A/N: Thank you everyone for your patience! I've had this like 90% done since November, but then got sidetracked by Thor2. Sigh.
The frost-giants were divided between the two most important tables: Angrboda and Helblindi sat at the high table with the royal family, while the others sat nearby with Thor's friends and some other honored guests. Loki was trying to keep an eye on all the conversations at once – most especially Sif's, because she was drinking and the last thing anyone needed was for her to provoke a fight.
Strangely, the first person to offend a giant was-
"Frigga-Queen! That is insult." Helblindi's voice carried, as ever. Insult? Uh-oh. Loki tuned in at once, and tried to replay what he'd last heard Frigga say.
Do you have children, Angrboda?
He meant to step in and smooth things over somehow, but Frigga beat him to it. "I meant no offense, Lady," she assured, and gracefully mimed a cut of apology. "Here, children are a mother's greatest pride and it is her joy to speak of them. Is it not so with you?"
Angrboda blinked. "No. In Jotunheim it is great shame to have borne a child."
Loki had never heard that before. He leaned a little closer. "That can't be good for your population count."
"Children are borne," Helblindi explained to the table at large, "But never by our best, our most needed females. A burdened female cannot fight or hunt; she is useless for a year. We cannot spare Angrboda for that long."
Loki tsked at him. "Don't say useless. Smashing things by main force isn't everything; what about your magic?"
Angrboda's lip curled. "Spellcasting is a poor substitute for strength."
It wasn't worth arguing. Loki let the comment roll off him; he'd heard some variant of it so many times it was by now almost painless.
Incredibly, Thor spoke up. "I must disagree, Lady," he said firmly. "Our prince Loki is a sorcerer, and he's shown his magic to be powerful as both tool and weapon."
Our prince Loki. With a little more vehemence than necessary.
The giant just shrugged and moved on. "And, absent dire necessity the burdened prefer not to spellcast," she added. "It drains the child's magic. Perhaps for life."
Interesting: in Jotunheim it was only the children of the desperate (or of the inconsiderate) who could not use magic.
As he mused about that, Loki realized suddenly: "I've visited many times now, but I don't think I've ever seen any of your, er, burdened females."
"There were more before the Bifrost struck."
That was a bucket of cold water, all right. Loki took a minute to regroup.
"But even then there were not many," Angrboda went on in the silence. "We can only support a few at a time."
"Could," Frigga corrected gently. "You could only support a few at a time. But now that you have the Casket, surely things will be better. Yours is a harsh land, but surely some of your hardships will be lifted."
Angrboda was as impassive as ever, but the rest of the table seemed to have had its mood improved a bit.
The fact that Jotun females were reluctant to mate might help explain the giants' slavering over Sif. She was used to it, and from what he could see she was taking it with good humor, but Loki still thought it might be wise to check in.
So, at the next course change, he stood. "I'm going to be a good host and visit our guests at the other table," he said. "Make sure Volstagg hasn't eaten any of them."
He saw Odin's eye flicker, glancing suspiciously at the far table and then up into Loki's face... but he stood unflinching because he knew he wasn't actually doing anything wrong. "With your permission. Thor, Allfather." He ducked his head to each of them in turn.
"Do as you wish, brother," Thor said easily. "I want everyone to feel at home."
Frigga was looking at him with open disapproval: Why do you bait him?, but he ignored it and waited to see what Odin would say.
"Of course, my son."
My son. Of course. As he crossed over to the other table he took a moment to file away what he had just learned about his parents. (His real parents.) His mother had not needed to use any magic while she carried him, apparently – Laufey must have taken good care of her. Which made sense; she was a queen.
Or was she? He knew the Jotun did not pair-bond the way the Aesir did. For all he knew his mother had slept with Laufey once and then never seen him again. Hm.
Then he was at the table and he had no more time to think, so he shelved it to ask Helblindi about later. "Beg pardon," he said, tapping Sif on the shoulder. "Our king has requested your presence; apparently the poor fool can't live without you for even the space of one meal."
She rolled her eyes and got up. Told the giants it had been a pleasure to talk to them.
"We are sorry to see you go," Hugi told her.
Bonechewer flashed teeth. "Though we will enjoy the watching of it."
She put both hands on the table and leaned over it. "I'd watch yourself, my friend." Loki knew her well enough to hear that she was amused. "There's more than a few warriors in this hall who can attest that I'm not an easy fight."
So did Bonechewer, apparently. "I would be honored to bear your scars." He raised his hand and grew her a flower of ice.
Loki would have expected her to drop it in his beer, but instead she took it – with a smile.
When she turned from the table, though, she grew serious. "What do you want, Loki? Thor didn't ask for me."
"No." He lowered his voice until she had to lean close to make him out. "I just thought it polite to warn you that there's apparently a severe shortage of mating females in Jotunheim. These giants may be teasing you... or they may be desperate. I thought you'd appreciate the warning to flirt with care."
