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(Just a warning up front — this is fanfiction…not the normal thing I’ve used this blog for! It’s the first chapter of a story in my head that I’m not certain I’ll ever actually write. I’m putting it here — one of three actually — for those folks who are reading the main story I have going on ff.net, as a convenience to share it, without committing to necessarily finishing it, which is what putting it on ff.net would signify to me. I am here on ff.net.)

This chapter’s actually not even complete! It doesn’t get into the plot yet; it’s purpose is more to introduce who these characters are at this point in their lives. And it’s born of basically my desire to explore exactly that, who are these characters kind of “in between,” after the Baldur incident is long past (which I include by my own choice, there’s no indication of it in the movies), but also long before the events of the movies. Also, Loki eventually gets to play the hero in this one, which is a fun change to write. The royal family is poisoned…all except Loki…

Slow Poison

Chapter 1: Not yet titled

“Short swords!” Sif called out.

“I’m sick to death of swords.  Why must it always be swords?” Loki complained.

“War hammers,” Thor said.

Fandral rolled his eyes and rested a hand on the sword at his hip. “You have something of an unfair advantage there, you know.”

Thor grinned and tossed Mjolnir into the air a little higher than his head, easily catching it by the handle. “What if I promise no lighting this time?”

“You’ll have to promise no rain. Sif won’t want to get her hair wet.”

Sif whirled around to glare at Loki, but held her tongue. Thor had assured her that the group’s ribbing was a sign they were accepting her, but Loki had always behaved that way toward her, so she wasn’t sure what it was a sign of from him.

“Fandral won’t, either,” Volstagg said with a chuckle and a swat at his friend’s perfectly coiffed blond hair. Fandral ducked away and ran a hand gently over the top of his hair to make sure it was still in place.

“Morning stars,” Hogun suggested, his eyes scanning the group for support. He’d just bought a new spiked mace and had not yet had a chance to try it out on anything more threatening than a pile of firewood.

“Forget it. I still have a couple of scabs on my arm from the last time we used maces,” Fandral said, starting to pull up his sleeve, then stopping at the sounds of disgust coming from his friends.

“I blunted the spikes.”

“Not as much as the rest of us, obviously. I lost a perfectly good leather vest in that bout,” Volstagg said with a snort.

“You’d already outgrown it anyway, my friend,” Thor said with a hearty laugh, clapping Volstagg on the shoulder. “What do you suggest, then? Or Loki, why don’t you choose this time. You never choose.”

“You’re right, Thor. Whatever will I do? The honor is so great, I may be moved to tears,” Loki said in a shaky voice, throwing in a sniffle at the end for good measure.

“Come on, Prince Silvertongue, name the weapon,” Volstagg said.

“Yes, name it. But no knives,” Fandral put in.

“Why no knives? What cowards, that you tell me to choose the weapon and then exclude the one you most fear in my hands!”

“Enough, Loki,” Thor said, walking over to his brother and slinging an arm around his shoulders. “We aren’t practicing for sport and game. We’re practicing for battle. Hand-to-hand, face-to-face, man-to-man,” he finished, even as Sif pointedly cleared her throat. “Or man-to-woman,” he hastily added. “Or…woman-to-man. Or woman-to-woman. Whatever. The point is we practice for honorable battle.”

Loki scowled, amazed as always at how easily Thor could deliver an insult with clearly nothing but goodness and light in his heart. Once in a while Loki pointed it out, but then it would be Thor who got his feelings all hurt and Loki who walked away feeling guilty. Or, on a few rare occasions, Thor got angry and Loki walked away bruised.

“Choose, Brother!” Thor encouraged, slapping Loki on the back. He knew Loki liked to grumble, but that he always gave in, in the end.

Loki grumbled and gave in, though he didn’t see why throwing a well-aimed knife should be any more or less honorable than swinging a sword or a mace or a morning star or a hammer. If you met an enemy on the battlefield and eliminated him as a threat…what did it matter how you did it? “Fine. Poleaxes,” he said, his mouth slowly sliding into a grin.

“Poleaxes! That’s a peasant’s weapon!” Volstagg exclaimed. Thor rolled his eyes, Fandral laughed, Hogun frowned. Of course, Hogun had been frowning already. Sif watched everyone else with a guarded expression.

“What if you were attacked by rampaging peasants and poleaxes were the only weapons around?” Loki asked in the I’m-the-teacher-you’re-the-student voice he knew got under Thor’s skin like yellowbugs at harvest time.

