a circle. "Since I'm not bothering to make them all full-sized or realistic."

Thor waited until Forseti scampered past after the rabbit before scooping his nephew up and attacking his soft stomach with one hand. Forseti shrieked with laughter and squirmed. "Thor! Nooo!"

"I'm afraid so, Nephew!" Thor said as he continued to tickle the boy mercilessly. "You cannot sneak by me without paying your due!"

"Woki! Hewp!" Forseti cried even as he broke into more laughter and kicked uselessly to try and get loose.

With a few quick motions of his hands, Loki brought all of his illusions to swarm over Thor. Thor made a show of shouting and fighting off the light animals even as he fell over and let Forseti go so that he tumbled safely onto the ground. Loki quickly swept the boy up as Forseti laughed in delight. Loki tossed the boy up into the air a short distance before catching him again. "There. Saved from the terrible Thor," he said with a grin.

"Terrible?" Thor echoed from where he was laying on his back in the sand. He didn't bother rolling over, so he was still looking at them upside down. He would no doubt still have sand in his hair later on that night, but he didn't care. "That seems a little harsh, Brother."

Loki's smile went wider as he bent over to look at Thor. "Perhaps you should not terrorize our nephew then," he suggested sweetly as Forseti climbed up onto Loki's shoulders and wrapped his arms around Loki's head. "Isn't that right, Forseti?"

"Yes!" Forseti agreed loudly. "Terbell Thor!"

Loki's lips twitched. "Hear that? You're terbell."

"I'll show you 'terbell,' Brother," Thor said as he rolled back to his feet and lunged halfheartedly at Loki. Forseti laughed again as Loki quickly backed away. "I will catch you both and make you pay for such slander!"

"Run, Woki!" Forseti ordered as Thor lunged again.

Loki obligingly ran to the other side of the courtyard, forcing Thor to chase after them. Their mothers just shook their heads at their antics as Loki allowed Thor to hunt them for almost five minutes. Finally, Loki paused at a small tree on the edge of the garden and held Forseti up. "Climb up, Nephew. I will teach Thor a lesson."

Thor deliberately slowed to allow Forseti to pull himself up and get firmly in place. Once Forseti was settled, Thor lunged and plowed into his brother. Loki was, however, no longer there. Thor ended up head first into a bush. Forseti laughed wildly as Thor fought to get free of the branches. "You shouldn't underestimate me, Brother," Loki said lightly from somewhere behind him.

Thor managed to get untangled and turned to face an amused looking Loki. "You're getting too good at that," Thor said. Loki just grinned. Loki was advancing quickly with his skill at illusions. Thor had expected to be able to go another few years before falling for that trick again. Thor pushed himself up and lunged at Loki, not even considering that it might be another illusion. This time Loki danced backwards, so Thor figured that this Loki was real.

Forseti was laughing and clapping from his perch on the tree and Thor risked a glance to make sure his nephew wasn't getting too exuberant. The last thing anyone wanted was the toddler falling from a tree. When Thor looked over, however, Forseti started laughing even harder. Thor was bewildered and a little alarmed. The boy's face was turning quite red from how hysterical he apparently thought something was. Thor paused and looked over at a much too innocent looking Loki. "What did you do?"

Loki put a hand on his chest with mock surprise. "Why, Thor, I did nothing!" he claimed entirely unconvincingly.

Thor glanced between Loki and Forseti before turning to his mother. "Mother! Loki has done something, but I don't know what!"

Frigga smiled, and Nanna hid her own smile behind her hand, neither reaction made Thor feel any better. "Loki, it is not nice to tease your brother so," Frigga said.

"I'm not teasing him," Loki denied. "I'm entertaining my nephew."

"Loki."

Loki sighed but then waved his hand, and Thor noticed a green glimmer disappear from around his head. Thor raised a hand and touched his skull even though there wouldn't be anything left. He didn't know what Loki made appear around him, but he was sure it was something embarrassing.

Ofnir crawled out from where he had been in the bushes to where Loki was standing. He pawed at Loki's foot and let out a plaintive chirp. Loki automatically bent down to pick the young lizard up. "Thor! Catch me!" Forseti said from the tree. Thor barely had time to swing around with his arms open before the toddler leapt. Forseti laughed as Thor managed to hold on to the boy.

"Well, isn't this a sight!"

Thor turned to see Baldr and Hodr stepping out into the courtyard. "Daddy!" Forseti squealed before squirming until Thor was forced to put the boy down. Baldr laughed and ducked down to pick up his charging son. "Woki made Thor a bunny!"

Thor frowned and glared at his brother who was determinedly not looking back. "A bunny?" Hodr echoed, sounding amused.

"Yes, Unca Hodr! He had big fwoppy ears an' e'erything!" Forseti explained with huge arm motions that Hodr, of course, couldn't see.

Finally, Loki looked over to see Thor's unamused glare. "It was only an illusion, Thor. Lighten up," he said as he scratched Ofnir under the chin to make the wyvern purr. Thor sighed and figured that at least he hadn't been actually turned into a rabbit. Or any other small creature. Hopefully, Loki wouldn't be doing that so much this time around.

“Did your meetings go well, dear?” Frigga asked as she tugged her needle through a piece of linen.

“Hm? Oh, well enough, I suppose, Mother,” Baldr said as he carried his son over to the table and picked up a few small pastries that had been set out for the two noble ladies. “Although some of the Alfr are being absolutely ridiculous. They don’t want to come to an agreement no matter how much we try to accommodate them.”

“An agreement about what, brother?” Thor asked as he and Loki also wandered over.

Baldr shrugged. “Well, the Alfr have never been fond of their position under Vanaheim’s rule. What with Vanaheim now come under Asgardian rule they seek their complete independence again,” he explained as he sat down at one of the chairs. Hodr took the seat across from him. “Unfortunately, they’ve been under Vanaheim’s jurisdiction for centuries upon centuries at this point, and their governments and cultures are so interwoven at this point there really isn’t such a thing as a clean break. They don’t seem to care.”

“They argue that without Asgardian interference they would never have lost the war to the Vanir in the first place so they shouldn’t be forced to endure Vanir rule,” Hodr added. “Which, they might have a point about.”

Thor frowned and pulled up his own chair. “How so?” History was far from Thor’s strongest subject and even less studied were any wars not directly involving Asgard.

“We lent the Vanir a large number of troops,” Loki supplied as he offered a cracker to Ofnir. The wyvern sniffed it with interest but turned his nose up at it.

“Well, not quite,” Hodr said. “We gave them troops to turn the tide but ‘lent’ implies something a bit different. Grandfather Fjorgynn paid Grandfather Bor quite handsomely for the strength needed to win that war. Of course, that all turned sour just five centuries later when Grandfather Bor decided that he didn’t want Vanaheim to have access to Idunn’s apples at all anymore.”

“Vanaheim nobles are still a bit sour about that,” Baldr said even as he shook his head to deny the tea that Nanna offered him. Thor also turned the offered drink down, but Loki accepted a cup from their mother.

“The Alfr have been arguing to be allowed to separate for the past two thousand years,” Nanna added. “Things are looking to turn violent again, unfortunately. Baldr and Hodr have been working closely with King Fjorgynn, King Njord, and Freyr to try and keep blood from being spilt.”

“Speaking of,” Baldr said suddenly. “Since we’re all here, Freyr sent word that he and Gerd will actually stop by in the next week to speak to us about the situation face to face for once rather than through messengers and speaking spells.”

Nanna looked surprised. “Gerd is coming too? They almost never leave their home even when Freyr just comes by for a friendly visit.”

“Perhaps because this is for official business they are deciding to join their husband,” Frigga said as she poured some more tea into her cup. Thor cast as subtle a look at Loki as he could manage but his brother seemed to have suddenly found petting Ofnir an entirely attention consuming activity. Thor glanced back at his mother and saw she too was looking to Loki but then noticed Thor looking at her. Frigga gave a slight shake of her head before turning to Baldr. “Did they say when specifically they’d be arriving?”

“No. Only that it would probably be late one evening within a week,” Baldr answered. “Considering they’ve spent the past several months trying to quell the unrest they probably have several things to tie up still.”

Frigga nodded and put her cup back down in its saucer. “Well, do let us know if they give you any more of a hint than that, Baldr, dear.”

“Of course.”

After that, the chatter moved on to less politically charged topics. Frigga asked Loki how he had made Ofnir’s collar and near instantly Thor was lost with the discussion. He was proud he managed to follow the first few sentences his brother uttered, but the second he started getting into ‘deep runes’ Thor had been entirely lost. Thor had absolutely no idea what deep runes were or how they were different from other not-deep runes. Thor wasn’t the only one lost. Forseti was squirming with boredom on his father’s lap.

“Come, Nephew,” Thor said quietly as he got up. “Let us go find something else to do,” he suggested. Forseti smoothly went from Baldr’s lap to Thor’s arms with a grin wide enough to rival one of Thor’s own. Thor returned the smile and carted his nephew off to where conversations that he couldn’t understand weren’t being held. Nanna gave Thor a beautiful smile of thanks as well.

Thor carried Forseti off to explore somewhat aimlessly. Forseti barely waited for ten minutes before climbing his way up to sit on Thor’s shoulders like he had with Loki previously. “You like being on people’s shoulders, I see, Nephew.”

“I wike being high up!” Forseti chirped. “When I’m big an’ strong wike Daddy Imma make a huuuge tower an’ wive in da top!”

Thor chuckled. “Your mother won’t like that,” he commented.

“Momma can wive in da bottom wiv Daddy,” Forseti continued.

“Ah, of course,” Thor agreed.

Forseti seemed to decide that being the one on Thor’s shoulders meant that he should dictate where they were going and began giving Thor directions. Not having anything better to do, Thor followed them without fuss. The two young Gods ended up travelling in several large circles and ending up in rooms that were obviously not often used.

Eventually, although it probably took four times as long as it should have, Thor and Forseti ended up in the room that had been assigned to be Forseti’s temporary nursery. Thor put his young nephew down, and Forseti barreled across the room to throw himself into the stomach of a very large stuffed animal of some sort. Thor thought it looked rather ugly, but he had to admit it was large enough to be a pseudo bed for a toddler of Forseti’s size, especially with how oversized its stomach was. Thor thought it might have been a bear… or possibly a cow. “And who is this?” Thor asked as he came closer. Maybe it was a dog, now that he was looking at it.

“Dis is Afrid!” Forseti said as he hugged the stuffed animal tightly and made it’s oversized head fall to one side. “He’s my bests friend!”

“Ah, well then it is good to meet you, Afrid,” Thor said as he hunkered down beside his nephew and his giant stuffed animal.

“Unca Hodr gave him to me,” Forseti said with the same huge grin that he had before. “He keeps monsters away!”

“Monsters?” Thor echoed, unable to help but be worried about just what Forseti though he had to be afraid of.

Forseti nodded earnestly. “Yes, wike dwagons an’ dwagr.”

“Draugr?” Thor guessed. Forseti nodded, tightening his grip on Afrid. “How do you even know what draugr are?” He hadn’t been told about the undead creatures until he was much older than Forseti.

“Da cook back home towd me… Momma was reawy mad,” Forseti muttered.

“I’m sure she was,” Thor muttered. “Well, you have a fine guard here in Afrid. I can tell,” he said confidently. “No draugr or dragon could possibly get past him. I’m sure of it.”

Forseti beamed. “Dat’s what Daddy said!”

Thor smiled down at his young nephew. “Well, your father is very smart. Now, how about you show me what else you have here in your room?” Forseti was springing across to a box full to the brim with toys in half a heartbeat. Already the youngster was chattering on, and Thor sat fully down as the first few toys were dragged over to him.

Chapter Text

Odin frowned as he stared down at the burned out village. "This is the third one," Vili murmured on Odin's left side.

"There's probably not going to be any survivors for this one either," Ve added with a heavy sigh. "This is so senseless."

Odin didn't say anything at all. Even from the distance they were at, on top of a ridge, he could see several bodies hacked to pieces and slaughtered animals in the fields. Odin was glad they hadn't brought Loptr with them like they had originally intended. Loptr might be old enough to go to battle by their father's decree, but their giant baby brother didn't seem to deal very well with the sight of it. And to call this a 'battle' would have been inappropriately generous, anyway. "Come on," Odin said as he guided his horse down a small goat path that leads to the village. Vili and Ve followed behind him on their own specially bred warhorses with identical looks of apprehension on their faces.

The smell of death and rot was thick and cloying on the air, made all the worse by the heat of the summer sun. The brothers gagged on the stench that got exponentially worse the closer to the village that they travelled. Flies buzzed loudly over the corpses, and various carrion birds were starting to peck and rip into the victims. Odin tried his best to not look too closely at any of the bodies sprawled carelessly on the ground. There were women and children among the dead and, though Odin had been raised to expect every citizen of Asgard to defend themselves when necessary, to senselessly and pointlessly attack a village for no reason but to kill was the exact opposite of honorable.

A house creaked and groaned before collapsing onto itself. A plume of sparks and smoke escaped into the air as the wreckage continued to burn away. Putting out the fire would be pointless. Nobody was around to want to save the village, and there was no risk of the fire spreading very far. This particular community had centered itself around fishing for the most part and what fields it had were mostly for livestock. The few crops they had were further out and weren't in danger of catching fire by chance. Still, the scene of the quaint houses turning black and falling in on themselves was far more morose than Odin had been prepared for. This trip had been intended to be a vacation of sorts away from their father and his increasingly aggressive moods.

A marketplace in the center of the village looked as if a storm had erupted right in the middle. All the stalls were tossed about, and most were on fire. Even more bodies of helpless villagers were strewn across the ground, and a few were also nailed to a tree and hanging from what few buildings were still standing. "I think 'senseless' falls short of this," Vili said as the brothers allowed their horses to pick their way daintily through the devastation. One unfortunate woman had been chopped in half, and her lower portion was a good ten feet from her top.

"Yes, it does fall short," Ve agreed.

Vili looked like he might be about to grow physically ill. "None of them have weapons," he said. "They were entirely defenseless. Some are even still in bedclothes."

"Probably attacked early this morning or late last night," Odin muttered. "When they would have no way of being prepared for an attack." This area was not even known as being particularly dangerous. Not until very recently, that is. All three of the villages the brothers had come across had been similarly caught off guard within the last few weeks. Odin frowned at the craters that were scattered throughout the town. More than a few had the pulverized remains of people within them or had destroyed the majority of a building.

The craters were becoming more and more numerous, and Odin felt a sense of dread as he looked at them. Such impacts could not have been made from mortal weapons. Or even very many weapons of the Gods. He knew of a few, but those they had been promised were worthy were wielding them all. Such slaughter cast doubt on that decision. Not that it had been Odin's decision, to begin with, but that was not the point.

Past the market and upon a slight hill they found the burned out remains of the longhouse. The dried thatch roof had ignited far too quickly, and in the dry heat that had surrounded this area for the last few days, the rest of the wood had caught almost as immediately. The flags that had flown from the front of the longhouse had been torn to shreds, and now those tattered remains fluttered in the wind.

Sitting in front of the longhouse were nine figures looking far too pleased with themselves. Judging from the dozens of empty barrels and roasted animal remains that were spread out along the several tables they had most likely pulled from the longhouse, the group had enjoyed quite the celebration. "Brothers!" the one in the center cheered, his red eyes inherited from Queen Bestla glinting like fresh blood in the sunlight. His grin was full of teeth and welcoming, but was so unusual to see on his face that it made them uneasy. "I was not expecting to see you for several months yet."

The warriors around the table all were splattered with the evidence of battle and more than a few had the glazed look of drunkenness. The brother of Odin, Vili, and Ve was not obviously drunk but judging by the smashed pottery under his seat and the way his bloodied boots casually rested on the table, he had more than his fair share.

"Cul," Odin began as he dismounted his horse and stepped forward with Vili and Ve right behind him, "what is all of this?"

Cul Borson raised one dark eyebrow and looked honestly confused. "What do you mean?"

"This slaughter!" Odin near yelled while gesturing to the ruined village around them.

Cul snorted. "Come now, Odin, even you must recognize warfare when you see it."

"We are not at war with Midgard!" Vili protested. Midgardians were practically infants compared to Asgardians. Just a handful of Asgardian warriors could decimate the entire globe that the Midgardians lived on and these nine seemed to be making an effort to prove that.

"And this will keep it that way," Cul said with an absent-minded gesture with his cup. "You should have seen these mortals flee. They never even thought to fight back."

"That makes it worse, Cul!" Odin snapped.

"If they cannot find the courage to fight then they don't deserve to live anyway," Cul dismissed.

Ve shifted where he was standing just behind Odin's right shoulder. "You attack them relentlessly. It is not honorable," he said.

Cul rolled his eyes and got to his feet. As most of the brothers Borson were, Cul was a towering muscled figure although with harsher features than Odin, Vili or Ve. Cul stepped closer to where his three younger brothers were, and the silence grew suddenly tense and uncomfortable. "War is not always honorable, Ve. You're going to have to realize that. You three leave Midgard to me, and Father will need not worry about it rising up like the other realms threaten to do."

"Ruling by fear is not ruling at all," Odin argued, doing his best to keep as even-tempered as possible. Getting emotional around Cul never helped anything. He only ever got worse when tempers were involved.

"Seems to be working well enough for me," Cul said with an unhinged smile. "Do not blame me for you being too soft to remove the weak from the herd."

"They aren't animals," Ve said.

"No, they are worse," Cul replied casually. "They are insects on the dung of animals." The eight figures behind Cul chuckled at that, and a few fingered the hammers that they had all been gifted. Unlike the one hanging from Cul's belt, they all had hammers with proper length handles. "It was so easy. All we need do is attack a few of their outlying settlements, and by the time we turn our attention to their big ones they're far too scared to bother fighting back."

"That's not war," Odin denied. "That's terrorism."

Cul shrugged. "What does it matter so long as it works? I would think you three would approve of this. The more wars we avoid, the fewer nightmares for poor little Loptr baby," Cul said mockingly. "You shouldn't coddle him so. He's old enough to grow up."

"And you should stop picking on him," Ve snapped. Cul had never seemed to like their adopted younger brother. Odin supposed that the eldest had even become less and less favorable to their mother over the years, but he at least tried to be polite to her. Cul never bothered to be kind to Loptr.

Cul rolled his eyes. "You three should leave. Father will get other realms for you to busy yourself with and then you'll see the benefit of making sure these weaklings show you the proper reverence." Odin decided that arguing again that fear was in no way reverence would be pointless. Cul couldn't seem to conceive of any way to maintain order without forcing it upon others. Cul was no King. He was a tyrant. Odin hoped beyond hope that when their father heard of these latest actions, Bor would finally put his foot down in regards to Cul’s behavior.

Odin woke up still tired. He had deliberately not thought about Cul in years. Not since their father had died and could no longer bring Cul up seemingly every other day. Bor never forgave Odin for what happened with Cul even though Odin had explained over and over that Cul hadn't been in the least bit stable. Bor hadn't cared though. Cul had always been Bor's favorite.

Odin sighed and got to his feet. The day was still early enough that the sun hadn't risen, but Odin doubted that he would be able to get back to sleep with such unpleasantness on his mind. The King stood on his balcony and let the crisp morning breeze take away the memory of death baking in the summer heat and the sound of thousands of flies buzzing in his ears. Though there was a period of time where Odin had eagerly gone to battle and been almost as ruthless as Cul that had been a long time ago, and he'd never been a fan of the aftermath. That was why instead of killing the Jotnar he'd settled for taking their power from them. But now it seemed as if that decision was coming back to bite him.

Laufey probably didn't have any control of the bandits attacking their borders, Odin realized, but Laufey also didn't have much incentive to try and stop it either. Odin had known that essentially jailing all of the Frost Giants within their realm would be difficult and controversial but he was sick and tired of killing by that point. He was sure that they would survive for as long as Odin had decreed they would be without the Casket but they seemed to be growing desperate far sooner than he anticipated. Desperate enough to try and attack Asgard. The only thing they could conceivably do were these quick terrorizing attacks; the fact that they echoed Cul's tactics from so long ago was a cruel coincidence. One that he wished his mind had been so kind as to not point out.

Odin stared out at the horizon for another few moments before turning to wash and dress. He didn't even entertain the idea of eating. Odin never ate well after dreams of slaughters. Or war for that matter. Frigga was always telling him to eat more.

After dressing, Odin started wandering the palace. He had nothing, in particular, he felt like he could devote his attention to with his dream still on his mind. Odin wandered aimlessly and silently for nearly a half hour before growing annoyed with himself. Moping about the palace wasn't going to fix anything about the situation at their borders. He needed some way to stop the bandits from attacking his people, but there was little to no way to tell which one of the hundreds of portals, both big and small, that they would use.

Even if Odin spread his entire army across the border, he knew that would only reduce the number of attacks and leave his other borders dangerously unprotected. Muspelheim was still a hostile force that, despite the defeat of Surtur, very much worried Odin. Sindr, Surtur's daughter, seemed to be possibly worse than her father had been, and only Asgard's massive army and possession of the Casket of Ancient Winters kept them at bay.

Odin had managed to keep the attacks on their borders between just his people and Laufey, but he had to stop them before any of the other realms found out and took that as a sign that Asgard could be openly attacked. Odin was thrilled that he'd not had to bring Thor or Loki into war so young. They were currently of age to do so, but there had never been any cause. Odin would do whatever he could to keep it that way. His own childhood had been filled with nightmares of battle and war, which, upon reflection, probably had not resulted in the most benevolent decisions he'd ever made. Odin hadn't realized the full extent of the consequences of such things until his parents had adopted Loptr and he'd had to see the younger prince suffer. Only then had he realized that cruelty was not the way to win wars but Bor hadn't been of the same mind, and Bor had been the one waging those wars at the time. Odin and his people had thankfully enjoyed seven hundred years or so of relative peace.

"My King," someone called.

Odin paused and turned halfway to see a familiar God coming closer. Kvasir's eyes were like two glinting stars, pale and piercing, and somehow they seemed to hold knowledge not even Odin could fully comprehend. The Norns were similarly impossible to fathom, but Kvasir was a kind soul, so Odin was less hesitant dealing with him than he was with his 'aunts.' Odin found the Norns far too meddlesome and cruel to enjoy dealing with on a regular basis. "Kvasir, it is unusual seeing you here rather than in Nornheim." Odin gestured for Kvasir to follow him before starting to walk again.

"I have had a thought that I felt I needed to share with you," he said as he fell into step beside Odin. "I have been thinking on the situation with the raiders at our borders."

"Have you now?" That wasn't so very surprising to Odin. Kvasir often took it upon himself to try and solve problems that didn't directly involve him. He found it stimulating, he said.

Kvasir nodded. "The problem, as it seems to me, is that there are too many entrances to Asgard."

"As always, correct, Kvasir. But there isn't much to be done about that," Odin pointed out. "Pathways through Yggdrasil cannot be closed." Well, more precisely, not without far too much power used and wreaking havoc over the realms. Closing so many entrances would be too much even for the power of the Odin Force and most likely destroy the entire realm of Asgard or possibly more.

Kvasir seemed to look off into the distance as if peering through the wall and beyond. Kvasir could not see what existed through an incredible range and the various realms like Heimdall could, but Odin often wondered if the wise God saw something far more difficult: the weavings of fate itself. Such a thing would make sense, but Kvasir had never bothered to confirm it one way or the other. Wise did not necessarily translate into being forthcoming with information. "I am not saying we close the pathways. Not in the conventional sense," Kvasir said, turning his silver eyes to Odin.

Odin wasn’t sure he knew or liked where this conversation was going. “So what are you suggesting, Kvasir?” he asked.

“There is a method, is there not, to block an entrance to those pathways? That would not destroy them but render them unusable for others to attack us with,” Kvasir said with a few hand gestures off towards some indiscriminate direction.

“Yes, there is such a method,” Odin confirmed. “But it is temporary, and by the time the last of the portals were blocked the first would be in need of being blocked again. I cannot spend all my time running back and forth to the portals and sealing them.” He had a Kingdom to run after all, and he would eventually have to fall into his Odin Sleep and then what would happen?

Kvasir put a finger to his bearded chin and teased the reddish blonde stubble there. “Perhaps there is some way to anchor the spell then?” he suggested thoughtfully. “It would undoubtedly take time to construct, but I see it as the only method of stopping these attacks that would not increase tensions between Asgard and Jotunheim. I believe you do still want to avoid that, yes?” Odin frowned but nodded in agreement anyway.

If Odin and Laufey were forced into open war again no doubt it would end with the death of one, or both, of them. That would result in the never good outcome of children on thrones. Neither Thor nor Helblindi, Laufey’s heir, were in any way ready to take over their respective dominions. Helblindi was closer to an acceptable age and learning to take over the act of ruling, but Thor hadn’t even reached his First Majority yet.

“If we wish to avoid that,” Kvasir began, “then we must find a way to wall off these portals as we would any other entrance to Asgard.”

“A wall it would have to be,” Odin said absently. “The spells to block off an entrance to a realm made by the roots of Yggdrasil is not easy to cast and would undoubtedly take much space if it were to be inscribed.”

“If it is a wall we need then we should put out a call to all that have such skills,” Kvasir said. “I have many contacts throughout the realms due to my travels. I am sure I could find some willing candidates to assist Asgard in the construction.”

