With great love, I present to you the final chapter of this little ditty. I sincerely hope you enjoy!
"Why so scared that you'll mess it up,
When perfection keeps you haunted?
All we need is your best, my love.
That's all anyone ever wanted."
-Christmas is Love
Loki felt faint, and clammy. He blinked rapidly, then slowly, trying to get the fuzziness to disappear from the edges of his vision. He took deep breaths, barely registering the thunderous applause that roared all around him.
He had just finished his grand Christmas Day presentation. Before the entire assembly of the vibrantly-dressed court, in the center of the golden throne room all decked out in Christmas majesty—and before his scarlet-and-armor-clad brother, the king—Loki had delivered a copy of every single record of every single discovery made so far during his short headmastership of the Royal Magic and Science Academy of Asgard. Volume upon volume lay before the throne—a stack twice as high as the old headmaster's last year, and much more neatly-organized—besides being tremendously more impressive in content. After Loki had bestowed these at Thor's feet, he had introduced his straight-backed, prized students; loudly praised their accomplishments, and volunteered them for royal service should ever Thor call upon them. Then, with a swift yank on the twilight-colored drapery, Loki had unveiled his personal gift to the king:
The World Tree.
Wrought in gorgeous gold and silver, the tall, winding machine looked to be a work of art first, and functional second. And then, when Loki had brought it to life with a simple wave of his hand, the whole court had been stricken dumb.
The universe leaped into being, filling the cavernous throne room. Planets, stars, galaxies, nebula, all floated amongst the wide-eyed, glittering courtiers. Loki, waving an arm grandly, had declared that the king of Asgard could now literally walk amongst the heavens. And he need only reach out and touch a point of light that represented a star, or lay a fingertip against the surface of a holographic planet, and its name would blink to life above it, along with various information concerning its environment, its people, and its king. Loki demonstrated this capability with multiple realms and moons.
Needless to say, the entirety of the assembly had been wildly tickled, and as Loki bowed and turned off the machine, they had burst into ridiculous applause. Which Loki did not hear.
He had made a terrible mistake.
He had misspelled the name of one of Jotunheim's moons.
How? How could he have done something like that? In name and blood, he was the king of that realm—his twin brother ruled it—and he could not spell the name of one of its very own moons? And he had presented it to king and country in that condition, only then realizing his horrendous error?
Sick and weak, his armor and horned helmet feeling fartoo heavy, he managed to lift a polite hand to the court in acknowledgement.
Thor then arose, thanked everyone for the monstrous pile of gifts surrounding his throne, and in a booming voice invited them all to the Christmas feast that evening. And with a quick and merry dismissal from their king, the assembly began to mill about, turning to each other to discuss, or leaving the hall in laughing parties.
"That…was the most fantastic thing I have ever seen," Jane, beaming, bright-eyed and beautiful in her green Christmas dress, hurried up to him and grabbed his hand. Her fingers felt warm and soft, and they shocked him back into crisp reality.
"Thank you," Loki nodded, then took a deep, bracing breath. She laughed.
"Glad that's over?"
"Yes," he confessed, feeling as though he might fall over. "Yes."
"Good," Jane smiled. "Then come on."
She tugged on him.
"Thor has a surprise."
"That…is impossible," Loki said, following her toward a side door.
"Ha, why?" Jane asked.
"Thor never plans anything."
"And you never go to church," she shot back.
"Well…." Loki muttered.
They passed through a door, down a narrow corridor, and emerged in a much smaller, warmer, softer room. It was still luxuriously-furnished—part of the king's personal chambers—but decked in colors of browns and golds and creams. Thick carpets covered the floor, embroidered curtains hung by the sunny windows, lamps were lit, cushions and comfortable chairs waited, and a robust fire blazed in the wide, white-marble fireplace. It all smelled of chocolate, and spices. Loki's steps slowed.
Next to the fireplace stood a short evergreen tree. It was simply decorated with wooden ornaments, and lit by mere candles. Loki paused, staring at it. How had such simple charm been achieved…?
