Loki looked left and right before he walked into the courtyard. He was not sure when he had developed this habit, but if he studied it at all he would realize that he was making sure that Thor was nowhere around.

A subconscious desire to avoid trouble that he had managed to hone over the last year since his father had disciplined him in a most embarrassing fashion. Loki walked briskly across the grass, passing the community fountain on his way to the nearby library.

He would not be in Asgard at all if it was not for his need of a tome found only here for his research. Loki scratched at stubble upon his chin. He had become immersed in his studies, finding it an easy way to avoid allowing himself to dwell too long on his hatred of his half-brother and the sadness of his lot in life...

''Well, well, look what crawled out from under the rocks!'' The familiar voice made Loki jump, for he knew it to be Fandral. And if Fandral was there... Loki turned quickly to look behind him.

Sure enough, the other two members of the warrior's three plus Thor stood with him, appraising Loki. Loki burned with immediate anger to see how happy his brother was, relaxed among his friends. ''I wonder what mischief will befall Asgard now, for the sight of Loki certainly portends calamity!''

Loki's brow drew down in a scowl, and Volstagg playfully elbowed the smiling Fandral. ''Nay, Fandral, perhaps your jest is ill timed.'' Volstagg smiled at Loki as he took him under his arm. ''It has been some time since any mischief has come from our trickster, in fact, we rarely see him these days!'' Loki hated that Volstagg touched him, and pushed at the rotund warrior to disengage his grip, thinking Volstagg needed bathing.

Hogun crossed his arms over his chest, his glare making Loki's rising anger soar higher. ''Nay, Volstagg, he likely hides to better conceal his doings, I am more prone to believe he has become better at being under-handed than that he has sought reform.''

Loki clenched his teeth at the remark, his gaze flitting to his brother, who stood quiet, only watching. Likely agreeing with Hogun, to be certain. He wanted to lash out at them all, to tell them how simple they really were, but something checked him, and he simply ground his teeth instead.

''I must be going, it has been a pleasure as always...'' Loki's words were pleasant enough, but his eyes shot fire, his voice dripping venom. He wheeled imperiously around, turning his back to the four, and hurried to depart before he could say anything that might raise Thor's... or worse, Odin's, ire.

In typical Asgardian tradition, Fandral cupped his hands to his mouth and made chicken sounds as Loki retreated from the confrontation. Loki clenched his fists but continued walking, doing his best to look as if he had not heard the taunt.

Fandral did not realize how merciful Loki was being. Loki could think circles around all of them, and if he wanted, he could reduce Fandral to a puddle with scathing retorts. He did not because he was a changed man, he would not stoop to their childish games. Deep down, Loki's heart told him he would not argue because he was afraid, but Loki did his best to ignore that feeling.

Loki ducked behind a pillar and peeked around it to watch the four leave. Another benefit of not arguing publicly... those involved would be less likely to pin blame on Loki if something... unfortunate were to befall Fandral.

The thought of getting caught made Loki want to turn around, to try and forget revenge, but he heard laughter from the four, saw how Fandral clapped Thor on the back and the two shared a jovial smile. Surely laughing at his expense. Loki's fingers dug tracks across the stone pillar as he ground his teeth. Yes, he would play a little prank on Fandral, something to draw them even. There was nothing wrong with making things even, was there?

Loki followed the four as they made their way out of the city proper, looking back over his shoulder often, worry creasing his brow. His heart raced, even though he had stalked Thor thousands of times in the past, now he found himself anxious as never before. His thoughts continued to stray to his father and the punishment he must surely face if he was caught in the act, and even after all this time, Loki found himself very paranoid of this.

Loki observed that Thor and the warriors three had made their way into the forest. Once himself under the shade of those trees Loki felt a little better, unconsciously relaxing now that he was out of the potential gaze of Odin and other Asgardians.

They walked for some time, Loki's tread becoming more sure with each step, his resolve more finite as they approached areas where no Asgardian claimed land. He watched as the four he followed stripped themselves of clothes and descended into a nearby stream to bathe.

Good, thought Loki. Volstagg certainly needs a bath. He averted his eyes at the sight of the voluminous one in all his naked glory. Loki stifled a retch, not wanting to alert the others of his presence.

As the others bathed Loki looked around casually, trying to think of what he was going to do to draw even with Fandral the hyena. His eyes caught upon Fandral's discarded sword, laying in the grass unwatched mere feet from where Loki hid.

Loki glanced nervously around, double-checking that the four were too preoccupied to look his way, then he crawled with more stealth than necessary to the weapon, scurrying back once it was in his hands. Couldn't be too careful...

Loki turned the weapon over, inspecting it. It was of fine make, likely a gift from Odin for one of Fandral's many exploits. Loki clenched his teeth at the thought of Odin lavishing gifts on the unworthy Fandral.

He drew the blade, noting the sheen of highly polished metal and feeling the weight of the weapon as perfectly balanced. He smiled to himself as he muttered an incantation over the blade, waving his hand in complex patterns above the weapon. A soft glow surrounded it and the metal blade turned into a wooden one, Loki's alchemy changing it's nature.

