Loki was at his desk in his rooms when he heard the Bifröst activate. He was almost considering becoming concerned that the others might not find the Bifröst site on their own, but it seemed an unfounded worry. With them all home, he suspected Thor would be barging into his rooms at any moment to start shouting at Loki for humiliating him in front of his friends. Loki had a few choice things he wanted to shout back.
While he waited for the inevitable, Loki pored over a script, trying to determine which role he fancied auditioning for. Fluellen, he thought. He’d never been Welsh before, though he’d been to Wales and could imitate their language and inflections. When he did finally hear the door downstairs open, and heavy footsteps on the stairs, Loki ignored it. He preferred to let the fight come to him.
The one who let himself into Loki’s bedchamber wasn’t Thor, but Odin. He stood by the door, surveying the disorganised stacks of books and papers and piles of clothing that littered the room. It was not how a prince’s chambers should have been, but twenty-two years of insistences otherwise had failed to convince Loki to at least try to keep his rooms tidy. With a tired sigh, Odin approached Loki’s desk, glancing down at the printed booklet before him.
“Another order you continue to ignore, I see,” Odin observed, recognising the language written on the pages.
“Your decree said only that the Bifröst is not to be opened to Midgard,” Loki said, not looking up from the script. “I’ve not used the Bifröst to travel there for several years.”
“I know what I said,” Odin said. “I spoke without knowing my own son would find away to twist my words against me.”
He didn’t speak with anger, but with weariness, tired of having the same argument again and again.
“Was there something you needed, Father?” asked Loki innocently. “My three days are not yet up, so surely you aren’t here to discuss that.”
Odin’s gaze narrowed at Loki.
“Your brother just returned from Jötunheimr,” Odin said.
“Did he?” Loki asked distantly. “And did he tell you how he made an idiot’s wager?”
Odin didn’t speak for a long moment, regarding Loki thoughtfully. “He told me enough,” he said finally. “Why do you do these things, Loki? Is it not enough that I took you in; gave you a home?”
Loki laughed incredulously. “For which I am grateful, but what has that to do with Thor’s behaviour today? He comes home with his tail between his legs after showing off, and I’m the one to be blamed for his arrogance.”
“You led him there,” Odin pointed out.
“And I am not his keeper,” Loki insisted. “As you so astutely pointed out last night, I am not even able to make the decisions he so poorly judged today. You can’t accuse me of one thing, and then blame me for its exact opposite.”
Odin sighed as he turned away. “No,” he agreed. “I can’t. I suppose I’m a fool to ever expect anything from you, unless it’s disappointment.”
Loki stared up at Odin in disbelief, speechless. “Is—Is that it?” he demanded, getting to his feet.
Odin turned back to him and shook his head. “What else would you have of me, Loki? You’ve given me no reason to believe otherwise.”
Before Loki could respond, Odin left the room, shutting the door behind him. Loki covered his face and screamed, drowning out the sound of his father’s steps on the stairs. He kicked at nothing and at everything, not even knowing where to direct his anger. How had his day go so badly? How was it that nothing went as planned? For but a brief moment, Loki thought to be grateful that Odin hadn’t disowned him outright, but then he realised all the good it would have done. Loki had all but disinherited himself years before. He wasn’t even able to grant Odin that satisfaction.
As he swore and kicked stacks of books and whatever else his feet could find to kick, his door opened again, but he ignored it. He didn’t want a second round, and wouldn’t grant that satisfaction.
“Loki, stop this,” Frigga said from behind him, her voice as hard and cold as Loki had ever heard it.
Loki stilled at once and turned cautiously to face her.
“Mother,” he greeted. “I was just—”
“I know what you were doing,” Frigga cut him off. “And don’t think I am not aware of what you’ve done this morning.”
“I’ve done nothing,” Loki insisted.
Almost faster than Loki could see, Frigga reached out and grabbed him by the ear, pulling him down to her eye level. A minor scuffle with Odin, he could have handled. It was even expected. But he couldn’t remember the last time Frigga saw fit to discipline him. He grit his teeth, hoping she would at least make her point quickly.
“Do you think Heimdall is the only one in this realm to see what transpires in it?” Frigga demanded.
Loki breathed heavily through his nose to keep from crying out. He didn’t dare answer her and risk it, but he also didn’t have to.
“I know you schemed against your brother, though to what ends, I cannot fathom,” Frigga continued, twisting his ear once again. “You will right this, and you will make amends.”