Odin thought for a moment and then sighed. “Very well,” he agreed. He didn’t have any better ideas anyhow. And at the very least, even if the wall failed to be suitable for the basis of the blocking spell it would be doing something, and that would reassure the people that he wasn’t simply ignoring the issue. Perhaps an expensive and possibly pointless gesture but that was all Odin had right then. “But be sure to tell them that no agreement will be reached with any of them until the Queen has returned to Asgard.”

Kvasir put his fist over his heart and bowed. “As you wish, my King,” he agreed before turning and leaving. Odin watched until the younger God’s pale grey cape disappeared around a corner before moving himself. Perhaps he should call Frigga and get her opinions on this idea. He wouldn’t make such a decision without her at least there to give some sort of feedback, but Odin would instead talk to someone now. Unfortunately, a speaking spell across realms was a problematic and ultimately wasteful bit of magic that he tried to not do unless the situation was dire.

Odin supposed that this wasn’t truly an emergency and so would hold back his urge to call his better half. Odin was still buried in his thoughts as he walked a familiar path through the palace until he reached the stables. He hadn’t actively thought to go there, but neither was he all that surprised to see where he had ended up.

Odin looked around at all the best warhorses in Asgard standing proudly in their stalls with their coats gleaming and braids in their manes. Perfectly oiled and cleaned sets of tack that were individualized to each horse and their rider were on display along one wall except for those of the royal family. Those sets of gear were on a different partition closer to the back where the largest of horse stalls held their horses. “My King!” A stable boy rushed over, looking very flustered. “Shall I prepare one of your horses?”

“Yes. Audun, if you please,” Odin said. He didn’t particularly feel like taking out any of his more spirited mounts at the moment. The dignified stallion would suit his mood much better. The stable hand nodded and rushed down the aisle to where the large buckskin colored warhorse was already peering out from hearing his name.

The boy quickly had Audun saddled and led out for Odin to mount. The King thanked the boy and then took the road down from the palace grounds and out to the North. Odin was quiet as he let his thoughts wander and barely bothered to direct his mount at all. Occasionally Audun would look back at the King with one huge brown eye, but Odin didn’t notice.

They had only just passed the furthest outlying farms of Asgard when Audun took it upon himself to decide upon a little-used fork in the road to take them slightly West. Odin did notice the turn and couldn’t quite help the wry smile that bent his lips. “I didn’t say to go that way,” Odin stated.

But that is where you want to go, yes? Audun replied entirely unrepentantly.

“I hadn’t decided,” Odin answered. Though Allspeak allowed all the members of the royal family to speak with animals very few animals had much to say. Most didn’t think the way humanoids did, if they were intelligent enough to pick up languages in the first place, they tended to have only vague ideas about things that were closer to instinct than any real complex thoughts. But Audun was a horse that came from a long line of noble steeds bred specially for the house of Odin and as such was much smarter than the average animal.

Adun snorted and tossed his head. You decided when you asked for me, he said with complete confidence. You never bring the others out here.

“You are very arrogant for a horse,” Odin said dryly although he was amused despite himself.

Of course I am. I am a horse of Odin.

Odin smiled at that and thought that perhaps Audun was right and he really had intended to travel the way they were headed. The pair continued on in silence until Odin came to a large perfectly round hill surrounded by a ring of rocks chosen to be as close in size to one another as was possible. At each of the cardinal directions, there was a pillar stone that had been carved intricately from tip to base.

Audun stopped well before the large stone door to the tumulus and quietly waited. Odin patted the stallion’s neck in thanks before getting off and approaching. The door hadn’t been opened for many centuries but the grass was still well maintained and the stones clear of moss. Odin didn’t have to read the carvings on the door to know what was inside the hillock.

The door was reluctant to open, having not moved in so long. As soon as Odin stepped into the dark of the hill the smell of cold exposed earth and age filled his nose. He had not caught such a scent in as many centuries as he had last visited this place, but it would forever be associated with peaceful yet somber places in his mind. Odin took a moment to light an oil lamp that was sitting in a small alcove by the entrance so that he could see and then went further into the mound.

The small flame of the dragon-shaped lamp was not much but allowed Odin to not trip over the pieces of a burned ship that he passed by or the chests filled with beautiful treasures. Odin didn’t so much as glance at the gold that had spilled out across the floor when one casket had apparently rotted away in a corner. He did not need gold, and even if he did, he would not take it from here.

Odin passed through the main room and into a smaller chamber that held surprisingly little. Odin put the oil lamp down on a large stone table and rested Gungnir against the wall before kneeling down. The two golden urns sitting in front of him barely glinted at all due to the dust and dirt that covered them. Odin pulled a piece of cloth from one of his pockets and began to carefully clean the surface of the urns. “Do you think it possible for just one generation of our people to be without war?” Odin asked softly as he cleaned.

There was, of course, no reply. “Father obviously didn’t think so, and I am beginning to wonder myself,” Odin continued. Asgardians did live for a very long time. To avoid war for that long seemed almost daunting. “But even if it is hopeless to try for I would like to at least give my boys more than the paltry time without nightmares that we had.”

Loki had only been old enough to go to war for eight years, and Thor was not much better. Odin did not want to see them grow surrounded by death and blood. He’d had to force his twin sons into battle before they had even stopped growing due to his father’s decrees and he would be damned if he didn’t do everything he could to avoid doing it again. “I suppose you would be laughing at me now,” Odin mused as he carefully dug the grit out of the carvings that spelled out Vili’s name. “But then maybe not…” They knew Odin well enough to know how he felt about his children’s safety. They had still been there when tragedy had befallen their family during yet another war.

“I do miss you,” Odin said so softly even if he had not been alone nobody would have heard it. “And I regret that Thor and Loki will not know you at all.” Odin’s throat tightened and burned, but he pushed the sensation back with ruthless efficiency. His brothers’ urns were now clean and gleaming in the faint firelight. Odin took a deep breath, which seemed to help with the knot in his throat. He wished desperately his brothers were still alive to give him advice or even just to listen to his worries. But they were not. They had died for him, and now he was the last Borson. He had not wanted that very dubious honor. He had spent ages scouring Valhalla for his brothers, but they were nowhere to be found. Perhaps it was merely the Norns being their usual cruel selves, but even Odin could not see and speak with his loved ones that had died.

“If you have any sway where you are, brothers,” Odin murmured. “I ask that you help me protect our people from this threat.” Odin closed his one eye tightly. “Keep our family from losing more than it already has, and I shall do likewise.” Even if he had to build a wall by himself with his bare hands.

Chapter Text

Thor woke up to something heavy on his chest and four sharp points digging into his shoulders. The blonde God groaned and blinked more towards full wakefulness. Whatever was sitting on his chest made it harder to breathe and made it impossible to shift into any other positions, as was Thor's habit throughout the night. After rubbing his eyes for a moment, Thor realized that what was on his chest was a baby wyvern staring at him in a very unsettling way with unblinking blue eyes. "Ofnir... get off," Thor grumbled as he tried to roll and dump the wyvern off of him.

Ofnir just dug his claws into Thor's shoulders to keep in place and let out a low rumbling trill of what sounded like a protest. Thor stopped trying to dislodge the reptile so as to save his shoulders from any deep scratches. He didn't know how badly a wyvern's claws could split his skin and he wasn't terribly interested in finding out. Especially not while only half awake and at some horrible time of night. "What are you even doing in my room?" Thor asked unhappily. Typically, it took food to pry Ofnir from Loki's side. The small reptile seemed to, amusingly enough, think of Loki as his mother and stay clinging to the young Jotunn as often as Loki would allow him to, which was most of the time.

Ofnir let out another noise and continued to stare. Thor scowled and pushed himself up. He had to use one arm to support the reptile's bottom so that he wouldn't slide and cut up Thor's shoulders. Ofnir chirruped and shifted his grip so that the four long claws at the top of his wings were hooked over Thor's shoulder rather than digging in. "You're heavy," Thor complained as he carried the wyvern across the hall. Loki's door was pushed partially open from when Ofnir must have escaped. "Loki," Thor called softly as he entered his brother's room, he wanted his brother to wake up but not to startle him too severely.

Thor paused just inside the bedroom and realized that Loki was tossing and turning under his covers. Whimpers were coming from Loki as he kicked his bedding off of him. Ofnir let out another trill, but Thor ignored it and crossed the rest of the room much faster. "Loki," he called again. This time he called his brother louder to try and wake him.

Loki whined and kicked again while his head thrashed back and forth. Thor carefully put Ofnir on the bed and sat down on the edge to grasp his brother's shoulders. Ofnir chirped and crawled across Loki's legs even as the younger Prince woke up with a gasp and a few blind swings with his arm. Thor managed to dodge his brother's half awake blow. "Loki!"

Loki stared up as he tried to both wake up and calm his breathing. "T-thor?"

"We seem to have switched positions, brother," Thor said as Ofnir pushed closer to rub his head over Loki's hand. "Are you alright?"

Loki let out a loud gusty breath and closed his eyes. "Yes... yes, I'm alright," he murmured while automatically petting Ofnir. "... nightmare."

Thor eyed his brother uneasily. "... do you want to talk about it?" Loki shook his head and, though Thor wanted to press, he doubted that he'd change Loki's mind. Especially considering that Thor himself wasn't very forthcoming with his own nightmares. He gave Loki a nudge. "Move over then."

A testament to how badly Loki had been shaken was that he didn't even protest and quickly moved to the side to make room for Thor. Thor got under the covers and wrapped his arms around his still trembling brother. "I've got you, Brother," Thor murmured as he pulled the covers back closer to their proper place. Loki didn't say anything and just clung to Thor. Ofnir decided the best place to sleep was wedged half between, and half sprawled over the two brothers and proceeded to worm his way into the small gap as best he could. Neither Odinson bothered to try and dissuade him.

The brothers stayed curled together for nearly half an hour before Thor started drifting back towards sleep. "They hate me..." Loki murmured so softly that Thor wasn't entirely sure he'd actually heard it.

He blinked closer to wakefulness. "Who hates you?" he asked in concern.

Loki didn't answer right away, and Thor almost thought that perhaps he had imagined Loki speaking in the first place. "Loki?" Thor asked. "Please... who do you think hates you?"

"... they left me to die, Thor." Thor felt a pang of sympathy for his brother, but before he could say anything, Loki continued, "And everyone in Asgard hates Jotnar..."

"That's not true," Thor said quickly.

"It is," Loki insisted. "Or have you forgotten Jotunn hunt?"

Thor winced. They hadn't played that 'game' in many years. He had never actually considered how the elaborate game that combined chase and sparring matches would seem after the fact. The whole thing was casually mean-spirited in a way only children could manage to be but what was worse was how entirely typical it was. Not even the adults had batted an eye at the implications of a game where they hunted and attacked each other due to being called a Jotunn. "I haven't forgotten," Thor murmured. "But they don't know any Jotnar... not really. And you can't hate things you don't know."

"I beg to differ," Loki murmured into Thor's shoulder.

"Then we'll change how they think," Thor said instantly.

"You can't just change how they think, Thor," Loki protested. "It's not that simple."

Thor huffed and tightened his hold on his brother's shoulders. Ofnir groaned as he was squeezed between them but didn't seem to wake up. "With both of us together, we can do it," Thor said. "So, don't worry about that sort of thing anymore."

"You're so confident..."

"Because I know what we can do together."

Loki went silent again for so long that Thor started to doze off again. He truly wanted to be there to comfort his little brother, but Loki still seemed to be not entirely accepting of himself and there was little Thor could do to help with that. Reassurance was the only thing Thor could offer, and he had already done that so much that Loki had to know it by now.

"Thor?"

"Hmm?" Thor had to drag himself back from sleep yet again.

"... Do you think I should ask Father... who abandoned me?" Instantly, Thor was fully awake again. Before he could do more than just let out a long hesitant 'uh' to the question, Loki looked up. "He said he knew but that I didn't really want to know..."

This topic was a minefield if ever Thor had encountered one. He had never had more than that one very bad interaction with Laufey in his other life and had absolutely no idea what would happen if Loki and Laufey were made aware of each other so early. Thor instantly wanted to shield Loki from that truth. Laufey was painted even worse than most Jotnar in the minds of Asgardians. The Jotun King was portrayed as a humorless, cruel, warmongerer and conqueror of defenseless realms. "... does it truly matter to you?" Thor asked carefully.

"I-I don't know," Loki muttered unhappily. "I don't want to think about Mother and Father not really being my parents, but I don't like not knowing the truth either."

"They are really your parents," Thor assured him. "Just like I am really your brother."

Loki was silent after that and just stared at nothing in particular. Thor wasn't certain how well he'd gotten through to his younger brother but was glad that this time around Loki wasn't immediately rejecting the very word. After a while with no response, Thor drifted off to sleep only to be pushed to the very edge of the bed by a shifting Ofnir.

When he woke, Thor was in the unpleasant situation of being very precariously perched with a large wyvern foot planted solidly in his back. He just about fell out of the bed but managed not to with the help of the bed frame. Ofnir stirred enough to open one eye as Thor untangled himself and got up. Loki was still fast asleep, which was unusual as Loki was almost always up before Thor. Ofnir had shifted onto his back and was laying splayed out with his head resting in the crook of Loki's knees. Ofnir studied Thor with one big blue eye but then groaned and went seemingly right back to sleep. Thor sighed and shook his head but left Loki and Ofnir in bed. He found it rather amazing how entirely comfortable Ofnir had made himself so quickly. The little wyvern seemed to think he instantly belonged, which was amusing if Thor were altogether honest.

Loki ended up being late for breakfast but not so late that he missed the news that Nanna gave them. The report that they had been told that morning was that Freyr and Gerd would be arriving that evening. Thor quickly decided that it would be best to distract his brother. The elder Odinson was certain that the short time between first hearing about the royal couple's visit and the news at breakfast -a whopping three days- had not been enough for his brother to properly adjust to the idea. His nightmare was very telling evidence that he hadn't, at least. Loki had definitely gone quiet and sullen-looking that morning, not that he'd been all that lively, to begin with having woken up late. Thor had tried to distract Loki after breakfast by practicing with Laevateinn, but that hadn't lasted as long as he'd been hoping since Loki had been paying almost no attention to the fight. So, he resorted to tempting Loki out of the castle grounds to find trouble in the city. Of course, he hadn't called it trouble, but both brothers knew they'd likely get into some. They always seemed to get into some.

Loki didn't seem all that interested as he wandered along behind Thor through the streets. Ofnir was clinging to Loki's back with his long head resting on the curve of Loki's neck and his tail curled around Loki's waist. Thor still wasn't sure he was comfortable with how Loki carried Ofnir all over, but at this point, he knew that it would be a losing battle to try and fight. Besides, he knew that eventually Ofnir simply wouldn't be able to be carried and Thor would win by default, which was sadly the way he tended to win arguments with Loki.

The brothers got quite a few looks as they wandered the city, probably because of Ofnir. "Are we looking for anything in particular, Thor?" Loki asked after perhaps an hour of walking around looking into all the shop windows that they passed by.

"No, not really," Thor admitted. "I just thought it would be nice to get out of the palace for a little while."

"Distract me, you mean," Loki said dryly.

Thor shrugged, "That too." Thor wasn't particularly surprised or bothered to be caught out in his true intentions. "You barely ate anything after Sister Nanna told us that Freyr and Gerd will be getting here today." A fact that had not escaped Thor's -or anyone else's- notice, but they hadn't been able to coax Loki to eat anything else.

"Well, would you, if you were me?" Loki asked as he reached up to scratch behind Ofnir's jaw with one hand.

"I don't know," Thor admitted. "I suppose not, though you know that you're not in any danger right?"

Loki made a face. "I'm not an idiot," he grumbled. "I know that they won't do anything against me physically. But that doesn't mean I want to meet them either."

"I didn't mean to imply that. I just don't want to assume anything," Thor explained. "And I don't think that anyone would be upset if you avoided meeting them if you wanted to." Thor certainly wouldn't anyway, even if he thought that Loki probably should meet with others of his own species.

"I don't see how I would be able to avoid Gerd for a week," Loki pointed out. "I'm not going to lock myself in my room for the whole trip."

Thor thought about that for a second before nodding in agreement. "You're right. I can't imagine you being holed up for that long. You'd go up the walls."

"If the walls were lucky," Loki muttered.

"We should probably endeavour not to destroy grandfather's castle while we're here," Thor stated. "It would probably get us grounded for a very long time."

"Probably." Suddenly, Loki stopped walking and crinkled his nose. "Do you smell that?"

Thor paused as well and tried to figure out what Loki was talking about without just sniffing around like some sort of animal. After a moment, Thor caught a whiff of whatever it was and made a face of disgust. "Ugh, yes. What is that?" he asked. Whatever the horrible odor was, it made Thor's stomach churn.

"It smells rancid," Loki said as he brought a hand up to cover his nose and mouth. Ofnir made a noise that Thor couldn't help but think sounded very interested. "Worse than your room that time you lost that glass of milk for almost two weeks..."

Thor shot Loki a glare. "I was barely two centuries old," he pointed out in annoyance. Besides, both of them had been banned from having food or drink in their room ever since, unless they were physically ill. "You can't blame me for doing something stupid as a child."

"I couldn't walk in your room for a month... I've no idea how you could sleep in there," Loki continued as if Thor hadn't said anything at all. Thor rolled his eyes and looked around for any obvious source of the nauseating smell. "It's getting stronger," Loki observed. Loki looked like he was just a shade off from being ill when Thor spotted what he thought was a good bet to the source of the smell.

Sven was trudging up the street with a lot of something all over him. Whatever had splattered over him was somehow both oozy and stringy, in a vast variety of colors, and clung to everything from his hair to his shoes. Sven looked utterly miserable. Thor hurried forward, and the smell did indeed get so much worse. He almost gagged but managed not to if only through pure will. Loki still had a hand over his mouth and nose, but then he always complained twice as much about bad smells than anyone else.

"Sven, my friend! What happened?" Thor asked. Now that he was right beside the other boy, Thor could tell that it was bits of food and other garbage that was covering Sven. Streaks of something red -possibly tomato- was clinging to Sven's hair right by his dirty face while something in a very unappealing greyish brown color coated one entire elbow and had soaked into his shirt. Flecks of something moldy was smeared down Sven's front, and the mess just continued down.

"I'd really rather not talk about it," Sven muttered.

"Did you fall into a garbage bin?" Loki asked with his hand still over his face, not in the least caring that it might be considered rude to do.

Sven scowled. "I wouldn't call it 'falling,' per say."

"Ah," Loki said. "One of those."

Thor frowned and looked between the two thinner boys. "One of whats?"

"Assisted falls," Loki supplied. "Hold still, Sven. I cannot stand the smell of you." Loki brought forth his seidr, and a wave of green and gold swirled around the young half-Alfr. The smell abated instantly although wasn't gone entirely. Loki's magic could do much, but even it wasn't a real replacement for a thorough bath.

"Thank you," Sven said.

"Couldn't get it all off but at least I won't add to the mess by vomiting any longer," Loki replied as he folded his arms over his chest. "Which I was very near doing. They found a very... fragrant bin to throw you into."

Thor stepped forward and laid a hand on Sven's shoulder, albeit carefully to not touch any mess that might have been left behind. "Sven, who did such a thing to you?"

"It doesn't matter," Sven said. "Especially now that I don't reek. You needn't bother yourself with it, Thor. I can deal with this."

"You needn't 'deal with this' alone," Thor argued. "And just because you are less pungent does not mean that it no longer matters. Someone put you in a garbage bin, that is entirely unacceptable."

"It is entirely typical," Loki replied before Sven could do more than open his mouth. "Still, Thor has a point. You should tell us who did this."

"What are you going to do? Fight them?" Sven asked with more than a little incredulity.

"Of course not," Loki denied.

Thor looked over sharply. "We're not?"

"No, Thor. Because then, once we leave, they'll just get worse," Loki said as if it were obvious. "But we're not going to let them get away with it either. However," Loki wrinkled his nose, "you still smell, Sven. So, let's get you fully clean before we seek a form of recompense more appropriate to the crime done." Ofnir trilled almost as if agreeing and Loki rubbed along the lizard's chin with a slightly off-putting smile.

"Brother... we should try to not cause any problems with the local boys," Thor said. "Mother would be vexed with us."

"We will not be causing trouble," Loki promised almost too innocently. "They won't even know we were around. I promise. Now come on."

Sven looked ready to protest further, but Thor grabbed his shoulder. "Come on," he encouraged. "It is usually best to just do what my brother says when he is like this," he added in a whisper. Sven allowed himself to be led back through the town towards the stairs to the palace although he still looked like he was somewhat confused.

"Where are we going?" Sven asked.

"To a bath," Loki said.

Sven frowned. "I could just go home..."

"Why bother when we're just going to go looking for your attackers afterwards?" Loki asked.

"We would have to go looking for you after you cleaned up," Thor said as a sort of agreement. "It is easier to just stay together."

"But we're going to the palace..." Sven said while shrinking back. Thor disallowed him to get away and continued to guide the smaller boy up the stairs to the palace grounds. "I should go home. I can get a change of clothes there too."

Loki glanced over his shoulder. "You're smaller than me," Loki said. "But my clothes should still fit you. Don't get used to it though. I'm not fond of others using my things."

"But-"

"I told you, it is best to simply allow him to do what he wants," Thor whispered as they reached the top of the stairs. Loki did not often feel like being spontaneously kind, and Thor wasn't entirely sure why he was doing so now. Perhaps something about Sven's plight twinged some sympathy out of Loki. What with his instant understanding of 'assisted falls,' which Thor was definitely going to get to the bottom of later, Thor thought a common understanding might be the cause. Either way, Thor was loathe to discourage kindness from his brother.

Loki led the way to a side door and then down several halls. Many servants seemed taken aback by the sight of the three boys, one of which was still very much in need of a bath. They reached the bath without interruption, however, and Loki gestured for Sven to go in first. "Go ahead. I'll get you something to change into and put Ofnir in my room. Probably not a good idea to bring a baby wyvern along with us after you get cleaned up."

"Really, I don't need you two to show me any sort of special treatment," Sven protested with his hands up in front of him.

Loki rolled his eyes and gestured to Thor with his head. "Brother?"

Thor nodded and gently but forcefully pushed Sven into the bathroom. "Come, Sven. I could use a bath as well," Thor lied. Thor didn't remove his hand from Sven's shoulder until they were in the middle of the male's side of the large bathing chamber. The floor was covered in slabs of grey marble only interrupted by a mosaic of the Vanaheim royal crest in the middle of the room. Two feet from either wall was a simple but elegant wooden bench made of pale slats. The faucets were rearing winged horses with their mouths wide open for the water to pour out from. Sven looked pleadingly at Thor, who ignored the smaller boy and pushed him to the side to stand by the first faucet. "Unless you would rather remain covered in garbage, I would simply accept the offer."

After a minute, Sven sighed and pulled off his shirt. "This still feels weird... This whole bathroom is fancier than my entire house..." he muttered.

"My brother will not stay near you if you smell bad," Thor offered.

Sven continued to mutter to himself but finished stripping out of his filthy clothes and turned on the water. Steaming hot water gushed from the horse's maw, and Sven started to hurriedly clean himself. The water drained away through nearly hidden gaps between the marble slabs.

Thor decided he might as well bathe as well, if only because he felt a little awkward just standing there while Sven cleaned himself up. When Thor turned his own faucet on with the buttons on the horse bridal, tension in Sven's shoulders eased.

Sven had just started trying to get the rotted food from where it was tangled in his hair when Loki came into the bathing room with a basket in his arms. "I thought you might need some clothes too, Thor. I'm glad I was right," Loki said as he put the basket on one of the benches. He pulled something out of the side of the bin. "Here, Sven. Use this to get rid of that smell." Sven turned just in time to catch the bottle he was tossed.

"Um, thanks," Sven said.

Loki nodded and undid his own belt. "You're washing too?" Thor asked.

"Well, might as well. Either way, I'd have to wait for you two to get done," Loki pointed out. "Besides, I woke up late this morning remember?" Thor shrugged and went back to his own business. The three boys didn't waste any time in cleaning up and then getting redressed. Today wasn't a day to go linger in the large bath in the next room and even if it was, Loki was never too fond of spending extended amounts of time in hot areas.

Sven certainly looked odd in Loki's clothing. Thor thought he didn't look half bad since Loki had given him some of the few light colored shirts he owned and relatively plain trousers. Sven wouldn't look out of place at all with their usual group of friends in Asgard if it weren't for the undeniable fact that he seemed painfully uncomfortable in clothes made of higher quality material. "So, what are we going to do about these bullies?" Thor asked as he rubbed his hair dry.

"Oh, I thought perhaps they would like a taste of their own medicine," Loki said as he finished lacing the leather vest he had put on over a long-sleeved emerald shirt.

Thor frowned. "Are we going to get in trouble?"

"My mother will skin me if I get in trouble," Sven said worriedly.

Loki sighed. "I have a plan," he said in exasperation.

"Is it a good plan?" Thor asked.

Loki grabbed up the basket now full of their dirty clothes. "No."

"Will we get caught?" Sven asked, sounding more alarmed.

"Yes."

"Loki..." Thor said in warning.

"Oh, lighten up, both of you," Loki ordered. "I know what I'm doing."

Chapter Text

Loki's plan was really quite simple. Sven was able to lead them to the homes of his tormentors and Loki was able to get them inside without being seen. Thor was a little nervous that Loki's burgeoning powers wouldn't manage to cloak all three of them, but that worry didn't seem to be founded in anything as they got into the house and the first boy's room with ease. "Alright, Thor, you keep watch," Loki said as he went over to the dresser against one wall and pulled the first drawer out.