“Rampaging peasants,” Thor muttered. “Are you confusing Asgard for Midgard? Our peasants don’t rampage, Loki. They’re happy.”

“Wait until there’s a bad harvest or a drought or a flood. Or until you become king and you make jests about their poleaxes,” he said with a snicker.

Thor grabbed him by the hair at the back of his neck; Loki steeled himself for a fistfight.

“Loki’s right.”

All eyes turned to Sif. Thor’s grip on Loki’s hair slackened, and Loki knocked his arm away.

“What do you mean, ‘Loki’s right’?” Thor asked, glaring back at his younger brother to let him know if he’d wished to still have a hold on him he would.

Sif stepped forward from the railing she’d been leaning against on the periphery of the group. “A warrior should be prepared for any circumstance, all types of battle, even those he thinks unlikely. More have been defeated by surprise than by the sword itself.”

Thor’s face turned to one of exasperation. “You have been spending too much time around Loki,” he said, wagging a finger in her direction. Same listen-and-take-notes tone of voice.

Loki, meanwhile, stole a quick glance at Sif and granted her a rare smile, quickly followed by a suggestive wink which made her send him a scathing look and question her decision to voice any support for him.

“Actually, Thor, I do believe Sif has a point,” Fandral said.

Sif then turned her scathing look on Fandral. Thor had also warned her that she’d know Fandral thought of her as one of them when he stopped trying to flatter her and agreeing with everything she said.

“Traitor,” Thor grumbled. “We’re practicing with war hammers today.”

“You insisted that I choose in the first place, but you dislike my choice so you ridicule it. And now the vote is three-two in my favor and you ignore it. Truly you will be a wise and noble king, Thor,” Loki mocked.

“The first choice I grant you as king will be which jail cell to select as your very own. You can start decorating now, if you-“ Thor froze for a moment, then suddenly found Mjolnir’s smooth surface fascinating. The event that led to Loki’s only serious, if short, time in a jail cell – most of the other times were Thor’s fault – was decades past, and neither he nor Loki needed to be reminded of it.

Fandral smoothed out a non-existent wrinkle in his shirt, Volstagg strained his eyes down toward his beard and began picking crumbs from it that probably did exist, Hogun frowned, Sif watched everyone else with a guarded expression. She hadn’t known the Odinsons back then, but she knew the story; everyone did.

Loki drew his lips in and moistened them. It was usually entertaining to be able to observe the exact moment when Thor’s brain caught up with his mouth, but in this case given the option he would have skipped this bit of “entertainment.” “So,” he began with a stubborn look that betrayed no reaction to what Thor had said, “jail will come when it may. In the meantime, we fight with poleaxes.”

Volstagg cleared his throat. “Right! Poleaxes. Fair is fair. Only…”

“What now?” Thor asked, some of his annoyance with himself seeping into his voice. He looked down at Mjolnir again and let it drop to the ground, resigning himself to the fact that he was going to be fighting with some flimsy peasant’s stick with a small half-dull blade at the top instead of something worthy of the word “weapon.”

“We don’t have any poleaxes,” Hogun supplied.

Fandral – and everyone except Loki – began looking around, first at the racks of weapons which servants had brought out to the dusty training grounds, then in random places around them as if there might just be a random poleax resting against a tree somewhere. “Hogun’s right. Look, if we can’t get this figured out, I’m going to officially give up on the lot of you for the day. I have plans with a certain young lady tonight.”

“Well, then Asgard hasn’t yet fallen from Yggdrasil’s crown. Give me your sword,” Loki said.

“A warrior never gives up his sword,” Fandral said, eyeing Loki with suspicion.

Hogun’s lips turned up into something that could almost be said to be a smile.

Fandral saw and rolled his eyes. “Here,” he said, unsheathing his sword, the rubies in the pommel and guard and the well-polished blade reflecting the day’s bright sunshine.

Loki took it, admired it for a moment, inspected his hair in its reflection.

“You don’t look any better than you did this morning,” Thor said as Sif and Volstagg started to laugh. “Now give Fandral his sword back.”

“Of course,” he said, but then traced a finger slowly from the guard to the point, to growing laughter.

“Loki…”

Loki turned to face his older brother directly. “Thor, you have no sense of humor.” He spun around and tossed the sword back to Fandral, whose startled eyes went wide as he whipped his hand into position to grab the sword by the grip instead of the blade.

