Midwinter (11,355 words) by LokiOfSassgaard

Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Thor (Movies), Thor (Comics), Loki (Comics), Norse Marvel
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Loki & Thor, Hogun & Loki, Kelda & Loki
Characters: Thor (Marvel), Loki (Marvel), Hogun (Marvel), Kelda (Marvel), Sif (Marvel), Fandral (Marvel), Balder (Marvel), Vidar (Marvel)

Summary: Midwinter is a dangerous day on Asgard. It’s a day of celebration and feast to welcome the return of the suns in the sky. But it is also the nameday of Odin’s twin sons, known the realm over for causing no end of chaos and calamity in their wake. Today is their 22nd nameday, and like all years before, the realm prepares for war. Not against any foreign invaders, but from those within the palace itself.

Takes place toward the end of Those Who Hunt Monsters.

He didn’t hear Viðar sneak up the stairs.  Nor did Loki hear him push open the bedchamber doors and walk around the empty fire pit to the foot of the giant sleigh bed — the bed which was far too large for Loki, but which had been built as such just in case.  The bed which was lined on either side by low book cases, effectively barricading Loki in (and Thor out, to a limited degree) while he slept.

Loki didn’t even notice when Viðar climbed over the foot of the bed and crawled up along the squashy down mattress.  He slept through all of it, insulated beneath a pile of blankets and dog.  Viðar got down onto his stomach and reached under Fenrir, feeling around until he found Loki’s face somewhere under the mountain of living fur.  He tapped his open palm against Loki’s face, again and again, until finally Loki freed his arm from beneath Fenrir and pushed Viðar away.

“You know I don’t wake until after sunrise,” Loki muttered.

Viðar looked out the open windows at the dark sky.  He was six, and even he knew the suns would not rise for almost a month.  That was just a fact of winter, just as it was a fact that Loki’s rooms would be freezing throughout the entire season.  Viðar bounced up and down on the mattress a few times and reached out with both hands to push Fenrir off his brother.  Fenrir lazily got up, licking at Viðar’s face before hopping over the book cases to stretch down on the floor.  Loki barely moved from where he lay face-down, except to swat at Viðar again.  He knew exactly why Viðar was there, but that didn’t make waking up any easier.  He tried to go back to sleep, but Viðar just kept right on bouncing up and down, inching ever closer to make sure Loki felt it.  Finally, Loki could stand it no more and reached out and grabbed Viðar, pulling him close and holding him in a tight bear hug.

“I’m cold.  Warm me up,” Loki said, holding Viðar against his bare chest.

Viðar squirmed and fought against the sharp chill of Loki’s skin, managing to snake away before too long.  He sat back as Loki pushed himself up onto his elbows and yawned loudly.

“All right, then.  What’d you get me?” Loki asked.

Viðar shrugged and smiled coyly.

“You mean you woke me up on my name day and didn’t even get me anything?” Loki asked, full of false incredulity.  He gaped at Viðar, getting a wide, toothless grin in response.  The last time Loki had seen his brother, Viðar had all his teeth.  But now his front four, two on the top and two on the bottom, were gone.

“Oh, when did that happen?” asked Loki.  He reached out and pulled Viðar’s mouth open with his finger, peering inside.  “I hope you like porridge,” Loki told him.

Viðar scrunched up his face and stuck out his tongue.  Loki had to agree with him there; the only thing porridge was good for was flinging at people.  Which didn’t seem like too bad of an idea, actually.  Awake and hungry for anything other than porridge, Loki yawned again and scrubbed his hands over his face, changing his skin from blue to pink.  He crawled out of bed slowly, finding his feet and a moderately clean pair of breeches on the floor to wear.  There were traditions to be upheld and festivities to be endured, and Loki was eager to find Thor and celebrate their nameday properly, on their own terms.

“Show me your shoes,” Loki said as he looked for a tunic amongst the mess of blankets and furs that had been pushed to the ground during the night.

Viðar sat back and kicked up his feet, sandal-clad as ever, despite the cold.

“Can you climb in those?” Loki asked.

Viðar grinned widely and nodded.  Either way, they would have to do because fetching a sturdy pair of boots from under Frigga’s watchful eye would be difficult for even Loki to manage.  She almost surely knew Viðar was missing even then, so they’d have to be quick in their scheme before she finally caught up with them to take him back.  Loki found a tunic and a long topcoat and finished dressing quickly, before he started hunting for his boots in the mess.  Once dressed, he grabbed his belt from where it hung on a bedpost and quickly secured it around his waist, making sure his knife would be ready for when he needed it.  He almost considered having his rooms tidied while he was out that day, but the knowledge that the state of them drove Odin round the bend was enough to keep the clutter and mess around.  He spared only the shortest amount of time on taming his hair, giving up quickly on the greasy mess he constantly found it in, and tying it all back into a tail.  Finally, he found his boots and pulled them on, not even bothering with wearing socks underneath them.

“Come on,” he said, holding his arms out.

Viðar bounced up onto his feet and into Loki’s arms, still grinning as he was helped up onto Loki’s shoulders.  Loki trusted him to hold on without assistance, and snatched up a large buckskin bag on his way out of the room.  Every time he used the bag, he told himself he needed to have it enchanted, or else find a new one, but it always slipped his mind.  He rushed down the stairs with Fenrir at his heels and out to the corridor, flashing a villainous grin to the guards posted outside his door. Ostensibly, they were there for his safety, but Loki knew they were also there to report his misdeeds back to Odin.  No amount of promise of money, women, or time off from duty had persuaded them to look the other way.  A constant supply of the finest ales and spirits from Álfheimr, however, did delay the messages they sent back just long enough for Loki to find whatever trouble he sought.

Once out the door, Fenrir ran off on his own, leaving Loki and Viðar to go on with their mission alone.  He didn’t take the direct route to Thor’s chambers.  The public corridors had too many eyes, and too many mouths prone to gossip.  Instead, he wove behind a row of pillars, disappearing into one of the servants’ corridors hidden in the wall. 

“Do you think Thor will still be in bed?” Loki asked.

Viðar shrugged.

Loki laughed as he wound through a path he could run while blind.  “Let’s wake him up then, shall we?”

He took a sharp corner, coming back out into the public corridor just a few steps from Thor’s chamber doors.  There were rarely guards posted outside his rooms, making sneaking in no matter at all.  Thor’s chambers were more open than Loki’s — more of a large hall with open terraces than Loki’s closed-off quarters.  Everything felt bare and exposed, and Loki couldn’t imagine how Thor managed to sleep there without the worry that he was being watched by someone.

Loki put Viðar down onto the floor and looked around for the best way to wake their snoring brother.  He quickly found it, in the form of a pitcher of cold water, left out by the wash basin.  Loki handed it down to Viðar and pointed to Thor, nudging him along.

“All of it.  Right on his face,” he said, sending his youngest brother into the jaws of the beast that was Thor after being violently woken.

