Fill for a prompt on the avengerkink meme:
Young Prince Thor falls into a pool while avoiding his chaperones and is rescued by a passing peasant. The peasant brings the sopping boy home, not knowing he's a royal, and nurses him back to health. When Prince Thor wakes up, he announces his childlike horror at the peasant-y surroundings and is taken back to the palace, that's that.
Only, he's a good kid at heart, so before he leaves, in gratitude for saving his life, he gives the peasant a good sum of money. And also decides to come back and marry his son, Loki (who's what, 4 or 5 at this point? XD), when they're both of age. How silly. No one expects him to actually do it.
On the day of Loki's 18th birthday, Thor shows up at his house in full regalia, perfectly prepared to go through with it.
Thor should not have wandered. He knew as much, though the procession had been much too boring for such a young prince to bear, the river by their camp too tempting. His father was concerned with other things, as were the attendants, and the grooms. No one would miss him if he only crept away for a moment.
He had only meant to play at the water's edge. In his imaginings the tall dead weeds that stood frostbitten by the riverside were a wild forest and he was the conqueror come to tame it, to slay the monsters that dwelled within. The bridge of flat stepping-stones that thrust out into the water was a path to a strange new land and one day he would be its king.
Until one stone betrayed him, slippery with ice he didn't see until it was too late. When he fell the dark water claimed him, shockingly deep and very cold, and as the current swept him away he could not get air in his mouth to scream.
He woke to the faces of strangers and the prickle of straw beneath him, rustling as he shook with a cold that had taken root in his very bones. In the dim light a strange man held a hand to Thor's brow and told his son to fetch soup. The boy obeyed. When he stood before Thor with a cup, Thor sat and took it, greedy of the heat that leached into his hands.
But it was not soup that touched his lips, he thought. It tasted faintly of potato, mostly of water and onion, but it was hot and so he drank it down and demanded more. Two more cups he drank, until his stomach could not hold another drop, and still the heat of it could not soothe his chill. He handed the cup back, feeling ill. Beneath him, the straw bed itched and poked, and inside him, the thin broth gurgled, and outside the walls the wind moaned like a lost spirit. Thor shivered, and wondered if the drink had been poisoned. "Are you enemies of my father King Odin?" he asked, steeling himself for the worst.
The man could only stare, but his son frowned and asked, "Why?"
"Because you give me pig's food and a dog's bed," Thor explained, wondering if he should ready himself to fight. "Am I a prisoner of war?"
The farmer's cart rattled its way down the road as fast as the old nag could pull it, and Prince Thor lay in the back watching his breath puff white into the night air and vanish. He tried valiantly not to shiver—it would not do to show weakness before his subjects—but his body was not inclined to obey his commands. He huddled beneath the blankets as deeply as he could manage and still was not warm, and he glared at the boy beside him, Loki, who seemed comfortable with only the little bit of blanket Thor had not tucked around himself.
Thor's teeth chattered and it drew Loki's attention. "You're not dying, are you?" He did not sound as though he cared one way or another, only that it might be interesting to watch if he was.
"No," said Thor, though he didn't know if that might be a lie. "Aren't you cold?"
"Only watching you shiver," said Loki, looking away. "You're like a baby."
"I am not." Thor sniffled valiantly. "I'm older than you." Though he didn't know if that might be a lie, too. At any rate, Loki didn't argue. Thor could hardly see his face in the dark, tipped up as it was to look at the stars.
He was feeling better by the time they arrived at the palace, and it was a good thing, too. There was tumult enough as it was when word spread of Thor's arrival, and the mood of the palace in its prince's absence seemed balanced on the edge of a knife. Had he been harmed, or still shivering, or had he so much as sneezed, the reunion might have been less pleasant than it was.
But King Odin was very relieved to see him, and Prince Thor made his apologies for wandering, as it was wrong, and he should not have worried his parents so. The farmer and his son were bid to come in and were fed richly at King Odin's great table. "You will be rewarded, of course," the king assured the farmer. "When I think about what might have become of him if you hadn't found him…"
When he didn't finish, the farmer said, "Thank you, Your Majesty. But I cannot take so much credit. It was Loki, my son, who found him and pulled him from the river."
Thor looked to Loki, who was watching him. "Then I owe you my life," Thor said slowly, glancing at his father to make certain this was right. After a moment, the king gave a small nod. "Then," Thor said, a surge of pride welling inside him as he put it all together, "my life is yours."
"Mine?" asked Loki, who crinkled his nose.
"Forgive him," King Odin said, indulgent of his son. "He has a good heart."
But Thor could see before him the blazing path of rightness, and would not be dissuaded. "I will marry you," he announced, and looked only to Loki despite the noises of protest that rose around him. "And then you can live as I do." And Loki would be a prince too, and would have every desire of his heart. Yes.