He needn’t have bothered. When his hand touched it, it grew thinner and longer and sprouted a wicked serrated blade up top. He froze with his right hand holding it as though it were a sword, afraid it was merely an illusion and any other touch would meet not pole but blade.

“You can change it back, can’t you?” Thor asked, and at that Fandral reached out a tentative left hand which met wood instead of metal.

“Of course. We all know how much Fandral loves his sword. Who’s next?”

Volstagg laughed and shrugged and handed over his sword. Loki handed back a poleax. Sif gave him her blade next, and then Hogun tossed him his morning star – the old one. The new one was still being kept swathed lovingly in its leather casing.

“Thor?” Loki asked when he was done, holding out his hand.

“Not in a million years.”

“Can I mark that on the calendar? I’ll ask you again in a million and one.”

“I can tell you the answer in advance. No.”

“Fine,” Loki said with a dramatic sigh. “Hand me something from the rack, then.” He eyed Mjolnir, lying unattended on the ground while Thor walked over to the rack. I wonder… Loki took the two steps over to the hammer and bent down, placing both hands on the leather-wrapped grip. Biting back the grunt that wanted to come out from the effort, Loki braced his feet and lifted Mjolnir up to shoulder height. How does he manage to do anything with this monstrosity besides put his back out? Loki asked himself, not for the first time. He traced a finger over one of its cool edges, feeling the magic buzzing around it. He doubted he would be able to change Mjolnir’s form, but the attempt could be interesting…

“Um, Thor…”

In a flash Thor was back at Loki’s side, grabbing Mjolnir from him and shoving a shortsword into his hands in its place. Loki sent Sif a withering glare. He would get her back for that. He rarely got a chance to hold Mjolnir in his own hands and study it. Devoid of theatrical touches he turned the shortsword into a poleax and tossed it to Thor, then pulled his own sword from its sheath, transforming it as he went.

“Youngest against oldest,” Volstagg called, heading out into the center of the training grounds.

“You against Sif? What about the rest of us?” Hogun asked. “I didn’t come here just to watch.”

“You and me…and who’s next oldest?”

“I am,” Thor said. “By a few months. The difference is insignificant.”

Volstagg made some sort of hmmmph sound. “We have to divide up some way, don’t we?”

Thor inspected the blade on his poleax and glanced over at Loki. “You’re right,” Thor said, then trotted over to Volstagg and Hogun and grasped one man’s arm then the other. “Victory will be ours! We’ll crush the youths with our mighty…poleaxes!” He stumbled over the concept and not so much the word, but once he got it out it was as full of enthusiasm as any words he spoke before battle. The weapon didn’t truly matter – the fight mattered. And the win.

“Youths,” Loki muttered. Wonderful. A battle between Big Brother and Little Brother that really is a battle between Big Brother and Little Brother. Never mind that Big Brother and Little Brother are both currently one hundred and twenty two.

The six fought for nearly four hours, with breaks for strategizing and bringing the “dead” back to life after a time-out period and the occasional do-over when someone insisted on trying a particular strategy again. Loki had proposed launching Sif through the air at Volstagg with her poleax held over her ready to be brought down on his head – Sif was game though Fandral did his best to sway her – but that one had resulted in so many do-overs that everyone but Loki and Sif grew bored with it and their request for a seventh attempt was voted down.

In the end it came down to Loki and Thor, as it nearly always did. Fandral left to get ready to meet his lady friend – sword reverted to its true shape and back in its sheath ready to be drawn – while Hogun, Volstagg, and Sif stood around watching. Thor and Loki circled each other, eyes peeled, unblinking, for the tiniest indication of intent. If Thor couldn’t fight an enemy then fighting Loki was the next best thing. Loki had little interest in making enemies – which was how Thor usually wound up with enemies to fight in the first place – and while a good creative fight would sometimes get his blood pumping, it was only Thor who could truly pull his heart into it.

Not knowing them, one might observe them slowly circling each other and see two territorial lions ready to pounce and shred the other to bits. Enemies.

But they were not. They were little different from the two youths they’d once been, testing, challenging, each making the other better. Brothers. Friends.

There’d been a time in between, a time when things had soured and they’d been brothers but not friends, but that was long past. Forgotten, if not exactly forgiven. Not exactly forgotten, either, really, but the brothers tried hard to pretend otherwise. The invisible string that their mother said connected them had frayed terribly, but it had never truly broken.

Thor grinned, then Loki grinned.

Sif and Volstagg tensed, Hogun frowned.

[Sorry, that’s it, as I said, the chapter’s incomplete.]

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