He noticed the other people in the room almost as an afterthought—and then they startled him. Thor, Steve, Sif, his father and mother all strolled toward the fire, holding hot drinks in their hands.
"Loki!" Thor called, without his armor now, wearing just his scarlet shirt, black trousers and boots. He smiled at Loki, and beckoned.
"Come in, Brother, and make yourself comfortable!"
"Erm," Loki reached up and fumbled with his helmet, then pulled it off, set it down, and self-consciously ran a hand through his hair. Then, he dusted off his armor—it fell away and disappeared with quick, efficient jingling. Beneath, he wore black and green, still with a high collar and long sleeves to hide his scarring—but he suddenly felt much more able to breathe.
"Come sit!" Thor commanded them all. "I have things for you!"
"Things for us?" Frigg's fair brow furrowed, her long white dress trailing behind her as she moved to a chair. She glanced up at Odin. "This isn't customary…"
"With every new king comes new traditions," A grandly garbed Odin smiled, clasping her hand. "And I, for one, am ready for a few."
Loki cast a quick look over at Steve. Though Loki had barely had time to notice during these last few days, when he had caught a glimpse of the former Midgardian, Steve had seemed quiet, overwhelmed and unsure. But now, at the sight of the simple tree, the fireplace and the chairs gathered round them, his frame eased, and a familiar light entered his eyes. Almost smiling, he drew near and sat down next to Frigg, who thoughtlessly took hold of his hand and twined her fingers through his whilst taking a sip of her drink.
Sif sat down on the other side of Steve, near to the tree and to Thor, who stood beside it. She smiled at Thor—in a twinkling, knowing way—but Loki knew better than to try and pry any information out of her.
Jane tugged on him again, and together they maneuvered around and sank into a short, cushioned couch opposite his parents. Loki sighed as he did, his bones aching. Thor turned, folded his arms, and assessed them all. His vivid blue eyes met all of theirs in turn—and Loki felt a twinge of curiosity pierce his suspicion and exhaustion.
"Thank you for coming," he said. "I know this is unusual for us, but I am told that on Midgard, this is common practice. Therefore, I am going to start a new tradition: giving gifts to our families."
Everyone suddenly looked at each other—and Loki instantly stiffened with panic.
"But we have no presents for each other!" Sif cried, putting Loki's fear into words. Thor raised his hands and shook his head.
"No, no," he insisted. "I said we're starting a new tradition. You may get gifts for each other next year."
The women stammered, the men glanced at each other—but Steven looked calm and comfortable, that half smile on his face. And Jane seemed nervous as well—or excited. Thor turned around, bent to the foot of the tree and picked up a small package wrapped in brown paper.
"First," he said, straightening to his great height. "I shall honor my father by giving him his gift."
"Thank you, Your Majesty," Odin bowed as he took it, and sat down next to his wife. Frowning, Loki watched his father untie the twine and pull the wrapping off of the gift…
And Odin stared down in his lap at a pair of simply-decorated, worn leather bracers.
Indignation leaped into Loki's mind. These weren't new, they were not elaborate or jeweled, and they certainly wouldn't fit Odin's arms…
"Thor," Odin murmured, gazing at them intently. "Where did you find these?"
"What are they, dear?" Frigg asked, watching just as keenly. Odin picked one of them up, and turned it over in his hands.
"They belonged to my very first set of armor," Odin breathed, his one gray eye roving over the edges and surfaces of the bracer, even as his fingers did the same. "My father gave them to me upon my coming-of-age. He strapped them onto my arms himself." Odin suddenly swallowed, then cleared his throat. "I thought I had lost them."
Stunned, Loki shot a look at Thor—who was beaming at their father, watching his every movement. Odin lifted his eye to Thor, and nodded to him.
"Thank you, my son," he said, with deep sincerity. "For a moment you made me feel like a young man again."
Thor inclined his head in return. Then he turned, ducked, and picked up another package.
"To my mother," he said, and handed it to her.