Viðar quietly tip-toed across the large room, holding the pitcher close to his chest to keep it from spilling.  He stopped a few paces away from Thor, leaning forward to watch his face for a long moment.  Viðar glanced back at Loki, and when Loki nodded, took a large step back as he threw the water on Thor’s face.  At once, Thor lurched up, gasping and growling as he shot his gaze around to see who had offended him so. 

“Who dares?” he demanded.

His gaze fell on Loki, and turned to a murderous glare.

“Don’t look at me,” Loki said, laughing easily.  “I’m clear over here.”  He pointed to Viðar, still standing nearby with the pitcher in his hands.

Thor didn’t care.  He got out of bed and stomped over toward Loki to grind his face into the floor.  Laughing almost casually, Loki dodged around the edge of the room, giving Thor something to chase. 

“Come on, brother.  You can do better than this,” Loki taunted.

“I only go easy on you because it would upset Mother if I broke you,” Thor said.  He chased after Loki, growling every time he snatched out and caught only air.  Every time he snatched, Loki only laughed more.

“You can’t break me if you can’t even catch me,” he said.

“Want to bet?”  Thor lunged at him, tackling Loki to the ground.  Loki squawked indignantly as he went down, unsure whether to use his arms to break his fall, or to protect his face.  He wound up on his side, with Thor on top of him.  As soon as they were on the ground, Thor began thumping him with his fist.

“No, you bastard!” Loki shouted, trying to block him and get a few hits of his own in.  “Stop it!”

He buried his face in the crook of his arm, using his free hand to swing blindly, landing about one blow in every three.  They were both so occupied in inflicting pain upon the other that neither saw Viðar walk over, large pitcher still in hand.  He watched the two of them swearing and abusing one another for a few long moments before throwing what was left of the water on them.  Most of it hit Thor on the side of his face, but enough of it got to Loki that he knew what had just happened.  He forgot all about Thor and started laughing, opening himself up for one final blow to the jaw before being freed.

“He’s right, you know,” Loki said from the ground, staying there while Thor got back to his feet.  He rubbed his jaw where Thor’s punch had landed, still laughing.  “We should go before it gets too busy, or we’ll get caught.”

“What hour is it?” Thor asked. 

He walked back across the room to his wardrobe to dress quickly, pulling heavier woollen breeches over the linen he wore to bed.  The only light that shone in through the large windows and terraces was that from the city around and below them, but outside, all was quiet.

“It’s just gone mid-morning,” Loki said. 

He looked to Viðar, having not bothered to actually verify the time of day when he was dragged from bed.  Viðar nodded and Loki pointed to him, putting any blame on ill timing squarely on the youngest member of their small group.

Thor hurried to find his boots and a heavy cloak.  “It will be over-run.”

“Which is why we came to fetch you,” Loki said.  He got up from the ground and took the pitcher from Viðar, setting it aside.

Thor hurried toward the doors, bending to pick up Loki’s bag on the way out.  Grinning to himself, Loki hefted Viðar back onto his shoulders and followed Thor.  They ducked into the first servants’ corridor they came upon, taking the narrow stairs down under the floor and between walls.  Thor didn’t know the paths as well as Loki did, but before he could complain of the darkness, Loki snapped his fingers and conjured up a light that came from nowhere and everywhere at once.  It followed after them, keeping whichever part of the corridor they occupied in comfortable light, but only showed their way a few feet in front of them before dimming.

The corridor led out to an area of the palace only servants ever visited.  The walls and floors here weren’t nearly as polished and smooth as the public spaces, but it was still clean and orderly.  Loki took the lead, all but skipping in front of Thor to guide the way.  He stopped outside a smallish door, putting his hand flat against the carved wood.

“And now, dear brothers, we raid and pillage like none have seen since Buri’s reign,” he said.  He made sure Thor had the bag ready and pushed the door open, rushing in with Thor close on his heels. 

It was several moments before any of the kitchen staff realised what was amiss.  Some of the younger girls gasped and shouted in shock as Loki deposited Viðar on the nearest bench, so he could reach into the cupboards.  While Viðar grabbed jars and handed them to Thor, Loki dashed over to the ovens and picked up as much sweet bread as he could carry.

“Good morning, ladies!  Don’t mind us,” he said.

One of the older women threw a hand towel at Loki’s face, but he ignored it.  His grin never faded as he dashed around scrambling scullery maids, piling a large, silver tray with anything he could get his hands on.

“My lords, please,” one of the younger girls pleaded.  “Why—”  Before she could go any further, Loki invaded her space and kissed down her neck with nothing short of lewd intent.  When he stepped away to make his hasty exit, the young maid was standing in silent shock with one hand over her mouth.

“Time to go, brothers!” Loki called out.

As he dashed toward the door, he picked up a pheasant from the table.  Thor picked up Viðar, and with his brother under one arm and Loki’s bag under the other, he ran after Loki down the corridor.  They wound a different path, snaking around sharp corners and up several flights of stairs before finally coming to a door that opened into one of Asgard’s many gardens, covered in a thin blanket of snow.  Thor and Loki both laughed to themselves as they slowed their pace, finding a good place for a moonlit breakfast picnic.  They finally settled beneath a large ash tree, bare of leaves but mighty all the same.  Thor pulled a large, woven blanket from Loki’s bag and laid it out on the ground so they would have a reasonably dry place to sit.  Loki set his tray down in the middle and picked up an apple from it, getting comfortable against the trunk of the giant ash.

“What did you two get?” he asked around a large bite of apple.

Thor settled Viðar between them before he started emptying out the bag.  “Fruits, mostly,” he said, lining up jar after jar of preserves.  “And your favourite.”

He handed over a jar full of small, pinkish-grey pieces of meat.  Loki’s eyes went wide as he took the jar and broke the seal.

“Oh, I was afraid there wouldn’t be any.  Fishing was poor this year.”  He set his apple aside and plucked a piece of fermented shark out with his fingers.  Beside him, Viðar scrunched up his nose at the smell, and Loki made a show of enjoying the shark.

“Don’t worry,” Thor said quietly, nudging Viðar.  “I don’t like it either.”

“More for me,” Loki declared. 

He took another piece and set the jar aside to survey the rest of their plunder.  Breads, fruits both fresh and preserved, dried fish and meats, and a small jar of seal oil rounded out the rest of their breakfast.

“Loki, what is this?” Thor asked, holding up the plucked and gutted pheasant.

Loki looked over at it and frowned.  He hadn’t looked at it when he’d grabbed it on his way out.  “It’s not been cooked,” he realised.

Thor laughed at him and sat it back down.  “A midwinter treat for the beast, then,” he declared.

Loki picked his apple back up and looked around.  “Yes, where is the mangy mongrel?” he asked. 