"What are you doing?" Sven asked in confusion as Loki took the drawer full of clothes over to the bed and sat down.

"It's a simple spell I've modified. Bring me the other drawers," Loki commanded as he pulled a piece of chalk from his pocket that was wrapped with some sort of golden wire and green ribbons. Thor tried to keep his attention on his job of keeping watch, but he couldn't help but be curious about what his brother was doing.

Loki carefully turned the drawer in his lap so that the back was facing him and then started drawing on the wood where nobody would see it without an exhaustive search. "Are you sure this won't get me in trouble?" Sven asked nervously as he brought another drawer over.

Loki sighed in exasperation. "You said you don't have seidr, yes?" Sven nodded. "Well then how in Asgaedia's name could you possibly be blamed for a spell being put on someone's dresser?" Sven still didn't seem convinced but couldn't think of a protest, so Loki went back to his work.

"What does that even do?" Sven asked as Loki finished the first drawing and moved onto another.

"It's supposed to be an anti-theft spell that the Dwarves came up with some centuries ago," Loki said. "If someone takes something from the container with the spell and does not return it within a certain time it is meant to turn that person bright purple or some other telling color to identify thieves. I'm just... tweaking it slightly."

Thor glanced over his shoulder. "Tweaking how, brother?" He could see the first drawer's inscription from his angle. Loki had drawn a surprisingly perfect circle on the wood with several lines, geometric shapes, and symbols carefully placed within it.

"This version I've made will have their clothes smelling worse and worse the longer they go without being in the drawers. And since the drawers themselves won't stink it should take them a while to figure out what's happening," Loki supplied as he finished with the second and moved on. "Hopefully a good long while. And it should take so long that, combined with Sven not being able to cast such spells, will clear him of being involved. The biggest downside being, each drawer needs to be inscribed in order for this to work."

Thor nodded and went back to his watch. He was glad that this revenge wouldn't actually harm anyone. The bullies were still kids after all and could hopefully learn a lesson from all this.

Loki worked steadily, and when he had finally made the circle on each of the drawer backs, he snapped his fingers. Green sparks seemed to ignite the chalk lines for just a moment, and then they were etched ever so slightly into the wood. The glow of the lines faded as the magic settled and Loki nodded in satisfaction. "Alright, now we put them back and move onto the next house," Loki said as he picked up the first and slid it back into its track.

The longest part of Loki's plan, as it turned out, was going to each of the bullies houses to set up the spells. "Are you sure this isn't too much for you?" Thor asked as they waited for Loki to cloak them so that they could get into the last boy's house. Loki had been using more magic than usual to enchant all of the drawers and also get them in and out of the homes without being seen. He looked a little paler than usual, and Thor couldn't help but worry.

"I'm fine. And we're almost done, anyway," Loki pointed out.

"You don't have to do so much for me," Sven said, also sounding worried. "You do look tired."

Loki waved away the concern. "I am fine. I promise," he said. "Now, hold onto my shoulders, and we'll go finish the job."

Thor still wasn't entirely convinced but did as Loki said and grasped his brother's shoulder. The three boys carefully made their way into the last house on the list and then up the stairs to where their target was. They had to pause a few times to avoid servants, but they got to the boy's room without any real problems. Loki sat down on the edge of the bed as Sven started getting the drawers from the dresser. Thor frowned, not at all happy at how tired his brother seemed to be.

Thor abandoned the door for just a moment to go stand beside Loki. "I've got seidr don't I? That's why I can control storms?"

Loki looked up in puzzlement. "Yes, but it isn't as if you've ever tried to cast a spell before. Are you suddenly interested in it? Because if so, it would take some time to teach it to you that we don't really have."

"I meant more... can you use mine to fuel the spell instead of just yours?"

Loki studied Thor thoughtfully for a moment. "I... suppose I could. Mother used to guide my magic when I was first learning. The concept should be essentially the same."

"Then use mine, because you look far too tired," Thor said. "Plus I feel like I haven't done hardly anything in this."

Loki quirked an eyebrow up at that. Sven glanced between the two of them curiously as he put the drawers down on the bed. "Alright," Loki said finally. "Give me your hand." Thor did so immediately. Loki put the chalk in Thor's hand and carefully guided his brother in drawing the last set of circles on the drawers. Guiding Thor meant that the process too much longer than the earlier sets but this time Sven kept watch.

Once the Odinsons finished the drawings, Loki held up one hand while still grabbing Thor's wrist. He nodded down at Thor's other hand, and the young Thunder god held up his free hand just like Loki. "Alright, on the count of three we trigger the spell. The snap serves as a useful trigger tool. Most spells I don't have to use it, but since we're triggering all the circles at once, it's helpful. So... one, two... three."

Both brothers snapped, and sparks of green and almost white blue set the chalk on fire. The circles glowed a little longer than they had when Loki himself was enchanting the drawers but they did fade until they were barely visible. "Not bad," Loki said as he let go of Thor's wrist. "You know... you have a lot more seidr than I thought you would. Its a shame you're not more interested in learning it. You might actually make a decent war mage if you wanted."

Thor was surprised at that but couldn't think of a reply before Loki was up and putting the drawers away. Thor hadn't ever put any thought into learning spells since he had never really understood how they worked. Even when Loki had tried in the past to explain things, Thor hadn't been able to follow. Thor might have had some seidr and some minimal potential, but he thought Loki might be giving Thor a little too much credit. Thor couldn't see himself being a mage in any sense. Not even a war mage which notoriously only ever used simple destructive spells. Loki, Thor knew, was familiar with dozens of spells used by war mages but rarely used them because he thought them 'inelegant' and his own power made using the spells unpredictable.

"Alright, let's go," Loki said as he put the last drawer back in place within the dresser. "We've just got one last thing to do."

"What's that?" Thor asked curiously. Loki smiled, and Thor wasn't entirely sure he liked how it looked.


The five boys laughed and joked as they made their way down the street. Several store owners gave the group a sour look but otherwise didn't say anything. The boys were notorious around town for causing trouble, but their leader was the son of the Vanaheim merchants guild leader. Nobody who worked for a living wanted to risk the boy pointing them out to his father, so the boys were free to disrupt things, for the most part, to their heart's content.

They tended to find weaker kids to entertain themselves by tormenting. Sven was a favorite target because -not only was he smaller and often alone, but didn't have any ties to anyone important. Every time that they caught the half-Alfr boy by himself, it was a good day. They had been exceptionally pleased with themselves that day for managing to keep Sven in a restaurant's dumpster for almost an hour before they got bored.

Though the boy had shouted and tried to get out, he was much too small to actually do so, especially with the others sitting on top of it like they had been. The leader, Rolf, was somewhat disappointed that they hadn't been able to make Sven cry, as he found that hilarious, but it did sound like the other boy might have gotten sick at some point. "What should we do now?" one of them asked.

Rolf shrugged. "I'm getting hungry." There were various agreements with him as the gang swaggered down the street with so much bravado it was cartoonish. The boys continued through the town, looking for whichever restaurant or food cart caught their fancy. They were taking up almost all of the street and being very loud as they joked about their usual victims.

None of them spotted the oil on the ground when they reached the top of one hill. Rolf was in the lead and so slipped first. He let out a shout and flailed for balance. His friends tried to steady their leader, but they were instead dragged down along with him. Like some perfect storm of chain reactions all five of the boys were pulled along and tumbled down the hill. Though it hadn't seemed that steep when they were climbing it, none of them could manage to stop as they cartwheeled and rolled over each other with more than a few curses and yells. Citizens quickly got out of the way as the boys tumbled. Finally, they came to a stop although it wasn't gently.

The boys slammed into a cart hard enough to topple the barrels and boxes that it had been transporting.The smallest bit of green light that nobody noticed hit the base of one barrel that had been swaying dangerously. The jolt was enough to send it crashing over the top of the boys. Black sticky molasses splashed across all of them from head to toe, causing each to sputter and cry out.

From the entrance to a nearby alley, Loki chuckled and leaned against one wall. "That looked painful," Thor observed, although with how each of the boys was yelling at each other and trying to get up he could assume none were seriously hurt.

"No worse than getting tossed around," Sven said. "How easy is it to get molasses out of clothing?"

"I can't imagine very," Loki said. "Which works just perfectly with what we've already done. They'll get cleaned up, put on fresh clothes, and then start to stink worse than a bilgesnipe." Thor snorted in amusement and Sven had to cover his mouth to keep from laughing too loudly.

"You are a mad genius, Loki," Sven said. "Even if I had magic I wouldn't have thought to curse their clothes."

"Their clothes aren't cursed," Loki denied innocently as he watched Rolf fall to the ground and land on his arse in the puddle of molasses again. His grin widened. "Although I had no idea how long it will take them to figure that out."

They watched the five boys slip and fall down and curse each other for another few minutes before walking off down the alley. They didn't want to be spotted in the area and somehow drawn into anything. Much better to just leave the bullies to their fiasco all on their own. "That was very satisfying," Sven said as they wandered through the streets in the general direction of the palace.

"It was," Thor agreed. "Surprisingly so." He had never really put any thought into the tricks and little acts of vengeance Loki used, but knowing that the bullies would have to deal with a lingering stench until they found the sigils on their drawers seemed far more fitting than just beating them.

"Surprisingly so?" Loki echoed. "You doubted me?"

Thor rolled his eyes. "It isn't like I tend to trick people in vengeance, Loki. That's your thing."

Loki narrowed his eyes for a moment before shrugging. "Yes, I suppose so. But I wouldn't do it if it weren't satisfying."

Sven stopped walking with them suddenly. "What's going on at the Palace?"

Both brothers stopped as well and looked up to where the Palace was in front of them. A large group of people was just visible where they were heading inside the main gates, and several of them were carrying trunks and other baggage. Loki's grin fell immediately, and Thor sighed. So much for the good mood that they'd managed to foster while they were out. "That would be Lord Freyr and Gerd arriving," Thor muttered. "I thought they'd be getting to the palace much later."

"Oh..." Sven said although he still seemed confused. "Why do you look upset? Mother says that Lord Freyr and his partner are very nice. Even to servants."

"I'm sure they are," Thor said quickly. "I guess it's just because we've never met them before."

Sven studied them for a moment before shrugging. "Well, I'm sure it'll go just fine. I take it you two have to go now?"

Thor nodded. "I'm afraid so. Come on, Loki." Loki didn't look like he was going to follow, so Thor took his brother's wrist and led the way down the street. He waved goodbye to Sven as they parted ways before glancing over at Loki again. "It's going to be fine, Brother. You'll see."

Loki exhaled a long breath. "I hope you're right..."

"I am," Thor said confidently. Freyr always spoke so highly of his partner that Thor couldn't imagine the Jotunn being unpleasant to Loki. There might be some initial awkwardness, Thor didn't deny that, but he was sure that it would all work itself out. Still, Thor made a point to take a slightly longer way back to the palace than he would have initially gone. He wanted to give Loki as much time to gather himself as he could.

As they climbed the stairs to the palace, Loki's grip on Thor's hand tightened almost to the point where it was painful, but Thor said nothing. They reached the front of the palace after everyone had already gone inside, but Loki hesitated at the entrance. "Maybe we should just go to our rooms. We can meet them in the morning that way?"

Thor didn't think putting it off would actually help Loki be less nervous, but he would be willing to do it. He didn't get a chance to agree however as Baldr spotted them through the open door. "Thor! Loki! There you are! We were wondering where you'd gotten off to!"

Baldr came out with a huge grin on his face and clasped both of his brothers on the shoulder. "Freyr and Gerd are here. They're taking tea in the garden. You should come say hello before dinner where things are so formal," he said as he guided both boys inside.

"We were just thinking, maybe it would be better to let them get settled first," Thor tried.

"Nonsense," Baldr chirped. "Besides, putting it off will only make it seem worse. Best get what you're nervous about over and done with early." Loki shot their older brother a glare, which Baldr wholly ignored. Thor sighed but, since Baldr seemed to have made the decision for them, just went along without further protest.

Loki squirmed, but Baldr again ignored it. "I can walk on my own, you know!" he snapped.

"Yes, but chances are you'd walk to your room and not to the garden," Baldr said. "Trust me, Loki. Drawing out something you don't want to do will only make it worse in the long run. And you can't avoid them forever."

"I'm sure I could if I tried," Loki grumbled.

"Now, Loki, none of that," Baldr said as they reached the hall leading to one of the smaller gardens near the guest wing. "Try and be open-minded."

"We will," Thor promised.

Baldr gave them both a smile. "Very good." He pushed them forward to the entrance to the garden. "Look who I finally found!" he crowed in place of a typical greeting. Instantly, those sitting at the outdoor table looked up. Their mother and Nanna were there, and sitting beside Freyr was a being who could only possibly be Gerd.

Gerd was not at all like what Thor was expecting. Freyr's partner was tall, as could be expected of a giant, but was a different blue than most Jotnar. Gerd's skin was an almost blue-grey slate tone rather than the usual sapphires and cornflower blues that Thor thought of when the word Jotnar was said, and the thick ancestral lines seemed an almost silver color causing less contrast. The deep red eyes, however, were very much in evidence, and Thor couldn't help but still find the blood-colored gaze to be unsettling.

Gerd was the first Jotnar that Thor could remember ever meeting without traditional armor on. Instead, Gerd was wearing a sleeveless, one-shouldered, vest in a light tan color and a midcalf length skirt that was shorter in the front than the back to expose soft-looking black pants underneath. Warrior Jotnar that Thor was familiar with always had bald heads and, despite the fact that Loki was both Jotnar and not hairless in the least, the Thunderer had sort of assumed that Jotnar didn't have hair for some reason. Gerd did have hair though -long blonde locks that were braided close to their skull and clasped with black beads before being allowed to flow freely down their back in thick waves.

Though Gerd was married to the heir to the Vanir Throne, they didn't wear much in the way of jewelry. All Gerd sported to depict station was a golden armband and a simple circlet with a black stone set in the middle. Gerd looked over at where Thor and Loki were standing and gave a half smile. "And these must be your other brothers, Baldr?"

"Yes, these are my baby brothers, Thor and Loki!" Baldr introduced with a hand still on either of their shoulders. Thor was afraid that Loki would bolt, but the young trickster seemed transfixed by the sight of the Jotnar sitting at a table with Nanna and Freyr. Thor had to admit it was an unusual sight, especially with Forseti on the ground nearby playing with his shimmering stacking blocks entirely oblivious, but Loki seemed caught somewhere between horror and shock.

Baldr didn't wait for his younger brothers to respond at all and just physically directed them closer to the table. "It's good to finally meet you both. I've heard a lot about you," Freyr greeted. "This is my lovely Gerd."

Loki shifted his weight uneasily, and Thor felt equally uncomfortable but cleared his throat and attempted a smile. "Hello..."

Freyr looked less than impressed by their reaction, but before he could even open his mouth, Gerd leaned over to put a hand on his arm. Then Gerd looked back at Thor and Loki. "I take it I'm the first Jotunn you've ever met?" they asked. The boys nodded silently. "I see. Well, I'm not going to eat you if that's your fear."

"We don't think that," Thor blurted out quickly. Gerd's almost invisibly pale eyebrow went up. "You just... aren't what we were expecting either..." Thor added uneasily.

"No, I imagine I'm not. My husband seems to give people a mistaken impression of me," Gerd said, giving Freyr a fond but exasperated look.

Freyr just smiled. "You're every bit as lovely as I claim. It isn't my fault most are too blind to see it."

Gerd smiled wider and looked back at the still uneasy boys. "He is impossible, truly. But he does mean well, I assure you."

Freyr seemed to melt when Gerd smiled at him and squeezed his partner's hand before turning his honey brown eyes to the boys. "Well, come sit with us, boys. We can get better acquainted."

Loki hesitated again, but Thor decided to take the initiative this time and forced his brother forward. Although, he did make sure to take the seat closer to the newest arrivals. "Your mother tells us that you'll be staying with Baldr and Nanna for a bit," Freyr prompted. "Something about raids in Asgard."

"Yes, Father thought it would be best if we weren't around that," Thor said as he tried his absolute best to not stare at Gerd. He'd seen Jotnar before so it shouldn't draw so much of his awareness, but Gerd was easily the largest person at the table and not at all what Thor had been imagining. Before he could stop himself he found himself blurting out part of his thoughts, "You're not as blue as I thought you'd be."

Loki buried his face in his hand and Frigga scolded him, but Thor had already said it. "It's alright, Queen Frigga," Gerd said with a hand raised to keep her from giving Thor a complete tongue lashing. "I am half Fjallverr." Thor stared uncomprehendingly.

"Mountain Giant, Thor," Loki muttered.

Thor's eyes widened as it clicked in his head. "Oh! Um, sorry," he said quickly. Although he wasn't sure if he needed to apologize, it was probably best to cover all of his bases.

"Quite alright. It's not something that really matters other than it makes living in milder climates more possible," Gerd explained.

There was a slightly awkward pause at the table. "Is this your first visit to Vanaheim, then?" Freyr asked.

"Yes," Thor confirmed. "Our first trip anywhere away from home."

"Ah, well, I do hope that you're enjoying yourselves so far. What with all the trouble in Alfheim, we haven't been able to be here as much as we'd like," Freyr explained. "Though I am the one set to inherit both thrones I really feel as if Vanaheim is my real home."

"How are things going in Alfheim? Any improvement?" Nanna asked curiously as she put a thick layer of preserves across a piece of bread. Forseti had wandered over at some point, and she handed the treat to him.

"Some," Gerd said. "But not as much as we would like. Certainly not enough to afford us a very long trip back home, but there really were things that we simply had to handle here."

"I, for one, would like to talk about something other than politics for once," Baldr said. He had produced a chair from somewhere and managed to wedge it between Gerd and Nanna to sit beside his wife. "Father says that you're to pick your weapon specializations soon, Thor, Loki. Any thoughts as to what that would be?"

Loki seemed horrified to be put on the spot, so Thor deliberately leaned forward. "A hammer," Thor said instantly. "I just like how they feel in my hand better than swords or pikes." Loki didn't answer the question at all.

"Well, warhammers are very imposing weapons," Freyr offered. "I do hope that you find a good one to use, Thor. There is a long tradition of using such weapons in Asgard's history. You'll be in very good company."

Thor nodded. "Although I haven't found one I like the best just yet. I'm sure that I will, though."

"Maybe your Father could commission one for you," Nanna offered.

"Please, do not give Odin any ideas," Frigga said with a laugh. "I'm sure that Thor can find one somewhere in the armory to suit his needs."

Loki still decidedly did not answer the question even though he had been directly asked as well. An awkward silence settled on the table as Loki studied the empty place setting in front of him. It could not have been any more obvious that Loki did not want to be there, but Thor had no idea how to fix that. They hadn't really been given an option on if they should attend this tea or not.

"What were you two up to all day, dears?" Frigga asked after a moment. The tension broke thankfully, and Thor let out the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding.

"Playing," Loki offered, finally proving that he could still speak. Frigga fixed her son with a piercing gaze. "We were! Sven was with us," Loki added.

Frigga still didn't look entirely convinced. "And the story I heard about the three of you traipsing through the palace in need of a bath?"

"That was only Sven," Thor said. "He fell into some trash and needed to clean up is all."

"I see," Frigga said as she stirred her tea.

"Really, we were being very good," Thor said.

Frigga stared at Thor, and the young Thunderer felt the need to squirm and blurt out everything that they had done that afternoon. Loki stepped hard on his foot. "Mother, I should probably go check on Ofnir. He's never been left in my room for very long before and certainly not alone. I wouldn't want him to get into anything."

"Er, yes, we should do that," Thor agreed.

Frigga was clearly not buying their excuse. She turned to Freyr and Gerd. "Ofnir is Loki's new pet," she explained. The couple nodded in understanding even as Frigga dismissed them with a wave of her hand. "Go on then. But you will be attending dinner so be sure to wash up for it."

"Yes, Mother," they both echoed before fleeing the garden. Loki glared at Thor as they got out of hearing range of the garden. "You are an absolutely terrible liar. You might as well have just blurted out that we were up to something."

"I panicked," Thor said.

Loki rolled his eyes. "At least it got us out of there. I can't believe you asked Gerd why they weren't bluer," he grumbled as he stalked off towards their rooms.

"Can you blame me? It was odd!"

"That would be like asking why Sif isn't the same color as Heimdall," Loki said. "Honestly, Thor, you just stick your foot in it every second you can, don't you?"

"I don't try to," Thor said as he followed his brother. "It just came out before I could stop it."

Loki shook his head again. "Dinner is going to be so awkward," he muttered. "I hope Mother isn't going to try and make me talk to them." He opened the door to his room, and Ofnir came rushing forward. Loki bent down and picked the little Wyvern up.

"I doubt that she'd make you do anything that would make you uncomfortable," Thor said as Loki carried Ofnir over to his bed and flopped down on it. "She knows you better than anyone."

Loki was quiet at first as he pet Ofnir. He let his hand turn blue again, and Ofnir rubbed against Loki's palm. "I hope that she didn't go and tell Gerd anything about me." Thor would like to assure his brother that their mother wouldn't do that but he honestly couldn't. If Frigga thought that it was best for Loki, she probably would have.

"Even if she did, she can't make you talk to Gerd," Thor offered.

Loki frowned and continued to pet Ofnir. "... true. I still hope she didn't though..."

"I guess until it comes up there's no way to know. Unless you want to just ask mother," Thor said. Loki snorted at that suggestion. "Yes, I thought that's what you would say. But you had best not try and get out of dinner, Loki. Mother wouldn't stand for it, and that would only draw more attention to you not wanting to be around Gerd."

"I know that," Loki said in annoyance. "Still don't want to go, though..."

"I'll be right beside you," Thor said as he sat down beside Loki. "The whole time."

Loki sighed. "I know, Thor. And I appreciate it. Also... thank you for getting us out of there so quickly, even if it was by flubbing something. I didn't think I could take sitting there for very much longer."

Thor smiled, "Anything for you, brother."

Chapter Text

Heimdall was standing on the edge of his observatory looking out across the stars when he heard footsteps coming up behind him. He wasn't startled, but he was curious as to what she wanted. "Hello, cousin," she greeted as she reached where he was standing and clapped a hand on his armored shoulder with more force than was strictly necessary.

"Auntie Brunnhilde," Heimdall replied.

She made a face at the name, just like he knew she would. "Don't call me that. Makes me feel old," she complained as she looked out beside him. "What's got your attention today, Heimdall?"

"Nothing, in particular, just the usual. To what do I owe this visit?"

Brunnhilde sat down on the edge of the observatory and rested her arm on her raised knee. "I heard your little sister's managed to get into Tyr's training class," she said. "All us in the Hall are wondering if she's going to try and join us afterwards."

"You would have to ask her," Heimdall said without looking down at her. "She hasn't mentioned anything about becoming a Valkyrie, but that doesn't mean she hasn't thought anything about it either."

"It would be nice. We haven't had a new recruit in ages," Brunnhilde said as she swung her leg that was dangling over the edge carelessly. "It's like they completely forget about us..."

"It is easy to forget about things that you do not see every day," Heimdall pointed out. "I'm sure most people forget about me as well."

Brunnhilde snorted. "I doubt anyone forgets about you, Heimdall. You can peek in their windows from here on the observatory."

"I would never do such a thing."

"Nah, but you could," she said lightly. "Just having the ability is unsettling enough for most people. Whether you'd do it or not is completely beside the point. I bet Dellingr is so happy about his Princess taking up a sword."

Heimdall's smile twisted the edge of his mouth upwards just a fraction. "He is ecstatic. I only hear about it fifty times a day."

Brunnhilde laughed and leaned back on her arms. "I suppose if I go see him he'll have something to say about my 'bad influence' or something?" Heimdall shrugged, but they both knew it was likely. Dellingr had never been entirely happy that Sif had idolized Brunnhilde despite not often having contact with one another. The councilman had thought it hard enough to keep Sif from running off and being wild without the example of Brunnhilde around. Not that Brunnhilde particularly cared. In the Valkyrie's opinion, he really should have thought about such things before he had married a Valkyrie and become part of their rather odd family unit in the first place.

Though not usually biologically related, the Valkyries lived, trained, fought, and died in close quarters with each other for most of their lives. They rarely had relationships among the general populace, so it had been somewhat odd that Dellingr had married one in the first place. When his wife, Ulfrun, died in battle shortly after Heimdall was born, the Valkyries did what they always did and banded together to help the frankly out of his depth Dellingr to raise the boy. Dellingr should have realized that even after he remarried that he wouldn't ever fully untangle from the sisterhood of Valkyries. Despite wanting to protect his precious daughter her interest in combat was hardly surprising considering.

"I wouldn't be surprised if he banned Sif from joining the Valkyries," Heimdall said. "He seems to think such a calling is a death sentence."

"No more than being any other warrior," Brunnhilde said.

"I don't think he's ever fully gotten over Mother's death," Heimdall murmured. "And he is afraid of history repeating, I think."

Brunnhilde shrugged. "I suppose I can see that, but banning her from doing something isn't going to stop her." Heimdall just inclined his head slightly by way of agreeing. The two of them let silence fall for a few moments before Brunnhilde got to her feet again. "So where is Dellingr's Darling?" she asked as she brushed off the back of her crisp white pants.

