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What You Will

Chapter Text

She wore a long green velvet dress that was trimmed in gold. There were pearls in the cascading curls of her dark hair. Gold dangled from her ears. The bodice of the dress hugged every curve she had.

It was all wrong. The face in the mirror was wrong; the body was wrong. Loki stared at it, and recognised nothing but his eyes and the colour of his hair and the paleness of his skin.

"Father," he said, watching her mouth make the shape in the mirror, "don't make me do this."

"You say that as though I have a choice, Loki," Laufey said. "This agreement--this truce--with Asgard has kept our peoples at peace for countless generations. This is the way that things must be. You know this."

"But it should not apply to us," Loki said. "You are king of Jotunheim. I am your only child. Surely... surely there is some way to stop this."

"Just because this is the first time that a non-giant has been born to the king of Jotunheim does not mean that we can betray the bargain that was made. When they have appeared to a child of farmers, they were married to the child of Asgardian farmers. When they have appeared among the minor nobles, a similar arrangement was reached. This is not the choice that I would make, were it my choice, Loki. It is, however, the choice that is before us. You will marry the son of Odin."

"But I don't want to," Loki muttered, looking down. A certain portion of his new anatomy got in the way. He looked up again and glared petulantly at his father.

"You are a prince of Jotunheim," Laufey said sternly. "Even had you been able to remain among our people, you would have faced many opportunities where you were required to do things you did not want to do. This alliance of royal families will benefit us both greatly, and I will not be the one to go to Odin and tell him that my child will not fulfill the responsibilities of our people."

Loki turned back to the mirror. Her green eyes stared back at him. He ran his hands down the dress--her wedding dress.

***

The great hall was filled with chattering voices; chattering people. It seemed that all of Asgard had arrived to witness the marriage of the crown prince, unexpected though it may be.

Thor folded his arms in front of himself, trying to ignore the sound he could hear from just outside the waiting area. "I will not do this," he said firmly.

"Yes, you will," Odin said firmly. "We will go out there, and you will marry this girl. It is your duty."

"How can you allow this to be?" Thor demanded. "You will marry your only child to the daughter of your rival? You will ally our kingdoms this way because of a bargain that has applied largely to the children of farmers and peasants?"

"That it has applied largely to farmers and peasants has simply been little more than luck," Odin replied. "There have been nobles. I will ally our kingdoms this way because I must. Because that is the treaty that was made. I will not go to Laufey and tell him that my son refuses to honour the accord."

"This is madness," Thor said, anger rising again. "We know nothing about this girl. I have never even seen her. For all we know, this is a trick that Laufey is playing, and you are allowing it to happen!"

"Enough!" Odin snapped. "We will do this in good faith. Loki is a quiet, polite, and terrified girl. Your mother has been with her for two days. Now, our people await us." He went to the door and pushed it open. "Come, Thor. Now."

Thor glared at his father, then lowered his eyes to the floor. "Yes, All-Father," he said, teeth gritted. For all his arguing and complaining and refusing, he knew from the first that he had no hope of convincing his father. He straightened his shoulders and lifted his head, a grim, but determined look on his face.

They could make him do it. They couldn't make him like it.

***

A gaggle of young noblewomen surrounded Loki on the other side of the dining hall. They admired her shimmering black hair and her elegant dress and had absolute wonder on their faces as they regarded this Frost Giant who was nothing like Laufey and his delegation.

Bells rang, and servants entered from the kitchens, bearing tray upon tray of food. The Asgardian nobility soon made their way to the table.

Three of the young maidens guided Loki to Thor. She did not meet his gaze, though greeted him with a murmured, "My lord."

It was the first time she had spoken directly to him.

He inclined his head politely in her direction. "My lady," he said, just as quietly.

"So much formality," Volstagg said. He'd already had a little too much to drink and dinner wasn't even formally served yet. He bowed deeply to Loki. "My Lady Loki, we are your new husband's dearest friends, the Lady Sif--" he gestured, "and the Warriors Three. I am Volstagg, this is Fandral, and this is Hogun. Welcome to Asgard."

She looked at each in turn and inclined her head. "Thank you," she said. "I mean--it is an honour to meet you and thank you for making me welcome."

Thor was fairly certain that he'd never seen Volstagg be this polite in his entire life... and that included audiences in front of the All-Father.

Perhaps Volstagg should have been the one to marry the Lady Loki, in that case.

"We are the ones who are honoured," Sif said, bowing to her as well. "You are most welcome here. I am sure that you must miss your home. Please--if you need anything--"

"You must come and speak to me, and I'll be glad to assist you," Fandral said smoothly, taking her hand and kissing the back of it.

Thor looked around, but sadly, there was no impending assassination attempt or animal attack to put him out of his misery.

Loki managed a small laugh. "Thank you, again. I am honoured and humbled by your kindness. However, my Lord Fandral, I would imagine that my lord husband would be most displeased if I did not seek his assistance first." Suddenly faced with an audience of more than young ladies or her new husband, she seemed considerably more certain of herself.

"Thor may be too busy sulking to be of any help to anyone," Hogun said very pointedly.

Thor gave Hogun a Look. "I am not sulking," he said firmly.

"Are you certain, my Lord Thor?" Fandral said. "Because I--"

Sif's hand covered Fandral's mouth before he could say anything else.

Thor looked over at Loki and managed to give her a smile that, while it did not have the fawning charm that Fandral could so easily produce, was at least friendly. "My apologies, my lady."

She couldn't meet his gaze as she had his friends'. "There is no need to apologise, my lord."

"Don't tell him that, my dear, or he will never apologise again," Volstagg said. "Come, friends, let us feast! It is a joyous day."

Loki glanced shyly up at Thor and followed them all to the head of the table where Odin and Frigga sat. Loki waited very patiently near her chair. It took a moment or two too long (and a hard nudge from Sif) before Thor realised what he was supposed to do. Murmuring an apology and moving awkwardly, he pulled out Loki's chair for her.

She murmured her thanks in turn and sat, casting a look down the long, long table to her father. Laufey held her gaze for a long few moments, then pointedly looked at Thor, reminding Loki of her duty. She sighed softly, hoping none would hear, and looked down at her plate. When the meal was served and her wine glass had been filled, she lifted the glass after rising to her feet.

"All-Father, Queen Frigga, my lord and husband, and honoured guests," she said, and suddenly her voice rang out so all could hear, "I wish to thank you on behalf of myself and my father, King Laufey of Jotunheim, for your hospitality and for such a glorious day.

"The war ended many centuries past, though there are those here who remember. Upon the war's end an accord and treaty was made to ensure peace between our people, and my place here is part of that bargain made long before my birth and the birth of my lord Thor.

"We are very young, and because we are so young I believe it safe to say that we do not fully understand what was lost and what must still be gained to continue the peace in the Nine Realms. I hope to honour you all and the sacrifices that were made in those dark days.

"I ask for your patience, your kindness, and your understanding, and beg forgiveness for anything I may not yet understand about this beautiful place and her proud people.

"My father Laufey, I hope that I can still make you proud. All-Father, Queen Frigga, thank you for allowing me to become a part of your family.

"Thor, my lord and husband--" and now her voice sounded less certain, "I wish for us many long years."

When Loki finished, Thor stood up, cup in hand, and cleared his throat. He looked not a little horrified in the moment before he began to speak.

"I do not have the gift of words that my lady Loki does, so I crave your pardon." He nodded in his parents' direction first, and then in Laufey's. "Father and Mother, King Laufey, friends and loyal subjects of the All-Father, and of course, my lady," he said, turning to look at Loki.

"This day was not foreseen when the bargain was struck between our peoples. It is, however, one of the last steps to join our peoples together, as Odin's son and Laufey's daughter join together in marriage." He looked out at the assembled guests. "Thank you for being here today to share in our celebration of marriage as we join our two families--our two peoples--together."

He looked at Loki again. "My lady, I welcome you to our home, and to our family. Health and happiness to us both," he said, lifting his glass.

"Health and happiness!" The voices rang out, almost deafening.

***

Thor and Loki sat, side by side, and engaged those around them--Odin, Frigga, Sif, the Warriors Three--but never each other.

More speeches followed throughout the meal, in between courses. Both of the mighty kings took their turn, talking about the joining of their people and the necessity of peace; Frigga spoke of family and home; Volstagg rambled on seemingly without point until Hogun and Fandral made him sit and the next course was brought out.

Loki ate and seemed to enjoy the food, but on more than one occasion had to ask what she was about to put into her mouth. At the opposite end of the table, one of the honoured Einherjar could be seen doing the same for Laufey and his delegation.

Finally, a few hours later and dessert finished, Laufey stood again. Once more, he spoke of the honour of their people, and turned his red-eyed gaze on his daughter. He wished her health, and joy, and strong heirs, and announced that he would be departing.

Loki rose to her feet, her hands held tight before her, and though tears suddenly sprang to her eyes she wished her father farewell in a clear, steady voice, and watched him leave.

She sank down into her chair between Thor and Sif again.

Sif looked at Thor, who appeared terrified. She dismissed him as useless and touched Loki gently on the arm. "Is this the first time that you have been away from your home?" she asked softly.

Loki nodded. "Yes, my lady," she replied. "As my father's only child, I was kept close. Safe. Protected. I am homesick already."

"Well, we will do everything we can to make sure that you feel welcome and at home," Sif said. "Won't we Thor?" she added, a bit of bite in her voice.

Thor jerked his head around to look at Loki. "Of course... it... I am sorry, my lady. It must be very difficult."

***

Laufey and his men had returned to Jotunheim because Frost Giants were not a people given to lavish parties. That was the only reason that Loki could think of for having been abandoned with little more than a farewell.

The young ladies of the court once more flocked to their exotic new princess, and she glued herself to Sif's side. Fandral flirted his way through the room; Volstagg laughed and shouted his way through the room; Hogun slipped silently up to Thor's side.

"You will have to dance with her."

Thor froze, then turned to look at Hogun with a look of horror on his face. "I do not dance," he said through his teeth.

"Volstagg and Fandral would be happy to dance with her."

Thor swore viciously. "I will have to dance with her," he said, very reluctantly. "And I will make an idiot of myself in front of all of Asgard doing so, you do know that, don't you?"

"I think, my friend, that you may surprise yourself." Hogun gave him a small smile. "The players are changing their song. Go to your wife."

Wife.

Thor wasn't getting used to that word any time soon.

He straightened his posture and went over to where Loki was surrounded by more women than Thor was ever comfortable with (also known as 'any number greater than Sif'), bowing low to Loki. "My lady. May I have the favour of your hand for this dance?" he asked.

She looked at him for a moment, eyes very wide, and then she nodded. "Of course, my lord," she said. She let him lead her to the dance floor. "I have never danced," she whispered to him as heads began to turn in their direction.

"We are evenly matched then," Thor whispered back, keeping an eye on Fandral across the dance floor, attempting to do as he did--only simpler.

"But you are the prince of Asgard. You have not danced?"

"There were lessons," Thor said reluctantly. "I... was conspicuously absent, and my mother despaired of me ever learning. I suppose we all felt that there was time before I would need to know how."

"I am certain you would have preferred to choose your own bride," said Loki, peering up into Thor's eyes then dropping her gaze. "I wish things were different, my lord. I'm sorry."

"I would have preferred for things to happen differently, yes," Thor admitted. "To say otherwise would be lying. I am sure that you wish the same. But this is not your fault, my lady. None of this is either of our fault. So please forgive me, but I cannot accept your apology. You need not make one."

"My lord is very kind," she murmured. "Perhaps we can indeed make this work somehow."

"That is my hope as well," Thor said, smiling at her.

Slightly less awkward, despite the dancing. Progress.

***

The city outside of Thor's balcony window lay dark and sleeping, even those who had been at the wedding and the celebration after.

Thor's chambers were lit with candles. They cast their golden glow over the pearls in Loki's hair. She clasped her hands tightly together. She was scared again; even Thor could see that.

Loki's fear was more visibly obvious, but Thor had never been more terrified in his life. He could hear the mocking laughter of his friends if they could only see him now. His bride in front of him, the wedding night before them both, and Thor afraid as he had never been before.

Loki looked at the floor. There was a tremble in her voice; a crack. She said, barely loud enough to be heard, "I remain untouched, my lord. My body is yours." She reached up and back, beneath her hair, to unfasten her dress. It fell away from her shoulders.

Thor stared openly for a few long moments, then took a step or two back, averting his eyes. "I..." he started to speak, but his voice cracked, and he stayed frozen in place, hands fidgeting at his sides, avoiding looking at Loki... anywhere.

"My lord?" she whispered. "Have I displeased you?" She held the front of the dress up over her breasts.

"No--no, of course not," Thor said, somewhat desperately. He tried to look at her--failed--and stammered some more. "I... perhaps... maybe we should... Ihavetogo," he said, furiously red and embarrassed as he headed for the door; out and gone in moments.

***

Loki and Thor spent their wedding night apart. She slept in his big bed, which smelled like him, and he never returned.

She would deny crying herself to sleep.

(She. She. How strange. Foreign. Loki had no choice but to get used to it. Her father had left her here, alone, and she would have to adapt or be lost.)

In the morning, she perfunctorily dismissed the maids who came looking for her. She dressed herself in a very simple green gown, left her hair unbound--she had no idea what to do with it, and supposed perhaps her maids were actually a necessity--and decided that she would try to find the library. When she opened the door, she found herself looking at the solid expanse of Thor's chest.

She looked up into his eyes. "My lord husband," she said, stiffly.

"My lady," Thor said, back to being unspeakably awkward again. "I... my clothes, they're..." He gestured toward the room.

She looked at him a moment longer, then said, "There is also a bath. You should consider it, my lord. You smell... offensive." She stepped out of his way and wondered where in all the realms he had spent the night.

"Oh." Thor looked down at himself. "I... my apologies. I suppose I should... yes. And... did you... were you... how did you sleep?" he asked, looking somewhat desperate.

"I slept tolerably well, my lord," she replied. "Your bed is very comfortable. And large."

"Ah, yes. I have never been what people would call a small man," Thor said. He shifted in place. "Are you hungry? There will be food in the hall, if you remember the way. Or I could take you." He looked down at himself again. "Perhaps after the bath."

He didn't make eye contact with her. Was he embarrassed? She thought perhaps he was--was he embarrassed by his behaviour, or their situation? Surely he couldn't be embarrassed for humiliating her. She didn't imagine he was capable of such perception.

"I will await you, my lord, as is appropriate in my duties as your wife. Do you desire that I attend you, or shall I wait here?" She gestured, taking in his bedroom.

"Oh, you don't have to... that just..." Thor took a deep breath. "In here would be fine, my lady. I won't be long. There are books on the shelves, if you like."

"Thank you, my lord. I shall await your return." She gave him a terribly awkward-looking curtsey--she needed to practice those--then turned away to look through the books.

She sat with one on her lap when he returned from his bath. She lifted her head to look at him, and she didn't have quite the same reaction to him as he had to her the previous night. At the very least, she wasn't repulsed. She marked her place in the book, set it aside, and stood.

Thor had his towel cinched around his waist, apparently as tightly as he could get it. He had forgotten to take his clothes with him to the bath; true, he was a brute, but he was a well-formed one, at least.

"Did you find something?" he asked, nodding his head toward the book as he gathered his clothes and stepped behind a too-small screen to change.

"Yes, my lord, I found a book on Asgardian history. The introduction is dry, but it should provide me valuable information on your people." She turned away to look out the window.

Thor dressed quickly and came out from behind the screen. "I was never a scholar, but there are those among our people who would be glad to provide you with any instruction that you require," he said. "I never had much success learning from books."

"Thank you, my lord. I'm certain I will find that most beneficial. I will need to have all the lessons I can. If you are ready, I'm anxious to eat now."

"Yes, of course," Thor said. "My apologies for keeping you waiting." He offered his arm, at least, even if he didn't look her in the eyes.

***

Breakfast proved to be a quiet affair, marked by silences and forced attempts at conversation. With her new husband having trouble even looking at her, Loki found herself growing ever more quiet, which was terribly unnerving.

If there was anything Loki Laufeyson could do, it was talk. Of course, she was now Loki Laufeysdottir, she supposed, and perhaps she needed to find her tongue all over again.

She was saved further awkward silences with the arrival of Queen Frigga and Thor's departure to join his friends on a hunt.

"You look well this morning, my Queen," Loki said once Thor had left. She cradled a tea cup between her hands.

"Thank you," Frigga said, settling in beside Loki, pouring tea for herself. "You look tired, my dear. How are you settling in?"

"I miss home," Loki admitted. "Asgard is beautiful, but it is not home." And your son wants nothing to do with me.

"This happened very suddenly, and you and Thor are both very young," Frigga said. "This must all be quite a shock...difficult to adjust to."

Loki nodded. "To be very honest, my Queen, I thought perhaps because of my station, I would be able to stay on Jotunheim. I thought..." Suddenly she looked down, and her eyes filled with tears--tears again!--and yet a laugh bubbled up. "The arguments I had with my father once I came of age! I was Laufey’s heir, and none dared to underestimate me because of my size. I was treated no differently than any other. And then the day came... and there was a great deal of yelling when Father told me I had to come to Asgard to be wed to the son of the All-Father. I argued and yelled and pleaded to the last." And then she peered at Frigga again. "Did he?" she asked in a small voice.

"Did Thor protest? Until he walked out into the Great Hall," Frigga admitted, touching Loki's hand. "He has ever been stubborn, and does not welcome change. I wish that things had been different for the both of you," Frigga said. "It is not an ideal way to begin a life together. Still--you are welcome here, child," she said, giving Loki's hand a squeeze.

"I imagine that my husband and I have more in common than we might ever dream," Loki murmured.

It felt a strange thing to do, but she reached over to put her free hand atop Frigga's. All of this touching. The warm skin. How unusual. But Loki smiled. "I fear I will never be able to repay your kindness."

"Nonsense," Frigga said, smiling at Loki. "You are our daughter now, and we will love you as if you were our own. If you need anything, anything at all, please come to me. My son is very like his father, and I know how frustrating that can be."

Loki looked away and closed her eyes. She supposed that if her husband would not have her, at least for a time she may have the compassion of her new mother. "Thank you," she whispered.

"Of course," Frigga said, her voice kind and gentle. "My door is always open to you, my daughter."

Chapter Text

Loki went to the library. A guard had to help her carry all the books, pens, and notebooks back to her new room; a series of suites attached to Thor's by a single door. When she was there alone, she changed out of her gown and into breeches and a simple tunic.

Then she shed her female appearance and, though Loki remained Asgardian in appearance, she was a young man instead. It was freedom.

Loki spread everything out on the bed, sat down, and began to study.

Some time later, there was a knock on the adjoining door, and then he heard Thor's voice: "Hello? Loki?"

What in the Nine Realms was he doing here? Loki immediately pitched himself over the side of the bed so that he could change back to herself. "In here, my lord!" came her voice, a brief moment later.

"Loki?" Thor called. He came further into the room. "Are you all right?"

Her dark head poked up from the side of the bed. "Here, my lord Thor. I dropped my pen." She rose to her feet and curtsied. "Please forgive my attire. I did not expect to see you until dinner."

Thor didn't respond right away. He must not have expected to see Loki in boyish attire... but then, after his long friendship with Lady Sif, Loki thought he should be used to it. "No... it was my fault," Thor said. "This is your room--I should not have intruded without knocking. Knocking and then waiting for an answer, that is," he said. "I apologise."

"You should of course feel welcome here," she replied, "but I do appreciate the sentiment. I might have been able to hide the mess, at least, if not changed my clothes." She gestured to the bed and its stacks of paper and books.

"You are a scholar," Thor said, moving over to look at one of the books. "I'm impressed, my lady."

"As Laufey's only child, I was expected to be both wise and powerful. I read much and I can fight."

"Female warriors are rare here," Thor said. "There are the Valkyries, but they live apart. And of course, there is Sif. Perhaps you will have that in common with her."

Loki smiled a little. "The Lady Sif and I look almost like sisters."

"You do look uncommonly alike," Thor agreed. "Did you find everything you were looking for?" he asked, waving his hand at the books.

"And more." Loki lifted a book; her long, elegant fingers brushed the cover almost lovingly. "But there is simply not enough room here, and I would have needed an army to help me carry it all."

"You should feel free to call Volstagg, Hogun, and Fandral into service at any time that you wish," Thor informed her. "They make up at least a small army between them."

"So the stories say." Loki paused a moment, then asked, "Did you have need of me, my lord? Or..." She looked a bit shy again, and carefully trained her eyes on the book. "If you had no particular need, I have a request."

"Need?" Thor repeated. "I... no, not... I mean... no, my lady. I didn't. What is it that you wanted?"

"I have never seen a horse, except in books." Her voice was very soft.

Thor looked surprised. "They have no horses in Jotunheim?" he said. "Come--I can show you right away. It is a good excuse not to need to change your attire," he added.

"Let me get my boots," Loki said, quickly, and hurried to her extensive wardrobe. It had appeared here after the wedding, though she saw most of it in her guest quarters before. The vast majority of it she had not brought herself. As she put on a pair of boots, she said, "We have steeds on Jotunheim, but not horses as you have here on Asgard."