Fenrir was nowhere to be seen in the dark garden, but that meant little where wolves as black as night were concerned.  Loki swallowed down his apple and whistled sharply.  Knowing the wolf would appear sooner or later, Loki bent down to help Viðar open a jar of cloudberry jam.

“Here, put it on some bread,” he said, handing over some of the rolls.

Leaving Viðar to it, Loki picked up the pheasant and threw it as far as he could. 

“Hey, what was that?” someone called out from the dark.

“Never mind that.  Run!” another voice shouted.

Loki laughed wildly at the sounds of his dog frightening his friends, only to get slapped on the arm by Thor.  He shook his head and shrugged, knowing no harm would come from a quick chase in the dark.

“Over here,” Loki called out, slapping Thor back.

Vali and Alv ran over in their direction, giving Fenrir something to chase, though with his mouth full of pheasant he was hardly menacing.  At least, Loki didn’t think so.

“Sit.  We have breakfast, freshly pilfered,” he said, holding his arms wide to display their spread.

Alv sat heavily in the snow, panting from his brief sprint, while Vali sat closer to Loki.

“Is this what I think it is?” Vali asked, picking up the jar by Loki’s side.

Loki nodded.  “Help yourself.  These two don’t know what they’re missing.”

“I do, and it’s foul,” Thor said, eating wild strawberry jam with a spoon.

Alv leaned over the blanket and plucked up one of the golden apples for himself.  “When are you going out?  We might tag along.”

Loki shrugged and picked through the tray, looking for the dried boar he knew he’d added to the pile.

“Once we’ve eaten.  It’s still early yet; there’s plenty of time.”  He finally found some of the boar and bit into it.

“Plenty of time to find yourselves in trouble, you mean,” an airy, voice called out.

All but Viðar grinned and turned toward the speaker.  “Kelda,” they all said in unison, practically singing her name.

Kelda sat between Loki and Vali, arranging her skirts around her.  She took her time to get settled, making sure her long hair was out of her way before she began to inspect their picnic.

“Will you be joining us today?” Loki asked, watching her.

“Perhaps,” Kelda said, picking up one of the open jars of jam and one of the sweetbread rolls.

He and Kelda shared a common heritage, although through the circumstances of her parentage she looked perfectly Æsir without even trying.  Without realising he was doing it, Loki reached up to move his hair off of his ears, finding it still messily tied back, full of the customary knots and snarls he tended to find it in each morning.

“Loki, your hair,” Kelda admonished.  She leaned over to see Thor better.  “You let him out looking like this?”

Loki snorted.  “He is not my keeper.”

“Well, perhaps you need one.” 

She shifted, reaching out to move Loki so his back was to her, but he leaned away.  Though her mother was Jötunn, she didn’t share the problem Loki had with his hair, thick with grease that never seemed to wash out, and he didn’t want her touching his.

“You could be my keeper,” Loki said to her all the same.

Kelda snorted as she shifted her attention toward spreading the jam onto her bread.  “You are exhausting enough without having to be responsible for you,” she said.  “I would not wish that hel on any woman.”

“I’d let you be my keeper,” Vali offered, inching ever closer until Kelda reached out to push him back again.

Finding himself suddenly irritated by his own hair, Loki untied the cord and used his fingers to work out the snarls and smooth everything down as well as it would go.  This time, it was easier to tie back, seeming longer without being so twisted and tangled on itself.

“I will be no man’s keeper,” Kelda said, pointedly not looking at Vali.  “If he cannot keep after himself, then he must still be a boy, and not worth my time.” 

Loki laughed and returned to his breakfast.  He wanted some coffee to go with it, but he never seemed able to bring enough home to last more than a week or two.

“We took no ale,” he realised.

Thor looked around as well, frowning as he saw the same deficiency in their spread.  “You have some upstairs,” he said.

“I don’t want to go back upstairs,” Loki said.  He was comfortably on the ground, in the snow, where he belonged.

“Where were you last week?” Vali asked suddenly. 

“Watching a fixed sport tournament,” Loki said, letting his upset at the outcome sour his tone.  He shook his head, still disappointed in how it had gone down in the end.  “They could have at least been subtle about it.”

Thor shook his head, making an exasperated little noise.  “You want to watch sport, there is plenty to watch here on Asgard.  I don’t see why you feel the need to go all the way to Midgard for it.”

“I like baseball,” Loki said.  “And there’s a new one, not unlike football.  But they play it on ice and use sticks.”

He didn’t miss Thor shaking his head, but he did ignore it.  Though Loki wasn’t sure about the longterm prospects of hockey, however promising it may have seemed.  With a strange virus tearing through the human population, everything had been rather put into a tailspin. 

“How’s this other one played?” Alv asked.  “I can’t imagine trying to kick a ball on the ice without falling on your arse.”

Loki shook his head.  “You wear skates on your boots,” he said, going in for more shark.  “Instead of a ball, it’s a small disk.  You hit it off the ice with sticks, and try to get it into your goal.”

“That sounds fun,” said Vali.  “Can you show us?”

It didn’t take Loki long at all to consider the request.  “I can go try to get some gear for it next week.  It shouldn’t be too difficult.”

He didn’t tend to spend too much time on the ice as a rule, because beneath ice was water, which Loki tended to avoid as much as possible.  But a small pond or river might not have been too treacherous to have a bit of fun on.  Of course, his avoidance of the ice meant he also had no skates of his own, so he’d have to acquire a pair of those as well.  And if he was going to get a pair of those, he knew he might as well get them when he got everything else from Midgard, rather than tying horse bones to his feet and trying not to break his ankles.

Their combined forces made quick work of the pilfered breakfast, and soon empty jars and scraps were shoved back into the bag to be dealt with later, with the blanket stuffed on top for later.  As Loki crouched down to make sure the sack was closed, he was struck in the side of the face with a hard-packed snowball.  He flinched under it and looked up to see Fandral on the other side of the garden gearing up to throw another.

“Oh, no you don’t!” Thor said, already bending to return fire.

Fandral wasn’t alone.  Along with him were Sif and Hogun, both already throwing snowballs of their own.  With Viðar, the teams were matched six to three, and while Kelda and Loki could have easily won on their own, fair play dictated that they didn’t launch immediately into foreign tactics.  Loki’s team used the ash they had picnicked under for cover, lobbing snow across the garden at the invaders, who had only a low hedgerow to cower behind.

Loki crouched to gather a large amount of snow in his hands, watching the other three on the other side hide behind the shrubbery.

“You cowards!” he shouted.  “Show yourself!”

Hogun raised his head first, and got snow in his face from three different angles at once.  A moment later, Sif and Fandral both rose, instantly throwing more snow of their own.  Loki turned away, not exactly wanting a face full of ice and snow if it could be avoided.  With all three of them in plain view once more, they were easy targets for the rest to hit.  With the sides so unevenly matched, Sif, Fandral, and Hogun were quickly pushed out of the garden and back into the covered path that lead around the edges.  With them out of snow to throw, they were quickly defeated by volley after volley, pinning them against the far wall.