"In the training ring," Heimdall said. "She has been spending all of her free time there trying to catch up with the boys her age."

"Admirable," Brunnhilde said as she turned and began to saunter off. "I think I'll go and say hello to the little scamp."

"Father will not be happy with that," Heimdall called without bothering to look over his shoulder at her.

"Dellingr can stuff it," Brunnhilde called back lightly. "Through you, she's my cousin too, and I'm going to go say hello." Heimdall just shook his head and was glad -not for the first time- that he no longer lived at home because undoubtedly his step-mother was going to be hearing quite a lot about Brunnhilde later on that night. Dellingr allowed Brunnhilde to get under his skin far easier than he really should but Heimdall didn't see that changing anytime soon.

Brunnhilde caught a few people staring as she made her way through the streets of Asgard. The distinctive white and silver armor of a Valkyrie shining in the bright sunlight stood out like a beacon among the warm golds and tans of most buildings on the street. Valkyries didn't often come down from their halls even though the rules saying that they couldn't do so had long ago been removed when Odin came to power. They had everything they could possibly need where they were and so usually only left when called to battle.

Several girls stared in awe at Brunnhilde as she passed and she couldn't help but smile back. She always enjoyed it when other girls felt inspired by her presence, it gave her hope that one day the damage that Bor had done by insisting girls could not fight would be repaired.

As she approached the training grounds, many boys stared at her openly and with a little less awe than the girls in town. Some seemed downright bewildered by her very existence. Tyr was supervising the offloading of several carts of supplies, and so Brunnhilde made her way to him. "Hello, Tyr," she greeted as she peered into a box that was being taken past. The crate contained nothing but onions the size of her fist. Brunnhilde frowned and straightened again. "Resupply day is it?"

"Yes. We have a larger group than usual this year, and we were caught a little off guard," Tyr said as he checked boxes and their contents against the list in his hand. "At least Thor isn't going to be here for the foreseeable future. Even though he only ate lunch in the barracks, he could eat enough for ten recruits if he'd been working particularly hard."

Brunnhilde smiled. "A warrior must eat, Tyr."

"He certainly does do that," Tyr said as he made another check mark. "I wasn't expecting any Valkyries to stop by, but I can guess why you're here. Dellingr's daughter?"

"Is she any good?" Brunnhilde asked as she leaned over Tyr's shoulder to peer down at the list he was checking off. Nothing on the paper really caught her eye to abscond with, however.

Tyr shrugged. "She's a beginner, but she does have a mean right hook, judging from a few black eye’s I’ve seen around," he said. "She's got potential, but I don't know if she'll stick with it that long."

Brunnhilde frowned. "Why say that?"

"Well, you know how boys are," Tyr said. "It won't be easy for her to get anywhere with them trying to make her give up."

"Where's your faith, Tyr?" Brunnhilde asked.

"Being tempered by realism," he said dryly.

Brunnhilde snorted, "How boring. Well, I'm going to go take a look-see."

"You do that. And try to not cause any trouble... or beat up any of my students. No matter how stupid they are," Tyr said, giving her a particularly firm look. Brunnhilde just smiled and walked off without promising anything. Tyr sighed and went back to marking his sheet. "And here I thought things would calm down without Thor and Loki around for a little while..."

Brunnhilde disappeared into the barracks and made her way upstairs. The long building had a splendid view of the training grounds down below and dozens of windows one could use to comfortably peer out of. Brunnhilde found one that wasn't too crowded with anything else and pushed the shutters open to lean outside. Down below in the packed-dirt training ring, Brunnhilde could spot Sif in the middle.

Sif was in trousers, a light shirt, and her long blonde hair was pulled back in a horsetail as she went through a series of familiar forms and motions used in training. Judging by the sweat staining her shirt and coating her skin, Brunnhilde could tell the girl had been working for quite a while already. Her sword strikes were slow and her form sloppy, but like Tyr had said, she had only just started.

Brunnhilde studied her 'cousin' via marriage for almost ten minutes before she noticed a group approaching where Sif was training. Now entirely too curious at the development, Brunnhilde vaulted through the window and landed on the ground in a crouch. The Valkyrie started heading down the short set of stairs to the sunken in training grounds just as the group of boys reached where Sif was practicing. Surprisingly, there were a few girls in the group as well that Brunnhilde judged to be daughters of members of the court by their pretty dresses.

"Still pretending to be a boy, troll face?" a red-headed girl in the front said nastily.

Sif stopped and turned around sharply. "What do you want, Lorelei?" she demanded. "Don't you have something better to do than come bother me?"

"I have so much better to do," Lorelei said flippantly. "But you're bothering the boys. They can't practice with you hogging all the training area."

Sif scoffed. "There's plenty of space. It's not my problem if they're too scared to be on the same field as me."

"We're not scared!" several boys protested.

"Then why go running to Lorelei?" Sif asked.

"We didn't!" one boy denied. "She came by on her own!" another shouted. "We don't need a girl's help!"

Lorelei glared at the boys before turning to Sif. "Why don't you just give up on this craziness? It's not like you'll ever be able to keep up with the men. You're wasting everyone's time!"

Brunnhilde had heard enough but she never actually got a chance to say anything. Before she could a completely different voice called out. "Shouldn't you be studying for your next practical so that you don't fail it this time, Lorelei?"

The group of kids confronting Sif turned and spread to reveal a pretty girl with silvery blonde hair and intensely colored eyes of a rare sea-foam hue. "Mind your own business, Sigyn!" Lorelei snapped as her face turned pink.

"Why should I?" Sigyn asked folding her arms over her chest. "You don't mind yours."

Lorelei scoffed and flipped her hair. "You shouldn't even be here in Asgard! It's not like you're that talented!"

Sigyn didn't seem particularly upset by that claim. "I'm talented enough to be Lady Eir's primary apprentice... unlike you who can barely fix a broken tooth," Sigyn drawled.

"I'm not a healer!" Lorelei argued.

"And yet you're here trying to make a fuss about someone doing something they are good at. Honestly, Lorelei, I knew you weren't the brightest star in the sky but I had hoped you were at least above a black hole," Sigyn said. A few kids, including Sif, laughed at that although all the boys at least attempted to disguise it.

Lorelei glared at the offending boys before turned her glare back at Sigyn. "You'll regret that, Sigyn. I never forget a slight!"

Sigyn raised an eyebrow. "I'm surprised you remember anything given your last test scores." Lorelei's face was now bright red, and deep maroon energy started building around her arms. Sigyn still didn't seem worried. "I wouldn't do that if I were you, Lorelei."

"Shut up!"

Bolts of pure power went flying before Brunnhilde could step in to stop the developing fight. To the Valkyrie's surprise, Sigyn flicked her hand, and the bolt bounced off of an aqua colored barrier and flew off into the distance harmlessly. Lorelei let out a noise of pure frustration and stamped her foot. "I told you that was a bad idea," Sigyn said. "But you just never listen to anyone else, do you?"

"You horrid Alfr trollop!"

Sigyn rolled her eyes. "I'm not surprised you can't even tell the difference between an Alfr and a Vanir," she said. "Are you done with this hissy fit or are you going to continue to waste everyone's time?"

Lorelei looked ready to explode, but she took a deep breath and seemed to fight down whatever urge she had. "Fine. Not like I care anyway!" she declared before storming off with the few girls she had in tow hurrying after her. “I’ll deal with you later, Sigyn!” Lorelei shouted back.

“Ooh, scary,” Sigyn mocked. Sigyn glanced at the crowd of boys still there looking bewildered. "Well? Go on," she said with a shooing motion. "I'm sure you have things to do. Try not to strain yourselves thinking about what just happened." Slowly the boys dispersed, muttering among themselves and still sounding very confused.

"I could have handled her," Sif said as she rested her training sword on her shoulder.

"Oh, I don't doubt that," Sigyn said. "But not without punching her and then I would have had to listen to her whine about it all through lessons tomorrow."

Sif chuckled some. "Ah, yes, I can see why that would be annoying."

"Well, I'm glad to see that there are a couple girls who aren't going to be perfect little housewives," Brunnhilde said from where she had ended up leaning against the fence. Both girls turned quickly, and their eyes widened when they recognized her Valkyrie armor. The girls continued to stare, and Brunnhilde couldn't help but laugh. "You two look like you just saw a dragon on the loose."

"Auntie Brunnhilde," Sif said. "I-I didn't know you were coming today!"

Brunnhilde frowned at being called 'auntie' again. "Yes, well, I decided I'd surprise you. I heard you got into Tyr’s training classes. An impressive feat."

“Ah, well, I might have caused a scene in the farewell feast to the Princes,” Sif said looking caught between being embarrassed and being proud of herself.

“It’s more likely that Loserlei was the one causing the scene,” Sigyn drawled.

Sif burst out laughing so hard she nearly doubled over. Sigyn looked a little taken aback. “W-what?” she asked, looking over to Brunnhilde who could only shrug.

“Loserlei?” Sif managed to question between bursts of breathless laughter.

“Well, it’s fitting,” Sigyn said slightly defensively.

Sif managed to straighten and wiped the corner of her eye. “Yes, yes it is,” she agreed with a huge grin. “And I may have to borrow it. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone call that annoying little twit a name before.”

“I’m not afraid of her,” Sigyn said. “As you saw, she can’t hurt me. I may not have much gift for the offensive, but what I protect stays protected. Father says its survival instinct for my mouth…”

Brunnhilde snorted. “I think you both held your own just fine. Now, I am here for the day and I, for one, would very much prefer to spend it not talking about annoying little redheads. Show me what you're working on Sif. Sigyn, you are welcome to join us.”

"Perhaps I will just watch," Sigyn said. "I'm not overly fond of weapons."

Brunnhilde inclined her head in acknowledgment. "As you wish. Just stay back if you don't want to get caught up in it," she commanded as she drew her sword. Sif's eyes widened at the sight of the blade. "Well, little cousin? Surely, you are not afraid?"

"Of course not," Sif said as she hurried to bring her practice weapon up. The way she held herself belied that, but Brunnhilde let her have the illusion of the lie. Warriors still felt fear they just had to learn to overcome it and so bringing attention to it would only defeat the purpose.

"Good," Brunnhilde complimented as she saw Sif settle into a conventional stance. Without another word, she lashed out with her sword with a lesser amount of force than usual. Sif still looked caught off guard by the strength of the blow but scrambled to recover.

Sigyn wandered over to the stairs and sat down to watch the two others spar. She pulled the small book she had brought with her out of her pocket and opened it up to start reading while Brunnhilde began drilling Sif and shouting out various tips and corrections. They stayed like that for most of the afternoon until the sun was starting to reach out towards the horizon.

Chapter Text

Dinner was, if possible, even more uncomfortable than tea in the garden had been. Loki was so incredibly grateful to have his brother. Thor chattered on incessantly about something Loki wasn't even listening to, but it kept all the attention of the table. Loki didn't have to participate and took the opportunity to avoid socializing gladly. He wasn't sure if it was just his imagination or what but Loki swore that Gerd kept looking at him and it was off-putting, to say the least. He just wanted those horrible red eyes to go away. Of course, Loki didn't look up from his plate to confirm that the spouse of Freyr was looking, but Loki also didn't feel the need to verify that.

Loki wasn't even sure what he was eating. Or if he was eating. He didn't feel hungry. If anything he felt somewhat nauseous and had since he and Thor had first started heading back to the palace with the realization that Freyr and Gerd had arrived. He was fairly certain he ate at least a few bites of whatever it was because his mother wasn't pestering him to eat anything and she would have if he hadn't taken at least a little.

Thor and Loki were used to both formal and informal dinners with diplomats even though they tended to be excused from the more formal ones, but never before had even the casual dinners seemed to last so long. Loki swore half the night was going by while they sat there around the table. Loki tried his best to pull his attention back to whatever Thor was rambling about but found that he just couldn't. This was even worse than sitting down at tea. Loki couldn't make some excuse about Ofnir and leave. He had to wait, and the waiting was excruciating.

After some time, a servant came and gestured at Lok's plate questioningly. Loki nodded and pushed away from the table slightly so that his partially eaten food could be taken away. There would be another few courses, there always were, but he'd managed to sit through the main meal. Loki looked up at his Mother. "May I be excused?"

Frigga frowned slightly, and Loki could tell that she wasn't happy with the amount he'd eaten at dinner. He couldn't help it though. Loki wanted to be anywhere but there. Frigga studied her son another moment before sighing and nodding. "You may."

Loki jumped up quickly from his seat and hurried off without a second glance. Not that he was fleeing, per say, he would just really rather not be there any longer than he had to be. Loki hurried to his room and practically flung himself over the bed. Ofnir lifted his head quickly and then blinked several times since he had been disturbed from where he'd been sleeping on Loki's pillow.

Loki didn't notice Ofnir at all and just kicked off his shoes and pulled his blankets over top of his head. He wasn't sure why but for the first time in, he was pretty sure his entire life, he felt cold, and he didn't like that feeling. Loki curled up under the blanket and shook although he wasn't sure why he was shaking so badly. He knew being cold made people tremble, but he'd never noticed Thor this bad when he was cold.

Loki curled up tighter even as he felt Ofnir crawl over him and tuck himself close to where Loki's head was buried against his own knees. Loki closed his eyes and tried to just breathe and stop shaking so badly. He heard Ofnir make a few noises and rub up against him despite the blanket.

After a little while, Loki heard the door to his room open. "Loki?"

Loki almost groaned but managed not to. "What, Thor?" he asked without getting out from under the covers. He found he liked being curled up under them like he was.

Loki felt the bed slump as Thor got on it. "Are you alright, brother?"

"I'm fine," Loki grumbled. And that was true. Physically he was sure he was entirely healthy. He just felt like never leaving his bed again was all. There was a moment's silence, and then Thor managed to worm his way under the covers with Loki. "I can't believe she made us sit through dinner like that," Loki grumbled.

"It wasn't really that bad was it?" Thor asked.

"It was that bad," Loki insisted.

Thor sighed and clasped the back of Loki's neck with one hand to draw their foreheads together. "You're getting yourself worked up over something that doesn't even matter. I promise you."

"That's easy for you to say," Loki muttered although he had to admit -if only to himself- his brother's familiar gesture of comfort and closeness really did seem to help calm him down. He hadn't realized how hard his heart had been pounding in his chest until the tightness began to ease.

"It isn't easy," Thor denied. "Not when I see how upset this all makes you."

Loki closed his eyes and reached up to wrap his own hand around Thor's neck. "Thank you for coming and checking on me, brother. I feel better now."

"You're still shaking, Loki," Thor pointed out unhappily.

"Maybe," Loki admitted. No matter how hard he tried to stop, he just couldn't seem to do so. He wasn't even cold anymore, but his muscles kept trembling without his say. "But I do feel better than I did before you came in."

"Should I get Mother?"

Loki shook his head. "No. I think I'll just go to sleep..."

"You did do a lot of magic today," Thor pointed out. "It's no wonder you're tired."

"It's no worse than when I was trying to figure out the cold charm for Ofnir's collar," Loki said. "Or at least it wasn't any worse until dinner. For some reason that really tired me out. I think I'll skip breakfast tomorrow."

"Then you'll just complain about missing breakfast all morning," Thor said.

Loki scoffed. "I would not."

"You would too, and you know it."

Loki huffed and gave Thor a slight shove. "You're the one that eats like a pig," Loki accused. "You have four stomachs like a cow, and they never fill. It's the only explanation."

Thor shoved Loki back. "At least I don't eat so fast I nearly choke myself."

"I have more important things to do with my time than eating," Loki declared. "I don't see why I should have to wait for you to stuff your face with another three helpings of whatever we're eating."

And just like that, a small scuffle broke out. Ofnir hissed in displeasure as he was bumped into and the blankets jerked around under him. He crawled back onto the pillow and eyed the noisy and moving lump that was the two brothers with one disapproving slit pupil before settling down again. "Ow!" Thor shouted before he went tumbling off the bed entirely and hit the ground with a thud.

Loki poked his head out from under the blankets to look down at the now frowning blonde. "Serves you right," Loki said.

"Fine, I won't be sympathetic next time," Thor replied.

Loki's eyebrow went up. "If you really think you can hold back..."

"Brat," Thor accused as he got to his feet. Loki wasn't in the least bit phased by the name. Thor sighed and brushed himself off. "You sure you're alright?" Thor asked.

"I'm sure, brother," Loki answered. "Right now I'm just mostly tired, so I'm going to go to bed early."

Thor still didn't look entirely convinced but nodded. "Alright. Goodnight then. If you need me-"

"I won't," Loki interrupted with exasperation.

"-then I'll be in my room," Thor finished in spite of Loki.

Loki rolled his eyes. "Goodnight, Thor."

Thor nodded and left while Loki just shook his head a little. He might have reacted somewhat... poorly at meeting Gerd, but he wasn't a baby. He didn't need his big brother to stay with him all night just to make him feel better. Loki got out of bed just long enough to change into his sleep shirt and leggings and turn out the light. As soon as Loki was back in bed, Ofnir shifted to curl up against his chest. Loki wrapped his arms around the lizard and let himself settle into the plush mattress and pillow so that he could sleep. Loki lay there for over an hour just listening to Ofnir snore beside him and trying to get to sleep himself.

Loki was lying on his back on something hard, and he was hot. So unbearably hot that he swore that he could hear his skin beginning to crack and flake. The hot air made him want to cough, but at the same time his lungs seemed to shrivel up in his chest, and he couldn't get the air to do so. Loki sat up and looked around but couldn't see for the glare from somewhere up above and the waves of heat all around him. When he blinked his eyes to try and refocus, it was like two screens of rough metal scraping along his eyes. It hurt to blink, and tears escaped from his eyes only to practically sizzle along his cheeks.

His tongue didn't feel any wetter than his lips as he tried to soothe the cracks that were forming. He could taste blood from the deep crevasses, and that made Loki cringe. Loki brought his hands up to rub his streaming eyes and gasped when he saw his own skin. His hands were blue. Bright blue with lines running over his tendons and meeting with his black nails. "No!" he gasped in horror, unable to tear his eyes away. A sudden breeze of pure ice swept past and the desert that he had been roasting in turned into endless snow and ice.

Loki cried out and scrambled to his feet. The wind was howling, and snow was flying every which way to block sight. Loki couldn't stop the panic as he backed away; as if he would suddenly find some way out of the endless tundra.

Loki bumped into something and gave a short cry of surprise. He jumped forward and spun around. His horror mounted when he came face to face with a massive blue figure. Lines that seemed far too familiar to him were engraved into a stern face. Loki backed away several steps as red eyes seemed to look straight into his soul. He wasn't sure who this was, but the lines he knew he had seen before and something about those razor sharp cheekbones echoed something else Loki was sure he'd seen before. Loki swallowed hard as the Jotunn stepped closer, its long stride crossing the distance before Loki could do anything. The Jotunn grabbed Loki tightly around one arm, and Loki screamed.

Loki woke up choking on his own breath and covered in a thin sheen of sweat. He looked around in horror but realized where he really was after a moment. His heart was still thundering so loudly in his chest he was surprised that Ofnir slept soundly so nearby. Loki trembled and forced himself to take several deep breaths. Every limb felt weak, and the room was too dark.

He got to his feet and went to his wash basin in the corner. Loki still felt unsteady as he splashed some water over his face and neck to rinse away the fear. Loki wasn't sure why the dream had frightened him so much. The Jotunn hadn't even done anything really. But nonetheless, he was frightened to his core from the nightmare.

Loki braced himself over his wash basin and tried to not remember those red eyes fixing him with such an intense stare. He wasn't entirely successful, and as he stared at his own slightly rippling reflection, he realized he remembered what his own real face looked like. His horror at the dream returned with a vengeance, and despite trying to tear his eyes away from the water, he couldn't quite manage it.

The ceramic bowl suddenly broke nearly in half, and the water almost exploded outwards to splash over everything. Loki gasped in surprise and backed away quickly. He hadn't meant to do that. Loki suddenly realized the room was too dark and too confining. He needed to be outside. He needed someplace less stifling. He turned and opened the door to the balcony and nearly tripped in his haste to get outside.

Loki grabbed the railing of the porch and tried to catch his breath as best he could. Ofnir trilled from the doorway, and Loki absently closed the door before the little wyvern could follow him out. He didn't trust himself to keep an eye on the reptile just then. He just needed a moment to gather his wits. But staying still to do that didn't seem to be an option either. Loki needed to move. No real reason other than his body was thrumming with adrenaline, and he was sure that was why he was still shaking like he was.

Loki climbed up onto the porch railing and then jumped down to the courtyard below. He landed smoothly in a crouch among several manicured bushes. Loki took a moment to gather himself before straightening and starting walking. The moon was huge in the sky above him, and he was sure it had to be very late at night.

Loki aimlessly wandered the several open-air courtyards and sitting areas that were dotted throughout the palace and was glad to feel himself calming down. He was reasonably sure that he wouldn't be getting to sleep again that night, but at least his hands weren't shaking still. Loki was still profoundly unsettled, but the terror had faded. Loki kicked a small stone back into the rock garden it had been lost from. He really shouldn't have been as scared as he had been, he realized. The dream wasn't even that scary. He wasn't a baby to be afraid of Jotnar in the night. The stupid giant hadn't even done anything. Just grabbed him. And yet that one Frost Giant reaching for him was somehow a million times more frightening than the dreams of those idiots back in Asgard that seemed to enjoy cornering him when Thor and Tyr weren't around. Loki didn't understand that. Those stupid muscle-bound Aesir could actually do things -had actually done things- and the Jotnar couldn't. So why were they so much more terrifying to him?

Loki paused beside a small tree that was covered in dark red bark and rather than leaves had tiny white flowers exploding from each delicate branch. The whole thing only reached midway up Loki's chest and exuded a calming sweet smell that Loki thought was extremely pleasing. He reached out and fingered one of the small blooms. The flowers were soft as silk against his the pads of his fingers, and more of that wholesome smell escaped and clung to Loki's hand. The ball of tension that had built up in his chest relaxed almost instantly, and Loki sighed.

"It is called a Starfly Blossom," a voice said.

Loki jumped and spun around so fast he almost tripped. Sitting at a nearby table that Loki hadn't noticed was Gerd. Loki's eyes widened. How had he missed the giant sitting there? Was he really that consumed with his own thoughts? "W-what?"

"The tree. It's a Starfly Blossom. The sweet scent it gives off attracts Starflies to pollinate it," Gerd explained, misreading what Loki was asking.

"I know that," Loki said automatically. Although he knew the tree as a Vanaheim Cloud Tree. Starfly Blossom was just a different name for the same plant.

Gerd raised a pale eyebrow. "I see," they said. Loki could only stare at the tall figure. "I'm sorry. I've startled you, haven't I?"

Loki swallowed hard and, with great effort, relaxed his posture. "N-not at all," he said. He was lying through his teeth, but Gerd probably couldn’t tell. Most people couldn’t figure out when he lied.

Gerd let out a low chuckle. "I have, and you're putting on a brave face. You needn't try so hard to hide from me, little one. I've no desire to upset you."

“I’m not hiding,” he said quickly and tucked his hands behind himself.

“Are you not?” Gerd asked, sounding disbelieving. “Well, my mistake,” they said indulgently.

The silence between the two of them lingered for several uncomfortable minutes. Gerd didn’t seem to notice and looked up at the moon, which seemed to make the lines along their skin glow. “I like it out here at night. It is cooler and more comfortable, don’t you think?”

Loki swallowed hard and didn’t answer. He did find it more comfortable after the sun set but he didn’t think admitting it was wise. Unless… again Loki had to wonder if Gerd knew about him. About what he was. The thought was very unsettling, but he found he just had to know. “Did Mother tell you?” he asked, barely able to get his voice above a whisper.

“Tell me what, little one?” Gerd asked.

“About what I am?” Loki managed to clarify.

Gerd was quiet as they studied the youngster in front of them. “About being Jotnar? No, she did not,” Gerd answered. “But I could tell.”

Loki’s eyes snapped up instantly. “How?” he demanded. The idea of someone being able to tell deeply upset him. He didn’t want anyone to know anything like that about him. It was bad enough he never fit in because of his magic and his dislike of sparing. Loki didn’t need to add being Jotnar on top of that.

“You are so very terrified of me, Loki,” Gerd said. “Far more than you should be considering you’ve never met a Giant of any sort before. None could have hurt you in the past, the whole of the Nine Realms would have felt the Allfather’s wrath if something a thing were to happen. So, there had to be some other reason. I know you were born at the end of the war so, I thought at first it was simply too many war stories you’d overheard, but that didn’t seem right either.”

Loki looked off to the side awkwardly. The war stories he’d heard didn’t help, but Gerd was right that they weren’t what really upset him. War stories were just any other stories; most likely embellished beyond all reason until they couldn’t be taken seriously anymore. “So, what could have possibly been the cause, I wondered?” Gerd continued. “And then your mother said that you had a baby wyvern as a pet. Now that is quite odd. There would have to be some reason for a wyvern to be attracted to you. You didn’t seem to have any bits of you missing from handling one, you see,” Gerd pointed out. “From there it only took a minor leap.”

Loki shifted where he stood uncomfortably. He still didn’t like that Gerd had figured him out so easily. “If it helps, if I were not half Jotnar myself it would be much more difficult to guess,” they offered.

Loki shrugged. That didn’t really help him feel better. Silence returned between them, and Gerd took a sip of whatever drink they had with them. Finally, they sighed, “Why are you so afraid of me, Loki?”