Loki snickered as he thought of what might happen when Fandral went to draw his weapon and instead found a practice sword. Loki lost his smile when he thought of how many times he had been caught by staying nearby to observe his own mischief.

No. He must be more careful now, it wasn't worth the risk. Loki settled himself to the idea of merely listening to the tale of Fandral's failed wooden sword later. Yes, he would indeed draw satisfaction from this.

Loki once more crawled the weapon back to where it was, careful to lay it as he had found it, and whispering a spell to cover trace of his presence from the ground. He crawled away as fast as he could while taking pains to be silent, his heart thudding in his chest.

It would be his luck to be caught now, this was where fate usually landed him a blow. But no one contested his retreat, and Loki observed the four still bathing, chatting among themselves. He breathed a sigh of relief and wiped sweat from his brow.

Loki hurried from the woods, smiling to himself. He had done it! No one had seen him, and he had not given the others sound reason to suspect his motives against Fandral. For once, Loki was going to get away with it! His heart soared as he changed himself into a bird, flying toward Asgard, intent on returning to the library as if he had never left. He would be sure to let the staff there see him, to better compound his alibi...

Later that night Loki wrung his hands as he sat in his room. He found himself worried again. No word from anyone about Fandral's sword. He did not know if the prank had actually had any effect. Fandral might have removed his sword from it's sheath simply to clean it and discovered it's changed nature, He would be angry over his destroyed weapon, of course, but Loki wished him to suffer more than that simple inconvenience.

Loki's heart whispered to him that he was afraid he had been found out, but he ignored this voice. There was no proof that Loki had been involved. Anyone could have tampered with the weapon.

The sound of shouts below his room window made Loki jump, worry creasing his features, but when he walked over to look down, he saw it was merely the revelry of a few Asgardian warriors headed into the nearby great hall. Loki decided it might be best to apply himself to finding out what had befallen Fandral and his stick.

He made his way to the great hall, noting that there were more present this evening than usual. Everyone feasted around great tables as servants brought plates heaping with fresh meat, fruit and vegetables to the hungry warriors gathered. Mead was also abundant, a mug or two in every person's hand. At the head of the longest table sat Odin in his giant chair of bronze, his wife seated to his right on a chair of gold.

Loki saw that Thor and the warriors three were seated at that table and averted his eyes, not wanting to draw attention to the fact that he was surprised at the sight of them. They were drinking and making merry! Fandral seemed to not even care that his sword had been destroyed, feasting and drinking with all the rest as if today was better and not worse than yesterday. Loki fumed inwardly, and his fists balled, but he did his best to look uncaring as he seated himself in a shaded corner, nursing a beer as he stared hatefully at the others.

Fandral smiled and winked at his close companions as he leaped onto the table, drawing the eyes of everyone in the room. He spread his arms out to each side, commanding silence as he smiled broadly at all of those around him. ''Mighty warriors of Asgard, Fandral of the warriors three brings you another tale of glory and heroism!'' All present cheered mightily, slamming feet and mugs before growing silent, a hushed stillness marking all who listened intently.

Loki found himself leaning forward as well, needing to know what had happened. Perhaps the others had fought, and Fandral had simply not drawn his weapon? That was unlike Fandral, but if the enemy had been dispatched quickly... even faster than the quick Fandral could respond? Loki felt uneasy... perhaps this was why Fandral told the tale?

Usually the one who acted least played the part of bard. Loki relaxed a little at this thought. Yes, it would make the most sense that for whatever reason, Fandral still has yet to draw his weapon. Loki fought back a sudden grin. What if he drew his weapon at the height of his story? Oh what a travesty when all beheld his child's weapon waving above his head! Perhaps those present would laugh at Fandral before he even realized why... Loki could only hope.

Loki snapped out of his own thoughts as Fandral finished a long drought of ale and began his story, starting with how a group of ogres had ambushed himself, Thor, Hogun, and Volstagg while they patrolled the wild lands earlier that day. He waved his arms and his voice lowered and rose as he smilingly portrayed the valiance of each of them as the great beast-men had lunged out of hiding. Loki strained forward as Fandral mentioned the actions of each hero in turn, but omitted himself. Why? Loki felt a cord of worry knead itself within him. This was unlike Fandral, he was typically quick to boast, arrogant as he was. Something was wrong...

At last as Fandral drew the story to a close, dancing around the table overturning plates and cups as he excitedly mimed the actions of Thor swinging his hammer, Volstagg stood addressing those attending. ''Oh, but in his modesty, Fandral omits his own actions! I, Valstagg the Great, shall tell his tale of valor as is his right!'' Loki's fingers clutched the table before him.

Tale of valor? How?! He was carrying a stick as a weapon! Loki leaned further forward as he listened, his mouth a tight line. ''Even as the ogres leaped out of their dark places, our hero Fandral drew his sword, lightning fast, the ring of steel filling the air as he laughed at the frothing monsters!''