“Yes, mother!” Loki’s eyes were watering.
She let him go and lingered in his bedchamber long enough to give him a sad look. Then she turned and left, leaving Loki stunned amidst his mess of books and papers. Odin’s disappointment only made Loki angry. Frigga’s made him want to weep.
Sif found Loki in one of the palace’s wide corridors, knocking his forehead into a pillar at a steady rhythm. Though she couldn’t hear his curses, she thought she might have known what troubled him. It troubled her as well, though perhaps for different reasons. She kept her distance for a long moment, contemplating an oath she’d made years before. While completely avoiding one another’s presence would have been impossible, she had honoured the agreement as well as she was able, as had he. But this was a conversation she needed to have with Loki, and Loki alone. Drawing in a deep breath, Sif steeled herself and approached him.
“Loki,” she said, announcing her presence.
“Go away. I’m busy,” Loki said, in time with his head striking the golden pillar.
Sif stood her ground. “Please. I would like to speak with you,” she said.
Loki sighed, though he stopped pounding his head against the pillar. Looking at it, he almost expected to see the indentations of horns where his head struck, but the gold was as flawless as ever. He rubbed a hand over his forehead, finding it free of any budding horns.
“Then speak and be gone,” he said.
Nodding, Sif dared another step closer. “I would like to thank you,” she said. “For this morning. Things could have gone very badly if you hadn’t spoken up when you did.”
Loki snorted. “And now some other maiden is to be taken from her home and given away as a token. And you would thank me for that?”
“No,” Sif said stiffly. She held her spot even against the scornful look Loki levelled upon her. “I know your feelings toward me, and know that you did not have to speak to defend me. But you were right. It was not Thor’s wager to make.”
“Did that burn your tongue to admit?” Loki asked. “How difficult was it for you to think that I might be capable of such things?”
This was not the conversation Loki wanted to be having. There were far more important things to deal with than Sif’s emotion-driven apology. Loki didn’t even want her apology. He’d been happy ignoring her, and was happy to continue doing so.
“Loki, I would ask if we could start over,” she said.
He laughed suddenly, an incredulous bark that startled Sif into taking a step backwards.
“Start over?” Loki asked. “Yes, it has been rather a long time since I was ever accused of being Thor’s shadow. Shall we start there? Or perhaps I can cast some harmless charm? Dökkálfar, perhaps? It would be rather amusing to watch rumours spread of how Odin keeps an orc hidden away in his court, wouldn’t it?”
“Loki, please,” Sif pleaded.
Loki threw his hands into the air, amazed that she could still go on as she was. “Please?” he asked. “Please what? You’ve hated me ever since we were children. I’ve only ever been happy to indulge you that fancy and return the favour. Why stop now when we’re having so much fun?”
“I never hated you, Loki,” Sif said evenly. “It was childish jealousy, but never hate. The only hate I held was that Thor preferred your company to mine. I regret my actions and would take them back if I could. I am ashamed to say I acted without honour.”
“Honour?” Loki asked quickly, head cocked to one side. Of course.
“Yes, honour,” said Sif. “Surely you know if it.”
Loki didn’t answer her. Instead, he turned to rush down the hall, leaving Sif alone where she stood.
Honour was exactly what he needed to solve Thor’s problem. Thor would simply have to honour the terms of his wager. Loki let himself into Thor’s rooms, pleased to find his brother sulking on the terrace. He fiddled with the bandage wrapped round his arm, ignoring Loki.
“My rooms. Quickly,” Loki said, crossing the room to grab Thor and pull him along. “If we make haste, Thrymr will still be where we left him.”
Thor looked eagerly to Loki. “You believe I can get Mjölnir back?” he asked.
“Or at least get you out of the terms of your idiotic wager,” Loki said. “Quickly. Come along.”
He let go of Thor and made quick tracks to his rooms, Thor close on his heels. Loki led Thor up to his bedchamber and threw open the wardrobe. Casting a quick glance back to Thor, Loki began to rummage through the over-stuffed wardrobe, tossing several garments aside. Finally, he found a pink Nornir gown he thought would fit and laid it out on his bed.
“Dress quickly. We haven’t got much time,” Loki said, going to the mirror to tidy his own appearance.
Thor looked at the gown and forced a laugh, hoping that Loki was only jesting.
“It is a lovely gown, Brother, but I do not think the colour suits me,” he said.