To give himself was the most he could give, the grandest gesture it was in his power to make. It was fitting.
The king laughed, and after a moment the farmer laughed, but Loki looked at Thor and did not laugh at all.
In the years that passed Thor did not see Loki again. There were too many demands on the time of a young prince growing to manhood. Years of fostering, a kingdom away. Years of training, of learning statecraft and warfare and the thousand things a prince must know.
From time to time he remembered his promise and thought of returning to the village. But his life was not yet his own to order as he pleased, and his days were filled with other things, and so the years slipped by and Thor did not go.
He also did not forget. On the day he came of age, in the middle of the celebrations and feasting, while the cheers of Thor's fellows still rang in the great hall, a messenger was sent out to carry word.
When the day arrived Thor readied himself with all due care, and when he rode out to the village he could not have made a grander sight. His white steed shone beneath him, proud and fierce. His armor gleamed around him. In his chest the sun itself seemed to burn, bright with hope and expectation.
And yet, when he arrived at the village, it seemed no one was prepared for his coming.
With his guards behind him, Thor rode on to the farmer's house and found it empty. The paddocks held only pigs and sheep and a pair of cattle that watched with interest as Thor dismounted.
He found Loki in the barn, shoveling manure into a hand-cart, and when he looked at Thor he seemed neither pleased nor surprised. "You," said Loki, voice sour. "I didn't believe you would actually carry out this jest of yours."
Thor stood in the doorway, confused. "Jest?"
Loki answered by flinging another shovelful of manure.
"Did my messenger not find you?" asked Thor.
"Oh, he found me," said Loki, voice tight. "Never fear. I was told what was expected of me."
Thor looked him up and down, covered in filth, and found himself at a loss. "And?"
"And I didn't believe you'd do it, you glittering idiot!" Loki snapped, startling the guards and a hog, who snorted disapproval. "I couldn't believe—" another shovel "—that wretched fool of a child who nearly managed to drown himself would grow up into a wretched fool of a prince who thought some proclamation he'd made years ago—"
"You doubt my word?" Thor interrupted, stung. "I made a promise, and I have lived with that promise every day. I swore to marry you."
"And now you show up," Loki went on as though Thor hadn't spoken, "when I am knee-deep in pig shit—"
Loki jerked to a halt and straightened, holding the haft of the shovel like a staff. "I should have left you in that damnable river," he said, low enough Thor wasn't certain he was supposed to hear. "I release you," Loki said, louder. He gestured at himself, and at the barn, as though that was explanation enough. "There's no need to carry this out any further. You've come and you've put on your show. Now stop this nonsense and leave me."
He bent to his shoveling again, and Thor asked, "Where is your father?"
"Dead," Loki answered, not looking up. "He was dying when you met him, did you know? No. I supposed not. The royal reward bought him years of exotic medicines, but they weren't enough. And pigs," he added, the manure landing in the cart with a noxious squelch. "It bought us pigs."
"As soon as we made it back to the village," Loki answered. "My father had wanted pigs."
"When did he die?"
Loki sighed as though it pained him, straightened again, and put the shovel aside. "Two years this winter." He looked to Thor and then to the guards, and then the hog, and at last to Thor again. "I can't shelter you for the night. You had better ride for home."
"I wasn't planning on sheltering here," Thor said. "My father is expecting us. The whole castle is waiting."
"For me," Loki said, disbelieving.
"For us," Thor corrected.
Loki swallowed hard and thought it over. "And if I refuse to go?" he asked at last.
Thor stared at him, uneasy to his bones. "Is this what you want?" he asked. "To work a farm? Alone? To tend pigs? I offer you my kingdom," he went on, nettled pride driving his voice louder. "I offer you riches—"
"And what am I supposed to do with these riches of yours, in your castle?" Loki interrupted, impatient.
"Whatever you want! Learn battle and fight in the West! Drink the best wine in all the kingdoms!" And there Thor's ideas ran out, and he repeated, "Whatever you want. It was the intention of my promise, as a child. I wanted to give you everything I could." He stopped, but Loki didn't answer. "I didn't think it so terrible an offer."
Loki grimaced, and looked at him keenly. "You could have offered me as much without promising yourself, as well."
Thor opened his mouth to argue and closed it, and when he spoke again, only said, "Perhaps."
Loki didn't respond and Thor waited, wondering if this had all been a mistake, not knowing what else he could have done. It was a long time before Loki looked at him again. "Whatever I want," he said at last, cautious.
There was nothing of home Loki wanted to take with him. Before they rode for the castle Thor ordered a guard to stay and oversee the distribution of Loki's livestock to the people of the village, a wedding gift to them all.
