Thanks to all your kind and lovely reviews, I wrote another one!

Title: Skifting

Spoilers: None.

Warnings: Nookie. Don't like, don't read.

Son of Warnings: I own nothing, then again, Norse Mythology is pretty open season, isn't it? Sorry Snorri Sturluson, wherever you are…

Authors Notes:

1) Baba Yaga is a Scandinavian folk figure, an old fairy hag who lives in a cabin with chicken legs.

2) A Skifting is a Scandinavian term for a Changeling. When a fairy steals a child, and leaves its own offspring in the child's place, that child is called a Skifting.

One morning, the old attendant who dresses them takes an iron pin and stabs Loki's hand down the tender middle of his palm. Loki is three years old. He screams in surprise and pain, and begins to cry as the attendant reaches for his other palm.

Thor is five and already as strong as ten mortal men and stronger than most full grown Aegir. He grabs his wooden play hammer and strikes the attendant on the leg, hard enough to break it. The attendant collapses. The room becomes confused as Frigg rushes inside and runs to the attendant's aid first, before she notices Loki's little hand.

"He's a dangerous thing!" the attendant shrieks from his stretcher as he is lifted to the healers. "Skifting, skifting, and the only way to get back the true prince is to stab it with iron until its parents come—"

Frigg, Odin and the guards usher him out in a worried rush.

Loki stands, clutching his hand and crying. Thor hugs him and in a moment, Frigg comes in and binds his hand.

"What a fright that was! But look how brave you are, and how your brave brother protects you." Frigg's cheerfulness eases his pain. He stops crying and within a few minutes he is running down the hall after Thor, shrieking with laughter, his tiny hand bound up in linen bandages.

It will be years before Loki understands what happened and why it happened. He begins to understand when, four years later, his mother reads them a bedtime story.

"Once upon a time, a forgetful woman named Old Mother Addle-Brain left her child on the doorstep and forgot about him until evening. When she returned, she found that he had changed mightily. He was no longer cheerful and good tempered, but shrieked like a fiend day and night. Old Mother-Addle-Brain finally could stand it no longer and brought him to the Wise King. 'Wise King, Great King, help me please!' cried Old Mother Addle-Brain. 'My child screams day and night and will not cease.' The Wise King took one look at the child. 'Aha!' he cried. 'It is a skifting! Old Baba Yaga, the fairy hag, has come to your house, kidnapped your child and left a fairy's offspring in his place. Stab him with an iron pin about the arms and legs and when his mother hears him screaming she shall return and take him and give back your own child.' And so Old Mother Addle-Brain took the skifting and stabbed it with an iron pin until it squealed so loudly that old Baba Yaga flew in on her mortar and pestle, snatched up the child, and left Old Mother Addle-Brain's son once more on her doorstep. And so, to all mothers, heed the lesson of Old Mother Addle-Brain and guard your children!"

She finishes the story with a laugh and bends down to kiss Thor and to tuck Loki in when she catches sight of the tense, strained look on Thor's face and sees, too, that Loki is close to tears. Thor sits up in bed.

"Mama," he asks, "is Loki a skifting? Is that why Old Seigurd hurt him?"

Loki sinks low into his pillow. He feels suddenly that he cannot breath and that he is very alone. His mother's face becomes pallid.

"No," she says. "Goodness, I didn't think you remembered that. Goodness, it's only a story, you silly boys." She laughs as she shuts off the light, but it's a worried laugh, and her face is still a little pale when she leaves the bedroom.

Thor turns to Loki. He kisses his brother gently, because they both know his mother will not, and puts his arms around Loki.

"I hope you're one of the Fey Folk, Loki," he says. Loki looks at his brother unhappily.


"That means you're magical," Thor says. "The Fey Folk are shape changers. They have all the magic of the forest. Papa says they are the most magical creatures in the Nine Realms! You'll be even more magical than you already are. With your magic and my strength, we can defeat armies of monsters all by ourselves, just you and me!"

A soft, gentle heat suffuses Loki's body; it is the happy love for Thor, who loves him, and who he, in return, loves more than anything.

"What about Old Baba Yaga?"

"Hang her," Thor says (even though they are not supposed to swear oaths). His voice is getting sleepy. He squeezes Loki tightly. "If Old Baba Yaga comes to get you, I'll pick up her own pestle and smash her face." Most of Thor's plans involve smashing.

"I'll help you, Thor," he whispers, but Thor is already asleep.

Loki is magical. He is terribly, frighteningly magical. He is so magical that, when he is a child, his tiny body cannot contain all the magical energy coursing through it. Things move across the room on their own, his stuffed toys will dance around to amuse him, and at night, colored lights dart and dash around the dark ceiling.

Loki's magic is not like an Aegir's. It is not the mediocre, forced, sweat-on-the-brow kind learned in books or from academies. It is more ancient than language; it is blood-borne, the magic of the First Race—those creatures that sprang from rock and spring and toadstool before men had souls, when God slept in times of Old. It is not some knowledge he possesses, a skill or a knack. His magic is a part of him, an extension of his being; magic is not what he can do, but what he is.