"I suppose that even one of Asgard's horses would be hard pressed to carry someone like your father," Thor said, waiting by the door.

"It would hardly be fair, would it?" She joined Thor. "Please, lead on, my lord."

Thor inclined his head in her direction, smiled widely, and started toward the stables. "If you wish, you can learn how to ride... even have a horse of your own, of course," he said.

She looked up at him with wonder in her eyes. "My own horse?"

His smile got even wider. "Of course. You're an Asgardian princess now."

"Asgardian princess," she repeated, as though tasting the words. "Asgardian princess. How strange."

"What would you have me call you?" Thor asked, nodding as one of the servants opened the door in front of them and they headed outside.

"You misunderstand, my lord," she said. "It is, of course, a strange concept--strange words to hear--but it is what I am now."

"I can't imagine that I would find it very easy to be plucked from my home and left among strangers," Thor said.

Loki suspected that the All-Father and Queen Frigga would never have been able to get Thor to the Bifrost, let alone to Jotunheim.

"This is without doubt the hardest thing I have ever done." She shaded her eyes and looked up at the sky. "But it is truly beautiful here. If you and your people will accept me..." She looked up at him again. "Your mother is wonderful. She was very kind to me this morning after you left."

"She is a truly good person," he said. "You are welcome here, Loki. Your people have been sent here as you were for generations, welcomed and accepted among us."

"I wonder if we would be so kind if we were to take in your people. We send our children to you when they are of age and we feel it makes us diminished, even down to the lowest..." She touched his arm. "But you show such kindness. The ladies of the court came to me, talked to me, and I thought surely they would hate me, and be jealous because of you."

Thor frowned. "Why would they hate you because of me?" he asked, clearly puzzled.

"You are their prince, and you are--you. The mighty Thor. Because of me, not a single one of those young ladies will have a chance to marry you."

Thor nodded slowly as Loki's meaning sank in. "Ah... I see. Well, if this had not happened, and you had not come along, it is unlikely that I would have married any of them anyway," he admitted. "I did not plan to marry for some time yet, and likely most, if not all of them would have moved on."

"I'm sorry," she murmured. "It seems that I have truly changed your life."

"Loki... it is not your fault," Thor said firmly. "You've left your home behind, your people, and come here. Your life is ever changed as well. Please, you do not need to apologize."

"I feel I should. I was the one born like--" She gasped, suddenly, and reached up a hand to his arm.

There was a horse and rider leaving the stables.

Whatever Thor was about to say in response to Loki's words was lost as he smiled at her reaction. "Beautiful, isn't it?" he murmured. "Would you like to see one up close?"

Her hand was still on his arm, and she made no move to put it anywhere else. "Oh, yes, I would, please."

"Good--this way." He led her closer and into the stable building. "Stay with me, and don't walk behind any of the horses--they can kick," he warned, leading her over to a stall. "It's all right--she's very gentle," he promised.

The thing about being Jotunn but not a giant was that Loki was very used to being much smaller than everything in her world. And yet this magnificent creature made her feel tiny in a way she wasn't used to. She tucked in against Thor's side, both hands on his arm, and watched the horse. "She's beautiful," she said.

"Here--like this," Thor said, extending his hand and stroking just beneath the horse's mane. "She enjoys a bit of a scratch." He moved his hand so Loki could try.

She reached out to touch the horse, too, and scratched her neck lightly. "Hello," Loki whispered. "Aren't you very lovely?"

The horse nickered softly, turning her head and lipping at Loki's tunic.

"She thinks that you have concealed a treat for her," Thor said. "She's greedy." He scratched his fingers along the horse's spine.

Loki looked at Thor. "I didn't know I should bring her something," she said.

"How could you?" Thor said. "Wait--just a moment." He left Loki beside the horse and went to speak to one of the grooms. A few moments later, Thor had a small pail of apples, and he was demonstrating to Loki how to feed the horse--without getting her hand accidentally bitten.

Loki watched the horse in absolute wonder as she ate right from her hand. "You like that so much, don't you? I think you do. I think you get terribly spoilt, and just as you should, lovely lady." With her free hand, Loki touched the horse's neck again.

Thor smiled, watching the pair of them. "Her name is Rowan. She was Mother's horse, but while Rowan was in foal, Mother found another horse who suited her frame better. Rowan's little one is weaned now, and if you like, I can ask Mother if she thinks that she would suit you."

Loki gasped and turned back to Thor. "You would do that for me?"

"She's a kind, gentle horse, and she would suit a new rider very well. Of course I would," Thor said.

She turned back to him, now that the horse had finished her apple, and reached up to touch Thor's cheek. "Thank you, my lord."

Thor blinked, smiled, and took her hand, leading her as though she were a small child who might dart into the path of a runaway horse. "Come--you must see my horse," he said.

And she let him, because he was touching her. She let him guide her, and she peered around him at his horse when they reached him. "Oh," she said, softly.

"Halvard is... less gentle than Rowan," Thor warned Loki. "You are safe with me," he promised her, eye to eye with the giant black horse. "He has a bit of a temper, and is known to be stubborn. My friends felt it would be most appropriate were he named after me, but I refused."

Loki tucked in against Thor's side again. She would never admit to being afraid. She did not tremble or try to flee, but she stayed very close. "He's magnificent," she whispered.

"Halvard has led me victoriously into battle on many a day," Thor said. "He also was responsible for more than one trip to our healers. Only four can back him--would you like to guess who?" he asked, looking down at Loki, smiling as though it were a game.

She looked up at Thor, frowning in thought, then looked at the horse again. "The All-Father, of course."

"Of course," Thor said. "Myself as well, so that's two. There are two more who he allows to ride him. Will you guess, or shall I tell you?"

She looked thoughtful for a long moment, then smiled. "Please tell me Lady Sif is one."

Thor's grin grew large. "The lady Sif is indeed the third," he said.

"And the fourth must be one of the Warriors Three," Loki said, considering the options. "Hogun--I suspect Volstagg or Fandral would be too... much."

"Truly, you are a lady of keen insight," Thor said. "I am impressed, my lady. It is Hogun. Fandral still bears the scars from his attempt, and Volstagg wisely refused."

"Actual scars, or scars to his dignity?" she asked, archly.

"Mostly to his dignity, although there is one right below his left..." Thor trailed off and coughed. "Well. Best not to be spoken of in front of a lady."

She smiled, then turned back to the magnificent horse. "I do so hope your mother will allow me to ride Rowan. I look forward to my lessons." She paused a moment and looked down at her hands. "Will you teach me, my lord?"

"If you like," Thor said, looking--much to Loki's surprise--shy. "It pains me to admit, but Sif is the better rider. Between the two of us, I am confident that we will have you riding as well as any Asgardian-born princess."

She reached up to touch his face again. "I would like it very much if you would teach me." So help her, she had decided that she would make this work, even if she was the one who would make all the overtures. She would win him over.

He was the tall, golden, handsome prince of Asgard, and she was his wife. Jotunn or not, she would make this work.

"Then it is settled," Thor said. He allowed the touch for a moment, then shifted back. "I suppose you will need time to dress for dinner. I should return you to your room. I will speak to mother about the horse as we dine."

She carefully schooled her expression. Thor was stubborn. So was she. Still--she knew a dismissal when she heard it, even if he was going to escort her back to her room. "Of course, my lord. My maids may even be waiting for me."

"I'm sure they're delighted to have you to serve rather than me," Thor said. "I never let them do my hair," he confided, winking at her.

At least he was friendly, even if he rejected her touch.

***

"I heard a tale today. You abandoned your new wife the morning after your wedding, for your friends, only to take her to the stable and then leave her alone again." Odin looked steadily at Thor. They were alone; no one had yet joined them for supper. "I know this is not what any of us would have truly chosen, my son, but--"

He paused.

The pause could have been filled with: Are you stupid? or What is wrong with you?

Instead, Odin sighed and shook his head. "You are impossibly stubborn, and I fear you come by it very honestly. You must still fear this is a plot on Laufey's part, but any number of us could have seen tampering. It took a very long time for Laufey to finally reveal that his child is not a giant. He wanted to keep her at home. We are not fools."

Thor fought the urge to squirm under his father's scrutiny, focused on the glass in front of him, and wished he dared drink the entire thing in one go rather than have this conversation.

"I do not believe that this is a plot," Thor admitted reluctantly--his reluctance more to do with having the conversation at all, rather than any desire to believe that Loki was some kind of spy. "She is trying very hard to assimilate to our culture and world. And I am trying to adjust to a very new reality--one I was not expecting to face for some time." As though that were an excuse for his behaviour.

"She is trying," Odin agreed, "and has been here only a few short days. She is as clever as I heard she was. She will make a very good queen one day. A very long time from now; don't look at me like that, Thor." He managed a little smile, really just a twitch of his lips. "I wish we could have delayed this longer. We didn't rush into this as soon as you were both of age, as has happened in the past with others, when a Jotunn family was ashamed of their offspring not growing beyond our stature.

"I wish we could have delayed further, Thor, but to put it off for very long would have been unseemly, as though we were all too ashamed, or thought ourselves above the treaty. And that is not fair to anyone, either."

"She said something... at the stable," Thor said. "She said that the people feel diminished as they send their non-giant children to Asgard. I wonder, father, if this treaty is still in the best interest of all our people." It was true, and he did mean it, but it distracted away from the point Odin was hammering away at.

Odin sighed faintly. "It is reparation," he said. "I would be surprised if they did not feel diminished. And now they have lost Laufey's firstborn child. But it binds our peoples together, and it has kept the Frost Giants at bay. They are a proud people, and they may not like the intermarriage of our people, but they do not desire harm to come to anyone who might be the offspring of one of their own."

"A lesser evil preventing a greater harm," Thor said quietly. "That does not mean it is right, Father."

"You had never uttered such a thought before it had impact on your life."

That stung, but it was not untrue. "I had never thought on it before," Thor admitted. And even after all of this was in motion, Thor had thought he'd be able to find a way out of it.

Part of him was still waiting for someone to tell him that it was all a mistake, and he could go back to his old life.

"No, and why would any of us truly expect you to?" Odin rose to his feet as the doors opened. "But try, my son. She is every inch the princess."

Loki wore green, gold, and black again, and her hair had been curled and cascaded down over one of her shoulders. Any man who was so inclined would find his breath stopped at the sight of her.

Thor stood up as she entered--he wasn't a complete boor, and where he was, he could be taught--and moved to escort her politely to her chair. "My lady."

***

Loki felt a mounting anxiety as she and Thor made their way, silently and side-by-side, to their suites. She peeked up at him a time or two, and realised, quite suddenly, almost like a blow, that she wanted him.

She may be untouched, but she was not ignorant. She knew what her duties were and she thought that, perhaps, she might even like them. Enjoy them.

She wanted him to have her.

They arrived at their apartments. She walked quietly through the room, and hesitated just outside his bedroom before she turned to look at him.

"Well," he said, voice stiff and--not unexpected, she realised with a sigh--awkward. He did not look directly at her. "I am sure that you must be tired."

"Not terribly," she replied. "If you... I will avail myself to you, my lord."

"No... no, no," Thor said, his smile artificially bright. "You are only just settling in, after all. I think rest would be... restful. For us both. So I will... go. And let you... rest."

She watched him leave her alone again; alone with her thoughts; this strange body; the set of rooms that were hers and already filling up with books and notes. She shed her gown, put on breeches, and settled down amidst her studying. It would be some time before she would be able to sleep, her mind too busy with the strangeness of the Asgardians and her simultaneous desire to give herself to Thor and hit him very, very hard about the head.

***

One of the things Loki found strangest about the Asgardians was their binary gender. Male, female.

Frost Giants were neither. Loki's tutors had explained that because of Asgard's concepts, they regarded Jotunar as male; Jotunar did not have static gender. It shifted, it changed, as was needed to propagate the species.

Through Allspeak, Asgardians perceived that Jotunar referred to each other as "he" or "him". Their language was more complex than that. But already, Loki thought of Laufey as "he".

Laufey had borne Loki himself. He had not wished his rivals to know this information and regard him as weak. Asgardians had funny ideas, sometimes, about the feminine.

The shift that Loki made from female to male was easy. It was as natural to him as breathing. His male form provided him freedom to move about as he might like; he could join the warriors and spar should he so choose.

But he really, really liked the attention to appearance that was afforded the Lady Loki. The dresses and the hair; princess, certainly, perhaps lesser than Thor, but her beauty provided her power.

Still, in making the change, Loki had to be careful. It would simply not do for anyone to see a young man slip from Lady Loki's chamber. He cloaked himself to hide his clothes, found an empty room, and became Lord Loki.

A few looked at him twice; he was not so striking as a male, but his pale skin was flawless (of course); the black hair that brushed his collar was still uncommon enough; his green eyes were sharp and perhaps not unlike the princess'.

It didn't matter. No one said a word about it. Some nodded in his direction as he passed--despite the simplicity of his attire, there was still a regal bearing to him that nothing could hide.

He wondered if he could get away with riding Lady Loki's horse. There was only one way to find out, so he made his way to the stables--constantly worried that someone would find him out.

He strode into the stables as though he belonged there, picked up an apple, and made his way over to Rowan. She truly was a friendly creature, and she didn't hesitate to take the apple from Loki's hand. But as she finished it, her demeanour seemed to change a moment as she took in the person standing before her.

Loki was very certain that his sweet, gentle lady was quite confused. How could this stranger smell just like her frequent companion, Princess Loki? Rowan shifted her stance uncertainly, turned her head this way and that, and Loki thought that the poor thing was unable to reconcile what her senses were telling her.

He hushed her, soft and gentle, rubbing his hand along her neck just as he had the first day they met. "It's me, Rowan," he whispered. "It's just me. I promise you. There. There's my sweet lady. Can you keep this between us--our little secret? There's another apple in this for you if you don't tell anyone that it's me."

And finally Rowan relaxed, and lipped at Loki's sleeve. He rested his cheek against hers. "I'll get that apple for you in just a moment," he murmured.

***

Loki knew it was too much to ask that she be able to carry all the books to her room on her own. When the first one went, for some reason she simply couldn't keep them all from falling. And there she was, in one of the ridiculous gowns that had been provided, and she felt terrible dropping to her knees to start gathering up the books.

"My lady--please allow me!" A voice came from behind Loki, and a moment later, Fandral bent to assist her with picking up the large pile of books.

She was terribly relieved to see a friendly face, and she smiled. "Thank you, Lord Fandral. I suppose being stubborn wasn't the greatest idea I've had today."

"No trouble at all... and if you're as stubborn as you say, you've married into the right family," he teased. "Even the lady Frigga is an extremely determined woman when she wants to be."

"Oh, yes," she said, as she fetched an errant pen and rose to her feet as gracefully as she could manage with books in her arms. "I have already come to learn just how terribly stubborn my lord husband is."

Fandral gave her a sympathetic look and a smile. "You'll get used to it," he said. "Or you'll kill him."

She actually gasped and nearly dropped her books again. "That is a terrible thing to say! The consequences for our people would be enormous."

"Our people... see? You're already fitting in here," Fandral said, giving her one of his most charming smiles.

That actually brought her up short. She stopped walking and blinked a few times. Finally, she smiled and ducked her head. "Look at that," she murmured. "I could love it here. I want to. I hope that everyone can accept me."

"Is anyone being unkind to you, treating you unfairly?" Fandral asked, looking as though he might just be forced to have a serious expression. "If they are, if anyone does, they will answer to me," he vowed.

"No, not yet, but I haven't had much contact with anyone outside the palace--really, anyone outside my new family and my lord husband's friends. And the maids." She smiled again as they started to walk through the corridor. "They are very taken with my hair."

"Well, can you blame them?" Fandral said. "Your hair is the type that the poets write about. I am sure that Thor will be putting verses to music any day now about your raven locks."

"I'm afraid I don't know about that last part," she murmured. "I've started wondering if I'm..." She shook her head. "No. Please forget I said anything."

Fandral frowned. "Loki, is something wrong?" he asked. "You've started wondering if... what?"

She looked at him and ran the risk of walking into a pillar before he steadied her. He didn't call her 'my lady' and the kind familiarity of it made her ache. "Am I pretty?" she asked in a small voice.

Fandral looked back at her and set his books down on a table so he could give her his full attention. "You are an extraordinarily beautiful woman, my lady Loki," he assured her. "Truly, do you not know how lovely you are?"

"I honestly wasn't certain," she murmured. "I thought my perception, being coloured by my life on Jotunheim, was wrong. I look so little like the ladies of the court, even though I'm not... blue. And I know that the Lady Sif and I could almost be sisters, but..." She looked down as she trailed off.

"Have you not noticed that the ladies at court have started modeling their dress and hair after you?" Fandral said. Of course, he would notice. Sif never would have. "They are following your lead."

"I..." She looked startled at this information. "I have been here for only a month."

A month in which she had spent every night on her own. She took her morning and evening meals with Thor, Odin, and Frigga; sometimes Sif and the Warriors Three. She took horse riding lessons, she snuck out as a male to spend time with her horse without someone watching over her, she studied, and she was fussed over by her maids. The princess had not yet been out amongst the people.

Loki spent every night alone. Thor would not touch her and still looked a little startled if she touched him.

"It doesn't take much time for influence to spread," Fandral explained. "Particularly from someone as beautiful as yourself. They crave the opportunity to see you, to be in your presence. None of us thought we'd be seeing a bride for Thor this soon."

"He didn't think so, either," Loki murmured. "I did not anticipate being married yet, either, least of all to a stranger, the son of the All-Father." She shook her head. "Listen to me. I am blessed to be in this beautiful place, to be making friends, to be so beautiful that I am influencing the ladies of the court. I shouldn't complain."

She was so, so lonely.

"Would you go back, if you could?" Fandral asked, surprisingly thoughtful, for Fandral. "I suppose it's folly to think such things when you're already here, but influence, new friends, and a beautiful place to live aren't everything."

"Sometimes I don't think of home at all," she said. "I have not been here long, but already there are times where I am perfectly content to be here. But other times... I am so homesick it hurts."

"I am truly sorry," Fandral said. "Is there anything I can do to ease your loneliness?"

Loki thought that if his friends could hear him now, being kind and friendly and not flirting even a little, Fandral's reputation would never recover. She smiled briefly at that, but it faded with another thought: Tell my husband to deflower me. "I don't think there's anything at all that can be done to help me," she said after a too-long pause.

"Are you sure?"

"Your kindness and friendship will be more than enough, good Fandral. Thank you."

It wasn't enough, but still he smiled, and said, "As you wish, my lady. Now--where shall I carry these books?"

Chapter Text

Thor had been all but living in the stables since his marriage to Loki, spending many of his evenings and every night there. It was less than ideal--as large as his horse's stall was, it really wasn't meant for the two of them. Plus, Thor was all but certain that his horse was mocking him when he was sleeping.

He might be losing just the slightest grip on reality.

He couldn't talk to his parents... he certainly couldn’t talk to Loki. He'd been avoiding his friends for fear of what they might say, and when he hadn't been avoiding them, he'd been sharp or rude.

Things really weren't going Thor Odinson's way.

He sighed loudly, then tilted his head to the side as he entered the stables. There was someone unfamiliar grooming his wife's horse. Thor had thought that he knew everyone who worked the stables, but he had never seen the black-clad young man who was doting on Rowan.

Curious (and glad to see someone he didn't know, to tell the truth), Thor wandered over. "A beautiful creature, is she not?" he asked.

The boy froze. He looked up at Thor with wide, terrified green eyes. "I--"

Thor raised his hand. "It is all right. Even from over there, I could see that you care for her. I don't believe I have seen you here before. What is your name?"

The boy cast his gaze down. He licked his lip, then said, "Cesario, my lord."

"Cesario," Thor said, nodding. It wasn't a name he knew. "Are you newly arrived?" he asked.

Cesario nodded. "Yes, my lord. Very recently, and I have been put to work here. As you can undoubtedly see." He looked away again, seeming embarrassed, and he stroked the horse's neck.

"I thought I had not seen you before. I spend much of my time at the stables," he admitted.

Although more time lately than ever before, but he wasn't about to go into it.

"I hope you have been made welcome here," Thor said.

"Oh yes," Cesario replied. "Rowan, in particular, has made me very welcome, haven't you, good girl?" He stroked the horse's neck and she turned her head and nuzzled at him.

"She is one of our greatest ambassadors," Thor said proudly. "She's experienced at making people who are far from home feel welcome here," he added, thinking of Loki. If nothing else, he’d managed to make her happy the one time, introducing Loki to riding, and to Rowan.

"I can imagine that she must." Cesario stepped away from Rowan, just briefly, and returned with an apple for her. "There you are, lovely lady. Eat up." He looked at Thor again. "I understand that she was your mother the queen's horse, and now has been claimed by the new princess."

"She has, yes," Thor said. "They are a perfect match together. The lady Loki has only just started to learn to ride since her arrival here, and she is doing wonderfully well."

"I have heard so much of her, but could not be here at the palace for the wedding," said Cesario. He stepped away from the horse and a little closer to Thor, but Rowan followed, nuzzling at his shoulder. "I have heard many things about her already--I can't help but be surprised at how warmly this Jotunn has been welcomed by our people."