Loki tied his hair back into a tail and looked at Thor in the mirror. “I don’t have anything in red. That will have to do,” he said.
Thor’s smile dropped at once. “You cannot be serious,” he said flatly.
“Can and am. Now quickly.” Loki quickly preened, making sure his face was clean and he showed no signs of the stress of the morning.
Loki didn’t wait to see if Thor would do as he said. He grabbed up his throwing knives from his desk, and one by one secreted them about his body.
“You think we’ll need to fight them?” Thor asked, still frowning at the gown on Loki’s bed.
“Insurance,” Loki said. “If I have to tell you to dress once more, I will not help you.”
Loki’s words were enough to move Thor into action. He quickly undressed and squeezed himself awkwardly into the gown. A generous dose of magic from Loki, and the gown was loosened to fit him, and once it was all tied and pinned into place, Loki quickly arranged a veil over Thor’s face. Loki could dress up himself to suit any occasion, but he could not work miracles. He would just have to hope Thrymr did not look to close.
“Keep your head down,” Loki warned. “Don’t let anyone see your face until you have that damned hammer, or you’ll never have it back.”
Thor scowled at the ground. “Aye,” he said darkly.
Loki smiled as he adjusted the gown once more. “A pretty bride for a pretty suitor.”
Before Thor could retaliate, Loki took his hand and returned to Jötunheimr. When they landed, Thor leaned heavily against Loki, damning him for his favoured mode of travel. Loki had long grown used to the way Yggdrasil bent around him to allow him to step across her boughs, but he gave Thor a moment to come to terms with the brief sickness it caused.
Loki had taken them directly to Utgard, only a few steps away from the mead hall. Taking Thor by the elbow, Loki guided the way back past the angry guard, offering false flattery as he grudgingly let them in. They found Thrymr still present, gloating about his victory to the crowd. He used Mjölnir as a foot rest, having apparently already grown bored with it otherwise. At the sight of it, Loki could feel Thor tense.
“Keep quiet,” he warned, holding Thor back. “This will only work if you keep to your role.”
Loki led Thor to Thrymr, stopping just out of his reach.
“Thrymr, as promised, I return with the agreed prize for your earlier wager with my brother,” Loki said, guiding Thor to take a step closer.
Thrymr snorted. “Where is he, then? Too ashamed to show his face here again?”
Loki smiled tightly, keeping his grip on Thor. “Something like that,” he said.
Thrymr raked his eyes over Thor, taking in his heavy form underneath the gown he wore. “She’s big for their kind, isn’t she?” he asked.
Loki held his smile. “You have no idea,” he said.
After a few moments longer, Thrymr nodded. He handed Mjölnir over to Loki, too busy pulling Thor close to notice the way the weight of the hammer nearly brought Loki to the ground. As Thrymr held onto Thor, he nodded appreciatively.
“Let’s get a good look at you,” he said. Before he could be stopped, Thrymr lifted Thor’s veil, and was met with a murderous scowl. Thrymr shouted wordlessly and threw Thor to one side.
“Is she not pretty enough?” asked Loki, still bent over and holding onto Mjölnir’s handle.
Thrymr focused his attention on Loki, forgetting about Thor. As he lunged forward, Loki tried desperately to lift Mjölnir off the ground in a blind panic. Thrymr made to tackle him, but when he reached Loki, Thrymr fell straight through him as he dissolved into thin air. At that moment, those watching the scene leapt up to assist Thrymr, putting Thor and Loki at the centre of a very unfair brawl. Grinning with blood-lust, Thor took up Mjölnir, holding it threateningly above his head. But the time for threats was long over. Thrymr formed a blade of ice over his own arm and swung it at Thor. Thor blocked with his hammer, shattering the ice over Thrymr’s arm. He used the distraction caused to swing again, this time slamming the hammer into the side of Thrymr’s face. Thrymr stumbled back, but didn’t fall, all the more angry.
As he once more attacked Thor, two more Jötnar descended upon Loki, finding their faces sliced open for their efforts. Loki held onto two of his daggers, electing to slash with them rather than throw them in the close confines of the mead hall. Loki easily dodged around the larger warriors, slipping out of their reach without his magic and disappearing completely with it.