The celebrations lasted late into the night. Thor was pleased to see that once Loki was washed and finely dressed, he quite looked the part of a prince. If he was quiet, it was only natural for a commoner to be cowed by the grandeur of the castle. It would pass.
He did not trouble himself over Loki's silence for long, not on a day of such celebration. He gladly put aside all worries and set to the task of enjoying himself to the utmost. He drank deeply, and did not question why the wedding felt like a battle he'd won, and only when he staggered toward his bed and found his chamber empty did he realize Loki had vanished.
The hangover that greeted him the next morning didn't even wait until he'd opened his eyes to make itself known. Thor groaned in pain at the cruel sunbeams that beat down on his closed eyelids, too bright by far for comfort.
Thor's eyes flew open and he found Loki sitting like a crow on the seat nearby, just out of Thor's reach. Thor blinked and regretted it, and stared down dully at his wedding clothes, still on, and then he remembered. "Where were you?"
"Elsewhere." Loki didn't take his eyes off Thor. "Is this the part where you punish my village because I kept you from playing with your new toy last night?"
Thor's head seemed likely to cave in, and Loki's voice seemed like a chisel hastening the process. Thor rubbed his eyes, pained. "Toy?"
"Pet, if you prefer."
"Is that what you think of me?" Thor pushed up and sat, ignoring the ache in his head, and stared at his new husband in disbelief. "You think I would promise to marry you and then claim you as some sort of prize? You think I would—what—punish your village because of you?"
"So that's a no, then."
"Of course it is!"
"Is that a promise?" asked Loki, leaning forward.
"Yes!" Thor shouted, and then wished he hadn't.
"Good," said Loki, and left, and he did not return that night, or the next, and the day after that Thor left again for the battlefield.
It was an odd feeling, being carried, Thor thought as the ceiling whizzed by. The stretcher he lay on bounced and swayed as the men hurried him into his chambers, and around him the world went bright and dark, spinning lazily now and again, noises drifting in from far away. He heard voices he didn't know and then some he did, and when he opened his eyes he saw Loki and thought there you are before the world spun again and everything went dark.
It was dark again when Thor opened his eyes and he knew a moment of panic—had he lost his sight? But his eyes adjusted and after a moment he could see it was only night. He raised his head and saw a candle burning low at the far end of the room, and at the table beside it slept Loki, his head pillowed on one arm.
Parched, Thor reached out for a cup at the nearby table but his fingers were clumsy and it clattered. Loki woke with a jerk, saw him, and in no time at all was at Thor's side. "I was beginning to wonder." He held the cup for Thor to drink, and it was the sweetest water he'd ever tasted.
"How bad…?" he asked as Loki lit another candle, light flaring around them.
"You'll live. Fortunately."
To Thor the room still felt fragile, as if it could tilt at any moment. Or perhaps that was his head. He looked back at the nearly-spent candle, at the open book on the table beside it where Loki had been asleep. "Have you been here all this time?"
Loki's face was very bland. "I have."
Thor's mouth hurt when he smiled. "You do care."
Loki smiled back, but was an indulgent smile, the kind one would give a child. "What do you think happens to me if you get yourself killed, hmm?" He sat on the side of the bed, watching Thor. "Do you really think your father will welcome me with open arms? Make me his heir?"
"He won't." It came out strange. Nearly gentle, but not. "I know that much."
Thor swallowed a strange new guilt, and had no response to that. He took Loki's hand instead, and kissed the back of it, and said, "I am glad you stayed." Loki looked at their clasped hands and didn't speak, and Thor thought of how easily and often Loki left before, how little he wanted to lie here alone in the dark. "Can… will you stay longer?" Thor pressed.
"When you ride to battle again I will go with you," Loki said, not quite an answer. "If you won't look after yourself I suppose the task falls to me."
You don't even have a weapon, thought Thor, but that was a matter of least concern, just now. "Will you stay with me tonight?" he asked.
Loki was still looking at their hands. "Should I?"
"My bed is yours, too."
"Is it?" That seemed to make Loki consider. "I've never slept in it."
Thor eased himself over to make room, ignoring the dizziness the movement caused, and after a moment's hesitation Loki crawled in beside him. "You should sleep."
"I have slept," protested Thor, but weariness was creeping up on him like a rising tide. He fell asleep to the soft sound of Loki's breathing, long and slow and steady in the dark, and knew he was not alone.
Loki did ride to battle when Thor was healed enough to return, a staff at his back he said he could use. Thor doubted this, wondering if he should have insisted Loki stay at the castle. If he fulfilled his promise only to bring his husband to war and watch him die of inexperience, it was all for nothing, Loki's blood would be on his hands, and…
There was more, but Thor didn't wish to think about it. As for Loki, he seemed happier out of the castle, riding along at Thor's side as though he'd been there through a thousand lifetimes. When Thor pointed it out, Loki only said, "It couldn't be worse than tending pigs." But he smiled, a true smile, and Thor grinned in return and felt recklessly happy as he had at the wedding.