"It seems as though you have already won Rowan's heart," Thor said, smiling at that, then turning away to look at Cesario. "The people of the Jotunn who have been sent here have always been welcomed by our people, but I think that it is Loki herself who has endeared herself with them."

"Rowan, behave yourself," Cesario chided, gently, and reached into a bucket for a handful of oats. "This is your last treat for the day." He looked at Thor again. "I have heard so many stories of your bride, my lord, that she hardly seems like she could be real. She is spoken of like a princess in a saga, so beautiful and wise that she is hardly to be believed."

That made Thor smile, although there was a sadness that crept into his expression. "She is everything the stories say," he said. "She deserves far better in a husband than the one she was wed to," he added under his breath, not meaning to say it aloud at all.

"My lord?" Cesario took a tentative step forward, and there was concern in his bright green eyes. "I could not have heard what I think I might have."

Thor jerked his head up, eyes going wide for a few moments before he quickly turned his head away. "My apologies. I should not be bothering you. You have work to do. My apologies, Cesario," he said stiffly, upset with himself for speaking his thoughts aloud.

"I would think," Cesario said, slowly, clasping his hands behind his back, "that my work, my responsibility, my duty, is to Asgard. And since you are the crown prince of Asgard..." He grinned. "Why, it would be my very duty to see to it that you are happy."

Thor actually smiled at that, even if it was just a little. "You did that very well," he said, laughing softly. "Clearly you have been trained in more than just the care of horses."

"You will find, my lord Thor, that I have many skills."

"I would believe that," Thor said, leaning against the wall. "Well then, Cesario, I will tell you that I did not intend to be married for some time yet, and I believe that any lessons I was given on how to be a proper husband were clearly lessons that I paid no attention to."

Cesario leaned against the opposite wall, mirroring Thor's pose almost perfectly. "From my understanding, there are actually no lessons one can take. But your princess sounds almost too good to be true--surely it cannot be so difficult to be married to her, even if she is an underdeveloped Frost Giant."

"She is too good to be true," Thor said. He shouldn't be sharing this with this stablehand--he knew better. But he had no one else he could talk to. "She's too good for me. Being a Frost Giant... it doesn't matter. She's just... Loki."

"It truly doesn't bother you what she really is?" Cesario asked. "The court might be enchanted by her, but they are not the ones married to her. It's not hard not to think of her as some sort of... creature?"

Thor frowned. "She is not a creature," he said firmly. "She is a woman. A smart, kind, engaging woman. I hope that these are not your feelings, Cesario. You seem to be doing well here, but if they are, you might find it difficult to belong here."

"Is she truly that special, that you can look beyond her birth and see only what she is now?"

"There is nothing wrong with her," Thor said firmly. "I am the one who is the problem." He lifted his head sharply. Clearly he didn't mean to say that. "Enough of this--I was going to go for a ride. Would you like to join me?" he asked.

Cesario blinked, as though his mind hadn't quite caught up with this sudden change in the direction of their conversation. "I--me?"

"I prefer not to ride alone, and I've often gone out with one of the grooms. Would you join me?"

"Me, my prince?" Cesario stood straight. "If it is your wish, I will join you."

“As I am currently looking for a riding companion, being a groom makes you the perfect choice,” Thor said. "Please. I would welcome the company."

Cesario gave him a smile. "Certainly, my prince. I will join you."

"Very well," he said, smiling back. "I will saddle my own horse--join us, once you have Rowan ready, please."

***

"It's beautiful here." Loki slipped down from the saddle and let Rowan go to the river. How strange this was; how strange to be with Thor and not have Thor recognise him at all. He expected that any moment now, Thor would realise who this "Cesario" was. Cesario! It was hardly an Asgardian or Jotunn name--Loki had read it in one of his fiction books.

He shielded his eyes against the sun and looked out to the far horizon. "There is so much I haven't yet seen," he said. "Thank you for bringing me here."

"I come here often... no one else ever seems to come to this place," Thor said. "I needed somewhere quiet, and I'm afraid I've dragged you out along with me."

"It's very quiet," Loki observed. "Beautiful and quiet. A wonderful place to contemplate. Or read, perhaps." He'd have to come to the riverside again with some of his studying, when he needed to escape the palace.

Thor murmured in agreement. "I have been coming here since I was a child."

"Alone?" Loki grinned and sat in the grass, arms thrust out behind him. He closed his eyes. "I can just imagine you, Prince Thor, running away from home--perhaps after being told you couldn't have something you wanted, and how dare anyone tell the mighty prince what he could and couldn't do? And you would sit here until sunset and the Queen or the All-Father came to fetch you, and scold you for running away and worrying them." He opened his eyes and peered up at Thor; he had to tilt his head back and his perfectly straight hair was caught against his collar. "Am I far from the truth?"

Thor winced, then smiled. "You are, in fact, exactly correct. It happened on more than one occasion."

"Did you flee here when you were told that you must be wed?"

"I did," Thor said. "I did a lot of things that I am not terribly proud of."

"You must still have time to do things you will be proud of," Loki said. "You have your whole lives ahead of you."

"Things are more complicated than I thought when I was a youth."

"Is that not the way of growing older?"

"Perhaps I was not ready. No. I know I was not ready. That no longer matters, however," Thor said, looking at the water. "I am here, and I must go forward. There is no return to childhood."

Loki sat up and draped his arms over his bent knees. "That is all any of us can do, my prince. I think you could do it, if anyone can."

Thor continued to stare out at the water. "I fear I am not the best company today, Cesario. My apologies."

"Your life is not what you had imagined it would be. I imagine that would distract anyone." Loki got to his feet and dusted off his breeches. "I'm certain I would not cope so well." He put his hand lightly on Thor's arm. "She may not hate you so much as you think."

"I am not sure you are correct about that, Cesario, but thank you," Thor said. "I will remain awhile longer. Please... feel free to explore the area. I will not leave without you."

"I would rather stay with you. If you don't mind, my prince."

"I don't mind," Thor said, turning to look at him and smiling a little. "I thought I wanted to be alone, but it is possible I was wrong. Thank you for staying."

***

Loki couldn't take it anymore.

Thor had not recognised her at all when he met "Cesario", but he had been friendly. Open, even, or at least as much as a prince could be with a peasant. It was not as though Thor had tried to start some illicit affair--what a scandal that would be--and while he had seemed just as sad as he did when he was with his princess, at least he had looked Cesario in the eye. And spoke of his bride in glowing terms. There was only so much a lady could take.

It was time, perhaps, to take a more direct approach.

Loki left her hair unbound and flowing down her back. She discarded her gown and chose instead a white shift that left nothing to the imagination. She marched to the door adjoining their suites and didn't bother to knock.

"Look at me," she said.

Thor started violently, dropped the knife he was sharpening to the floor, and nearly skewered his foot. He looked down at it, up at Loki, then back down at the knife. "Um."

"The ladies of the court look to me as influence in their fashion," she said. "I have it on authority that this is true. They envy my hair and my dresses. I am, apparently, a very beautiful woman."

"Er." Thor, wide-eyed, still looked at the knife in the floor next to his feet.

"Do you think me repulsive? Am I just a creature from the stories told by your people, of the monsters that lurk in the shadows? Have I done something to offend you--or is this simply a petty way to exact your revenge for this marriage?"

This time, Thor lifted his head and stared into her face. "What? No! Of course not!" he insisted.

And she was just supposed to believe that?

She spread her arms wide, then let them drop to her sides. "I was made like this for you. Do you have any idea what it was like to realise that I would not be like the rest of my people? It was enough to be so much smaller--but then my flesh changed. My eyes changed. Everything about me changed. It is the magic of the treaty and I will never be able to go home. And you won't even touch me, I disgust you so much. I was born on Jotunheim, but I cannot go back. I was made to be Asgardian. For. You."

"I did not ask for that!" Thor protested. "You cannot blame me for what was done to you--I would not have had you change. None of this should have had to happen to either of us--I told my father, and he would not listen!"

What a terrible blow that must have been for him--to lose that battle. Though she did suppose she could not blame him completely; she was not accustomed to not getting her way, either. She was also not willing to not get her way on this.

"But it did happen, and because it did, it is unseemly and inappropriate that we do not share a bed. Some day, you must touch me. Some day, I must bear your child. And if you would just do that, you could nearly be rid of me, and return to your life, and my days and nights would be concerned with our offspring. I know I must be repulsive to you, but this cannot stand. I know we are young, but if you would--after, you can return to the true Asgardian maidens I am certain you vastly prefer. I would not complain." To her dismay, her eyes filled with tears. "You could be rid of me then."

He looked at her with horror in his expression as she kept talking, as he saw her eyes tear up. "Loki," he said softly. "It... that is not what I want." He rose to his feet and took a step closer to her.

"Of course it is. We have been married for over a month and you have not touched me." She wiped furiously at her face with her fingertips. "You can barely look at me!" She covered her face. "You must find me so hideous."

"I don't--you aren't!" Thor insisted. He looked around, spotted a handkerchief, and then offered it to her. "Please... please, don't cry."

She snatched the handkerchief from his hand and wiped her face. "What have I done wrong? Why can't you just try?"

"You haven't... it isn't..." He struggled for words, then reached out for her hand. "Loki," he said softly, leaned down, and kissed her on the cheek.

Chaste as a brother.

Loki looked up at Thor in surprise. She managed a tremulous smile. "That might be considered a start."

"I suppose it is," Thor said. He did it again, to her other cheek.

She closed her eyes for a moment. "You are so very handsome, my lord husband. I think I'm the luckiest girl in all the realms." If he could just want her--that would make it all right. It would make everything all right if he could want her because perhaps, one day, he could love her and she could love him.

"Please, don't cry," he murmured, taking the handkerchief from her hand and gently wiping her cheeks. When he was done that, he leaned in and brushed a kiss across her mouth.

She closed her eyes, though the kiss did not last long. Her face was turned up to his. Her eyes fluttered open and she reached up to rest her hand on his chest. She could feel his heart race under her touch. "I want to be good for you," she whispered. "I want to be yours."

The idea of losing him to another made jealousy stab through her. She had been forced into this, but she would make this work. She was, after all, born to rule, and if she was to do it here, then so be it. But this man--this beautiful, golden man--would be hers alone.

She wasn't sure when she had decided this, exactly, but now that she had, she was going to be damned if she was going to be anything but impossibly stubborn.

He didn't appear to be able to find words. Sometimes she wondered if her own ability to talk endlessly overwhelmed him. And then all thoughts of words left her as Thor slid an arm around her waist, pulled her closer, and leaned down for yet another kiss.

There was only a thin layer of silk separating them, and she could feel the heat of his body through it. She let her arms slip around his neck; she had read a few things in the library, and perhaps a few of them that a blushing virgin bride should not read. Especially when that virgin bride was a princess. But she had some ideas. She slipped her arms around his neck and held on as she returned his kiss. It was soft and tentative and when it was over she would not let him go.

Thor was hers.

She wouldn't let him go.

She could feel Thor's heart pounding faster and faster. His arms tightened around her, for just a moment. Loki pushed her hands into his hair and gave him another kiss, leaning up on her toes to do it. "Please, my lord," she whispered, right against his lips, "I could please you if you would let me. I could be a good wife."

He whispered her name, then pulled her in close, kissing her again. Now Loki's heart raced, too. She was frightened and she was excited, all at once. She loved the way his arms felt around her. Her thin shift rode up the backs of her thighs when he pulled her close, and she shivered at the feel of the cool night air on her suddenly too-warm skin. She kissed him again, and again, eager to keep all his attention on her. If she could just get him to stop thinking so much...

"Thor, my lord, you're holding me too tight," she said, softly, though she kept kissing him, over and over. "You'll crush the breath from me." She lifted one hand into her hair. "I will not run away. I am not afraid."

"I'm sorry," he said, loosening his grip immediately. "I'm... I didn't mean to hurt you. I'm sorry."

"I know you didn't." Loki stroked Thor's hair, the way one might soothe a frightened animal. "We can make this work, my lord. I know we can." And, though her heart raced and her hands trembled, she reached back to unwrap his arms from her waist. She held his hands in both of hers and guided him to the bed. She sat on the edge of it and gave a sharp tug to get him to sit beside her.

She was stronger than he might have anticipated, but she was, perhaps, easy to underestimate. And clearly, he kept underestimating her because he was easily tugged to the bed when she pulled, stumbling a little and sitting beside her. "Who would have guessed that you were so strong?" he said.

She merely gave him a mysterious little smile--she was most certainly not going to bring up the Lady Sif when she fully intended to finally make love with Thor tonight. She brushed her fingers over his cheek and leaned closer for another kiss.

Even as she used her other hand, which had not released his, to bring his hand up to her breast.

His eyes went wide, and his hand tensed too hard around her breast. "Sorry--I'm sorry," he said, a moment or two later, trying to pull away even though he was still clinging to the material.

Which promptly ripped.

The momentary pain was forgotten when she heard the silk rip. She looked down in surprise, her eyes wide, and then started to laugh helplessly. "It would appear that my undergarments are no match for you, my lord husband," she managed between bouts of giggles. And, since he was her husband, she didn't try to cover herself--instead, she rose to her feet again and, feeling bold from her own mirth, she tugged the shift over her head and dropped it to the floor.

Thor started to stammer out an apology, then seemed struck dumb. His eyes darted about; he didn't know where to look, and he blushed, but Loki took little pity on him. "Please, my lord," she said, touching his cheek. "Please, look at me. Thor. I want you to look. My body is yours."

It had to be someone's, because most of the time she still felt wrong in it.

He lifted his head and looked at her, cheeks still violently red. She sat beside him again. He leaned in and gave her a kiss, then--after she heard him take a deep breath--moved his hand back to her breast. His touch was tentative and hesitant, and yet her chest heaved a little under his hand, her breath caught in her throat. She gasped against his mouth and pressed a little closer, her hand in his hair again. Her other hand covered his. "Touch me," she whispered, "Thor, touch me anywhere you please. I am yours. If you want me, do not be ashamed. Take what you desire from me."

He swallowed hard and kept touching her, hand kneading at her breast with no charm or finesse, his other arm wrapped around her waist.

Loki let him touch her for a time, and kissed him over and again, and her mind raced. She wanted him--his strong arm was around her, and she was naked, and he wore nothing more than a thin pair of sleeping pants. They were in his bed and he hadn't rejected her outright.

And yet there was a nagging thought in her mind. She thought he would have been the one to seduce her, to quite literally sweep her off her feet and take her to his bed and have his way with her, over and again, every night. Deflower her and make her weep with pleasure and joy. Overwhelm her with his power and his--everything.

She pulled away from the heat of him and looked at him as though he was a curiosity she had found on a library shelf.

"My lord," she said, very slowly, "you... have you not..." For once, words failed her as suddenly an awful, terrible thought struck her.

Thor's cheeks flushed again. His hands dropped to his sides as he turned his head away. "Is it so obvious?" he said stiffly. She didn't have to guess that his voice was the only part of him that was stiff.

She looked at him for a moment then drew away, sitting back on her heels. She still made no attempt to cover herself; she could see no reason. They were married. "Thor," she said, as gently as she could manage, "you could have told me. Is this why you have avoided me? Of course I assumed you had bedded half the beautiful maidens of Asgard--look at you! I imagine had I been born here I would have thrown myself at you. But there is no reason to be ashamed. We can learn how to do this together. We can learn how to please each other. I want to make love with you."

A silence stretched on between them. Nothing happened. There was no sudden clamour out in the hall; no invasion, no bilgesnipe, no rabid bunnies. They remained unattacked by monsters or assassins or wild creatures, and as the silence stretched on, Loki wouldn't have minded any of those things, and was more than certain Thor must wish for it more. Poor Thor--the mighty Thor, the golden crown prince of Asgard, forced into marriage with Laufey's heir who now appeared as a beautiful Asgardian woman. He could not answer her for so long, and she felt both pity and the urge to giggle at his expense: Thor's life was one of cruelty and pain.

"It is not something that I have spoken of," he said, more awkward than ever. "To anyone."

And now Loki felt guilty. Thor looked so utterly miserable. Her shift was ruined, so she took the blanket from the foot of the bed, wrapped it around herself, and sat down properly, close to him, hoping that her proximity might give him comfort rather than... whatever else it was that she had brought him. "Did you think I would not want you if I found out? Is this why you have avoided me so?"

Thor gave a noncommittal kind of shrug, avoiding her eyes. "I have not meant to hurt you, my lady. I am truly sorry that I have," he murmured.

She reached out and swatted him. "You should be, you great fool! And here I have spent all my nights, alone, thinking that you thought me a monster!" She swatted him again, for good measure.

"Ow!" Thor protested, rubbing at his arm. "I already admitted that you were stronger than you looked--you don't need to beat me!"

"That?" she said, archly. "That was nothing, Thor Odinson. If I truly wanted to beat you, you would know."

"I believe you!" he said, still rubbing his arm as though she had hit him with a hammer.

His hammer, perhaps.

She huffed. "You had better," she said, lifting her chin. "Do not underestimate me, Odinson."

At that, he actually turned and looked at her. "My lady Laufeysdottir? I would never," he said solemnly.

"Good." With that, she leaned in and kissed him soundly. When she pulled back, she said, "Please do not send me away tonight."

He shook his head. "I won't," he promised. "But... I fear that I have ruined your sleeping garment beyond repair. At least beyond my repair."

"Then go fetch one of your tunics for me." She pointed imperiously at his wardrobe.

"Yes, my lady," he said, standing up and bowing low, before he went to do her bidding.

That was more like it. Loki would make this work if it killed her, but she was too damn stubborn for it to do that, so she would make it work. She dropped the blanket, pulled on the tunic when he brought it to her, then said, "Dim the lights, my lord, and come to bed." She slipped under the covers and made herself comfortable.

Thor went around the room to do just that, then joined Loki in his bed. "I am sorry," he said softly. "For hurting you."

"Your apology is accepted, Thor. We can keep trying. I have a very good feeling now that we can make this work." Loki snuggled up to Thor's side, arranging his arms just so for him to hold her. She rested her head on his chest. "I could love you, my lord Thor. My Thor." She closed her eyes. "I will make you the happiest man in the Nine Realms. Just you try and stop me."

Thor wrapped his arms around her, which made her smile as she closed her eyes.

"Shh," he whispered, sliding his hand over her hair, then kissing her temple. "Sleep. I will be here when you wake."

***

Loki spotted Thor, ran to him, and flung herself into his arms when she reached him. "Did you see, my lord? Did you watch me?" She beamed up at him, proud of her riding today. She hoped he was, too.

"Of course," Thor said, laughing and whirling her around as though she were a small child. "I wouldn't miss it!"

She laughed, too, and kept her arms around him when he put her on her feet. She certainly didn't care that there were stablehands about. "I am so pleased that you were here. I missed you today. Was your hunt successful?"

"I will let you discover that for yourself at dinner time," Thor said, still smiling at her. "Did you pass the time well?"

She linked her arm with his and they headed toward the palace. "I studied for some time before my lesson. I think the librarians are sick of seeing me."

"I doubt that very much," Thor said. "They are, however, worried that they will run out of books at some point," he deadpanned.

Loki looked a little horrified at this concept. "What if they do?"

Thor laughed softly and smiled at her again. "Do not be afraid. My father would never let that happen," he assured her.

"Oh, good." They passed another young couple who bowed to them, and Loki smiled and inclined her head; she noticed, as she often did now, that the lady had her hair done up in a style that Loki herself often wore. The neckline of her dress was quite like one that Loki favoured. She looked up at Thor. "I am leading all the latest fashions on Asgard, my lord, have you noticed?" There was delight on her face.

"I am not very good with clothing, but I will try to pay better attention," Thor said solemnly, although his eyes were sparkling. "The people like you."

"I never thought they would. That was one of the reasons I was so afraid. I thought they would hate me."

"If I had come to your world... would they have hated me?" Thor asked her.

She sighed softly. "I think they may have. Perhaps not hated--perhaps resented would be a better word. They would have been mistrustful. And I have been welcomed here by the court and the people and... I am so very, very grateful."

"I think that more must be done between our peoples," Thor said. "Perhaps... perhaps this is a start toward true peace, and not just a lack of hostility."

"I hope so. We will create the future together, Thor, you and I, and it will be bright and shining and hopeful. Now." She stopped, and leaned up on her toes to kiss his cheek. "I must get ready for dinner, and it takes me considerably longer than it does you, which I'm not entirely certain is fair. I will see you in the dining hall, my lord."

"I will be waiting," Thor promised, smiling at her again.

Things were better, easier, since that night. He was more relaxed around Loki; she was smiling and happy. This could almost work.

Chapter Text

Cesario--Loki, as Cesario--perched on a low wall, eating some grapes. "My lord prince," he said, with a broad smile, by way of greeting.

Thor looked up at him and smiled widely. "Friend Cesario... good day to you," he said. "You look as though you are keeping well."

"I certainly try." Loki bounced down from the wall, stood straight, and offered Thor a few grapes. "You look as though you have had a few restful nights of sleep. Is your lady wife treating you well?"

"As has always been the case since she arrived, better than I deserve," Thor said, taking the grapes from him.

"I'm certain that's not true, my prince," Loki said. "One day there will be songs and sagas of your love story."

"Are you a romantic, Cesario?" Thor teased. "A bard, perhaps? Are you seeking a commission?"

