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Laughter rippled through the air, chasing the sweet perfume of spring. Indeed the entire great hall had become a riot of colour and sound, flowers blooming from every inch of wall and pillar, vines and blossoms dripping from the vaulted ceiling above the crowd gathered below. This was a new beginning: snows melted away, green shoots pressing up through damp dark earth. Spring storms would come, of that there was not a doubt – but then birth could be unkind, could be painful and protracted. Yet it was only and always the beginning.

A grand feast was yet to be laid down upon the long tables. The guests milled about instead, forming groups, breaking apart, moving in a kaleidoscope swirl below. Loki watched from his favoured shadows on the steps above, the faint shielding spell hardly necessary. He’d had practice enough at watching the world from a place once removed.

Another echoed his own stance, standing apart from the growing crowd. No seiðr dimmed one’s perception of her. Her very being simply set her apart. But even if one could not look upon her long, few could deny that she was lovely even in her great age – though very few might be sure how many years the old-blooded ljósálfar might truly live for. There were those who would say they could live forever. Raising the hand that bore the silver bracelet, Loki could not help but suppress a faint shiver.

Stepping down from his own secret silent place, Loki glided across the floor unseen to the alcove where she stood alone. With her eyes upon the crowd, she held only a goblet in hand. The pitcher in his own tilted slightly, the wine within gently lapping at its silver sides.

“Might I fill your glass, Lady Lofn?”

No surprise could be found in those watchful eyes. But then she might have seen right through him from the beginning – the very beginning.

Her glass inclined. “Please.”

Only after he had filled it to the brim did he spell it away, folding his hands before him with a courtly grace. “Are there others in your party?”

“No.” Her free hand smoothed over the elaborate embroidery of the loosely-draped gown. “It is unusual indeed, for those of our kind to venture much beyond the borders of our home.”

“Then the honour is ours.”

“Rather, I should believe it mine.” The ljósálfar’s gaze dropped to Loki’s left wrist, but he could see nothing of the thought behind the motion. “Though of course the ceremony has been performed once already in its most binding form, it is rather special to be the one to preside over the official wedding of kings.”

“No one has said I shall be king.”

She looked up, the sharp gesture the only indication that she had been moved by the unintended bitterness of the statement. “How else could it be?” And she sounded genuinely wondering, as if she truly expected him to answer such a question. “You are equals in this, Loki. Not even your words could twist it to any other configuration.”

His teeth clicked together, then he clenched them, controlling that faint but rising anger – at her tone, the lack of respect, the words themselves. But she only watched him, without fear, without pleasure: those pale eyes with their ring of deep blue, hair as white-silver as her skin.

After a count of nine or ten, his heartbeat slowed again to a more usual rhythm. “The bond merely marries us,” he said, lightly conversational; Lofn took but the barest sip of her wine.

“You speak of marriage as practised by the Aesir,” she noted, not with disparagement, but rather something sounding akin to sadness. “This marriage, the one you and your brother now share, is far older than that.”

To speak of him was to desire him: Loki’s gaze took flight across the room. It took but the barest of moments to slake that desire: Thor, brilliant in gold and red, surrounded by courtiers and nobles and guests. Laughter crossed the space between them in pulsing waves, his brother the beating heart at the centre of all.

“And this love, for him.” Her voice sounded as the slow, aged waters of a glacier melting and changed. “It is older than this marriage, too.”

One hand lay casual upon the nearest pillar; Loki suspected Lofn realised that had he not placed it there, he might have fallen. “The Norns always did love to laugh at those of us who live beneath their prying eyes and meddling fingers.”

Though she stepped close, her nearness did not disturb him in the way another’s would; it felt instead as though a soft breeze had shaken the leaves of a tree at his side. “Ah, careful, there,” she murmured, pitying rather than warning. “They have sharp ears, as well as sharper thoughts.” Her sudden laughter danced upon the air. “But then they are only pushing into motion what already had been set before.”

Loki kept his eyes upon his brother. “I put more faith in chaos.”

That made her laugh, true and easy. “As well you might,” she said, her hand light upon his shoulder for but the briefest moment. “They do say chaos is the most supreme order of them all.”

