Title: Water Hemlock

Contains: Implied Thor/Loki

Implied Underage (for Gods, which means they could be thousands of years old)

Spoilers: None.

Warnings: If you don't like anything you see above, don't read it.

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Odin sees everything. Even with only one eye left, he sees everything and is more keenly perceptive because of his wound. He is aware of everything that goes on in the Aegir court. Most especially he is aware of everything that concerns his family. Recently, it is what he sees there that troubles him.

The experiment with Loki has been successful—for the most part. The child is a weakling, a runt. This was probably the reason Laufey exposed him in infancy. In a test of strength, every one of the Aegir can beat Loki. And where a normal Jotun would give even the bravest warrior cause for caution, Loki, when he does not resort to tricks or magic, can be beaten easily. For this reason, few on Asgard respect him. They like him, mostly, and that is an immense accomplishment. But he cannot ever share in their company as an equal. They treat him as, at best, something to protect; and at worst, as something unable to protect himself.

There have been failures, of course. When he was a child, his mother refused to kiss him goodnight. She could not bring herself to put her lips on the cold skin of a frost giant. He was angry at Frigg for a while, and even she, strong and gentle woman that she was, showed great regret for her revulsion. When he told her how the child cried into his pillow because the woman he believed was his mother did not kiss him, she cried too. But in the end, how could he command her to kiss a frost giant, a child not her own?

The most successful part of this experiment has been Thor. Thor adores Loki; and in return, Loki worships his older brother unconditionally. They are inseparable. They learn together, and though Loki shows a greater aptitude for learning, there is nothing he will not at least try to teach his brother and Thor is in great awe of Loki's intelligence. They explore the forests together, they fight the smaller bridge trolls that inhabit the fjord villages, and they tell wonderful stories together, Loki illustrating with magical illusions the adventures Thor proudly boasts.

They even sleep together. They sleep side by side and wake up, and spend the day the way they have spent the night.

No one could have, before now, imagined such a friendship between a frost giant and an Aegir. In this respect, the experiment has been a great success.

Odin sees everything, a great power indeed, but it is limited. It is limited by the fact that Odin is not always honest with himself. Lately, something has seemed wrong to him. It has to do with a very unexpected turn of events.

Loki is beautiful.

The ugliness of frost giants is legendary, but Loki is beautiful. Not handsome, not manly and strong like the other Aegir his age, but beautiful. His long black hair shares whispers icily against his white skin. He is slender, sylvan and graceful, with high cheeks and an unsmiling mouth, always flushed, as if he has always just been kissed. His eyes—big, like a roe deer's—are intense and brooding. His expression is always haughty and cold, but when he speaks he becomes affable, alluring, persuasive.

He is conscious of his beauty. He wears less jewelry than other boys, but more provocatively. He cannot pass a mirror without looking at himself and smiling at what he sees.

It is not a good, healthy beauty, like Sif's or Sigyn's. There is something warm, hearty and honest about the Aegir maidens. Loki is something else, something dark. He is not a home and hearth-keeper; he moves in the arcane aura of his beauty. Odin is certain now, as Loki reaches his fourteenth birthday, that he is not pure frost giant. There is some other blood in his veins. He thinks perhaps that Loki has the blood of those savage, heartless and most beautiful of all creatures, the Fairies, the wild Fey Folk. Perhaps this was why Laufey left him to die. Perhaps Laufey knew what might happen if Loki was allowed to grow up…

For all Loki's beauty, Odin is convinced he remains chaste. Thor has certainly 'blossomed,' as it were, in this respect. He's bedded maidens and youths all over Asgard. Wild oats are being sown with abandon. Although you would be hard pressed to find a youth in the Aegir court who didn't look at Loki with approval, none of them get close to him. Perhaps this, too, is Thor's doing. Thor is violently protective of his younger brother. There have been times when Odin has seen Thor conversing with a man whose interest in his brother seems more than passing, insinuating with very little subtlety that he will beat to death with a hammer ('any hammer really, not necessarily Mjolnir, although its my favorite') anyone who would dare to sully the younger prince.

Ultimately, Odin is glad for Thor's protectiveness. He hates to think what would happen if the proud, vulnerable Loki were to be rudely abandoned by some lover seeking a conquest. It would hurt him. And then, Loki might hurt back, and disproportionately, because there is no telling what a frost giant—especially a frost giant with the blood of the Fey Folk—might do when insulted.

Odin is pleased, ultimately with how he sees things turning out. But then, Odin is not always honest with himself about what he sees.