Loki tossed a grape on the air and caught it in his mouth. "A bard? Perhaps not. A romantic? I think perhaps I am. I caught sight of Lady Loki yesterday morning as she had her riding lesson with Lady Sif."

"The lady Sif is an excellent teacher, and my lady Loki is an extremely fast learner," Thor said, sounding proud. "You would already never know that she had never seen a horse before her arrival here."

"Never? Ah, they must not have horses like ours on Jotunheim."

"It seems not," Thor said, eyes sparkling as he looked over at Loki. "I rather shudder to think what kind of steed it would take to support the mass of King Laufey," he said with a laugh. "Something that could eat me for breakfast and still require a second helping, I’m sure."

***

Loki slipped her hand into Thor's as they left for an evening stroll through the gardens. As they paused, she rested her head against his arm.

This was going to work. She knew it would. She closed her eyes and imagined that it would be just like in the books; she felt a heat in her belly and felt colour rise to her cheeks and she looked up at Thor.

She wanted him.

Dinner went perfectly. Sif, the Warriors Three, and several others had joined the royal family for dinner. Thor had been relaxed (without getting too far into the mead). Loki had been charming and radiant and every inch a princess. Everyone had a good time.

"Did you enjoy yourself, my lady?" Thor asked Loki, smiling at her.

"Very much so, my lord," she replied, and her smile grew ever wider. "Your friends are a delight, and the All-Father even smiled! I truly belong here with you."

"I knew I saw him do that--you are my proof that it happened," he told her. "I am glad that you have found a place here. As I told you when you came, you are welcome here."

"I am," she said, in response to both statements. She turned fully to him, put her arms around his waist, and leaned her head on his chest. Loki the Asgardian found that she was a physical creature; she craved touch and contact, and he was doing his best to provide it. She was comfortable, and Thor didn't even seem to mind giving her what she wanted in these situations.

"Good," he murmured. "I want you to feel that this is your home."

"My home, with its endless library, and its gardens, and its grass and water and horses. And you, my beautiful husband. My Thor."

Thor looked shy when she said that, a sheepish smile on his face. "Just how much wine did you allow Fandral to pour you?" he teased, tickling her side.

She gasped and squirmed. "I don't know," she admitted, with a giggle, "my goblet never seemed empty." Fandral had paid her quite a lot of attention tonight, she realised after a moment's thought, but she brushed it aside.

Thor sighed loudly and shook his head, still smiling. "We should get you to bed... you need your rest." He untangled himself and took her hand again. As he led her back toward the palace, she laced their fingers together. She gave his hand a squeeze, and her hand tightened again when they passed a maid who looked longingly at Thor, though fortunately he seemed oblivious.

When they reached their apartments, Loki reached up and pulled the ornament from her hair; it cascaded in waves down her back and she gave her head a little shake. "Oh, that's better."

"I do not know how you do it," Thor admitted, wincing a little. "It makes my head hurt just to watch when your hair comes down after being pinned for so long."

"I do it so that it is not in the way. I can't bear the idea of having it cut shorter," she said. She turned to him with a brilliant smile, then held out her hand to him in silent invitation.

He took her hand, gave it a squeeze, and came closer. "I could brush it, if you'd like," he offered.

A slow, delighted smile crossed her face. "Would you really?" She didn't even let him respond; just leaned up, kissed him soundly, then gathered her skirt and quite literally ran through the apartments to fetch her brush. When she returned to Thor's suite, she wore only a black dressing gown and a smile; Thor had removed the more formal parts of his own attire.

She handed Thor her brush and sat on the edge of the bed. Thor sat behind her to begin brushing her hair. "I used to do this for Sif when we were children," he said. "And, of course, my horses. I think that Sif kicked harder when I pulled a knot."

"That does not surprise me in the least," Loki said with a soft laugh. She closed her eyes. She had decided quickly after her arrival--it seemed so long ago--that she quite liked it when her maids would brush her hair; she loved it now that it was Thor. He started at the bottom and worked his way up, talking softly the whole time--stories of his youth, tales of his parents. Fables of Asgard. Loki closed her eyes with a soft, happy sigh. She relaxed and just let herself get lost in his voice, lost in the feel of the brush working through her hair.

Before long, he was able to brush from root to tip; long, straight strokes of the brush. She could almost be lulled to sleep by this. She tilted her head back with a soft sigh of contentment. And she whispered, "Thor. I'm falling in love with you. I never could have dreamed..." He didn't respond, but he leaned in and kissed her temple, murmured something indistinct, then went back to brushing her hair again.

She reached back, blindly, and ran her fingertips over his cheek. "I hope one day you will feel the same way about me."

Thor set down the brush, wrapped his arms around her, and gave her another kiss on her temple. "I care for you, Loki. Very much. I'm glad you are here, in Asgard. Believe me when I say that."

Could she love enough for both of them? She certainly hoped so. She climbed right onto his lap and wrapped her arms around him, too, and gave him kiss after gentle kiss, trying to gain his interest. She ached for him. Her own hands were no longer enough.

Loki felt the flutter in her belly, the heat that curled inside her, and she pressed ever closer. She needed so badly. And, as she pressed against him, she knew full well what she should be able to feel. Thor was supposed to want her, too. It was supposed to be obvious. And though he kissed her and held her close, his body was not keeping apace with hers. Put simply, he was not arising to the occasion.

Her husband, this man she loved and desired, did not feel the same way she did. She fell still, and she stopped, and finally she drew away from him.

Thor swayed forward when she pulled away, blinking, then opened his eyes and looked for her. "Loki?" he asked, an uneasy expression on his face.

"You can't move past it, can you?" Loki asked, bitterly. "That I was not born like this. You don't desire me because of it. You think that this is all magic, all illusion." She clutched the collar of her dressing gown tightly closed. "All you can think of is blue skin and red eyes--you can't desire me because of what I was at birth!"

Thor stared at her and started shaking his head. "That's not--I don't think that!" he protested. "I never have, not since I met you!"

"But you don't want me." She ducked her head, her hair falling in front of her face. She would not cry, not now. "You have avoided me all this time--you have no desire to be with me. You can parade me around on your arm like some pretty ornament, but that's all!"

"I'm trying--I'm doing the best that I can!" he protested, getting up off the bed. He reached for the blanket at the end of the bed, then stopped. She was sitting on it, and besides, it wasn't as though there was any reaction he needed to hide for modesty's sake. Which was, of course, the point.

"Trying?" she echoed. "Trying? You shouldn't have to try! If you wanted me, if you really wanted to have me as your wife, you would take me--you wouldn't have waited so long! I can be your wife so long as we are not here."

"Here? What's here?" Thor asked, confused again. "Maybe you are accustomed to doing exactly as you're told, but prior to this, I have always been encouraged to question, to find my own path. None of this has been easy, and I am trying, and I don't know why--" He cut himself off, pushed his hair back out of his eyes, and took a breath. "I've told you that it isn't you," he said through gritted teeth. "I cannot make you believe me."

"I was a proper, dutiful child!" Loki shouted. She scrambled off the bed. She would have preferred to have the high ground; to look down at him as he sat on the bed. He was taller, and that was just not fair. "I was my father's heir," she continued in a quieter voice. "I did what was expected of me. I did what I was told because that was what was right. I came here, because it was my duty--" Never mind the fact that she was just to the left of coming to Asgard kicking and screaming. She took a breath. "It is my duty to give myself to you. It is my duty to bear your child."

"I was raised to lead, not to follow, and sometimes that means questioning what is expected of me!" Thor fired back. "You do not need to tell me about duty. I have been raised to it, same as you. I know my responsibilities."

"And so it must be that I am the problem!" Loki's hands balled into fists at her sides. "You do not want me. If you did, you would have taken me long ago." She paused, and narrowed her eyes. "If you cannot, if you will not, I can find a young man who will forget what I am. Who does not care, as you do, that I am Jotunn," she said, her voice taking on a vicious edge that surprised her.

"Enough!" Thor bellowed. "I will not continue to repeat myself only to be told that I am lying--not by anyone, not even by you, Laufeysdottir," he snapped, glaring back at her. For a long moment, they stared at each other, both furious, and there was so much Loki wanted to say that she could barely find a starting point.

She didn't get her chance.

His shoulders slumped, and the fight went out of him. "You deserve better, so much better than me," he murmured. His head snapped up; had he even meant to say that out loud? As Loki stood there, rooted to the spot, Thor backed away, grabbed a cloak, and headed straight for the door, almost in a run. He was gone in moments.

***

It was some time after Thor's departure before Loki could move. She grabbed her brush and went back to her own suite through the door adjoining their apartments. She was suddenly very calm.

She locked the door behind her, then barricaded it with the chest of drawers that held her wide assortment of undergarments, just for good measure. She put on soft breeches and a tunic and tied her hair in a knot at the nape of her neck. She forgot shoes. The floor of the palace was very cold under her feet, but she barely noticed. She might notice later.

She knocked politely on Frigga and Odin's door. As soon as Loki saw Frigga, roused from sleep but still radiant, Loki burst into tears. She had not wept since that first night's rejection.

She hated herself for it.

Frigga didn't say a word. She just pulled Loki gently in for a hug, kissed her hair, then eased away just enough to lead Loki through the door into her own suite, closing the door behind her. "There--just us now," she said, opening her arms again. "Come here, child."

"I hate him!" Loki cried, though it wasn't the truth at all, and she went to Frigga immediately to let herself be wrapped up in her arms. She hid her face against Frigga's shoulder and wept. Frigga held her close, rubbed her back, and let Loki cry.

"Everything was going so well," Loki explained between fits of crying, "but then we're alone--really alone--and--and--he must find me so horrible because I'm not really Asgardian." She hated herself, far more than Thor, for these feelings. They were useless feelings.

Frigga stroked her hair and murmured softly to her, encouraging Loki to keep talking. "Why do you think that, my daughter?" she asked.

"He... he won't... has never..." Loki floundered. "We have not yet fulfilled our marriage."

"Ah... I see," Frigga murmured, after a pause.

Loki sighed. "He must find me too repulsive." She pulled back to wipe at her face.

"I doubt that very much, my dear," Frigga said, producing a handkerchief and wiping Loki's eyes. "You are lovely."

"I had thought that I would be the one who did not want to," Loki said, utterly miserable. "But it's the other way around and that seems so wrong."

"I will admit, I do not know what is wrong," Frigga said, tilting Loki's face up so she could look at her. "But we will find out what is wrong. He cares for you--that much I know. Anyone with eyes can see that."

"I feel as though I have been played for a fool," Loki said. "I can't see how he could care for me."

Frigga kissed Loki's forehead, like she was blessing her. "Come--sleep here," she offered, guiding Loki toward the bed. "You've had a trying evening, and you need your rest. We will find out what is troubling your husband... we will fix this."

All Loki could do was nod and climb onto the bed. She was exhausted; perhaps it was from the tears. Frigga pulled the covers up and sat beside her, stroking Loki's forehead. "Close your eyes, my daughter. Sleep. Sleep, and remember that we love you as our own."

***

Odin was alone at the table. He didn't look up or turn. He said, "Come sit down. Now."

Thor knew--knew--that he should have chosen another time to eat. Or another place. Another world, perhaps. He hesitated for just a moment, then came and sat down.

"Did you sleep well, my son?" Odin's tone was icy.

Thor hadn't slept at all. "No, Father."

"I have it on good authority that your wife cried herself to sleep."

Thor flinched, hard.

Loki wasn't the only one who shed tears that night... not that Thor was going to admit that. She was also the only one whose tears mattered. This was Thor’s doing... he had no one to blame but himself. Any tears he shed were of no consequence, not compared to Loki’s.

"Mother?" he asked, wondering if Loki had gone to them. It made sense. Why else would Odin have approached him this way?

"Yes. She showed up in our rooms last night, distraught. She thinks you want nothing to do with her."

Thor focused on his hands. "I have told her that is not the case."

"So she said. Then what other reason do you have for this rebellion, Thor?"

"It is not a rebellion," Thor said, his voice quiet and tired. "I have nothing to say, All-Father."

There was no excuse he could give, nothing he could say. He didn't understand, didn't know why this was happening. He could not explain to his father what he did not know himself.

Odin watched him for a long, long moment, then shook his head. "We will make this work," he said. "We have to."

"Yes, All-Father," Thor said, sounding neutral... almost numb. "May I go, my lord?"

"No." Odin stood. He looked down at Thor and put his hand on his shoulder. "No, I will leave. I want you to eat, my son. And do not forget that your mother and I still love you, and always will. If you need us, you know where to find us. Both you and Loki have something in common: you are stubborn and you are proud. She came to us for help, yes, but she will not hide behind your mother's skirts."

Thor's throat felt impossibly tight. His father's kindness was almost harder to deal with than his father's rage would have been. If Thor knew what help to ask for, he would do it, but he didn't. All he knew was that something was wrong. That he was wrong.

"Thank you, Father," he said, very softly.

***

Loki skipped supper.

She knew she would pay for it later, but she'd spent all day feeling sorry for herself. She cancelled her riding lesson with Sif and returned to her room, losing herself in romance fiction--for no other reason that she could discern than to clearly make herself feel even worse.

Married now for nearly two months, and this was what it had all come down to. They didn't even know what to do with each other, and her frustration had spilled over. She knew she needed to be more careful with him. She knew it, as well as she now knew every curve of her female body, and the way a green dress brought out the colour of her eyes, and the most flattering ways for her maids to do her hair. She knew to be more careful with Thor, in all the ways she didn't truly know her husband.

She waited until dinner was well over before she sneaked into the kitchen, stole a bit of meat and a bit of bread, and went back to her rooms to change into a pair of breeches, tall boots, and a tunic--and her male form.

He settled a cloak around his shoulders and slipped out into the hallway, then through a side door and into the night. The last person he expected to see was his husband, especially when he nearly walked right into him.

From the way Thor started, Loki wasn't the only one who hadn't been looking where he was going. Thor reached out his hand to steady Loki and keep them from bumping into each other, smiling even though there was something tired, something sad in his expression. "My apologies, Cesario... I nearly walked right over you."

"My prince," said Loki. He had to take a moment to compose himself; and then he smiled. "You seemed distracted. There was no harm caused."

"It is..." Thor started to speak and then paused, frowning slightly. He looked back at Cesario and smiled, giving his shoulder a squeeze. "It is nothing for you to worry about. I am glad that you are all right."

"Why wouldn't I be, my prince? I have been... kept busy. Rowan demands much of my attention, and there are other duties for me on the stable grounds." Thor's hand was very big, and very warm, and Loki longed for it to touch him again.

"I meant that I did not knock you over," Thor said. "I don't imagine that Rowan would be very pleased with me if I injured one of her favourite people."

"I suspect she might have things to say on the matter, were she able to speak." Loki smiled up at Thor. "We are both out late for a walk. I, ah..." He raised his hand, where he held his bundle of food in a napkin. "I brought my supper."

"I thought the night air might do me some good," Thor said. "And you, friend Cesario? Should I leave you to your thoughts, and your supper?" he asked.

"In truth I would welcome the company. I have had... ah, never mind my woes. If you would not be offended if I eat in front of you, I would like very much to share the night air with a... friend." If nothing else, "Cesario" could count Thor amongst his friends, even if Loki had never been certain about that.

Thor smiled as Loki called him 'friend', eyes crinkling slightly. "I would not be offended in the slightest--please," he said, gesturing toward Loki's food. "Did you have a place in mind?" he asked.

"There is a spot I have grown to enjoy," said Loki. "But I have not been there at night. It is on the far side of the stables--up the rise, with the two trees? It should offer us a lovely view of the night sky."

"I know the place well," Thor said, flashing another smile before he rested his hand on Loki's shoulder, guiding him in that direction. "I would imagine that at night, after a day of work in the stables, you are often too tired for stargazing."

"You could say that," Loki murmured. Thor's touch--oh, Thor's touch. It was perfect.

Thor kept his hand where it was, looking very relaxed as they walked. "You mentioned--or did not mention--that you were troubled," he said. "Are you sure you don't want to talk about it?" he asked.

Loki looked up at him, and considered the question, and an appropriate response. "You called me a romantic some time ago, my prince," he said, after a pause. "I suppose perhaps you are right, and my heart is sick with longing."

"Your feelings are not returned?" Thor asked carefully, making a guess.

"Sadly, no. That's become clear to me. And it hurts."

"I am sorry," Thor said, his voice very quiet. They crested the hill and Loki sank down to the ground. As Thor sat beside him, Loki opened the napkin and picked at his food. A silence had fallen between them, but Loki didn't feel uncomfortable--just sad. Another moment later, he heard Thor take a deep breath.

"Perhaps the one you care for is not worth your devotion," said Thor.

"I don't think I could ever meet someone more worthy," Loki murmured.

Thor smiled, although his eyes were sad. "That is because you see with the eyes of a lover... a romantic."

"Perhaps," Loki said, "perhaps not." He might never know what it was like to be a lover, and that made him feel worse. He sighed and wrapped up his food again.

Thor watched Loki pack up his food. "I'm sorry. Perhaps I am not the best company for you tonight. I didn't mean to make things worse," he apologised.

"No--no, my prince, please." Loki gave Thor a sad little smile. "I don't wish to be alone."

"Is there nothing I can do?" Thor asked, settling again.

Loki settled on his back with his head cradled on his arms. It was another long moment before he replied, "Just... stay. Please, my prince. Be my friend tonight."

"Of course. I will stay," Thor agreed, voice soft. He stretched out beside Loki, looking up at the sky. "It is beautiful."

"We live in a beautiful world," Loki murmured. "I remember looking up at the sky when I was a boy, and thinking to myself that one day--one day I would see all those stars, name them, explore them. Make my indelible mark on the universe. I had such dreams."

"A romantic and an explorer," Thor said, smiling just a little. "Perhaps they go together."

A romantic--an explorer--perhaps. Young Loki, Heir of Laufey, had wanted to conquer. To rule. And he couldn't even conquer the man he had been brought here to marry. He gave a soft sigh, and then pointed. "That cluster of stars there," he said. "I think those are my favourites. If I follow them, just right, I can imagine that they form the image of a great wolf."

"Where?" Thor asked, reaching for Loki's hand with his own, waiting for Loki to guide him. "There?"

Loki's breath caught in his throat at the touch, but his pause, his sudden moment of frozen stillness, ebbed away quickly. He had to be careful not to curl his own slender fingers around Thor's larger ones and instead just let Thor hold on as he led their arms and hands. "Here," he said, tracing the pattern in the air. "This is the head, and here is its body, its legs, its tail. Do you see, my prince?"

"I see... of course," Thor said, nodding and keeping his hand on Cesario's for another moment or two before he let it fall. "I never excelled in my studies of the stars."

"It's simply what I see," said Loki, with a smile. "You need not have studied much--all you need is imagination."

"I'm not sure that's my greatest strength either... imagination," Thor said, turning his head toward Cesario and giving him a wry smile. "Perhaps you have to be a romantic to have imagination too."

Loki turned his own head to look at Thor. "You should let your princess help you learn."

A sad expression flickered in Thor's eyes. "She is by far the cleverer of us," he said. "She reads constantly. I'm sure her imagination far exceeds my own."

"Do you not think she would be happy to help you?" Loki asked, very softly.

"I think that I have already taxed my lady's patience enough for one lifetime," Thor said, just as quietly. He turned his head, looking up at the stars again.

"I have come to learn that the battles of the heart are harder won than those we fight with swords--or hammers." Loki took a moment to study Thor's profile, though it was very dark out now, then turned his own gaze to the stars again. "But perhaps they are worth it in the end."

Thor was quiet for a long time before he spoke again, and when he did, his voice was almost inaudible. "I wish you fortune, friend Cesario. It is hard to see one so deserving so unhappy in love."

Loki closed his eyes. It felt as though a hand had just closed over his heart and squeezed, hard. "Thank you, my good prince," he said, his voice rough. "I wish the same for you."

This time, Thor said nothing, but after a few long moments of silence, he reached over and placed his hand on top of Cesario's, squeezing once, then leaving it there.

Loki closed his eyes against a sudden sting. He hesitated a moment, until he could turn his hand over and squeeze Thor's in return. He didn't dare try to entwine their fingers; that was too intimate. Too familiar. But oh, he ached. He ached and longed so much to repair things with Thor, to make it all work out, that he felt hollow inside.

He had to fix this, one way or another.

Chapter Text

Loki hid the boyish clothes in a chest on the far side of her room where none of her maids bothered to look. She would have to start collecting more. It wouldn't do to wear the exact same thing all the time; she wore many of the same pieces for her riding lessons as she did when she was Thor's friend Cesario. While Thor remained oblivious to the similar appearances of Princess Loki and Cesario the groom, he may--perhaps--notice the same tunic.

Perhaps.

She looked at the chest that barricaded the door joining their rooms. She squared her shoulders, cleared the door, and unlocked it before she retired for the night.

She slept soundly, despite the hollowness inside her and the ache around her heart. She woke late, and only because one of her maids had come into the room and started to open the drapes to let in the sunshine. Ailsa was a sweet girl, and knew her princess did not like to oversleep.

Loki rose and bathed, then her maid helped her dress and prepare for her day. As her hair was brushed, her thoughts wandered, as they often did.