Sif snorted. "I'm not worried. You are all desperate. All men, of all races, at all times. Desperate." She was slurring a little, but not yet drunk enough for him to worry.
"Let me help you with your flower," he said, ignoring the temptation to try flirting with her himself. He touched it with magic, protecting it so that it would stay a little longer before starting to melt. "Go take my seat. And see if you can cheer up Angrboda somehow; she's depressing everyone."
"Fine. You take this table." Drunk as she was, Sif was still a competent socializer. "Bonechewer's doing great, but Hugi is too quiet and he's not making any friends."
"I'll fix it."
"Our men are doing all right. There are a few who aren't happy, but I've been putting them in their place and no one's dared get openly hostile."
"Thor did a good job preparing them," Loki agreed. The compliment came to him easily – too easily. He scowled and reminded himself that Thor got more than enough compliments already. Today's success – if it was a success – was his triumph and his alone.
After dinner, the drinking continued. The seating changed around and people mingled more freely, and Loki darted from place to place checking that the giants were all getting along.
He noticed that Sif and Angrboda were the center of a lot of attention, and slipped closer to make sure it was all friendly.
"Oh, ignore him," Sif was saying with a great deal of eye-rolling. "In my experience it's a rare man even makes himself worth the trouble – and no man, ever, has been as impressive as he thinks he is."
Angrboda's red eyes moved over all the men at the table, and fell at last on- Oh, fuck no. "How impressive is Loki-Prince?"
Titters from all sides. For a second Loki just knew that Sif would wrinkle her nose and laugh that of course she'd never been with Loki; she had her pick of the men up to and including Thor, so what need had she of-
"Ahem," he said, before she could think how best to insult him. "Angrboda, ladies tend not to ask such questions so directly here. Oh-! And Sif, your glass is empty. Shockingly enough."
He ordered her away with a gesture, and for once in her life she actually obeyed him. "Oh all right," she huffed, and rose unsteadily to her feet. "I'll go get another." She gave Angrboda a friendly clap on the shoulder. "The saga of Loki's prowess in bed will have to wait until another time. It's a very long story..."
Hoots all around. He rolled his eyes.
"...Though maybe not quite as long as one or two other, um, stories I could mention... You know who you are, no need to smirk... out of my way; I need more drink. Move. Get. Shoo."
Loki would have taken a moment to worry about whether she was going to drunkenly get into trouble, but first he had to make sure Angrboda was all right to make conversation on her own. He helped guide as quickly as he could, but by the time talk had turned to the safe topic of the use of projectile weapons in blizzard winds, Sif was long gone.
The revelry began winding down – still without any major incidents. Despite explicit orders several giants cut themselves over minor missteps in conversation, but fortunately Thor had already explained the custom to people and no one became too alarmed. Angrboda showed a worrying level of interest in the revelation that the Aesir had reliable contraception methods and could mate for pleasure (he was going to kill Sif for talking to her), but after some uncomfortable sniffing of necks she had come to the conclusion that the Aesir did not much interest her anyway. Gymir and Hugi, at least, scrupulously obeyed Loki's orders to leave the Asgardian women alone, and though Bonechewer flirted relentlessly with Sif, she did not seem to mind and rejected any warriors' efforts to come between them.
Odin and Frigga had sat with Helblindi for a while, talking and smiling, and Loki had a good idea who they were probably talking about. That set him on edge, but when he caught Odin's eye he saw that Odin was just as uncomfortable as he was. Good.
He wondered briefly whether Odin realized that Helblindi was the one he had to thank for his eyepatch.
Loki. He heard the voice clearly – Odin, speaking into his head. The night has been a success, and you have done all you set out to. Do not push your luck.
He didn't have such ability himself (and he wouldn't want to be in Odin's mind anyway!), so he pointed up at the ceiling and then used his magic to write words there. Shall we conclude the party now? He waited a moment for Odin to read, then erased them.
Yes. Your mother agrees.
His mother. Coming from Odin he couldn't let it stand. I trust Frigga's judgment, he wrote. I'll talk to Thor.
An annoyed sigh echoed through his mind, and he thought he'd have to practice blocking such intrusion in the future. Then he went to find Thor, and had him officially announce that the party was at an end.
When Loki said he planned on staying in the giants' room with them, Thor protested, on a variety of ridiculous pretexts. At first it was irritating – how was it any of Thor's business where he chose to spend his nights! – but then he remembered Sif explaining that Thor was jealous and then it started to feel flattering instead.
"They are in a strange place and they're alone," he said severely. "If I didn't offer, you would."
It was probably true, and Thor scowled at the floor and finally said all right. "But... you will call for me if you need anything? If the guests need anything? Or if anything is amiss..."
"Everything will be fine, Thor. Go to sleep."
