Loki was out and about for a stroll along the cliff-sides, having needed some fresh air and to clear his thoughts.
This wasn't the norm for him. Mostly, he completed his tasks and then slipped back home before anyone realized he was even gone. When at home, he snuck into the safety of his study, scouring over old books and sorting through magical ingredients which were spread out over his desk.
But every so often, Loki wanted to roam. Being cooped up wasn't very enjoyable. The village was small, so there was only so much to see or oversee.
Today he was moving at a leisurely pace, and could be easily caught up to.
Thor had been trying to find Loki for a few days and one thing about his younger brother? Evasiveness was easily his strongest trait. And Thor wasn’t patient in the slightest bit. It made for a complicated relationship, to say the least.
Thor was in the middle of a conversation with Sigrid, a dairywoman, when his brother walked by. Unfortunately, there was no way to interrupt or extricate himself from the conversation, as fascinating as the cheese process was. By the time he’d learned all he wanted to know about whey, his brother was long gone.
The next day, Loki was sitting on the floor of the building that housed the Bifrost, attempting to use his magic to mend the pieces of a salvaged golden cog back together. It wasn't difficult work, but it was tedious and meticulous work. One seam left unsealed, one thing overlooked, and the entire Bifrost might be ruined. Along with causing a large explosion that surely would be noticed.
Another day of searching and Thor felt relief at finding Loki in private, doing nothing of note. He almost burst into the building until he saw the gentle tendrils of magic and stopped short.
Taking a better look at the situation, he wrestled with himself before walking away. Experience had taught Thor that interrupting someone that deep in concentration would only backfire on him. Jane had drilled that lesson in.
Thinking of Jane only made him sad.
Better to find something to do, keep his mind occupied.
The day after that, Loki had just finished a recount of the treasury, which was a vault hidden near the center of the village. The Valkyrie would need to know the monthly budget,in order to ensure that boat repairs and any supplies from outside the village could be ordered.
The vault was conveniently next to the village tavern, which Loki decided to head into. A rustic little building, it resembled a quaint Midgardian cafe more than the raucous drinking halls of old. There were baked goods and meals served, as well as all manner of drinks. And it was there that Loki sat down with a sigh, and ordered an iced coffee.
Sure, it might be around 0 C that day, but the cold never bothered him. Ugh. There was no escaping Thor this time. He was in the tavern, chatting with a few locals when he spied his brother coming in. He heard the drink order and shook his head. Who drank iced coffee in the middle of the day when there was ale to be had.
Intercepting the server, Thor took Loki’s drink in hand and walked it over to his brother’s table, his own mug coming along too. “Brother!” Thor sat down heavily, his drink sloshing slightly. “It has been too long. If I hadn’t known better, I would assume you were avoiding me.” He handed Loki the coffee and raised his brows. “You wouldn’t do that to me.” Loki stared at Thor like a deer in a hunter's sights, and that deer had given up on life to such an extent that it couldn't be bothered to run anymore.
"Yes, I would." At least Loki was blunt, as he took his iced coffee from Thor and began drinking it. It was time for a conversational diversion tactic. "Now that you are here, we could go over the time for the next council meeting. I think it would behoove us to do so even later in the day. So as to not inconvenience those who wish to sleep in."
Mainly, that was...himself. Along with being evasive, Loki was more of a night owl. Thor waved off Loki’s comments. “You know full well that I do not care about the time of the council meeting. Set it for later in the day if you wish. I only ask that you allow me to be part of that request so I can sit and watch the look on the elders faces when they say no.”
He pulled his chair in, and wrapped his hands around his mug, looking at Loki as piercing as he could manage. Although he did not have the withering stare of his family -- his eyes had always been too playful for that -- Thor could manage a reasonably well facsimile. “You have been avoiding me,” he repeated. “Why? What have I done now?”
The list was probably endless, but nothing came out right away …
“Is it because you finally found where I kept all your capes? I did mean to give them back but I enjoy pretending to be you when I have the time.” "No one wants to be me, Thor. Furthermore, I have a lot more capes than what you believe you've pilfered," Loki said with a smug smirk. Still, that stare Thor was giving him made him squirm inwardly, an uncomfortable twisting that nearly made him contort in his seat. It had nothing to do with convincing the council to move meetings to a later hour, either.