Thor maintained that his lack of desire for her was not because she was not truly Asgardian. Was he, then, simply too young for this? Too immature? Certainly she was no older than he was, but perhaps Asgardians and Jotunar were different in more ways than she knew. It was not hard to believe that Thor was simply not ready for all of this considering he had spent most of his time on horseback, on the hunt, in battle, with his friends, and hitting things very hard with his hammer.

Maybe that was it.

She frowned in thought. Ailsa touched her shoulder and she smiled at the girl. She rose to her feet and Ailsa helped her dress before Loki dismissed her and left her suites. She barely made it a few steps before she spotted Fandral coming down the corridor.

"My Lord Fandral," she said. "Have you come to escort me to breakfast?"

"If you will permit me the honour, my Lady Loki," Fandral said, bowing deeply. "I have been busy, and spent far too long away from the pleasure of your company." He offered her his arm.

Loki took his arm. "It is a pleasure, as always, to see you." She looked up at him and tilted her head. "If I may be so bold as to ask," she said, "have you seen much of my lord husband lately?"

"I have not," Fandral admitted, leading her down the hall. "He has been remarkably scarce of late."

"Yes, he has," she said, softly. She let out a sigh, paused, and turned him to look at her. "Please. I fear something terrible troubles him. I have not had the pleasure of his company in many days now, and though we had a difficult start, everything seemed to be working out in our favour. I do not want him to fall into melancholy." She looked down. If she could play on the love and sympathies of any of Thor's friends, Fandral was the one. She clasped her hands tightly together, as though to stop them trembling. "I love him very much, Fandral."

Fandral frowned, looking deeply concerned. "Of course, my lady. Please, do not worry--I will speak to Thor and make sure that he is well," he assured her.

"Be gentle with him, Fandral," she cautioned, being carefully stern--something she had learned from Frigga. Loki looked him in the eye and laid one hand on his arm. "Direct questioning may not work. Offer him your friendship and your support--he may need to be reminded that he has both. We need to be cautious. We do not want to drive him away or to some rash action. You know what he can be like when his temper is aroused."

Because she certainly didn't know what he was like when any other part of him was aroused.

"I assure you, I will be the soul of discretion and subtlety." He placed a hand over his breast. "If I may ask... we spoke once before, and you seemed concerned then as well. My lady... are things not going well between you?" he asked cautiously.

"Not so well as I would like," she admitted. "I feared for some time that he did not think me worthy, but I think that's not quite it. He has been so unhappy these months that I worry I may never know the real Thor--that I may never truly have his heart, and that would break mine."

"And you are quite certain that you would not like me to solve this for you at the point of a weapon?" he asked.

Now, granted, Thor could quite easily best Fandral in any game of war... but a lady's happiness was at stake.

"Sweet Fandral." Loki touched his cheek. "I truly do not believe that would help any of us. However, don't think I haven't entertained the idea of beating him myself." She sighed and took his arm again, giving a little tug so that they could continue down the corridor. "I just want to know what I can do make him happy. My lord Thor is the very heart of my universe."

"You are a good woman... truly, he does not deserve you, and I say that as one of his dearest friends, and a man who loves him deeply," Fandral said. "He is young, and he is stubborn. I have faith that you will discover what is at the heart of his trouble. And please know that I will assist you in any way that I can," he said earnestly.

"I know you will, good Fandral. You are a dear friend and my lord husband and I couldn't ask for better."

***

"My lord Thor! Please, do not go."

Loki's voice rang out in the darkness. She stood, shivering in the cool night air--oh, how very strange!--and called out to Thor as he seemed intent on, once again, fleeing the palace itself for the evening. That would just not do. The dinner with their friends and parents had been wonderful, and although Thor was subdued, he had not seemed entirely morose.

Thor paused immediately--at least he would not run away when she called his name. "My lady?" he said, turning around and going back to her.

"Come back inside, my lord," she said, in her most imperious tone--either so that he would obey or fight. She was prepared for either. "The nights grow colder, and I fear the stables are just not an appropriate place for a prince."

He blinked at her tone, then looked sheepish. He inclined his head in Loki's direction. "As you wish, my lady," he said, walked over, and offered her his arm, trying to ignore the tension he instantly felt.

Instead of taking his arm, she took hand. "I do wish," she said as she guided him back into the palace. "I wish, because we have been foolish children, and I have had quite enough of that. I wish, because I love you, no matter what you might think. I wish, because we are wed, and we should not be separated."

"Loki... I..." Thor said nothing else. And neither did she, though they still held hands all the way back to their chambers.

Loki closed and locked the door behind them, turned to Thor, and lifted her chin. "I am the daughter of kings," she said, "and this does not come easily to me. But I said something terribly hurtful to you, husband, so I will say this: I apologise. It was wrong of me to threaten to go to another's bed, and I am sorry."

This time, he did her the honour of refusing to look away. "I am not the husband you should have had," he said. "I wish things had been different... that you had been married to someone who deserved you. We are neither of us where we thought we would be, but we are children of kings, and our options are limited. Thank you," he said softly. "We have our duties, and we both know them well. I am sorry that I fail at mine toward you."

"I will not deny that I desire you," said Loki. "You are beautiful, and I... read too much." She ducked her head with a smile. "But I want more than that. I want your companionship and your friendship, and I want you to be able to look at me without feeling pain or anxiety. I know I cannot make you love me, but I do wish you would let me love you."

"None of this is fair to you," Thor said quietly. "I do care for you, Loki. Very much. I would have you believe that, if nothing else."

"I do believe you care--if you didn't, I think this would not cause you so much grief." She took a breath. "But I will love enough for both of us, until... until we can find our proper place in each other's lives."

Thor closed his eyes for a moment. Finally, he just nodded, then opened his eyes again. "Thank you," he said, voice rough. "You are a wise woman, Laufeysdottir." He managed a smile.

"I know," she said, tossing her hair. And then she laughed and went to him, placed her hands on his chest and leaned up to kiss his nose. "And you are a ridiculous man, Odinson. I will learn what it takes to make you happy. For now, please--sleep in your own bed instead of snuggled up to Halvard. You smell much better when you have not slept in the stables. Good night, my lord husband." She turned to leave.

He laughed, very softly, watching her go. "Wait," he called, before she reached her door. "Please?"

She turned. "Yes, my lord?"

He went over to her and took her hand, bringing it to his mouth and kissing the back. "I do not know why you are being so patient with me, but I thank you. And I am sorry for hurting you, and causing you to doubt yourself. Please, forgive me, Loki."

"I do forgive you, because I do love you," she said. She touched his cheek. "Good night, my husband. Sleep well."

He leaned in and kissed the top of her head. "You as well. Good night, my lady."

***

"So where do you go today, my prince? Are you returning to the palace, or leaving the palace?" Loki, as Cesario, was once again perched upon a wall. This particular spot seemed a very good place for him to watch for Thor.

"Leaving the palace," Thor explained. "I just had a lengthy meeting where I watched my father interacting with advisors, and I rather desperately needed some air."

"Then it's good that fresh air is in such abundance." Loki spread his arms wide and grinned. "Where shall we walk, my prince?"

"Somewhere new, I think," Thor said. "Somewhere you have not been. Choose a direction, my friend, and I will be your guide."

Loki pondered a moment and then he smiled and pointed. "That way, my prince."

Thor gave him a low, dramatic bow. "As you wish," he said, straightening up and offering his hand to Loki to help him down from the wall. Thor released his hand once Loki was steady again, placed his hand on the small of his back for a few moments, and guided him in the direction Loki had pointed.

They walked in companionable silence for a time, then Loki said, "I want to thank you for your kindness and friendship, my prince. It means more than I can say."

"You are welcome," Thor said. "I have decided that it is important to me that we be known for our hospitality to guests and newcomers. I am a warrior, yes, but I am learning that there is a place for peace. I want my home to be such a place."

Loki reached out and plucked a flower, without breaking his stride, and lifted the flower to his nose. "We should be a beacon in the Nine Realms," he murmured. "Lead by example. I believe in you, Prince Thor. I believe you can be this leader for us. All other worlds should look to us as an example."

"I wonder sometimes if my father has been held back from doing the things he wanted to do because of the things he must do," Thor said. "It is easy for me to make these judgments. I have never been the one who had to make the difficult decisions. There will always be a need, a place, for warriors, and I do not shrink from that responsibility. But one cannot always be at war."

Loki paused and looked at Thor with wide eyes. "I must admit that I'm surprised to hear you say such a thing, my lord."

"I must admit that I'm surprised to be saying it," Thor said. "I am not the man I once was. I regretted that, initially. Now... now I am not so certain." He led Loki around a tight corner and smiled. "What do you think?" he asked.

Loki was stunned into speechlessness. He stared about at the garden with his mouth open, and just drank it in.

"My father had this built for my mother, some years ago," Thor said, standing close to Loki, smiling as he leaned to the side and bumped their shoulders together. "No one comes here often, but it is beautiful."

Loki stepped across grass greener than imagining. He sat on the edge of the tall fountain and stared about in wonder; it was though he had to sit or be overwhelmed by the majesty of the trees, or the intricate design work on the low wall, or the vibrant hues of red, blue, violet, and yellow flowers.

"Is there nothing like this where you come from?" Thor asked, leaning against a tree and watching Loki.

"Not like this." Loki turned his eyes to Thor. "Bring her here, my prince. You say you are not worthy, that she deserves better? Prove yourself wrong. Prove to her that you want to give her more. Pack a picnic and bring her here. Don't forget to bring a blanket--she will not forgive you if she has stains on one of her gowns. And surprise her with a gift. Everyone loves to be surprised with gifts. But bring your wife here."

Thor looked thoughtful, then smiled widely. "I believe you are a romantic, Cesario. A romantic, and a wise man. I will consider this," he said. "Thank you, for your counsel."

"It will work, Prince Thor. Believe me--it will work."

"I hope that you are right, Cesario," Thor said, turning his head so he could look out on the horizon. "I truly do."

***

"I have not seen you raid the kitchens since you were a little boy."

"Perhaps it is just that you have not caught me," Thor said, and the smile on his face was the smile of a slightly wicked young boy.

"Perhaps that is so," Odin agreed, and seemed to smile in spite of himself. He stepped up beside Thor and gestured to the basket and blanket. "Is this for Loki?"

"It is," Thor said. "I am taking her to Mother's garden, on the suggestion of a wise friend. I have not told her yet," he explained, "so I don't know if she will agree to go. I hope she will."

"I suspect she will. You have both been much happier of late. Your mother didn't want me to interfere, only to offer you support. In these matters, she does know best."

"She has ever been a wise woman," Thor agreed. "Our wives have that in common."

Thor wasn't sure he was happier. There was still this spectre of what wasn't happening hanging over him... but Loki wasn't pushing, so he was able to relax, for the moment. A little while longer that he could pretend that nothing was wrong, and focus on what was right.

"Learn to listen to her when she's right," Odin said, with a small smile, "and you, too, will be wise." He gave Thor's shoulder a reassuring squeeze, and turned to a different table. He found a large cloth napkin, spread it out, and put two pastries on it. "Remember to take dessert, Thor." He tied the corners of the napkin together.

"Of course," Thor said, tucking the pastry into the basket. "So tell me, Father. How do you know when Mother is wrong?" he asked, eyes sparkling a little.

"She is never wrong," said Odin dryly. "That's part of what keeps things exciting."

Thor laughed softly. "I wondered," he teased.

***

Ailsa was very young, very short, very loud, and very red-headed. She peered up as she opened the door, and then bobbed into a curtsey. "My prince," she said, "I was just doing Lady Loki's hair. I'm sure she'd be happy to see you, oh, is that picnic basket? Is this a surprise?" Her voice dropped into a giddy little whisper on the last few words.

"A picnic?" Loki's voice called from deeper in the room. "Come in, my lord husband. We won't take long."

Ailsa curtsied again and hurried back to her mistress' vanity table. "Should we just tie your hair back, princess?" she asked before Thor could even greet Loki. "Or perhaps I could just braid it. That would work, I think, and it won't take very long at all, I promise." She beamed up at Thor. "A picnic! Oh, how romantic. No one's ever taken me on a romantic picnic. It's such a beautiful day outside, I'm sure you'll both have a wonderful time."

Loki met Thor's gaze in the mirror, and it was only then that she could no longer hide her smile.

Thor's eyes sparkled back at her, and he smiled politely. "Unless you have other plans, my lady, I would welcome your company," he said. "Are you hungry?"

"Famished, my husband. You came just in time. My hero." Loki smiled as Ailsa's fingers worked with rather surprising deftness and, for a few moments, her tongue stilled as she concentrated on her task. Loki reached for a hair pin, which Ailsa put in right at the top of the thick plait, and then she bobbed another curtsey.

"Will there be anything else, princess?" Ailsa asked.

"No, my dear, that will be all, thank you." Loki stood and smoothed her hands down her gown--green, as always--and watched the maid leave. She looked up at Thor. "She's a very sweet girl," she said, "but she is exhausting."

"I feel less sympathy for you than you might imagine, my lady," Thor said. "After all, one of my chosen companions is Fandral."

"She dallied with Fandral not long ago," Loki said. "I had to hear all about it." Loki slipped her hand into Thor's. "I really am quite hungry. Where are we going?"

Thor linked their fingers. "It is a surprise. Do you trust me?" he said.

"With my life," she replied. "Lead on, my lord."

He smiled at her, the expression meeting his eyes as it hadn't at other times, and he led her away from their rooms. "How went your studies today?" he asked.

"Very well," she replied. "My tutor is terribly impressed with me--as well he should be." She lifted her chin haughtily, but grinned.

"That ego... you remind me of my father," Thor said.

"Hm. I'll take that as a compliment, my lord. Thank you."

"It was meant as one," he assured her. "So, did Fandral break the heart of your maid?"

"There were tears," Loki said with a sigh. "Many, many tears."

"I could tell Sif," Thor offered, eyes sparkling. "See what she would make of him."

"Not this time," Loki decided after a moment's consideration. "He should be warned, however, that if he ever makes one of my maids cry again, he will have to answer to Sif."

"I'll be sure to inform him of what risks he takes, dallying with your servants," Thor said.

"Thank you. He needs to--" They turned a tight corner and she stopped with a gasp, lifting her free hand to her mouth. "Oh. Thor."

He smiled, turning so he could watch her face. "Surprise," he murmured.

She spun in a circle, her hand still over her mouth, and drank in the sight of the garden. "I had no idea this was here--how did I not know, after all this time? Oh, Thor!" And she threw herself into his arms, hugging him tight.

"There are hidden places around here... pockets of wild, areas where people seldom go, except to find peace and beauty," Thor said, hugging her back. "I thought... well, this seemed like somewhere you might like."

"I do," she said, "I do like it, it's perfect!" She let him go and walked all the way around the fountain, admiring it, then looked at the trees and flowers and went back to Thor to hug him again. "Thank you, my love."

"You're welcome," Thor said, laughing when she hugged him. "Go--explore. We have time."

She kissed his cheek then hurried away to do just that, taking her time to explore and examine nearly every inch of the garden. She was startled, once, by a bird flying out of a tree--undoubtedly she had startled it just as much. Then she looked back at him, and said, "Thor, Thor, what is this?" as she pointed.

"What?" Thor moved closer so he could see what she looked at. "It's a butterfly," he said. "They start out as one creature, and transform into another, more beautiful than the original form."

"Why? Why do they do that?" She bent down to get a closer look at the butterfly, which was sitting very, very still on the flower.

"I don't know," Thor said. "They start out as... I don't know how to describe it, exactly. A sort of worm. And they close themselves up in a shell, and when it breaks, they look like that. They can fly."

"With wings like that..." She smiled and stepped away, still watching the butterfly. "I wish I could fly, too," she murmured. "Though I never did close myself up in a shell."

"I suppose not," Thor said. "I never asked... it isn't my business, but... can you go back to what you were? If you chose? Do you miss your natural form?" he asked.

She shook her head. "I cannot change back, as far as I'm aware--at least, not of my own choosing. And I find with each passing day, I miss my 'natural' form less and less. This--" she gestured to herself, "is becoming more natural to me."

"I suppose that is a good thing," Thor said. "It still seems unfair that you had to change at all."

"Now that I am here, and settled, and with you?" She turned to him fully, and reached for his hands. "I would not change my life. I am the luckiest woman in all the Realms. I have you."

"I am glad you're here," he said. She could see the truth of that in his eyes. "Come--I promised to feed you."

"Yes, you did, and I'm still quite hungry." She let him lead her to where he had spread out the blanket, and she sat with him as he spread out their meal. Her eyes brightened considerably when she saw the pastry.

"I would take credit, but the pastry was my father's idea," he admitted. "I hope that I would have got there on my own, but he thought of it first."

"He is indeed a very wise man." She reached for some fruit, and offered a grape right to his mouth, her eyes twinkling.

Thor laughed and let her feed him the grape. "I have something for you," he said.

"You've already given me all this. What more could you have for me?" And though she tried to keep her tone neutral, she couldn't help the excited expression from her face, and betrayed herself a little more by getting up onto her knees.

"It's not much," Thor said, reaching into an inner pocket and handing her a small flat package, wrapped in cloth.

She took the package and opened the cloth, revealing a green book, its cover all inlaid with gold. "Oh," she said, softly, letting her fingers trail over the leather. She opened it quickly, to discover it was blank, and looked up at him again. "For taking notes for my studies?"

"If you like," Thor said. "Or for writing your story... the tale of Loki, heir of Laufey, princess of Asgard. For drawing pictures or writing songs. It's your book, my lady. Do with it what you will."

"Thor..." She leaned over and kissed his cheek. "Thank you, my love. This is all so thoughtful." She wrapped both arms around him and hugged him tight.

A crossbow bolt fell from above and pierced her leg, the skirt of her dress, the blanket beneath them, and embedded itself in the ground. She let out a cry of pain and fell away from Thor, momentarily too shocked to move.

Thor acted immediately, put Loki behind him, and extended his hand for his weapon. "Who dares?" he bellowed, breaking the bolt in half to free Loki's skirts.

It seemed that no less than seven assailants dared. They wore masks to hide their faces. Four of them rushed Thor directly; the remaining three came from behind to grab Loki. One of those three fell instantly to his knees, clutching at his belly as it bled. He hadn't seen where Loki's knife had come from; that was rather the point.

Thor knocked his four back, stunning but not killing any of them, looking back at Loki in surprise. "Are you all right?" he called.

Loki could hold her own. And Thor couldn't fight all seven at once. "Worry about yourself, my lord!"

A few more attackers sprang from the trees. Loki looked around, watching the ones she could see, and backed toward the fountain. Two of their attackers started to advance on her, then hurried forward. Just as they reached her, they both lunged in unison--and fell right through her as she shimmered and disappeared and they collapsed in the fountain in a stunned heap, even as Loki appeared on the other side of the garden.

The wielder of the crossbow perched atop a wall and readied the weapon. Loki spotted her and something green and shining left Loki's hand to embed itself in the woman's neck. She toppled back into the trees.

Loki paid Thor no mind, knowing perfectly well that none could stand in the face of his might. She needed to concentrate on her own work. In an instant the garden was full of no less than a dozen of her, surrounding one particularly large brute, who swung his sword wildly, only for it pass right through each Loki he tried to attack.

He didn't turn fast enough. The Loki behind him had one hand on his shoulder, and the other moved to his lower back. He cried out once, in pain, and fell. Only one Loki remained, looking down at his body. "Are we quite finished?" she asked, as though terribly bored.

Thor lifted his head, tossing his hair back and smiling at Loki, a smear of blood on his cheek. Two of them, many times their number of attackers.

The attackers never stood a chance.

"Are you unhurt, my love?" Loki went to him and lifted her hand to his cheek. It wasn't his blood, and she looked relieved. Never mind the fact that her leg hurt and she was quite certain it bled freely.

"Not a scratch," Thor said, looking her over. "You need to be tended to--but not here."

"I will be fine," she said, trying to brush off the damage. She turned and looked at the two assailants who were still lying in the fountain. One was groaning. "Those two are still alive. Good," she said, fiercely. "I want to know why this just--oh!" She moved away from Thor, limped over to their ruined picnic and her green book. She winced as she dropped to her knees, but tried to pretend that didn't happen at all. "It's unscathed."

"But you are not," Thor said. "Come--the guards will take care of this for us," he said. "I want your leg looked at by one of the healers."

Chapter Text

Odin and Frigga joined Thor and Loki in the healing rooms just as Loki's leg was being bandaged. Loki immediately held out her hand to Frigga; Odin stopped at Thor's side.

"Not unharmed, I see, but both well enough?" Odin asked.

"Well enough," Thor said, although he wouldn't go far away from Loki as her leg was tended. "You should have seen Loki, Father. I've never seen anything like it. Magic and fighting skill combined to create an unstoppable force."

"I did wonder," Odin said, casting a speculative look in Loki's direction. She ducked her head under his gaze, but he shook his head. "Do not be ashamed. You should be proud."

"I'm proud of you as well, my daughter," Frigga said, kissing the top of Loki's head.

"Are all your people skilled with magic as you are?" Thor asked. "I admit, I did not expect that. Fortunately, neither did they."