The silence lingered for several minutes as Loki tried to figure out how to put it all into words. “You’re so strange… and-and the book said that I was supposed to be killed and… I just I don’t understand how any of it…” Loki broke off there and wrapped his arms around himself. There was just so much to try and comprehend. Nothing was the same now. Jotnar were so different from Aesir, Loki just couldn’t process it no matter how hard he worked at it. And he had been trying. He really had.

Gerd tilted their head to the side thoughtfully before extending an arm. "Come here, little one. I think we need to talk."

"Talk about what?" Loki demanded without moving closer.

"About Jotnar," Gerd said, not lowering their arm despite the fact that Loki hadn't moved into their offer of comfort. "As wonderfully useful as Heritage Tomes are, they shouldn't be the only place to get your information about what you are. I see you're scared of all these changes. There's no reason for that."

Loki frowned darkly at the ground somewhere off to his right. "I know Father could change me if tried... Father can do anything, he's the Allfather."

"Odin is powerful," Gerd agreed. "But not even the Norns can change what you are, Loki. Now come here."

There was an awkward pause of several minutes where Loki didn't move, and Gerd just sat there waiting. Finally, Loki relented and moved to Gerd's side. The Jotunn pulled Loki up into their lap and, though Loki protested and squirmed, wrapped their arm around the young Prince to keep him in place. Slowly, Loki’s skin started to show blue where Gerd’s arm was touching. Loki shied away, but there was nowhere to move to, and so the sapphire continued to spread. "Enough of that now. There is a lot more to being a Jotunn than just our size or what we look like."

"Such as?" Loki asked, sounding petulant and unhappy to have been put in Gerd's lap so easily.

"Well, I'm sure you've noticed that smells offend you more easily than they do your brother," Gerd began. "That would be because we have a stronger sense of smell than Asgardians or Vanir or really any of the other races. It's only natural when so many animals in Jotunheim are camouflaged to blend with the snow."

Loki frowned but then slowly began to nod. "I suppose that does make sense..." he muttered. "But I wasn't really wondering about that."

"You wanted an example," Gerd replied without pause. "Don't be upset when I give you one. If you have something that is bothering you... tell me, and I'll explain it to you."

At first, Loki didn't say anything and started trying to subtly slide off of Gerd's lap. The partner of Freyr was able to keep Loki in place without too much of an effort, which only seemed to annoy the young prince more. Loki sighed in exasperation. "I'm not a child. Why do I have to be in your lap for this?" he finally demanded.

"You are a child," Gerd replied instantly. "You're not even fully grown yet."

"I'm not going to get as tall as you. I'm defective," Loki muttered.

Gerd raised one eyebrow. "You're hardly that," they said. "There are quite a few with your condition in Jotunheim now that the law was overturned. It might be a hard life for them, but we've started to notice that to make up for their smaller size they're quite adept at Seidr use. We hadn't ever known that before due to how few survived to any real age. None that I know of are as strong with it as you, but the majority of them are stronger than normal sized Jotnar. You're quite normal, Loki." Gerd had heard just how strong Loki already was with his magic, so much so that Frigga had mentioned trying to find some Alfr tutors for the young mage specifically for his skills. Gerd had their suspicions as to why Loki would be so strong, especially now that they saw the dynasty lines on Loki’s body.

"I don't feel normal," Loki said, looking down at his blue hands. He was beginning to tremble again.

"Why not?" Gerd asked. "Are you so very different than how you were before you found out about this?"

Loki shifted uncomfortably. "I'm not a boy anymore..."

"You're not not a boy," Gerd said. Loki sent the older Jotunn an annoyed look. "Well, it's true. If you want to be a boy, then you're perfectly able to do that."

"Boys don't..." Loki broke off there and looked away from Gerd.

"And what don't boys do?" Gerd asked. Loki kept looking away and didn't answer. Gerd sighed, "You're going to have to tell me, Loki. I don't know anything about boys versus girls seeing how we don’t have such distinctions, so I don't know what is upsetting you so much."

There was a very long silence between them as Loki stubbornly refused to explain exactly what was bothering him. Eventually, Gerd decided to take a guess as to what might be bothering Loki although they could only think of one significant thing that parted the two genders in most races. "You don't have to carry children if you don't want to," Gerd said. "And even if you did I would say that doing so made you stronger than most 'men'. It is not an easy thing to do."

"I don't want to," Loki said firmly.

"You might change your mind," Gerd commented. "But that doesn't matter. Like I said... there are plenty Jotnar that never carry children. It is a choice."

"If I were to... do that," Loki began awkwardly, "then I really would be Ergi."

Gerd frowned. "I don't know what that means..."

"It's bad," Loki said. "Unmanly..."

"Can you really be unmanly if you are a Jotunn?" Gerd asked thoughtfully. "I don't believe that you can."

"But I'm not a Jotunn."

"You are," Gerd said. "Enough of this. Just relax, Loki. You're worrying about this far too much when none of it actually matters. You can be whatever you wish to be." Loki began to argue again, but Gerd clasped a hand to the back of his neck and squeezed lightly. Loki went silent, and Gerd gently pulled the younger Jotunn closer. "I said enough, Loki, don't worry about things that might not even happen. Just be yourself."

Loki couldn't quite help but relax against Gerd as the ball of nerves inside of him eased. "I don't think that'll work..."

"Why not?" Gerd asked, still rubbing the back of Loki's neck.

"... because I don't know what that is anymore," Loki muttered.

"There's no great secret, Loki," Gerd said. "Just do what you like and ignore what others say and do. Their opinions don't matter. If other people's opinions mattered... I would not be married now to a man that showers me with praise and love."

Loki was quiet for several minutes. "You think too much, Loki," Gerd said. "And worry too much." Loki let out a shaky exhale and tried to do as Gerd suggested and stop thinking. Unfortunately, that was so much easier said than done for him. “It’s alright, little one,” Gerd said, brushing some of Loki’s hair back gently. “I promise you everything will be fine.”

Chapter Text

Loki didn’t ask any more questions of Gerd and Gerd, in turn, didn’t press. Gerd could tell that the realization of his identity was something that Loki would have to process and come to terms with bit by bit. Loki only allowed Gerd to hold him another few minutes after the hug before insisting on being put down and then making an excuse and hurrying away. Gerd couldn’t say they were surprised. From what little they had seen of Loki the boy didn’t seem overly fond of physical displays of affection even from close family.

Gerd finished their drink and glanced up at the moon one more time before getting up and returning to the guest rooms that they and their husband were occupying for their stay. As soon as Gerd slid into bed beside Freyr their partner’s arm wrapped around their waist. “Mm, I was beginning to worry,” Freyr murmured against Gerd’s bare shoulder. “Your walks don’t usually take so long.”

“I ran into Little Loki.”

Freyr pushed himself up just slightly to look down at his partner with somewhat blurry eyes. “Did he cause you trouble?” he asked. He hadn’t failed to notice the way the young prince seemed to take some sort of offense to Gerd, and he didn’t like that in the least. Freyr would never allow anyone, not even children, to disrespect his partner.

“Of course not,” Gerd said before pulling Freyr down again. “Do not be so overprotective. He was just scared of me, and he’s hardly the first. Nor will he be the last.”

“He has no reason to be afraid of you,” Freyr muttered as he squeezed Gerd’s waist lightly. “I do not know how anyone could look upon your beauty and be frightened.” Freyr had been struck entirely dumb when he first spotted Gerd. He’d been in love instantly, not frightened by any stretch of the imagination.

“If it helps your poor self to understand,” Gerd said as they rolled enough to wrap their own arm around their smaller partner. “I think he fears more what I represent than me myself.”

“What you represent?” Freyr echoed. “How do you mean?”

Gerd was quiet for a moment as they played with Freyr’s hair. “If I tell you, you must not tell anyone else, dearest. It is not truly my secret to tell.” Freyr looked even more surprised and confused but nodded. “Loki is a Banthum sufferer.”

Freyr seemed very confused by that. “Banthum sufferer?” he echoed. “But that would mean he’s a Jotunn.”

“Yes, it would,” Gerd agreed. “But he has only recently discovered this. He thought that he was Aesir until he started showing signs. I’m only guessing here, but I would think that the All-Father’s impressive guise did not quite manage to hold back his true nature and so Frigga and Odin had to finally tell him what he was.”

“Why wouldn’t they just tell him to begin with?” Freyr asked. “I thought they were smarter than that.”

Gerd sighed. “Most likely to try and protect him. They did adopt him at the end of a war with Jotunheim. And the opinion of giants in Asgard has never been terribly high, to begin with.”

“One of their queens was a Jotunn,” Freyr pointed out.

“And that ended quite badly if you’ll remember,” Gerd said. “Bor despised Bestla at the end. It got so bad that they were forced to leave Asgard entirely and separate from their children. All because Bor felt his manliness was in jeopardy. “

“He married a Jotunn… and yet he thought his manliness in jeopardy?” Freyr asked. That was difficult for Freyr to imagine since he himself had no problems with his own masculinity just because his ‘wife’ could conceivably be called a husband instead. It made no difference as to his own gender, after all.

Gerd smiled and leaned down to give their husband a kiss. “You were rather taken aback to learn I had a penis on our wedding night, oh-enlightened-one.”

Freyr blushed a bright pink in the dark. The wedding night had been a shock -and an embarrassing one, at that- he admitted. “Perhaps a bit… but I rather think we’ve found good compromises about that,” he mumbled. After a few awkward nights together he had gotten used to his love’s anatomy and wouldn’t change anything now. “But he was married to Bestla for centuries… they had biological children together. How could Bor have felt so threatened?”

Gerd hummed a little and played with Freyr’s hair. “In Jotunheim it was common knowledge that Bestla -when they were young- suffered a very serious accident involving a war beast. Their… external anatomy had to be removed because of it.” Freyr reflexively shuddered at the idea. That must have been a bad accident. Gerd shrugged, “Such things happen. We adjust. Bestla would only be able to bear children, and as a dam of the royal line, Bestla would want a strong sire for their children. Bor was quite strong. Bestla didn’t realize their husband didn’t know about the accident or very much about Jotnar at all, so didn’t feel the need to disclose the information. When ‘the truth’ came out several centuries and children later… Bor was retroactively horrified and never touched Bestla again. He claimed it was a deliberate deception to lessen him and started many of the rumors about Jotnar’s ‘inherent evilness’ that is still a reasonably popular opinion in Asgard today.”

Freyr thought about what his partner had said for several minutes. “Seems silly to get upset so long after the fact. And surely there would have been scars from such a thing.”

“I’m sure he dismissed the scars,” Gerd said. “It is well known that Jotunheim is dangerous. As far as he knew they were only superficial. But yes, it is silly to get so upset so long after the fact.”

“So, why does Loki run the other direction when he sees you, love?” Freyr asked. “Shouldn’t he be glad to have someone more like himself to talk with?”

Gerd sighed. “Try to think of it from his perspective, darling. You are a young boy just coming into your own and very suddenly you are told that you have a vagina and could bear children.” Freyr thought and then cringed. Yes, he could see how that would be upsetting. “His very nature is different from what he thought it was. There will be growing pains. I eased some of his fears tonight, but I do not doubt that there are plenty he still has and needs to come to terms with.”

Freyr hummed thoughtfully and let his fingers trace a line that ran along Gerd’s side down to their hip. “You know, imagining you comforting that little boy is really a wonderful image,” he said. “I like you motherly.”

“Is that so?” Gerd asked in amusement.

“Yes, it is,” he said as he leaned closer and pressed a kiss to Gerd’s cool shoulder.

“We have a war brewing, Dearest,” Gerd pointed out. “Now’s hardly the time.”

Freyr looked up. “Now is a perfect time!” he argued. “Heirs bring a sense of stability to the people and even if it didn’t… I think you’d be stunning with my child growing in you.”

“Perhaps I would,” Gerd said. “But we won’t be finding that out anytime soon, Darling. Practicing will have to satisfy you for now.”

“Mm, well, practice is very satisfying, I’ll admit,” Freyr said as he pushed himself up and leaned over to capture his partner’s mouth with his own. Gerd laughed into the kiss and wrapped their arms around Freyr.

The next day Gerd decided to join the other ‘women’ at tea. Being the spouse of the heir to the throne meant that their role tended to fit more with the womenfolk of Asgard and Vanaheim. It reinforced the somewhat incorrect term of ‘wife,’ but Gerd had long ago gotten over that. Nobody they had come across seemed to intend it as a form of slight, and correcting entire cultures was an exhausting prospect. The best option was to just work things to their advantage.

Gerd wasn’t in any sort of hurry, however, so when they overheard Thor and Loki sitting on the steps of one of the gardens they paused. “-turned blue, Thor,” Loki said. “And I couldn’t control it at all. Just because Gerd touched me.”

“Did it hurt?” Thor asked, sounding very worried.

There was a moment’s silence. “No, it didn’t hurt really. But it feels very strange. I can’t really explain it. But, I guess, if I must… it feels like when your arm or leg is asleep, and then the blood comes rushing back to it, and the whole of the limb starts to tingle… it is like that only instead of in the flesh it is on the skin.”

“It is because of the guise,” Gerd supplied as they walked fully out of the corridor. The two boys startled and turned to face them. “I’m sorry to startle you. I was just passing by and heard what you were talking about.”

“What do you mean it’s the guise?” Loki asked. Gerd saw how Loki had a grip on his own arms and how his fingers tightened almost as if the boy was afraid his skin would change without his say so. Gerd supposed when one technically wasn’t in control of how they looked it was a legitimate fear.

“Odin’s guise is very sophisticated,” Gerd answered. “It guides your body to the ‘proper’ anatomy… or as close as it can come and removes your dynasty lines. But aside from that it also changes your very skin. Not just the color either. Odin has given the guise some measure of protection for you against heat and sun exposure. I doubt it is much but that combined with your… genetic condition means it’s possible for you to live in such a warm place as Asgard. I doubt I would last very long there even during a mild summer much less grow up there and I am only half Jotnar.”

Loki frowned and looked down at one hand. “I don’t really like how it feels…”

“You’re just not used to it,” Thor argued. “It will get better if you were to spend more time in that form.”

Loki scoffed. “Well, I’m not going to.”

“I really doubt it’s that bad, brother,” Thor said with a heavy sigh.

“And that’s very easy for you to say,” Loki snapped.

Gerd raised an eyebrow at the exchange. Obviously, this was an argument the brothers had had before. Before Gerd could offer an opinion on the matter though, Thor surprised them by grabbing hold of the back of Loki’s neck. “I know it bothers you and if I could, I would do whatever you wanted to ease things for you. But alas, I am not nearly as gifted as you are, brother. I have only my own self that you see here.”

Loki was silent at that and let himself be pulled closer even though Gerd was right there. The giant observed the pair another moment before clearing their throat. "You know, you have a bit more Jotnar in you than I think you realize, Thor," Gerd said. Both Thor and Loki looked up in confusion. Gerd gestured to them. "How long have you been doing that?"

Thor just blinked. "Doing what?" He couldn't place anything he was doing that was odd in any way.

"Clasping your brother's neck like that," Gerd clarified.

"I just... always have?" Thor answered uncertainly.

Gerd smiled. "It is a Jotnar gesture," they explained. "When you come from a species that can form blades of ice on one's arms, letting another touch your neck is a great show of trust and affection. Only family and lovers usually are allowed to perform such a gesture."

"You did it to me before..." Loki said.

"You're also my little cousin, aren't you?" Gerd asked back. Loki frowned but didn't contradict Gerd with technicalities. "Besides, you were upset, and I thought it might calm you down, which it did."

Thor thought back, and though he tried, he couldn't come up with a single point where he'd started using the gesture with Loki. He couldn't come up with one, but he also wasn't sure how to take the idea that he was doing it because of some Jotnar instinct Thor didn't even know he had. "But I am only a quarter Jotnar..."

"So?" Gerd asked. "It is something that Jotnar have been doing for millennia. A few generations are not enough to wipe away the instinct entirely. I would also doubt very much that holding your brother's neck is the only Jotunn trait that you have."

"What do you mean?" Thor asked uneasily.

Gerd chuckled some. "Don't worry, I doubt its anything too extreme for your poor Asgardian sensibilities," they said teasingly. "But little quirks I'm sure you've never thought about very much. For instance, I imagine it takes more for you to get cold than your friends. Not as much as Loki but probably still more."

"I... haven't noticed that," Thor said, still uneasy.

"It was an example," Gerd said, slightly exasperated. What was it with the sons of Odin and being given examples? "My point is... it's still in your blood. It's not that surprising that a few traits have been passed along. I would think you'd like having more in common with your brother."

Thor supposed that there was a point to be made about that, but he was still uneasy. "I guess it's just because I've never really thought about it..." Thor said. "I mean, it's not something I ever really think about... being part Jotunn."

"I don't ever think about being part Fjallverr either, but I am," Gerd said. "And it still plays a part in my life. I'm glad I'm half Fjallverr... it makes it easier for me to live here in Vanaheim where it is milder of temperature." Gerd studied the boys for another few moments. “If you boys would like… I could teach you both more about your heritage.”

Thor blinked. “You would do that?”

“It is hardly a difficulty. Freyr will be very busy in the coming days with trying to negotiate with the unhappy masses,” Gerd pointed out. “And teaching two is not so much more difficult than teaching one. I think you would both benefit greatly from it. We Jotnar are a complicated people that are often overlooked because our complexities aren’t obvious. Besides, Loki’s already agreed to learn.”

That got the younger boy to his feet. “I never agreed to any such thing!” he denied.

“So you would rather be ignorant of all you could do?” Gerd asked lightly.

Loki opened his mouth to respond but seemed to catch himself, leaving him just gaping at the older Jotunn. Loki tried to recover with a few half-sentences but nothing genuinely coherent. “I thought not,” Gerd said with satisfaction. Truthfully it had been a slight gamble, but one that they were glad paid off. “You didn’t seem the type to enjoy being ignorant. Tomorrow then?”

“Yes,” Thor agreed quickly. “Tomorrow. Thank you, Gerd. It’s most appreciated.” Gerd inclined their head and continued down the hall towards tea. As they left they heard Loki not so quietly scolding Thor for speaking on behalf of both of them.

Chapter Text

The night was just as bitterly cold as every other night before it. The only source of warmth was the giant fire crackling away in the middle of the room but it was defeated by the frigid air blowing in through the destroyed walls. King Loki had leaned back far in his throne and had his eyes closed with the broken Gungnir resting against his shoulder. The sound of footsteps coming closer prompted the ruler of ruins to open his eyes and look at who was bothering him so late at night.

His visitor stopped beside the fire, which cast sharp shadows across his perpetually scowling face. "I should have known," Loki said without bothering to straighten. "To what do I owe this visit, oh great watchman of the Gods?" he asked.

Heimdall with his hair grey and somewhat unkempt and a strip of fabric wrapped around his head to cover his eyes didn't respond at first. He shifted a plain wooden staff in his gnarled hands. The wind tugged at the sloppily patched and snow wet cloak he was wearing. "I'll not play games with you, Loki. What are you up to?" he finally asked.

"Up to?" Loki echoed. "Why, I've just been sitting here, Heimdall, like always. I never get up to anything anymore."

Heimdall's scowl grew deeper. "How long will you draw this out? What further purpose could you have after destroying so much, King of Bones?"

Loki shrugged casually. "Funnily enough I had very nearly decided to 'end it' like you suggested. But then something -well, someone- caught my eye. You remember what that's like don't you?"

"You are not amusing," Heimdall said.

"You never did have any sort of sense of humor. Makes being stuck here with you truly dreadful," Loki replied.

"Then die and end both of our sentences. There's nothing stopping you," Heimdall pointed out dryly.

Loki waved that comment away. "Nothing but my own stubbornness. But, as I said, I'm not up to anything, Heimdall. You've grown even more paranoid in your old age."

"Just because I can no longer see you does not mean that I cannot tell when you are plotting," Heimdall said, his grip shifting on his staff until his knuckles turned white. "Within the Nine Realms there is still life that has escaped you. I will ensure that it remains away from your grasp."

Loki scoffed. "As if those tiny little creatures matter to me. Rest easy, Heimdall, I have no intention of completely purging all the realms. That was never my intention in the first place, despite what you might think."

"I know you have been doing magic again," Heimdall accused.

"Trifles to amuse myself, that's all," King Loki answered. "You worry too much."

"There is no such thing when dealing with you," Heimdall said. "We should have ended you long ago. When you first betrayed us."

Loki contemplated that for a moment. "You sound so very certain about that, but there must always be a Loki to restart things... or end them. Depending on where we are, of course. If I wasn't necessary then Odin wouldn't keep bringing me into Asgard cycle after painful cycle. I would think you'd appreciate finally not having to relive the same horrid existence over and over again. To watch our loved ones suffer and die learning the same lessons on endless loop only to forget it all when they come back and remake the mistakes that lead to their demise in slightly different ways. Or are you one of those sick people that enjoy watching people suffer? I wouldn't put it past you. After all, you've watched me without so much as lifting a hand as Asgard pushed me into the only role they've ever wanted me to have."

"You chose your lot," Heimdall argued.

Loki narrowed his eyes and leaned closer though he gripped the edge of his broken throne tightly. "You all got what you wanted. Loki must always be the villain of Asgard. No matter how hard I try or what selfless things I do, you all only ever see me one way. I can sacrifice myself over and over and never be seen as anything more than an enemy. Well, I gave it to you, your precious Ragnarok, so do not complain upon receiving it."

Heimdall took a step closer to the throne. "Always the victim aren't you? You never take responsibility for your own actions. No, Loki, it was your own ambition and jealousy that led us to this."

"It counterbalances your continued attempts to blame me for literally everything that has ever gone wrong," Loki snapped back. "Oh no, Hodr killed Baldr, it must be Loki's fault!" he said mockingly.

"It was your fault," Heimdall growled. "You got the mistletoe and turned it into a weapon. You guided Hodr's hand."

"Then why kill poor Hodr?" Loki asked. "If it was my fault how is it justice to kill Hodr?"

"He struck the killing blow."

"But you just said it was my fault," Loki said in mock surprise. "How can you claim it right to kill a nearly inconsolably grieving blind man if he wasn't at fault? And that's not even taking into account my sons..." he said, his voice growing deadly at the end.

"...It was punishment," Heimdall said although he sounded very uncomfortable. "Perhaps not the best, but it wouldn't have been done if you hadn't conspired to murder Baldr."

"And you wonder why I smiled as I watched Asgard burn," Loki said moving to finally sit back again.

"None of it would have happened at all if you hadn't killed Baldr," Heimdall pointed out. "You started all of the heartache that followed."

Loki shook his head. "No. The Norns did. If you'll remember... Baldr's sleepless nights worried the whole realm to the point everyone was scrambling to save him," Loki said with dripping sarcasm. "It was sickening. Who else could get everyone to swear never to harm him just because he had a few nightmares? Do you know how my nightmares were handled? Go back to your room, Loki. Warriors do not get scared of dreams in the dead of night. Baldr was supposedly a grown man and warrior, but, oh no, his dreams must be more! Clearly, his very life is in danger because he hasn't slept well in a few days." Loki scoffed loudly.

"It did prove to be more," Heimdall said.

Loki rolled his eyes. "Maybe Odin and Frigga shouldn't have so obviously had favorite children then. But it doesn't matter, because it won't be happening again."

"You cannot continue this forever," Heimdall argued. "Eventually you will give in and we can finally end this stalemate."

"Do you honestly think that after so long suffering that I give in so easily?" Loki asked. "The universe shall explode before I let it restart this cycle. Because I have finally found the perfect solution for both of us, my dear watchman."

"I knew you schemed," Heimdall accused.

Loki waved his hand to the side dismissively. "Yes, yes. You knew I would have plans, do you wish a medal for the most obvious deduction ever, blind man? But contrary to what you think... my plans are not nefarious in nature. So, 'scheming' and being 'up to' something are not accurate descriptors at all."

"Your nature does not change, Loki."

"I am chaos, Heimdall. The one thing I always do is change."

Heimdall did not look convinced. "Everywhere you are allowed to flourish you bring nothing but destruction and death. I'll not allow you to spread your cancer anywhere else. Enough innocents have died because of you."

"This time my goal is to save innocence, Heimdall," Loki said. "And there are a few things that you can do to help me."

"And why would I ever help you?" Heimdall demanded.

Loki shrugged. "Because I am your king and you are nothing if not a loyal lap dog," he reasoned.

"You are not my king," Heimdall denied as he took several more steps closer. "Odin was my king. Thor was my king. You will never be my king."

"Well, to say I were surprised would be a lie and I don't do that anymore," Loki said as he rested his cheek on one hand.

Heimdall scoffed. "To believe a liar when he says he can no longer lie is an oxymoron that would only lead to folly," he declared. "If you could not lie we would not be in this predicament in the first place."

"Wrong. We are in 'this predicament' as you call it because I told the truth," King Loki answered. "But that is hardly the point. My point, oh watch dog with no eyes, is that you can do what you've always wanted to do. Stop this from happening somewhere else."

"I will never help you, Loki. I know you too well. You are a selfish thing. The only thing that you truly seek is your own gain," Heimdall accused. "No matter what you want. I am not so foolish as to give it to you."

Loki sighed heavily. "Fine, don't be helpful. I will do as I always do, and fix it myself."