“Do you yield?” Thor called, throwing another densely-packed ball at Fandral.

“We yield!” Fandral shouted, ducking out of the way.

Loki picked his sack up from the ground and hauled it over his shoulder, watching Thor approach the other three.

“Have you gone out yet?” Sif asked.

“We were just leaving,” said Thor.

Loki didn’t want Sif or Fandral tagging along, but it was Thor’s day as much as it was his, and he could bring whatever friends along he wanted.  And at least he only ever picked those two, when there were far worse options he could have allowed to tag along.

“We should go quickly,” he said, looking up at the sky to judge the time.  It was still early yet, but Frigga would have surely been looking for Viðar, and the noise from their skirmish would have alerted someone.

“You’re right,” Thor agreed.  “Have you found a spot yet?”

“Just beyond the palace,” Loki said.  He crouched to hoist Viðar back onto his shoulders so they could move as quickly as possible.  Even as he moved, he caught Thor’s apprehension written plainly across his face.

“We’re taking him?” he asked.

Loki shrugged.  “I can’t get up there, can you?” he asked.  “And it’s not like Sir High and Mighty wants to join us anymore.”

Thor laughed.  “I’m telling him you said that.”

“Do it.”  Loki didn’t care what Thor told Baldur.  It was Baldur’s own fault for growing up too quickly.

The growing party made their way from the garden, cutting shortcuts and secret paths Loki and Hogun knew that would take them away from the palace as quickly as possible.  Their trek took them toward a small wood beyond the markets, with towering oaks spreading their bare branches toward the skies above.

“There,” Loki said, pointing up toward one whose branches were obscured by many large, round clusters.

“Loki, you can’t send him up there,” Thor protested, stopping to look up at the trees.

Several of the others caught up to what Loki meant to do, even as he lowered Viðar back down to the ground.

“Loki, he is too small,” Sif said.

“He’s fine.  We’ve practised this,” Loki said, unbuckling his belt.

It was too large entirely to fit around Viðar’s waist, so Loki buckled it again and helped Viðar wear it over one shoulder, crossed over his chest with the knife hanging at his waist.

“Loki,” Thor said again.

Loki ignored him, already helping Viðar up onto the lowest boughs of the tree.  He stood below, watching his youngest brother carefully make his way up toward the top where the bunches of mistletoe had all gathered.  Once he reached the lowest one, Viðar hooked his legs around the branch and twisted to pull Loki’s knife free from its sheath.  He looked at it, entirely too big in his tiny hand, and then reached out toward the cluster of leaves. 

“It’s just been sharpened.  Be careful,” Loki called up.

While Viðar cut the first cluster free, Loki pulled the blanket from his sack again and laid it out in the snow.  Around him, several of the others gathered in wary anticipation, watching the scene unfolding above.  Then, the first bundle fell from the branches, crashing down into the snow.  Loki bent to pick it up and moved it to the blanket.

“One more?” he asked.

Thor looked up, frowning.  “Don’t climb with that thing in your hands!” he shouted.

Viðar returned the knife to its sheath before he started climbing again, reaching for the next bundle above him.  Again, he settled himself and drew the knife to cut the next one free, sending it crashing down as well.  As it hit the ground below, Viðar looked down at the rest of the group.

“Come on back down,” Loki said.  He wasn’t sure they’d have enough for their purposes, but Thor’s agitation was rubbing off onto the rest of the group.

With the knife sheathed, Viðar made his way down, carefully stepping and climbing down through the branches.  As he reached the lowest one, Loki held out his arms to catch him as he jumped.  With Viðar safely on the ground, Loki took his belt back and turned to throw a smug grin to Thor.

“You should not have made him go up there,” Thor said.

“It’s done, and all is well,” Loki argued, immediately dropping down to the blanket. 

He began cutting the first bundle into more manageable pieces, dealing them out for everyone to help.  With nine of them, it would go quickly with all hands on deck.  One by one, everyone gathered round to take their part in the task, figuring mistletoe sprigs into countless darts.  Soon, the tension eased from the group, and everyone made quick work of the task.

Loki sat with Viðar close to him, working slowly so he could watch the process of cutting small sprigs and stripping the leaves.  Without a blade of his own, Viðar could not sharpen the darts, so Loki took those he made and finished them off.  In the end, they had enough to fill up Loki’s bag, with some left over which he hid away for later.  He packed the blanket into the bag, using it as a false lining to keep their darts from getting mixed in with the remains of their breakfast, and then packed as many as he could fit into the bag.

“Shall we?” he asked, hoisting it back over his shoulder.

“And who is our enemy, my lord?” Vali asked, quickly falling into step behind him as he made tracks back toward the market.

Loki shrugged, and looked toward Thor.  “Any grievances you’d like addressed, brother?” he asked.

Thor moved Viðar onto his own shoulders, freeing them up to move quickly back to the palace.

“None that spring to mind,” he said.  “Though there is one fellow who causes no end of irritation who I might like to deal with later.”

Loki ignored his remark and kept walking, leading the way directly into the market, rather than taking the secret paths back.  The streets were busy and full of life, making their large group seem all the larger as they tried to stay together.  With Loki and Thor at the lead, they fell into a disorderly queue as they wound through packed stalls.  All around them, the crowd moved at a snail’s pace, shouting over the noise to be heard as hundreds of people bartered with vendors.

One stall in particular caught Loki’s eye, and he stopped to inspect the knives and daggers on display.  On the wall behind the vendor was a small collection of swords as well, but Loki’s attention was drawn to a set of throwing knives with obsidian handles.  He picked one up, letting the group carry on without him, and felt its weight in his fingers. 

“How much?” he asked looking up at the vendor.

The man faltered for a moment, stammering his words.  “Uh.  Milord,” he finally managed to get out.

Loki looked up to the rest of the group, already getting away from him in the crowd.  Not wanting to lose them completely, and having all of their ammunition over his shoulder, Loki sighed and opened the small coin purse on his belt.  He pulled out whatever his fingers touched, and dropped a small collection of silver and gold coins onto the table.

“Will that suffice?” he asked.

As the man nodded and took the coins, Loki gathered up the knives to take with him.  Rushing to catch up with the group, Loki hid the knives away to be dealt with properly later, like so much else.  He caught back up with the group, finding Thor helping himself to a handful of dried nuts from a stall up ahead.  He laughed at some secret joke with Fandral and Sif, walking along and paying no mind to the man whose food he’d taken.  As Loki passed, he tossed a silver coin to the vendor, and rushed to catch up.

“Do you pay for nothing?” he asked.

Thor turned to look at him.  “Where did you disappear to this time?” he asked.

“Shopping,” said Loki.  “And paying for what I took.  It’s not terribly difficult.  You should try it.”

Thor laughed.  “Didn’t you steal the boots you’re wearing?” he asked.