"Not all," Loki admitted. "We did not know how you would react, so I kept it secret." She paused a moment, then looked at Odin. "I was the target, wasn't I? We have trouble."

"It wasn't an assassination attempt?" Thor asked, frowning. "It wouldn't be the first time."

"It was... but not aimed at you," Frigga said, stroking Loki's hair very softly. "Loki was the target."

"We will find them," Odin said, firmly. "There are those among our people who are displeased with Loki's presence and feel that they have been betrayed, with a Jotunn prepared to dilute the bloodline of our family."

Loki lifted her head. "I am Asgardian," she declared. "And I will not be cowed and afraid. I may not have been born here, but I am no different than any of you. I may not have seen a horse or a butterfly or the disparate seasons before my arrival, but I am Asgardian and I will not let upstarts drive me from my home. I belong here."

Thor stood straight and reached for Loki's hand, gave it a squeeze, then looked at his father. "We must contact Laufey ourselves... tell him what has happened," he said. "He must know, from us, that we will not tolerate this, and that people who act in this way will be destroyed. That we will find these traitors out and make them wish that they'd never drawn breath."

"We will, Thor," Odin promised. "These traitors will pay the ultimate price for their crime."

"What if Father demands that I return to Jotunheim?" Loki asked in a small voice, all the fight and fire suddenly gone out of her to be, only now, replaced by fear. "Or reneges on the treaty? What if..." Her voice trailed off and she turned toward Frigga again.

"He will not," Frigga assured her, tucking Loki in a little bit more tightly against her. "You are Asgardian now. Your place is here, and Laufey knows that. To demand you back would be an act of war."

"I will go to him myself," Thor said boldly. "This should not come from a messenger. They must know that we take this seriously."

Loki looked up at him, her eyes shining. And then she got to her feet, and if her leg hurt, none would know. She wrapped her arms around Thor, kissed him soundly, and whispered, "You are brave, my love, and noble, and I could not ask for better."

"I will take care of this," Thor promised her. "And although I now know that none should underestimate you, you are injured, so please. Allow the Warriors Three and the Lady Sif to shadow you while I am gone. Please."

She nodded, her hand on his cheek. "And Heimdall had best keep his eyes on you," she whispered, "if I cannot do the same." She kissed him again. "Will you leave now?"

He nodded. "I would not keep him waiting. Promise me that you will be careful," he said, squeezing her hand, then looking at Odin. "Father--is there anything further you would have me tell Laufey?"

"Invite him to return for the executions," Odin said, "so that he may see firsthand that we will not allow anyone to bring harm to Loki."

Thor smiled, something hard in his eyes. "I will, All-Father."

"Be careful," Frigga cautioned.

"Always, Mother," he said, smiling at her, a much gentler look in his expression.

"Rarely, my son," she said dryly.

***

Thor had only just beaten Laufey's messengers to Jotunheim, managing to deliver the news of the attempted assassination before they could. Being able to tell Laufey personally of the attack made all the difference, Thor felt. It didn't stop Laufey from raging, didn't stop his fear for what could have happened or his demands for Thor to take greater precautions in future to make sure that it didn't happen again.

And he was proud. Proud of his daughter for defending herself so ably. And, it seemed, proud of Thor for coming straight to him.

***

Loki lounged on the couch in breeches, her pantleg rolled up as Hogun carefully applied a salve to her leg. "No--no, you are lying!" she exclaimed, laughing helplessly.

"I swear to you, my lady, every word is true," said Volstagg, solemnly--or as solemnly as he could, given he was laughing, too.

"Sadly, he's telling the entire truth," Sif said, supervising Hogun's work. "It's a clean cut, at least. It may not even scar," she said.

Loki peered down at her leg. "It felt like merely a graze, but that must have been shock--and the heat of battle." She leaned back against the pillows again. "Oh, how I wish I could have joined you all at least once on one of your adventures."

"Who says that you can't?" Fandral asked, lounging close to Loki and holding a bowl of fruit for her. "Especially now that it turns out that you're a warrior like our fair Sif."

Sif gave him a look, and he smiled adorably at her.

Loki reached into the bowl for a pitted cherry. "Hardly at all like Sif," she said. "Sif is a true warrior--I rely too much on tricks, magic, and cleverness."

"You could learn more, my lady," Hogun pointed out. He moved away to wash his hands in a basin. "It would not surprise me if Thor insists you do."

"I would suspect that he would suggest it rather strongly, yes," Fandral agreed.

"Loki, you fought off any number of attackers bent on killing you," Sif pointed out. "I would not dismiss your skills. They kept you alive."

Loki smiled, a little shyly, and looked at her hands. "I thought my skills would be mocked and dismissed. How you all prove me wrong yet again."

Volstagg reached into the fruit bowl. "My lady, you have proved to us that you are not to be dismissed."

There was a knock at the door, and a maid slipped into the room. "My lady? Prince Thor returns with your father."

Loki inclined her head, and carefully sat up and put both feet on the floor. "I cannot greet them dressed like this," she said, a bit sadly.

"Let me cover your wound," Hogun said, kneeling before her with bandages. "And then you may dress to greet them."

"Thank you," she said. "I would not have my father see me injured."

"Please inform them that Lady Loki is dressing and will join them very shortly," Sif informed the maid.

"I will pick something out for you to wear," Fandral said.

"You?" Sif said, raising an eyebrow.

"Unless you would rather--"

"Fandral will pick something for you to wear, my lady," Sif said.

***

It was a long day.

Loki joined the meeting with her father a little late, but no one batted an eyelash. She was escorted into the room by Sif, Fandral, Hogun, and Volstagg, who all bowed and then waited out in the corridor.

She thought that Laufey was pleased with the way that the Asgardians had handled the attempt on her life; was pleased that Loki had defended herself so readily; was pleased that the remaining attackers and further accomplices were to be properly punished. It would take a while to rout them all, but it would be done. The ones already in custody were to be examples.

She was not squeamish. She watched as her would-be assassins were strung up from trees and turned her back on them when the others did to return to the palace.

Her voice rang clearly through the dining hall as she spoke of justice and peace and unity. She noticed the women with their hair done the way she often wore it; noticed jewellery and hair ornaments modelled after her own; noticed the men who hung on her every word. She could not mistake the pride on Odin's face--and Laufey's--or the love in Frigga's eyes.

And still, Thor never truly met her gaze, but at least he did not turn away from her when she laid her hand on his shoulder and declared, publicly, her love for him.

She noticed the way that now, Laufey did not watch her so closely. And she knew, without a doubt, that he would not recall her to Jotunheim, but that he did keenly feel the loss of his heir.

***

Loki slumped against the door when she closed it behind them. She kicked off her shoes, thankful that her bandages would not allow her to wear tall boots at the moment. She dropped her head forward and began to unpin her hair.

"I could sleep for a month," she said, bone-weary.

Thor agreed, stopping Loki's hands. "Sit--you look as though you will fall over," he told her, offering his hand to her. He guided her to the bed, and sat down behind her. He had been terribly calm all day. And now--danger passed, day over--his hands began to shake; she could feel it as he pulled out only the first of the many pins.

Loki reached up for Thor's hands and turned on the bed to look at him. She smiled and brought his hands to her mouth, kissing them both. "You have proven yourself worthy of so much today."

"You were hurt," Thor said. "I don't believe I proved much of anything at all," he admitted.

She raised an eyebrow. "Are you supposed to be so omniscient that you can predict when someone fires a crossbow at me?"

"I could have secured the area," Thor said, listing off on his fingers. "I could have posted guards. I could have requested intelligence on factions that were unhappy with your presence here in Asgard. I could have assigned you your own personal bodyguard who would watch for these things when I couldn't. I could have done many, many things, without having to be omniscient, and I did not. It was luck that the first shot didn't kill you. It was your skill and mine combined that kept us both alive."

She took his hands in hers again. "You didn't do these things, and neither did the All-Father. Did either of you know that there were factions here who wanted to kill me?"

"Kill you, no. Unhappy with our marriage..." He sighed. "I should have thought of it more. I was too focused on myself."

"My lord... please, you must not blame yourself. The people to blame have paid the ultimate price for their treason. I'm safe--we are both of us safe. I will not live in fear."

Thor nodded. "I will try. If you sit and rest for a minute. I could call someone to take those out of your hair, or I could try and do it myself," he offered.

"There aren't many, my lord, and I would prefer your company to anyone else's right now."

"Be still then... I don't want to hurt you," Thor said, starting to hunt for the remaining pins and removing them carefully. "Are you all right?"

"I'm very tired," she replied. "It's been a long day."

"Your father was extremely worried about you," Thor said. "For a few moments, I thought he might try to take my head off using his bare hands."

She closed her eyes. "Now that is something I could not bear," she said, very quietly.

"This wasn't exactly the day I had planned," Thor admitted. "I'm sorry things didn't go as I'd hoped."

"The gesture is what matters. I got to see beauty today, and I spent time with you, and I love the gift you gave me." She rose to her feet and took the hairpins from his hands. "Thank you." She kissed him, then took a step back. "I will retire now, my love. Please sleep well." She turned away to head to her own suite.

"My lady?" Thor's voice was quiet.

She turned back to him. "Yes, my lord husband?"

He took a deep breath. "This is your room too. Your bed. Would you... do you want to sleep here?" he asked, almost shy.

Even with his fear, frustration, and worry, he still did not want to be alone tonight. He wasn't sure that Loki did either.

"If you'd rather... if you want to sleep in your own room, that would be fine, of course," he added, much more quickly.

She smiled. "I would need to borrow one of your shirts again," she said.

Thor managed a smile too. "I think that I could arrange that."

***

"I spoil you. I hope you understand that. No, don't look at me like that with those big brown eyes--I know your game. You just want an apple. Well, you are going to have to behave yourself. We're not here to play right now--have you seen the state you're in? You need to be groomed and that is all there is to it. No, stop that, I do not have an apple up my sleeve for you."

In fact, Loki had no sleeves at all. It was a gorgeously sunny day, and he wore a sleeveless tunic as he attempted to run the brush through Rowan's mane, though she seemed to be in a very playful mood.

From behind, Loki could hear footsteps approaching and then laughter: Thor. He smiled, but didn't turn, even when Thor was close enough to speak. "Sounds like someone is proving difficult today," Thor teased.

Loki sighed tragically. "She seems to have decided that I am only here to play with her."

"Aren't you?" Thor asked. "I thought that was your job description--here to play with her and spoil her rotten."

Loki gasped. He turned back to Rowan. "Is this true?" She regarded him solemnly, then began to nuzzle his face. "Apparently it's true. Someone could have informed me, though."

"I believe that the lady Rowan just did," Thor said, looking highly amused. He watched them both, but Loki thought that Thor's gaze lingered on him. Perhaps it was the new sleeveless tunic.

Loki shook his head ruefully. "And for me to think that I contributed something truly worthwhile and world-changing to this place. It turns out I'm just her toy!"

"A very wise man once told me that the women in our lives are often right, and we are to do what they say. I believe once we accept that, friend Cesario, our lives become easier," Thor said solemnly.

Loki gave a short, wry laugh. "Right now, Rowan is the only woman in my life." He paused, then, eyes wide. "But--but not in... not in any... oh, I said that out loud." He covered his face with one hand.

Thor threw back his head and laughed until tears came, leaning against Rowan's stall. "Oh... oh, I believe that I needed that," he admitted, smiling at Loki.

Cheeks turning quite pink, Loki shook his head. "Yes, I imagine you did. The princess has recovered from her wound by now?"

Thor's expression sobered somewhat. "She has. I believe that even the scar will fade, in time."

"Have you found all the traitors yet? I do worry for your safety--and that of the princess, of course."

"I do not know," Thor admitted. "We may not find them all, at this time. What I do know is that we will have safety measures put in place to make it significantly less likely that they will be able to even try again, let alone succeed."

"I certainly hope you do, my prince." Loki turned his attentions to Rowan again. "It would be a tragedy if we lost you," he said, very softly. "Either of you, of course."

"Thank you, Cesario," Thor said. "Will you permit me to ask you a favour?"

"Certainly, my prince. I live to serve."

Thor stepped closer and placed a hand on Cesario’s arm, leaning in and lowering his voice so that no else could hear them speaking. "You are in a position to hear things, and go unnoticed," Thor said. "If you hear anything, any whisperings about threats to the princess, I ask that you tell me immediately. You will be granted access to the palace to do so--simply tell them that you care for Rowan, and you will be admitted. I will make sure of it."

Loki looked a little surprised at Thor's words, but then he bowed low. "Of course, my prince. I thank you for your trust, and should I hear anything at all, I will report it to you immediately."

"Thank you," Thor said, letting his hand fall to his side. "I would not have anything happen to her."

Loki looked at Thor again. "She is a very lucky woman."

"I'm trying," Thor said softly. "I fail more than I succeed, but I'm trying."

"I think you are doing admirably well." Loki put his hand on Thor's arm. "Believe me."

Thor looked down at Loki's hand, but seemed neither offended nor uncomfortable with the familiarity. "I have a duty. To her, myself, to our people. And I want this to work."

"You are making it work. And speaking of that... I really ought to get back to mine. Rowan can't brush herself."

"If she could, I would be both impressed and afraid," Thor said. "But you are right--I have kept you from your duties long enough."

Loki turned back to Rowan, and said, softly, "Though I can hardly complain for having your company, my prince. It is a gift."

"I am certain that you have not seen the last of me," Thor said. "Farewell--for now," he said, touching Loki's shoulder before he turned to go back to the palace.

***

Loki tied her hair back. "Are you certain you want to do this?" She gave Thor an arch look. "I would not want to harm you."

Thor smiled so widely that it crinkled the corners of his eyes. "I invite you to try, my lady. And if you succeed, I will congratulate you on your success. Now--attack me, if you can."

"'My lady', he says." She grinned, and picked up a wooden training sword. "Be careful, my lord husband. I may not be so gentle with you."

"Do your worst, Loki," Thor shot back, taking a defensive posture, a shield in his free arm.

She had never actually used a sword--she vastly preferred knives and magic--yet her confidence never wavered, even as he knocked it from her hand again and again. He helped her with her grip and her stance, and after some time, though she never struck him, it was at least harder for him to disarm her. Her strength perhaps did not match his own, but did, as a matter of fact, rival that of many of the fiercest warriors of Asgard.

Which was why it was such a surprise when they paused for a break, and Thor had turned away from her for a drink of water, that she threw herself at his back in an attempt to knock him to the ground. All she accomplished was to bounce off of him and tumble onto her backside on the floor. It probably should have come as no surprise at all when he offered her his hand and she grabbed it in both of hers, tugged hard, got her legs around him, and managed to pull him to the floor with her.

She beamed at him and said, "Ha!"

Thor laughed, beamed back at her, and then moved without warning, pinned her to the ground, body and hands both, and held her there. "Very, very well done," he praised. "But do not pause to gloat, as tempting as it is. Too many times, I have fallen prey to that instinct," he admitted.

He was strong and solid and heavy. Her breathing quickened. She looked up at his face and gave a little nod. "Yes, my lord," she murmured. She wanted him so badly. He was right there--so close, and yet so far away. She had to force herself to stay very still, despite the instinctual urge to writhe beneath him.

Here she was, open and inviting and he did nothing.

Loki licked her lip as her heart beat faster, and she looked away. "Thank you for the lesson," she added, a little belatedly.

"You did well--even better than I expected, and that is after seeing you in combat," Thor said, standing up and offering his hand, beaming at her. "We should do this regularly."

"I couldn't agree more," she murmured.

***

The librarians never paid much attention to the books that Loki borrowed. They didn't even seem to keep track of them. Even still, there were a few books she tended to sneak out and sneak back in along with everything else she borrowed.

Loki read too much. Those nights that she spent apart from Thor--though they weren't many now--she would spend time curled up in her bed with the particularly erotic books. The more she read, the more she understood, and the more she ached and wanted. She touched herself, one hand between her legs and the other turning the pages as she savoured each word and each image that sprang to mind. She tended to replace the hero's name with Thor's and the heroine's with her own, and soon she could close her eyes and imagine them both entwined.

She looked at herself in the mirror when she dropped her robe; her hair piled atop her head, deep colour still high on her cheeks, and her breasts still rising and falling with her rapid breaths--any man should want her.

Why didn't her own husband?

At least he still did not appear to be horrified by her presence, since they often shared a bed, even if they didn't share a bed.

She turned away from the mirror and sank down into the deep, warm water of her tub. She let her head fall back and sighed happily as she relaxed. One hand hung over the side of the tub; the other she let rest on her belly. She closed her eyes.

Thor. She could still feel him above her. How easy it was to imagine that she had not worn a stitch of clothing. How easy it would have been to spread her legs wide for him; how easy it would have been for him to take her! Oh yes, with her naked body writhing below his and perhaps he had merely opened his breeches to thrust inside her, into the heat of her body.

She wasn't even entirely aware of it when her hand slipped lower, but now she felt the sweet pleasure of her own fingers between her legs, working and rubbing over that spot that brought her such bliss. A whimper escaped her lips and she imagined Thor, working in her again and again, his mouth on hers; or on her neck or her breasts as he held her up against his body. As he rose to his knees and brought her with him, letting her move now, move herself on him, letting her move, letting her take, letting her feel--

She imagined Thor finding his completion as she did; she imagined that he spent himself deep inside her body. Her teeth dragged over her lower lip as she sank up to her chin in the water.

One day. Surely. One day, Thor would take her--and once he did, he would never want to stop.

***

By the time Cesario caught up to Thor in the clearing, Thor had already dismounted and allowed his horse to wander to the stream. Cesario, however, had laughter in his eyes as he chided, "That was hardly a fair contest, my prince. Halvard is a mighty warrior, whereas Rowan is a stately lady. She could not possibly hope to win."

"You have a point, but you were the one who challenged us," Thor said, laughing merrily. "And I make it a habit to never pretend to lose. The lady Rowan would not welcome that any more than my lady wife would."

Cesario patted Rowan's neck and produced a treat for her. "Perhaps you are right, my prince." He removed her saddle. "There you are, dear lady. You go have some water now." He wiped his arm over his brow; once again, he wore his sleeveless tunic.

Once again, Thor noticed the strength in Cesario's arms and hands. The work he did in the stables was hard, and it showed. It suited him. "You look overly warm, my friend," Thor teased. "Perhaps she is not the only one who could use some water."

Cesario's eyes were drawn to the water. "Perhaps I could," he said, thoughtfully, and then he pulled his tunic over his head and dropped it atop Rowan's saddle.

Thor looked surprised, then smiled. "More than just a drink, I see," he said. "I may join you," he said. "Unless you object."

"Not at all, my prince." Cesario glanced at him and smiled, then removed his boots, his breeches, and his undergarments. And then he ran right past Thor and dove into the lake.

Thor got as far as his pants. When Cesario stripped out of all of his clothes, Thor paused and watched him dive into the lake. His hands stilled, and he stared after him, swallowing hard.

He stripped as quickly as he could, wanting to get into the water before Cesario looked at him again.

Something wasn't right.

Cesario treaded water for a moment, watching Thor as he remained on dry land. "Hurry!" he called. "The water is perfect."

Thor stumbled as he got himself out of his pants, then dove into the water after Cesario, going as deep as he could, to where the water was colder.

Surely--surely--this was not happening.

When Thor surfaced, Cesario was attempting to float in the water on his back. "Do you know," he said, conversationally, "that I have only just recently learned how to swim?"

Thor, treading water, avoided looking... there. "I did not," he said. "Here, it is something that we learn very young."

He was grateful for the deep water.

"Oh, yes, everyone else I knew could swim. I just never bothered, really," Cesario said, airily. "I had better things to do, I suppose. Books to read."

"Your words sound familiar," Thor said. "Your upbringing sounds very like the lady Loki's."

Cesario sank down into the water a little and flailed his arms. "Oh?" He spat out some water.

"A life of scholarship... surrounded by books," Thor said, swimming a little closer without thinking about it. "How did you come to be a groom?"

"I like horses," Cesario replied smoothly. He turned in the water to face Thor, and reached out to push a strand of wet hair off Thor's forehead.

Thor leaned very slightly into the touch, not really realising he was doing it. "The work suits you," Thor said quietly.

Cesario's fingertips lingered; moved down Thor's cheek. And then he moved away. "It is work I enjoy."

Thor cleared his throat, moving away as well, into the shallower water. Why was he reacting like this to Cesario? He never had before. Why now? "Well... there is Rowan," he said.

"Yes, indeed. She seems to like me very much. And if I had not chosen this life, I may never have met you."

"I would be sorry if that were the case," Thor said, smiling.

He couldn't stop looking at Cesario. The strong lines of the muscles in his arms and shoulders, the planes of his face. He was beautiful.

Thor wasn't used to seeing the beauty in other people. He certainly wasn't used to feeling his body react to it. But he was feeling more now, here in the water with Cesario, than he ever had while touching and kissing his wife.

It didn't make sense... but it did make him feel horribly confused, and horribly guilty.

"So would I, my lord... my prince." Cesario smiled back, sweet and cheeky all at once. Without warning he splashed Thor and quickly, though a little awkwardly, swam away.

Thor cracked a smile despite the turmoil of his thoughts, and splashed at Cesario too, getting him far wetter than Cesario had gotten him.