Loki nearly fell out of his seat. He looked left and right, but no one seemed to pay heed to his surprise. A good thing he sat so far back in the shadows, he thought. As Volstagg went on to describe how Fandral had leaped into battle, sword cutting into his enemies, Loki felt his jaw drop in stupid disbelief. How? Volstagg was prone to exaggeration... perhaps he had taken to lying out-right? Thor made no move to correct him though, and if the blond-haired warrior had been there, he would certainly not allow Volstagg to speak such direct falsehood. As if to prove that the sword Volstagg spoke of was indeed true, Fandral whipped it from the sheath at his hip, waving it about to the pleased cheers of their on-lookers.

Loki ground his teeth in rage. How dare they steal his day! Surely the others must have fooled Thor into thinking what Volstagg now said was truth, because it certainly could not be so! They were lying, turning what must have been a horrible failure into a tale of valor, and these sheep were believing them! Loki fumed as Volstagg's embellished story wore on, making Fandral more the hero with each word. Finally Loki could take no more, rising from his seat and slamming his fist into the table as he realized how he could unravel their deception. There was only one trickster in Asgard!

All eyes turned to Loki at the sound of his impassioned outburst, and Loki did his best to portray righteous wrath as he pointed an accusing finger at Fandral. ''If this story is true, Fandral, why is it that the sword you now wield is not the one that Odin gifted to you? Were you not carrying that sword this morning?''

Fandral's eyes shot to the blade he carried then to Loki as he flippantly replied. ''Ah! Good eyes, trickster! That sword was notched in battle and now lies in my room awaiting repair. The sword I carry now is simply to provide me defense until that time. Why do you suddenly doubt the honesty of our noble Volstagg, villain, that you would say such things, interrupting his great tale?''

Valstagg's face was dark with anger, as were those of everyone else present. It was unwise to challenge a story without proof. Loki knew the sword did not lay within Fandral's room, but he would have no reason to know that without giving away what he had done earlier that evening to those listening. Loki felt sweat bead on his forehead. He had acted impatiently, and Fandral had made him the villain. ''I-I beg your pardon, Volstagg, it is un-well of me to doubt your character, I have had too much ale and was not thinking.'' Loki sat back down sheepishly, shamed and fuming inwardly that Fandral had so easily turned things against him.

When the reproachful stares had receded from him and Volstagg began once more to recite his tale, Loki slipped quietly from the hall, shaking with anger over the events that had just transpired.

Loki froze as Thor hailed him. ''Wait, brother, why so quick to leave? Volstagg still tells his tale and the night is yet young.''

Loki turned to see Thor and Hogun had followed him out. Why? ''I have had too much to drink, as I stated earlier, I was thinking to retire and sleep it off. I bid you good night.''

Before Loki could turn to leave, Thor faced Hogun with a question, ''Hogun, is it not amazing that Loki knew the sword Fandral wielded was not the one he had earlier today?''

Loki felt sweat bead on his forehead as Hogun replied. ''Why, yes, Thor, it is. That sword was a perfect replica of the one he had upon his hip this morning, it must be very keen eyes that Loki is blessed with.''

Loki licked his lips before replying, ''I have ever had an gift for sharp vision, there were minute differences in the blade.'' Loki sprung upon an idea that might flush Fandral's deception to the light before Thor. ''Perhaps if we retrieve Fandral's sword from his room I could show you what is different between them?''

Thor waved his hand dismissively. ''There shall be no need for verification, we would have no reason to doubt you in this, would we, Loki?'' Loki felt his heart slow down to a more normal rate.

''Except...'' began Hogun ''that it was Fandral who made the chicken of you earlier this day, and you boldly accused Fandral of not possessing Odin's gift...''

Thor regarded Hogun as if surprised, ''But Hogun, was that gifting not yet public? If memory serves me, only myself, you, and Fandral were there for the actual gifting of it, as Odin meant to reveal the reason for his present at a later time?''

Hogun nodded, and Loki felt his heart sink. ''I had only guessed it to be such...''

Hogun took a step forward and Loki took one back. ''You know as everyone in Asgard that it is unheard of for Odin to make such a gift in private. I was surprised by it at the time, when he asked us to remain silent on it. No, you assumed, correctly, that it was a magical blade when you handled it this morning.''

Loki sputtered, his heart leaping into his throat. ''I did not handle the blade this morning, I was at the library! The librarian there can attest to you that I was there the entire morning and much of the afternoon.''

Hogun shook his head at Loki. ''I am certain if I were to question the librarian that he would tell me he had seen you, but I know when I ask that his answer to whether he watched you vigilantly for the entire frame of time will most certainly be 'no'.''

Loki spat angrily at the two of them. ''You assume! You have already sentenced me guilty before even checking! I tell you, I did not touch Fandral's blade, I merely noted it's fine workmanship when he was waving it about in the hall!''

Thor shook his head at this. ''A perfect replica it was, but dull, unpolished and without magic. A toddler of Asgard would know it was not of Odin. Your lies only further prove your guilt. No matter, we shall take your case before Odin, and you can plea your innocence there, as per the usual. He will be the judge of your words and actions.''