He sent Thor away, locked the gloriously cool iced-over bedroom, and changed forms. The giants became lethargic before long; they were unaccustomed to eating and drinking to such excess. Loki helped them get settled – and chose a sleeping-spot for himself as far from Angrboda as possible, just in case.
Helblindi got up and, without a word, situated himself between Loki and the door. "Sleep in safety, child."
Loki reminded himself not to feel touched; the phrase was a routine Jotun pleasantry. "Sleep in safety, cousin. All of you," he added. He, personally, was not feeling the least bit sleepy. He stared up at the ceiling and listened as the giants started dozing off.
One set of snores. Then two. Then another… and a mumbler… and finally some loud snores (were those sounds really coming from a female?) , and he sighed aloud because how was he ever going to get to sleep like this.
Eventually he almost managed – but not for long. Footsteps woke him before he'd even started dreaming properly, and he knew someone was prowling outside the Jotuns' room.
He listened, but could hear only movement. Nothing that would tell him who was out there or what they wanted.
Still. Anyone who felt they had to creep around the palace did not represent a threat to Prince Loki of Asgard, especially not when he had his Jotun friends at hand and Thor right down the hall. So, there was no reason not to investigate himself. He rose quietly, crept around the huddle without stepping on anyone, and put his eye to the keyhole.
The intruder was none other than Thor – alone – so he went outside. "I beg your pardon, my f-" Thor said, and then looked a little closer. "Loki?"
He nodded. The hallway was deserted, but he supposed that if he didn't want to be seen this way – and he didn't – it was best not to take chances. He folded himself back into his Aesir form and conjured some clothes. "Why are you here?"
"I could not sleep."
He was holding something back, Loki could tell, but he knew Thor never kept secrets. All he had to do was wait a few minutes, and out it would come.
Thor took a deep breath. "Have you been enchanting me, brother? At night?"
"Of course not," he lied at once. "Never without your knowledge. I wouldn't."
"Never?" Thor pressed.
Loki swallowed. Fuck, there was that hesitation again. He absolutely had to recover his ability to lie in the face of challenge. In the meantime, though, he thought fast for a way to handle this – Thor would go berserk if he knew how much magic had actually been cast on him. "Well… there was once or twice," he began. He didn't have to fake being hesitant and uncomfortable, and he knew Thor usually took that to mean he was being truthful, so that was good at least. "Soon after you-… after your return. You woke screaming. Horrible nightmares, it looked like. I soothed you with magic, but I didn't want to tell you, because..." He groped for the explanation least likely to provoke a tantrum. "…It seemed so important to you to get well. I didn't think you would enjoy knowing that your mind was not recovering as quickly as you would like."
Thor was quiet for a long time. Then he heaved a sigh. "That's a lie, isn't it."
He went cold.
"You didn't tell me because you thought I'd be angry. Didn't you."
What? "Y…es?" It seemed like the right answer.
"Well, you're right, I am. I am angry, and Loki: notice what I am not doing. Have not done."
Loki shook his head, blank.
"Though you are sorely tempting me." Thor heaved an even bigger sigh, and explained himself. "I haven't throttled you, or bloodied your nose, or even raised my voice to you – and I haven't in a long time. I've apologized for how I used to manhandle you and I've stopped doing it. Are you going to persist in treating me like a beast on the rampage forever?"
Loki blinked. That was what Thor was concerned about?
(It was good to know that he'd gotten away with the bulk of the fabrication, though. Thor had no idea he was sleeping under a spell almost every other night.)
"You asked not to be enchanted, and I enchanted you," he reminded. "Odin's given me very little reason to trust in the leniency of the king, so-"
"I am not Odin."
Thank goodness. Or you would not be so easily distracted. "I know. I know, and… I am trying. Forgive me. I should have just told you, and braved your displeasure."
Thor snorted. "No, you should have not spelled me in the first place."
Loki felt a sudden overpowering urge to cut himself in the Jotun fashion. If he'd harbored the slightest hope that Thor would understand, he would have.
"What?" Thor said. "What's the matter with your hand?"
"Hm?" He looked down and realized that he was clenching and releasing it absently. "Oh, nothing. I was just…" Reflexively, he almost invented something. But lying uncontrollably was not a wise habit to get into either, so he thought a moment and then told the truth. "I was just thinking of the Jotun apology cuts," he admitted. "How much sense they make. You're sorry, you're forgiven, the thing is over and done with."
"They don't make sense between us." Thor gave him a sideways look and a small smile. "We would bleed to death."
Loki had to laugh. "We do often have a lot to apologize for."
They sat in silence for a bit, and at last Thor yawned. "I suppose I should go back to bed," he said – but did not get up.
Perhaps because he was tired himself, it took Loki a moment to understand. "Oh-. Did you dream tonight?"
"I… don't know. I might have."