Thor's 'blossoming' seems to be on the wan. He is sixteen, at the height of his prowess, yet he prefers to spend his time in the company of his playmate than with nubile youths and maidens. He prefers to go with Loki, hunting treasures, slaying giants and trolls. He prefers the world of adventures to that of romance, and that is strange. Strange indeed, that a young man prefer the pleasure of the hunt to the pleasures of the flesh! And yet there are times when Odin thinks it might not be so strange.

There are times when Thor's eyes follow Loki around the room. They burn when he looks at him. His hands clench in frustration and anguish. If he catches sight of the white skin under Loki's shirt, his face will flush. He loves to roughhouse with Loki and Odin fears that this is just an excuse to touch him. When he drinks, he teases Loki; this in itself is more than normal for brothers, but what he says seems a little off to Odin. He teases Loki for being 'prettier than a girl,' for his light grace, for the fact that he can walk on snow without sinking into it, for the fact that he can dance.

One evening, front of his mates, Odin watches as Thor grabs Loki's long hair.

"What's this, little maiden? Is it so your husband will have something to use as a rein when he's riding you?" He whinnies, like a horse.

Everyone laughs. Loki looks at Thor in anger and misery. He retorts,

"I can cut my hair. What are you going to do about being ugly?"

Mild laughter, but Loki's offense is not quite as cutting to young men who would much rather be ugly than effeminate.

But at night, in the hall outside the bedroom, he sees from the shadows Loki holding his little dagger at the base of his neck. Thor is beside him, cajoling him.

"Come on, Loki, I was just kidding! It was a joke."

"Why do I care if it was a joke? I hate being laughed at."

"Please don't cut it off. Please? I love your hair." He reaches out to touch a few loose strands, hanging by Loki's trembling cheek. "I love your hair. It's beautiful, don't cut it, I was just kidding. I was just kidding, Loki."

There is something corrosive in Loki's beauty. It is not wholesome. It is deadly, like the snowy flowers of water hemlock. It is a contagion and it is already in Thor's blood, eating into his son's heart and into his bones. Little by little, exposure to it corrupts his magnanimous, generous love for his brother. Thor cannot fight it; and Loki knows it. Loki smiles a little in satisfaction when Thor begs for the life of his hair. He puts down the dagger.

"I'm tired."

"I'm tired too. Let's go to bed."

Odin thinks, watching them, that from now on he will forbid them from sleeping in the same bed. Gently, but with insistence. They must learn to be independent, he will say, when what he means is that it will give Loki's would-be lovers the chance to sneak into bed with him. It will separate them and that is important. Loki's dark beauty has bitten into Thor's noble heart, and Odin will pry open its jaws.

And yet…

If Odin is honest with himself, he must admit that Loki is younger than Thor. Smarter perhaps, but less experienced and completely without experience in matters of the flesh. Thor knows all about the pleasures of young men and women. Thor is not innocent at all. But Loki is.

If he is honest with himself, he must admit that Loki is, as of right now, completely unaware that he is beautiful. He stops in front of mirrors because he is self conscious. His clothes are usually ill fitting, made by tailors used to making clothes suited to bigger men, and he is always adjusting them. Perhaps one day he will see his beauty, and know the power it gives him, but not now.

If Odin were honest with himself, he would admit that Loki never smiles at his reflection.

If he were to be honest with himself, he might admit that Thor's growing obsession with his younger brother has nothing to do with any deliberate enchantment. He might admit that Loki is completely unaware of how his brother watches him when he moves, how his brother looks at him with a longing that verges on desperation.

Even worse is the truth he cannot hide from himself because he is completely unaware of it. Thor is bigger, older, forceful, more aggressive, more experienced, and he has a kind of implicit authority over Loki. Thor is a full grown wolf. Loki still has the fleece of a lamb. He should be worried about protecting his little one from his elder but this doesn't even cross his mind. Loki is a frost giant, perhaps part fairy, and Odin is only worried about protecting Thor from Loki's glamour.

The experiment has been a failure. It was a mistake, and Frigg's inability to kiss Loki should have shown him this long ago, long before Thor began to think of giving Loki all those long denied kisses.

He will forbid them from sleeping in the same bed anymore. He will, quickly and quietly, betroth Loki to Baldur. He will give Thor access to every pleasure: competitions, maidens, youths, even quests to slay dragons if his heart desires. Loki he will send away to school somewhere, to learn the magic he loves.

He will separate them and that will heal Thor's mind and kill Loki's power over him.

It is morning. He looks out the window. Thor and Loki are outside, on the frozen shallow pond. They are ice skating. Thor is holding Loki's hands in his and swinging him around on the ice, faster and faster, until he lets go and Loki falls into one of the snow drifts. Thor falls on top of him. They are both laughing, but Thor stays on Loki for a minute too long, touching a few strands of silken black hair.

If Odin were honest with himself, he might admit that it is already too late.