And then there were the nights. Thor grew used to sharing a tent, hardly touching, but Loki was ever waking in the small hours and leaving. When it happened, Thor would find him just outside, watching the sky with the most curious expression on his face, not peace nor pleasure nor anything Thor could understand.
One especially warm night Thor gave up on sleep and joined Loki beneath the stars. "You did that as a child," Thor said, and sat down on the ground by Loki not quite near enough to touch. "I remember you looking up at the sky. You did it all the way back to the castle."
"… when we were in the cart," said Loki after a moment. "Yes. I remember. You couldn't stop shivering."
Thor made a noise of assent and looked up at the sky, but saw nothing worth looking at for nights on end. "What do you see up there?"
There was a long silence, so long Thor believed Loki wouldn't answer until he did, his voice strangely tight. "Have you ever been compelled by something that troubled you?"
Thor considered the dim sight of Loki's face, washed with moonlight, and answered honestly. "Yes." But Loki's unease didn't seem assuaged in the slightest, and after a moment Thor caught his arm and gave a pull. "Come. Back to bed. We have far to go tomorrow." Loki came along without protest and seemed better in the morning, and so Thor didn't worry over it any further.
Thor never did see Loki use the staff. He did see him after skirmishes, flushed and bright-eyed and damp with sweat, but never so much as scratched. Thor noticed that he took fewer wounds in battle than ever, and then none, and wondered.
His father had employed a sorcerer once, long ago, but the man had died when Thor was barely old enough to walk. Still, he'd heard stories in the years that followed, feats of magic and daring, spells strong enough to protect whole armies on the battlefield.
"What did you find to do when I was gone?" Thor asked one day as they rode.
"Whatever I wanted," Loki replied, and gave a smile that was slightly too proud to be entirely innocent.
When they returned to the castle it was at leisure, not necessity. It was an unspeakable luxury after months afield to bathe in the great baths and eat from the heavily-burdened table, to fall in a bed so comfortable that Thor was scarcely able to pull a blanket over himself before his eyes fell closed.
Still, Loki woke in the night.
Thor awoke not long after, the quiet too quiet for comfort. He must have grown accustomed to it, waking to find the other side of the bed vacant. An after-effect of when he'd been so badly wounded, perhaps; he disliked being left alone in the dark.
Like a baby, he thought, and smiled tiredly at the memory. He gathered up the blankets and carried them out to the balcony where Loki sat. "Here." He arranged a rough wide pallet from the blankets and stretched out on his back. "Have the servants put a bed out here," he told Loki, sleep still dragging at his bones as Loki drew closer and sat on the blankets alongside him. "It would be simpler."
"And what if it rained?"
"They could bring it back in." Thor yawned. "Are you well?"
"Fine," said Loki, though he made no move to go back inside. The night drifted past, deep and black and still. Millions of stars glittered above them, each one very like the next, and they began to blur in Thor's vision as his eyelids grew heavy. After a long time, Loki spoke, very low. "I've had this… dream." He sounded so unsettled all thought of sleep vanished at once and Thor roused himself to listen. "Since I was small," Loki went on. "I fall into the sky and get… lost."
Thor followed Loki's gaze to the endless darkness above.
"There's no map," Loki went on, his voice growing strangely desperate, but no louder, "no shelter and no way home, nothing to do but scream for all eternity, lost in—"
"Loki. That isn't going to happen."
Loki stopped, turning his face away. "Like I said, it's just a dream."
Thor pushed himself up, and sat beside his husband. "You're safe."
"I know that." Loki sounded as though he knew everything but.
There was more to this, Thor could feel it, like an iceberg at sea. Trouble beneath the surface going all the way down. "If you were lost, I would find you," Thor told him.
Loki's breath hitched. "Would you, now."
"Yes." There was not so very much space between them, and when Thor reached an arm around his husband's shoulders and pulled him in Loki looked at him sharply but didn't pull away. "Of course I would."
"Is that a promise?"
Thor thought for a long moment, reaching for the right words before he spoke. "I swear with everything I am and all I hold dear, with all the power that is mine to command and all the strength I possess, if you were lost I would search for you until the end of my days. And I would find you."
"You promise," Loki repeated, uncertain.
"And you think I'm the thick one. Yes." He gave a laugh, tired but genuine. "I promise."
"Good," said Loki simply, and leaned into the warmth of Thor's body, and when he looked back up at the stars it seemed to Thor he did so with less fear than before.