Loki started, his eyes wide. ''No! ...alright. I did it. I played a prank upon Fandral, a harmless joke. I will gladly return his sword to it's original form, as it was not my intent to leave it so. Only a prank, you see?''

Both Thor and even the normally impassive Hogun looked surprised at Loki's admission to guilt, Thor's jaw dropping down as Hogun unfolded his arms in amazement. Hogun regained composure first, his brow drawing down in anger. ''A jest?! You are of Asgard! You know we do not play foolish games with weapons here!'' Hogun took a few steps forward, Loki backpedaling as he advanced with clenched fists raised.

Thor interjected, holding a hand in a attempt to pacify the large darker man. ''Loki, our weapons are our lives, to strip Fandral in such a way put his life in peril, as well as anyone who depended on his steel for protection. This is a most grave offense that Odin will need to weigh.''

Loki dropped to his knees, further surprising both warriors, as he pitifully clutched Thor's tunic in both hands, his eyes pleading. ''Please, brother, judge and sentence me here! You are a prince of Asgard, and I feel shame for my thoughtless prank.''

Thor was stunned a moment, but shook his head slowly. ''Nay, Loki, you are also a prince, we must follow law and take this before our lord Odin.'' Hogun seemed bewildered by Loki's actions, and the trickster burned with shame to be on his knees like this, begging. It was worth it if he could avoid Odin knowing of his treachery, though. Loki shuddered to think of what would happen if he did.

''Please, brother! I cannot wait, I feel horrible for my actions, and wish only that you strike me in punishment for my deed!'' Loki felt tears of fear and shame run down his face distantly, his whole focus on trying to persuade Thor. He certainly did not want this begging to come to nothing! The idea that he could beg like this and still end up over Odin's knee lent passion to his voice.

Hogun spoke next. ''You should most certainly bring him before Odin, I must assume the only reason he acts so is to avoid whatever punishment he knows Odin will serve his treachery.''

Loki trembled with terror as Thor replied. ''Perhaps this is so, in any case, I must observe the law. Come, Loki.''

Loki shrieked in fear as he tightened his grip on Thor's tunic, his knuckles turning white. ''No! Please! I ask you grant me this one request, I shall never ask anything of you again! Please, brother!''

Thor's face betrayed irritation. ''Your actions lend weight to Hogan's words, trickster, we must go now. Others are gathering, do not make a scene and shame yourself further.'' Thor pulled on Loki's arm but the god of mischief fought him, dragging lines in the dirt as he sought to leap free of Thor. Thor let out a grunt of annoyance and grabbed Loki about the waist, lifting him in a manner becoming entirely too common between them. Loki squealed as Thor walked him back towards the hall where Odin yet feasted, Hogun shaking his head in disgust at Loki's flailing attempts to free himself from Thor's iron grip.

''No! Noooo! Let me go!''

Thor sighed. ''I wish only that this did not have to become the way we traveled most together, brother. I fondly hope for the day when you will walk as a man upon your own two feet.''

Valstagg's tale seemed to have come to an end just as Thor re-entered the hall with Loki under his arm, Hogun trailing behind them. Loki blushed at all of the faces peering quizzically at him dangling from Thor's brawny arm. Thor addressed Odin after approaching his great seat and nodding respectfully to both his lord and his mistress. ''Father, it is time we revealed to you and all here that Valstagg's tale was in fact a ruse.'' This sent a murmur through the crowd. Thor turned to address the Asgardian public as well. ''We apologize for any discontent caused by the false tale, but felt it was needed in order to trap Loki in his own lies.''

Loki gazed around the room, waiting for the populace to rise up in protest for the dishonesty, to yell angrily at Thor for his abuse of thier ancient ways. But not one soul stood to challenge him. In fact, several nodded thier approval, and Loki heard comments as to the clever strategy of calling out the trickster in such a way.

Loki's blood boiled in anger; why should they forgive Thor's lies so easily? Condone them even? Loki would never have received such treatment for his own lies, yet another way he was treated unfairly. ''You mean you all hear him admit his crimes against you, leading you on in such a way, and you praise him for it?'' Many angry eyes turned to Loki. No one said anything in reply, but Loki heard the message loud and clear, closing his mouth with a snap and feeling very aware of his vulnerable and humiliating position under Thor's arm.

Odin rose from his chair to speak, all growing quiet as all eyes moved to his enormous frame. ''I was aware of your deception, and found it interesting to see how you and the others had decided to bring Loki's treachery to light.''

Loki's eyes bulged. Aware? Odin had been aware all along? Surely Loki's earlier thoughts that he had gotten away with it had been foolish. Fate never played kind to Loki. ''And you said nothing, father? Why would you allow them to deceive the people so?''

Odin gave Loki a withering glare, and Loki felt two inches tall. ''Because I knew their intentions to be pure, and that the charade would not last long before Thor brought the truth to light. I am curious, how have you now trapped Loki within his own web?''

