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known in the words of its making

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Dragged back from Jotunheim by Odin, Thor expected to be banished the moment they hit the bifrost, such was the fury in Odin’s frame, Gungnir trembling in his hand. But apparently his father could not even bear to have Thor in his sights. He abandoned his sons with Heimdall and strode away, his disgust palpable. Thor would have preferred to be dealt with outright. Odin knew this.

The turned to Loki in outrage. “Can you believe him, the hypocritical—” He cut himself of at the look in Loki’s eyes. Hollowed-out. Drowning. “Loki, what is wrong?” He reached out to his brother, but Loki dodged him, and hurried away towards the palace.

Thor looked to Heimdall in shock. Heimdall only watched him with those pale eyes that saw all. Now, Thor knew, all they saw was disappointment.

Hot shame and confused anger roiling in his gut, he returned to the palace to await judgment.

Judgment never came. The next morning his father fell into the Odinsleep, and suddenly Thor was acting king and Loki had barricaded himself in his room. Overwhelmed with sudden responsibility and lacking his closest advisor, Thor spent long hours in conversation with his mother, who all but ruled at his side over the next two frantic days, wherein he announced the Odinsleep to his people, pledged his temporary rule to be steady and transparent, and attended all the other things that needed immediate attending.

And at the end of those two days, he realized he had not seen Loki since the bifrost. He remembered abruptly that chasms-deep look in his brother’s eyes, and suddenly fear stabbed him through the heart like a spear of ice. He waited until the evening, when even the acting king’s duties waned, and made his way to Loki’s chambers.

He knocked on the door, to no response. “Loki!” he called. No one came to the door. He pressed his ear to the crack and could hear no movement. Irrational—or rational?—fear spiked through his chest. “Loki! Open the door!” As no response came, deeper and darker fears spiraled through his head. Loki had always been prone to moods, but this was no mood. Something had happened, and now Loki was not coming to the door.

Privacy was one of Loki’s great treasures, especially when it came to Thor, but in this instance Thor could not assuage the battering-ram in his chest. He tilted Gungnir—he was still uncomfortable carrying Odin’s spear—against the keyhole, and the door swung open.

Loki was sitting on his bed, staring out the window. But he turned to Thor in anger as he came in, his face twisting in disbelief. “How dare you, Thor.”

Thor halted in the doorway, stopped not by his words, but by his appearance. Dark circles were smeared under his green eyes like coal. His eyes themselves were red and puffy, and his hair looked like it had not been brushed in all the time he had been in here. And though Thor had broken the largest of their unspoken pacts, he did not even rise from his bed. After a second, after Thor did not respond, he went back to staring out the window.

“Loki,” Thor said. “I’m sorry for coming in—I feared—I feared something had happened, when you did not answer.”

“You thought I was laying here dead the last two days?” Loki said dully.

“No—just suddenly, I grew afraid. So much has happened. I cannot lose you in this moment. May I come in?”

Loki shrugged. Thor took a few steps into the room, closing the door and leaning Gungnir against the wall. “Father sleeps, and you disappear. You have left me without my closest advisor.”

“Mother is your closest advisor.” Loki’s tone was nonchalant, but his hands clenched around his tunic.

“She is my mother and queen. You are my advisor. Surely you know this, Loki.”

“I don’t know what I know,” Loki said. He still had not looked at Thor.

“Loki, talk to me,” Thor said. “Since Jotunheim, you have withdrawn yourself. You’re worrying me.”

Loki said nothing, just gazed out at the evening sky. His hands trembled minutely.

“Brother, please.” Thor came and sat beside him on his bed, his hand hovering out in the air. “Please. I grow scared.”

Loki’s face crumpled. “Don’t call me that.”

“What?” Thor asked, bewildered. “Brother?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

Loki lowered his head and pressed the base of his hand to his forehead, shaking his head slightly. “I am scared to tell you.”

“What are you afraid of?”

“Your reaction. Your hammer.”

“My hammer. You fear I would strike you?” Thor asked, aghast. He stood from the bed. “Look at me, Loki.” Loki looked up, just barely. Thor took Mjölnir from his belt, walked to the window, and hurled it out. “And should I desire to hurt you, I could not call it back to my side, for I would be unworthy,” Thor declared. “And we both know you can defeat me when I am without Mjölnir.”

Loki’s mouth hung open. Thor came and knelt in front of him, looking up into his bowed face and taking his hands. “Talk to me, brother.”

“I’m not.” Loki’s voice was choked.

“Not what?”

“Not your brother!” Loki cried. He tried to wrench his hands from Thor’s, but Thor held tight, mind spinning. “This is what I have discovered, Thor! That our parents have lied to us. I am no son of Odin.”

“But why…why….” Why’s swirled through Thor’s mind. Why would they lie? Why would Loki have cause to find out? “Why would you fear my wrath for this?” was what finally came out.

Loki’s face was flushed bright red, like it always did when he was viciously holding back tears. “Let go of my hands.” Thor did so. “Do you have other weapons on you?”

The words tore at Thor’s heart. “I would never hurt you, Loki!” he cried, even as he dug a knife from his boot and pressed it into his brother’s hands. “Take my weapons, tie my hands, bind me with a spell if only it will sooth you mind, but know in your heart that I would never harm you!”

And then Loki, clutching Thor’s dagger, began to change. From his fingers up, his skin began to turn icy blue, strange scar-like ridges protruded from his face, his eyes turned from green to red. There was a frost giant sitting on Loki’s bed, wearing Loki’s clothes, and crying Loki’s tears.

Loki shook his head angrily, dashing away the tears. His hands trembled around the dagger. “Do you see, Thor? I am not your brother, I am a monster. Why should I fear your rage? Because we were just on Jotunheim killing—killing my—killing monsters. I am nothing but Odin’s war prize. When I confronted father, he fell in to the Odinsleep.” His words were bitter with vitriol.

Thor stared at Loki. Words, responses, emotions tangled and danced through his mind. A dozen words came to his lips, but he pushed them away, because Loki was looking determinedly past his shoulder as if he would be executed. Slowly, Thor reached out. “Will your skin burn me?”

“What?”

Thor took the chance and folded his hand over Loki’s. His skin was cold, but not burning. At his touch Loki grew all of the sudden pliant, and Thor plucked the dagger from his grip and tossed it across the room, clutching both his hands. Loki looked down at him in utter despair. Thor released one hand and reached up to his face, dragging his fingers along those swirling ridges, wiping a budding tear from one eye.

“Say something, Thor,” Loki said at last, his voice ragged. It pulled at Thor’s every atom, it felt like. He had never been able to abide Loki’s sadness. It was antithetical to his essential character, the clever trickster, mischievous and sly. Thor longed to chase this mourning, desperate Loki away—but he knew it would be wrong.

In the face of Loki’s utter vulnerability, he would have to find his own. For Loki only respected vulnerability—even his own—in reciprocity. Thor dug deep for his courage.

“You have always begged me to learn to think before speaking,” Thor said. “I am giving it a try.”

Loki laughed, a hiccupping, broken sound, but nonetheless it lightened Thor’s heart.

“I will take this piece by piece,” Thor said slowly, speaking through a fist in his throat. “Firstly, of the news you are not my brother. I admit, though you may yet be horrified, your first proclamation filled me with relief, brother.”

Loki’s mouth fell open in hurt.

“Let me finish.” Thor took a steadying breath, dizzy with the force of what he was about to say. “Relief because, Loki, though I would never do you the dishonor of denying you are my family, I have always harbored…well…I have always….”

He stroked his thumb across Loki’s cheek again, unable to speak the words aloud. Instead he leaned up, carefully, as if he cradled a baby bird in his hands, and laid his lips upon Loki’s. It was the quickest and softest of kisses, barely a feather-breath across blue lips and then gone. Thor pulled back to Loki’s utterly dumbfounded expression.

There. A trade made. Two secrets, equally catastrophic.

“I know,” Thor said ruefully. “I’ve done a good job keeping it under wraps. But that has not lessened the force of it.” He took a deep breath. “So now you know. Hate me if you will. I may have no weapons left, but you are never without a dagger, magical or otherwise. If you decide to slit my throat, I am probably in no position to deny you.” He chuckled. “But until your mind is made up as to my method of expiration, I will continue.”

He dropped his hand from Loki’s face to take his hands again. “As for this.” He stroked the backs of his blue hands, still in a good amount of shock. “This changes everything.” Loki’s hands clenched, and Thor looked up into his wide eyes to see a twist of anguish. “Not about…not about my…my feelings,” Thor said. “But about how we proceed.”

Thor took another long while to think. He found himself smiling, finding sudden levity in the fact that a centuries-old secret had been dealt with so simply. Like every day he had eaten a small pebble that lodged itself in his body, and now they had simply…vanished. Dread and giddiness swamped his mind in equal parts. But now he needed a solution, for while Loki’s pride might have been soothed by his confession, there was still the question of…well…of Loki’s skin.

Gathering his thoughts up, he spoke what they both needed to hear. For this discovery was war or peace, and they both knew it. “I have never been the mastermind between the two of us, brother, and I would dare say neither of us has ever been a peacemaker, though mother has often despaired of it. But perhaps it is time for me to step into that role.”

Loki’s gaze turned from stunned to merely confused.

“A prince of Asgard cannot be hated by his people—either of his people. We must make an ally out of Jotunheim while father is in the Odinsleep, so he awakes to diplomatic ties he cannot undo without consequence.” Thor’s brows drew together and quiet rage built in his chest, as delayed emotion registered. “For he will face consequence already when he wakes, do not doubt.”

“Consequences for what?” Loki whispered. Interestingly, the blue was fading from his skin. Slowly, like ink running out of parchment. The ridges were the last things to go, sinking back into soft Asgardian flesh.

“Consequences for raising us in a stew of lies,” Thor said angrily. He kept his anger to his voice, though, and kept his hands gentle on Loki’s. “Consequences for raising us both to believe you a…a monster. For believing the Jötnar--your people—monstrous. For turning Asgard itself against them, and by proxy, you.”

“Are they?” Loki asked softly. “My people?”

“Do you want them to be?” Thor asked. “For my political machinations to succeed, they will have to be, to the public. But whether they are in your heart….”

“I don’t know,” Loki said. “I don’t know anything about them. We don’t know anything about them. For the norns’ sakes, we attacked them unprovoked three days past.”

“Yes. That’s going to complicate things. But not now,” Thor looked out the window. It was dusk. “Tomorrow. We both need rest, and room to think.” He started to rise, his knees aching, but Loki’s hands clenched and he stilled.

“You….” Loki hesitated. His appearance was back to full Asgardian, and his color was high. “You….” He stared into Thor’s eyes in wonder and confusion.

“Where has my silver-tongued brother gone?” Thor wondered, smiling.

Loki laughed, short and sharp. “He is hiding,” he said. “In the face of so much absurdity he cannot stand.” He opened and closed his mouth for a moment, and whispered, “I cannot say it, Thor. Say it for me.”

When had Loki last been speechless, scared? Thor could not say, and found he hated it. “May I rise?” Loki nodded, and Thor stood and sat beside him on the bed.

He placed a hand again on Loki’s cheek, noting the difference in his pale smooth skin from his rough Jotun appearance. He realized, abruptly, he had no preference. “I will guess what you want me to say. It is hard for me to speak it, after so long relegating it to the darkness. But you have been brave, and so will I.” He took two deep breaths, rubbed his thumb over Loki’s knuckles where he had kept one hand. “I harbor…feelings which are romantic in nature for you, Loki. I feel as though I always have.”

Loki gaped, as shocked as when Thor had kissed him. “What does that mean, Thor?”

“It means….” Thor closed his eyes and steadied himself. “It means I would kiss you. It means I would woo you. It means I would not be parted from you. It means when I lie in bed at night and indulge in dreams of the future, you are at my side as partner king, in a world that miraculously accepts such a delusion.”

Thor opened his eyes to see Loki’s face aflame like he had not seen it in years. “And I feel I should add,” Thor said, “that your new form does not dissuade me.”

At that Loki turned away entirely, mouth opening and closing, breathing heavy. “I cannot…” he said, “I cannot…I do not know….”

“I am asking for nothing,” Thor said. “Understand that, please. And my offer still stands, if you’d like to take a knife to my throat.”

“I’d like,” Loki said, breathing like he had just run a race, “I’d like to stab you, Thor. Repeatedly. Very hard. Not for this. For being….” He waved this hand at Thor. “For being so damn unpredictable. When did this happen? What has happened to my oafish brother? Who are you?”

“When did it happen?” Thor said, smiling. “I’m afraid you wouldn’t like to know how early it came on.”

“Oh norns,” Loki said, looking to the sky. “The memories coming to my head.”