As he grows older, his magic isolates him from the others. He is not physically strong, but then, he is not, first and foremost, a physical being. All the youths his age can beat him and Loki feels himself lacking in manhood, lacking in the honor possessed by his brother and his brother's mates. He knows that he shames his father and his brother every time he is beaten in a fight, whenever he is jeered at and cannot defend his own honor with fists and blows. He knows that Odin looks on him as shamefully weak.

But Loki is still a very dangerous thing. Not because he is weak. Weakness is a failing, but it is not dangerous. Magic is dangerous. It is something against which the Aegir strength is rendered helpless: for how can you fight if you are blinded to your opponent, if your sword is enchanted to always turn aside, or if your opponent keeps changing shape? The Aegir have great respect for magic, but they fear it as well and they are forever suspicious of Loki. They despise his magic. They never stop telling him that magic is an evil to be shunned at all costs, that it is a terrible thing to use magic in a fight.

Loki does not yet realize that their constant bullying is a preemptive strike against his ever growing magic, a way of assuring that he never uses it against them because he has been trained to hate it and to know that they will hate and ostracize him if he does.

Thor is radiant in strength and manhood. He is everything that an Aegir Prince should be. Loki is weak and tricksy. He is dark and strange and wild. Loki is a very dangerous thing.

Only Thor loves him. Only Thor loves the magic that he is.

Because Thor loves Loki's magic, the creeping fear of what his magic implies is pushed aside by how much it delights his older brother. Thor is dazzled by the way that Loki makes the pictures in their books move, by the way he can enchant the arrows to never miss their marks, the way he can draw a door on a brick wall that they can then pass through. It is Thor's endless fascination with his magic that makes Loki embrace it.

They are always together. They hunt the treasure horded by dragons, they slay the trolls and giants that menace the villages nestled in the crags and watersheds of the mountains. They sail across the rough swells in Viking ships and, when the seas become terrible or some sea serpent rushes up to threaten them, Loki will enchant the creaking beams of the ship and make it rise on the winds that Thor makes blow down from the sky.

They are the perfect union of magic and strength, of cunning and nobility, of shrewd intelligence and wise goodness. As one, they are invincible; and since it is their love that makes them one, it is their love that makes them invincible.

It is midwinter, Yuletide. They are hunting out the rogue frost giant, Grimr, but they have little hope of catching him for a few days. Their pace is leisurely and light. All around them, the trees are bare and black, their branches white with laden snow. They stop in the late afternoon by a shallow lake. The pale winter sunlight pierces through the trees, glittering on the ice and snow. The air is vibrant and filled with light.

"We won't get much farther tonight," Thor says. He pulls out a tiny piece of fur and two little twigs, drops them, and jumps aside. In an instant, they explode in size and become an enormous tent of thick, waterproof sealskin, insulated with bear fur, held up on the strongest oak posts. This is one of Loki's enchantments. Thor watches the transformation, as always, with shinning eyes.

Then, for a moment, he turns those same, shinning eyes on Loki. He follows the enchantment to its source; he looks at his younger brother with wonder and something else, something Loki cannot identify. Then he smiles.

"Skifting," he says teasingly. In response, Loki hits him with a snowball. Thor shakes the snow of his blond mane and makes a run for Loki, who glides onto the ice with ease, even without skates. Thor makes a dash for Loki, who makes an illusion of himself. Thor flies through it.

"Are you ever not going to fall for that?" Loki asks.

"Skifting!" Thor challenges. Loki makes the tree above him shake down all its snow. Thor looks so put out when he's covered in snow, Loki starts laughing. It's a momentary lapse in concentration and Thor takes advantage of it. He dashes at Loki and catches him, pinning him down in a snowdrift. They lay in the snow, laughing. Thor touches a few wisps of Loki's black hair. "Skifting," he says softly, and kisses Loki's warm cheek, then his neck and the ridge of his collarbone.

Loki's laughter dies away and he realizes that Thor's is already gone, replaced with something powerful and frightening. Loki realizes, too, that Thor is not letting him up and that his hand is flicking aside the clasp of Loki's tunic, searching for his skin. When Thor kisses him, his mouth feels like its burning against Loki's skin. He kisses his neck and shoulders and Loki feels the kisses throughout his body. There is magic in them, and they soars through him.

The kisses become fiercer and more demanding. He doesn't fully comprehend what is happening until Thor takes him. Then he knows how they fit together, and how he belongs on Asgard even when he does not belong there. He belongs because Thor loves him, and because he loves Thor. That magic is more powerful than any other.

In the tent that night, under piled furs, Loki lays beside Thor. Thor keeps him close, warming Loki's cold skin. He says he loves him more than anything, that he has loved him, it seems, forever. A heat suffuses Loki's body, the happy love for Thor. They talk in whispers until they fall asleep. Then, all is quiet.

But soon, lights begin to dash and dart around the tent. Their boots and capes and clothing rise up and begin to walk about. The trees breathe and sigh. Shades and apparitions—illusions and images—wander through the forests. The Old Races stir and murmur in deep, hidden caverns. And in a dark, tangled glen, the chicken-footed hut begins to dance. The forest trembles outside.

Loki is a very dangerous thing.