"Yes, well, you should seeing how you are the one that made the mess in the first place," Heimdall said, entirely unmoved.

"I tire of your continual blame game, Heimdall," Loki told him. "At this point does who did what really matter? I'm the one who's looking to actually do something about it."

"Do something about what?" Heimdall demanded. "All of Midgard is nothing but a field of bones and dust and Asgard is a mound of burned ruins filled with the proof of your treachery!"

Loki sighed again and rubbed his forehead just above his brow. "For one that was once so far sighted you never seem to look at the right things," he muttered, more to himself than Heimdall. "I don't know what I was expecting from one such as you."

"You refuse to let the cycle restart and yet you claim to be able to 'fix' things," Heimdall turned away. "That makes no sense, trickster."

"For someone who has seen so much you do lack a certain amount of imagination," Loki said with a grin. "Leave it all to me, watch dog." Heimdall frowned and -had he still the eyes to do it- would have turned to look at the God sitting on the tarnished throne he had coveted so highly. "I planned our demise... I can plan our salvation just as well."

Chapter Text

Bloodlines are very important to Jotnar. Mostly because of how prominent your bloodline is since they are on display in Dynasty Lines. When you come right down to it, there are only twenty main bloodlines in the entire population. Each of these branches has branches within them, and it's entirely possible another Jotnar wouldn't be able to identify which subfamily you belong to unless they are more closely related or deal with them on a regular basis. But the twenty major clans each have a few key distinguishing features that can be spotted at a glance by all other Jotnar and even well-informed non-Jotnar. The most exclusive families with the fewest members are the clans of Norfi, Hyndla, Mokkurkalfi, and of course the Royal line that can trace back all the way to Ymir. But things get more complicated when you get into Reclamation...

Thor looked out at the rain that was pouring down from the stormy sky with a troubled expression. His chin was rested on his arm on the windowsill, and he was hunched over as he tracked the rivulets of water coming down the currently clear glass. "You are going to drown the realm," Loki drawled from where he was standing in the doorway. "Or at the very least the city."

Thor didn't look up and continued to brood. The brothers had had their first 'lesson' on Jotnar that day with Gerd and, though most of it was about things that Thor and Loki had already known, somehow the conversation had ventured to something Thor had never considered. Loki sighed and entered the room, "What is it?"

"I did not like all of what I heard today," Thor grumbled. Lightning flashed in the dark clouds overhead, and thunder rumbled.

"Think of how I feel," Loki replied before sitting down with his back to the window that Thor was staring out of. Ofnir clambered up onto Loki's lap only a few heartbeats later, and Loki absently ran his hand over the lizard's spines, smoothing them down gently. "What exactly did we get told to send you into such a foul mood?"

Thor scowled as the large droplets of water splat against the window. "That Reclamation business."

"Ah," was all Loki said in response to that. After a long moment, Loki reached over to Thor's right hand and tugged at it. "Come on then," he commanded. Thor allowed his hand to be pulled and watched with half his attention as Loki pulled a length of twine out of his pocket and started to tie it. First around the base of Thor's middle finger then down to his wrist. Thor recognized the bit of magic as a simple dampening spell that their mother used when they were younger and more prone to losing control of their powers. Essentially every Asgardian mother knew such tricks, and essential charms as part of running a household and almost all children had worn such dampeners at some point although most stopped when it became apparent they had no abnormal powers or when they gained more control.

"I do not like the thought that a Jotnar family could take you away," Thor muttered as he watched his brother twist and knot the twine in on itself. Thor had never considered the possibility of someone taking his brother away from them before and Gerd's explanation of the ritualistic adoption ceremony had not eased Thor's mind.

"I doubt any would," Loki said without looking up from his work. "They'd have to know I was... that, and I don't intend for any to know."

"But they still could," Thor pointed out.

"Thor, they left me to die. No Jotnar clan is going to want me," Loki sighed in exasperation.

Thor didn't believe that in the least. "But you heard what Gerd said. Strong mages are rare on Jotunheim, and you're one of the strongest in all the realms."

"First, they would have to know," Loki repeated. "And second, even if they did find out Mother would never let anyone take me away. Plus apparently, you would drown them in stormwater..." Loki finished tying off the thin piece of twine around Thor's wrist, and the Thunder God felt the difference immediately. Though he was still in a foul mood, the unhappiness was no longer being funneled outwards to feed the storm.

"My thanks, Loki," Thor muttered as he looked at the bit of rope on his hand.

Loki inclined his head slightly and then went back to petting Ofnir. "It has been a while since you've needed that."

Thor sighed and tucked his now decorated hand into the crook of his opposite elbow. Usually, he was able to stop his emotions from running wild and fueling a storm while awake. Nightmares were the most common cause of unexpected torrential downpours nowadays, and so Thor wore a dampener to bed to prevent it. During the day he had no need. "I don't like the thought of someone taking you from us," Thor said. "Especially not like that."

Gerd had explained, with a certain vagueness that Thor found more unsettling than Freyr's partner had probably expected, the basics of the ritual known as Reclamation. There was something about altering the orphan's Dynasty Lines, which seeing how those lines were much like giant fingerprints, was not an easy prospect. Added to the fact that it was usually done on children and there was apparently a chance for 'complications' that Gerd hadn't discussed in any depth with them. Thor's imagination had run every possibility from disfigurement to death, and Thor hadn't been able to stop himself from imagining far too detailed scenarios staring his baby brother.

"You are sometimes too protective, Thor," Loki said as he leaned over to rest his head on Thor's shoulder. "Nobody in Jotunheim will be trying to take me away."

The brothers sat by the window in silence for perhaps half an hour as the storm outside tapered off and died without Thor's continued emotional baggage feeding it. The sun began to break the cloud coverage away, and little animals that had sought shelter during the storm were reappearing. "I suppose Vanaheim is used to lots of rain, so no harm was done," Loki mused.

Thor smiled, "I am just glad Father isn't here." Odin would have had a few words about Thor's lack of control, no doubt.

"I can hear him now," Loki said. "A Prince should know how to contain his own powers. If you cannot control yourself, perhaps we should return to using dampeners all the time," Loki mocked in a near perfect imitation of Odin's disapproving voice.

Thor snorted. "You are too good at that," he decided before holding his hand up, "And I'm not wearing this all day." Thor hated dampeners. They itched uncomfortably, and his parents had had a damned time trying to keep them on him when he was younger. Of course, Loki had always hated them more, but his powers didn't affect more than himself usually so he got away without wearing them more often than Thor had.

"I don't care," Loki replied. "If you're not going to make us swim for higher ground any longer than feel free to take it off."

Thor glanced at the careful woven knots and then the still cloudy sky. "... perhaps a little longer," he admitted. "Just to be safe." Already he was sure he'd get spoken to by their mother due to the sudden downpour.

"I'm sure the citizens appreciate your restraint," Loki said only a little sarcastically. "But now that you've scared everyone indoors, we should go out and enjoy the quiet. We haven't been exploring in a few days what with everything going on."

"Where would you want to go?"

"That's the point of exploring, Thor," Loki said in exasperation.

Thor thought for a moment before shrugging. "Alright. We have some time before evening meal so we might as well," he agreed as he got to his feet. He could do with getting out some energy in ways other than storm calling, and wandering sounded just as good as any other method at the moment.

Loki got to his feet with Ofnir in his arms. The wyvern let out a pleased trill and climbed higher with the leverage of Loki's shoulders. "You are spoiling that thing," Thor commented as he got up and followed behind his brother.

"I am not," Loki said with a dignified sniff. "He's just a baby. He wouldn't be able to keep up if I didn't carry him."

"You could leave him in your room," Thor pointed out.

Loki cast Thor an annoyed look. "Do you really think locking a bored wyvern in my room all day would end well for anyone, Thor? He needs stimulation and activity to develop well."

"He's an animal, Loki," Thor sighed.

"So are Glaer, Skeidbrimir, Gisl, Sillfrintoppr, Lettfeti, Sinir, Falhofnir, Gultoppr, Audun and about half the horses in the stables that are smart enough to actually speak," Loki pointed out in annoyance. "Being an animal is not an excuse."

Thor rolled his eyes. "You're comparing Ofnir to horses that have been specially bred over generations to be that smart," Thor replied. "Don't you think that's a little unfair? Unrealistic expectations and all that?" Loki didn't answer and just kept walking through the palace with Ofnir peering over his shoulder. "Then again... maybe not," Thor muttered as Ofnir studied him with those predatory eyes of his.

Loki chuckled and pet Ofnir's head fondly. The wyvern chirruped happily at the attention. Thor was sure that if the wyvern had feathers, he'd be preening right then.

The brothers left the palace grounds and began to wander in the general direction of the river. Even from a distance, they could see the water was moving fast, and the banks had almost disappeared from the influx of rain from Thor's storm. "Waaait," a little voice called out before they had gotten more than three steps past the gate.

Thor and Loki both stopped and turned. Forseti was hurrying towards them with a determined expression. Thor acted automatically and swooped down to pick up their nephew. "What are you doing out here?"

"I dun wanna stay in an' pway," Forseti declared, jutting his lower lip out in a pout.

"Your mother would not be happy you were out here," Thor warned as he settled the boy on his hip.

Forseti's pout became more pronounced. "I dun wanna pway inside," he insisted. "I wanna go wif you an' Woki."

"We should take him back inside," Loki said with an exasperated sigh. Forseti nearly wailed a long 'no' and clung tightly to Thor's neck with a fist tightly clenched in the fledgling thunder god's hair. Thor winced and tried to coax Forseti to let go. "Forseti, you can't come with us. Your mother will worry."

Forseti protested even louder and right into Thor's ear. Thor winced and tried to carefully pry the boy further away but was unsuccessful. "I suppose we could take him with us," Thor ventured. "If we keep an eye on him." Forseti immediately quieted much to Thor's relief.

"I'll be good," Forseti promised with a sniff. "Pwease, Woki?"

Thor tried to subtly undo Forseti's grip in his hair and failed. The boy had an iron clasp when he wanted. "Forseti," Loki began with a sigh, "we aren't going to go and do anything exciting."

"I wanna go," Forseti insisted.

Thor knew that really Loki was right, but the way Forseti's voice quivered and tears built back up in his eyes at an alarming rate crumbled that resolve away. "Surely, it is not so dangerous we can't bring him with us," Thor said. "We're bringing Ofnir already."

Loki stared at the both of them for a moment and then sighed. "Pushover," he grumbled. "You dare say I spoil Ofnir after this I will knock you flat..." Thor at least didn't bother to hide his guilty expression. He really didn't think he was that big a pushover, but he did realize he was probably easier to convince than his brother would ever be. But what could Thor say? He hated big sad eyes staring up at him. Always had. "Come on," Loki grunted as he started down the stairs.

Forseti grinned like the cat that had gotten the milk and finally unclenched his hand from around Thor's hair. Thor sighed and followed after Loki. "We both have our own passengers now, at least," Thor said lightly.

Loki chuckled softly. "I suppose," he agreed. "Although I think yours the more dangerous."

"Woki! I'm not dangaworse!" Forseti protested.

"Oh, on the contrary, Nephew," Loki said over his shoulder. "You are the most dangerous of us all."

Forseti laughed. "No, I'm not! Thor! Woki's being siwy!"

Thor grinned. "Oh?"

"Uh huh!"

"I'm not being silly at all," Loki denied. "You're the most fearsome creature alive, I think. If something happened to you, your mother would be angry. Have you ever seen your mother angry?" he asked.

Forseti's eyes went huge. "Uh huh. It's scary!"

"See?" Loki asked. "You're the most dangerous because you can make your mother be scary."

"Ooh," Forseti breathed as if it all made perfect sense.

Thor had to quickly shift his arms and body to better support Forseti as the boy decided to climb. The movement was awkward, but Thor managed to not drop the boy. Forseti ended up clinging to Thor's back with his arms and legs wrapped around the young Thunderer tightly.

The sons of Odin, with their passengers, meandered towards the river chatting idly about nothing in particular. The canals that they passed in the street were gushing with water from Thor's storm, and more than a few birds had found little puddles to flap around in. As they crossed the bridge over the bursting river, Loki sighed. "I've been thinking about what you said before we left home, Thor."

Thor was caught off guard by the topic change and scrambled to think of what he'd told Loki before they left Asgard. "Oh?" he prompted while still racking his brain. Hopefully, Loki wouldn't realize Thor wasn't entirely sure what he was talking about.

Judging from the frown on Loki's face, Thor figured he'd failed to hide it. "About Sigyn," he said in exasperation.

"Oh! What about it?" Thor asked.

Loki sighed and ran his fingers down Ofnir's back. "I really do like her... she's pretty, and she doesn't think of me as a pest. When we spoke that first time in the library-"

"Only time," Thor couldn't quite stop himself from saying.

Loki glared, "Either way. When we spoke, she asked questions and seemed to actually care what my answers were. I don't even think she realized who I was and just thought I was some page or something." A thoughtful expression crossed his face, and Thor waited. "I just don't know what to do..."

Thor hummed as he thought about it. "Well, seeing how we're not in Asgard right now. Maybe you should send her a letter?" he suggested. "Might be easier to talk to her if you can plan it all out ahead of time." He had never really thought of his brother as 'shy,' but Thor figured if he were nervous then Loki would appreciate having as much time as he needed. Loki always had hated being rushed.

"Maybe... it's just. Wouldn't that be weird? Getting a letter from someone you only spoke to once?" Loki asked.

Thor shrugged. "I don't know. I've never gotten a letter like that. But it's worth a try, isn't it? You don't want to wait until we get back to talk to her do you?" They had no idea how long they would be in Vanaheim. Waiting could lead to her finding someone else.

"I guess not," Loki said with a sigh. "But what do I even say to her? Everything I can think of sounds so... trite and silly."

"I can't imagine anything you wanting to tell her sounding trite and silly," Thor drawled. "I think you're too hard on yourself. Don't you agree, nephew?" Thor asked with a little bounce. Forseti shrieked a laugh and agreed loudly with the young Thunder God. "See, Brother? You worry too much. She will love you writing to her. I'm sure of it."

Loki still looked very unsure but nodded. "I guess I just have to come up with something to say." He frowned at the ground as they walked. "Why is it so hard talking to a girl than it is getting us out of trouble?"

"Practice," Thor answered. "You get us out of trouble a lot more than you talk to girls."

Chapter Text

Thor reacted as fast as he could to block the piece of wood coming right for his head. He managed to do so and scrambled back a step with a curse. "Thor! Watch your language!"

Thor bit back his immediate retort as he lashed out with his own training sword. "Yes, Mother!" he called somewhat angrily as Loki essentially danced out of his reach. Thor lunged to follow, but Loki spun and brought his training sword back down. Thor brought up his to block before countering. He almost got Loki in the gut, but all that happened was his brother disappeared in a shimmer of green. "Loki! No illusions!" he snapped.

"You shouldn't shun an advantage, Thor," Loki said nearly breathlessly as he swung his wooden sword towards Thor's side from behind the blonde. Thor only just managed to get out of being hit by a combination of awkward bending and a quick slash downward from his own weapon.

"I'm not shunning," Thor denied as he spun away to put some distance between them again. Both brothers were sweating and panting from exertion since they had been training for most of the afternoon. "But I thought you wanted to get better with swords. You can't if you use your illusions," Thor pointed out. He really did believe that. Besides, it was so annoying trying to fight when Loki pulled his tricks. Thor was trying to not get frustrated. He really, really was.

"It isn't like I'm ever going to not fight with magic," Loki argued. "So, I see no reason to not practice with it too."

Thor growled and lunged again. Loki yelped a little and scrambled back while blocking. "Easy, Thor!" Loki shouted as the wooden swords cracked against each other loudly and sent vibrations tingling up both of their arms. "You'll break the fuckin' things!"

"Loki!"

"Sorry, Mother!" Loki called even as he sprung further back from one of Thor's slashes.

Thor tried his best to temper his anger and frustrations. He knew this would be the hardest part of training with Loki. His brother just could not seem to fight without magic backing him. Something that was impossibly frustrating to deal with for someone without the same skills. This was the exact reason that Thor had originally grown fed up and dismissive of his brother's tactics.

Thor knew now that there was still value in his brother's style of fighting, but that didn't make it any easier to not get angry over. There was another loud crack as wood connected and Loki's sword flung off into the distance where it hit the side of the palace with a clatter. Loki was still moving back but stumbled at the loss of his weapon and hit the ground hard. Thor managed to bring himself up short even as Loki stared up at him with wide eyes.

"Asgaedia wept, Thor! What was that about?" Loki asked as he shook his hand that had been holding his sword out to the side. His shocked expression morphed into one of annoyance very quickly.

"That was real fighting," Thor said before he could censor himself.

Loki scowled darkly and pushed himself up. "So was I," Loki snapped. "Don't get mad when I show you up!"

"You didn't show me up," Thor replied, unable to stop from feeling insulted by the accusation. "You were using your magic when we were supposed to be practicing with swords! It defeats the purpose, Loki!"

"It does not defeat the purpose!" Loki argued. "That's like saying dodging defeats the purpose!"

"Boys!" Frigga called firmly. "Enough of this."

Thor tried to contain his frustrations, but he still heard distant thunder. Loki scoffed some and went to pick up his practice sword. Thor felt terrible at his loss of control when Loki picked it up and revealed that it now had a bend about halfway up where Thor's strike had broken it. Loki scowled at the wood before tossing it into the bag of training swords it had come from. "I'm going to go wash up," he grumbled.

"Loki!"

Loki ignored Thor entirely, and the blonde huffed. Frigga was standing there frowning very disapprovingly, and Thor couldn't help but wince. "You could have hurt your brother with those strikes, Thor," Frigga scolded. "There was no need to get so angry."

"I don't mean to," Thor argued. "It's just frustrating when he pulls his tricks," he added in a low grumble.

Frigga stepped down into the yard and walked over to where Thor was putting away his own training sword. "You should try to think of 'his tricks' as an advantage, Thor," she said. "One day you might have to face a mage and training so much with Loki would give you an excellent advantage. I doubt an enemy mage would be so kind as to not take your head off."

Thor frowned and, though he knew what his mother said was true, couldn't help but still dislike it. "I'm trying to help him with swords though, Mother!" he complained. "He should focus on that before adding in his magic."

"Oh really?" Frigga asked lightly. "And when you train with Tyr you only focus on the strength of your swings and nothing else?" she asked entirely too innocently. Thor opened his mouth to respond and then what she said caught up to his brain, and he promptly shut it again. "Mastering one thing at the expense of another makes no sense, Thor. Especially when, as Loki pointed out, in a real fight I would rather hope he uses everything at his disposal to not be hurt. Just as I would expect you to call upon a storm to save your own life and limb if it were necessary."

"But it's so frustrating, Mother!" Thor said as he tossed his sword into the bag a little harder than was truly necessary.

"Learning often is, Thor," Frigga replied. "Your brother challenges you in ways others don't. Don't take it out on him that you are finding it difficult to adjust to. I know it can't be easy for him to keep up with your endurance, but he hasn't incinerated your training sword out of frustration now has he?"

Thor felt ashamed of himself and kicked at the dirt. "No," he grumbled.

Frigga reached over and pushed some of his loose hair behind his ear. "It is perfectly understandable to be frustrated, darling. But do try to contain it better, would you?"

"... yes, Mother," Thor agreed.

"Good boy, now, go get cleaned up for dinner," Frigga said with a nod of her head off towards the palace doors.

Thor nodded and hurried out of the courtyard to go get his bathing things. He grabbed up everything he used in the bathroom along with clothes appropriate for dinner and then headed to the bath. Thor wasn't in the least surprised to see that Loki's things were still there although his brother wasn't actually in the first room. Thor washed off the sweat and grime from practice and rinsed the soaps off before going into the actual bath.

Loki was sitting on one of the benches and glaring at the steaming water. Thor padded over to that side of the bath and bent down so that his head was right by Loki's. "I'm sorry, brother," he said. Loki jumped, and Thor got splashed in the face.

Thor sputtered and straightened enough to wipe the water from his eyes even as Loki shouted at Thor for surprising him. "It isn't my fault you weren't paying attention," Thor said as he got into the bath beside Loki. "Did you have to splash me?"

"It's your penance for startling me," Loki replied moodily as he brought his knees up to wrap his arms around. "What're you doing here?"

"Taking a bath," Thor answered. "Isn't that obvious?"

Loki raised an eyebrow. "You're hardly one for hygiene, Thor."

"I'm not that bad," Thor protested. "Just because I don't require three different types of soap..."

"It isn't my fault my face doesn't like the same soap as anything else," Loki grumbled. "Now what do you want?"

Thor said and leaned closer. "I wanted to apologize for earlier. You're just frustrating to fight against, you know," he said. "I'm not used to people not being where I'm swinging." Well, he was more used to it than he was perhaps letting on, but in those cases, his beloved brother was trying to at the very least severely maim him, if not kill him.

"I felt like you were trying to take my arm off with those blows," Loki complained.

"I'm sorry," Thor said again. "I just don't think about it when I get frustrated."

Loki frowned at that and used his foot to push at Thor's side. Thor grunted but obediently straightened so that there was a little more space between them. "I think you're developing beserker habits. It's not healthy."

"I'm not a beserker," Thor protested.

"I said habits," Loki pointed out. "And it's still not healthy. You need better anger management."

Thor rolled his eyes a little. "I'll get right on that."

"You should." Thor sighed and leaned over again to rest his head on Loki's shoulder. "We're naked, Thor!" Loki protested. "Get off me."

"Do you forgive me?"

Loki made a face. "Under threat of nearness while nude, yes, I forgive you," he said with a shrug of his shoulder.

"Prude," Thor accused lightly as he straightened.

"Oh, sorry for not wanting my naked brother hanging all over me," Loki said sarcastically. "You're not exactly what I fantasize about at night, Thor."

"No... you're more into pretty girls with eyes the color of the sea," Thor said lightly. He was unable to hide his grin when Loki blushed bright pink. "Have you written that letter yet?"

Loki gave Thor a hard shove. "It's none of your business!"

"So, that's a no, then," Thor interpreted.

"You are the worst," Loki grumbled as he turned to get out of the water. "I'm going to get dressed before I give into temptation and drown you."

Thor chuckled and climbed out as well. "I'm sure Mother would love to help you," he said as he grabbed his towel from where he dropped it and then made his way back to the previous room.

"I am not going to ask Mother how to write a love letter to a girl!" Loki nearly screeched.

"Oooh, so it is a love letter," Thor said with a huge grin. "I'm so glad to hear you admit it, Loki."

"I should have definitely drowned you," Loki grumbled as he dried himself off roughly with his own towel. His face was bright pink in embarrassment, and he was looking anywhere but in Thor's direction.

Thor grinned and leaned across Loki with his arm wrapped around his brother's neck. "You wouldn't drown me, brother. You actually like me, don't you?" he asked with his best attempt at pleading puppy eyes -or whatever it was that Stark had once called them.

Loki glanced over and frowned. "Don't play cute, Thor."

"But brother... I only want your love," Thor persisted.

Loki made a face and shrugged his shoulders to dislodge Thor. "Ugh, what is with you today?" he asked. "If I didn't know better I'd say you were being all hormonal or something and that's supposed to be my problem, not yours."

Thor sobered some at that. "I just really am sorry, Loki, for losing my temper. I don't want you to be upset with me."

Loki sighed heavily. "Alright, alright," he said. "But try to let it not become a habit, eh?"

"I'll try my best," Thor promised sincerely. He didn't want to repeat those mistakes that drove his brother away the first time. And getting angry at Loki for using his magic was definitely one that he could recognize with his future knowledge.

"Good, now get dressed, nudist," Loki said as he pulled his own pants on.

"I'm not a nudist," Thor said as he dried himself off quickly.

"I beg to differ," Loki muttered. "Sometimes I'm surprised you even have shirts with how often you leave them lying around randomly."

Thor rolled his eyes. "That's during practice, and it's because it's hot in the training fields," he pointed out. "It isn't like you've never taken your shirt off when we practice in Asgard."

"When is the last time I did that?" Loki demanded.

Thor paused halfway through pulling his shirt over his head and thought back. "Um... alright, I'm not sure," he admitted as he finished tugging his tunic down over his head. "But I know you've done it."

"Yes, and I got teased for the next fortnight over it," Loki snapped. "Not all of us are blessed with muscles the size of various fruits."

"Fruits?" Thor echoed in confusion.

"Well, that's what Amora was using for comparison when she rambled about it during classes that night," Loki said. "It was so tiresome."

Thor was still feeling somewhat lost. "I... have never thought to compare muscles to fruit," he said as he continued dressing.

"Well, I don't recommend starting," Loki said. "It got very difficult to listen to, and believe me, I tried not to. Also, did you bring a comb? Your hair is like a bird's nest. A wet birds nest." Thor lifted a hand to his hair and ran his fingers through the strands a few times. Loki looked distinctly unimpressed. "Oh, yes, that definitely fixes it. Sit down, you giant lump, and I'll fix it for you otherwise Mother will throw a fit."

"It can't be that bad," Thor argued although he sat down like Loki told him.

"It can be that bad," Loki denied as he pulled a comb out of his own things and started untangling Thor's hair from the bottom. "It looks like you put your head in a hurricane rather than under a water spout. I have no idea how you manage it, Thor, I really do not."

"I'm gifted," Thor said.