“Oh no,” Thor laughed. “Your memories will doom me, shut the door on them!”

“The time I went on a date with Sif,” Loki accused. “I thought you jealous to spitting of me.”

“Of her,” Thor said, blushing.

“Norns,” Loki said. “What will mother say.”

“Mother?” Thor asked, alarmed. “I don’t see why she need ever know.”

Loki turned on him with an arched eyebrow. “I am entertaining your proposition.”

“My….” It was Thor’s turn for speechlessness.

“I have always thought you unfit to rule,” Loki smirked. “At least, to rule alone. Co-kings is an adequate solution.”

“Such a thing was only ever my wildest delusion,” Thor said.

“For all your new found machinations, you cannot match me,” Loki said. “I must think it over. I must think all of this over. Give me the night. And….” Now Loki’s face was full red again.

“And?” Thor asked teasingly.

“And….” Abruptly, Loki was stony-faced. “By the norns, Thor, if this is a joke—”

Thor swept his hands around the back of Loki’s head and cradled his face, and pressed a feather-light kiss to his lips, a kiss as soft as a rose petal. His thumbs traced arcs across Loki’s high cheekbones, and when Loki’s mouth parted in a gasp he pressed delicate kisses to his bottom lip, until he felt Loki’s hands on his forearms start to tremble.

He drew away and drank in Loki’s flushed face, his fluttering eyelids. “Even I would not take a joke this far,” he said.

“No,” Loki said softly. His face was twisted with some emotion Thor could not name. “I want to think.”

“I will go.”

“I don’t want you to,” said Loki plaintively, lips pursed.

Thor laughed. “I will go anyway. You need to think clearly, master machinator. Will you come find me in the morning, or shall I find you?”

“I will find you,” Loki said. “Dress for politicking.”

Thor groaned in mock despair, stroked Loki’s cheekbone one last time, and let himself out of Loki’s rooms.

 

Thor rose with the sun and spent the first hours of the morning pacing, and dressing, and re-dressing, and packing and re-packing his bag, and pacing some more. When a knock came at his door he had been awake two hours. He opened the door to find Loki outside, his own bag on his back, apparently calm and collected. But after two hundred years, Thor could see through the façade with ease, noting his dilated pupils, the way he crossed his thumb under his index finger, the slight rings around his eyes. He held the door open and Loki slipped inside.

“Change your mind yet?” Loki asked. He said it as a joke, but Thor saw through to his anxiety.

“After centuries, I am unlikely to do so now.” Still Loki fidgeted, standing two feet from Thor with his arms crossed over his chest. “Loki, would you have me make an oath of some kind? Name it.”

“No, I—I trust you.”

Thor took his hammer from his belt and held it in front of him, balanced on both hands. “On Mjölnir, my heart is pledged to Loki, even after he decides to murder me for it.”

Loki looked at Thor in consternation, but even so his arms came uncrossed, and he hesitantly stepped towards Thor. “You know this will be hard. And dangerous. Even before Odin wakes. And after, you may have to defy him.”

Thor’s face went hard. “I care not. When he wakes, Odin best beware me.” He looked at Loki. “Loki, may I come to you?”

“Yes,” Loki said, and Thor crossed the last foot of distance between them and placed his hand on Loki’s cheek.

“Loki, may I kiss you?”

“Yes,” Loki breathed, and Thor pressed a butterfly kiss to his cheekbone, and one to his temple, and then pressed one final feather-touch under his chin, and stepped back, reaching for Loki’s hand and bringing it to his lips, holding them softly against his knuckles. Loki looked overwhelmed, red and lightly shaking.

“What did you dream up during the night?” Thor asked.

Loki took a few deep breaths to settle himself and briefly outlined pieces they would need to set in place, and in a hurry. “And the first thing,” he finished, “is going to see the queen.”

“Norns, don’t make me,” Thor said. “Do you know how disappointed she’ll be in me?”

“Not me?” Loki asked.

“You are her favorite child,” Thor said accusingly. “I can’t imagine what she’ll say about my…about what I’ve been….”

“You can’t say it aloud?” Loki asked.

“About my love for you,” Thor said immediately, never able to back down from a challenge, and was glad of it when Loki’s face flushed all over again a bright red.

“Let’s find out,” Loki said.

 

They found Frigga in her workshop, which is what she called the vast cavernous space under the palace where she worked at her loom, creating magical works of art. She was hard at work in the midst of enchantment when they entered—the only two who were permitted to enter when she was at work, excluding even Odin—and so they waited and watched their mother.

Her power was a wonder even now, after they had been sitting and learning by her loom for two centuries. She worked the shuttle so smoothly it seemed almost like magic was doing it, except for the sheen of sweat across her brown and the bulge of her muscles as her arms worked, weaving enchantment into the thread, into the tapestry itself.

When she finally sat back she was breathing hard, and Loki fetched her a cup of water that she downed. Thor passed her a light over-robe which she slung on, and they waited while she re-did her braid, which had come loose during her work.

“What will this one be?” Thor asked, eying the tapestry. Half-completed, he could make out mountainous peaks, and gold spikes like the top of a crown.

Frigga smiled at them, at that post-exertion point where exhaustion had yet to set in, energy still pumping through her veins. Thor knew the feeling well. “Loki, can you see it?”

Loki stared at the tapestry, head tilted. “Almost. Some great change. Something very hard, but…hopeful.”

“Yes,” Frigga said. “Hard but hopeful.” She looked at them both. “What brings my boys to me today?”

“A great change,” Loki said, taking a deep breath. And then he turned blue.

Frigga looked at him steadily, taking in the ridges that grew from his skin, the azure tint that spread over his paleness, the red of his eyes. If Thor needed confirmation that see too had known, this was it. Then she stood and took Loki’s head and kissed his forehead. “My son,” she said sorrowfully. “Do you hate me?”

“No,” Loki said. “No. Odin, I cannot say the same for.”

Frigga gathered him in a hug. “What Odin has done, I have done. What lies Odin has told, I have told. What hate you give him, I deserve.”

“You have not fallen into a magical sleep when confronted,” Loki said shakily.

“Was that what set it off?” Frigga asked. “By the norns.”

“So you know all?” Thor asked Frigga.

“Yes,” Frigga said. “All. How could I not? Odin brought you to me as a babe and I knew at once you were my son. He said you were abandoned as a runt, left for dead. But all I could see was my little Loki.” She ran a hand down Loki’s hair. “So you see I am complicit in your theft, my son. You are allowed to be angry with me.”

Loki pushed her away. “You’re right, I am angry. There is a pit of anger in me, and it boils and froths, and desires to spit itself out and burn down the world. And next to that is a deep despair that threatens to consume me.” He clutched his hair in his hands. “But I will not let it. Not now. There is too much work to be done.”

He looked at Thor. Thor screwed up his face and looked right back. “Tell her, Thor,” Loki said sternly.

Thor turned to face Frigga, but found he could not look her in the face. “I…mother….”

“Come now,” Loki said, “you found the bravery yesterday.” He was teasing, and Thor didn’t show how elated he was by that fact.

“Why can’t you do it?” Thor said petulantly. “You’re the machinator.”

“Oh, no,” Loki said. “You came up with this plan first.”

“As a daydream!”

“A daydream that we can make a reality,” Loki said stubbornly.

“Boys,” Frigga sighed. “I may be oracular, but I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Thor took a few deep calming breaths and swallowed against the panic rising in his throat. He stepped forward to Loki and Frigga and put a hand on Loki’s shoulder. “Mother,” he began. “We have a plan to bring peace to our peoples, by means of a…of a….” He began to sweat, and to his vindication felt Loki trembling a little under his hand. “A diplomatic marriage,” he finally managed, and felt slightly dizzy as he looked at his mother’s face, which had gone soft with surprise.

She looked between Loki and Thor with a face they had never been able to read. Her eyes traveled to her half-finished tapestry, and back to them, scrutinizing. For several long minutes, Thor fought not to squeeze his eyes closed rather than look at her.

“…yes,” she said eventually.

Thor’s knees shook with relief. “Yes?”

“Yes,” she said, more strongly. “Yes, a good answer.”

“To what question?” Loki asked weakly.

“That’s not for you to know,” Frigga said. She clasped her hands on each of their shoulders. “So. A diplomatic marriage. Purely for diplomacy’s sake, I’m sure.”

“I….” Thor said shakily. His had to gentle his hand on Loki’s shoulder before he clenched hard enough to hurt him. “I…no.”

Frigga’s eyebrows rose and stayed raised. She looked at Loki, and the longer she stared the redder his face became. Thor had never known Loki to blush so much.

“How long has this been going on?” she finally asked.

“It hasn’t!” Thor protested.

“Eight hours,” Loki said dryly.

“Good,” Frigga said, sounding just the slightest bit relieved. “I raised you as brothers, my sons, even though in truth you share no lineage. If it is your choice to bring union to your peoples in this way…all I can say is that I will support you.”

“And fa—and Odin?” Loki asked.

“If your father wakes to the end of a centuries-old feud between two great worlds, pulled off by his two sons who were warlike and uncompromising when he fell asleep, he will have no say in the matter of how it came to be. So long as it gets there quickly enough.”

Loki let out a shaky breath. Thor did not. Odin’s wrath would be drowned under the tide of his own, in time. “Here is what we mean to do.” And he told her, and her eyes went again and again to her half-finished tapestry, and by the time they left she even smiled and embraced them both, and Loki kissed her cheek.

 

They made their way to the hall of treasures, einherjar standing stoic guard in their armor. Thor felt lightened with Gungnir no longer in his hands—left with Frigga—just Loki and Mjölnir, like old times. But Loki shivered as they entered, and his face was pale.

“Loki?” Thor murmured.

Loki glanced down the rows of artifacts. “I am just one more of these.”

Thor placed a hand on Loki’s shoulder. “You are so much more than that. Now where is it?”

Unerringly, Loki led them into the depths of the vault to stand in front of a glowing blue prism that cast fluctuating light shadows on Loki’s face, a reflection of that other guise. “The casket of ancient winters,” Loki said softly. “Its power has always drawn me to it. Now I know why.”

“Let us not tarry,” Thor said. “I’d see this business done. Or rather, begun.”

“Right.” Letting out a breath, Loki reached out and took the casket. The einherjar watched silently. Loki bent his head and let the fur cloak he had donned fall over his face, shielding the transformation the casket called forth. He shook slightly as the power of the casket whispered through him. “Take my arm, Thor.”

Thor looped his arm through Loki’s, and Loki took a step forward, and then everything went soft and dark around them. Thor felt as if he was surrounded by fabric, velvet rolls occluding the universe. His only reference point was Loki’s arm in his.

And then they stepped out into Jotunheim. In the first furious blast of cold, Loki waved his hands and sealed the casket away somewhere safe, and flipped Thor’s hood up over his head. His own hood had fallen back. Thor reached out a gloved hand and traced Loki’s cheekbone. “You don’t feel the cold even in this form?”

“No,” Loki said. “I suppose no matter what I look like, my body is intrinsically…Jotun.” His face was blank.

Thor stepped close and kissed his forehead gently in lieu of words. “I don’t suppose you know where to go from here?”

Loki looked around them at the field of white-blue ice and snow. “…no. But I suppose someone will sense the presence of the casket, and find us. For now we should seek shelter.”

They put their backs to the wind and sleet and walked perhaps a mile before they found a small cave in a hillside. There was just enough room for the two of them and a very small fire that Loki created, which burned even on rock.

“How long do you think we have before they find us?” Thor asked.

Loki shrugged. “I know nothing of these people. I’m only guessing they’ll track us down in the first place. Longer than a day, and we must search them out ourselves.”

“I see,” Thor sighed. “So we could have five minutes, or two hours. I admit, I would prefer the two hours.”

“Why?” Loki snapped.

Thor kissed him. After a few seconds of soft touch he pulled away, smiling. “That is why.”

Loki looked dazed. “Are you always so gentle?” he asked. “You kiss like…like a leaf on the wind.”

Thor crowded close to him and cupped his hands around his neck and chin, running his nose along the side of Loki’s. “I wish to be gentle with you,” he breathed. Loki’s own breath went in short, warm bursts across Thor’s face. “I would be nothing but gentle with you.”

“You’ve certainly never shown that before,” Loki said archly, and Thor remembered their childhood: full of fights, sparring, wrestling, practical jokes taken too far.

“This is different,” Thor said. “This is no fight. It is my love, and my love for you has had two centuries to gentle.” He settled his mouth behind Loki’s ear and just barely scraped his teeth over the skin, followed by soft, soothing kisses. “Don’t you want it to be so?”

Loki gasped and clutched Thor’s hair and was wordless for a long time. “I do,” he whispered, when Thor had nearly forgotten what he had asked. “I do.”

