“Why couldn’t you just let me go?” Loki whispered through his teeth. Harsh and unforgiving, which was just what he planned to be the moment that he was able.
Baldr walked beside him, head held high and eyes focused on the rapidly approaching throne room door. The corner of his lips twitched just the slightest, an amused little quirk that set Loki’s blood on fire. “Don’t hate me just yet, brother.”
Loki growled under his breath, unable to produce words suitable for the amount of hate he truly felt. The large, gilded double doors swung open and Loki’s attention was immediately snatched by two sets of stern eyes on him. He paled, Lady Freyja’s gaze was somehow more unforgiving than Odin, who just looked tired by comparison.
The Einherjar escorted them to the base of the steps, each giving a slam of their spear hilt into the marble flooring. Its ring echoed shrill throughout the room, enough to make Loki wince.
“My sons,” Odin said, calm but grave. His one eye swept the floor, taking in Baldr and Loki—and then, further to the left, Thor and Tyr. Loki hadn’t even noticed them on entry, and he felt a thin break of sweat on his brow. Every one of them looked on the edge of panic, even Tyr, who kept a stoic face but tightened his fists at his side. “I expected more from each of you.”
“I wish that I could say the same,” Freyja chimed. Her gaze commanded Loki’s attention, and he knew she spoke to him directly.
“Couldn’t this wait until morning?” Tyr interrupted. A brave fool as always; so self-centered.
“Baldr seemed it the utmost importance to conduct this meeting now.”
All eyes turned to Baldr—some with annoyance, some with confusion, and Loki, with absolute murder. He cowered for half a second, and then he righted his shoulders and jutted his chin back up in the air. False bravado, all of it. Loki eyed the twitch of his jaw, recognized the fear in his eyes.
“Loki was running away!”
Rat, Loki thought. A sneaky rat. Oh, how he’d like to snap him between a trap, make him—
“Is that true?” Odin asked, and he was forced to tear his seething stare away from his brother, just in time to meet his father’s inquisitive eye.
It was very likely they knew it was true. No doubt Baldr had ran and told them his plans the moment his grubby fingers landed on the letter. Served him right, Loki supposed, for trying to give him a polite goodbye. A foolish move.
He sighed; no point in lying now. Maybe they would show mercy.
“Yes,” he confessed, though there wasn’t a note of happiness in it. He didn’t feel lighter for the truth, only bogged further down. Loki closed his eyes, listening to a few shocked, scandalized gasps, not really sure who made them. Family— or the court? Surely his family wasn’t shocked.
“Why?” Lady Freyja asked. “Have we not been kind to you?”
Loki gaped; eyes wide as he searched for an answer, only to find nothing on his tongue. Had this question not been so recent, there would have been one ready and waiting. Yes, of course, they were kind to him. They fed him, clothed him, gave him the title of prince—or, let him keep it, rather. But, as Loki stood there staring at the pair that he called mother and father, he found the answer did not come easily.
“You didn’t treat me kindly because you loved me,” Loki whispered, the realized truth of it stinging and burning on its way out. “You did so to keep me placate and amenable to your plans for me.”
Neither Freyja nor Odin blinked, strangely resolute in a way that hurt Loki more than any slight he could have imagined. More than Tyr’s cruel words, more than Thor’s rejection, and more than Baldr’s betrayal. They couldn’t even disagree.
Loki blinked back his tears, but it didn’t stop them from falling. “What? Aren’t you going to tell me I’m wrong?”
He cut Baldr off with a quick turn of his head. “Shut up,” he snarled, under his breath. “Is this not what you wanted? For me to be trapped here and humiliated?”
It seemed his brother had nothing to say about that, and neither did the other two. Thor and Tyr stood silently at the corner, watching with varying degrees of horror.
“No one wants that, my son,” Odin said from the throne. “Though the intention of bringing you here from Jotunheim was to allow you to grow comfortable, and perhaps favorable, of Asgard—we do you love you.”
Loki felt as though his body was caving in on itself, that his heart was expanding too big for his ribcage; that it would explode, and he would die, and they’d kick him under the rug and shrug their shoulders. He didn’t believe them. Who did Odin speak for? Himself? Freyja? Perhaps Tyr, or Thor, or Baldr?
“The prophecy—” Lady Freyja stopped her sentence short, her brows knitted together in quiet confusion.
They were all staring.
Beneath him, Loki heard a crack, and when he looked, he found the marble under his foot had frozen and spiderwebbed in intricate splinters of ice. He brought his hands up, staring at the backs of them, finding the skin blue, raised white lines patterned against them, and his nails dark. It was then that he noticed the room had dropped a few degrees colder.
“Loki,” Thor whispered, the first words he’d spoken since Loki’s arrival. He held out a tentative hand, lowering it carefully when there was no attempt made to reach back.
“I don’t care about the prophecy. I wasn’t born merely to fulfill it,” Loki said slowly, keeping an icy red glare on Thor.
“You were!” Odin stood quickly from the throne, the first real thread of anger present. “You are unable to run from it.”