“Yes, but not from someone who would miss them,” Loki said.  “You don’t want to be making enemies of your future subjects.”

Thor passed some of his stolen nuts up to Viðar and shook his head.  “I don’t need advice from a hypocrite, Loki,” he said.

Loki rolled his eyes and turned his attention to finding the path back to the palace, ready to throw silver or gold at any other stalls Thor’s sticky fingers happened to find.  As Thor’s attentions began to gravitate toward Sif again, Viðar began to grow restless on his shoulders, and tried to climb down.  Before he could fall, Loki helped him down and onto his own shoulders.  As they ambled through the market, he slowed to let Viðar look and explore the stalls lining the road.  Behind them, the rest of their group had broken off into pairs and trios, taking their own interests from the stalls around them.  Hogun quickly moved to catch up with Loki, walking by his side.

“What did you get?” he asked.

“A new set of knives,” Loki said.  “I’ll show you later.  I think I may have under-paid for them.”

“If you buy any more knives, you could build your own army,” Hogun said.

Loki gave him a shifty little smile.  “Perhaps I intend to,” he said. 

As they left the market and re-entered the palace grounds, the air around them stilled and quieted once more, though it did not stay quiet for long.  Their chatter and laughter echoed off the walls of the outer corridor that skirted around back toward the gardens.

“Prepare yourselves for battle,” Thor announced suddenly, as they drew nearer to the sounds of populated areas once more.

Before they could get much farther, they found their path suddenly blocked as Frigga stepped out from a joining corridor, wringing her hands at her waist.  She turned to face them, and in an instant her obvious worry was replaced with unveiled ire.

“Loki tell me you did not take your brother from the palace,” she said, quickly stepping toward him.

Loki glanced up at Viðar, where he tried to crouch down and hide up on his shoulders.

“Just to the market,” Loki said.  “Thor and I were taken much farther afield at his age.”

As Frigga reached his side, her eyes fell to the buckskin bag hanging from Loki’s shoulders.  “You were taken under supervision,” she said.

Loki knew she saw through his lie, and did not fight or argue as she pulled Viðar from his perch.  She held the boy on her hip, taking a moment to check over him to see he wasn’t hurt.  A moment later, she looked up at Loki and shook her head.

“We will discuss this later,” she said, before turning to leave.

Loki watched her go, frowning at the whole affair.  “She coddles him far too much,” he said, once she was gone.

Thor punched him hard in the shoulder.  “And you act as if she shouldn’t.  Loki, I told you not to bring him.”

“He’s quiet; not an idiot,” Loki argued.

He turned to face the rest of their group, all having fallen back and pretending they hadn’t just seen what they plainly had.  The whole thing sat sour in his stomach, and he needed desperately to find a distraction. 

“Well, as he said.  Prepare for battle,” he said, as he resettled the bag over his shoulder. 

Loki began leading a path back toward the gardens, not particularly caring who they came across.  As they neared the gardens once more, quiet voices drifted over the snow, unaware of the ambush facing them.  Loki slowed and unshouldered his bag to open it and allow all in their party to take their ammunition.  One by one everyone took as many mistletoe darts as they could carry, ready to unleash a volley of hel upon their unsuspecting quarry.

Keeping his bag close, he rounded the corner and came upon Baldur and the dark-haired boy he had spent much of his time with.  While he and Hodur shared private jokes, Loki and Thor were first out into the open, lobbing their darts at the two boys.  Moments later, the entire party did the same, shouting war cries and endless nonsense.

For a moment, the boys flinched and ducked, unsure where the chaos had come from.  Then Hodur found his target and bent to pick up snow to throw back, while Baldur blocked it all and backed off.

“Stop!  I am sick of your childish games!” he shouted.

Thor laughed, loud and mocking as he grabbed more of their darts to lob at Baldur directly.

“Childish games?” Loki asked, shifting his focus from Hodur to Baldur as well.  “You have only just taken your hunt.  You should be revelling in childish games!”

Baldur finally picked up snow and threw it in their direction.  Unpacked, it scattered in the air before him, without hitting its target.

“And you haven’t even taken your Rite,” Baldur shouted, once again ducking out of the way.  “At least I intend to go after my name day!”

Hodur soon found himself outnumbered by the attack, and began to retreat with Baldur, the pair of them running across the garden to get out of range of their darts. 

“You’re boring!” Loki shouted after him, throwing one last dart.

Once they were gone, Loki picked up his bag again, and the group continued to make their way through the outer corridors of the palace, searching for their next victims.  None were spared as they patrolled the palace grounds.  Guards, jarls, women, and children all got volleys in varying degrees of harshness, some fleeing and some choosing to attempt to chase the roving band of marauders away.  As the sack emptied, Loki refilled it with the darts he had hidden away so they could continue on their path of destruction.

“Oh, look.  It’s Freyr,” Fandral said, pointing ahead. 

Freyr stood with Theoric in a small alcove, both unaware of the group approaching, or their intentions.  Fandral reached into the bag to grab a handful of darts, and ran toward them.

“Oy!  Dung for brains!” he shouted, lobbing darts as quickly as he could at Freyr.

It was not abuse Freyr would take sitting down.  As the first darts hit him in the face, he rushed forward toward Fandral, tackling him to the hard ground.  A moment later, Hogun rushed in to pull the two apart, only to be met in turn by Theoric attempting to do the same.  As the four grappled on the ground, Thor and Loki joined in as well.  Soon, none involved knew whether they were trying to break up the fight, or carry it on.  As Loki tried to pull Hogun back, he was met in the face by Freyr’s fist, sending him reeling backwards.

“You dare!” Thor shouted, throwing fists of his own.

Loki managed to pull Hogun back, gaining distance between them and the melee that had erupted before them.  Standing even further back, the remaining four watched with wide eyes and shocked expressions, none apparently knowing whether they should join in or not.  Watching it all, Loki began to laugh, and quickly found he could not stop.  He and Freyr had never got on, but even he thought the reaction was a bit much.

“What the hel has happened between Freyr and Fandral?” he asked Hogun.

Hogun only shrugged dramatically, watching it by Loki’s side.  Somehow, it only triggered more laughter, until Loki could barely see straight.  A moment later, Hogun grabbed him by the arm and pulled him back toward the second group, all still watching in shock.

“We should go,” Hogun said.

Loki nodded, knowing he was right, but being unable to articulate as much.  Watching Thor roll around on the stone floor, throwing punches and kicks at his friends like children had broken Loki, and for that moment he did not think he could be fixed.  He picked up his bag as they turned to flee the scene, leaving the riot of kicking and screaming behind them.  Loki leaned on Hogun as they walked, laughing until he wept.  Their fractured group wandered into the mead hall, taking the first seats that would fit them.  With Hogun on one side, and Kelda on his other, Loki sat and collapsed onto the table, hoping one day he might remember how to breathe.