An hour later the jötnar found them. Loki and Thor had long since stopped kissing, and lay curled close to each other, buried in their furs, Thor shaking minutely despite the fire. It was with relief that they heard from outside their cave:

“Intruders, make yourselves known to us!”

Loki quenched his fire and they stood, stooping to exit the cave. A party of three frost giants stood in front of them. They stood six to seven feet tall, shining armor almost blending into their skin, cloaks on their backs, and spears in their hands. Thor could tell neither age nor gender, and wondered if Loki could.

“Make yourselves known, Asgardians,” repeated the Jotun in the forefront, whose spear was half-leveled at them.

“We seen an audience with King Laufey,” Thor declared. “On the behalf of the throne of Asgard. I am acting king Thor Odinson, come as diplomat to Jotunheim.” And he pushed aside the fur at his hip to display Mjölnir.

The frost giants stared at him in shock. Then a second said, “and that one?” and pointed at Loki.

“Loki,” he said simply. “Prince of Asgard, and likewise diplomat, though one could argue slightly more diplomatic than the acting king.”

The Jotun in front barked a laugh at that. “You are in luck, diplomats. You have arrived not far from the king’s winter residence. If you keep up, we’ll take you there.”

“What are your names?” Thor asked.

“I am Nótt, this is Delling, and this Dagr,” said the lead Jotun. “We will lead the way. Keep up, if you can.”

And the three giants turned and began to run, almost more swiftly than could be believed. “Let’s go, Thor!” Loki cried, and they began running after them. It was a losing battle: their stride were much too short, the giants gaining far too much ground to fast, the falling snow obscuring their footprints. The icy wind burned Thor’s chest as he gasped.

“Loki,” he said, “try the casket!”

“Right!” They kept running, and Loki’s face grew beaded with sweat from exertion. Just as Thor thought all was lost, the giants fading into the snowfield ahead of them, Loki gave a cry of triumph.

A great wind began swirling around them, and suddenly it became an insubstantial snow-beast of air. It grew under them until they sat astride its back, and it began to bound through the snow and air, covering the lost ground quickly. Loki threw back his arms and whooped as they flew, and Thor wrapped his arms around Loki’s waist and laughed in elation.

Nótt looked at them in astonishment as they caught up and even bounded ahead, and then the giants began running even faster, keeping pace with the wind creature. They ran together for perhaps three miles, until in the distance rose a spiky summit of ice, which resolved itself into a breathtaking palace, carved of blue ice with spires that stretched hundreds of feet into the air.

At the gates the snow-beast dissolved, and Loki and Thor tumbled down into a snowdrift, laughing and panting with exertion. The giants were bent double beside them, catching their breaths and laughing.

“That is powerful seidr,” said Dagr to Loki in admiration. “You are more than a diplomat.”

“Thank you,” Loki said, grinning sharply. “Let us hope the king sees the same and does not strike our heads from our shoulders upon sight.”

“Such a thing would be a gross violation of guest rights,” said Nótt. “Perhaps equal to the one you both committed only a week ago when you incited pointless battle with our people.”

Thor and Loki sobered, and then Thor bowed to Nótt at the waist, which an astonished Loki hastened to copy. “If one can grow decades in a week, I am the proof,” Thor said to Nótt, who was equally surprised. “I was a foolish child, unfit to be crown prince, let alone king. We come, in fact, to make reparations.”

“Well,” said Nótt, after a long pause. “In you go then, king. May you earn the title.” And at Nótt’s words the giant doors of were swung open by two frost giant soldiers inside.

The innards of the palace were coldly lovely, created solely of ice like one enormously intricate carving. There were in a vast open atrium, the ceiling at least three floors up, icy stalactites like spears of diamond reaching down to them and glittering in the blueish spheres of magical light that hung suspended in the open air. It looked like a great dance hall.

A giant came down an enormous set of stairs near the back of the room. The giant was not dressed in armor, but wore a metal-and-fur skirt, their chest bare to expose those raised ridges in swirling designs. There was a small sword strapped to their hip—relatively small, for to Thor it was the size of a normal sword—and in their hands they carried a large book. “The king will see you now,” the giant said.

“How does the king know we are here?” Thor said, baffled.

“When the granddaughter of the king escorts one to the palace,” sniffed the giant, “one is known to the king.”

Thor and Loki looked at each other in astonished horror, and then back towards the closed doors. “We are already terrible at diplomacy,” Loki said with a sigh. “Very well, lead on.”

The giant led them up three flights of stairs, and kindly did not laugh when they both slipped on the ice several times. They finally arrived at a modest door which the giant knocked on three times and then pushed open, ushering them inside.

They had entered a small receiving room. Six giant guards stood around the perimeter, and on a small throne sat Laufey, garbed in a long skirt of metal and fur, a multitude of golden rings, a thin golden circlet of a crown, and a chestplate of gold. He was still the largest giant Thor had ever seen. Even sitting on this throne he towered over Thor. He looked at them in appraisal that bordered on boredom, resting his chin on his hand.

“Give me one reason,” he said softly, “that I should not slice your oathbreaking heads from your necks with my fingernails.”

Thor took a deep breath and heard Loki do they same, and, Thor in the lead, they prostrated themselves on the ground in front of Laufey.

“Laufey King,” Thor said, projecting as best he could with his face to the floor. “If such an act will heal the wound we have gouged in your country, do it. But if you would hear another idea, we come with one.”

The king was silent for long moments, and then he scoffed. “Rise, Odinsons. This sight is not as satisfying as I long thought it would be. If it were Odin, on the other hand….”

“It cannot be,” Thor said, rising and holding out a hand to Loki to help him up. “For Odin sleeps.”

“Then you are here without his knowledge.” Laufey stroked his chin in thought. “This sounds like mischief, which I like.” Thor threw a glance at Loki that was only acknowledged by a tiny affronted twitch in his shoulders. “Approach the throne. Aud, chairs for the diplomats.”

Relief filled Thor as ice chairs sprouted from the floor a few feet from Laufey’s throne, and a giant placed thick cushions on the seats. He settled down and met Loki’s eyes, which sparkled with banked mischievous glee. The first and hardest step was done. Thor inclined his head with a touch of smugness, for he knew that Loki’s main fear was that Thor would prove too proud to bow to Laufey.

“Speak, Odinsons,” Laufey said. “I spared your necks on the promise of something even more satisfying. Tempt me.”

“We deeply regret the lives we took in our foolish attack on Jotunheim,” Thor began. “As I told your granddaughter, it seems to me I have grown decades in a week. I see now that the enmity which has seethed between our peoples for centuries is poison, and I would cure it.”

Laufey scoffed. “Know you not your history, boy? It was your father who attacked this realm in the first place. Who stole the very beating heart of the planet and ensured we could never grow to what we once were. As long as you clench our heart in you fist, there will be no peace.”

Thor breathed, and trusted. “And that is why, King Laufey, we come not only with a proposal, but with a gift.”

He turned to Loki, who waved his hands. The casket of ancient winters appeared between them, and he passed it to Thor before his body could start to change. Thor grit his teeth at the cold, bitterly cold even through his gloves, and offered it to Laufey.

Laufey did not move to take it. He had not, in fact, moved one inch since the casket was revealed. All the jötnar in the room had frozen, not so much as a breath breaking the stillness.

“It is yours,” Thor said. “It should never have been stolen. Regardless of how you take our proposal, the casket is returned to you by the one who stole it: the king of Asgard.”

With jerky motions Laufey reached out and took the casket from Thor, who lowered his hands in relief. In Laufey’s hands, the casket took on a new light: brighter, bluer, more electric. The entire room began to glow, and the jötnar around them fell to their knees as Laufey slowly stood, holding aloft the casket.

Thor was astonished to see slow tears rolling down Laufey’s cheeks as he beheld the light of the casket. And then Laufey made the same motion that Loki had, but in reverse, and the casket was gone. But it did not take its light entirely with it. The glow remained in the room, concentrating in the ridges of the Jötnar’s skin, in the shine of Laufey’s eyes, in the ice of the walls and floor.

Laufey took a deep breath, stretched his arms out, and exhaled a thick stream of frosty air. “Ahhh,” he said. “I never thought to feel that life again before I died. Oh, my people.” And then he shook himself and seemed to come out of a trance. “Byleister, Helbindi, stay. The rest of you, go. Spread the word: tonight the winter returns to Jotunheim. Invite all who can to travel here. Gymir, tell Norfi to prepare the great hall for a people’s feast.

The Jötnar rushed out of the room, leaving just two behind. There was an abrupt and tangible relaxation of formality, signaled by Laufey who dropped his posturing and relaxed back in his throne.

“Do you make a habit of concealing your family in plain sight?” Loki asked as the giants approached the throne, ice chairs sprouting on either side of their father’s throne.. “Greetings, Princess Helbindi, Prince Byleister.”

“It is not concealment,” shrugged Laufey. “They are jötnar who have jobs just as I do. Am I concealed in plain sight while I sit on my throne? I think not.” Laufey gave another great sigh and placed a hand on his chest. “Your debt is paid, Odinsons. In full.”

“That is not why we returned it,” Thor said seriously. “We were simply righting a wrong.”

“And when Odin has woken?” Laufey asked. “And finds his sons have gone rogue and returned his greatest prize to his greatest enemy? What then? We will not give up the casket. Will he bring an army down on us? I tell you no: there will be devastation.”

“No,” Loki said, leaning forward. “The price will be too high.”

“And what price is that to be?” Laufey asked. “What webs will you spin about the Allfather, spider?”

“Peace,” Thor said. “Webs of peace, King Laufey. We would create a strong partnership between Asgard and Jotunheim. Trade, travel, diplomatic cooperation.”

“Such a thing I would see happen,” Laufey said, spreading his hands. “But it is not so easy to overturn centuries of hatred. Our peoples despise each other. We have committed great atrocities against one another. By obliterating any relationship we once had, Odin has ensured we have no common ground.”

“By Odin’s own hubris,” Loki said, “he has ensured we do have common ground.”

Loki looked at Thor, seeking reassurance, his face pale. Thor nodded and risked taking his hand. Loki stared at Thor’s hand in his for a moment, nodded slowly, and changed.

Pale skin melted into blue, red overtook green eyes, bold ridges, now sparkling with the casket’s residual power, raised from his skin into swirls that resembled those of Laufey and his family. When Loki finally raised his eyes to look at them, they looked as astonished as when he had revealed the casket.

I am the common ground,” Loki said, squeezing Thor’s hand. “Father.”

Laufey burst from his chair and Loki reflexively stood with him, Thor’s hand falling from his own. Laufey came close and bent double to peer into his eyes, held his hands out over Loki’s ridged markings as if he wished to touch them, but his fingers stayed trembling in midair. “…Leifi?” he said, his voice a whisper.

“I know not any name but Loki,” Loki said stiffly. “In battle a week ago, a Jotun touched my arm and I did not burn—I changed. Odin told me he found me, abandoned, and took me to raise on his own. My discovery of this deed sent him into the Odinsleep.”

“Byleister—fetch Farbauti. Now.”

Prince Byleister tore his eyes from the tableau in front of him and actually ran from the room.

“Abandoned,” Laufey whispered, and then shouted: “ABANDONED! Abandoned in the far temple, the safest place during battle, abandoned surrounded by warrior-priests, the most elite in our realm, abandoned swaddled in enchanted blankets woven by your grandmother, which would keep you alive until help came if all was lost—Odin calls this abandoned?” Laufey’s face was twisted in shocking fury, teeth bared and eyes wild.

Thor was stricken, and in Loki’s desperate glance to him he knew he felt the same. They had imagined everything, everything but this. Laufey’s hands framed Loki’s face, hovering, not touching, trembling with emotion. He was crying again, and Thor saw his tears were not like Asgardian tears—they kept their shape as they rolled down his face and dropped to the floor viscous. He stood staring at Loki for long minutes and Loki bore it, Thor frozen in indecision, until the door burst open.

A frost giant stood framed dramatically in them, wearing full armor, two swords hanging from her belt. Surely this was none other than Queen Farbauti, her black hair piled on her head coated in frost, her red eyes already threatening to spill over. “Laufey, is it true?” she asked.

Laufey stepped back from Loki at last and gestured weakly to him. “Leifi is returned to us.”

Farbauti let out an animalistic cry and her arms dropped to her sides, and she stared and stared at Loki, unmoving. Loki looked at Thor in true desperation, and Thor got up and took his hand again.

“I—,” Loki began.

“But you do not know us!” Farbauti cried abruptly. “Who am I to you but the wife of an enemy?” Byleister shouldered his way into the room and slipped an arm around her waist. “Who are your siblings but enemy sons? Who is your father to you but a monster?” She dropped to her knees, sobbing and moaning, and if it broke even Thor’s heart, he couldn’t imagine what Loki must be feeling, who had always been so close to Frigga.

