Loki never does have the decency to feel shamed by his pregnancies. The first time came the closest, but that was merely because he hadn’t intended to be so in the first place and hadn’t been entirely sure it was possible. Not to mention the annoyance of being stuck as a mare for months; he had gone out to lure Svadilfari away from the builder’s camp the only way that occurred to him, and the next morning he had suffered a terror of dismay when he found his usual form out of reach. The “why” had been immediately obvious, though, and he had mentally sighed into his hands at the realization.
But even then he hadn’t regretted it, and those months had been, in their own way, happy ones. (Something of the form he wore always crept into his thoughts—as a horse he took such pleasure in running to and fro in the fields, and in the eating of hay and apples, and in feeling the new foal kicking inside him, knowing it would grow swift and strong like its father and its mother. It was a simple but satisfying life.) And when at last he was able to return home with Sleipnir (whose many legs were still knobby-kneed and uncertain, whose eyes were a liquid black, who followed his mother with loyal steps even in this different shape), he guided the foal along Asgard’s streets without any attempt to conceal what had occurred. And surely they had all guessed, in so many months? As heads emerged from doorways and people striding past halted in their progress to watch, he kept his expression inscrutable—with perhaps a hint of discomfort, or was it challenge?—but inside he was laughing.
And when he presented his son to Odin and promised Sleipnir’s service as his steed (as soon as the foal was old enough, of course), Odin met his gaze with a quirk in one eyebrow.
I see what you intend. Asgard will hardly forget your perversity as long as this son of yours is the honor of the Allfather’s stables, he might have said with that look.
They’ll hardly forget how far I will go and for their benefit, you mean, Loki’s look answered, as cheekily as could be.
So, no, he did not feel ashamed even by that first birth, although sometimes he did look it when others gossiped (“with a horse!” and “eight legs!”) in his presence, ostensibly out of earshot. When this happened, he would turn his face away like a cat denying all responsibility for the mess. And such that the pleased twist of his lip could not be seen.
The next time it happened he did not even have the decency to look shamed by it, although he was quite relieved to not have to spend the entire pregnancy in a different body. When he and Angrboda had begun their relationship, she had explained what might happen between two Jotnar, and particularly when the male was a sorcerer and the female not, so he was not surprised when some strange sense inside of him began humming with the feeling of new life.
“Stop that, love,” Angrboda had scolded him one day as he sat gazing out of the icy windows of their lovers’ hideaway on the edge of Jotunheim, one hand resting on the slight bulge of his belly.
“Stop what?” he asked.
“That. Thinking of your Asgardians with your hand on our baby. You’ll turn it into something.”
“I can do that?” he’d murmured in amusement.
“Yes, you can. Though I’m not saying that as permission, simply as possibility,” she’d growled at him. He thought it was likely a fond growl.
“When you are the one with child, you can decide what it will be. How do I do it?”
Then she’d paused and given him a look of hard appraisal. “As powerful as you are, you’d just have to think it. But it won’t just be whatever you want. You can make the child look like its nature, its essence, rather than being constrained to the rules of fleshly inheritance.”
He’d given her a grin then, a grin that meant he was absolutely going to do it no matter what she said, and she’d rolled her eyes and kissed him.
And Loki had spent the rest of his pregnancy holding in his heart a secret thrill of wondering what his child would be. When he gave birth to Fenrir—when Angrboda put the tiny wolf pup in his arms, fur wet and eyes sealed shut, soft muzzle opening in a yawn—he’d felt the happy tears rolling down his cheeks.
“He’s beautiful,” he’d said, but part of his mind was on what was to come, the future of a son whose essence was that of a wolf.
A few weeks later, before his body was even fully healed, while he was still sore and tired and pale, he had come up behind Angrboda and wrapped his arms around her shoulders, and together they had watched Fenrir as he scampered and played out in the snow drifts.
“Suppose we try for a girl next?” Loki had said, nuzzling into his lover’s neck. He wasn’t quite to the point of thinking up names, although that surely wasn't far off; the warm glow of anticipation rolled through him and settled in his belly like an emptiness waiting to be filled.
But it hadn’t happened immediately, and he’d felt a growing longing to return home, at least for a while. He’d left Fenrir in Angrboda’s care in Jotunheim and made the journey back to Asgard by himself.