Cesario actually yelped and sank under the surface again. He came back up, spluttering, spitting water, and let out a mock-fierce war cry (he sounded more like an offended kitten than a mighty warrior) and dove toward Thor.

Thor laughed, diving out of the way, then turning around and launching his own attack at Cesario. "For Asgard!" he called, laughing more.

Cesario yelped again and tried to get away. But he was not nearly the swimmer that Thor was, and he was quickly caught. Laughing helplessly, he squirmed and struggled against Thor--and suddenly went still. Cesario’s green eyes were wide and surprised when he looked up into Thor's face. "My lord..."

Thor froze too, realising that not only had Cesario just felt Thor's hard length against Cesario’s body... but that Thor had actually rocked up against him to savour the friction. "I... forgive me, please," he said, backing instantly away, stumbling in the water and almost going under.

But Cesario chased him, lunged at him, and wrapped his arms around Thor's neck. He kissed him, hard. "I never dared to hope," he whispered.

Thor froze, so shocked that he could not react at first. "Cesario!" he gasped, staring at him. And yes. Oh, yes. His body was reacting to Cesario's, a groan slipping over his lips as Cesario moved against him... as he instinctively rocked back, seeking more contact.

"My prince--my lord--please, you don't know how much I desire you. You could never truly... please. No one has to know." Cesario clutched at Thor, desperation shining in his eyes.

Nobody had to know. Somehow, Thor knew that Cesario would keep their secret. And he wanted, so badly. He ached for this... for the touch of another man, for Cesario's touch. It would be so, so easy.

Too easy.

Thor closed his eyes and turned away from Cesario's face. "I cannot," he said, voice rough and hoarse. "I am sorry, but I cannot do this," he said, tugging Cesario's hands away and stepping backward, a step or two first, then more quickly. "I am sorry," he said, voice breaking as he pushed out of the water, stumbling as he pushed up on shore and ran for his clothes. A sharp whistle from Thor called his horse to him, and wearing nothing but the breeches he’d managed to drag on, he galloped away, a wild and desperate look on his face.

Chapter Text

Thor and Loki were both very subdued over dinner with Odin and Frigga that night. No attempt at conversation engaged either of them. Thor excused himself before dessert could be served. Loki stared at her bowl for a long moment, then stood and excused herself as well.

She could never have anticipated that the events at the lake would happen. She always enjoyed that time with Thor--that special time where she was his friend, and nothing more. It had all changed, seemingly in an instant, and he had still rejected her.

She felt as though she was under water again as she unpinned her hair and changed into a nightgown. She curled up on her bed, hugged herself tightly, and tried very hard not to cry.

It was all so very unfair.

Loki reached up for one of her pillows and her hand grazed the latest tome from the library. She had hoped that this one, perhaps more than any other, might help her with Thor.

It hadn't worked, either.

She sat up, lifted the book, and hurled it at the door between their rooms. It made a loud thud, and another when it hit the floor.

She flopped down onto the bed again, hugged the pillow this time, and squeezed her eyes shut. She would not weep; she was stronger than that.

She cried herself to sleep.

***

Thor didn't sleep. Once he left the table, hardly having eaten a thing on his plate, he found a quiet place--somewhere he had yet to show to either Loki or Cesario. Somewhere that he knew that he wouldn't be disturbed.

He curled up in the corner, back against the stone, and examined his interactions with Loki, then the same for his interactions with Cesario.

He loved Loki. He loved her mind, her spirit, her intelligence. She made him laugh, pushed him to think, and he felt at peace sleeping beside her.

And his body felt nothing. It never had. He'd tried--he'd tried with her, he'd tried imagining her body as he touched himself, and there was no reaction. Nothing. He'd worried that he was wrong--broken. He'd tried to make himself go to the healers, but he'd never made it in the door.

Then, today, a touch from Cesario, a glimpse of his body, wet and glistening in the water, under the sun, and everything changed. He ached. He wanted. He desired.

He betrayed his wife, his vows. His body had betrayed them both.

He had no solution, and only one course of action. He had to talk to Loki.

Chilled and stiff from the time spent pressed against cold stone, he stood up in the pre-dawn light and stumbled back to their rooms, taking a long time to stand in front of Loki's door before he finally knocked.

The door opened a few moments later. Loki looked up at him and didn't say a word before she stepped back to let him in. Still she said nothing, and instead went to sit on the edge of the bed, drawing a blanket around her shoulders.

He should have noticed that Loki was off as well, but he didn't. As usual, Thor was too self-obsessed to notice anything but how miserable he was. "Please... may I speak with you, my lady?" he asked, following her toward the bed.

She looked up at him with little expression on her face. "Speak."

Thor looked at her, met her eyes, then sank to his knees in front of her, a penitent look on his face. "I have failed you, my lady."

"And how is it you have failed me, my lord?" Loki sounded almost impossibly tired.

Thor bowed his head, unable to keep looking at her. "As a prince, as a man, and most certainly as a husband," he said, sounding as weary as she did.

"Why?" she asked. "What is it you have done now?"

Thor didn't know where to begin. "I do not know what knowledge you had prior to your arrival here about the peoples of the Asgard," he said, "so there are things that I do not know if you know. The vast majority of our people find pleasure in both the male and female form, and when the time comes for them to select a lover, the gender of that partner is the lesser concern. Emotional compatibility becomes primary, after the initial physical attraction. Fandral's lovers are varied, men and women both. Most Asgardians are like Fandral."

He took a deep breath and kept speaking. "I never expected to marry so young. You know this--I know you do. We have spoken of it. As I am to be king, I must someday have heirs. I knew that I was not ready for this, and I did not want to lose my heart to a lover only to have to marry for politics and turn away from them to do my duty. I would not risk my heart on a lover of either gender--as well as the chance of offspring on a female lover--so I ignored that side of me. There was work to be done. My father needed me to be his right hand, his sword arm when he could not leave here. I did not seek out physical pleasure with a partner. I had my friends, my family. I felt sure that when the time came, everything would happen as it was meant to."

He looked up at Loki again. "I was wrong. I tried, but I was wrong. I thought there was something wrong with me, that I was ill. I grew closer to you, began to fall in love with your mind, your spirit, your sense of humour. I knew that you were the Queen that the Asgardian people will need come the horrible day that my father falls. I knew this, and yet I could not fulfill my duties to you as a husband." His voice broke as he finished speaking, and he stared down at his hands, eyes stinging with unshed tears.

"Oh, Thor," she said, very softly, as she touched his cheek. "Do you know that is the most you have spoken to me without interruption in all the time I have been here? No, my love, hush and let me respond, or I fear I won't be able to.

"I didn't know until very recently about that particular facet of love on Asgard. I found a romance between men in the library and that opened my eyes to how much I still have to--no, how much we still have to learn about each other."

She'd told him to hush, but he couldn't do it. Not when there was so much she still didn't know.

"There is more," he interrupted. "I cannot... you will not be so kind to me when you know what I have done. What I almost allowed to happen," he said, looking utterly wretched.

"There is a boy who works in the stables. He tends Rowan... I'm sure you've seen him. I... we started to speak when I was spending so much time there, away from you, and we became friends... started spending time together. I was ashamed to spend time with the Warriors Three and Sif, afraid they would know how I was failing to be the husband that you deserved, and I welcomed his friendship." He took a shaky breath and kept going.

"Today... today we rode out to the lake, and we went swimming. When he disrobed, my body reacted. I..." He struggled for words, fought with the overwhelming guilt he was feeling. "Please believe me that today was the first day, the first time that I realised what was going on. That I realised that I was not like most of our people, who feel desire for both men and women. Today was the first time that I realised that my body responds to men, and it seems, to men alone." He tried to lift his head, to look at her, but he failed.

"I wanted him. To touch him, to be with him... to take him," Thor said, voice dropping to a whisper. "He begged me to, and I almost succumbed to my desire for his body. I managed to stop... to pull away and to leave, and I left him there and came home. Because... because he wasn't you. You are my wife, and I love you, in every way but this last way. And you deserve a husband who loves you and wants you in all ways. And I do not know what to do."

She regarded him for a very long time after his confession. She was silent and still and then she put her fingers under his chin. "Husband. Look at me." She waited until he finally did. "I love you. You do know that, don't you?"

Thor nodded, throat too tight for words. He knew. That was part of why he felt so guilty. He knew that Loki loved him.

"Now, I want you to listen to me," she said, firmly. "Jotunar are a secretive people. We--they--wanted to give the other realms as little to use against us as possible, especially since falling in battle to Asgard.

"I have heard comments from old warriors about how Jotunn women must be kept hidden. They aren't. The warriors of Jotunheim are not men, not by your reckoning. Frost Giants have no gender as you understand. We are neither male nor female. I am Laufey's child--borne of Laufey. I assumed this shape for you, because it is what Asgard would understand for me to bear your children.

"Look at me. Look at my eyes. You have scarcely met them in all this time that I have been here, from all your shame and your guilt. But look--really look. Don't you know them? Aren't they familiar to you?"

Thor's head swam with the information, trying to process what it all meant. He looked into Loki's eyes, and there was something... something familiar, something just out of his reach. "Loki?" he murmured.

"That is my name," she murmured back. "I'm neither female nor male, not in the way that you understand, but I was never entirely comfortable with this form. I was prepared to try for you, and have only in the last few months started to spend more and more time like this. As Lady Loki."

She paused, and looked away a moment, then looked at Thor again. "'Cesario' is a name I read in one of the adventure stories from the Furlings."

Thor sat back on his heels and stared at her. "Your eyes," he whispered. "His... Cesario?"

"Cesario was a fiction," Loki said. She clasped her hands on her lap and looked down. "I never wanted to lie to you, but it seemed necessary. I needed to hide, to get away, and though my hair and skin and eyes are the same colour, I still look different enough..." She shimmered, changed, and there was the young man Thor first met in the stables. "I avoided your parents, Sif, and the Warriors Three for fear that they might recognise me. Since you so seldom looked at me properly, you didn't recognise me at all."

Thor reached up and touched her--his--cheek. "I hardly know what to think," he admitted. "They are both you. Loki and Cesario."

Loki shook his head. "No. I have always been Loki. I regret lying to you."

"Cesario is not real, but this... this is truly part of who you are?" Thor asked, gesturing to the form Loki was in.

"Yes, my lord," Loki murmured. "This is part of me. It's the very last part of me that remains Jotunn--since I am neither male nor female, I can shift between the two. Perhaps it's part of my magic."

Thor looked back at Loki, thumb still moving over his cheekbone. "Do you mind?" he asked softly.

Loki covered Thor's hand with his own. "Do I mind being touched? Do I mind that you only want me this way? I just want you to desire me as I desire you."

"I did not lie," he said. "I have been falling in love with the mind and soul of Loki, Laufey's daughter, for some time now. Combine that with this body, this body that is yours as much as the other..." Thor trailed off, thumb brushing gently over his cheekbone. "Now I desire you in all ways."

Loki turned his head and kissed Thor's palm. "I love you. It didn't take long, my lord. I think I started to suspect you felt desire for me like this before you did, but it took this afternoon at the lake for me to know. I was distraught that you rejected me all over again."

"I had to," Thor said. "I made you a promise. A promise I didn't know how to keep, but I would not betray you like that. I did not know that Cesario was you."

"If you had just looked me in the eyes more often..." Loki shook his head, then reached out to stroke Thor's cheek. "I wonder if you would have realised sooner."

He leaned into the touch, then met Loki's eyes again. "Loki... Laufey's daughter--and Laufey's son--will you have me?" he murmured.

"Yes, Thor Odinson. I will have you. Always." And Loki leaned down and kissed him, tenderly, as he had done so many times before.

This time... this time, Thor responded. He murmured against Loki's lips as the kiss continued, carefully getting them both up to their feet. "Loki," he whispered.

"Thor." Loki wrapped his arms around Thor and kissed him again and again. And again. "I love you. I don't think I can change my public face after all this time without giving away a secret that the Jotunar want kept--but I will spend my nights like this, with you. I can't bear the thought of losing you now."

"Just promise me that this is real," Thor whispered against Loki's mouth. "Promise me that I won't wake up to find that this is all a dream, and we can make everything else work."

"Does this feel as if it's a dream?" Loki asked. He ran his hands down Thor's back. "Do I feel like a dream?"

"None of it does," Thor said, groaning softly at the touch, pushing back against Loki's body. "Everything is real. So, so real."

Loki held him tight, his hand moving through Thor's hair. "And we have the rest of the night." Loki leaned in and brushed his lips tenderly over Thor's.

"All night," Thor murmured. "All night for me to begin to make up for so much."

Loki slipped his arms around Thor's neck. "And you have a great deal to make up to me, my love," he said, teasingly, with a little glint in his eye.

Thor smiled, but then his expression shifted to something more serious. "Before we begin, I must ask you something first," he said. "I must be certain of something."

"You can ask me anything."

"I feel as though I am getting everything I could have wanted... that you are changing and sacrificing yourself, and I am reaping the benefits. Will you not end up resenting me for this?" Thor asked softly. "For my inability to desire you in one form?"

Loki took Thor's hand and sat down on the edge, pulling Thor down with him. "I love you," Loki said, "and I want what is best for both of us. I am as much Loki now as I am when I am Asgard's princess. What I expect from you, my lord, is for you to love and respect me. I would be your equal. If I am your equal, if we share our duties and responsibilities, then I will not resent you."

"I want that also," Thor said. "Then let me make one suggestion for us both. In here, I am Thor, and you are Loki. If we are equal, there need be no titles between us."

Loki smiled. "I was getting a little bored with the titles, I must admit," he said.

"Good," Thor said, smiling too. "So... are you as untouched in this form as you are in the other?" he asked, his hand trailing down Loki's neck.

Loki closed his eyes for a moment, then looked at Thor again. "It's still me, Thor. Just me. I am untouched by any hands other than my own."

"Then let tonight be the night we change that," Thor murmured. He leaned in for a kiss, extending it this time as his hands moved down Loki's back and Loki leaned in closer. His arms went around Thor and he kissed him back with abandon.

This shouldn't have worked out for them. None of this. There was no way this marriage should have worked; they shouldn't have learned to care for each other. They were too stubborn. They were too pig-headed, both of them, barely into adulthood, barely coming into their own. This never should have worked. But despite all that, and all that had happened between them, Loki loved Thor and had been far more patient than Thor deserved. All his patience had worked out well for them both. They could make this work; Thor loved him, even if they had to hide this part of Loki from the rest of Asgard.

Loki sighed and broke the kiss. He rested his forehead against Thor's and lifted a hand to stroke his hair. He smiled, and leaned back a little to look at Thor, and then got to his feet to pull off his tunic and drop it to the floor.

Thor smiled at Loki, looking his fill as Loki removed his tunic. "My turn, I suppose," he said. He stood and tugged his own off and over his head, letting it fall to the floor. "You are beautiful," he murmured, placing his hand against Loki's chest, sliding it down to his side and resting his hand against his hip.

"So are you, Thor," said Loki. He ran his hands up Thor's arms. "But you've had fewer chances to see me like this than I have to see you." He leaned in for another kiss. "Touch me."

Thor's hand slid up higher and he tilted Loki's chin up so he could kiss him again, licking at Loki's lips, murmuring as his free hand kept moving. He let his fingers dig in a little as they moved up Loki's back, then back down again, skimming the waistband of his trousers. Within moments, Loki broke the kiss so that he could undress completely. He pressed close again and leaned up for more sweet kisses, which seemed to go on forever. Soon enough, Thor could feel Loki tremble against his body.

"Thor... can we... bed, please, the bed?" It seemed there was one way to tie up Loki's silver tongue. He stroked Thor's hair. "Please. It would be very unbecoming of me to fall on you."

"As you wish... the bed," Thor agreed, and lifted Loki up and onto it, following him a moment or two later. Loki touched Thor's cheek, then tugged him in nice and close for more kissing.

The more they kissed and touched, the more Thor's nerves shifted to anticipation. He covered Loki's body with his own and leaned in close, gasping into Loki's mouth as their cocks brushed together.

Loki gasped, too. "Do that again, Thor." Without waiting for a response, he lifted his hips to rock against Thor's.

"Loki," Thor groaned, pushing back against Loki, savouring the friction. "Please, keep moving." Loki was enthusiastic; Thor probably didn't have to tell him to keep going. Loki wrapped his arms around Thor and rocked his hips up, again and again, moaning.

"Thor. Thor, I love you."

It was so simple, really, but so, so good. Better than anything Thor had ever done by himself, certainly. "I love you," he whispered back, voice hoarse. "I do--I have for a while now."

But now Thor could love all of him. Perhaps his love and desire wasn't quite so rigidly defined as Thor thought, but neither of them would bring that up now, not when they were like this, not when it felt so damn good.

Loki gave Thor's hair a little tug, and kissed him again. "Mine," he whispered, against Thor's mouth.

Thor moaned, not sure if it was the possessive words, the tug to his hair... or the sweet slide of Loki's cock against his own. "Yes," he rasped, nodding his head, hips jerking faster.

"Yes. Yes." Loki tugged again, kissed Thor harder, and then jerked hard with a gasp. He tilted his head back and let out a soft cry as he came, spending himself between their bodies.

The extra slick between them and the sound that came out of Loki was all it took to send Thor over the edge too, grinding back against Loki the entire way through his release. "Loki," he whispered.

"We need to do that again," said Loki, several long moments later when the frantic pace of his heart had started to slow. He sounded a little dreamy and far-away.

"Mmm..." Thor murmured, nuzzling in against his shoulder. "We need to do that often."

Loki laughed softly. "Will you stay the rest of the night?"

Thor lifted his head up so he could look at Loki. "I'm hoping that you'll decide you want to stay more than the night," he said.

"Every night," Loki said, touching his finger to Thor's lower lip.

"Every night," Thor said, kissing the tip of Loki's finger. "I love you."

"And I love you."

"And you will be here when I wake up?" Thor asked.

"Always," Loki murmured, pressed in as close to Thor as he could get.

***

They were roused just a few short hours later by one of Loki's maids, who apologised profusely and blushed bright red when she saw Thor. When Loki sat up, she was a lady again, and she did her best to alleviate her maid's embarrassment. By keeping the girl's attention focused on her, she allowed Thor to escape through to his own room to wash up and dress for the day.

Breakfast was not the somber affair that it often was, though Thor and Loki were still very quiet. But instead of staring miserably at their un-eaten meals, they kept looking across at each other, smiling shyly, and once, just once, Loki found herself giggling.

Loki couldn't concentrate on her studies. She was thankful that she only had one lesson with a tutor today. She spent hours on horseback, letting Rowan run where she desired, and this at least took her mind off what it kept drifting toward--finally, finally, having Thor the way she wanted.

She was more comfortable in this body now, and she might even admit that it was largely because she enjoyed the dresses and the hair. She could command so much attention as Lady Loki and it wasn't just the attention paid her by her maids. It was the attention paid her by the court.

But she would never have chosen to invent 'Cesario' if she didn't sometimes need to be Lord Loki, too. She would have to continue to be a princess for the court, but with Thor...

She loved him. She pondered this as she paused and looked out over a river, idly stroking Rowan's neck. She loved him enough to give him what he needed. Maybe she was a romantic, just as Thor had accused Cesario of being--they had been married for less than a year, and it was a marriage neither would have chosen. Maybe she had fallen in love with Thor Odinson because she kept telling herself that she should.

Loki had sacrificed everything, but what had Thor sacrificed? The future he had chosen for himself, certainly. Was it reasonable for her to expect more from him? She had a future of her own now, here, in this remarkable place. Loki would not be King of Jotunheim the way he had once imagined himself. Loki would instead be Queen of Asgard.

Thor would one day rule--and perhaps he could share that rule with his Queen in a way that Odin and Frigga did not. She had told him that she wanted them to be equals. All she could hope was that he would actually give her what she wanted.

In the meantime, there was the politics: her father would need to know what she had done. They would need to speak with Laufey about the secret Loki had spilled. They would need to speak to the All-Father about the treaty--about the future.

But perhaps not just yet. Loki leaned down and ran her hand along Rowan's neck, then turned her to head back to the stables. Thor was all hers now. Maybe for at least a few days, she could be a little bit selfish.

After all these long months of waiting, she owed it to herself.

Chapter Text

There had been days since Loki came to Asgard when Thor had found excuse after excuse to stay away from the palace until evening, avoiding his wife and all of his responsibilities toward her. It would figure that the one day where he was anxious to get back to Loki would be the day where his duties as prince kept him away from the palace (and Loki) until it was time for the evening meal.

He barely ate anything due to nerves, but this time it was anticipation rather than fear that had him on edge. He watched Loki leave the dining hall, planning to follow immediately. Somehow, he managed not to kill Fandral for delaying him, smiling and participating in the conversation, despite the fact that every instinct was screaming for him to get to Loki as quickly as possible.

For this was real. While Cesario the groom, newly arrived in Asgard, was a fiction, the man that Thor had met was also real--also Loki. He spent most of the day wrapping his head around it, realising that somehow even though he did not deserve it, he was able to have everything he desired: the mind, soul, and spirit that he'd already fallen for, combined with a body that he desired more than he'd dreamed was possible.

Truly, it still felt like a dream, much of the time.

***

Loki slipped out of the dining hall. She knew Thor would follow.