"Thank you, Sunshine," she said, kissing his hand as she took the package. Sif leaned closer to watch the Queen Mother carefully unwrap her gift.
A startled expression crossed Frigg's face. Sif saw the gift right away, and a soft look came over her. Loki leaned forward, but couldn't see what it was over the paper.
"What?" Jane asked.
"It…" Frigg started, but didn't finish. With trembling fingers, she reached inside the wrappings and pulled out a little doll. It had a wooden head, hands and feet—the body was stuffed, it wore a faded blue velvet dress, and had horse's hair for a braid. But the way Frigg handled it, one would think it was made of gold.
"Her name is Asfrid," Frigg breathed. "I had her when I was a very little girl." She lifted shining eyes to Thor. "Where did you find these ancient things?"
"In a part of the palace that has been locked for longer than I've been alive, I think," Thor said, smiling. "I was curious one day, and—I found treasure."
Loki would have scoffed at the word "treasure"—if his throat had not been so tight. He blinked several times, trying to clear his suddenly foggy vision. Absently, he felt Jane take hold of his hand in both of hers and lean her head on his shoulder.
"And for you, my betrothed," Thor held out a package to Sif, then leaned in and kissed her sweetly on the forehead. She looked up at him, startled, then quickly unwrapped her present…
And pulled out a flashing, elegant Elvish throwing knife.
"Thor…!" she gasped.
"Haha, do you recognize it?" he crowed, kneeling down next to her to look at it as well, putting an arm around her.
"I…We were only children!" she said, her eyes wide as she held it up before her. "And you—"
"I took it, knowing that you liked it, and then I promptly lost it," Thor finished. He gestured to it. "But then, not a month ago, I found it again, stuck behind a trunk." He watched her face. "It's yours, love. I hope you still want it."
Sif turned, wrapped her arm around Thor's neck and kissed him on the mouth. Jane laughed out loud, released Loki's hand and clapped. Steve, Frigg and Odin chuckled. Sif released Thor—they gazed at each other for a moment, smiling, and he stroked a strand of hair out of her face.
"Thank you, my king," Sif said, a hint of playfulness in her expression. Thor winked at her, then stayed on his knees to turn and pick up Steve's present. Thor handed it to him, then settled down by Sif to observe. Steve's present was wider, flatter, and flimsier than the others. With great concentration, Steve pulled the twine loose, noisily moved the brown wrapper…
And pulled out a large, folded stack of yellowed paper, printed with small, black-inked text. Steve froze, utterly transfixed. Confused, Loki tilted his head to read the large print at the top:
The New York Times
THE WAR IN EUROPE IS ENDED!
SURRENDER IS UNCONDITIONAL;
V-E WILL BE DECLARED TODAY;
OUR TROOPS ON OKINAWA GAIN
And Steve started to cry.
Loki had never seen a man so openly weep—but Steve pressed his hand to his heart, nodding quickly, then desperately wiped his eyes.
"I asked the son of Coul if he could find something for you, something to remind you of home," Thor said quietly. "He said it was no trouble—though I believe this was very difficult to find."
Steve nodded again, set the paper aside and got up—Thor did the same—and Steve embraced him.
Jane laughed again—Loki looked at her. She was smiling at the two men and trying not to cry—no she was crying. She dashed away her tears with a shaking hand.
Steve pulled back from Thor and slapped him on the shoulder.
"Thank you," Steve said, his voice watery, his eyebrows drawn together. He sat back down and pulled the paper into his lap, carefully unfolding it and looking at it. "I…You have no idea what this means to me."
"You're welcome, Brother," Thor said fondly, and Steve gave him a long gaze that spoke more than any grand speech ever could.
"And now, for my other little brother," Thor said, handing Loki a brown-wrapped box with a look of such open affection that Loki couldn't speak. His hands felt weak and uncertain as he held the box between them…
Slowly, he undid the string, shuffled the paper out of the way, opened the lid of the wooden box…
And couldn't move.