He finally looked back up as a wench brought round a tray of mead, setting out mugs for each of them.  With a goal in front of him, he tried to regain his composure so he might drink without choking to death.

“I think Freyr knocked a screw loose with that punch,” Alv said, watching from across the table.  “Are you well?”

Loki managed to breathe enough to speak.  “I am perfectly fine,” he said.

“You should have seen it last year,” Sif said, gesturing with her mug toward Loki.  “Baldur wouldn’t climb up to get the mistletoe so Loki went instead.  I have never seen a man fall on his own blade in earnest before or since.”

“Look,” Loki said, before he lost all control of himself again.

He meant to say the conditions were icy, and that the tree was old and dying from its parasite, and a thousand other excuses for how a grown man could have fallen out of a tree and stabbed himself on his way down.  Instead, he collapsed back onto the table and tried not to choke on his own laughter.

“Or the year he gave Thor hemlock and convinced him he could fly without his hammer,” Hogun said.

“Wasn’t that the same year?” asked Sif.

Loki couldn’t handle it.  “Stop,” he begged. 

He tried to drink his mead, but gave up, ready to accept his fate.  He would die in the mead hall that day, choking on his own inability to breathe.  Hogun clapped him on the back in a mockery of sympathy, which did not help.  For a moment, he ceased to exist entirely until he was brought back round by a pain in his chest and sides.  Loki looked up at his mead and gave up on it.  He shoved it across the table to Alv and stood, finding his legs barely able to support him.

“Excuse me,” he managed to say as he found the door and headed toward it.

Out in the corridor once again, Loki leaned against the wall and tried to just focus on the relative silence around him.  He could no longer hear the brawl in the distance, the shouts and growls replaced only by the low whistle of the wind from the gardens.  Loki waited until he could breathe again before standing tall once more and making his way back toward his chambers.  As he walked deeper into the palace, away from the gardens and toward the more guarded areas, Loki turned a corner and found Odin heading in his direction.  Loki tried to calm himself completely as he stopped, already knowing what had put the sour look on his father’s face.  He did not quite manage calm, but he had at least stopped laughing for the moment.

Then, Odin stopped as well to inspect the mess that stood before him.

“And where are you off to, boy?” he asked.

Loki hoped that he could open his mouth to speak without losing himself once more.  “To ready myself for banquet,” he said, just barely managing to keep himself together.

“And I suppose you had nothing to do with the trouble in the gardens today?” asked Odin.

Loki took a deep breath and shook his head.  If he held his breath, he wouldn’t laugh, and he might be allowed to carry on his way.

“And I suppose you’ve blackened your eye by falling over carelessly somewhere,” Odin said.

Loki did not know Freyr had blacked his eye.  He hadn’t the chance to look.  So Loki nodded.  “Perhaps,” he said.

He wasn’t fooling Odin, or anyone else, but he also had not been caught in the act.  Odin studied him for a long moment before nodded in turn.

“Of course,” he said.  “Perhaps less mead would do you well.”

Loki nodded again, perfectly willing to go along with whatever narrative his father was spinning.  “Perhaps it would,” he said, stone cold sober except for the punch to the face that very well may have broken him.

Finally, Odin left him as he went on his way, and Loki buried his face in his hands.  He needed to get away from people and noise and anything that might set him off again.  Instead of taking the long route back to his chambers, he stepped through the shadows and into his bedchamber.  Collapsing onto his bed, Loki allowed himself to dissolve into another peal of laughter, this time letting it run its course and leave naturally.  Once he was calm and could breathe once more, Loki got back to his feet to change into something that was not covered in snow and mud from the gardens.  He left his belt on his bedpost, not needing his knife or coin purse for banquet. 

He remembered the knives he had purchased in the market, and pulled them from the hiding place he’d stashed them in.  Loki laid them out on his bed, taking more time to inspect them.  A set of six identical blades with obsidian handles, Loki still was not entirely sure what they were worth or how good they’d be.  He’d bought them entirely off of their appearance, but as he held one up to the light of the lamps in his chambers he realised they were made of silversteel, and that he had vastly underpaid for them.  They were worth at least thrice what he’d paid, if not more. 

But the man should not have stammered like an idiot and taken the first offer that was made.  It wasn’t Loki’s fault he buckled so easily under a simple visit.

Loki rolled the knives back up into their pouch and put them on his desk to look at properly at another time, and went to the mirror to comb out any remaining snarls from his hair.  While he had no qualms about engaging in mayhem looking like a mess, banquet was another affair entirely.  Especially banquet on Midwinter, where Odin intended to show him off.

And Odin would indeed be showing him off with the beginnings of a black eye.  But that had to have been expected by now.  If anyone would be surprised by it, then they weren’t paying attention.  But there were rules and expectations, and occasionally good reasons to follow them, so Loki inspected his face in the mirror, making sure he was put together aside from his eye.  For a brief moment, he considered concealing the mark, but decided he simply did not care enough to bother, and turned to head down the stairs.  As he made his way back out to the corridor, he spotted Hogun walking toward him from the direction of the mead hall, with a familiar buckskin sack over his shoulder.  Spotting Loki, Hogun broke into a trot to close the gap between them.

“You left this behind,” he said, handing the sack over.

Loki winced, knowing the sack contained no end of incriminating evidence against them.  He took it and tossed it back into his chambers, to be dealt with later.

“Where would I be without you watching my back?” he asked, turning to walk with Hogun toward the banquet hall.

They walked together at an even stride, sharing a comfortable silence between them.  Hogun had not bothered to change, and showed no indication of wanting to as they passed right by the corridor that would have taken them to his quarters.  But he was also not being shown off for all the court.  If he wanted to attend the feast covered in mud and snow, he had every right to do so.  The hall was already filling, and the two of them took seats together in their usual spot in a near corner.  Small plates of fruit and pitchers of mead and wine were already laid out, along with bowls of assorted preserved winkles and clams and other small creatures.  Loki plucked one of the small snails from the bowl and laid it on the table to crack open with his fist.  He picked off bits of the ruined shell and tossed them onto the floor as he freed the small morsel inside.  Hogun quickly joined him and slammed his fist into the table hard enough to make everything near them rattle.

“Don’t get me started again,”  Loki warned, already laughing.  “I may not survive.”

Hogun laughed as well, a low and quiet sound that was easy to miss beneath the din around them. 

They sat together, the only conversation between them the smashing of snails with ever increasing force until they were interrupted by Thor sitting to join them on Loki’s other side.  Loki had got off light with just a black eye.  Half of Thor’s face was bruised and swollen, with scratch marks from foul play crossing his neck in a few spots.

“No,” Loki said, turning away so he did not have to see it and get worked up all over again.

He quickly poured himself some ale and drank to distract himself from the mess that wore his brother’s face.

“No wonder father was annoyed,” he said once he could trust himself.