He had years of practice to fall back on when it came to covering things up. He took one long drink off his coffee while managing to keep himself perfectly poised. Only after letting out a contented exhale, he deemed fit to reply, "Asking if I'd bedded the Valkyrie over the network. That's a rather glaring transgression." Thor was taken aback by that. "Is it? We've discussed my exploits over the years. There is no question you could ask about my relationship that I wouldn't answer truthfully to you."
Although now that he really thought about it, was it just Thor talking and Loki listening begrudgingly? Their culture was one of decorum and etiquette, and so while Thor would never dream of being so open with anyone else, this was his brother.
There was clearly only one response.
"Are you having troubles fulfilling your marital rights?" They were both into their first milenia… sometimes things didn't always work... It was true. All those years that Thor spoke of his conquests, Loki listened and burned with jealousy he couldn't let show. In the royal court of Asgard, it wasn't wise to speak of such exploits, in the event of retribution by some jealous suitor or backstabbing elitist.
When Thor asked that question, Loki had been taking a sedate sip of the coffee drink. He promptly sputtered and nearly spit it back out into the cup. Stopping himself, he swallowed slowly and cleared his throat.
Then he leaned forward and hissed in a whisper, "You ass. I've slept with people before. I didn't go about gloating about it like you did. I simply...."
Loki sat back and averted his gaze, saying in a low voice, "I can not fulfill any marital rights when there might not be anything marital to speak of. You would not understand." Again, Thor gave Loki a confused look.
"Why would I not understand? I am sorry to hear your relationship is having its issues. All do. Do you feel that Jane and I never argue? Because I can assure you, that is so far from the truth, it is almost laughable."
He looked down at his mug, sighed and took a healthy drag. "We fight. We have the same arguments time after time that will most likely never resolve. I have spent my fair share sparring through the night rather than sleeping, just to burn off the extra adrenaline." He paused. "We had another fight prior to the housewarming. I almost wondered if it should have been cancelled." Loki blinked quite a few times, before he too looked confused. He was trying to fathom what Thor and Jane would fight about. Certainly, Thor being Thor was a lot to put up with, and that was a situation that one would only learn after spending so long living in close quarters.
"You're you. Did you not simply bed her to make amends?" Loki realized that it was turning the tables back on Thor a bit, although he did look askew to make sure everyone was so deep in their cups that their conversation wasn't overheard. It wasn't, and everyone seemed well on their way to intoxication.
At least this was easier than dealing with his own situation with the Valkyrie. So he plucked at the thread and began to pull, to see where it might lead or cause to unwravel. A good way to get the heat off of himself, and Loki was evasive in more ways than one.
"What did you fight about?" he asked, looking and sounding inquisitive. "The crown." Thor's quick response only served to show how often they fought about it. "She remains adamant that she does not wish to be queen or to serve in a leadership capacity. I refuse to have children with her unless we are properly wed. She finds me old fashioned. I find her head strong." He shook his head. "At times, the very things that I find so dearly attractive infuriate me to no ends."
He smiled ruefully. "And yet, I cannot live without her and I fear it is the same on her end. So we dance around certain topics until we have a fight." This was one of the worse ones though.
"Apologies for that storm the other night. One day, I really should work to control that better." Luckily there were no boats out to sea when that storm hit. Since no harm was done, Loki waved one hand as though regally batting away a mildly annoying fly. Thor's temper and storms were as interwoven as ever. Where Loki had no trouble learning to control seidr from Frigga, Thor struggled keeping the weather contained when his temper was frayed.
"Worry not. Everyone knew it was you, although not the reasons why." Loki fell quiet, watching Thor for nearly a full minute as he thought of solutions. If it was a matter of diplomacy and negotiation, Loki knew how to wield both skills well. Both skills seemed to go better than his ability to manipulate and coerce. The boon for him was the problems of others were always more simple to solve, rather than speaking of his own.
"It is but a simple matter," he advised Thor, both hands encircling the cup of cold coffee. "Leave the throne to a regent or regents, until you choose to return. Tell the people that you will still live here and help when needed, but that you wish to live with your mortal beloved for her lifetime. None could fault you after all you have endured. And if you are still present in the village? None can complain about feeling less than protected.