Loki snorted at that. "I'd say cursed," he drawled. "I'm glad my hair is so obedient. Bad enough it gets brittle with the wrong soaps, I don't need it going crazy too."

"You are altogether too vain," Thor commented with a roll of his eyes.

"I like looking good," Loki said with a tug on Thor's hair. "There is nothing wrong with that. Besides, not all of us can be blue-eyed blondes with fruit shaped muscles that all the girls fawn over incessantly. I swear, it was as if they'd never seen a blonde Asgardian before!"

Thor winced as Loki tugged the comb through his hair a little more savagely. "Well, don't rip mine out, would you kindly?"

"... sorry," Loki said and patted Thor's head. "Forgot what I was doing for a moment there."

Thor thought about leaving his hair a mess but knew that his mother would indeed protest so let Loki return to untangling it. As he sat there allowing Loki to work, the door to the bathroom opened and Gerd stepped in. "Gerd," Thor said in surprise. The giant spouse of Freyr looked equally surprised to see them there. Loki paused mid-motion, and before Thor could censor himself, he continued, "I thought you'd use the other side."

Loki tugged hard on Thor's hair, causing the thunderer to yelp. "You can ignore him, Gerd. He's an idiot," Loki said quickly.

Gerd only looked vaguely amused. "While most consider me a woman I have found that most actual women do not appreciate having someone with a penis in their bathing chambers," they said. "So, I use this side, and usually there is not anyone around at this time of day."

"Ah, we just finished training," Thor explained although he felt color burning at his cheeks.

"Indeed. Well, don't mind me," Gerd said as they went to the corner. Thor couldn't quite help but stare for a moment, and then Loki tugged at his hair and brought him back to his senses. Thor quickly turned back around and kept his eyes riveted to the tiles in front of him.

"Are all giants, um... singularly gendered?" Thor asked without looking over.

Gerd hummed aloud. "Most are, yes," they answered. "Aldrnari, or Fire Giants, long ago crossbred with fire demons so often that they would be less prone to it. That is why Fire Giant and Fire Demon is often used interchangeably nowadays. The only other giants I can think of that regularly present as only one sex or the other are storm giants, and nobody has seen one of them in millennia. And, of course, diluting the bloodline with non-giants would have a rather high likelihood of producing offspring that wouldn't be hermaphrodites."

Thor really wished that he had a filter on the questions he decided to ask because he regretted the answers nine times out of ten. Gerd had reminded him that there had been a chance (a slim one but still) that he himself could have been born with both genders. Thor wasn't at all sure how to process that or how he felt about it.

For a moment there was only silence and then the sound of water gushing across the tiles as Gerd turned on a faucet. Loki leaned close to Thor. "Could you just not ask any more questions, brother?" he asked. Thor nodded quickly and resolved to keep his mouth shut. Loki sighed and straightened.

Thor tried to think about nothing as Loki continued to work at his hair. Eventually, he found himself trying to remember the last time Loki had done such a thing and had to think back far further than he wanted to. Surely it hadn't been that long? They had been close for centuries before their relationship turned bitter. And yet, Thor was struggling to remember the last time they had done something so simple.

Loki's fingers were quick and efficient as he finished untangling Thor's shoulder-length hair. "It's growing fast," he commented as he pulled a few sections back and braided it out of the way.

"Not as fast as yours," Thor replied. "Didn't you just have mother cut your hair a few weeks ago?" Already Loki's hair had gotten to match Thor's at shoulder length, but Thor could swear that before they'd come to Vanaheim, it had been closer to the bottom of his ears.

Loki sighed and tied the braids off. "Yes, and it is very frustrating. I look enough like a girl as it is."

"You're a very fetching girl, though," Thor offered.

Loki pushed Thor's head forward roughly. "I'm not a girl at all!" Thor couldn't help but smile even as Loki slapped him upside the head and then went to put his comb away with his soaps and laundry. Thor gathered up his old clothes and wash things as well.

Just before the brothers left the bath, Gerd called out to them, "See you at dinner, boys."

"Ah. Yes, see you at dinner, Lady Gerd..." Thor said, feeling very awkward. He looked over before he could catch himself but thankfully only saw Gerd's muscled back. "Is there something better to call you?" he asked as he looked away quickly.

Gerd seemed to think about that for a moment. "Heillr Gerd would be perhaps more correct than Lady." Thor frowned at that. Being whole and healthy didn't seem like a title to him whereas Lady definitely was. Gerd must have seen his expression because they laughed. "It means something slightly different in Jotunheim, Thor."

"Oh. Well, then we will see you at dinner Heillr Gerd," Thor said with a slight bow and then hurried out of the bathroom with Loki.

The two of them walked together while chatting about nothing, in particular, all the way back to their rooms. Thor tossed his things carelessly into his chambers before crossing the hall to wait on Loki. "You could just leave it all on your bed," Thor pointed out as Loki put each container of soaps into specific places on his dressing table.

Loki cast him a glare. "Just because you're a slob doesn't mean I have to be. I rather like knowing where my own things are," he said. Ofnir groaned and then rolled over where he was sleeping in Loki's bed.

Thor supposed there was a bit of irony in the God of Mischief and Chaos being unable to handle his own things in a mess, but his brother was so full of contradictions what was one more, really? "I know where my things are," Thor said with a gesture back to his room. "They're in there."

"And where did they land?" Loki asked sweetly.

"... in the room," Thor replied.

Loki snorted a little and then went to pull his own hair back. Before Thor realized he was doing it, he had crossed the room and batted Loki's hands away. "Here. I'll do it for you," Thor volunteered.

Loki looked like he would protest but then lowered his arms. "Don't make it lopsided this time."

"Mother thought it was cute when it was lopsided," Thor defended.

"I'm not cute," Loki grumbled.

"I fear, baby brother," Thor said as he twined several strands of inky black hair together, "that you will always be considered cute by Mother. You are the youngest and all."

"Yes, but now there's Forseti to be cute. She hardly needs to coo over me," Loki said. "And I'm too old for it."

Thor smiled and recalled that, even as an adult, Frigga had never entirely stopped 'cooing' over Loki. She was perhaps less obvious about it and turned most of it into doting behavior, but Thor could tell she still found Loki cute. Especially when his tantrums didn't result in destruction. "I doubt you will ever be too old."

Loki made a face. "Don't smile when you say that," Loki ordered.

"I will try not to," Thor agreed although he was already struggling against another smile. Thor tied off the braids he had done and leaned forward to wrap his arms around Loki's neck in a hug. "It just proves how much she loves you. How much we all love you, Brother." Thor knew that Loki would not have abandoned his doubts so quickly about his family's love and liked to remind him whenever possible.

There was a moment of silence, and then, Loki dropped his head back against Thor's shoulder. "I know you do, Thor," he murmured. "It's just... so hard being so different. And now we're doing these lessons and... I know I need to learn these things, but I don't want to."

"That is why I am with you," Thor said softly. "We will do it together. Just like everything else."

Loki slowly smiled though it looked to Thor as if he was fighting the urge. "Sap," he accused before elbowing Thor lightly in the ribs. Thor pulled back, and Loki raised his hand to the braids in his hair. He frowned. "You did them crooked."

Chapter Text

Giant Family Tree

Thor studied the diagram that Gerd had drawn for them. Though the tree seemed straightforward enough, he couldn't help but think that Gerd had simplified it massively to make it that way. "So, all of these over here are gone, right?" Thor asked pointing to one branch of the tree.

"That's right," Gerd confirmed. "For several centuries. There were rumors for some time that small pockets of storm giants had fled Jotunheim after the tribal wars but after a few decades even those rumors faded."

"Tribal wars?" Loki questioned. He'd been fairly quiet all lesson but, like usual, he couldn't bury his indomitable curiosity forever. The more of these Jotnar lessons they had with Gerd, the faster he allowed himself to become drawn into whatever the topic of the day was. Thor took that as a good sign since he figured that meant his brother was slowly coming to terms with what he actually was. Then again, maybe Loki just couldn't abide the thought of Thor knowing more about something then he would. Whatever the reason, Thor was glad every time that Loki finally became involved in the lesson.

Gerd nodded at Loki's question. "When Jotunheim was still a young planet it was far closer in temperature to here on Vanaheim or perhaps even Midgard if you know what the environment there is like. Jotunheim was not the near-complete tundra it is today, and the first giants were even larger towering figures. The size of mountains, at no exaggeration. A few of them reportedly still survive in the wildest regions as hermits. But, that is neither here nor there. As the giants grew smaller, they also developed very specialized survival adaptations."

"Like blood that doesn't freeze?" Thor offered. Just the other day, Gerd had explained how Jotnar blood had a unique enzyme that acted like anti-freeze by lowering the freezing point to almost ridiculous levels. Thor had never noticed before that Jotnar blood never seemed to freeze even when spilled across the ice; but, looking back, it was definitely true. He also hadn't known that -on the rare occasion that Jotnar were frozen- they were able to be recovered and thawed with virtually no lasting damage due to that enzyme. Gerd had even explained it by telling a story of a Jotunn that deliberately froze themselves to escape a harsh storm and was revived later as if nothing had happened.

"Just so," Gerd agreed. "And as each of these specialized tribes began to grow they started fighting with each other for territory. The volcanic isles that rung in the equator were very active back then, and the Aldrnari claimed that area immediately but clashed with the Fjallverr that also liked the equator area because it had the most landmasses. The storm giants were sandwiched between the constant fighting in the mountain and fire territories and the frozen caps where the Jotnar were populating quickly with very little resistance. Hence, being attacked from so many sides, the storm giants fled Jotunheim first and nobody bothered to keep track of where they ended up.

"Once the storm giants were gone, the ice began to spread as the Jotnar took over more and more land. The Fjallverr seemed to realize the First Winter -which is what the final battle of the tribal wars was called- was coming and retreated underground where they would be sheltered. They were uniquely able to do that due to their own abilities. The Aldrnari did not back down. They never have," Gerd explained. "Their tempers don't seem to allow that."

Thor thought on this new information for a moment. He had never really put much thought into how the Jotnar had ended up where they were in his past life. Thor was surprisingly interested in the whole thing considering he'd rarely thought much on history before. Then again he did always like war stories, and that might have something to do with it. "So, they tried to fight the Jotnar?"

Gerd nodded. "Yes, but they didn't seem to consider how outmatched they were. The fire giants were relegated to volcanic islands, and Jotnar are able to freeze a thick layer over oceans if there are enough of us. So... between the oceans giving Jotnar plenty more ice to use and the fact that they were at both ice caps and steadily encroaching... the Aldrnari were surrounded and fighting a losing battle. Eventually, they had to flee to Muspelheim -very unhappily, I might add."

"So... there are still Fjallverr on Jotunheim?" Loki questioned. "Hence why they cross most often?"

Gerd gave a slight smile at the supposition. "That's right. Fjallverr tend to endure patiently rather than fight, and sure enough, the Jotnar eventually found they disliked the equator and retreated some, leaving a more temperate area -small as it might be- behind them. Fjallverr eventually came back out of their deep underground fortresses, and the Jotnar never bothered to pester them again over territory they didn't particularly want. A sort of unwritten truce formed. Proximity tends to lead to more regular interactions and beings like myself who are half Jotnar and half Fjallverr," they said with a gesture to themselves. "Also, most of the visitors of Jotunheim tend to arrive nearer to the equator where they can survive easier."

"So, how temperate would that be?" Thor asked. For a Jotnar, Thor couldn't imagine that 'temperate' was all that warm.

"Well, during the middle of summer it sometimes reaches as high as ten degrees above freezing at the equator," Gerd supplied.

Thor looked down at the chart in front of him again thoughtfully. Ymir's name was huge and proud at the top of the upside down tree. "I always heard that Ymir was a Jotunn but... that story you just told us made it sound like he wasn't," Thor prompted.

Gerd shrugged a little. "The winners write history, Thor. The Jotnar won the planet and not only named Jotunheim after themselves, but claimed the first giant as a member of their own, even if the time that had passed made them almost another species entirely. Of course, even after the planet was soundly under the dominion of the Jotnar, there was still fighting to determine who would be in charge."

Loki frowned at that and looked up at Gerd. "But, I thought you said they decided on the current royal line because they could be traced back to Ymir," he said. "Sounds pretty straightforward to me."

"Well, that was how it ended up being, true enough. And, to be entirely honest, it isn't really possible to trace back that far. Laufey can trace back further than most, but even that line gets muddled if you go back far enough," Gerd explained. "Especially once you get back to before the different branches really became their own sub-races among giants. It does sound very good though, doesn't it?"

Thor nodded, but Loki just shrugged. "It would be more accurate to say that it was the royal line's shrewdness and unusually high number of seidr wielders that was why they won the in-fighting after the other giants fled," Gerd told them. "For generations before and during the First Winter, that clan spent no small effort in finding strong seidmadr and bringing them into the bloodline. Almost to the point of having a monopoly on them. So, when the question arose of who would lead the Jotnar... well they were able to make their case very definitively with their magic and their clever war tactics. It was afterward -to make the other clans feel less bitter about their defeat, and keep them from revolting, I feel- that any connection to Ymir was even brought up. Even now, it wasn't for poor war tactics or inability or even being outsmarted that Laufey lost the war to King Odin."

"So, why did Laufey lose?" Loki asked almost as a challenge. Thor had to fight the urge to look at his brother. Hearing Loki say that name without bitterness or disgust was so bizarre, Thor hadn't entirely been prepared for it. Thor also wasn't entirely sure he liked it. Thor figured he should since that meant Loki wouldn't hate himself, but Thor had always disliked Laufey, which only increased after he found out what happened when Loki was born. Laufey deserved Loki's hatred, Thor thought.

"Well, the initial battles were lost because Laufey honestly didn't think Odin would care to protect Midgard," Gerd explained with a vaguely dismissive hand gesture. "Everyone knew that Midgard was barely populated and the areas that were populated were only home to beings much less advanced than ourselves. Then, when Odin followed the Jotnar back to Jotunheim -also unexpectedly- he did so with his full forces and allied forces that were able to use more magic than the Jotnar. The royal family's tendency to keep highly skilled seidmadr to their own family bit them in the arse when the elves were brought in. Between the number of forces, the unexpectedness of being followed home, and the seidr they were ill-equipped to handle that meant that Laufey was at quite the disadvantage. Still, it wasn't a war they gave up easily. They made Asgard fight for that win."

Thor thought on all the stories and slander against the Jotnar and couldn't help but agree that the Asgardians had had to fight hard. They wouldn't bother with such gruesome stories if they had an easy time during that war. The rumors about the Jotnar were certainly the opposite of the rumors about the Alfr. Jotnar were always depicted as brutal savages, which usually meant that the Asgardians had found them to be challenging opponents. Thor almost thought it was a sort of backhanded compliment now that he really took the time to think about how the Jotnar were presented compared to the other races. Anybody else thinking that was highly doubtful but Thor liked the slightly more positive spin he'd come up with.

"Speaking of Laufey," Gerd began again, "Seeing how he is the current King of the Jotnar, it might be prudent to talk about him specifically."

"Must we?" Thor asked before he could stop himself.

"Even if, by the time you take the throne Laufey is no longer the ruler of Jotunheim, it would be good to pay attention to his methods for it is very likely his heir will have more than a thing or two in common," Gerd reasoned patiently.

Loki nodded. "Gerd does have a point," he said. "But, why do you call Laufey a he?"

"Due to the frequency with which our leader interacts with other cultures and the fact that most of those other cultures tend to be ruled by males, it has become our habit to refer to our leader as male as well," Gerd supplied. "Mostly just to make things easier for those species that are unable to wrap their minds around non-binary beings. It is also why Laufey is referred to as 'King' even though that title is most often reserved for male monarchs."

"I suppose that makes sense..." Loki mused.

"Now, under the surrender that Laufey signed Jotunheim is required to respond to any summons of the rightful King of Asgard for the next twenty-five millennium. Well, less than that now but not by any significant amount. This includes but is not limited to calls for troops," Gerd informed the two youngsters.

Thor couldn't quite help but perk up at the news. "We can call on a Jotnar army?"

"Your father can," Gerd corrected. "But it is doubtful he ever will what with the attitude that Asgardian forces have towards Jotnar ones. Not that the attitude is not returned, I'll mention. But, as I was saying, Jotunheim is also subject to quite a few trading tariffs upon them under the conditions of the surrender. Unfortunately, that doesn't preclude other realms from placing even more restrictions on trade with Jotunheim, and unfortunately, that oversight along with the removal of the Casket of Ancient Winters has left Jotunheim very impoverished. The idea was to make it so that they wouldn't have the inclination to attack other realms again because they'd be too busy needing to rebuild so much but, personally, I think it went a bit too far."

"Jotunheim has always been a bit on the isolationist side, we Jotnar usually don't care if we're well liked or not, and the frigid temperatures of our home tend to ward off visitors. That does have the unfortunate side effect of us not having the largest trade before the war, and now that is nearly decimated. The situation in Jotunheim is very tenuous right now, and we remember why that is. It will be difficult to rebuild anything resembling good relations with Jotunheim after the terms of the surrender are up. And I think that your father realizes he was perhaps a bit overly harsh because he's agreed to several of Laufey King's ratification measures over the centuries including relaxation of a few tariffs," Gerd said.

"What does Jotunheim even trade?" Loki asked with a frown. "All they have there is ice isn't it?"

Gerd gave Loki a brief smile. "That is the popular opinion but not actually true, Loki," they said not unkindly. "Jotunheim has quite a few natural resources available if you know where to look and aren't meek about trying to get to them. Jotunheim is not a place for anyone without boldness. We have quite a few enormous sea creatures that, while exceedingly dangerous to hunt, provide everything from meat, oil, hide, scales, and ivory. Most of that we use ourselves, but we used to trade in it as well. Then there are smaller sea creatures that are harder to get to due to their tendency to live under the thickest ice sheets and also land animals that have the fur we use and trade. And in the caves of Jotunheim, there are rare plants and minerals that, while not terribly helpful in their raw form, can be used with other elements in the refining process."

Thor thought about that for a moment. He'd never actually considered what was under the ice of Jotunheim. Thor had been solely focused on fighting the few times he'd gone there and between the Jotnar and their war beasts, that had seemed plenty to concern himself with. He had known, on some level, that Jotnar were primarily hunters like Asgardians but Thor hadn't put too much thought into what they hunted it did make sense though, that giants would hunt equally large prey. Thor thought he actually might have enjoyed trying his hand at such a thing.

"Our biggest deficit," Gerd was saying, "Was that our forge skills are... lacking. The heat required to make metal malleable is extraordinarily unhealthy for us for long periods. The few Jotnar that go into blacksmithing are highly revered for enduring it but also tend to have very shortened lives for that same reason. Due to lack of those who will do it, we aren't as capable of it as most other races. Most of the blacksmithing on Jotunheim is done by the Fjallverr because they are better able to handle the heat, but they have trouble with reining in their strength."

"I could do it," Loki said, more to himself than anyone else.

Gerd looked mildly surprised. "What was that, little one?"

Loki looked up quickly from where he had been staring at the papers in front of him. "What?"

"You said you could do it out loud, brother," Thor said.

Loki stared for a moment. Gerd raised an eyebrow and just waited. After another moment Loki cleared his throat. "Well, I mean... I handle heat better," he said awkwardly. "And I already know several fire spells. I don't think it would be that hard."

Thor was a little surprised. Gerd seemed to be surprised as well. "You know spells to control fire?" they asked.

Loki shrugged. "Most war spells are fire based," he pointed out. "They're a bit harder to control, but I can do it."

"That is... practically unheard of Loki," Gerd said with wide eyes. "Doesn't it hurt to try and handle something like fire?"

Again Loki shrugged. "It's not the most comfortable, but I got used to it," he said. Gerd looked very impressed. Thor had never really thought about it before since Loki had always been a God of Fire along with his Mischief, but upon looking back, it was somewhat odd that a Jotunn would be able to be at all involved with that particular element. Loki shifted in his seat. "It's not that impressive is it?"

"It is," Gerd said.

"Oh, well, I learned fire magics before I knew I shouldn't be able to," Loki said with just a bit of awkwardness.

Gerd smiled. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make it seem like it was a bad thing. Quite the opposite. It's extraordinarily impressive. I don't know as much about seidr as your mother would, but I do know what being too warm feels like for me and the idea of being so near a fire is one thing I would very much like to avoid. I would imagine it would only be worse for you being full-blooded Jotnar," they explained.

"Maybe it's because I'm a runt then," Loki muttered. "We're supposed to be better at heat, right?"

Gerd's smile fell very quickly, and Thor frowned. "I would prefer it if you didn't call yourself that, Loki," Gerd said.

Thor nodded in agreement. "Yes, Brother. I agree with Heillr Gerd. You are no runt. You are just the size you should be," he insisted. If Loki hadn't been born smaller than average Thor would never have known him and that would have been quite horrible to Thor's mind.

"Well, what else am I supposed to call it?" Loki asked testily.

"It has become more appropriate to call those with your conditions bantams rather than runts," Gerd supplied. "It is by far less offensive." Loki grunted to show he understood but said nothing else. After a moment, Gerd tried to bring Loki back into the conversation, "Do you think being a smith would be something you'd enjoy, Loki?"

Loki shrugged. "I could do it," he said almost as if Gerd's question was a challenge.

"I don't doubt it," Gerd replied. "I was just wondering if you had a genuine interest or if just the idea of doing it while other Jotnar can't was what you were most interested in."

Thor couldn't quite help the snort of laughter that brought out. Loki cast his brother a quick glare, but Thor ignored it. Loki was definitely the sort of person to learn something just because he was told he shouldn't or couldn't. "Hush up, Thor," Loki grumbled.

"Sorry, brother," Thor said, entirely insincerely.

"Maybe I do have genuine interest, Thor," Loki said. "Did you ever think of that?"

Thor tried to stifle his smile but failed miserably. "I'm sure you do, Loki."

Loki huffed and folded his arms across his chest. "See if I make you anything," he grumbled.

Thor sobered instantly. "Ah, no, Loki. Don't be like that! I'm sorry!" Thor still remembered the hunting knife that Loki had made him in his first life that had been perfectly sized for Thor's hand and had been terribly well balanced and sharpened. That knife had always been Thor's favorite, and he didn't want to risk it not existing this time. Mostly because it was a present from Loki but also because it was a damn fine blade. Loki hadn't been as good a smith as say Eitri or Alvaldi nor anywhere near as prolific at the craft but he was a painful perfectionist when he set about making something.

"How quickly you change your tune, brother," Loki said.

"Well, I'm sure if you mention your interest to your parents they will be more than happy to provide for you a chance to learn such a skill," Gerd said before Thor could come up with a retort. "None of your other brothers, except for Hodr, have taken up any sort of craftsmanship." Hodr, though not unskilled on the battlefield, was primarily a carver who worked with all sorts of mediums although his two favorites seemed to be wood and ice. Thor suddenly wondered about that. Ice was a queer material for an Aesir to choose, much less to prefer, and Thor wondered if that was some of their family's Jotnar blood coming out. He'd never thought to ask before.

"We're the sons of Odin," Loki pointed out. "The art of battle and states craft are more important for us to learn. Nobody would be happy if we all became artists."

Gerd shrugged. "It doesn't hurt to have a hobby," they replied lightly. "But we seem to have gone off on a tangent. Let's get back to our lesson, shall we?"

Gerd spoke to them about a few more things for another half hour before Frigga came to the room. "I do hope your lesson has been informative?" she asked once Gerd had finished the current thought. Thor and Loki just nodded in agreement. "Good. Unfortunately, I will have to cut things short. Thor and Loki need to pack."

"Pack?" Thor echoed.

"Yes, Thor Darling," Frigga said. "We'll be travelling with your brother to his home in the country tomorrow."

Loki and Thor shared a quick look. They had known that they would be eventually going to Baldr's home, but the brothers had anticipated a little more warning before they did. "And I have arranged with your brother to visit and continue these lessons," Gerd interjected. "So, don't think you'll be getting free of them so easily. They just won't be as frequent."

"Oh goodie," Loki muttered lowly. He didn't say it quite soft enough to escape notice, however.

"Now, none of that," Frigga said gently but still firmly. Such a tone she had long ago perfected from raising so many sons and the way Loki's shoulder's hunched just slightly made it clear the effect remained the same. "Gerd is spending their own free time teaching you two. You should be grateful."

"We are grateful," Thor said instantly before turning to Gerd. "Thank you again for the lessons Heillr Gerd."

Gerd smiled. "You are again welcome. But we haven't nearly reached the full breadth of what I can share with you both."

"For other times," Frigga said. "Go on you two. I don't want to have you scrambling in the morning to try and collect everything."

The brothers muttered their agreement and then left the small sitting area that had been serving as their makeshift classroom. "I will be glad for the break," Loki admitted after they had gotten far enough away that they wouldn't be overheard.

"It is a lot to learn about," Thor said even though he was positive Loki wanted a break from Jotnar lessons for entirely different reasons. "But we should go say goodbye to Sven before we pack. It doesn't sound like there will be time tomorrow."

Loki thought about that for a moment before nodding. "Alright. I think he should be home about now."

Thor and Loki changed direction to head towards the front doors of the palace. Even though the brothers had only been to Sven's home a few times, they were easily able to recall which of the cramped houses in the more impoverished quarter of the city he and his mother lived in. Sven was, understandably, a little upset that Thor and Loki were going to be leaving the palace since they were two of the few kids his own age that took the time to include him in any of their activities. Thor could see that Sven was trying to hide his disappointment, but he wasn't doing a very good job of it.