Thor turned back to regard Odin after placing Loki upon the floor, where the trickster sat cross-legged, his arms crossed over his chest, a peeved look on his face. ''Loki claimed that he had recognized the sword Fandral now wields to be a gift from you by it's work, in an attempt to deny our allegations that he knew this from examining the real sword earlier this morning. The real sword of which was destroyed when Fandral tried to quickly parry an attack from an ambush this afternoon only to realize the blade was unaccountably now made of wood. He might have fallen to an ogre today if not for his own fast reflexes.''

Fandral drew his blade and set it upon the table, so all within the hall could see that it's workmanship left much to be desired upon close inspection. He also pulled a sword from a nearby bag that was in two pieces and set it upon the table. This sword looked much like the other, only it's consistency was that of wood. A few grunts and nods filled the room, a number of Asgardians smiling at Loki. Loki knew that look. That was the 'your in for it now' look. Loki sneered, ''I said no such thing, they misconstrue what I spoke!'

Odin looked from Thor to Hogun, ''I assume you are also a witness to Loki's words, Hogun the Grim?''

Hogun nodded and Loki's face fell from anger to desperation. ''Father, it was a prank! A harmless jest!''

Odin closed his eyes and sighed, looking to Frigga a moment, whom nodded back to him, encouraging his course of action. ''Loki is declared guilty of tampering with an Asgardian's weaponry. I have given thought as to which way I shall punish Loki in this matter. I would like Loki to see what it is his people would like done about this grave matter. For all of those that would see him once again banished for a time, raise your hand now.''

Loki's brow furrowed in worry as he watched a few hands raise. Not many, and while he thought this should bring comfort, for some reason it only made him dread whatever other options Odin allowed more. ''This is unheard of! The common populace cannot decide the fate of a prince!''

Odin shut him up with another glare. ''You have no say in this. Be silent, or things will become worse for you.'' Loki began to sweat once more, his head swimming with his inability to affect his own fate at this point. ''Those that would like me to spank my son once more like the spoiled brat he is, raise your hand now.''

Loki looked out fearfully, his eyes widening in alarm at the sudden show of hands. As yet more of the audience raised their hands to the air Loki let out a smell whimper of dread. He had known it would come to this, his heart had been whispering such to him all along. Loki cursed himself for ignoring that voice.

''Very well, I shall apply strong discipline to my son.'' This brought a cheer from the crowd and Loki felt tears run down his face as he shook like a leaf, waiting for Thor or Odin to grab him up, paralyzed by the flow of events. He would punish him in the hall, so that all of Asgard will have seen such humiliation not once but twice... ''Thor, escort Loki to his room, see that he does not leave before I come to tan his hide. We shall return to our festivities now!'' Duel cheers for Loki getting his hide tanned and celebration went up.

Thor leaned in close to Loki and spoke in a low voice. ''You may stand and walk with me of your own accord, if you wish to retain some shred of dignity now.''

Loki nodded tearfully and stood, walking out with Thor close by, trying not to look as though he were trembling with each step. Loki's composure was shattered though, and he could not keep the worried look from his face as they walked, dreading Odin's intended punishment and seeing no way to escape it. All of Asgard had decided he deserved a spanking, it had been decreed, and all that remained now was a fearful wait as the others celebrated.

Loki paced back and forth for some time within the confines of his quarters, clenching and unclenching his fists, a worried look written on his face. He knew the night was yet young, and realized that the hours were going to stretch into eternities as he waited for his punishment. He continually glanced at the door, knowing Thor stood just beyond it, dutifully ensuring that Loki would not escape. ''Brother, do you not wish to finish the celebrations with the others? You could partake of mead and merriment instead of dully guarding my door, I promise to you I shall not leave.''

He heard Thor's deep voice respond through the door. ''Nay, Loki. Odin has commanded my course of action. I shall not budge until he arrives.''

Loki approached the door, his voice whining. ''Why must we both suffer so? Could we not go enjoy the festivities until such time as my sentence is carried out?'' Loki avoided mentioning the spanking directly, biting his lip at the shame of even indirectly speaking of it. ''Surely father would want you to enjoy the hour...''

Loki could almost see Thor shake his head. ''Nay, the command was to come here. I would not assume Odin's wishes, and if you are wise, neither will you.''

Loki's lip quivered as he responded. ''Why did no one stand against your deception before? If I had played such a ruse, my head would have been on a block! It is unfair for such different treatment between us.'' Loki felt tears of self-pity well in his eyes, safe as he was from Thor seeing his face.

Thor's voice was gentle as he spoke. He did not see the tears threatening Loki's face, but heard them in his voice. ''Our deception was as a fighters bluff to draw an opponent off-guard. Even honorable warriors use such feints in combat. Our willingness to dispel the illusion afterwards was the reason it was acceptable. We proved that we did not truly try to alter the opinions of the others with the tale when we admitted it false, and gave sound reason for the deception, something you have never done.''

Loki's voice turned petulant, ''You nor the others have ever punished me for my actions before I had the chance to bring them to light! I could have easily meant to shed light on my intentions.''

''But did you?''