She watched herself in a mirror as she unpinned her hair; she shed her dress and changed instead into the breeches and sleeveless tunic that 'Cesario' had taken to wearing on the warmest days.

Loki slipped into Thor's room and padded barefoot to the bed. He pulled down the blankets, fluffed the pillows, and made his way to stand before the window, staring out at the dark night sky.

He would wait as long as necessary for Thor to arrive, but he had a feeling it wouldn't be long at all.

***

Loki fretted. She ran her hands over her skirt, paced away from Thor, and paced back to him. "I should not have worn the dress," she said.

"You needed to wear the dress to get here," Thor pointed out. "People have not become accustomed to you wearing anything less than the height of fashion."

Loki's hands fluttered a little and then she went back to Thor, put her hands on his chest, and rested her forehead atop them. She sighed.

"It will be all right," Thor murmured, his hands on her shoulders. "I promised you."

"I know you promised. But I shared one of our most closely-guarded secrets. I was never supposed to tell."

"If you hadn't, we would not be where we are right now," Thor said softly. "We are partners, Loki. In everything. That will be our legacy."

"Our legacy." She looked up at him and gave him a very brave smile.

He kissed her forehead. "We will build it together," he promised. "Besides... you are of Asgard now," he pointed out. "Asgard will protect you. Even from your father, if necessary."

She touched his cheek, and finally the doors opened. She stepped away, and gave a curtsey as Odin, Frigga, and Laufey entered.

"Father," said Loki.

"Loki," Laufey said, walking over to her and looking her over, head to toe, as though he were satisfying himself that everything was all right. "You look well, daughter," he said.

She actually looked surprised and touched her fingers to her forehead. And then she smiled. "I am very well, Father, thank you. Will you sit with us?" She gestured to the table.

Laufey nodded, letting Loki lead the way to the table. "I believe I can guess why you have called me here," Laufey said. "You are with child."

Laufey's assumption was so far from the reality of what they were there to discuss that Thor looked as though he were about to laugh. Fortunately, he had learned some measure of control, so no one but Loki noticed the near-slip.

***

Loki was the last.

There was no longer a need for the treaty. The royal family of Asgard would, soon enough, be part Jotunn, part Asgardian. What need was there to keep taking Jotunheim's children as tribute? Their blood would now forever run through Thor's bloodline.

Loki would rule at Thor's side. She was not his spoil of war. There would be lasting peace in the Nine Realms--an alliance of peoples, rather than a truce held by the presence of prisoners behind Asgard's lines.

The treaty would be altered; Thor and Loki were the last such match. The magic would no longer affect future generations of Frost Giants. The All-Father had his secrets; they all knew that. Loki wondered if all of this was always Odin's plan. Loki wondered, also, if the treaty's magic was the reason she never had siblings--but never voiced that question out loud. She expected to get no answer. And while the change to the treaty pleased Laufey well enough, she didn't want to say anything that might cause discussion that would anger him.

She looked down the table at Laufey. "Does this work for you, Father?"

Laufey's expression gave away nothing, but after a long pause, he nodded. "I have already given Asgard my child," he said. "We have no greater prize to be taken from us."

"Thor and I have done much to change each other's lives," Loki said. "For the better, I should hope." And then she paused, and looked at their hands, and squeezed her fingers around Thor's. "The other reason we asked you to come, Father, is that I must confess to you that I told Thor the secret about me that I know you warned me never to tell: that I am not female, and that I am not exactly male, either, but rather, neither and both, like all our people. I told him that I am your heir, born of your flesh."

"You did what?" Laufey's voice was dangerously quiet. "You told him? You're speaking of it here, now, in front of them?" he demanded, gesturing toward Odin and Frigga.

"Thor had a right to know," Loki said. "Our concept of gender and sex is different from theirs--and Thor does not physically desire me in a female body." And he changed; though Loki remained in the dress, the slender and lovely young man sat there instead of the beautiful young woman. "But he does desire me when I am male. For the sake of our privacy, Father, I will be Asgard's princess. But for my family, I will be Thor's prince."

Frigga sat back a bit more in her chair, looking at Loki her son in law, rather than her daughter in law. "That was what was wrong, wasn't it?" she murmured. "Why things were so strained between you two. Thor, you never told us."

"I didn't know," Thor admitted. "I'd always assumed I would have to marry a woman, and that when the time came, everything would be fine. When it wasn't... I did not know what to do. What to think."

"I don't understand," Laufey said, looking angrier by the moment. "The Asgardians are created male and female--they have two genders, they intermingle between them for marriage and procreation. We have always understood this to be true, and now you are telling me that Thor will not have you unless you are male?"

Loki lifted his chin. "For procreation, yes, a male and a female are necessary," he said. "But for love, Father--two men may find it together, or two women. Thor loves me, no matter what. But his desire is for a male lover. It would seem love, for Asgardians, can be complicated."

"And this form... it is no illusion, but another version of yourself, is that correct?" Frigga asked Loki. She projected calm and reassurance into a room that was becoming too tension-filled. "You are not having to pretend to be something you are not?"

"It is no illusion," Loki said. He glanced at Laufey, who looked furious at the mere idea of giving more information. Loki could not stand the force of Laufey's glare and instead looked at Frigga again. "I have no sex. I'm not even certain I am 'properly' male or 'properly' female. Slipping back and forth is as easy to me as breathing. All I know for certain is that I love your son more than I have loved anything else in my life--" and now he looked at Laufey again, "and I will not lose him."

Laufey huffed softly at this display of sentiment. "Who else knows?" he demanded.

"No one but those of us here in this room," Thor said, leaning in a bit closer to Loki. "This secret is important to your people, and we will keep it for you. Loki will still be my bride, the princess that our people know her to be. This form... it will allow her some freedom from her responsibilities as princess, some time where she can go unnoticed and unremarked. I love Loki for who Loki is--the wise, wickedly clever, terribly funny person I was married to. I desire this form," he said, waving his free hand toward the slim young man sitting beside him.

"It is not a secret among our people, but Loki said that your people do not know that most Asgardians desire both the male and the female. Some few of us desire only the opposite gender, and some few only the same. I am one of those, although as I said, I did not know it until very recently."

"Even after these long, uncounted years," said Odin, "I can still be surprised. Laufey, King of Jotunheim, you have my word that this secret shall be protected. But I am glad to know, and knowing what I do, I promise you that I will protect your child all that more fiercely. Loki is your treasure--and also ours."

Laufey still didn't look happy, but he nodded, just once. Even with the treaty now a true alliance, and the tribute of the non-giants dissolved, Asgard still had a secret to hold over the Jotunar.

"As we cannot go back and undo the truth that Loki has told, I am forced to agree to this," he said. He leaned back in his chair and looked at Loki. "You could not have just been here to tell us you were carrying our grandchild?"

From anyone else in the realms, his tone would have been considered plaintive.

***

Loki took Thor's hand as they followed Odin and Frigga across the bridge and back toward the palace. "Father never stays long," she said with a little sigh. "It must be so difficult to see me this way."

"It cannot be easy for him," Thor said, rubbing his thumb over the back of Loki's hand. "All parents lose their children to an extent when they marry, I think, but you're no longer even recognisable as his, and you will never return to the land of your birth. I cannot imagine what that is like, for either of you."

"I miss Father," Loki said. "I do. I think of home, think of everything I had..." She looked out at the palace, at all of Asgard that she could see. "And then I think of this place, and you, and my new friends, and our mother the Queen and the All-Father and I think I am blessed."

"Things are changing," Thor said. "This isn't going to be like what happened to the others like you. You'll still see him... and things will get better between our realms. Just know that you are as welcome here as if you were born among us."

"I do know that, Thor," she said, "believe me, I do. I know that the assassination attempt was very real, and very serious, and we will probably have to be wary for some time--but I also know that with those who truly matter, I have been made very welcome."

"There are also people out there who hate me and wish I were dead," Thor said. "I don't have to tell you that it is part of being in power. We will always have to be careful. But we will not let that stop us from doing what is right."

"We will shape and create and define the future," Loki said with a smile, confident and determined. She looked up at Thor. "Together."

"Together," Thor agreed. "But not tonight. For tonight, I think that we have done enough for the future of both of our people."

"Tonight, I think I would like to have you all to myself, rather than share you with the future," Loki said.

"I agree," Thor said, looking ahead, then back to Loki. She saw his impatience. "I suppose it would be inappropriate to run."

***

Loki shed both the dress and the female form almost as soon as they were in Thor's room. He stretched, right up onto his toes, and wandered naked to Thor's bed. He sat down on the edge, smiled, and held out his hand.

"I think that went very, very well, don't you?" Thor stripped out of his own clothes and took Loki's hand, drawing himself in closer.

"Oh, yes," said Loki, "I think it went very well." He leaned in and pressed a kiss low on Thor's belly.

"And as we were saying... tonight, we don't have anything to worry about but each other," Thor said, fingers pushing in through Loki's hair as he groaned softly.

"Nothing at all," Loki agreed. He ran his hands up the backs of Thor's thighs. "Nothing to do but learn more about each other."

"I think I've been learning a lot lately," Thor said, voice already rough. "Have you been doing more reading?"

"Mmhmm. Putting my excellent imagination to good use." Loki pressed kisses to Thor's hip, then across to the other. "There have been days that this is all I can think of. It's all I can do to sit still."

"Have I mentioned how much I love your imagination?" Thor asked, tugging lightly on Loki's hair, head tilted back for a moment.

"You could stand to mention it more often, my love." Loki trailed his tongue over Thor's rapidly hardening length.

"I love it," Thor gasped, looking down again as he watched Loki's tongue. "I'm always wondering what it is you'll have to show me the next time we are together... just thinking about your wicked mind arouses me."

Loki looked up at Thor, through lowered lashes, gave a naughty smile, and opened his mouth for Thor's cock. Both hands slid up higher to Thor's hips. Thor whispered his name and pushed forward slowly; his cock disappeared into Loki's mouth and Loki closed his eyes--but only for a moment. He wanted to watch Thor. He moaned around Thor's cock as it moved over his tongue and gave his hips another squeeze. Thor pushed forward over and over again.

And just when Loki knew Thor was getting closer and closer, he pulled away--it hadn't taken long for him to learn when Thor was close to his release. Just a few nights. He flicked his tongue over the head of Thor's cock and looked up at him. "Tonight, Thor. Please--I want you to take me. I want you inside me tonight, finally."

Thor panted for breath. "Loki... Loki." He moaned, eyes closed, fighting for control. "Yes," he whispered.

"Perfect." Loki got to his feet and leaned in and up to kiss Thor. "I have ached for this for so long now."

Thor pushed his hand into Loki's hair and extended the kiss, breathing hard when he pulled back. "I have owed this to you for some time, and I am more than ready to fulfill my side things," he murmured against Loki's lips.

"Oh, I certainly hope so." Loki brushed his fingers over Thor's mouth, then pulled back and crawled onto the bed. He made sure that Thor could get a very, very good look at what he had to offer.

Thor groaned again as he watched Loki. "If you keep moving like that, we may end up with more of a delay than you would wish," he said, voice low.

Loki smiled. Still on his knees, he stretched out an arm and lifted the little vial of oil that they had started keeping by the bed. He'd had Thor's tongue and Thor's fingers inside him. There were things to be said about taking their time to really learn each other's bodies...

But now Loki was ready. He was tired of being patient. He wanted Thor to take him.

Thor moved up onto the bed behind Loki and took the oil from his fingers. "You are so beautiful," he whispered. He slid his hand up from the small of Loki's back to his neck, then gently pushed his head down toward the bed. "Up--lift up for me," Thor murmured. The touch felt deeply intimate. Loki bit his lip and lowered his torso to the bed and lifted his hips for Thor.

"Promise me that you'll let me go slow and take my time," Thor murmured. "Promise me, Loki."

"I promise, Thor." Loki felt the oil drip down along his crease, gasped softly, and shifted his hips. "We'll take our time. There's no hurry."

"None at all," Thor said, dragging one finger down Loki's crease through the oil. He followed it with his tongue. Loki whimpered and almost dropped down onto the bed. When Loki cursed at him, Thor nipped gently at Loki's ass in response, then licked at the bite as he started easing one slick finger inside.

The moan that Loki let out sounded like it had started at the bottoms of his feet. He shook a little, all over, and moved against Thor's finger. He had waited so long--and he had to remind himself that he had waited this long and he could afford to wait a little longer.

They had forever together.

"You are so tight... I can barely move my finger inside you, your body is so tight," Thor whispered, leaning over to kiss the small of Loki's back. "Breathe. Relax."

Loki whimpered. "I'm trying..." He was so, so eager and had looked forward to this for so long that the very anticipation of it all had his entire body tense. He took a deep breath. It didn't help. He gasped when Thor eased his finger back. Had he done something wrong?

"Shh... I'm not stopping," Thor promised, before Loki could protest. "I just need to relax you a little more. Turn over."

Loki actually whimpered again, this time at the lack of contact, but he did roll over onto his back. He spread his legs wide. "With all your newfound confidence, one would think you had done this before, you know."

Thor laughed softly, leaning down and licking a stripe up the length of Loki's cock. "We have been doing a lot of practicing for this," he pointed out.

Loki couldn't respond. Thor's tongue was doing things to him. He spread his legs wider. Thor pushed a finger inside Loki's body again as he lowered his mouth over the head of Loki's cock and hummed.

Oh, this was a good idea. A very good idea. Anyone who said that Thor wasn't clever needed to be flogged, because Thor was infinitely clever. Loki moaned and had to force himself to keep from thrusting up into Thor's mouth, even as Thor's finger moved in and out of his body. Loki wanted so very badly that there was no way he could hold on for long. Of course, he seldom did with Thor; with his own hand, he could still make it last, but never with Thor. At least not yet. He reached down to push his fingers into Thor's hair and let out a ragged moan.

It was all the warning he could give.

Thor still wasn't very good at swallowing, but it didn't stop him from trying--warning or no warning, he didn't back off. He just eased in another finger and took Loki as deep as he could, swallowing hard.

Now Loki was boneless and very content, sprawled out on the bed, moaning softly to himself. At that moment, Thor could do almost anything to him and Loki would be more than okay with it.

Thor finally lifted his head, come smeared across his lips and chin, panting for breath as he looked down at Loki. "Much more relaxed," he said.

"Oh, Thor, your fingers... please, move your fingers," Loki said, breathless. "Please?"

Thor laughed softly, doing as he was told and starting to move his hand again. "I was trying to be gentle... to let you rest," he teased. "I forget how insatiable you are."

"You would also be insatiable if you had been married to you and unable to have you," Loki said. He lifted his hips a little higher.

"I will take your word for it," Thor said. He reached for the oil. He pulled his fingers almost all the way out, drizzled the oil over them, then pushed them back in, quicker than he'd intended.

Loki gave a soft cry. He bit down hard on his lip. "Thor..."

"I'm sorry... I'm sorry, my hand slipped," Thor murmured. He leaned down and kissed Loki, his lips still sticky with Loki's release. He kept his hand still, thumb moving up and rubbing the place directly behind Loki's balls.

Loki stroked Thor's cheek. "I'm... I'm all right, Thor, oh, please don't stop doing that, it feels so good." He couldn't stop moving his hips. He needed more. More. Everything. He closed his eyes and moaned, low and deep and almost purring, as he moved languidly on the bed, legs spread wide for Thor. For when Thor was ready to take him.

It was a long, long time before Thor added in another finger. They both wanted this, but after everything... Loki understood why Thor wanted to take his time. He still felt he had much to make up for, so Loki would be patient. For a time, at least, as Thor worked his fingers inside him and leaned down, licked at Loki's cock again, sucked lightly, moaned against the skin.

"Take me, Thor." Loki stroked Thor's hair, then gave a little tug. "Please, love, please take me now."

"Like this?" Thor asked. He groaned at the tug to his hair, nuzzled against Loki's stomach. "Back on your knees? How do you want this, Loki?"

"On my knees first," Loki murmured. He was still very relaxed, despite the fact that Thor's fingers inside him were fanning the flames of his desire again--a little laugh bubbled up in his throat. Oh, that was like something out of one of those poems he liked to read so much.

"On your knees," Thor agreed, nodded, then leaned forward. "A kiss first," he whispered, brushing Loki's lips with his, then taking it deeper.

The whole time, he kept moving his hand and twisted his fingers inside Loki's body.

The whole time, Loki had trouble concentrating on the kiss itself, because he kept moaning and working his hips against Thor's fingers. And despite being filled as he was, he felt empty--he needed more.

Thor pulled back finally, eyes dark. Loki's breath caught in his throat as he looked up at him. "Please, Loki," Thor murmured. He eased his fingers back and away, reached for the oil with a shaking hand so he could slick his cock.

Loki groaned. He rolled over onto his belly, then pushed his hips up and rested his head on his arms. "Thor, take me. Please!"

Thor swore quietly, moved in between Loki's legs; one hand moved to Loki's hip, the other wrapped around the base of his own cock. "Breathe," he said, voice low and firm.

Breathe. Just the tip of Thor's cock started to push inside Loki's body. Loki took a deep, shuddering breath, then let it out. Breathe. They'd talked so much; Loki had read so much; they were as prepared for this as they could be, and yet--nothing could have prepared Loki for the way it felt when Thor's cock began to push inside him.

He had been made for this. The universe had created him for Thor.

There was no comparison. No hand, no mouth, no anything could feel as this felt. Loki could feel that Thor was shaking from the effort of holding back. He took his time and pushed in bit by bit--he refused to rush, and Loki didn't rush him.

They'd both earned this moment.

Loki whimpered. He held very still. He waited, patiently, as Thor pushed deeper and deeper inside him.

Finally.

Thor sighed when he was as deep as he could get, resting his body against Loki's. His lips brushing the back of Loki's neck. "I love you," he whispered.

Loki shivered all over; pleasure from Thor's kiss, pleasure from Thor's words. "I love you," he whispered back. "I can feel you. Inside me. All the way inside me."

"You fit me so well," Thor murmured, rubbing his cheek against Loki's shoulder, moving just a little inside him. "Perfectly."

"Yes. Yes, perfectly," Loki agreed. He gasped when Thor moved inside him; tensed around him; pulled a groan from Thor. Thor pushed forward again. Another gasp; once again, Loki's body tensed around Thor's cock.

And now Thor couldn't stop moving. "So good... you feel so good," Thor rasped out, hands braced on either side of Loki's body. He rocked into him over and over again, and Loki closed his eyes and moaned with each thrust of Thor's hips.

This was worth the wait. Loki was so glad he had waited; that he had been patient; that Thor loved him.

Thor loved him. Desired him. There was passion between them.

They could--and would--do this again, but never again could Loki feel what he did right now. The very first time with Thor inside him, taking him, pushing into him over and over again. Loki knew, logically, it was perhaps foolish and sentimental to make such a moment so very special, but he never wanted to forget. He never could--Thor was his now, all his, and he'd never let go.

It wasn't perfect by any stretch--Thor kept getting distracted and falling out of rhythm, and at least twice he lost his balance and just barely kept himself from sending them both crashing down to the mattress. And not once did Loki complain about the imperfections--in fact, they were just part of what made this so special. He just loved every moment that he had alone with Thor, now that he had them.

What was perfect was the connection, the feeling that finally, finally, they were together in all ways.

"Loki... Loki," Thor gasped, fingers clenched in the bedsheets. "I can't...I'm going to..."

"Yes, Thor," Loki said, "yes, let go for me. I want you to... please."

Thor made a low, needy sound, rutted desperately into Loki's body for a few long moments before he went abruptly still, crying out Loki's name as he came inside him.

The quickened pace of Thor's hips, the harder thrusts, and his voice when he spilled his seed into Loki's body all made Loki's desire rise to a crescendo of its own. Even as Thor stilled, his sweat-slick body pressed tightly against Loki's, Loki reached down to touch himself, fingers curled around his cock as he stroked himself to completion a second time.

Loki arched his back, pressed himself tighter against Thor's chest, and a few breathless moments later, relaxed. He breathed out a sweet sigh and let himself fall down onto the bed, eyes closed--and a smile on his face.

Thor moved when Loki moved, cheek against Loki's shoulder, barely able to keep enough of his weight off of Loki's body so that he could breathe.

"I love you, Thor," Loki mumbled, sounding sleepy.

"I love you," Thor murmured back. "I should move, but I don't want to. Perhaps ever."

"I'm going to start insisting, Thor."

"Mmm... I suppose being able to breathe would be good," Thor sighed, groaning as he eased off of Loki's body. He collapsed beside him.

Loki let himself be pulled in against Thor's body, and he rested his head on Thor's shoulder and closed his eyes. "Thor. That was...." He sighed again.

"Right," Thor said, stroking his hair. "It was right."

"Yes, it was." Loki laughed softly and held Thor a bit tighter. "My entire world seems to have fallen into place."

"It has, hasn't it? You are still Asgard's princess, and my prince," Thor said, brushing Loki's hair back. "My love," he added softly.

For a moment, Loki held his breath, for fear that this wasn't real. He squeezed his eyes shut; this could not be a dream. The universe could not be so cruel to him--he could not have done anything to deserve it. And when he opened his eyes, he was still in Thor's arms, and everything in his world was where it should be.

The end.