Loki must have thought so too. "Oh, honestly!" he sighed. "It isn't like you can't come to visit us at our brother's home. We might not see you every day, but it'll be far too boring without anyone else around," he claimed.

Sven looked very surprised. "But... a-are you sure that your brother wouldn't mind me being there?"

"I can't see why he would," Loki replied and folded his arms across his chest. "Gerd is already going to be visiting often enough. One half-Alfr boy shouldn't be that much trouble."

Sven brightened considerably at that. "Thank you, Prince Loki!" Sven cried as he hugged Loki tightly.

"Gah! Enough of that!" Loki protested as he pushed the other boy away. "If I knew you'd assault me I wouldn't have offered." Thor smiled, unable to help himself find humor in the idea that Loki thought a friendly hug was somehow an assault.

"Right, sorry," Sven said as he backed away. "I just. I'm really glad to have actual friends for once."

Loki frowned slightly but then inclined his head. "Well, you're not so terrible," he muttered after a minute. This time Sven smiled along with Thor.

Chapter Text

The trip from the capital to their brother's estate wasn't too long or painful, but it was, unfortunately, boring. Loki spent the whole time reading while Thor ended up used as a pillow for Ofnir's backside and tail. Thor would have minded more if he hadn't dozed off himself several times throughout the trip from pure boredom. Their brother's estate was not much like the other estates in Vanaheim or their grandfather's palace. Baldr's home was an old stone fortress that had been abandoned near the end of the Vanaheim-Asgardian War centuries previously. When Baldr abdicated his claim to Asgard's throne after marrying Nanna, Fjorgynn had appointed him a decent sized area to govern in Vanaheim instead. The fortress, Breidablik, had been in a prime location for that area of land, so had been rebuilt and updated to serve as their home. This re-purposing had led to some of the rooms in the halls having odd features and dimensions that were interesting to explore or look at but ultimately useless.

Their mother only stayed for a few weeks with them before heading back to Asgard alone. She had already been gone much longer than either King or Queen would typically be. Both brothers took advantage of Frigga being gone to behave a little more wildly than they normally would have. Breidablik was located up on a cliff overlooking a large lake with quite a bit of forested area around it, which served as a perfect playground for two young Gods with -according to their mother during scoldings- more energy than sense.

On sunny days, Thor dragged Loki out into the woods and fields to go explore or to practice with weapons until Loki began to get tired of it. Then they would go for a swim or possibly return to the fortress to relax. Not that Loki didn't also drag Thor off to do what he wanted. Thor had found himself doing all sorts of strange things due to his brother. From looking for bizarre flowers in the woods that Loki swore had a purpose to trying to find new activities to waste hours on like inventing new -slightly dangerous- games. Loki was never content with just doing the same things over and over again, and Thor wasn't happy to be without company, so they often found new ways to waste time together. The whole experience was just what Thor had wanted and missed from his last life. Before, the brothers had already started to slowly drift apart, and Thor couldn't remember spending so much brotherly bonding time with Loki.

After only a few months, Loki and Thor had explored every inch of the fort and then quite a bit of the wooded area right outside of the walls. The boys had found dozens of trails that went every which way through the forest and even made a few new ones as they traipsed down to the lake routinely.

The amount of area they had to run around in and entertain themselves with, made Thor happy, and, before Frigga left, she had hired an Alfr tutor for Loki's magic, which pleased the young mage immensely on top of all the new places to explore. With so much to do for both of them, time seemed to fly by without Thor noticing. They soon started getting visitors from all sorts of people. Sven would show up at least a few times a month (usually with Gerd as an escort for yet another Jotnar lesson). Their friends from Asgard appeared once or twice for several weeks at a time. Frigga attempted to keep a regular schedule to see her sons. Even their elder brothers Tyr and Hodr stopped by, though Hodr was much closer and thus more regular a visitor than Tyr. Through the visits, Thor didn't fail to notice how much easier Loki gravitated towards the blind god than their other brothers. Thor supposed it wasn't that surprising since both Hodr and Loki had quite a lot in common, from their interests to the way the other Asgardians didn't tend to take them seriously in terms of martial prowess to even their preference for colder temperatures.

As the winter holiday started to come closer, their friends stayed home more often, so visitors began to dwindle, but Thor was glad when Odin made the time to see them even if it hadn't been for very long. Thor had worried that Odin wouldn't have managed to come and visit at all, which would have hurt Loki terribly. Thor too if he were honest.

Winter in Vanaheim, Thor found, was especially entertaining. Asgard had some pretty harsh winters, but Vanaheim had picturesque winters full of fluffy snowfall and sheets of ice just thick enough to cause objects to sparkle under the sun. The conditions outside rarely got so bad to deter the boys from going out, and Loki was always more willing to venture outside when it was colder. During their extended vacation in Vanaheim, Loki was outside in the snow virtually every day sometimes without any sort of jacket at all (which their mother scolded him over when she heard about it). Gerd had spent almost two weeks visiting at that time to teach Loki the basics of manipulating ice since that was apparently easier to learn when it was colder out. Loki was absolutely delighted when he finally managed to freeze over an entire pond with a thick enough layer that the brothers had been able to skate upon it safely. He then proceeded to tease Thor mercilessly at the Thunder God's lack of grace. The snowball fight that followed would no doubt go down in history even if both brothers accused the other of cheating in various ways.

Around that time, Thor also suddenly noticed how much larger Ofnir had grown. Only a few months after arriving at Baldr's estate Loki had ceased being able to carry the reptile, but by the time of the first snow, the Wyvern had been the size of a horse. At first, Nanna was desperately worried about Ofnir seeing how he was growing so fast and was still very venomous, but Ofnir didn't seem interested in eating people in the least.

Thor thought at first that because Loki had only been feeding him already killed meat -that the Wyvern had gotten too used to it. Then they had been off exploring with the lizard after a snow storm, and Ofnir had surprised them by jumping off a cliff and landing on a mountain goat with no warning whatsoever. After scarfing the goat down in only a few vicious bites, Ofnir had happily trotted back to Loki like some sort of bloody-toothed puppy. Loki quickly decided after that incident that it was time to train Ofnir to hunt properly.

Training Ofnir ended up taking a lot of Loki's free time, but it did serve a purpose of continuing to get the mage outside despite the temperature warming up again. Their friends returned to their sporadic visits and were happy to tell Thor and Loki all about what was happening in Asgard while they were essentially exiled 'for their own good.' Sif, Dagr, and Hogun had the easiest time visiting as Hogun was originally from Vanaheim and the children of Dellingr were able to move from realm to realm with less regulation through their father's diplomatic status.

Sven still visited the most often, and Thor was especially glad for that. The more and more he got to knew Sven there seemed to be increasing similarities between the young half-Alfr and Captain Rogers. Sven was not much of a fighter but seemed to be learning how to defend himself with the help of Loki and -surprisingly enough- Nanna. Though she was not a fighter by trade, Nanna had shown impressive skill with knives and at defensive maneuvers. Sven was steadily improving, and Thor was beginning to catch glimpses of familiar movements that he'd seen for years fighting beside Rogers. Thor still wasn't entirely sure if it was his imagination or not, but he liked to think it wasn't.

Of course, not everything in Vanaheim was a perfect pastoral wonderland. Loki still had days where he was short-tempered and somewhat volatile, and Thor made it a point to let his brother have his space during those times. He'd pressed about the matter once and had found he hadn't liked the result. Thor would have gone the rest of his life perfectly happy without knowing that his brother's hormones were forcing him to be a female until certain... issues resolved themselves. Thor hoped he never had a daughter because he was pretty sure he'd never be able to even think about that without some amount of discomfort. The first time it happened (before knew what was going on) Frigga had hurried to visit Loki and reassure him. The next few times it had been both Gerd and Frigga until Loki pushed them away entirely to deal with things himself. Loki seemed more in control after a few times but still far from happy, so Thor took to bribery to keep his brother easier to live with for those short spans of time.

After the whole... cycle incident, Thor tried his best to not pry too deeply into anything bothering Loki that seemed like it might be best left alone. Unfortunately, Thor also couldn't help but worry over his baby brother, and that led to being probably overly interested in things that were none of his business. Right before winter had gotten into full swing, Thor found a few letters tucked away in Loki's room after a brotherly tussle had pushed Loki's mattress catty-corner off the frame. Thor, naturally, snatched them up, and later on, read through them. Thor had found the letters unbearably sweet, especially since they had all come from Sigyn. He didn't know what Loki had written to her, but she had obviously liked it since she called him the 'sweetest' and 'most talented boy that ever existed in the nine realms' several times through a couple different letters. Loki had caught Thor red-handed cooing over his brother's love letters, and Thor had ended up hiding in a cave in the woods for two nights while Ofnir growled outside. Eventually, Loki called his pet off, but Thor still ended up with several unpleasant pranks against him in retaliation for months after. Thor still couldn't quite bring himself to be regretful of his actions, though. Seeing Loki's face turn bright pink and knowing that Sigyn was already more than taken by Loki's silver tongue was well worth the consequences from snooping. Thor kept an eye out and noticed that Loki got and sent letters regularly although, no matter how he looked, Thor could never find any of them again. That was probably fine although Thor was super curious to know how things were going between the two of them.

As the day marking their first full year in Vanaheim passed, Thor couldn't help but wonder how much longer they'd be there. Undoubtedly, his father would have put a stop to the raiders by this point. Though Vanaheim was fun and spending time with his brother, sister-in-law, and nephew was always enjoyable, Thor was starting to really want to go back to Asgard. Mostly, Thor missed having his friends around constantly. While they visited when they could, that wasn't the same thing, and he rarely got to see all of them at the same time. Odin had sent all of Thor's friends -Sven, Fandral, Hogun, Dagr, Astrild, and even Sif- to Baldr's to celebrate Thor's birthday but that had been the only time. It was also the first time Sven had met the others, which had been slightly rocky but overall went well.

But still, Thor and Loki were kept at their brother's house for their own safety to their frustration. As the second year in Vanaheim continued, Thor hit a growth spurt that sent him several inches taller than Loki, much to the younger Prince's never-ending annoyance. Thor knew that it wouldn't last (Thor never did stay taller for very long), but he enjoyed having about four inches more height than Loki for a little bit. Ofnir continued to grow at a rapid pace and act like he was still the size of a house cat. Eventually, Ofnir got too big to comfortably fit in through the doors of the fortress even though he still wasn't full grown. Loki had to spend the better part of two months teaching Ofnir to sleep by himself outside in stages. Loki had to, first, sleep out in the yard with Ofnir, and then slowly moved back to the doorway of the fortress, and then onto his balcony, and finally, inside his own room. So long as Loki's window faced where Ofnir slept, the Wyvern was content enough to actually take the separation. If he wasn't such a dangerous creature, Thor might have found it rather cute the way Loki's pet clamoured after him all the time.

Ofnir still hadn't gotten the hang of flying, thankfully. Thor didn't think he wanted to know how much trouble the giant reptile (which refused to be tied up in any way) would get into if he could fly off on a whim. Loki mentioned that Ofnir's wings were getting stronger though so Thor worried it wouldn't be much longer before the beast managed to figure out more than just gliding off cliffs.

Thor's own skills were also developing rapidly. Not long into the summer of their second year on Vanaheim Thor got particularly peeved -at admittedly nothing really- but his anger had set off a storm of a century which tore several ancient trees straight from the ground and destroyed part of the fortress wall with lightning. He'd gotten a very disapproving talking to after that both in letter form and when their mother next visited. Not that Thor had intended to cause that much destruction to his brother's home or lands.

Unfortunately, there weren't any other strong storm callers, and so, there wasn't anyone to teach Thor any different ways of handling his powers. He'd had the same problem in his previous life, and the ultimate solution had ended up being Mjolnir to help him focus his energy. Thor couldn't say if his parents would find something different this time around or not before settling on the hammer, but either way, he would try to use what little he had previously learned about controlling his temper to try and keep things from... being destroyed. At least until he became old enough that Odin entrusted his weapon to him again.

The days kept ticking by like seconds, and soon enough winter had come around for the second time. Again Gerd took several weeks to visit and teach Loki even more about manipulating ice with his innate powers. This time Loki focused mostly on creating blades of ice. He didn't seem to like encasing his whole arm like Gerd showed him, but forming razor sharp dagger-like icicles to throw was something he excelled at.

Thor found it surprisingly fascinating to watch his brother practice. He'd always been dismissive of Jotnar ice powers in the past, but now that he was taking the time to actually look at what was happening without having to worry about blocking a weapon, it really was sort of mesmerizing to watch. Loki was still learning so forming the blades went slower than Thor had ever seen in the past, and he could actually see the process for once. The way the almost fluffy looking crystals of frost built up in Loki's hand and then hardened and grew until it was as big as Loki wanted was kind of oddly pretty.

Thor suddenly began to wonder if he could manage to make it hail during one of his storms. Ice should be part of him too although not nearly as much as it was Loki. Plus, if he could rip trees out of the ground roots and all hail didn't seem like it would be that much harder. Too bad Thor really didn't have anywhere he could practice such things or anyone to practice with. He made a mental note to, when he got older again, find somewhere remote where he could try it out. Maybe by then, he'd be able to go to Loki for help in figuring it out.

Just over two years after Loki and Thor had been sent away from Asgard, they finally got word from their father about the situation. An agreement had been reached, and a solution was almost completed that would keep Asgard safe from raiders. With that news, the brothers were able to finally head back home. Two years was not, in fact, that long for a God, but it was still longer than either of them had anticipated. Thor especially had figured it would only take perhaps a few months for their father to come up with a plan.

Planning the trip back to Asgard took a few months, mainly because Ofnir was not going to be easy to transport. The Wyvern was large, dangerous, and not at all fond of confinement. They eventually settled for having Loki put a spell on some of Ofnir's food so that the lizard would sleep for the duration of the trip in the ship's cargo hold. That was determined to be the safest route for everyone involved and least traumatic for the animal. Gerd promised the princes they would come and visit in Asgard and Thor, in turn, promised Sven to ask his father to grant a travel permit so that the boy could still come and visit. When asked what he'd do if Odin said no, Thor had made the hasty promise of coming back to visit Sven instead. And so, about two and a half years after the two princes had stepped onto Vanaheim for the first time they were on their way back, perfectly safe and eager to get back home.

Chapter Text

When they arrived back in Asgard, they were greeted with all sorts of fanfare that Thor had honestly not expected. He should have, in retrospect, but he hadn't. Perhaps because they weren't returning victorious from a hunt or a battle like was usually the case when Thor was met with cheers in the street. They were just coming home after being with their brother for a while. Loki seemed equally startled by the reception as they followed their Mother from the docks back towards the palace. The entire capital city surrounding the castle seemed to be in the midst of a festival of some sort with countless food stalls erected and children playing games in whatever open space they could find between clusters of onlookers. There were glittering bits of magic fluttering down through the sky and shiny instruments being played. "Mother, what's going on?" Loki asked as they walked along the high road and saw a stand selling hot boar skewers that had been glazed in some sort of sticky looking reddish sauce. "This can't all be just because we're home."

Frigga smiled down at her sons. "The people like you, darling."

"The people barely know us," Loki pointed out.

Thor nodded just a bit in agreement. He knew from experience that even though most of Asgard would recognize Loki and himself on sight easily enough, they wouldn't be real figures in society for a few more centuries when they reach their first majority. Most of their time was still taken up by lessons and training. "You are still the heirs to the throne," Frigga said, brushing Loki's slicked back hair behind his ear. "Not having either of you in Asgard make the people nervous and feeling insecure."

"I suppose..." Loki said although he still didn't look entirely convinced.

"There is also a celebration for beginning the last bit of construction," Tyr, who had come to meet them at the docks, commented from where he was walking on Thor's other side.

"Construction?" Loki echoed. "What construction?"

"To keep out the raiders?" Thor guessed. That was the only sort of construction project of any note he could recall from his first childhood, anyway. Although it hadn't been nearly as big of a deal then as the raiders had not caused anywhere near the ruckus that they had this time. Thor had barely taken any note of it at all and spent most of the time gallivanting with his friends.

Tyr nodded. "Yes. They've been constructing a barrier around all of Asgard. As you might imagine that has been taking a long time," he said with a gesture towards the mountains in the distance.

"Magical?" Loki guessed.

"I would assume, but I haven't been a part of it really," Tyr said. "You'd have to ask Father tonight at the feast."

Thor perked up instantly. "There's to be a feast as well?"

"Of course! We wouldn't give up a chance for one!" Tyr laughed before ruffling Thor's hair. "What do you take us for? Alfr? You've spent far too much time in Vanaheim."

"You seem in quite the happy mood, Tyr," Loki observed. "Did you miss us that much?"

Tyr waved his hand casually off to the side. "It has not been as quiet as I feared, but I suppose I did miss you terrors after the first year or so."

"We are hardly terrors, brother," Thor denied.

"Thor, you have returned from Vanaheim of all places with a near fully grown wyvern in tow... I think terrors to be quite appropriate," Tyr pointed out with a nod of his head at the large covered cage that was rolling along behind them and currently holding a still slumbering Ofnir. "I'm fairly certain that father didn't think even you two could get into much trouble in Vanaheim and you bring home a giant venomous lizard."

"That's Loki's fault," Thor said.

Loki shot him an annoyed look. "It is not my fault. I did nothing wrong to be faulted for. Getting a pet is not a crime."

"Of course, it's not, Loki," Tyr said, dropping his hand onto Loki's hair and ruffling it. Loki jerked his head away and glared at his older brother even as he flattened the black locks back into place. "But I think you are the only person I know that would end up with such an... exotic pet."

"A boarhound would have been so very dull," Loki said and folded his arms over his chest. Thor would never dare say it to Loki's face, but his brother looked almost adorable with a pout and his arms crossed like that. Such a comment would no doubt end with Thor being subject to any variety of pranks from Loki. Only their Mother had ever called Loki anything resembling cute without repercussions.

"You don't seem much like a dog person, brother," Thor admitted. Loki was much too capricious in nature. The straightforwardness of most dog breeds would clash against the younger Prince's moods too often to be truly compatible. In fact, the only canine that Thor could recall Loki getting along with for any significant length of time was Fenris, and that was an understandable exception.

"Well, why would I be when I can be a dragon person instead?" Loki replied with an indignant sniff. "Dragons are definitely far superior to dogs. Ask anyone."

"Wyverns are not technically dragons, Loki," Tyr reminded.

Loki waved his hand dismissively. "Technicalities and semantics. They are within the same family."

"You're the very first to use 'technicalities and semantics' against us, Loki," Thor complained.

Loki rolled his eyes. He probably would have said something in response, but was interrupted. "Boys, try to not argue the moment you are home. You can start fighting tomorrow if you truly must, but I'd like at least one evening of enjoying having you two safe with us again," Frigga said from where she had moved a few steps in front of her three sons.

"Yes, Mother," the sons of Odin said together in the exact same tone of voice.

Thor glanced back at the festival of sorts that was going on and wished that he could slip off to go explore it. Some of his favorite market food was out on full display, and he could smell the mulled wine that he was particularly fond of steaming in the slightly chilled air. They were still at the very tail end of a chilly Asgardian spring even though they had left Vanaheim in the middle of summer. None of the realms were entirely in sync with their seasonal changes although Vanaheim and Asgard were closest. Summer would be starting properly soon enough, and the last bit of chill would melt away. Sometimes Thor felt as if Asgard really only had two seasons since Spring and Autumn were both so short compared to some of the other realms. He'd been amazed at how long Autumn lasted in Midgard's city of New York when he first lived there.

Odin was waiting for them at the top of the many steps leading to the palace entry hall with Gungnir in his hand and no real expression on his face. Thor wasn't put off by the lack of enthusiasm, however. They were still being watched by a vast number of the Asgardian population and Odin did prescribe to the practice of remaining aloof in public. He didn't always manage it, but he did try to.

"Father," Thor greeted even as he and his brothers sunk down to one knee and their Mother ascended the steps to stand beside Odin on his right. Loki murmured an echo of the greeting just a moment later.

"My sons. It is good that you have returned to us and in one piece," Odin said with a nearly imperceptible motion of his free hand to signal they could stand. Tyr moved off to Odin's left side. "I hope you enjoyed your visit to our sister realm of Vanaheim."

Thor nodded. "We did, but it is still very good to be home, Father."

"I trust it was informative as well?" Odin asked, his eye moving more towards Loki with meaning that would escape any not within the royal family. "And that you did not fall behind in your studies, no matter the topic you were given?"

"... of course, Father," Loki murmured although his eyes dropped to the ground in evident discomfort.

Odin nodded. "Good," Odin said before descending the few steps that separated him from his youngest two sons. He reached out and put a hand to Loki's shoulder and gave it a squeeze before turning his attention to the large cage sitting behind them. The large black cloth covering the cage fluttered near one bottom edge, and Odin brushed past to lift the fabric there with the end of Gungnir. Thor noticed one of the guards almost startle as Odin revealed the cause of the fluttering was Ofnir's breathing.

Ofnir was sound asleep with his head resting on his own thick tail. The quills along Ofnir's tail and down his spine had thickened and sharpened with age until they were like black daggers the length of Thor's forearm. The wyvern's teeth had also been replaced by his adult set and those averaged just shy of being a hand long. "He's gotten big," Odin observed as he studied the wickedly sharp claws at the top of Ofnir's wings. "Is he flying yet?"

"No, but he's trying to figure it out," Loki said. "He's gliding still mostly."

Odin grunted a little and studied the blue scaly beast for another moment. "I had an area of the garden cleared and separated so that your pet can stay there, but I want you to understand, Loki, that the moment he becomes a problem he'll have to be returned to a place he is more suited," Odin said firmly. "I won't have him becoming a danger to Asgard or her people."

"Yes, Father," Loki agreed.

"Good." Odin gestured to some nearby Einherjar. "Take the cage to the pen that was erected in the private garden. My son will be along shortly to ensure everything is as it should be." The golden clad guards bowed and went to push and pull the cage as large as a Midgardian eighteen-wheeled truck off to one of the entrances to the gardens. The younger ones still looked apprehensive

"Will he remain asleep for very long?" Tyr asked curiously. He had perhaps even less knowledge of magic than Thor did since he didn't have the benefit of growing up beside a seidmadr as powerful as Loki.

"Another few hours at least," Frigga answered. "Loki and I tested how long a sleep charm lasts on him several times before we brought him along and we just renewed it before disembarking."

Loki watched the cage slowly move away before turning to Odin. "Will he be near my balcony? He does best there," he said.

"Not directly beneath but within sight," Odin answered. "Your mother helped pick out the best location for his pen. She even gave up part of her garden for it."

"Thank you, Mother," Loki said.

"You're very welcome, darling," Frigga answered with a smile. She happened to think that taking care of Ofnir had been good for Loki even if she wasn't entirely thrilled with her son's choice of pet. Helping her fears about Ofnir, though, was the fact that the wyvern seemed somewhat protective of Loki and a venomous, armored flying reptile was a fearsome guard animal.

Odin gestured to the front of the palace. "Come, my sons, you've been travelling for several days. You should take the time to clean up and relax while your things are unloaded from the ship."

The royal family all made their way into the palace and, once they were out of sight of the general public, Odin visibly relaxed. "I'm glad you're back in Asgard, sons," Odin said, allowing a smile to cross his face. "But we will all be much safer now."

"Seems us going didn't achieve much though," Loki grumbled. Thor was sure he hadn't actually meant for Odin to hear.

"I will not lose my sons to the plotting of our enemies, Loki," Odin said sharply. "You two are the heirs to Asgard and, as such, targeted. I'll not have you kidnapped and killed. No matter how unlikely you think it is, I've seen such things happen before, and I won't take that risk with you two."

Loki sighed but nodded. "I understand, Father. Besides, we're home now."

"You are," Odin agreed. "Now, off you get. I'm sure your little friends will be by shortly to see you both."

"Thank you, Father," Thor said before grasping Loki's wrist and dragging his brother off towards their rooms. Loki gave a slightly startled noise but otherwise managed to keep up enough to not get his arm pulled out of his socket or trip over his own feet. Once Loki was following him, Thor let his brother's wrist go.

The two brothers reached their rooms in their parent's wing quickly and Thor darted into his to quickly get out of the more formal clothes their mother had wanted them to wear (she must have had realized there were going to be many of the public out to see them) and into more casual clothes that Thor could ruin. Their mother would most likely not appreciate them destroying their nice clothes even though they could be easily replaced. After changing, Thor went down the hall and knocked on Loki's door. "Loki? Are you dressed?" There were a long few minutes of silence and Thor knocked again. "Loki?"

Still, Loki didn't answer, so Thor cautiously opened the door to peek in. He was glad when he didn't see his brother in the middle of changing, but that just leads to the question of why he hadn't answered. "Brother?" Luckily, it only took a moment for Thor to realize the doors to Loki's balcony were open. Thor went in and quickly spotted his brother leaning across the stone railing to peer out at something. Loki hadn't even changed out of his nice green tunic yet although he had shed his shoes, which Thor stepped over on his way to the balcony. "What are you looking at?" Thor asked.

Loki looked back in surprise. "Thor. You really can see Ofnir's pen from my balcony. Come see," he said before turning and pointing.

Thor hurried over and looked out at where Loki was pointing. Even if Loki hadn't been pointing Thor would have been hard-pressed to not notice the substanti