“I can, and—”
“If I may?” Baldr cleared his throat, fumbling from foot to foot. Every eye turned toward him, and he attempted to hide the effects of such scrutiny. “I believe I have found a solution.”
Loki dropped the fist he hadn’t realized he’d risen. He stared at Baldr, who gave him a small smile—and for a brief moment, there was a flash of the brother Loki remembered. Humble, and nice, loyal, and undeserving of the pain Loki had caused him.
“Continue,” Freyja said, stern.
She watched with a pointed brow, eyes never leaving Loki. It must jar them all, to see him in his true form. His horns sat heavy on his head, but he did not shift back. Let them gawk. Let them be reminded who and what he truly was.
Odin waved a hand, and Baldr nodded.
“I’ve been scouring tomes and ancient scrolls on the prophecy, trying to find some loophole to free the binding. And it seems, all the texts are the same—even down to the wording.”
Loki’s shoulders deflated. So, he hadn’t found anything at all. He was bound to this damn destiny, forced to marry and forge an allegiance with a father and home he never knew. What did it matter? Who was to say Laufey-King wouldn’t break that trust? What good was Loki’s life in the crossroads of conquest?
“But,” Baldr continued. “That prophecy speaks not of marriage.”
The throne room grew quiet and still. Tyr’s face finally cracking, a confused twist of his mouth present. “What?”
“It’s true,” Baldr insisted. “It only says that Loki should rule side-by-side with the King of Asgard.”
“As consort,” Odin corrected, though he sounded uncertain. “How else would he accomplish such a thing?”
“That’s archaic thinking,” Thor chimed it, striding across the floor to Loki’s side. He spared him the briefest of glances before slapping a reassuring hand on Loki’s shoulder, giving it a tight squeeze. “There are many ways for him to rule alongside Tyr without being married to him.”
Loki, stunned speechless, watched Odin and Freyja exchange a troubled look.
A laugh bubbled out and echoed through the great room. Only when everyone turned toward him once again, did Loki realize it was coming from him. That only sparked it further, he doubled over from it, great billowing heaves escaping him until tears formed in the corners of his eyes for a reason other than frustrated sadness.
“He’s lost it,” Tyr commented dully.
Loki dutifully ignored him. He had a feeling he’d be doing that quite often. “All this time, all this heartbreak I’ve caused myself,” he looked to Baldr, and to Thor, swallowing. “And that I’ve caused others—was all based on a technicality? You told me I had to marry Tyr when I didn’t at all.”
“Now, little Loki,” Tyr said, that condescending tone he always had when addressing his youngest brother. “Would marrying me be that bad?”
“Yes,” came the harmonized chorus of the remaining three sons of Odin.
“Mother,” Baldr started. “Tyr has countless paramours, some within other realms that could tie yet another political alliance.”
“All of the realms, save Jotunheim, are already loyal to Asgard,” Odin answered. Freyja held a hand up, stopping him from speaking further. He obeyed with a simple nod of his head.
She looked to Loki, and he knew that whatever left her next, was meant for his ears only. “What do you think of all this?”
Loki felt as though he’d been suspended in a time-lapse this entire hearing. That his body was frozen, the only thing keeping him grounded being Thor’s gentle hand on his shoulder. He struggled to find his voice. It seemed to retreat within him as Lady Freyja descended the stairs; glorious, statuesque, and fierce—how he’d always view her.
“I believe,” Loki’s voice came out little more than a squeak. He snapped his mouth shut, found his bearings, and tried again. “I believe that if you marry me to Tyr—you will never find the peace you crave. I will fight, every day. I will never give Asgard an heir.”
Loki grit his teeth as she bore down on him. He didn’t back away; he had nothing left to lose. Fight or flee, those were his only options…and fleeing, well, that hadn’t worked out as planned.
“I will start a war if I have to,” he whispered.
Freyja stopped just short of him, sizing him up. He hoped he looked menacing, like his Jotun brethren. She regarded him for a moment, stoic pull to her lips, before nodding and pulling him into an embrace that threw him off balance. He sank into it, wrapping his arms around her back and holding himself there. Loki buried his head as close as he could in her neck, though his horns soon became tangled in her hair, nearly knocking loose her helm.
“Hold on!” Tyr barked from across the room. Freyja pulled away, turning to her son with a set in her jaw that dared him to defy her. Though, Tyr had never been very smart when it came to displays of such pious bravery. “Loki was promised to me.”
“You fought this union just as much as Loki has!” Thor spoke up. “I cannot count the days on the training grounds that you lamented about being forced to marry him!”
Loki winced. That hurt, regardless of how this seemed to be swinging in his favor.
“It’s true,” Baldr agreed.
“Was it not just months ago that you came to me complaining?” Odin asked.
Tyr fumbled, groaning under his breath. Unable to produce even the weakest of protests, he cast his gaze back down to the floor. Agitated, but defeated. For all his power, he was not king—and he still bent the knee to Odin and Freyja. Still just a stubborn, unruly prince.
“Let us think on it,” Freyja said, her eyes found Loki. “But, if it is a war you promise for being wed to Tyr, I would be a fool to think it would still end in peace.”
For the first time, Loki felt hope.
