by Sauron Gorthaur
"Race you back to the village," said Thor, accompanying the words with a light nudge that sent Loki stumbling several steps sideways.
The eight-year-old boy rubbed his shoulder and sniffed at his older brother's suggestion. "No," he snorted disparagingly. "Not unless I get to ride a horse."
"Ah, come on," Thor said, "that wouldn't be a fair race."
Loki rolled his eyes. "And it would be a fair race otherwise? You've just got a problem with fairness when it isn't in your favor."
"I'll give you a head start."
Loki gave him a dry look. "How about we see which one of us can conjure a better illusion of me punching you in the face?"
Thor grinned and gave his brother a soft shove that almost overbalanced him. "We still need to get back and quickly whether we race or not," the blonde-haired prince replied. "Come on, Loki, can't you walk in a straight line. You look like you sneaked some mead. They're going to leave us behind if you don't hurry up."
Loki regained his balance and shot Thor a glare that is universally reserved for brothers to use against one another. "They're not going to leave us behind," he said derisively. "We're the princes. And anyway, they'd notice right away that your loud mouth was missing."
"I don't have a loud mouth," Thor protested.
Loki ignored him and started walking. "On second thought, they might leave you behind so that the palace can have some peace and quiet for a while."
Thor quickly caught up and trotted beside him. "It's you they'd leave behind if they wanted that. No pranks, no mischief. Mother and Father would probably go on holiday. Freyr probably let you wander off on purpose so they could escape back to Asgard and leave you here."
"Well, that wouldn't work because I know how to get back."
Loki poked his tongue out at his brother and starting running. Thor laughed and followed, soon passing him as he dashed towards the Vanaheim village where they'd been told to regroup when the sun reached its peak.
He'd run about thirty seconds or so when he realized that Loki had vanished from his side. Grinding to a halt in the smooth pebbles that made up the path, he turned and found his brother standing some twenty paces behind him, staring into the yellow field of tall grass surrounding them.
"Loki," he called, "what are you doing? Really, they're going to be annoyed if we aren't there in time."
Loki didn't look at him but held up a hand. "Do you hear that?"
Thor listened for a second but heard nothing except the hiss of the wind over the long grass, meadow lark song, and the chirr of insects in the long weeds. He shifted impatiently. "I don't hear anything. Come on, Brother, if they leave without us and it's your fault-"
"Shhh," Loki interrupted irritably. "You can't hear it because you're talking."
Thor folded his arms and was about to reply when he too suddenly heard it: a high-pitched sound half-way between a whine and a wavering yelp. Something was crying.
Loki exchanged a look with Thor then dashed off into the tall grass.
"Hey!" Thor yelled, following. "Loki, come back here!"
He thrashed the long grass aside with his arms, trying not to lose sight of the bobbing black-haired head dashing in front of him. He was just getting extremely annoyed when he burst through the grass and found himself in a clearing about three feet across where the grass had been flattened, almost as if something large had slept there recently. Kneeling in the middle was Loki, bending over something, something small and furry, something that was whimpering quietly.
"Loki, that's a wolf!" Thor exclaimed.
"I know what it is," the younger prince replied, giving Thor a look that said duh. "It's just a cub; it's not going to bite me." He sat down in the dust and pulled the crying animal into his lap much to Thor's horror.
"Mother's going to have a fit; that's a brand new tunic," he protested. Only yesterday one of Loki's mischievous escapades had ended up with both of them drenching themselves in the Sea. Queen Frigga had been less than pleased when her two sons showed up soaking wet to dinner, their best garments ruined, and when she had outfitted them that morning with new clothing for the trip to Vanaheim, she had given Loki a hard look. "Behave for Freyr, don't cause trouble, and please, let's see if we can't make these clothes last out the rest of the week."
Loki made a face at Thor and dusted off the dark green fabric. "What, it's dust – it's not going to ruin it." The wolf cub yelped and began nuzzling into Loki's side, drawing back the younger prince's attention. He stroked the downy, light grey fur on the top of its head, and the yelps reverted to the soft crying whimpers.
Thor shifted from one foot to the other and glanced up at the sun. It was already at its zenith. He looked back down, opening his mouth to urge his brother to get a move on, but Loki had vanished. Again.
"Loki," Thor said, his voice verging on an exasperated whine. "We've got to go. I'm hungry."
There was a rustle in the tall grass across the clearing from him, and Loki's angular face appeared. Thor expected one of his brother's usual jibing ripostes, but the black-haired boy looked unusually grim. He beckoned Thor. "You should see this." The grass closed back in around him again with a soft swish.
Thor sighed and pushed through the grass, following the faint sounds of Loki's movements just in front of him. He frowned as he noticed the dark brown splotches on the grass in a clear trail that his brother was following, and he picked up his pace. A moment later, he glimpsed something dark lying low and pressing down the grass around it, then he saw the thin figure beside it. The wolf cub gave another barking yelp from somewhere close by.
The blonde prince's breath caught at the sight of the fully grown female wolf with Loki standing not two paces from its muzzle. He took a fighting stance, one hand going to the dagger he carried at his side, ready to jump between Loki and the beast, but then he saw the two arrows sticking in the wolf's flank and realized that it wasn't breathing.
He stepped up beside Loki who was holding the crying cub and looking unusually somber. "It must have been at the Vanir's livestock," Thor said. "It's only been dead a couple hours."