Leaving no room for reply or refrain, Lofn glided away across the room. People parted at her approach, but paid her no heed. Pale and silent as she was, she might merely have been a wandering spirit seen by none but the very young, and the mostly mad. But as she passed by Thor, he looked up – not at Lofn. Those brilliant eyes sought out and found only Loki. Even had he blurred his presence, Loki suspected Thor would have seen him. He always had seen Loki.

Through the room he moved with the easy strength of a rising stormfront. Most noticed his trajectory and let him be. Loki only waited; no sense in outrunning that which he craved most. Only when at his side did Thor hand him one of two goblets, taking a long draught from his own.

“You seem quiet, little brother.” His eyes flicked sideways, filled both with laughter and a strange insecurity. “Second thoughts?”

Any amusement Loki might have taken in playing upon that unfounded fear would have had little pleasure for either of them. Rather, he answered as honestly as his tortuous thoughts might ever allow. “Would it matter if I did?”

“Yes.” Again, another long pull at the goblet; his throat worked as he emptied the goblet, and set it aside. “Loki, it doesn’t have to be this way.”

“It does.” He stared into the rich crimson of his own untouched wine. “Idiot.”

Once, Thor might have left such assertion unchallenged. Now, he turned more fully to face his brother, one hand curved about the nape of his neck, fingertips rubbing getting at the soft curls there. Loki shivered beneath his touch, arched into it without thought. Thor only shook his head, the faintest of smiles a sad curve upon his lips. “And you say I’m the one who doesn’t listen to what people are saying,” he murmured, and pressed their foreheads gentle together. “It has to be, Loki. That I do not believe anyone might deny. But the manner in which this exists – in which we exist – can be anything we choose to make of it.”

Instinct told him to pull away. Loki smiled, and pressed close enough to turn whispers to kisses. “And you make it sound so easy.”

The low rumble of his chuckle rolled around chest and throat alike. “I never said a word about it being easy.” Leaning back, now cradling his brother’s face between both hands, Thor laughed outright. “Besides, I grew up with you. I don’t do easy. I was never allowed to.”

There were many things he might say to that. Loki had no heart for cruelty tonight. Instead he gave a light tsk, turned back to survey the crowd as he let the shielding spell drop, allowing them to again see his beautiful golden perfect prince of a brother. It was easier to do it knowing he might have Thor all to himself again when he wished it.

He’d expected Thor to descend down amongst the crowd again, masking – badly – his pleasure when he did not. As a united force they stood high, goblets in hand, watching the gathering nobles and ambassadors. The snide little running commentary Loki began and Thor most definitely did not encourage halted only at one sudden entrance. Loki could not help the sharp little breath drawn in the moment he saw him.

Thor’s fingers pressed warm against the ice of his own. “Do you wish to meet him?” The words were soft, whispered into the hollow of his ear; Loki still winced as if they had been a scream. “If not, I will do it for the both of us.”

The stem of the goblet cracked between white-knuckled fingers. “I am not a coward.”

“No. You are not.” Without even looking to the task, Thor carefully removed the cup from his brother’s hands, set it aside in shadow. “But there are few encounters in one’s life that possess the potential to be as difficult as this one.”

He was so very tall. Loki had never seen a true-blooded frost giant in the flesh before; they had never had reason enough to come to Asgard, had it even been permitted. Strangely, it could not be denied that the Jötunn had some physical appeal. Compared to the coiffed and gilded nobles around him, this foreign prince possessed a rugged, wild kind of beauty: one lived on the edge of civilisation. Yet despite the odd and occasionally hostile looks directed his way, he moved with an easy solid grace. All could see this was a warrior born and bred, aware of his surroundings and his place within them.

“Loki?”

He wished Thor had not taken away the wine.

Loki?”

He smiled, brittle as ice upon the verge of avalanche. “Let us speak with him, then.”

He had not journeyed so far unaccompanied; two other Jötnar flanked their crown prince, both ever so slightly taller and broader than even his great bulk. Loki did not doubt they verged on decoration, all the same; the watchful way their guest regarded them both as the two princes cut across the room spoke of one well-used to relying upon himself for all that he needed and desired. Even as people turned, drawing back to allow Thor and Loki unfettered passage across the high polish of a mosaic floor, the Jötunn never once broke gaze.