“I am to clean out the kennels tomorrow,” Thor said, trying to mask his apparent amusement with a dour frown.  But his tone betrayed him entirely.  “What dreadful punishment did he dream up for you?”

“Me?” Loki asked.  He shook his head.  “None at all.  I wasn’t involved.  I merely tripped and fell in the mead hall.”

Thor’s frown deepened to something thoughtful.  “And he believed that?”

“Oh, not for a second,” Loki said. 

He drank more of his ale before he could laugh again, but was rudely interrupted by Thor’s arm around his neck, pulling him down.  Ale spilled everywhere over both of them as Loki was wrestled nearly out of his seat.  By the time he found a good way to defend himself, his ale was gone.  Thor pounded him on the shoulder with his fist, hitting him a bit too hard to be entirely playful.  Loki managed to twist in his grip, lashing out with his feet to find anything he could kick.  Landing his heel in Thor’s shin was enough to free him and let him get away.

“You spilled my drink, you meatheat,” he said, looking at the mess on both of him.

“But it’s different when you do it yourself,” Hogun said behind him.

Loki quickly spun round to face him.  “You stay out of this,” he said, pointing a finger in Hogun’s face.

Completely unintimidated, Hogun only laughed and cracked open another snail.

As the hall filled up, their group returned one by one, filling the corner with the sounds of a barely controlled riot as wine and ale were passed around, and dishes began being served to tables. 

“Volstagg is leading a hunt tomorrow,” Fandral announced as he found his seat in the group.

“I don’t intend to be conscious tomorrow,” Loki said.

He looked down at the ale in his mug, already bored with it.  He may as well have been drinking water for all it did for him.  But it was what had been set out, so it’s what he was drinking.

“Shall we retire early?” he asked any who cared to listen to him.

“I don’t think father would be happy,” Thor said, watching as the old man passed out small carved toys to all the children present.

“I don’t care,” Loki said.  “But I am leaving.  You are all welcome to join me.”

He picked up one of the last snails from the bowl and looked around the hall.  At a table along the opposite wall, Baldur sat with his own friends, already deep in their cups.  A perfect target.  Loki made sure none were watching him and hurled the snail across the hall, striking one of the boys in the side of the face.  The boy looked around sharply for a moment before turning to the one at his side and punching him hard in the arm.  A small tussle broke out between them, but it wasn’t enough.  He threw another snail, hitting Baldur right in the back of his head.

“You’re boring!” he shouted, making sure he was heard over everything.

Baldur spun round to glare at him.  A moment later, he reached for a snail of his own and threw it toward Loki.  A small nudge of influence sent the snail veering too far off to the left, causing it to strike some unsuspecting jarl’s son.  Baldur watched with wide, terrified eyes as the older boy turned round to see who had struck him, sparing only a moment before getting up.  He walked straight to Baldur, holding his mug close to him.  Whether he knew not who Baldur was, nor cared not, he upended his ale onto Baldur’s head.

That was enough.  Soon the entire corner erupted into a chaos of shouting and scuffling as all involved launched into a drunken fury.  As a second crowd of guards and adults joined in to break up the brawl, Loki quickly leapt to his feet and made his escape under the cover of mayhem.  As he made his way through the corridor, he was joined by more of their group as the rest made their way out alone or in pairs.  By the time he reached his door, he found himself followed by rather more than he was expecting, including Fandral and Sif.  But it was Thor’s day as well, so he said nothing and led the group of delinquents into his rooms.  His bedchamber, unmade and piled with assorted junk and trinkets, offered few places to sit for eight.  While Loki made tracks straight to his stores through the door on the far end of the room, Thor lifted the table by the sofa and moved it out of their way so everyone could sit in one area.

“Nothing from the bottom shelf,” Loki said to Fandral and Alv as they followed him into the stores.  He pointed to the various shelves in the cramped space.  “Álfheimr, Vanaheimr, Midgard.  There’s more downstairs, but you shouldn’t need to go searching,” he said in turn, pointing to each.  “Help yourselves.”

He picked a bottle of wine from the bottom shelf and turned to join the group.  A shelf next to his wardrobe held a mismatched collection of mugs and horns pilfered from banquet and the mead hall.  Loki grabbed two mugs from it and sat to join Kelda on the floor.

“From Utgard,” he said, pouring wine for both of them.

“Oh,” Kelda said, taking a mug from Loki. 

She drank a bit too generously, stopping to breathe out around the heavy spice of the wine. 

“Might I take some home for my mother?” she asked.

Loki nodded.  “Of course.  I’ll put together a crate for you.”

He looked up at the crowd standing around his bedchamber, his attention falling to Sif.  She stood near the door, peering around the room like she was looking for traps.

“You’ve followed me this far.  You might as well come in,” Loki said tiredly.

She had never followed them this far before, and Loki couldn’t figure out why she might have done so this time.  After a few more moments of hesitation, she nodded and walked slowly across the room.  As she passed the fire pit in the middle of the floor, she paused to look at the row of shelves that overflowed with books and scripts from Midgard.  For a moment, she seemed to want to reach out to pick one up, but stayed her hand at the last moment.

“Have you read all of these?” Sif asked, turning to face Loki.

Loki nodded.  “I think so, yes,” he said.

“What are they?” asked Kelda.

“Fiction, mostly,” Loki said.  “Stories someone dreamed up and breathed to life.”

“Why would someone tell a story that never happened?” Kelda asked.  “When there’s so much that has happened to be told.”

He looked around the immediate area, but found nothing worth showing off.  Loki got to his feet and walked to the shelf Sif still browsed, not particularly caring if he crowded her space and made her back off.  But there was one on the shelf he knew would be a hit.  He plucked it up and returned back to his spot on the floor.

“This one is quite good,” he said, handing it over to her.

Kelda held the yellow and green book in her hands, running her fingers over the drawn lion on the front.

“It has witches and wizards and flying beasts.  Quests and bargains and foreign lands,” Loki explained.  “It’s not about what has happened, but what could happen; possibility and what-ifs.  Far more interesting than listening to yet another tale of dragon slaying and defeated kings, if you ask me.”

Kelda opened the book and frowned at the writing, all squiggles and strange shapes.

“You can read this?” she asked.

“Don’t look at the words; look at the meaning,” Loki said.  He laughed quietly and drank some of his wine.  “It took me a bit of practise to get the hang of it.  I still haven’t worked out how to write in this language.”

He knew a few words.  He could write his name and copy what he saw with relative ease, but without actually knowing the language itself, he still found himself rather hobbled by it.

Loki watched Kelda frown at the pages, trying to make sense of what she saw.

“Take it home with you,” he said.  “I’ve read it twice already.”

He couldn’t decipher the curious look Kelda gave him, and drank more wine to pretend he hadn’t noticed.  Once more, he looked around the room and the crowd that had formed in it.  Hogun, Fandral, and Vali played some game together that largely involved slapping one another, while Thor showed Alv and Sif some of the many trinkets and treasures that cluttered Loki’s bedchamber.  Thor didn’t seem to know what any of them were, but they all seemed interested in it all despite his ignorance.  Alv had found the derby Loki had picked up in South Dakota and wore it while he fiddled with a small coffee grinder.