Loki had turned to ice under his hand. His face was completely blank, even his breathing shallow. Thor had no idea how to extricate them from this disaster, but he had to try. He released Loki and approached Farbauti, and knelt in front of her.

“Queen Farbauti,” he said. “Know that we are here to establish peace between our worlds. We cannot return lost years. But more years stretch on to be built upon.”

She lowered her face from the ceiling and looked at him, her red-rimmed eyes full of a sorrow he would never know. She reached out and touched his face, her skin like ice. “Odinson,” she said. “Peacemaker. Such a thing has never been.”

“May it be now,” Thor said, and stood, offering her his hand. She took it. “May I introduce you to Loki, master diplomat, sorcerer, and prince of Asgard?”

He held her hand the whole time it took her to walk to Loki, who looked minutely more relaxed now she had stopped wailing. Loki bowed at the waist. “Queen Farbauti.”

“Will you not call me mother?” Farbauti asked.

“I…I have a mother,” Loki said, as gently as Thor knew he could. “She is beloved by me. Perhaps in time….”

“Yes,” Farbauti said hurriedly. “Of course. Queen Frigga.”

“Does the queen know of your presence here?” Laufey asked.

“Who do you think is ruling Asgard in our absence?” Thor asked. “We are surely not ready to do it. We are here by her goodwill. And, ah….” Tact, he thought. Tact. “There is still our proposal, but perhaps this is not the prudent moment. We hate to invite ourselves, but….”

“You will stay the week here,” Farbauti declared. “You proposal can wait for tomorrow. Tonight you join our people’s feast and witness the wonder you have returned to our home.” She raised an eyebrow at Thor’s surprise at her command. “What? You think we rule like Asgard, queen under king? How puerile.”

“Jotunheim is ruled in partnership,” said Laufey. “Let us provide you with rooms. And mead for the acting king.”

“Just Thor?” Loki asked, affronted.

Laufey laughed, a stuttering sound. “This is mead to warm the bones of visitors. You need it not, yes?”

“Yes,” Loki agreed with a strange twist of his lips.

“Farbauti, stay and speak with me?” Laufey asked. “Helbindi, ask Norfi to provide them rooms, and escort them.”

“One moment,” Loki said. After a second of concentration, his skin was once more pale and smooth. The jötnar watched this process silently. Laufey’s face looked especially twisted, Farbauti’s downright pained.

Helbindi quickly located Norfi, who turned out to be the skirted giant with the book who had led them to the room. He was looking quite frantic as he directed giants up and down the stairs, but bowed perfunctorily to Helbindi at her approach.

“The…diplomats…need rooms,” Helbindi said. “And mead to warm the bones. They are staying the week out.”

Norfi appeared to be calculating something in his head for a moment. “They can have the snowmelt suite,” he said at last. To Thor and Loki, he said: “Rooms must be shared tonight, as all noble families are coming in for the feast and must be housed.”

“That is understandable,” said Thor, privately pleased.

“Mead will be sent momentarily,” Norfi said, already turning to another giant who was awaiting instruction.

“Follow me,” said Helbindi. She led them up one more flight of stairs and through a serpentine corridor. At the end of the corridor an ice door carved with concentric rings opened into a modest suite, with small half-sitting room separated from the bed by a near-translucent sheet of ice, and a small bathroom with thicker opaque ice walls. Gratefully, Thor saw that the floors were covered in thick carpet, and the bed and couches in piles of fur.

They entered the suite, and Helbindi stood there looking at Loki in awkward silence.

“I suppose you want a tearful reunion too, sister dear?” Loki asked.

Helbindi snorted. “I wondered how long that smooth face would last. You didn’t much appear the notorious Loki the trickster in that room. And no, for we’ve never met. You were a newborn when you were stolen, and I training in the army far from the summer palace.”

“What does summer in Jotunheim look like?” Thor wondered.

“Can’t recall,” Helbindi said. “Haven’t had one in two centuries.” She eyed them pointedly.

“You’re really going to blame us for that?” Loki asked in outrage. “Me? I’m offering myself up on a fucking silver plate to put all this to rights; what grudge have you against a brother you’ve never met?”

Helbindi laughed suddenly. “Not a grudge, brother dear—only, I heard of the magical beast you rode in on, and I don’t like the idea of not being the sibling with the most powerful seidr. You’ve ousted my place.”

Loki cracked a grin. “If it makes a difference, I used the casket to do that. It wasn’t all me.”

“Then I may forgive you yet. Oh, here’s the mead.” A giant arrived carrying two steaming mugs, leaving them with a low bow on a side table.

With a sigh of relief, Thor held one in his gloved hands, feeling the warmth start to soak in immediately. He took a gulp, and it was like drinking liquid springtime. He drained the mug and began taking off his gloves and fur cloak, which were now uncomfortably warm. “Thank the norns,” he said. “That is good mead.”

“That it is,” said Helbindi in amusement. “Anyway, do you want time alone, or a tour?”

“Ah….” Loki said. Thor read his hesitation like a book.

“Princess,” he said, “perhaps give us two hours to gather ourselves. And then a tour would be wonderful. This day has been…trying. And in truth we have not slept in some time.”

“A very tactful of telling someone to fuck off for a moment,” said Helbindi. Laughing again, she clapped Loki on the back. “Brother—I hope you don’t mind if I call you that, if only in private for now—welcome. Prince Thor, I welcome you as well. I will be back in two hours.” And the princess left.

“I like her,” Thor said, smiling broadly.

“Oh?” Loki asked. “Perhaps you’d rather marry her.”

Thor folded Loki in a hug. “I said I liked her. I love you.”

Loki sighed and settled into his arms. After a moment, he said, “I like her too.”

“I know.” Chuckling, Thor pulled Loki to the bedroom. “I wasn’t joking about the sleep. I’m exhausted.”

“As am I. That seidr was not an easy feat to work, on top of everything else.”

They curled in the furs, facing one another. “Loki,” Thor said quietly.

“Yes?”

“Offering yourself up on a silver platter, you said. Is that what this is? Answer me truly.”

Loki looked fiercely at him. “You think I am so selfless, Thor, that I would condemn myself to marriage to my brother to bring peace to feuding peoples, when not four days ago I convinced you to attack them? When have I ever done anything so grand for someone else’s interests?”

“You are more selfless than you say,” Thor said. “I would know that you are not, in fact, condemning yourself. There is still time—we have not made our proposal. I have stated my feelings for you, but I know they shocked you. You could not possibly return them so quickly.”

“Shocked me,” huffed Loki. “They still shock me. And no, I do not yet return your centuries-deep forbidding feelings, you oaf. But I want this. I want that delusional future you described.”

“They rule as partners here,” Thor said.

“I noticed.” Loki picked up one of Thor’s hands, tangling his blue fingers in Thor’s tan ones. “Trust me as I am trusting you,” he said. “That I will fight for this future we will build not because I feel some obligation—for I do not—but out of desire.”

“I trust you,” Thor said easily. “I always have.”

“Fool,” Loki said, and brought Thor’s hand to his lips.

 

Helbindi came for them in two hours’ time, and shocked them both out of a deep sleep. They came to the door grumbling and trying to shrug on personas of diplomacy when they both felt they’d been whacked by giant hammers.

“You both look like shit,” Helbindi said. “You weren’t kidding, were you.”

“No,” Loki growled. “Tell me you have some sort of stimulating drink in this place.”

“We have tea,” Helbindi offered. “Come, we’ll go to the library and I’ll have someone bring us some.”

Thor noted in amusement that Loki most likely didn’t need the tea after the mention of a library. He practically led Helbindi there herself, and once she gestured towards the doors in exasperation he disappeared out of sight.

“He is…scholarly,” Thor said apologetically, accepting a cup of tea as he sat across from Helbindi.

“He’ll get on with Byleister.” Helbindi sipped her own tea and stretched back against the couch, sighing. “What a fucking day.”

“Oh?” Thor said innocently.

“Don’t you even pretend,” she said, pointing a finger at him. “This is your fault. It’s all good and wonderful and miraculous, yes, yes, but it’s stressful as all fuck. I was supposed to go on a hunt tomorrow, and that’s shot.”

“What sort of hunt?” Thor asked, sitting forward eagerly.

When Loki returned from the stacks Thor and Helbindi were on their sixth or seventh tale, each interrupting each other as other feats leapt to mind, spinning off wilder and more exciting stories with the aura of kindred spirits coming together at last. “And then I grabbed it’s horn and pulled it back, and my dog went for it’s neck,” Helbindi laughed. “It threw the dog sixty feet away, he was fine, good old thing, but I had managed to get the horn off by that point and it was done for.”

“I hunted a great horned monster through the wilds of Álfheim once,” Thor said, “some dwarf had promised Odin its horn could cure poison. That was, of course, a crock of shit, but if that beast didn’t give me a run—”

“Oh, great,” Loki said, dropping a stack of books with a bang onto the table. “You’re the Thor of Jotunheim. I should have known.” He snatched his cold tea and downed it.

“I’d say he’s the Helbindi of Asgard,” Helbindi said, laughing. “And now you’re back, little brother, may the tour actually begin?”

“Depends on if I can borrow these.” Loki gestured to the books.

“Sure,” Helbindi shrugged. “I’ll have someone bring them back to your rooms.”

“No need,” Loki said, and banished them to his secret space with a wave of his hands.

Helbindi watched him with a keen eye. “Nice.”

“Thank you. The tour?”

“Yes, my liege.” Helbindi swept an exaggerated bow. “Come on, princes, follow me.”

“I’m technically king,” Thor protested, grinning in spite of himself.

“Only technically.”

Helbindi toured them around the vast palace, through the throne room, the trophy room, the observatory, the prayer chamber, and then took them outside to the garden and the stables, where huge, shaggy horses were blanketed. In the middle of a garden was a walking meditation ring which Loki was especially interested in, and Helbindi took a long time explaining, an explanation which required a visit back to the prayer room.

Upon their reentry to the palace they were surprised to discover that guests had begun to arrive for that night’s festivities, and they were given many suspicious sideways glances, but the guests only bowed to Helbindi and moved on, ignoring the Asgardians.

“I’d better get ready for the feast,” Helbindi said as they left the prayer room. “One of us will come get you from your rooms when it’s time. We don’t mean to make you feel like prisoners, but until Laufey introduces you tonight…well.”

“We understand,” Thor said. “To the guests, we are only strange Asgardians in their home.”

“Yes,” Helbindi said. “Come, back to your rooms. Someone will come for you in an hour or so.”

As soon as they got to their rooms, Loki had pulled his pile of books out and was curling himself in a fur on the couch to read. “Wake me in forty minutes,” said Thor, and fell into the bed, fast asleep until Loki shook him awake. They made themselves presentable, thankfully having packed surplus fine clothes, as suited traveling diplomats. Thor took Loki in, resplendent in dark green robes with silver accents, his hair tied back in a silver ribbon. Thor himself wore grey robes, reminiscent of Odin’s, and lacked armor. A statement: they were diplomats tonight, not warriors, though Mjölnir hung at his hip regardless.

It was crown prince Byleister who came for them, knocking softly at the door dressed in a soft velvet skirt and a chestpiece that looked like it was made of a hundred coins all linked together. He wore a matching golden circlet, wrist cuffs, and ankle cuffs. “Good evening, King Thor, Prince Loki. I’m to escort you to the people’s feast.”

He avoided their gazes, and in consequence spotted Loki’s stack of books. “What are you reading?”

“I found a most interesting treatise on illusion magics,” Loki said hesitantly.

“Not Skrymir’s work?” Byleister asked.

“Yes.”

“Have you reached the bit on fooling the senses?” Byleister was growing eager, seemingly despite himself.

“I skipped to it,” admitted Loki. “Smell is the one thing my illusions still lack.”

“Have you tried—”

“Perhaps we can talk and walk,” suggested Thor, and they didn’t even spare him a glance as Byleister began leading them to the great hall, talking animatedly to Loki. Thor was deeply pleased: now Loki could not fake jealousy over Helbindi.

The great hall through which they had first entered the palace was transformed. The illuminated globes were gone, replaced by thousands tiny, drifting golden lights the size of coins. They only occasionally drifted down far enough to brush a giant’s head. The stalactites were lit purple from within, glowing spires of radiance. Massive ice-tables had been formed on the far walls of the hall, and they were laden with food. The shimmering ice floor glowed purple as well, and splendidly-dressed jötnar stood and talked or danced slowly to sedate but lively music that was being played by roaming pairs of musicians. Though the musicians traversed the hall separately and danced to their tunes, they all kept perfect time with each other, so that those on the dance floor were surrounded by a bubble of music.