"Then you wed her in Lost Vegas," Loki continued saying, "known for weddings, buffets of food, and selectively forgetting anything that went awry there. Then you must allow her to live a life unfettered, without being a Queen. You know her interests are science, and not ruling or dealing with a royal court. She will not have one of the two remaining apples, but will instead have her freedom. Mortal life is fleeting, the ending inevitable. If you do this, you would both be free. And any children would still be viable heirs to the throne."
It was an elegant solution, Loki thought, taking their mutual desires into account. “That all seems far too good to be true,” Thor grumbled, looking down into his drink. “It cannot be that simple…. Can it?” He thought to himself for a moment before glancing at his brother. “Would the council stand for that? Lady Agatha has made her opinions very clear on Asgardian traditions.”
As had Jane.
With a groan, he threw his head down on the table. "I do not wish to think. It is difficult." He lifted his head slightly so he could stare at his brother. "Since our argument, I have not been home really…. I leave before she wakes and sneak back in when she is asleep," he confessed. "Not very kingly, I'm afraid."
He'd drink to that. And did. Loki did the same thing, avoiding issues by making himself scarce. He was hovering on a line of self-destructively ending things before Valkyrie rejected him, and yet still loved her no matter what incarnation this loathsome universe chewed up and spat back out at him. Thus it felt safest to sneak around and make gradual, subtle gestures. Subtle meant leaving 'small gifts' like daggers from Nornheim or golden feathered Valkyrie crowns where he knew she would find them.
Loki and Thor were alike in some ways. And love was always a tenuous thing, whether it lasted under a hundred years or stretched out into five thousand. He mused that the easier choice was always letting go, but knew that Thor wouldn't want to hear that. And that he couldn't even manage that, himself.
He didn't say any of that as he watched Thor. Instead, he cleared his throat a little to speak.
"The four of us could easily override Lady Agatha or any naysayers. We know Eir is loyal, having cared for us since we were babes. Be aware that will not stop any, or all, discontent? Yet I supremely doubt any would cross you, either. Your wrath would be too great." He paused as though thinking it over more and added, "Yes. It would be that easy, brother. But you must give up all thought of her ruling at your side. It is not what Jane wants." “Deep down, I know that. And I am honestly okay with that. I think, if I really stop and ponder this, what bothers me is that I do not have the slightest idea on how to move forward then if not by following time-honoured traditions.”
He hadn’t realized how many of his thoughts, his behaviours were so centred in gender based norms and societal expectations.
Being on Midgard (and having all the time in the world to watch daytime television) had been a good thing for him.
It still left him feeling slightly adrift though.
“I will take your words into consideration, brother ….and as you have helped ease my mind, it is my turn to do the same for you.” He met Loki’s gaze (not a small feat) and grinned. “Tell me what is happening with you.” If Loki knew what Thor was thinking about gender norms and societal expectations, he could have pointed out several instances of what they grew up with on Asgard. Like how Sif had to prove her battle prowess, before she was fit to be called a warrior. That Odin let the history of their strongest female warriors fall into myth and shadow, after he cast out his first born daughter. That seidr users who were men were thought of as weak, or womanly, or full of dishonorable tricks. Or how he, himself, hid the fact that he was just as comfortable in a female form as a male one....
In short, Asgard was a mess. Even by Midgard's standards, since this realm had what was known as mental health help.
Thinking such things made having the table turned so suddenly all the more jarring. It seemed Thor hadn't forgotten.
"Nothing actually," he finally answered. He did not quite meet Thor's eyes, as much as he seemed to be studying everyone else while speaking. "I must wait while she figures out what the attraction was. I expect to hear that nothing resonates. And that will be the end if it, no matter what I think or feel." Now he looked at Thor, pointedly. "You will mend things with Jane because she still loves you. That hasn't been wiped out of existence. The Norns have always favored you, despite any setbacks you've endured. There is hope left for you to cling onto. Some of us are not so blessed."
Loki composed himself, so tense with uncertainty that he resembled a dry twig ready to snap into brittle pieces. Instead of breaking, he slowly raised the cup to take another drink of coffee, looking more at the room's occupants than at his brother. It was true -- Jane did love Thor. And she always would. Thor had never doubted that It was more trying to figure out the compatibility of their lives together -- the issue had never been if they should even be together. Thor almost rolled his eyes, thought about it and then absolutely rolled his eyes.
