Thor stalked down the hall. "Where is my brother?" he yelled.

Asgaardians scattered before him.

Fandrel power walked to keep up. "Where could he be? Doesn't he know his presence is required?"

Thor snorted. "Of course he does. He just likes the attention." He looked down an intersecting hall. "Loki!" he bellowed.

"The prince's tardiness will be seen as a slight by some of the court."

"As if he cares." Thor glared into the dining hall where servants were setting long tables with platters and tureens of slowly prepared foods.

Sif appeared at the other end of the hall. She was carefully dressed in a long flowing silver gown, wrapped at the waist with silver cords. "Thor, Fandrel. I've been trying to find you. Loki has been in the grand hall for over 10 minutes now and you are both late."

Thor snorted with laughter and then his brow lowered. "Every time, he gets me. You'd think I'd know better." He muttered, spinning on one heel and heading back toward the grand hall as quickly as possible.

Fandrel and Sif broke into a jog to keep up.

Odin looked up when Thor entered the great hall. One eyebrow quirked slightly, but he turned and addressed the crowd. "Welcome all to the birthday celebration of my dear son Loki. I thank you all for coming and let the festivities begin!"

A great cheer rose up. "Loki, Loki, Loki!"

Loki bowed regally, smiling gently at the crowd.

Music began, and there was dancing, feasting, jesting and laughter. The room swirled with life and joy.

Loki turned to Thor. "Glad you could make it, brother."

Thor grinned at him. "Yes, we both know why I'm late, brother." He retorted.

A sly smile graced Loki's face. "I have no idea of what you speak, truly." He turned away and asked a lovely young woman to dance. She blushed and took his proffered hand, her eyes sparkling with delight at being chosen by the honored prince.

Thor watched with a broad smile, glad his brother was in such fine spirits.

Later, in the dining hall, Thor raised his glass and regaled the company around him with adventures that he and Loki had shared.

"And as it rode down upon me, Loki relocated right in front of me, driving a spear through its heart. It fell dead at our feet." People laughed and cheered as they toasted Loki's courage. "That barely rivals the time he stole he a piece of thread from the three sisters who live near the foot of Yggdrasil. The worst was the one wearing the veil. She almost had us entangled when Loki's quick thinking saved us again."

Volstagg raised his tankard and roared. "I remember that time! That hag had Thor wrapped in skeins of thread and she was about to cut it with her scissors and sever his life…"

Thor nodded as Volstagg told the story of Loki's clever use of trickery and his strong magic. Volstagg entranced them with the tale.

Up danced Loki, holding the lovely young woman close. She was mesmerized watching him speak. "You could not use your great strength or hammer to break free from a thread that must not be broken, eh, brother?" Loki chuckled.

Thor laughed out loud. "Ah, no. To Loki, the man who can charm a web right out from under a spider." He raised his glass high, and then drank deeply.

Loki smiled and then danced away again, whispering in his partner's ear as she blushed.

After the feasting came presents, gifts from all over the kingdom presented to the Royal Prince. Magical items, books, fine clothing, weapons, delicacies, and more. Loki accepted them all with sparkling eyes and perfect grace, laughing when Thor jested playfully with him. Odin and Frigga beamed, looking upon their second son with pride.

The night waned, and the guests retired one by one, until the halls grew quiet—except for the laughter of the small, six-member group, still sharing and reliving their grand adventures. Teasing one another; Volstagg for his appetite, and the times it had gotten them into trouble. Hogun's love for glorious battles where he could win more honor. Vandrel for his love for the ladies—and did they all remember the trouble THAT had gotten them in during some of their travels? Sif, always trying to prove that she was as great a warrior as any man, when they all knew she was better than most men. Loki, when his silver tongue turned to lead or his love for mischief got him caught. Thor, for his pride and his boasting and rash actions. How often had Thor protected Loki when his smooth ways saved them not, and how often had Loki calmed a storm begun by Thor?

One in the group was mostly silent. His green eyes revealed none of his thoughts, though his expression grew steadily more morose.

The sun began to rise, turning the horizon a soft shade of rose.

Odin appeared in the doorway, and gently he beckoned. "Loki. Walk with me."

The slender, dark-haired son stood, and with a faint smile he took his leave of the group of friends, and he followed his father through the door and down the hall. They walked slowly, and for a moment Odin said nothing.

"You carried yourself well today." Odin said.

Loki nodded. "Thank you, Father. I hope to live up to your expectations."

Odin nodded, his face thoughtful. Then a slight smile lifted the corner of his mouth.

"Did you wish to speak to me of something, Father?" Loki asked, his hands clasped behind his back as he walked, mirroring the stance of his father.

"No." Odin looked at his son. "I simply thought you may wish to escape the drinking stories that were showing no signs of letting up. I also wished to give you this, privately." Odin stopped walking and turned. He pulled a small book from under his cape and handed it to Loki.

Loki turned the small blue book over in his hands and then opened the front cover. He looked up at his Father with questioning eyes.

"It is a rare book of Frost Giant magic. You have a natural gift and I thought you could make the best use of this. Much good could be done with this if used with wisdom, my son."

"Thank you, Father," Loki replied, studying the book in his hands speculatively.

Odin placed his hand on Loki's shoulder. "Rest well, Loki."

"Good night, Father."

Loki walked slowly down the hallway to his private quarters carrying a chilled bottle of Cardassian wine. He closed the door and sat down at his writing desk. He poured the pale golden liquid into a crystal goblet and took a deep drink.


As he swirled the thick floral liquid in the glass, he though back over the day. What a farce it had been.

He was getting ready for his party and what did he hear? Thor bellowing down the hall for him to hurry up. Well, Thor wasn't going to tell him what to do. He was sick of that.

He smiled to himself. All he had to do was evade Thor for a few minutes and then go to the great hall without him, and he, the golden boy, was the late one.

The day went well enough after that, though Thor had to become the center of attention once everyone was feasting. Even when telling about things that he, Loki, had done, the story always seemed to be about Thor. Thor who needed saving from the Arctic bear, Thor who needed someone, anyone, to save his sorry hide when the veiled sister had his life literally hanging by a thread.

The presents were nice enough, and just when things were becoming relaxing, the young lady decided she must retire with her mother. The look her mother gave him proved she didn't trust him any more than she would have trusted Thor.

Then his own friends began to mock him, saying his tongue had turned to lead, and how Thor had bailed him out when his mischief got him caught. One would think that there's something wrong with having a bit of fun. What, was he a child that Thor needed to come and save his little brother once again from getting in trouble with their father?

And Father! "Could he not, for once in his life, tell me that I was living up to his expectations? Am I not as good as Thor in his eyes?" His eyebrows drew down.

"At least this might prove interesting." He eyed the small blue book.

After reading for a while, he took another sip of wine. It was no longer chilled. He repeated one of the words from the book and moved his fingers slightly, and the glass frosted in front of him. He smiled and took a sip of the now icy wine.

"Well, well."