The music and fashion caught Thor off guard the most—for some reason, he had not realized frost giants had these things. Just one more way in which he had been taught to think them less than people.

“Welcome to the people’s feast,” Byleister said. “You will stay with me until father and mother introduce you. Are you hungry?”

“I could eat,” Thor said off-handedly.

“That means he’s been dying of hunger for two hours but is too proud to say it,” Loki told Byleister, who gave a small smile. He led them to the nearest table and gave them bowls to put food into. For a brief moment Thor wondered if he had entered Valhalla. There were kabobs of some foreign but scrumptious-smelling meat roasted with vegetables, delicate fruit and meat pies, meatballs in a viscous sauce, bread toasted with cheese and spices, fresh fruit placed in beautiful arrangements, whole cooked fowl, and on and on it went, for three tables.

“For Thor,” Loki confided in Byleister, helping himself to several meat pies, “this has made the entire journey worth it.”

“Loki jests,” Thor said, lifting his chin haughtily. “Though it has been said I am something of a culinary enthusiast.”

“It has been said,” Loki agreed. “I remember that decade where you could be found nowhere but the cook’s side, preparing our family meals.”

“Ah,” Blyeister said, giving Thor a small smile. “I see the prince does not only jest—you carry a true passion.”

“Yes,” Thor said, smiling back. “For many things, cooking not the least of them.”

“The cooks will be here,” Blyeister said. “I’ll introduce you after you’re announced, if you like.”

“Thank you,” Thor said. “It would be a delight.”

“Diplomacy at work,” said Helbindi, coming upon them with another frost giant in tow. “Watch and behold him.”

Thor laughed loudly. “Princess, you look radiant.” She did. Her huge frame was draped in dress of mail that shimmered under the lights. Her hair was styled into a crown of braids, and she wore golden jewelry to match Blyeister.

“Thank you,” she said. “May I introduce Simul, my bethrothed.” Simul was small for a frost giant, though nowhere near Loki-small. He was dressed in purple robes and wore some sort of glass contraption across his eyes.

“Well met, Simul,” Thor said, giving him a short bow that Loki echoed. It so happened that Helbindi had needed somewhere to put Simul while she attended her mother, and that place was with the Asgardians and her brother. They moved to a corner where they would not interrupt the dancing, and finally Thor felt comfortable enough with Simul to ask, “Forgive me if I overstep. But what do you wear on your face?”

“My glasses?” Simul asked, touching one arm of the device. “You have never seen them?”

“No,” Thor said ruefully. “Not on Asgard, at least.”

“Some are born with imperfect eyesight,” Simul explained. “The lenses in my glasses—the clear part before my eyes—corrects my vision, enabling me to see as if my eyes functioned perfectly.”

“A cure for blindness?” Thor asked in astonishment.

“No, not blindness. Merely the inability to see as well as some. See,” Simul took the glasses off. “Now I can see you, but things farther away—the other side of the room—they look blurred and indistinct to me, like fog. When I wear the glasses, I can see the far side of the room with ease.”

“Could it be the reverse?” Loki said with interest. “Could one not see what is up close, and instead see far away?”

“It is common,” said Simul. “I don’t know how it is in Asgard, but in Jotunheim many wear glasses. Some may wear them all the time, or some only when they need to see up close, like when reading.”

“Could it be that this affliction of the eyes simply does not affect Asgardians?” Thor wondered.

“Thor, remember Sif,” Loki said in excitement. “Why does she not like to read?”

“Because,” Thor said in dawning realization, “because it hurts her to look at the words in books!” He turned to Simul. “Where do you get your glasses?”

“I go to a glasses-maker,” Simul said in bemusement. “She tests my eyes and makes me the right kind. Your friend would need to come here, I think.”

“Or the glasses-maker to Asgard….” Thor met Loki’s eyes in excitement. “This is very promising.”

Before they could plot more, Helbindi swept in. “It’s time, it’s time,” she said in excitement. “How are you, my love?”

“Well,” said Simul. “I’m teaching the Asgardians about glasses.”

“Glasses?” Her eyebrows pinched in confusion. “Never mind that now, I need the Asgardians and Byleister with the king and queen. Let’s go.” Loki and Thor were swept through the crowd, drawing frequent gazes that ranged from curious to hostile, and to the side of the king and queen. Laufey and Farbauti waited on a raised dais at one end of the room, which the crowd began to gather around.

Laufey drew them aside and put a hand on each of their shoulders. “Know this. No matter the outcome of tomorrow, of this week, of Odin’s waking, you both are honored here. Should either of you ever need sanctuary, you have it in Jotunheim.”

One of Loki’s hands went up to briefly grasp Laufey’s, and Thor could not tell what passed between them.

“Thank you, King Laufey,” Thor said. “Truly.”

Laufey returned them to the stage. Farbauti came to Loki and took his hand, staring into his eyes in silence, and then took her place beside Laufey.

“My people!” Laufey said, and the crowd quieted so much that he hardly had to raise his voice to speak. “I welcome you to this people’s feast. The first in many years. Things have been hard for the last two centuries after the sacking of Utgard! The day many of you remember, when our very heart was stolen, and when our youngest prince disappeared.”

He paused for the gathered peoples to cry out in anger, or anguish, or rage. Thor was taken by surprise by the emotion which the assembled jötnar displayed.

“My people, I can mince words no more. Those desolate days are through!” And with a victorious gesture he brought out the casket, which hung suspended above his head. Its light shone out into the hall until they were in a kaleidoscope of reflected colors, and the gathered Jötnar began to glow. The crowd froze for a solid thirty seconds, and then they began to applaud. And scream. And cry. And sing.

“My people!” This was Farbauti, crying the words until until the crowd was quiet. “Our heart was returned two visitors, full of glad tidings. For not only did they bring back the heart of our world, they brought back the heart of our own family.” She extended her hand, and Loki stepped forward. As Farbauti touched his shoulder he changed, until he was Jotun, standing beside Farbauti, gazing out at the crowd. “Loki, prince of Asgard, is our lost son. This news is new to all of us. But our hearts are joyous nonetheless.”

The crowd had listened to her words in utter silence, and the moment she paused they roared so loud the stalactites shook. “Welcome!” they cried. “Welcome, welcome, welcome!” Thor could see Loki shaking under Farbauti’s hand.

“My people!” Farbauti cried. “Loki alone did not bring us the casket. Thor, acting King of Asgard, accompanied him.” Thor stepped forward to her beckoning hand. “Prince Loki and acting King Thor will be honored in Jotunheim for all time.”

The applause, screams, cheers, and sobs brought down the house, and the king and queen did not silence their people again. Instead Laufey stepped forward and Farbauti brought Thor and Loki backwards, and Laufey began to work an enchantment with the casket.

Helbindi leaned towards Thor and Loki. “He is returning the casket to the heart of the planet.” As they watched Laufey began to chant and weave his hands, and the casket’s light fluctuated in waves of radiance, bathing the assembled peoples, and in one final burst of light the casket was gone, but the light remained, trapped in all the ice that created the room, and in the ridges and eyes of the assembled Jötnar.

They stood in silence for many moments, some with eyes closed ands some with eyes open. Thor could do nothing but watch the light travel through Loki’s body, the ridges on his skin luminescent and ethereal. And then by some unseen signal, the musicians began to play. The music was fast-paced and elated, and the frost giants immediately fell into step, still caught in their expressions of emotion, and laughed and cried as they danced.

“Dance with me?” Helbindi asked Thor.

“I do now know the steps.”

“I’ll teach you. Come.” And she pulled him off the stage into the crowd. He caught a glimpse of Byleister courteously offering his hand to Loki, and grinned.

Helbindi turned out to be an excellent teacher, and within a few moments he was adept at the steps, which were simple but robust. He was several feet shorter than the shortest giants here, and it made the dance all the more fun, because whoever he danced with began to laugh automatically. The dance twisted the dancer through partners every repetition, and so he danced with Helbindi, Byleister, Simul, Farbauti, and many others he did not know but who greeted him with courtesy and even open friendliness. He was even thanked a few times, and kissed on the cheek by very cold lips, and spun wildly in a gleeful improvisation of the dance.

And then the dance turned once more, and he was matching step with Loki, hands sliding together and apart, feet just a few beats away from tripping each other. That light was still glimmering under Loki’s skin, and Thor imagined he could feel it pulsing against his palms. “Thor,” Loki said, grinning. “I think I am happier than I have been in a long time. Despite the thought of what tomorrow, or next week, or next month will bring. This was worth it.”

“It was worth it,” Thor agreed. “I will do whatever it takes to keep this joy for you, Loki.” Loki’s face turned—startled? No, gentler than that. Like a realization. But before Thor could learn more the dance turned, and he was in Helbindi’s arms.

“I see,” she said softly, moving them through the steps. “So that is the way tomorrow will go.”

“If you so see,” Thor said, wary, “then tell me too how you feel.”

“I feel….” Her palms came apart from his, they spun, and then she was back. “I feel that I don’t know you two. You are strangers to me. And yet you are not. Somehow, you are not. You are tricksters working two worlds to you own aims. But those aims seem to be…peace, and happiness. And love, I think.”

“And love,” echoed Thor. “So?”

“Yes,” Helbindi said, and smiled broadly, and the dance turned again.

 

When they at last retired, in no need of an escort anymore, Thor had no idea what time of night or morning it was, only that he had danced until he began to stumble, and then he stubbornly stumbled until Loki, dead on his feet, had appeared from somewhere and started to fall asleep on his shoulder. They were both having such a good time neither wanted to actually leave the party, but eventually some part of Loki realized that tomorrow was important for some reason, and they out to get at least some rest.

They stripped their clothes and crawled under the furs of the bed in their undershirts, and burrowed into each others’ warmth.

“Mmm…Thor,” Loki said. “Kiss me?”

“No,” Thor said.

“What?” Loki’s eyes snapped open in irritation.

“You kiss me. You haven’t yet, you know.”

“Well, I…” Loki sat up. Thor sat up too. He knew that set to Loki’s face. Loki brought a hand slowly to his face and hesitantly, in starts and stops, leaned in.

“You’ve kissed before, surely,” Thor says. “I caught you with Fandral that one time.”

“The one time,” Loki hissed. “And it’s different with you, Thor, obviously.” And he closed the last inch between their lips and kissed Thor. He didn’t kiss as tenderly as Thor, but Thor met him with tenderness all the same. They kissed and kissed and as Loki grew more awake, Thor was lulled to sleep.

“I’m sorry, Loki,” he said drowsily as Loki pushed a hand under his shirt. “Must…sleep.” The last thing he remembered before drifting off was Loki cursing viciously at him. It made for most pleasant dreams.

 

He woke to a knocking at the door. Like a bird pecking at wood, it was irritating and never-ending. Loki was in the sleep of the dead, and so he staggered upright, fur around his shoulders, and cracked the door, shivering all the while at the touch of ice through his socks.

It was Farbauti at the door. Thor gasped and almost, reflexively, slammed the door in her face, simultaneously yanking the fur around his shoulders to cover his legs. “My lady!” he squeaked. “Please give me five minutes to dress!”

Farbauti chuckled gently and obliged.

“Loki!” he yelled, crashing into the bedroom. “The queen is at the door! Get dressed!” Loki sat up blearily, his hair everywhere, his skin still blue but no longer glowing. He stared at Thor in incomprehension for a long moment. “Do you think the queen saw that?” He pointed. Thor looked down at his collarbone to see a scattering of bruises that he vaguely remembered Loki sucking into his skin the night before.

“Norns, Loki,” he hissed. Loki was laughing his head off in the bed. They hurriedly changed into their third and last set of ceremonial clothes—after this they would judge the next day’s outfit by smell. They quickly combed and braided each other’s hair, nimble at the task after centuries of practice, pulled on their boots, and opened the door with polite smiles to welcome the queen.

“Thank you,” she said, and entered their chambers followed by a retinue of servants carrying a breakfast service. Thor immediately seized a cup of steaming mead, sighing in appreciation as the growing discomfort he felt faded to warmth.

“Our council is in an hour,” Farbauti said, pouring a cup of tea for herself. “I thought I would breakfast with you, and, in doing so, ensure you had risen.”

“I appreciate it,” Thor said fervently. He nudged Loki, who was inhaling tea. “Loki does too, though he will not speak til he has finished two cups of tea, even in the presence of royalty.”

“We’re all royalty, Thor,” Loki said. Even so he gathered some manner of formality about himself. “I do appreciate it, my lady.”

“I thought you might.” Farbauti smiled. “After the way you two carried on last night, one would think you natives of Jotunheim, attending a people’s feast every winter. I trust you enjoyed yourselves?”

They spoke over each other to reassure her. “Immensely.” “Enormously.”