Loki did not reply, and Thor felt a small smile creep onto his face. Loki would usually have lied in response without further thought. That the trickster said nothing was not an admission of guilt, but Thor could feel that Loki no longer saw reason to lie about his motivations to Thor, and that was progress.

''Thor, will you please put a good word to father for me? What I did before... I wished Fandral no real harm, this is the truth.''

A long silence filled the air, and Loki held his breath as he waited, feeling each beat of his own heart as if it were a great drum. ''I will tell Odin that I feel you may not have truly wished Fandral harm, but I sense he already knows this, and I warn you now not to get your hopes high. You will most certainly be punished regardless.''

Loki already knew this, but hearing Thor say it broke the dam in his eyes, hopeless tears flooding his face. He hated himself for being so affected by Odin's punishments. He knew the stronger warriors of Asgard... and they were all stronger... would laugh at his severe aversion to physical pain. ''Please say it anyway, in hopes that father will be more merciful when he applies himself to me...'' Loki strained to avoid sobbing his fear, not wanting Thor to hear such pathetic whimpers. Thor had offered him the chance to retain some dignity before, and Loki wished to hold onto it still, though he knew not how much he could keep once Odin had him once more over his knee.

Thor felt pity for Loki now, even though he knew he should step aside and let Odin correct his wayward brother, he felt compelled to offer Loki some compassion. After all, Loki had said please, and it sounded for once like he genuinely meant it. ''You have my word, Loki, that I shall try to temper his wrath. I am pleased that your attitude has seemed to have changed in regards to your accountability. You give me reason to be proud of you, brother.''

Loki's mouth dropped at Thor's words, and he found himself speechless. Thor, proud of him? Loki only nodded, even though he knew Thor could not see his response. Perhaps he could also convince Odin that he had had a change of heart? If so, would Odin lighten his punishment? Perhaps not, but it was hope, and Loki clung fervently to it. Yes, he really would change, and his commitment might convince Odin to go easy on him, all the more reason to start fresh. ''Thank you, Thor.''

Loki retired to his bed, thinking to try rest. At least if he slept, he would not worry so. But he found his fear was still strong enough to keep him awake, regardless of his new focus. So Loki lay there, his hands nervously kneading a fluffy pillow as he waited, counting off painfully slow minutes.

When the door to his room finally opened, Loki nearly leapt from his skin at the sound, clutching his pillow tightly to himself. Odin's large powerful frame filled the doorway and Loki felt himself tremble in anticipation as his father's cold gray eye seemed to pierce his soul, pinning him to the bed.

Odin dispensed with pleasantries this time. ''Loki, you know why I have come.''

Loki bowed his head, feeling shame flood him even though he was not yet over Odin's knee. ''Yes, father.''

Odin nodded at him. ''I am glad we can get to the point without any games this time. You have grown, Loki.''

Loki was torn between joy at a compliment from his father and fear of where he felt this was still headed. ''T-thank you. I wish to retain what little honor might still left me... do you think perhaps we can simply speak this time?''

Odin closed the door behind him while shaking his head, and Loki's heart fell. ''No. For one thing, after everything you have done, I am not yet ready to believe your wish for change genuine. The second matter is that I have already decreed your punishment, there is no going back on it now.''

Loki felt the tears returning to his eyes and hated himself fervently for showing such weakness. ''Y-you are Odin, you can do as you wish...''

Odin's voice rung with commitment. ''No. Even I must live according to my word. Do you understand what it is to live by your word, Loki?'' His son did not reply, just sat staring mournfully at him, and Odin shook his head. ''Of course you do not. I hope to help you learn.''

Odin sat on the bed next to him casually, and every hair on Loki's neck stood on end. It had been a full year since last Odin had sat there, but seeing him there now sent thrills of remembered pain through Loki. His knuckles turned white as he gripped his pillow tightly, as if it were a shield to fend off the inevitable spanking.

Odin glanced over at him and sighed to see how pathetic his adopted son looked cringing upon his bed like a scared child. ''Come now, let us be done with this.''

Odin patted his left knee and Loki felt his heart race. ''W-wait, I am not yet ready...''

Odin scowled at him, ''You have had all night to prepare, the longer you put this off, the more fear you breed in yourself, best to begin now and be done with it.''

Loki hated where they were, but saw Odin's logic. Waiting would only lead to more anxiety, he might as well face the pain and be finished with the ordeal. Loki climbed over Odin's leg, feeling very small both physically and mentally.

Odin wasted no time, pulling Loki's britches down and laying palm across Loki's bared backside. Loki yelped out and shot his hands back at the pain, but Odin grabbed those hands in one massive fist and placed them in the small of Loki's back. Loki gave Odin a wide-eyed look of desperation at the sudden violence as Odin swatted him three more times in hard succession. ''Ah! Wait...!''

Odin shook his head. ''No, Loki, there is no more waiting to be had.'' Loki's legs kicked up as Odin began to plant powerful slaps across the tricksters already reddening ass, and Odin wasted no time shifting one of his own thick legs over Loki's so the god of mischief was completely pinned. Loki cried out at this, the lack of mobility terrifying him as Odin continued to punish his backside.

