Loki’s strawberry blond hair winked in the winter sunlight, large fluffy snowflakes catching in the strands. He hunched his lanky frame behind the smooth silver bark of the tree grinning while he molded the snowball carefully. Today was his birthday and Odin had a surprise for him, but he had one for Odin too. The snowball had to be to exact proportions. He didn’t like it when they were lumpy or oblong. They had to be perfect. His hands numbed while he waited, weapon in hand, so he gently sat the snowball aside gathering the folds of his light cloak in his hands, pulling them tight to his body. He played with his breath, watching the white cloud mist in the afternoon sunlight.
He shivered. His blue cloak was a pleasure to look at, it reminded him of his best friend’s eyes, but wasn’t doing much to keep out the weather. His mother preferred warmer climates and had never quite figured out what winter clothing should be. She simply stayed by the fire. They were only here, far in the north, because his father insisted it was safer right now, though from what Loki had not been able to figure out. He smiled when he heard boots crunching in the newly fallen snow. He’d been waiting here for over an hour so there would be no footprints. He held his breath to keep from laughing out loud. As quietly as a fairy dancing on a frosted leaf he picked up his snow ball and tensed his muscles, waiting. Waiting.
When the familiar tall form of his friend passed his hideaway, lost in contemplation as was usual for him, he almost didn’t strike. The snowflakes stuck in Odin’s black hair, shiny strands blending in with the cloak he was wearing, his strong form cutting an unhurried path through the trees, and Loki was frozen, like the rivers, like the air. Then a small smirk tugged at his lips and he let fly the perfect, round ball with a snicker. His friend heard that giggle, but when he turned and ducked he took the missile directly in the face.
“Ha! Predictable old man!” Loki hooted out another laugh, dancing in place to keep warm now that surprise wasn’t necessary. Odin growled, wiping the melting snow from his face, but it was with fond exasperation and not true anger that he pounced on his younger friend. They wrestled for a few moments, Loki not truly trying to get away, until they tumbled together in a heap on the ground. A handful of snow found its way under Loki’s shirt and he yelped and giggled while he struck out with an elbow that caught Odin in the stomach. Gasping and laughing the taller teen flopped onto his back and together they watched the sunlight dance between the snowflakes.
“I got you.”
“Brat,” Odin laughed.
“But I did.”
“Yes.” Odin’s smile was wide and for a moment Loki was lost in it, lost flying in his sky eyes, lost in the happiness of being near his friend. Then he shivered, and his body reminded him that he was lying on the icy ground. Odin frowned, and squinted at his friend.
“I thought you had changed your mind about going with me. I didn’t think it was like you to miss a chance to hear the poets. You can’t go with me like that,” he frowned tugging on Loki’s cloak. “Our journey will take several hours.”
“Like what?” Loki asked sitting up. He felt offended, but he wasn’t quite sure why. He pushed a lock of his hair behind his ear, hands shaking with the cold and something else. He didn’t like it when he disappointed Odin, but he wasn’t even sure what he’d done.
Odin sighed and stood. He knew that look. Loki was gearing up to be obstinate. “It wasn’t a reprimand. I am thinking of your wellbeing. Take this,” he said pulling off his cloak, tossing in onto Loki’s head. He laughed and pulled it off, hair sticking out like he’d been standing in a strong wind.
“No,” he said trying to hand it back, but Odin winked and stepped away, hands behind his back.
“So are you. You are my friend.” Loki looked on with interest as Odin’s cheeks tinted redder than they had been with the cold as he turned on his heel to cut a path through the forest.
“Oh, well…Thank you.” Loki said, rushing to keep up, but he still didn’t put the cloak around his shoulders. Odin’s long legs ate up the distance and Loki had a moment of envy. He’d grown recently, but Odin was still taller. He was beginning to suspect he’d always be shorter. Watching Odin, Loki felt …warm, inside, deep in his gut, as he clutched the soft cloth close.
“I have another. We’ll go back to camp,” Odin said dismissively, but Loki stopped with a grunt, tugging on Odin’s black shirt, tangling his fingers tight into the material to stop him.
“No, if I do my Mother will make me stay.” Odin raised his eyebrows and Loki shrugged with a slow smile. It wasn’t the first time he’d run off when he wasn’t supposed to in order to spend an evening at Odin’s side.
“Here,” the taller youth said crowding into Loki’s space, pulling the cloak from his chilled fingers. He whirled the cloak around, placing it back onto his own shoulders while Loki looked on impressed by his friend’s grace. Odin held out a strong arm and when Loki hesitated, stepped into the smaller man draping a careful arm around his shoulders. “Walk next to me then. It’s big enough for two.”
Loki wasn’t sure what to do with himself as they started to walk. Warmth radiated between their moving bodies and Odin seemed to know where they were going, like he always seemed to-even when he did not-and Loki relaxed, wrapping his own arm around Odin’s waist, wiggling his fingers between his wide belt and the shirt so they could stay warm. Odin smelled of campfire and pipe smoke and pine. As they walked Odin’s black hair, long enough to brush Loki’s cheek, fluttered and tickled him until he laughed. With an exaggerated scowl Odin stopped to pull it out of the way tying it with a leather thong at his neck. Loki was more in the way than not, but he didn’t want to move away from Odin’s heat, so he stood there, pressed to his side.
“Thank you,” he said quietly while his friend readjusted his cloak around them. Odin nodded and smiled that small, mysterious smile he got sometimes, the one that made his face softer, and his eyes less serious.
“Hospitality is a kindness for all involved,” he replied gruffly as they walked through the forest onto a well-used path. He looked away from Loki, gazing into the distance. Loki leaned around Odin to look that direction too, but didn’t see anything interesting. He shrugged and leaned into the curl of his friend’s arm, trusting him to take them where they should be.