“Good.” For a while they were quiet as they ate and drank, and then Farbauti let out a sigh. “I fear I must apologize. To you, Loki, especially. I fear my reaction to you yesterday frightened and alienated you. Asgardians are not used to Jotun displays of emotion, but in truth I could not help myself. Nor was I inclined to in the moment. It was only afterwards that I realized…well, how little you know of us. And how little I know of you.”

Loki looked hesitant, and then seemed to gather his nerves to reach forward and take her hand. “I do know little of you, and you of me. But also…I am considered reserved by Asgardian standards. I do not know if it would have been otherwise had I not been…stolen. But I also know I cannot find fault in your reaction. I can only imagine the pain you have gone through. I have not suffered for Odin’s deed until this past week. You have lived with it for centuries. I wish…I wish to bridge this gap between us.”

Farbauti placed her other hand on his and squeezed it. “It gladdens me to hear this, more than you will ever know.” She turned to Thor. “And I wanted to thank you. You brought me back to myself yesterday, when I could not see how distressed Loki was. You will make a good king one day.”

“Am I not king now?” Thor said, smiling. “I jest. I am not ready for kinghood. I have much to learn.”

“Indeed.” Farbauti stood, brushing her hands off. “Well, shall we? Laufey and I are most eager to her your proposition.”

Thor’s stomach plummeted to his toes, and Loki suddenly looked a little green around his blue. Wordlessly, they followed the queen as she swept out of their chambers, down several flights of stairs, and led them to a more intimate study space where Helbindi, Byleister, and Laufey were gathered, sipping cups of something hot and playing a game of cards that Thor was unfamiliar with.

“Loki, Thor.” Laufey stood and clapped each of them on the shoulder. “A good show yesterday. All of the courts are charmed with you. And surely you already feel the change in the earth?”

Thor did not, but Loki nodded. “Yes,” he said. “I can it…breathing.”

“The heart is in its rightful place,” Laufey said. “Now sit. I would hear, at last, what you have to say.”

They poured themselves further cups of tea and sat beside each other on a small couch. It was an intimate gathering, nothing like the formal audience they had expected when they began this journey, if they could even have hoped to make it this far. Helbindi was on Thor’s right, and she winked at him. That, at least, settled his nerves a bit.

Loki began, as was usually best. “In order to build a bridge Odin cannot demolish when he wakes, this bridge must be several things. It must obviously benefit Asgard, receive wide public approval, be largely set in stone, and it must be…personal. Odin can strike down laws Thor declares as acting king, but he cannot simply dissolve complex diplomatic relationships without seriously damaging his reputation. And he abhors brining family matters into public, as evidenced by his current sleep.” He rolled his eyes.

“All of this is true,” agreed Laufey. “We assume you have a proposition.”

“Yes.” Loki took a deep breath. “A diplomatic marriage between our peoples.”

Laufey looked at Farbauti. “How so? Farbauti is betrothed. Byleister....as crown prince, his betrothed would come here to Jotunheim, and Thor cannot leave Asgard.”

“Between Thor and I,” Loki said.

The room went still.

“We are both beloved by our people,” Loki said, “in different ways, but still. It will come out that by an unlucky twist of fate, crown prince Loki is truly Loki Laufeyson. There will be confusion and mourning, but I will put on a brave face and embrace my heritage for the sake of Asgard. When our peoples by necessity come into a new dialogue, Thor and I will be the noble, self-sacrificing sons of Asgard and Jotunheim who solve the obvious problem of a political match between the nations. The reluctant but dutiful princes who put the safety of Asgard ahead of themselves. Asgard loves us now, they will love us more. With our marriage comes treaties, trade, and travel. And when Odin wakes, there will be nothing he can do.”

Silence brittle as ice.

“The only thing you need to do,” Loki said, looking around the room, “is tolerate the bending of the truth in Odin’s favor, claim me as Laufeyson, and put up a public fuss about Asgard’s evasion of displaying their commitment and dedication.”

And yet more silence.

“And…the two of you….” Byleister began.

“Become partners in the rule of Asgard. Eventually. Ensuring future mutual flourishing between our worlds after Odin’s reign is done.”

Finally, Laufey spoke. “You are most certainly a child of mine.”

“Incredibly, this was Thor’s plan,” Loki said. “I just made it…workable.”

“So?” Thor asked, unable to bear it. “Speak your thoughts, for I am assuming the worst.”

“Forgive us for having some trouble gathering them,” Byleister said caustically. “You might think we in Jotunheim are barbaric, but even we—well.”

“I might as well say it now,” Helbidi said, “I’m for it.”

“Of course you are,” Byleister muttered.

“Why?” Farbauti asked.

“Just look at them.” Thor and Loki looked at themselves, their lips twisting. “Think of the future they will bring to us. I would see Jotunheim flourish in an age of peace. See what they have done in just a day? And besides. They love each other. There are other ways to do this, yet this is the one they pursue.”

Farbauti and Laufey were silent from some minutes. Their eyes flicked from each other to Thor and Loki, having some unheard conversation. And then Laufey stood. “Kneel, Loki,” he said.

Loki rose and knelt at his feet, and Laufey’s palm began to glow with the light of the casket. He reached down and touched Loki gently on the forehead. His fingerprint radiated through Loki’s body, and he began to glow as he had the night before. When Laufey drew his hand away, the thumbprint was there, glowing, before beginning to fade.

“Rise, Loki Laufeyson,” Laufey said, and when Loki stood Laufey drew him into a tight embrace. “Youngest heir to the throne of Jotunheim.” Helbindi let out an excited call, and Byleister semi-reluctantly clapped along.

Farbauti’s eyes were locked with Thor’s. Whatever she was looking for, she found it, because she gave him a small nod before rising to embrace her son.

 

That night they dined with the royal family. It was a veritable second feast, with many light, airy, fruity contraptions that took a while to eat, and so the meal lasted hours.

“I am surprised by the…level of informality with which we have been received,” Thor said at one point to Laufey. “I will admit, we expected to be groveling on our knees this entire time.”

Laufey nodded. “Except for visitors, we do not hold to much protocol like Asgard. It is alienating to our people. Not that just any petitioner would be dining with my family. But—you are family. We do not treat family as strangers, however strange the circumstances may be.”

Thor glanced over to Loki, who was talking animatedly with Helbindi about seidr. “Before Odin wakes, we will name ourselves official diplomats to Jotunheim. We look forward to…to more of this.”

Laufey’s gaze rested upon him, piercing. “You, Odinson, are not what I expected, nor even what I witnessed last week. What could have truly changed the brood of Odin so completely, turned a warmonger into a diplomat and peacemaker?”

Thor’s eyes went again to Loki, for he had just laughed as Thor had never heard him—open, and joyous. “Love,” he said simply. He looked back to Laufey. “And I pray this fact does not disgust you. Or, if so, that you direct such feelings upon me only and spare your son.”

Laufey took a drink of mead and watched him over his cup. “Young Odinson, we—Jotunheim and Asgard—are not so removed from those generations when succession was all that mattered, by whatever means possible, before our lifetimes ran long. I think you’ll find both our family trees are a little too square near the top. You and Loki share no blood ties—you’re already doing better than my great-grandfather. Besides, I was not there to see you grow up. I have no evidence of your siblinghood, and so to me you may just as well be sons of different realms.”

“Thank you,” Thor said. “For that is what we must become.”

“Queen Farbauti,” Loki called, and the table went silent as the queen looked at him. “I know you commanded us to stay the week. But I fear our time is running out. Odin could wake any second. By your leave, we will return to Asgard on the morrow.”

“We surely won’t be parted for long,” Thor said. “For diplomatic relations between our realms must begin immediately, following a formal proclamation.”

Farbauti sighed. “I suppose such a thing is wise, much as I long to keep you in my home, Loki, and come to know you.”

“There will be time,” Thor said. “Centuries.”

“And we would have you meet our mother,” Loki said quietly. “We think…I think…that you would be fast friends.”

“I would also have it so,” Farbauti said.

 

In the morning the entire royal family saw them off, Helbindi struck with blinding envy when she understood how Loki would travel.

“But how do you find your way?” she demanded of him, while he stood with a smirk. “I can get to the in-between, but once I’m there I’m at risk of losing myself!”

“Perhaps I could teach you,” Loki said haughtily. “One day. As the superior sorcerer.”

“You little—” But she was laughing, they both were, and the argument turned into a long embrace, which she turned on Thor next. Byleister was not so demonstrative, but he did clap them both on the back. Farbauti embraced Loki and Thor, and Laufey clasped arms with Thor, and then hugged Loki.

“Oh—” Thor said. “Glasses!”

“Glasses?” Farbauti asked cautiously.

“We hope this will be our first imported Jotun good,” Loki said hurriedly. “There is no time now, Thor.”

“You have no glasses?” asked Laufey in bemusement.

“Goodbye, family,” Loki said, as they stepped into the velvet space. “Until we meet again.”

They entered that space and though it was familiar to Thor, it was no less unnerving. Loki’s arm in his, and around them only fabric. As if they had suddenly entered one of Frigga’s tapestries. He was glad when he felt Loki’s body give a little noiseless movement of recognition, and then they fell out of the space and onto…the bifrost.

Thor looked around, taking in the sight of his home in pleased wonder. Had he ever noticed how soft the air was, how warm the sun on his face? The rainbow bridge shone like Loki’s skin had, and he was filled with a rush of love for his world.

Ah, but that reminded him. “Loki, your guise.” Loki’s face pinched a bit, and Thor took his hand, watching as Loki’s skin melted to white. It was slower to change, as if being in it for so long had become natural. And then Thor looked over Loki’s shoulder to see Heimdall watching.

“Gatekeeper,” Thor said, and reacted instinctively, stepping in front of Loki.

“When will you learn, Thor?” Loki asked, shaking his head. “You think now that I have changed before Heimdall’s very eyes, it is the only time he has seen?”

“Loki speaks true,” Heimdall said, leaning on his sword, giving off an amused air. “Since you were a child, Thor, you have never been able to grasp the expanse of my sight. Unless Loki is shielding from me, I can see him. And you. And he has not been shielding from me in the last week.”

Thor whirled on Loki. “And three nights ago? When you told me, expecting violence?”

Loki swallowed. “I knew Heimdall would either intervene, or not.”

“Loki.” Thor swallowed back a lump in his throat. “And this whole time? Heimdall has seen everything?”

“At a point,” Heimdall said, “I chose to look away.” Thor felt his face grow hot, and he could not meet Heimdall’s eyes. “If it’s any consolation, I saw this coming. You were not a subtle youth, Thor. Not at first.”

“Norns,” Thor groaned. “So now you are co-conspirator, I suppose, unless you plan to stop us.”

“I won’t stop you,” Heimdall said easily. “You know how far I see. I like what I see.”

“Good,” Thor said, still unable to look at the man. “Good. We are for the palace, then. We must call an assembly.”

“Heimdall,” Loki said. “Will you tell us—how long do we have?”

Heimdall’s gaze went distant for a moment, then met Loki’s eyes, serious and steady. “Seven days.”

Loki took a deep breath and looked at Thor. “Seven days, king.”

“Seven days,” Thor repeated. He forced himself to grin. “We could do it in six.”

They chose to walk back to the palace, for even Loki, who did not mind the cold of Jotunheim, confessed that the warmth of the air was a balm, and the sight of spring hopeful. Their people were pleased to see them in the streets, clapping and cheering as they walked among them. They were given small gifts along the way: pastries and flowers and drawings from children. Equal attention was lavished on Loki as Thor, which made Thor hopeful for their reception.

Though the announcement was to be made formally, they told everyone they came across to spread the news: there was to be a citizen assembly mid-morning tomorrow. People tried to pry the reason from them, but they answered with enigmatic smiles and misdirections.

When they made it back to the palace they were so laden with gifts that they enlisted two servants to carry everything to Loki’s study, and went to find their mother in the throne room. She was receiving petitioners, and they stood and watched as she met each of her people with respect and empathy. Every one of them went away smiling, either appeased or talked round by the most beloved individual in Asgard. There were several citizens who had no petition at all, but had seized the rare chance to speak to the queen in person. These she met with just as much grace, and they left beaming.

“Truly, you are magical to watch,” Loki said, approaching her as the last petitioner left with a smile. “It’s good that Thor is not actually king yet, for he still has much to learn from you.”

Thor elbowed him in the side, but smiled at Frigga. “Of this I am well aware.”

“My sons,” Frigga said, rising from the throne. “Thor, I pass this back to you with pleasure.” She handed him Gungnir. He took it with a bow. “How fared your travels?”

“I thank you for minding the kingdom in my absence,” Thor said. “Our journey was…most fortuitous.”

“Is that so?” Frigga asked.

“More fortuitous than any of us had cause to hope,” Loki said quietly. “I have much to tell you, mother.”