Loki nodded, looking down at his small burden, and frowned. "I'm taking him with me," he said suddenly, "I'm going to keep him."
Thor turned to him in astonishment. "What? No, you can't do that. It's a wild animal, Brother. Mother and Father would never let you keep it."
The younger prince turned on him, his green eyes blazing and his sharp chin jutting out defiantly. "It'll die if we leave it. Its mother's dead, so it'll starve. Would you really do that to this?" he said, holding up the cub which looked curiously at Thor with large, dark eyes. "And anyway, you've got a dog and Father's got his ravens; why can't I have a pet, too?"
Thor chewed on his lip. He knew his brother could be unbelievably stubborn – not that he couldn't be himself – but the wolf was awfully cute, and it did seem pretty cruel to leave it to its fate, which he had no doubt would be exactly as Loki had pronounced it.
"Come on, Thor," Loki cajoled. "He needs us. And I'll need your help." Thor looked up, surprised; Loki never asked for his help. "I know I can convince Mother to let me keep him," the younger prince continued, "but I'm going to need you to get Father to agree. They're going to understand that we couldn't just let him die." He gave Thor a wide-eyed, pleading look. "Please, Thor."
Thor gave him a long stare – he'd been on the receiving end of Loki's manipulative charm a number of times, generally with the same result – and he realized that this time wasn't going to be any different. He sighed. "All right, if it gets you back to the village and Asgard. Just as long as you know that Father isn't going to be pleased with you dragging a wild animal into the palace."
Loki smirked, a smug expression settling over his face. He hitched the wolf higher up in his arms to carry it more comfortably. "With you, me, and Mother all working on him, I don't think it'll be a problem." He tickled under the wolf's chin. "And he's not a wild animal, Thor; he's my pet now. Look, he already knows he's in the family," he said with a grin as the wolf licked his neck.
Thor relented and reached over, stroking the cub's muzzle and getting a nibble on the fingers in return. "I think he's hungry," he said smiling. "And I'm starving. If they've left without us, I'm going to pummel you."
When the two princes, plus a small grey wolf, dashed back into the village, they found the small party waiting – impatiently, but waiting. ("Told you they wouldn't leave without us," Loki muttered out of the corner of his smirking mouth to Thor as they trotted up.) The small educational trip was led by Freyr who'd agreed to take the group of Asgardian children to his home world while they were currently learning about Vanir culture. The god of the harvest looked down, frowning, as the two tardy boys joined the group, one looking appropriately abashed that they were late, the other with an unrepentant grin on his face and a grey bundle in his arms. Freyr had little doubt about which one was responsible. He opened his mouth to speak, but Loki beat him to it.
The black-haired prince held up his trophy. "I found a pet wolf. I saved his life," he announced proudly.
Before Freyr could get a word in, the other children had crowded around to see.
"A wolf! I want a pet wolf!" Fandral crowed.
"Did you and Thor really save his life?" Sif asked.
"Can I hold him, Prince Loki?" Volstegg requested. "Look at those teeth. Are you going to raise him to be your battle wolf?"
"Quiet, quiet." Freyr shooed the excited young Æsir away and looked down at the prince and his new-found pet. He sighed. "Prince Loki, I'm sorry, but I really can't allow this…" he began, but a scowl immediately darkened Loki's face.
"I'm not leaving him," Loki said stubbornly.
"It's a wild animal," Freyr persisted gently. "It could be dangerous. You can't take it back to Asgard. It doesn't belong there."
Loki's scowl deepened. "Well, he doesn't belong here. Your people shot his mother," he added accusingly.
"That's what happens," Freyr said. "The wolves get into the livestock sometimes, and they need to be dealt with. It's the same on every world. You can't change nature."
Loki's green eyes flashed. "But I can save this wolf's life."
Before Freyr could speak again, Thor stepped in between them. Although at first he'd been unsure about the idea himself, once he had decided to stand beside his brother, Thor was determined to see their plan carried out. He faced the god of the harvest boldly. "Just give him a chance. Surely it won't hurt for us to ask Mother and Father about it. If they say no, we'll bring the wolf right back and there won't be any more trouble. Will there, Brother?" he said, turning to Loki.
Loki's scowl transformed back into his customary smirk. "But they will say yes, and so it won't matter," he said.
Freyr rubbed a hand through his wavy wheat-blonde hair, looked briefly up at the sky, then sighed. "All right, but I take no responsibility for anything the Allfather has to say." He gave both the princes stern looks. "This had better not end in trouble."
"It won't," Thor said firmly.
"Well, come on then, everyone," Freyr said, herding them into a tight circle. The Vana looked up into the clear midday sun. "Heimdall, take us back to Asgard," he called out to the Watchman.
Seconds before they were enveloped in the rainbow hues of Bifrost, Loki looked down at his new tunic and had a sudden thought as the wolf cub whimpered in fright at the shimmering beams of light streaking around them. He pushed the cub into his brother's arms. "If he's frightened, Brother, he'll feel safer with someone big and strong like you," he said with a worried look in answer to Thor's confused expression.
Seconds later, the light was fading around them and they were standing in Heimdall's gatehouse at the entrance to Asgard. And one second later, Thor gave an indignant howl. "Loki, your new pet just ruined my tunic!"
Loki gave him a look of pristine innocence.