''Father! Ow! I am sorry! It was a jest! A prank, please have mercy!'' Loki felt the tears slide down his face as the pain in his rear became unbearable, his body flexing as best it could within Odin's grip as the All-father swatted him.

Odin growled as he worked Loki's ass to a bright red with his powerful callused hand. ''Nay, even you are aware of the gravity of tampering with an Asgardians weaponry. Even now you attempt deception, if not with me, then still at least with yourself.''

Loki considered his father's words as he cried out in pain. Odin was right, he had known what he did was borderline dangerous to Fandral, but had justified it to himself as a prank. ''Y-yes, I thought to make a jest, but I overstepped, I am truly sorry, and really did not mean Fandral true harm.''

Odin stopped a moment to regard his sobbing son. ''This is well. I know as a fact you were in the city for but one day and your thoughts have strayed so far from your control? You did well to last a year without treachery, but you proved me right when you turned to it at the slightest provocation.''

Loki was baffled, ''You were watching me all along? ...Proved you right?''

Odin nodded to him. ''Indeed. I know your nature, and was hoping it would change, but sensed it had not. When I spied your visit to Asgard, I scryed your future to be more certain. The mists of time are ever murky, so I decided to use what I knew of the possible future to test you. You failed my test.''

Loki began to put everything together in his own mind. ''You mean, you knew I would do what I did, so you gave that sword to Fandral in secret... and ... and you had him taunt me!''

Odin nodded. ''You are a bright, Loki, I only wish you would apply your intelligence to more productive uses.''

Loki felt hurt and angered. ''You pushed me into this! I may have left in peace and all would have been well. Why would you treat me so?!'' Loki's breath hitched as he sobbed his frustration.

Odin gave him a level no-nonsense stare. ''Maybe you would have left in peace for now, but can you honestly tell me that you would have been forever satisfied to leave things be? You needed this so I, Asgard, and yourself could see where you need to improve.''

Loki's natural reaction to this would have once been to protest vehemently, but now he clung to his need for a fresh start as stubbornly as he had once clung to that argumentative need. He had been impressed by how much better both Thor and Odin had thus far treated him after only mild changes to his temperament. Loki wanted for them, and all of Asgard, to truly respect him. He had always wanted it, it was just that his anger had blinded him...

Loki's thoughts were interrupted as he watched Odin unbuckling his belt with one hand, pulling the thick strap of leather free from the belt-loops in one smooth motion. ''W-wait, I had not yet responded, I was genuinely thinking over your words... please let me answer!'' Loki's eyes were wide as Odin lifted the belt over his head, his voice trembled in fear as he spoke.

Odin shook his head once, ''Indeed, you shall have plenty of time to mull over wisdom later, and consider your past course to plan your future one. And I will wish words from you. However, right now, all you must feel is regret.''

Loki yelped out as Odin brought the belt hard across both of his cheeks, the sting unbearable. ''Ah! Wait! Please!''

But Odin did not wait, and the volume of Loki's voice soon tripled as Odin laid one powerful slap after another across his already tender ass. Loki screamed him pain, begging Odin to stop, but the All-father continued slapping him all the same, ignoring Loki's words and yells. The trickster's body squirmed this way and that as the strap contacted his posterior, Loki could feel his cheeks convulse, clench, and quiver in pain between each blow, and his mind was numb with nothing but the agony of it.

After Odin has belted Loki ten or twenty times, Loki felt he would die to receive more, and his voice carried the tone of severe desperation. ''P-please! I can sincerely take no m-more! This is w-worse than before! Aagh! Mercy! M-mercy!''

But Odin still did not stop. ''Then I take it we are somewhere near where I pushed you last time?''

Loki bucked forward with each swing of the belt, his throat dry and sore from screaming loudly at each stinging swat. ''Y-yes! M-mercy!''

Loki craned his head back to see Odin shaking his head, and Loki's terror increased. ''Nay. The last time bought us one year of peace from you. I intent to pain you until the effect becomes more permanent.''

Loki sobbed out broken words as best he could, the pain interfering with his ability to speak. ''Yes! It is! I shall never cross you or any other Asgardian for the rest of eternity!''

Odin nodded, but did not stop, his belt contacting one red cheek then the other. ''Good. Only i must make certain of it. I assure you, you will never forget this day for the rest of your long life.''

Loki cried between screams of agony as Odin continued to rain punishment down on his sore backside. He thought of everything that had led to this, of how he could have listened to his inner voice at any one of those many times when it told him that he was making a mistake. But he had not listened to his own voice of reason! And now he suffered for it as he never had before. Loki wailed his pain as the flow of slaps continued.

After some time Loki began to beg once more that Odin stop, the trickster looking over his own shoulder with tearful eyes, but Odin continued to ignore him, the strong hand coming down again and again. Loki wailed his grief, he begged for mercy, he entreated that he could take no more, that surely the punishment must end.

Odin spanked Loki without heed to his sons words, seeing that this pained Loki greatly but barring himself from feeling pity in light of the need for Loki to learn from it.