“Loki.” He paused before continuing. “Loki. She fell in love with you because of who you are. At no point did you bewitch or do anything questionable. Why is it so hard for you to believe that you have good qualities, and that you deserve to be loved?” He took a drink and gave his brother a pointed look. “You married before I. Who would have seen that coming?” And then he quickly added: “I am merely teasing, by the way. Your wedding brought me great joy, as it must have to you as well.” It was Loki's turn to roll his eyes a little. When in comparison to Thor, there was never a chance for any good qualities show, or to be deemed lovable. He fell too easily into the role of the overshadowed younger brother, dragged along to be moderately tolerated or teased on adventures. He often felt like the moody and weaselly counterweight to Thor's likability. So yes, it was hard to believe there was good left in him, since he had been questioning that long before his fall from Asgard and straight into Thanos' clutches.
As for the Valkyrie, arriving in this universe felt like a safe haven at the end of an perilous journey. It was effortless. He didn't have to do anything. Whatever he remembered from his older self was so quickly blotted out, that he didn't even know how they won over each other in the first place...and he never bothered questioning his good luck, either.
Loki's jaw tensed so much, it seemed the sound of teeth grinding might soon be heard.
"The Valkyrie of before fell in love with an older version of me," he told Thor, after a tense moment of silence. "I am not him. I've lost her twice. Thrice is not far fetched. Furthermore, this Valkyrie is even more sober-minded and devoted to Asgard's needs than before. So let's focus on your problems? Those can be solved. Then everyone can continue to talk about Asgard's favorite person...which is you, of course. As always."
It was a good idea to divert and push Thor away quickly, since he was getting too close to touchy territory. Loki shifted his gaze so he was wearily watching Thor out of the corners of his eyes as he spoke. "Joy is fleeting in this universe, as is contentment. Jane Foster's days are not infinite. Stop wasting time. Go make amends. And if anything was said in the heat of anger, of which you do have a bit of a temper? You should start with an apology to clear the air." “Fine, but only if you resolve to work on your own situation as well,” Thor responded, pointing a finger at Loki. He could see that he was losing his brother’s attention, in a way that could potentially end up with someone be stabbed -- namely Thor.
“Everything you said to me, is applicable to you. Except the finite days. Although the way that Valkyrie does things, she rarely takes her own safety into consideration.” He downed the rest of his drink in an impressive gulp and grinned toothily.
“I will make amends.” Not today. At least not until tonight.
“And you will woo your lady. Everything will work out. You’ll see.” Not everything worked out as hoped for, and Loki was living proof. Constantly overshadowed? Definitely. Asgardian by birth? Adopted frost monster. Tried to prove himself by destroying Jotunheim and averting a war he inadvertently caused? Failed. Oh, what about going slightly insane and then being coerced into leading an army of alien imbeciles into Midgard? That didn't work, even if he escaped after an inarticulate green monstrosity knocked some sense back into him.
The possibility of losing one's wife seemed like the final ingredient in an already toxic stew. Loki expected any wooing to fail like everything else. If he was his older self, he might stand a better chance. But he wasn't. And somewhere out there, a malevolent Norn was laughing her ass off, because they couldn't even give him that one thing to help out.
That was why going into Hammer's Industries with the Spiderling would finally prove his worth. It might make him seem more heroic and impress Brunnhilde.
"...blind optimism is not the solution for every situation," replied Loki the Pessimist, with his eyes locked in the upwardly rolled position. Trying to explain further to Thor would not only be a waste of breath but also fall on deaf ears. "Go forth, make nice, and wed your mortal. At least one of us will die relatively happy. Speaking of dying? I'm leaving, dear brother. Before my fingers itch even more for a sharp knife to cut you with."
It was how he showed he cared. Like that snake incident when they were children. What better way was there to show off a new blade, than first hand...or first stab...experience? Being sent to one's bed chamber without the possibility of dessert wasn't pleasant...but still, the look on Thor's face had been worth it.
Loki held up one hand before Thor could open his big mouth and say anything else that was vaguely optimistic. He stood and nodded a curt farewell, before walking out the door.