Upon his arrival there he’d felt a great urge to smirk as he walked to the hall of his father, at what the people of Asgard did not yet know of him and his growing family. He strolled along, smiling at people he'd known as a child who now knew him as somehow both the son of Odin and the son of Laufey, as a prince and a traitor, as a harmless prankster and a dire threat who walked between the worlds as he wished.
But then he reached the hall, and almost immediately Thor had spotted him and had drawn him, willing or not, into a crushing embrace. "Loki, I have missed you. You stay away too long when your place is here," Thor said.
Loki stood for a moment, tense and silent, with Thor's massive arms tight around him and Thor's words ringing in his ears.
But then he'd let himself exhale, and putting his lips to Thor’s ear Loki had whispered, “You should be congratulating me, brother.”
“What for?” Thor murmured without releasing him.
“You have a new nephew. His name is Fenrir.”
“He is not a horse, is he?” Thor asked with a laugh, pulling back to look his brother in the eye but keeping welcoming hands on Loki’s shoulders.
“No, indeed not,” Loki replied, straight faced and serious, watching and waiting for the subtle, relieved drop of Thor’s shoulders. “He is in fact a wolf.”
The shock on Thor’s face was well worth the spread of chatter, and Loki proudly wore the new name the people of Asgard adopted for him—Loki Wolf’s-father. He did not bother to correct them on his exact role in Fenrir’s birth, but that was simply because he liked the sound of it better. He wasn’t a bit ashamed.
But what with one thing and another, it was some time before he returned to Angrboda’s arms, and when next he felt the ice and snow of Jotunheim crunching under his feet he smiled somewhat less, and felt older.
As soon as he came within sight of their home, Fenrir, his outstretched head already reaching nearly to Loki’s shoulders, bounded through the white drifts and bowled him over in a flurry of happy yips, licking his face and pushing soft, furry paws against his chest.
“I love you too, child,” Loki said through his laughter. “And I have missed you also.”
The reunion only became happier as Angrboda joined in the rollicking embrace, one arm going around Loki’s body as the other met his hand on the warmth of Fenrir’s neck and clasped it. Then she went to kiss his lips. She paused, stunned, feeling the scar-marks on their edges and taking in their meaning.
Her eyes were the shade of an ice-storm as she queried him with a glance and a quirked eyebrow. He answered with a shrug: it’s nothing. But that night when she and Loki renewed their physical affections for one another, she had bitten gently at his scarred mouth and he had murmured against her cheek, “Give me another, my love. I want another child.” She didn't understand what it could be about such injuries that would make him ask that, but she did her level best.
A few days later, all such darkness was forgotten as Loki flitted around their hideaway, smiling broadly.
“Do you think it will be a girl this time?” he asked his Jotun mistress, the woman who had made it somehow all right to be caught between worlds, who had made it tolerable to see the marked, icy blue skin on his own flesh. “I would like to have a daughter.”
Angrboda had looked at him, her eyes rueful. “There’s no way to be sure what our child will be,” she said.
“Perhaps I’ll pay a visit to the Norns soon,” Loki said, as if he hadn’t even heard her.
She wasn’t at all surprised to find his side of the bed empty come morning, and Fenrir gone as well.
Loki wrapped his arms around Fenrir’s neck and buried his face and his fingers in the thick, musky warmth of his son’s coat as they departed. When Loki had come to whisper his errand as the first pale light of morning crept over the far mountains, Fenrir had knelt down to invite his mother onto his back; he was quite large enough for the task.
“I’m grateful, my son,” Loki had said, and as they rode to Nornheim, he spoke into Fenrir’s ear, telling him stories of the half-brother he had never met and his own gleaming rider, tales of his proud, strong uncle and his gracious grandmother, tales of a land wholly unlike Jotunheim, a place that shone golden and bright instead of lingering ever in dusky blue. Fenrir was too young yet for other stories he might have told, and in the silent rhythm of Fenrir’s padding footsteps Loki drifted into a lull of memory and thought.
Then they arrived at the well, and Loki made his way forward toward the three women.
“We’d have come, you know, if you didn’t hide them away so well,” muttered Urd, drawing out a bucketful and ladling the water carefully into other bowls and cups.
“I would have thought my skill at hiding would make no difference to those such as you and your sisters,” Loki answered, bowing, his voice full of respect for powers strange and mysterious even to him.
“Well, done is done, now,” chuckled Verthandi, taking up a bowl filled with the glittering water and sprinkling it from a fingertip. “We do what we can in the moment.”
“She’ll be lovely from head to toe, from fingertip to breastbone,” sang Skuld, her voice dreamy. “Half lovely.”