There, in a bed of fine straw, lay a glass horse.
A multi-faceted, multi-colored prancing glass horse.
Loki reached out to touch it with his fingertips—then pulled back, gasping.
"The maker of the original has died, you remember," Thor said. "But I managed to find one of his apprentices, who did his best to replicate his master's work for you. It isn't perfect—but I hope it's acceptable."
Loki, chills racing all through him, finally dared to touch it—to pick it up, and gently lift it out of the straw. It felt lighter than an eggshell, and glimmered like it was made of melted pearl. It looked almost exactly like the one that had slipped through his hands and shattered all those centuries ago.
Loki tried to say something, tried to speak to his brother. He couldn't. He couldn't even look at him.
Thor reached out, and pressed a hand to the top of Loki's head. Pain shot down through Loki's chest, and his throat spasmed. He carefully set the horse back down into the box as Thor's hand lingered.
At last, Thor lifted his hand, and turned to Jane.
"Jane Foster," he said, and Loki was able to turn and look at her, at least. Thor had taken hold of both her hands, and gazed full into her smiling, tear-streaked face.
"You, who have brought so much light and beauty into the house of Asgard since the moment you arrived," Thor said. "I am grateful to say that you gave me this idea, of giving gifts to the ones I love. Therefore, this little celebration is in your honor."
"Thanks," Jane managed.
"And this is for you," Thor said, handing her her own wrapped package. She swiped at her face again, then hurriedly opened it.
"A book," Jane murmured, her brow furrowing as she ran her hand over the cover. "European Fairytales…" She lifted her head, and searched Thor's face. He only smiled.
"You have it about fifteen years too late, but I'm you have it now, nonetheless!"
The voice came from the other corner of the room. Everyone jumped, twisted—
To see Erik Selvig step out of a back closet, dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt, and smiling at Jane.
Jane flew to him.
"Erik!" she cried, throwing her arms around him. He hugged her tightly back.
"Oh, Merry Christmas, Jane," he kissed her hair. She pulled back, holding the book between them.
"How did you get here?" she asked.
"Thor came to get me this morning," Erik explained, gesturing to him. "Asked me to come to Asgard for Christmas." He shrugged. "It was a tough decision. I had to clear my busy schedule…"
Thor bellowed out a laugh, and the others joined.
"What…What do you mean, fifteen years late?" Jane asked him.
"I was up at my cabin in Norway just a couple weeks ago, doing some cleaning, and I found a suitcase buried underneath the bed. It was your mother's suitcase, Jane—she had left it there by accident during a trip. And this book was in it—it's for you. Read what she wrote on the inside."
Jane stared at him, then opened the front cover. She read to herself. Her brow twisted, more tears fell, and she leaned into Erik.
"Thank you, Erik."
"You're welcome, sweetheart," he said. Then, still sniffling, Jane hurried over to Thor, embraced him and kissed him all over his face. Then, she plopped down next to Loki, gave him an earnest kiss on the lips, then leaned against his shoulder, clutching the book to her heart.
The great hall was filled with noise, laughter, music, and the scent of delicious food. But Loki sat just outside, on the balcony wall, gazing out over the darkened gardens, tears running down his face.
He sat that way in complete silence and stillness for hours. Then, footsteps. Footsteps he recognized as his father's.
"I'm glad to have found you," Odin's mild tones greeted him as he stepped out onto the balcony. "Your mother was asking where you were."
Loki twitched away from him, but knew he was too late—Odin had seen. Loki wiped at his face, his brows twitching together as he avoided looking even in Odin's direction.
"What is troubling you?" Odin asked, drawing nearer.
"Well, if you must know," Loki cleared his throat. "I have not slept properly for more weeks than I care to remember, nor have I eaten more than required to simply keep me alive. Not even today." He took a breath. "Besides which, I somehow feel as if I have been…utterly humiliated." He swallowed, then shook his head. "And because of that…I feel like a stupid, selfish child."
"Your gift was splendid, Loki," Odin assured him. Loki snorted and bitterly shook his head.