Loki squirmed as he lost his voice from all the yelling, his mouth still miming silent screams of shock each time Odin's belt contacted flesh. With his voice gone, he could no longer even try to entreat Odin for mercy, and wide tracks of tears ran down his eyes as he realized to the fullest extent that not only would he not get free but that Odin had no intention of stopping any time soon. Loki lashed out in animal fury, trying to free himself from the unbearable stings as the belt left long red welts all over his rear.

Odin grunted at Loki's flexing and scrabbling, and he shifted Loki's weight forward, so that the trickster's head was closer to the floor, his ass high and seated perfectly at the hip upon Odin's knee. Loki mewled a sobbing protest to the further humiliation of this position, but Odin again ignored him, the belt moving into the air then across Loki's ass with instant result each time; Loki bucking and swaying to the full range of motion allowed him, the sounds from his torn throat muted but obviously very pained.

Odin finally stopped for a moment, regarding his son, giving Loki time to get his irregular hitching breath under control. Loki's sobs were wracking, but he did his best to reel them in, the fact that he cried so in front of Odin still embarrassing to him. ''Tell me what you will tell me now, Loki.''

Loki had hoped Odin would let him rise at this point, but when Odin made no move to do so, he whimpered at the thought that they were clearly not yet through. He must not argue that they should be, though. Loki now knew that that could only get him more punishment. So instead he did as Odin instructed, even though the angle he was seated at still shamed him greatly. ''I sincerely apologize for my m-mis-step, and I wish to affect the change you mention. I p-promise to do better, if only to escape further treatment such as this. I s-swear I will do everything in my power to earn your respect rather than your belt...''

Odin weighed Loki's words as he said them. A long moment passed, and Loki could not help but stare at the belt, the fresh pain causing his stomach to knot in cords at the thought that he would still be struck again. Finally Odin nodded, as if seeing something agreeable. ''Very well, you shall be given the chance to affect such change. Loki, do you know what else I had seen in my vision?''

Loki was taken aback that Odin now shared more of his holy vision with him. ''W-what did you see?''

Odin leaned down so Loki could better see his face was serious as he spoke. ''I saw a possible future where I did not test you. Where I put two options to vote before your peers, options that were slightly different than the ones I offered today, for you were being judged on an event more serious than the one that transpired today. In this vision, the majority voted you the death sentence, and you were sent to Hel for eternity for your treachery against your own people.''

Loki gulped as he studied the truth in his father's eyes. It was only a possible truth, but one that was possible, nonetheless.

Odin's voice was compassionate but firm. ''You did not realize until perhaps now how tired of your 'pranks' the others are. My ruse was not to cause you pain, Loki, but to save you from an eternity of it.''

Loki felt things he had never felt before, and even if he had had something to say in response to this, he was too choked on emotion to respond. Odin regarded him a moment longer before raising the belt again, much to Loki's horror, as the trickster let slip a squeal of terror. ''As you know, I make a habit of overdoing this so that you can not forget. And since we are going for permanence today, I shall quadruple the usual sum left to you. You shall feel forty more lashes before you have served your due.''

Loki wanted to protest but knew it would be in vain, so he merely conserved what was left of his ragged voice for crying out as Odin administered the first few lashes. Loki jerked forward and back at the vicious feeling of his burning sensitive cheeks being struck again after so long a break, sometimes his breath hitched from pain so great he could not even scream.

Tears began to flow again by the fifth swing, even though Loki had wanted desperately to end the punishment with some dignity left to him. As the tenth slap fell on swollen quivering cheeks, Loki knew there was no chance of that as he fell once more into screaming babbling convulsions as Odin struck him. He only hoped that no one saw him posed in such a way, kicking, struggling, and shouting as a child would. He knew Thor was outside the door before, and as the twentieth slap caused him to buck forward and let loose a high-pitched scream, he could only hope that his half-brother had departed.

Only half-way done, thought Loki. All of this I have just felt I must feel again! He felt no consolation once they reached thirty strikes, his movements becoming even more strained and desperate. He knew Odin hit him at the same pace, but each swing seemed to take an eternity to arc down on his reddened ass, his cheeks clenching in anticipation between each. By the time they finally reached the crescendo of Loki's punishment, Loki was arching his back with each swing, his whole body rigid, eyes closed tightly as he voiced silent screams of agony.

Loki did not even feel Odin place his shuddering form upon the bed, his body still convulsing as if he were still being spanked, the remembered pain directly after the punishment so strong that he covered his sore rear as if more lashes were still to come.

Odin regarded him a moment. ''We shall speak on the morn, get some rest. I am proud how much easier you have made this discipline on both yourself and I, Loki. I bid you good night.''

Odin left Loki there laying on his stomach, the trickster god trying to rein in his sobs, wanting nothing more than to at least appear strong. Odin thought back on the events of the night and once more considered if he had made the right choice concerning Loki. As he watched from the shadow of the doorway, and saw his son drift tiredly into sleep, the easy rest that comes from a free heart, he nodded to himself. Yes, this was good.

There may be hope for Loki's possible future yet, after all, fate was largely unwritten, was it not?