“Tonight,” Frigga promised.

“Yes,” Thor agreed. “For there is business to be done.” He called over the two einherjar who stood to either side of the throne. “Make an official proclamation and be sure the news spreads through the entire city. There will be a citizen assembly at mid-morning tomorrow. All are encouraged to attend; their king and prince will address them.” They left to see to it with perfunctory bows.

“And now the hard part,” sighed Loki.

Thor looked at him. “Loki, this entire effort has been “the hard part.””

“This is worse,” Loki groaned. “These are our friends.”

“Good luck,” Frigga said, and excused herself from the issue.

They went briefly to their rooms to change out of their formal clothing, and met again near the barracks, where they went about gathering the warriors three. Fandral they found reading under a tree, Sif throwing knives at targets—Loki gave Thor a long and significant look—and Hogun writing a letter to his family. They convened under Fandral’s tree, settling in the grass.

“I heard about the assembly tomorrow,” Sif said. “Is that what this is about?”

“Yes,” Loki said, licking his lips. “Something has recently come to light.”

Now that they were in the moment, Thor felt slightly hesitant as well. He had faith, however. He did not choose his friends lightly.

“We are telling you beforehand so that you might not feel betrayed by a secret kept,” Thor said. “For in truth Loki has known this secret for a week and I for three days. You are the first outside our family we have told.” In an odd, new sense, it was true.

“Tell all, friends, this hesitation is making me fear the reveal,” said Fandral.

“There is little you could tell us to make us abandon you,” Hogun added. “A hundred years of friendship is not easily strained.”

Thor took a breath. “Loki, would you prefer me to...?”

“Just this once,” Loki said in a small voice.

“Very well.” He turned to the others. “We have recently discovered that Loki is adopted. He is, in fact, the youngest son of King Laufey, stolen by Odin in the battle of Utgard.”

They stared at him.

“Loki?” Thor asked. Loki sighed and allowed his form to change, til he was blue and red and ridged under the Asgard sun. Hogun actually topped backwards slightly. Fandral cursed, and Sif was frozen solid.

“It was a hard discovery,” Loki said bitterly. “When we rode out to Jotunheim together a giant seized my arm. Instead of burning, this happened.” He raised his hands to his face and looked at them. “I confronted father, and he fell into the Odinsleep. And then I went to Thor. Or rather, Thor went to me. I don’t know what I would have done if he hadn’t pried the truth from me.”

This was the first Thor had heard of this, but he tucked it away for later.

“In light of this, we are making peace with Jotunheim,” Thor declared. “It is where we have been traveling recently, to foster political ties. We ask you to, at least publicly, no matter what you feel, show your support for us. Dissent from our closest friends and council will not sit well with a citizenry which is deciding how they are going to feel.”

“So,” Loki said, still staring at his hands. “If you now hate me, please keep it inside for seven more days, if you can.”

“Oh, Loki!” Sif cried, and flung herself on him. He went down with an oof, hugged within an inch of his life, and then Fandral and Hogun were scrambling on top of him as well, until only his legs and one arm stuck out from beneath the pile.

When Loki finally kicked them off, Fandral was crying. “We’re such terrible f-friends!” he wailed. “Oh, norns!”

“Just last week we were talking about how many frost giants we hoped to kill in our attack,” Hogun said.

“I’m sorry for that time I said frost giants are the ugliest race,” Sif said, wringing her hands. “It’s not true.”

Loki’s face was maroon and he was blinking rapidly. “Forgiven,” he said. “I remember I started the conversation, after all. I believe it was a comment against the princess Helbindi.” He gave an uncomfortable laugh. “How awkward. I shall never tell her.”

“So you met her?” Fandral said, eyes wide. “Tell us of your journey, friends.”

“At this point, we dare not,” Thor said. “And we beg your patience for it. Wait the week, and all will be known. And along the way, we will need your support and perhaps…participation.”

“Why so fast?” Sif said, eyes keen. “Acting king.”

“You see far,” Thor said ruefully. “In truth, we mean to make a peace between our worlds stronger than the Allfather would perhaps…prefer.”

“I love it,” Fandral said immediately. “You have our full support, if I may speak for my fellows.”

“You may not,” Sif informed him. “But you have mine as well.”

“And mine,” Hogun said. “A hundred years, like I said.”

The sun was setting, and Frigga was waiting. The warriors three exchanged long hugs with Loki and Thor. Just before they departed, Hogun clasped arms with Thor and gave him a look. “I bet this came as a relief, eh?”

Thor blanched. “I’ve no idea what you mean.”

“Sure, my king.” And he departed with the others.

Beside him, Loki snorted. “Haven’t I always told you it’s the quieter ones you must mind the closest?”

“You’ve demonstrated by example,” Thor said, placing a hand briefly on the back of his neck. “Back to Asgardian, Loki, lest we be accosted by our own einherjar.” Under his hand Loki’s skin paled and warmed, and they set off for Loki’s study.

When they arrived Frigga was waiting with tea, looking through their piles of gifts. “My sons,” she sighed, when they entered. “You are so loved by so many. Though you have often stumbled and fallen, you stride tall yet, and I am eternally proud.” She embraced them—Thor hid his abrupt tears in her hair—and passed them cups of tea. They gathered around the fireplace. “Tell me of your journey.”

They told her. Loki spoke of their travel, but when it came to actually meeting Laufey, Thor took over, for Loki’s throat closed around the words and he shook slightly with emotion. Frigga herself began crying as soon as Thor described Laufey’s reaction, and was sobbing by the time Farbauti entered the scene.

“Mother!” Loki finally cried in desperation, holding her close. “Please, what is happening?”

“I always thought you truly abandoned,” Frigga moaned. “Left for dead. But stolen from your mother…oh, my son, my sons! I feel for the queen as if it had been my own children, for it is a mother’s greatest fear!” Her hands went to her crown of braids and she pulled at them as she rocked. “Queen Farbauti must think of me as purely evil.”

“No!” Loki cried. “She wants to meet you.”

“I will lay myself across her blade,” Frigga swore.

Loki looked at Thor, deeply alarmed. “You will meet her tomorrow, most likely,” Thor said urgently, “and there is no need for that, as the meeting is peaceful in nature, and mostly a façade.”

“We shall see,” Frigga said, calming. “It is not your prerogative. Carry on.”

Deeply worried, Thor did, derailing the conversation for five minutes to expound upon glasses, and Loki took over again when they arrived at the ceremony of the casket.

“And here we are,” Thor said. “With our family quite expanded.”

Frigga was looking at them in amazement and pride. “It seems something of my teachings settled within you after all,” she said. “I could not be more proud, my sons. It is as Laufey said. Whatever happens now, you have already done something…incredible.” Her face turned thunderous. “And my husband will have much to answer for when he wakes. Your…unanticipated match will barely register.”

They smiled at her tiredly.

“Ah, but it’s a day tomorrow. I can’t believe I never realized I raised two tricksters, not one.” She laughed. “Well, more fool I. Goodnight, my boys.” She kissed them both on the foreheads and retired. Loki and Thor followed soon after.

 

In the morning Loki came to his room before he was fully dressed, not bothering to knock. He was dressed formally in spring green robes over a grey tunic and trousers, and he bustled straight to Thor’s wardrobe. “Wear pale rose today,” he said, tossing the appropriate garments at him. “We are the springtime: nonthreatening and hopeful. And you won’t clash with my skin.”

“Yes, dear,” Thor said, and donned the rose tunic, grey pants, and cream cape that Loki passed him.

“Where is Gungnir?”

“By the bed.”

Loki rolled his eyes. “Make sure it’s with you.”

“I do know how to rule, even if I’m not very good at it yet.”

“Idiot,” Loki said stiffly, turning away.

“Loki,” Thor said softly, coming behind him and wrapping his arms around him. “Breathe out. Whatever happens, I will protect you.”

Loki snorted. “I don’t need your protection.”

“And yet you have it. And indeed, you won’t need it. Remember yesterday? You are loved by many more than I.”

“That reminds me.” Loki took two flowers from his pocket, the palest pink roses given to them by a shopkeeper. “I placed a stasis on these.” He fitted one into Thor’s collar, and the other into his own hair.

Thor looked at him and laughed in delight.

“What?” Loki said grouchily.

“You do look like spring,” Thor said, placing a hand on his cheek. “And you are beautiful.” He leaned in and brushed his lips over Loki’s, which were trembling with nerves. “Breathe out,” he whispered, and Loki did, blowing cool breath across his face. “Ready, master machinator?”

Loki smiled at last. “I suppose. Time for the performance of a lifetime.”

The citizens assembly would take place in the public garden of the palace, in a large hemispherical space above which was a balcony protruding from the second floor. By the time Loki and Thor made it to the doors, what seemed like the entire population of Asgard was convened, the noise astonishing.

Frigga was waiting for them. She kissed them both. “Remember my pride in you,” she whispered, and stepped out onto the balcony.

The crowd’s roar was earth shaking, and it only grew louder as Loki and then Thor followed the Allmother. They took their places spaced across the balcony, Thor in the middle, holding Gungnir, Loki to his right, and Frigga to his left. For almost a full moment he simply stood there, gazing out over his people, letting them gaze back, feeling their applause and joy at his appearance. When at last the noise finally began to wane, he lifted Gungnir and slammed it to the floor once.

Immediately there was silence, and when he spoke his voice was amplified. “People of Asgard,” he began. “My people. For though I am only acting king, I have always and will always consider you as my own kin.” Another roar of approval blasted through the space, and Thor couldn’t help a smile. “While the Allfather is in the Odinsleep, restoring his strength, I hope I have and will continue to be a fit and honorable king.” Another roar, but this time Thor pushed through. “Though I do not take up such a mantle alone: the Allmother and your prince are my truest advisors.” A redoubled roar.

Thor swallowed. This was it. “I come to you today to speak with you plainly, as I believe a people have a right to know the most importance matters of their state. I began my temporary rule with a promise of transparency, and this is a matter of grave importance, one which must be addressed immediately. We come to you not as king, queen, and prince, but as fellow Asgardians, asking for your patience and your trust as things which have always been set in stone…change.”

Now the crowd was silent. Thor looked over them all, gazing up at him, thousands upon thousands, and all of the sudden he was no longer scared. He was electrified. He was sure. He was king.

“You all know of the long-ago war with Jotunheim.” The crowd murmured. “You know how Odin led Asgard’s armies to victory upon the Jötnar, our historic enemies, ensuring the safety of our great world.” Cheers, battle cries. “But what you do not know, what we did not know, was that was not the only thing Odin ensured. By chance, Odin found an Asgardian-seeming babe abandoned on the field of war. As any would do, he rescued it. What no one knew was the babe was the third heir of King Laufey, lost in the fray, whose instinctive magics caused it to appear a natural child of the Asgardian race.”

He looked out at them all, pausing for long moments until they began to stir. “Ignorant of this heritage, in good will Odin took the child to raise as his own. As his youngest son.”

On cue, Loki stepped up beside Thor, letting the assembled population get a good look at his face before he began to change. Shock rippled through the crowd, cries and gasps and shouts of astonishment. Thor could spare no moment to look at Loki, for all his attention was on the crowd.

“We discovered this three days ago,” Thor said gravely. “And we have spent those three days deciding what to do. We could have chosen to ignore this knowledge, concealing it from you, our people. But that is not what we believe you deserve. You deserve the truth, however tragic and complex it may be. And you deserve to hear it not just from your king, but from your prince. Will you hear him?”

Silence from the crowd. For one, two beats. And then a roar, so strong it blew Thor’s hair back.

Loki took two deep breaths and stepped in front of Thor. “My people,” he began, and paused. He bit his lip, looked down, and then looked back up. “For I would still call you my people,” he said. “You who have raised me, who have seen me grow, who have guided me and taught me. How could the matter of my strange birth take that from us? Yes, you are still my people.” The crowd screamed approval.

“If it is not princely to admit the last three days have been terrifying, confusing, and heartbreaking, then let me not be called a prince,” he continued. “I discovered this unhappy circumstance of my birth just as the one man who has answers withdrew from this world for a time. If not for King Thor, I might have fallen to despair. For it is a hard realization to understand I was raised to despise my own self, to think my own self less than human, to seek to wipe out my own true species—what horrors I suddenly faced!”

He paused for long moments to let that sit. “Which is why I came to a decision. I am Asgardian. But now, somehow, I am also Jotun. And while this could lead to bitter conflict, death and despair, I would rather it led to peace. I would be at peace with myself. Would you not wish me the same?”