"Far inferior to Thor's," he muttered, folding his arms. "He surpassed me in every way today. And in a manner I could never meet."
"And you think he was trying to compete with you?" Odin prodded.
"No," Loki answered sharply. He lowered to a murmur. "Which is why he surpassed me."
Odin paused a moment, then stepped up to stand beside Loki, gazing out at the starry sky. Odin clasped his hands behind his back, his voice becoming careful and thoughtful.
"You feel that your pride has poisoned your gift to your brother?"
Loki did not speak. He closed his eyes.
"Loki," Odin said quietly. "Love and forgiveness are not granted to any of us upon the condition of our riches, our intellect or our achievement. It is given willingly. All we have to do in return is accept it."
"What are you saying?" Loki asked, eyes still closed.
"I am saying," Odin went on. "That even if you had been completely unable to give your brother anything today, of all days—he would still love you, and think almost as highly of you as I do."
Loki's eyes came open, and he looked up into his father's face—his father, who smiled at him. Gently, Odin touched his shoulder.
"Come inside when you are ready," he advised. "We miss you." And he turned, and reentered the banquet hall.
For a very long time, Loki sat still, absorbing his father's words. Then, he stood up, head lowered, to go back inside—
And blundered right into Thor's arms.
In an instant, Loki was wrapped up in his brother's mighty embrace. Loki made no sound—just encircled him with his own arms, rested his chin on Thor's collar, and shut his eyes again.
Several minutes passed before they parted, and when Thor pulled away, he chuckled.
"Your gift is the best one I received today," he said, grinning at his brother and shaking his shoulders. "I love it."
Loki laughed breathlessly, wiping at his eyes again.
"You'd better," Loki warned, finally looking up at Thor's brilliant eyes.
"After everyone goes to bed some night, you and I must turn it on and you can show me everything it does, without interruption," Thor suggested, pointing at him. Loki half winced.
"Before we do that—there is something I must fix."
"I made a mistake."
"I misspelled the name of Jotunheim's third moon. Well," he amended. "Part of the name got repeated."
"What is its real name?" Thor wondered.
"Niffelhaven," Loki said. Thor raised his eyebrows.
"And what did you call it?"
Loki's face heated up.
Thor stared at him, then burst out laughing.
"It isn't funny—" Loki tried.
"Oh, yes it is," Thor chortled.
"I'm goingto change it back."
"No, you're not."
"Yes, I am."
"No—I like it that way."
"You can't stop me from changing it."
"Yes, I can."
"No, you can't."
"If you do, I'll change it back."
"You don't know how."
"You'll teach me."
"No, I won't…"
And as this argument continued, Loki's heart lightened, and the two brothers wandered back in to the Christmas Feasting hall.
Jane eased into her darkened chambers, carrying two mugs of hot drink. She quietly swept across the carpet to the tall, open balcony where Loki stood, bathed in moonlight, gazing up at the twinkling stars.
"Here," she murmured, coming up beside him. He turned to her—his face like marble, his eyes bright.
"What's this?" he asked, taking the mug from her.
"Wassail," Jane said proudly. "It took me two hours to find all the right ingredients—you know how Cook gets when someone foreign is poking around in her kitchen."
Loki laughed, brought the cup to his lips and took a sip. He swallowed and nodded.
"Thank you," Jane said, snuggling up next to him. He wrapped his arm around her, taking a deep breath and sighing. Jane laid her head against his chest and closed her eyes, listening to the steady thud of his heart.
"I've had more Christmases than I can count," Loki murmured, his voice resounding in her head. "But thisis the first year it has seemed real."
"Then Merry Christmas, my handsome prince."
She felt him press a kiss to the top of her head.
"Merry Christmas, alskling," he whispered.
"And just think," Jane added. "Next year, there will be three of us."
And at those words, warmth rushed through Loki's whole body, and she felt him smile.
And now that you're in a Christmasy mood, do check out my little novel "Christmas Parcel" on Amazon!