Yet his personal guard did not draw away in deference at their arrival. Their prince made no motion that they do so, looking down upon them from his great height. Crimson eyes remained unblinking in amongst the winding scarifications that matched Loki’s own, raised and dark blue against his hard skin. Wordless, waiting, he bowed to no tradition, and to no Aesir.

Loki inclined his head, and though he raised his face, he managed to make it seem as though he looked down. “Prince Helblindi. Welcome to Asgard.”

Only then did Helblindi nod his own great head, gesture slow and relentless as the cutting pace of glaciers. “Prince Loki. I thank you for your welcome.”

“Your highness.”

With that same slow grace Helblindi turned his crimson eyes to Loki’s right. “Prince Thor,” he drawled, and for the first time Loki could sense an emotion other than simple tedium. “I believe congratulations on your nuptials are in order.”

Thor blinked, just once. “It is why we gather here today.”

The blue lips twitched. “Indeed.” Raising his gaze, he swept one tremendous arm about the gleaming glittering hall. “Your lord father has been most generous, in his invitation.”

Loki was not accustomed to being unable to read the motivations of others – yet Helblindi, alien though his physiology and culture might be, was as a blank wall to him. Still he forced a light smile. “As has yours been most gracious, in its acceptance.”

“Ah, well. Though he might never step foot upon Asgard’s golden shores, he did so wish to see again Asgard’s second son.”

He had not expected it to hurt, but it hit him all the same, low in the gut. The light pressure of Thor’s hand at the small of his back had him pressing back his shoulders, tilting his chin upward so he might display even this most brittle of smiles. “Perhaps he might yet, in the fullness of time.”

“Perhaps.” Appearing unmoved by the discomfort Loki could not hide, Helblindi nodded to the surreptitious gaze of the crowd upon them. “But for now, shall this be enough?”

“I believe it will be.” The words he yearned most to speak had lodged in his throat, stuck somewhere between sarcasm and sorrow: Give my regards to your lord father. All he could do was stare at this person who was and was not his brother, and know that the Norns had pulled tight upon his strings indeed.

Helblindi’s smile was faint, yet somehow honest. “I am pleased to have met you, Prince Loki.”

“And you.”

It was Helblindi who bowed from the waist, turned to walk away and leaving them alone. Yet they were not alone, not down here upon the floor, with a thousand eyes and more upon them. Spiriting a wine glass from a passing servant’s tray, Thor pressed into his hand. Loki downed it in three slow, controlled swallows; the liquid went down cool and dry, more steadying to his thoughts than it had any real right to be. Only then did Thor place a hand upon his shoulder, slowly but surely guiding them back to the edges of the hall. He spoke only as they neared an alcove, hushed and strangely awed.

“He is not as I expected.”

Loki made a rude noise the likes of which had not been heard since his childhood. “Why should he be?” Yearn though he did for another cup of wine, he kept his furious gaze upon Thor alone. “If we have learned anything, it is that we were taught little but fantasy and outright lie of Jötunheimr.”

Sometimes he thought it a miracle, that Thor had at some point learned it best to reason with Loki, rather than skip straight ahead to outright argument. “Do you wish to go there?”

It caught him offhand, his reflexive answer simple honesty. “No.” Then he paused, winced; the memory of the casket had never left him. Nor had the song of ice and winter caught within it. “No. I am home.”

“But you are a wanderer.” Loki frowned over at him, but Thor shrugged, as if he only spoke the truth and did not create. “You get that from Father.”

The crooked smile was too perilously constructed to allow words between it. With a sigh, Thor pressed close to his side, shook his head, spoke for them both.

“But do you not think, it has been too easy?”

“Laufey’s acceptance of my existence and my place?” Loki flicked non-existent dust from the shining leather of one sleeve. “Of course it was too easy.”

That beloved voice turned rough, harsh; it shivered through Loki with an excitement quite unfit for the company of others. “I will not let him take you from me.”