“Aren’t you afraid you’ll get caught?” Kelda asked suddenly.

It wasn’t a question Loki often considered.  “No,” he said.  “My father knows where I go.  He doesn’t approve, but hasn’t tried to stop me.”

He did occasionally wonder about that.  Why Odin was so content to look the other way each time Loki wandered off.  But it was another question for another day.

As the hours wore on, groups shifted and stirred.  Loki played the role of host and made sure cups stayed full and his guests stayed entertained.  Having missed banquet entirely, he sent down for trays of anything that had remained, giving their party added energy to keep going as day wore nebulously into evening, only tracked by the position of the moons and stars above.

“Loki, where’s your box?” Thor asked suddenly.

Loki looked up from where he showed Hogun and Kelda how to play a simple card game to randomly draw the highest value.

“Which box?” he asked.

“The one that’s usually on your desk,” Thor said. 

He opened drawers and poked around, not finding what he was looking for.  After a long moment of watching him, Loki realised which box he was trying to find.

“Oh.  I moved it,” he said, getting up.  “I didn’t want Viðar getting into it.”

He pulled the small wooden box down from the top of a shelf and opened it to dig through, picking through small pouches, assorted books of rolling papers, and dried roots.  Not wanting to fuss with papers and herbs, he pulled out one of the roots an passed the box to Thor to do the same.  Loki chewed on the hemlock root, keeping it between his teeth as he offered the box to the rest of their group, unsurprised when most refused.  Only Fandral took one for himself before Loki closed the box up again and hid it back on top of the shelf.

Loki found a spot on the floor, and a fresh bottle of wine for himself, and sat back to watch everything unfold around him.  Having already got a head start with the wine, the hemlock hit him more quickly than he had anticipated, making his head feel light and the middle of his face go a bit numb.  The noise around him quickly bled into something singular, without anything specific to be picked out and listened to.  But still, he drank, hoping to keep this feeling as long as possible.

When Kelda sat beside him again, the sudden motion startled him, but he was too slow to react properly.

“You do this every year?” she asked.

Loki nodded slowly.  “When we’re both on Asgard,” he said.

He leaned back against the shelf behind him, watching as Thor and Sif got cosy with one another on the sofa.

“Did you know I’m older than him?” Loki asked, turning to look at Kelda instead.  She was much nicer to look at than Thor trying to get laid.  “Eir says I was probably born in the summer.”

“Truly?” asked Kelda.  She looked up at Thor for a long moment, and then back to Loki.  “I always thought you were younger.  You look younger.”

Loki shrugged and shook his head.  “I wasn’t even meant to be kept.  Thor had already been named, but with the war ending, Father had more important things to do than to find someone in want of a thrall.  We only have the same nameday for convenience.”

He laughed, though there was nothing at all funny about the situation.  Twice, he had bartered for a better fate without ever having a single word to say for it himself.  Beside him, Kelda watched all these thoughts play through his mind, but said nothing.

“I don’t even know what time of year it was on Jötunheimr when I was born,” Loki realised.  “I was born in Utgard.  That’s all I know.”

He frowned, realising a fact he was sure he’d realised before.  “I don’t even know if I had a name.  I must have done.”

Loki looked over at Kelda, as if maybe she had the answers.

“I don’t know anything,” Loki said.  “Who leaves a child behind during a war?”

He thought for a moment Kelda might want to say something, but then the soft look on her face was replaced with something closer to shock.  A second later, Thor’s hand was around Loki’s arm, pulling him to his feet.

“Here we go,” Thor said, pulling the bottle of wine away from Loki and setting it on a nearby shelf.  “I think you’ve had enough for the night, brother.”

“I’m fine,” Loki said.  He couldn’t feel his face, and the entire room felt as if it had been tossed upside down, but he was perfectly fine.

Thor laughed as he pulled Loki across the room.  “I thought you were supposed to be a skilled liar.  Now spit that thing out before you choke on it.”

“What?”  Loki had forgotten all about the hemlock he chewed on.

He pulled the root from his mouth, holding it in his fingers just long enough for Thor to toss it toward the fire pit.

“You’re not supposed to keep sucking on it, stupid,” Thor said, laughing.

Loki tried to glare at him, but found Thor entirely too difficult to focus on.  “You’re not my father,” he said.

“No,” Thor agreed.  “I’m your brother.  And you’d be lost without me.”

Thor pulled him toward the bed and managed to knock him backwards onto it.  “Go to bed,” he said, a moment before tossing a blanket over Loki’s face.

“You can’t tell me what to do,” Loki said.

He tried to move the blanket off his face, but found it not worth the effort.  Instead he just lay there, listening to laughter that was absolutely aimed at him.  But he didn’t care.  The room was spinning, and he was sinking into the bed, and fairly certain that his skin was vibrating.

Perhaps Thor was right.  Just maybe, he had overdone it.

Loki didn’t know when he’d fallen asleep, or when he had moved into a better spot on the bed.  The small amount of light that filtered in through the windows was enough to send nails through his head as he opened his eyes.  Slowly, he realised that everything hurt.  Even more slowly, Loki realised he was not alone.  While Kelda slept on one side, Fandral snored away on his other, with Hogun sprawled out at their feet.  Loki slowly sat, rubbing his eyes and trying to figure out what he had missed the night before.  The last thing he remembered was getting his stash down for Thor.  After that, everything was various amounts of blur and complete blank.  Though they were all clothed, so he was fairly certain all that had happened was people passing out in his bed.

Across the room, Thor and Sif slept together on the sofa, while Vali and Alv were sprawled out on the floor.  Loki took in all of it while he tried to convince his brain to start working.  Endless bottles littered the floor, evidence of the damage done over the night.  The numbers weren’t adding up from what he could remember, though he realised he had no idea how much he had even been responsible for on a personal level.

Suddenly feeling the need to get away from other people, Loki carefully climbed over Fandral to avoid waking him, and found his head still light and his feet unsteady.  Somehow, he had managed to wake hungover and still drunk all at the same time.  Of all the various states Loki had ever woken up to find himself, this was handily the worst.  Grumbling to himself about it, he made his way toward the stairs, and then down them without killing himself, which was frankly cause for another celebration.  Too tired and ill to celebrate, he opened his chamber doors and leaned out to the corridor to face the guards with what little brainpower he possessed.

“Send for breakfast,” Loki said, trying to remember how many people he had counted in his bedchamber.  “For entirely too many people.”

Not waiting for a response, Loki closed the door again and immediately collapsed on the sofa against the wall, where he was determined to say until the sun came back.

Somehow, he didn’t think anyone would be making it to Volstagg’s hunt that day.