Lying, obviously. But all Loki said was: "Do you want me to come back with you?"
Thor shrugged. Yes, that meant, But I'm embarrassed to ask.
Loki sighed and nudged him up. "All right, let's go. Helblindi knows I often get up and wander at night; he won't worry."
As they started down the hall together, Thor muttered: "Oh, it's all right for the frost-giant to worry over you…"
It was only about half playful, and Loki found himself bristling a little. "As a child Helblindi put out the Allfather's eye in an effort to prevent my kidnapping," he said calmly, without even looking in Thor's direction. "I think he's earned the right to act the protector if he wants."
Thor tripped over nothing, but got himself together quickly. When he spoke his voice was steady. "Father always told us that he traded his eye for a piece of wisdom."
"Yes. Perhaps it was: never underestimate a Jotun cub with a blade." He laughed a little. "Or perhaps: Loki will bring nothing but trouble."
"Perhaps," said Odin, from right beside him. Loki yelped and careened into Thor, who made a much more respectable noise of manly surprise. "Or perhaps I learned that fraternal love brings out the best and bravest in a child. Oh, for goodness' sake! Did you think you were the only one who prowls the halls unseen?"
Loki was trying to catch his breath. He would not break down in panic in front of the Allfather. If it killed him, he would not.
Focus, Loki. Breathe. In… out. He ran all the scripts in his head, every scrap of help the damned Drones had given him, and eventually managed to coax himself back to lucidity.
Thor, he noticed then, was gripping him hard, under the arm, as if to keep him from falling. "I'm fine," he said, and shook free. "Just startled is all." He resumed walking. So did Thor – and Odin.
The Allfather acted as if the interruption had never happened. "At the time I was simply impressed by the boy's bravery," he went on. "But later, it occurred to me to hope that my own son would have done the same in his position."
"I would," Thor said firmly.
"You would," Odin agreed, "Now. Now that you have come to love Loki as a brother. But if I had raised you on your own, caring for no one but yourself…"
He let the sentence trail away, and a wave of hate made Loki finish it for him. "…He would have become even more of a selfish ass than he is already, and I would be at home with my family. Oh- sorry," he corrected himself, "I meant: I would be left in a frozen wasteland with the savages from whom you saved me. Of course."
Odin's tone was calm and lecturing, but Loki didn't want to hear it; he was fully certain his grievance was legitimate. "Can you not once," he hissed, "Just once, just for a moment, pretend that it was me you wanted – that everything wasn't always about Thor?"
"Don't be ridiculous." Odin was still quiet. "Of course it was about Thor when I took you; I've explained what I wanted. You don't imagine that I picked up a squalling little alien – the offspring of my enemy, no less – and felt love for it at once? No. Affection came with time."
"Did it?" With as much scorn as he could muster.
"Yes, it did."
He didn't have anything else to say. Squalling little alien. Enemy. That was unpleasant to hear, but it was… true.
And Odin does so value truth.
"Go after your brother," Odin said into the silence, and only then did Loki notice that Thor had gone. "And if I were you I would apologize. Selfish ass is not fair for him. Not anymore."
He caught up with Thor not far from where they had first met – sitting on a bench near the giants' room. Hunched over, elbows on his knees. He looked… weary.
"I didn't mean for you to hear that."
Thor looked up. "I was standing right next to you."
"Yes, well… I wasn't thinking."
Thor scowled to have his own favorite excuse repeated back to him. "I notice you haven't retracted your words."
He thought it over, but not for too long, because Thor was waiting for an answer and too much thinking would look like lies. "What I said, I said in anger," he said carefully. "There was truth to it in the past, yes. But… there is less now. I know things have changed."
An uncomfortable silence fell. "Your hand again," Thor pointed out after a moment. "Stop fidgeting. You needn't bleed yourself for my sake." He stopped fidgeting. "Will you come back to my room?"
Thor made a rude gesture – and then three others in quick succession. "That is my opinion of what Father said," he declared. "It is no business of his where we choose to sleep. Until he takes the crown back from me, anyway, I am king." He glared around the hall, defiant. Obviously hoping that Odin was lurking invisible again.
Loki nodded. "I'll come."
"And… will you spell me to sleep again? I lied before: I know perfectly well that I did have dreams."
"Of course. And I'm proud of you for the lie, brother. I almost believed it."
They got back to Thor's room and settled in the big bed. "See you in the morning," Loki said, and cast. The snoring was instant and copious, so he rolled his eyes and worked something to dampen sound in the room. He fell asleep almost at once in the thick, cozy quiet.
The next thing he knew was awakening to the crash of the door being blown off its hinges. Odin stood in the doorway – fully armored.
Again, 1000 apologies for the delay. I hope everybody had nice holidays and I'm planning to update soon! There are only I believe 2 more chapters. (Or maybe 1, if I make it a super monster size chapter, or 3 if I make them really little.)