Keeping his face forward, ignoring the high flush threatening to creep up from beneath his high collar, Loki bit his lip hard. “He has no interest in a bastard runt.” Helblindi spoke now with Fandral and Hogun; Loki’s eyes narrowed to watch the careful interplay of Jötnar, Vanir, and Aesir sensibilities. “I know little of Laufey besides rumour and legend,” he whispered. “But I am his blood, and blood will out.”

“He cannot have you.”

Again, he shivered to hear the possessiveness roar of the yet-slumbering berserker beneath those words. “No. And I believe he realises this.” Loki turned to him, voice turned very flat. “There has passed between us too much time, there is too much to forgive at a fundamental level. I share his blood, but I have no love for the Jötnar nor for Jötunheimr. I am of Asgard, no matter my ancestry. This is my home.”

Thor’s hand about his own pressed tighter. Some other pressure warped his vocal cords, left his voice high and out of tune.

“But it might be different for a child. One raised from the very beginning to know that there are other worlds whose song their heart might sing, if they are willing to learn.” Choking back on gall both bitter and thick, he added, low and strangled, “That is, if there is one willing to become their tutor.”

“You believe Laufey will attempt to take from us our child?”

His brother’s rising anger washed over him in a cleansing wave, and everything in him yearned to let it rise further, to stoke it to blazing furious burn. Instead, Loki turned, shook his head. “He is not a fool,” and how he wanted to laugh, if only to hold back the sobs buried somewhere deeper in the ache of his chest. “We may not know my dam, but he is my sire. And though I was raised by one of the greatest liars of all the realms, I did take to it myself with a natural ease.”

The Thor of old likely would not have let this stand. He might even have crossed the floor to lay Helblindi flat with one swing of Mjölnir, sparking an inter-realm diplomatic disaster. Now, he stood tall and quiet at Loki’s side, generous lips thinned to a low frown.

“We cannot allow it to happen.”

“Thor.” His brother’s gaze turned to him, and Loki frowned. “If it happens, it will do so whether or not you and I attempt to stop it. If there is one thing our upbringing and subsequent marriage should teach us, it is that parents rarely know what will be best for their children.”

The sheer disbelief on Thor’s beloved face hurt, having hit him with the force of a slap. “You can’t want this!”

“I do not.” One hand moved to the other’s vambrace, fingers tracing over and over the patterns beneath which sharpened steel lay hidden. “But it is in the future yet, Thor. And yes, we can work against it. But any children we have, they will have minds of their own.” Then he glanced up, unable to stop his eyes rolling. “And if they are anything like us, why, then we are in for trouble indeed.”

In return, despite the seeds of deep unease Loki had sown, Thor managed a lopsided grin of his own. “Stubborn and brilliant and far, far too willing to find adventure in all the wrong places?”

“Yes, I do bring the brilliance to this equation, do I not?”

“Cruel and clever,” he agreed, but amiable with it. There was more to be said – there would always be more to say – but even as Loki watched the relaxed mood bled from him, spine stiffening, face smoothing out to a courtly calm. “But I do believe our king and queen are here.”

Following his gaze, Loki noted their parents’ heralds had indeed entered, were even now placing themselves for the announcement and fanfare. “…will we be kings?”

He stopped being a prince just long enough to grin like a child given everything he’d ever wanted. “I feel as though we already are.”

Later, they allowed the revels below to continue on without them, alone upon the balcony of Loki’s chambers. Neither could say for sure really sure how it started, save for them standing together, side by side, their realm spread below in shimmering gold and silver. That alone might have been enough. It was theirs, and they were one another’s, and in the end all was tongues and teeth and hands grasping for skin and hair.

“Oh, we shouldn’t be doing this now,” Thor said, making absolutely no effort to stop. “We’re to be married, on the morn.”

“We are already married.”

“Yes, but—”

“Yes, but, I am the voice of reason in this partnership.” Loki bit his lip, drew back at Thor’s yelp of undignified protest. “And it is my considered and unbiased opinion that you should remove your trousers right this Norns-damned moment.”