“Leave us.” All of Odin’s sons turned toward the door at his command. “Tyr, you stay.”
Loki looked quick enough to get a taste of immense satisfaction at the terror struck on Tyr’s face. Would it be terribly immature of him to stick his tongue out, like how he used to pester him when he was a child? Probably best not to muck up this favorable flow. Thor guided him out of the throne room, Baldr close at their heels.
Once they were finally out, the door shut, Loki let out a breath, sagging against Thor’s shoulder. It felt good not to have him shy away, or awkwardly push him upright, he let himself be an anchor for Loki, fingers squeezing into his hip. He never wanted to leave his side—but from the corner of his eye, he caught sight of another brother. One that looked slightly more troubled as he shifted his gaze to the floor and away from them.
“Baldr,” Loki said, catching his attention once again. “Thank you.”
“Why’d you do it?” Loki looked to Thor, shocked. It seemed he didn’t find sincerity in Baldr’s actions, or at the very least, was suspicious of hidden motives. Baldr only scoffed.
“Believe it or not, I care for Loki.” A pregnant pause, where Loki took the time to look between them and take in the daggered glare they exchanged. “In the same way that you do,” Baldr added. “But I think you know that.”
“So, you wish to marry him.”
“What if I don’t wish to marry either of you!” Loki exclaimed. “Why does everyone in the damned realm think I’m jumping to get married?”
“Did you not…?”
Loki stared at them both, shrugging from beneath Thor’s arm and backing away. Maybe he should just run after all. He turned his welling anger to Baldr first. “You only did this so that you could marry me instead?”
“No, Loki, I swear.” He sounded sincere at least, but then he fumbled. “I did, at first.”
“I knew it.”
“Shut up, Thor,” Loki warned.
“I thought maybe that’s what you had wanted too! But when I realized my mistake, I didn’t stop looking. If just one of those texts who have mentioned marriage, they would have never agreed. I needed to be thorough.”
Loki stayed still in stunned silence.
“I was the wrong brother,” Baldr finished quietly. “I know. But I love you both and I know the way that you love each other. So, please, just don’t let my hard work go to waste.”
He rushed to Baldr, flinging his arms around him and hugging him tightly. After a few stunned moments, he felt the embrace returned, Baldr burying his head into the crook of his neck and letting out a little laugh. When he pulled away, he thumbed a tear at the corner of Loki’s eye, looking him up and down with a crooked smile.
“You look good like this, by the way.”
Loki reached up and touched a horn. He’d almost forgotten. “Thanks.” He pulled back from the hug, ignored the way Baldr smiled, but his eyes still looked sad. He’d never given much thought to his feelings before—he almost wished he had sooner.
“Yes,” Thor said. He put an arm around Loki’s shoulder. “Thank you.”
Loki looked up, just in time for Thor to tilt his gaze down. It felt rude to kiss him in front of Baldr, but a quick peck wouldn’t hurt. His lips lit aflame when they met, just knowing this time he could keep him. If he wanted.
He may just let him stew a bit.
Their kiss broke with an awkward cough and the reopening of the double doors. Tyr looked not very pleased at all, red-faced and jaw muscles ticking. He didn’t even look their way as they entered.
“Loki!” Odin boomed.
It seemed they weren’t wasting any time. His stomach was in knots awaiting their verdict, even if Tyr’s sour mood seemed to tell it all.
“Would acting alongside Tyr, when he is king, as acting Ambassador for Jotunheim relations keep you complicit.”
Loki felt absolutely giddy, but he trained his voice to be calm and steady. “I would consider it.”
Freyja’s mouth twitched into the barest hint of a smile. “You have much training to do, and luckily Odin can hold off Tyr’s coronation while you are prepared.”
Ah, so that was why he looked so murderous. Good. He needed to be taught a little patience.
“That seems fair.”
More than fair, really. If there was one thing Loki had learned on this journey of self-discovery, it was that he wasn't the best at relations. He'd really need to sink in, absorb all there was to know. It might take years, maybe longer. Oh, the thought of Tyr losing his plaything and his crown was simply delightful.
“But,” Odin interjected. “Laufey-King has believed his son to marry a prince.”
“Oh.” Loki hoped he didn’t sound breathless. He pointedly didn’t look at Thor. “How troublesome.”
Freyja rolled her eyes.
“I’ll do it!”
Every eye in the court turned to Thor. His cheeks flushed at the attention, ducking his head in embarrassment at his readied eagerness.
“You’d be so brave?” Loki asked slyly.
“I’ve met beasts more fearsome than you,” Thor teased with a wry smile. They made eyes at each other, and a simmering heat curled his stomach. Loki doubted he cared at all if Thor decided to take him right there.
A cough broke that pleasant vision.
“Loki, would this please you?”
He made a show of thinking about it as if he hadn’t been gunning for this exact outcome. As if he hadn’t laid in bed nights after nights dreaming of Thor being his. Through all that, the thing that pleased him most of all was the choice. He could say no. He wouldn’t, but he could. That power, that freedom, made all the difference.
“Yes,” Loki said at last, eyes still on Thor. His consolation prize; his now betrothed. “I think it would.”