The crowd roared and screamed and stamped the ground, trembling the very palace walls. Loki’s eyes glittered, and he raised one hand to subtly wipe a tear from his blue cheek. “It was my desire that we tell our people before even extending a diplomatic hand to Jotunheim. For only with your approval will we extend it. It is a hard and difficult thing we face, to put behind such enmity. But I feel as though I will never be whole if we do not try. What say you?”

The crowd went wild. Thor stepped up beside Loki, and Frigga beside Thor, and together they faced their people. Finally, Thor raised Gungnir again. “My people, from the bottoms of our hearts, we thank you. May the next news your hear be tidings of peace, happiness, and prosperity.” And one by one Frigga, then Loki, and then Thor exited the balcony.

Loki shook out his hands into Asgardian smoothness as they re-entered the palace. “Asgardians,” he scoffed. “So susceptible to pathos. Shed a single tear and they’re in the palm of your hand.”

Frigga turned a look on him. “Your people care very much about you,” she said.

“Yes, Loki said, abashed. “I know.”

 

The first Jotun delegation to Asgard in three hundred years arrived that evening. If the Asgardians were surprised by the swiftness of action, they did not show it. Instead they lined the roads, not quite welcoming but not quite hostile, as the gigantic carriage pulled by horses twice the size of Asgardian steeds sped down the streets of Asgard at high speed, careening to an exciting stop in front of the palace. Thor, Loki, and Frigga were there to welcome Farbauti and Byleister, as well as two giant guards, as they descended from the carriage.

There was much bowing and formality and honoring and symbolism as they made their slow way into the palace, and it took them a matter of hours until they could be well and truly alone in conference. They used the spring receiving room, which was intimate yet spacious with large sky-windows. On the basis of their past meetings they had elected to forego any sort of throne, and had instead sat an oval table with comfortable chairs.

The moment they were alone—Loki, Thor, Frigga, Byleister, and Farbauti, as einherjar and giant guards had been left firmly outside the door—all formality ceased, and there were long moments of simply staring. Evaluating.

At last, Frigga drew her sword from her belt and held it in both her hands. With utmost grace, she strode towards Farbauti and knelt, offering the sword. Thor and Loki gave identical hard twitches, but did not interfere.

“Queen Farbauti,” she said, to the dumbfounded giant. “Unintentionally, I have committed a great evil. I believed Loki abandoned. I have loved him as deeply as a heart can love, but in doing so I have done unimaginable harm against you. If you so wish it, cut my heart out as I cut out yours.”

Farbauti evaluated her for long moments, and then took the sword from her hands. Loki and Thor gave second lurches, and even Byleister twitched. Farbauti evaluated the blade. And then she drew one of her own swords from her hip, and replaced it with Frigga’s. Her sword she placed in Frigga’s hands, and then pulled her up by the biceps.

“From a mother to a mother and a warrior to a warrior,” Farbauti said, curling Frigga’s fingers around the sword. “My son was loved. Such a thing I only ever dreamed was possible, were he not simply dead. I have no more enmity with you. Let us be sword-sisters.”

Frigga dashed some tears from her eyes—Farbauti didn’t bother doing the same—sheathed Farbauti’s sword at her side, and bowed.

Thor and Loki let out identical sighs of relief. Farbauti opened her arms, and Loki walked to her slowly, looking hesitantly to Frigga. But Frigga just smiled as Farbauti held him, and then did the same to Thor.

“Your home is magnificent,” she told Frigga.

“Thank you. Tea?”

“Yes, please.” She followed Frigga to the table. “And though these tricksters have conceived of quite a mischief, there still remain details to be hammered out. Know that I act as Laufey, and he as I. Let us talk of peace.”

They took seats around the table and began.

By the time they left the chamber the sun was well past down, and Thor’s mind was buzzing. They had run the gamut of emotions, almost fought a literal duel with Byleister, thrown knives at walls, invoked various curses, and sworn violent oaths, but they had come to preliminary terms.

Thor and Loki escorted Farbauti and Byleister to their quarters, and then went to their next meeting, for mischief on a time limit never slept. The warriors three were half-asleep as well when they met them in the palace gardens.

“How go the treaties?” Hogun yawned.

“I hope you’re not actually that tired,” Loki said, “because you’ve a night of drinking ahead of you. It’s time for Fandral’s reputation as a hopeless rumor-monger to put itself to use.”

“I resent that,” said Fandral. “What winds need blow through peoples’ ears tonight?”

“This wind,” Loki said. “Laufey has acknowledged me as his son and third heir, and now there is a veritable war as to my position. Frigga is loathe for me to leave Asgard, but the Jotun want to secure their claim. If we are to ally with them, they desire an ironclad bond between our people.” Loki gave an exaggerated sigh. “But for the life of us, we cannot come to terms. There is no appropriate match to be made between our peoples. I am in deep distress, as is Thor, for we desire this relationship for the good of our people, but those stubborn Jotun are kicking up their heels and being impossible. They are threatening to leave the talks if a compromise is not reached, ensuring their place as our allies before we change our minds.”

Sif raised her eyebrows, taking all of this in. “Is that so.”

“Would I lie?” Loki asked sweetly.

“All you do is lie,” Fandral sighed. “We’ll spread it around. I suppose you already have the solution to this problem, of course.”

“As Loki said, we are deeply conflicted,” Thor said gravely. “There seems no good solution.”

“Of course,” Hogun drawled.

Thor glared at him.

“Right, then,” Fandral sighed. “We’re off to malign those finicky Jötnar and spread sympathy for our poor beleaguered king and prince. I don’t suppose you’ll tell us the solution?”

Sif went abruptly pale. “Norns alive.”

Loki sighed in disappointment. “Fantastic.”

“Tell me!” Fandral begged.

Sif looked green. “Er, no. I need some time to come to terms with it first. Actually, I need a drink. You were right, I’m not too tired. Let’s go, boys.” They followed her, Fandral grumbling and groaning, Hogun shooting a look back to them that Loki flipped a hand at.

“Norns, I’m tired,” Thor said. “Who knew diplomacy would be this hard?”

“Shut up,” Loki snapped.

 

Over the next three days, the Asgardians and Jötnar remained locked in a stalemate behind closed doors. On the topic of securing Loki’s place and Jotunheim’s advantage, the ruthless frost giants were uncompromising. The king and prince were despairing of finding a solution, peace looked further off than ever, and Loki had not been seen to smile in days.

According to the gossip circulating among the people, at least. Behind closed doors, after the first rather violent session, the five of them drank tea, shared embarrassing stories about the princes’ childhoods, swapped card and board games, and planned a wedding, once all involved were sufficiently over their discomfort with the idea. In the case of Frigga and Farbauti, once they realized there was a wedding to be planned, any lingering distaste faded in the face of color palette choices. By the end of the second day, they were fast friends.

At the dawn of the fourth day since the Jötnar’s arrival, the fifth day of seven, they held another assembly. It was a smaller affair, but that didn’t mean much on the scale of thousands. Farbauti and Byleister were introduced to intermediate, undecided applause, and Thor and Loki were greeted as heroes for what they had been weathering behind closed doors. Loki was once more Asgardian in skin, and dressed in spring colors, as was Thor.

“My people,” Thor began. “Our talks have taken many days and many hours. You have likely overheard the...complexity of the situation. To cement peace between our worlds, a match must be made. But there seems no suitable pair between our peoples.” He took a deep breath, and let the people see his worry, his hesitation. “But there is one we had overlooked, and now consider the best choice, for the future of both our peoples.”

And before all his assembled citizens, he put his hand on Loki’s shoulder. The crowd’s reaction was half stunned silence, half gasps and shouts of surprise.

Loki spoke. “Thor and I share no blood. As Loki Laufeyson, I am the third heir of Jotunheim. Had I been raised in Jotunheim, this would be the obvious match.” He took a deep breath, and Thor watched the earnestness rise on his face, the slight desperation, all overcast with an ironclad nobility. “For the sake of our peoples’ mutual flourishing, for the sake of lives saved and war ceased, and in the hopes of centuries of prosperity and peace to come, this is our solution.”

Thor lifted his chin to his people. “What say you?”

They thought about it. For ten, thirty seconds. And then the warriors three began to howl and clap, and like a tsunami the rest of Asgard followed. Thor heard Loki give a ragged gasp that he could not keep inside, and Thor had to exert incredible force of will to keep his fingers gentle on Loki’s shoulder.

He slammed Gungnir to the floor. “We wed at dusk in two days’ time. All are invited.”

They left. Well, call it what it was: a retreat. Once out of the public eye Thor collapsed to the wall, mind completely blank. Byleister clapped him on the shoulder. “You are a talented orator, brother.”

Thor peered at him. “Brother?”

“What’s two days’ difference?” Byleister asked.

Preparing for a landmark royal wedding in two days as more chaotic fighting than an actual battle. Invitations were sent by seidr with apologies for the haste but demanding an immediate RSVP. The entire first floor of the palace was cleared for the celebration and the entrances to all other floors sealed but for entry by palm-print. Fittings were forced upon them in the oddest hours and seamstresses bribed within an inch of their lives. The cooks worked triple-time in the kitchens and Thor could be found at odd hours chipping in. As representatives from the other realms arrived in annoyance and excitement, they were housed and toured and politicked within an inch of their lives by the stressed-to-breaking household.

Meanwhile, a public good-name campaign was launched to quash any dissent, positioning Thor and Loki as noble-hearted, self-sacrificing victims of political circumstance, whose only fault was caring so much about their people they were willing to commit to such an unorthodox match.

And in the evening of the seventh day, by some miracle, there was a wedding.

All of Asgard who could fit into the palace and on the grounds turned out, piling wedding gifts a mile high, feasting and dancing and mingling curiously with the Jötnnar guests, as well as the elven and dwarven delegations, who hadn’t been to Asgard in almost as long. There were two hours of celebration and drinking before the ceremony, which had been Byleister’s idea, to wash the last bit of instinctive distaste from the guests before the actual ceremony, which would similarly be kept brief.

It was as much a pledge to serve Asgard together as it was a marriage. Loki was resplendent in cream and light green robes which extended three feet from him on the floor, patterned in glittering snowflakes that Frigga had insisted on embroidering doing herself in the dead of night, her only free time. He wore a crown of icicles on his head, and his skin was Jotun blue. Laufey had passed on a bit of the casket’s power so that he shone as he met Thor in the center of the dais, an otherworldly, ethereal spirit. Thor himself had chosen to eschew full armor and wear a set of short lilac robes over a Jotun-inspired chainmail chest piece, Mjölnir at his side and Gungnir temporarily passed to Frigga.

Laufey, Farbauti, Frigga, Byleister, Helbindi, and Simul stood just below them, in front of the rest of the gathered delegations, the general citizenry packed in around the edges and cramming themselves through the door. Heimdall stood before the pair and officiated, wrapping their clasped hands together in a white ribbon.

“With what pledge will you begin your partnership?” Heimdall asked them.

“I pledge,” Thor said, “that our union will be a bridge between our peoples. May peace and prosperity follow us together into the future.”

“I pledge,” Loki said, “that our union shall end the chasm within myself, which is the chasm between our worlds. As my soul heals, so will our peoples.”

There was utter, respectful silence. In lieu of a kiss, which they had felt might snap people into the absolute absurdity of the situation, the chose to turn toward their gathered citizenry and extend their hands to them in recognition. It was the right choice, for the applause and cheers were like an avalanche was falling on the palace.

Jotun musicians began to play, circling throughout the crowd, and Loki and Thor, released from their bindings, led the way out of the chamber and into the cleared palace floor, beginning the dance. They spun and kicked and twisted, and as their hands came into contact and the rest of the guests began to dance, they shared an equal, silent victory.

And then one of the sealed doors to the second floor burst open, and Odin stood atop the stairs.

“Too late,” Loki whispered as the party crumbled. The dance whirled to a halt, the music ceased. The assembled partygoers, united in their knowledge of Odin’s complete and utter ignorance, could only watch as Odin took in the scene. Frost giants playing music, foreign nobility dressed to the nines, his own queen dancing with his greatest enemy, and in the center of it all his sons, one completely blue, hands clasped and marriage ribbon dangling from their wrists.

“Why has the music stopped?” Frigga called, ascending the stairs sedately, gripping Gungnir in a way that was slightly menacing. Odin watched her come, his face completely blank. “I was enjoying that song.” The Jötnnar started back up, twirling around the dance, and the revelers flung themselves back into it and out of an awkward situation.

Thor and Loki stood frozen, staring at Odin. From there they could see Frigga’s white-knuckled grip on his arm, and for the first time his face betrayed emotion: hesitation, and maybe a bit of fear.

Loki looked to Thor. “Technically, we have a few hours left yet in the seventh day. Shall we make the most of it?”

Thor grinned and took Loki’s hands. “Oh, we have more than hours. And I plan to make the most of every second.” And Loki’s laugh was louder and more beautiful than even the music.