This time sheer surprise held Thor absolutely still, which was really to Loki’s benefit. He just laughed into his open mouth, stealing more kisses all the while. A moment later said trousers were removed. The spring air felt surprisingly cool on bared skin. Of course it didn’t bother his brother, already utterly naked; Loki himself remained only in trousers. Such a situation could not last, not with their bodies pressed tight together and Thor’s hand down the back of the leather, two long fingers already rubbing, seeking out the hole that would welcome him soon enough.

This would not be their first time. That had been awkward, uncertain, even near-disastrous. The second, third, fourth – much the same could be said of those, too. For two people who had often excelled early at what interested them, it had proven a most sobering experience. But there had been pleasures, too; pains eased by words and touch and long evenings lying in one another’s arms. But the gleam in his brother’s eyes now said tonight would be no time for sleep; Loki revelled in the full-body shudder as leather slid easy from his hips. Already he knew where Thor wanted him: the lounging chair before the balustrade.

But it was Thor who took his place there, sprawled upon his back, flush-headed cock already standing to high attention. With a slinking slide of hip and shoulder, Loki threw one leg over his chest, straddling Thor with hands wrapped about the balustrade. Here he could rise and fall in whatever rhythm best pleased him, riding Thor’s face while the city drunk itself to stupor below. The marital ceremony would not come ‘til dusk. There would be time to recover for the next round of feast and fermented beverage.

Loki did not care. He had no need of wine, mead, beer – he could stay here all the day instead, with his brother. His husband. His king – whose tongue this moment pressed into the loosened ring of muscle, fingers digging deep into the tight muscle of ass and thigh. The roughness of his beard had him thrusting his head back, gasping, sighing his name to the skies.

Thor…”

Below him, laughter rumbled in cresting brontide. Anchoring his fingers into hard muscle, Loki rose one last time, and then slithered his body down upon his brother’s. With a grin he found the taste of himself on those beloved lips; rubbing his own against the stubble of his beard, he jerked his hips to feel the tingling delicious pain. Then he moved again, but this time for the great cock rubbing between the cheeks of his ass, the leaking head catching the lip of his hole just now and then. Catching a sob upon a sighing moan, Loki moved again, and again, trying to catch him, trying to draw him in.

But even Thor, with such long practice to his name, could not stand such teasing forever. Flipping Loki over with but one hand, he used the other to press down between shoulderblades, forcing his ass up and out. The slide of him in burned, Loki’s cry lost in the kisses Thor then pressed between them. Fisting hands into the furs, Loki rose up, and immediately Thor’s arms slid around him. There they pressed tight together, chest to back, Thor’s face buried in the arched curve of shoulder and throat. The only real motion was the frantic motion of hips, a relentless thrust and roll, all sound lost where their lips then never broke apart. The warmth of Thor spilled inside, but it was not enough; a hand slid down between them, took Loki’s aching cock in hand until it had ended for them both.

On his back, sated at last, Loki revelled still in the frank eroticism of watching his brother lean back, licking Loki from his fingertips. “Your table manners always have been atrocious,” he noted, mocking his brother with the edge of his words; Thor only raised a lazy eyebrow, and let himself fall upon the blade.

“Hmm.” Extending his arms above his head, muscles in languid swell and stretch below the golden skin, he tilted his brother a sly look worthy of the god of mischief himself. “That reminds me: we haven’t broken in any of the tables, yet.”

Snapping to attention, Loki slid up on one elbow. “Not in my room.”

Thor’s eyes wandered to the door, recently installed, that joined their bedchambers with a passage like an umbilical cord. “Well,” he said, and then rolled bright eyes back to his brother. “We do have all night.”

“We have forever,” Loki corrected, and then let himself fall back to the bed, and the demand of Thor’s warm embrace. “But I suppose I might stay up a little longer, yet.”

Somewhere in those lazy kisses, Loki caught the flash of kaleidoscope light upon the bracelets; outside, the sky and city both rocked in the thunder of exploding fireworks. Thor drew him closer still, as if nothing else mattered.

But then, here, now – it did not need to. And as for Loki, he found himself willing to believe that with his brother bound to his heart alone, he might never need anything more than that.