Thor was more indiscriminate with his approach, using his melee weapon to its full effect. He swung Mjölnir in large circles, taking down as many tables around him as he did those who wished to fight him. Loki armed himself with a broken plank from one of the long benches, using it as an overly-large spear. He swung and jabbed with it, keeping himself away from the large swords of ice some of the Jötnar wielded.
“I thought you hated this sort of thing!” Thor called out as he dislocated one Jötun’s jaw with an uppercut swing of his hammer.
Loki swung his plank, striking one Jötun on the side of the head while he jabbed his elbow into another’s throat.
“I do!” he said.
The distraction proved catastrophic for him as he found himself cornered between a high bench and Gangr. Before Loki was able to slide away, Gangr grabbed Loki’s arm, burying it in his massive hand. When he didn’t openly attack, it took Loki a few moments to realise what was being done. The sleeve of his heavy tunic cracked and shattered as Gangr grinned, sharp teeth bared in Loki’s direction.
From Gangr’s hand, the dark blue pallor of Loki’s natural skin began to spread out, slowly seeping up his arm. Loki looked up as the satisfaction on Gangr’s face turned to confusion. Loki offered something like an embarrassed chuckle, confusing him further.
“I never claimed to be half-blood,” Loki said.
Before the guard could regain himself, Loki headbutted him. Though he had no horns like the man who held him, his head was hard enough to shatter Gangr’s nose and startle him into letting go.
Loki dared a quick look to where his glamour sluggishly took hold again, hiding his blue skin and replacing it with the pink skin of the Æsir. At another time, he would definitely have to experiment further, but this was not the time.
“Thor, we must go!” he called out, fearing what might happen if those around him found out what he had for so long kept from them.
Without giving Thor the chance to argue, Loki lunged toward Thor. As soon as he had Thor’s wrist in his hand, Loki took them home. They landed in the gardens, Thor mid-swing. Mjölnir came down to the ground with a deafening roar of thunder, and before all was quiet again, he picked the hammer up again and rounded on Loki. With the gown torn and mangled, barely hanging off Thor’s waist, Loki almost laughed. If not for the murderous glare Thor gave him, Loki would have.
“Loki, what have you done?” Thor demanded.
Loki took several quick steps back. “I brought us home before you could do more damage than you’ve already done,” he said. “I got your precious hammer back. You should be grateful.”
“You humiliated me,” Thor shouted. “You had me debase myself before them, and then before I could regain my honour, you have me flee like a coward.”
Loki clenched his fists at his sides. “Fine,” he said. “Do it your way next time. If you’ll excuse me, I have an audition to make.”
He turned and stalked away, pushing past Sif as she ran toward Thor. She barely had time to recover her step before he was inside the palace, disappearing behind the walls. Seeing her approach, Thor brandished Mjölnir in Loki’s direction.
“Look at him run like a coward,” he complained.
Sif slapped him across the face. She hadn’t planned on doing so when she sought him out, but she found she felt better for it. “I am not yours to do with as you please. If ever you behave as such again—”
“Nothing came of it,” Thor insisted.
Sif wanted to slap him again, but she stayed her hand. “And to whom do you owe your thanks for that?” she demanded.
Thor started to answer, but silenced himself instead. He wasn’t sure what answer she was expected, and wasn’t in the mood to work it out. “I am sorry, Sif,” he said finally.
“I am not the only one you owe apologies to,” she said.
Thor studied her face for a few moments. One of the things he so liked about her was her passion, but he had never seen it so twisted like this before. Anger was unfamiliar on her, and it stung to have it directed at him. He nodded slowly, finally dropping Mjölnir to his side.
“Yes, I… I think you’re right,” he said.
He left her in the gardens, tracing the path up to Loki’s rooms, where he was sure to find his brother sulking. That Loki had humiliated him, he was not so quick to forgive, but he did have Mjölnir back for it.
Thor found Loki’s doors unlocked, which he took as a sign that he wasn’t entirely unwelcome. He let himself in, climbing the stairs that led to Loki’s bedchamber. He found the door ajar, but the room itself was empty. Loki’s travelling bag wasn’t where it was kept by the sofas, and his desk was cleared of any books or papers. Beyond that, the room looked exactly as it did when Loki brought him up here to change — a mess of books and clothes thrown about without care.
Sighing, Thor put Mjölnir down and took off the gown Loki had put him in, exchanging it instead for the tunic and breeches he’d left on the bed. He didn’t think about where Loki might have gone off to. He’d left before without warning. Loki would come back, Thor told himself. He always did.