“Ah,” said Urd, “I suppose you’d better listen, then, if she’s starting already.” And she poured half a bucket over an exposed root lying pale against the dark soil.
And Loki sat in the dirt and listened, Fenrir lying curled around his back, and as his fascination grew his hand rested lightly in front of his face and his eyes glimmered, trying to untangle the Norn women’s words. They were slippery things, more so even than any he’d ever spoken. Once or twice, Fenrir’s ears perked up as if he’d heard his name. When the women finally drifted into silence, Loki was sure they had told him the future of all his children, those that lived and those yet unborn, those whose manners of conception he would not learn for years to come. A roar like a storm-tortured sea was in his mind and his heart tore at his chest and the edges of his lips trembled between a smile and a frown. Calm and peace had played little role in what they’d spoken, that much was clear. He had heard much that echoed with blood and pain. But there had been something else that warmed him with pride and love.
“The call of kindred heed thy children,
at twilight’s tremble to thy side:
One brings weapons o’er the sea’s whiteness
All are bringers of final battle.”
Those were the words of Urd, though she had mostly stayed silent throughout, and while he could not claim to fully understand the foretelling, it made him smile.
As they rode home again, he decided that he had been wrong; Fenrir was not too young to hear any of his stories.
He stepped through Angrboda’s door to find her awaiting him, arms crossed over her chest, expression fierce.
“We do have a daughter,” he said, refusing to be cowed. He also refused to even attempt to recite what the Norns had told him, and somehow this did not sit well with the giantess. Soon Loki realized that it would be best to let her cool down in peace and to be elsewhere for a time.
“Come, my son. You have a half-brother to meet,” Loki whispered to Fenrir in the middle of that night, and the wolf obeyed despite turning worried blue eyes back to where Angrboda lay asleep.
By that time, the growing swell of Loki’s belly was obvious, though, and perhaps gossip has never flown faster than it did when they arrived: word of the sight of prince Loki, long in disgrace, on his way to the royal stables, riding on the back of a man-high wolf, while visibly pregnant. And visibly pleased, without even the decency to feign indifference.
It was only Tyr who had the courage or the presence of mind to stop them.
“Hold, trickster,” the war god shouted from the middle of the street before them. “What beast is that you ride? Why do you bring it here?”
“I’ll thank you not to talk about my son that way,” Loki sniffed. “And why he’s here is none of your concern, Tyr of battles, unless you think one wolf constitutes an invasion force.”
But Tyr had been unswayed, and after some argument and much put-upon sighing, Loki had agreed to allow the Allfather to make the decision as to whether they would be permitted to go forth freely, and he had acquiesced to being brought to Odin.
“So you’ve given me another grandson,” Odin said wryly after they were alone.
Loki gave him a crooked grin. “I won’t be giving you this one, actually. I just thought it would be best for my sons to meet one another. And I wanted Fenrir to be fully aware of his heritage. Keeping secrets like that in a family,” he mused with a click of his tongue, shaking his head. “That’s a dangerous thing.”
“Oh, Loki,” Odin sighed, one hand to his brow.
Loki gazed back at him, unflappable.
“So how many do you intend to have?” Odin went on after a moment, eyeing his shape.
“As many as I feel like, Allfather,” Loki said. There was a gleam of defiance in his eyes, though his tone was merely casual. Odin had never openly berated him for his bearing and birthing of children, but of course Loki knew that did not mean that his father approved of it. Certainly it was quite the opposite, though the disapproval had not kept him from accepting Sleipnir. “I think perhaps I might like to speak to Mother about a related matter, though, while I am here…” he added, radiating innocence, just to drive the point home once more.
The Allfather soon claimed a growing headache and waved him and Fenrir onward, sending word ahead that they should be admitted into the stables.
When they reached them, he had brought Fenrir cautiously to Sleipnir’s stall and, bidding the wolf to stay where he was for the moment, stepped forward to greet his other son, wending his fingers into the horse’s mane and pressing his forehead against his long nose.
Welcomes were made, followed by acquaintances, and Loki watched in curiosity and pride as the two sniffed at each other and communicated in nickers and whines, whinnies and low growls, taking nervous steps toward each other and meeting each other’s eyes in fleeting glances. It went, given the circumstances, surprisingly well, and they remained for several days while the two got to know one another, before returning to Jotunheim.
“You are a selfish, thoughtless ass,” Angrboda seethed at him when they returned.
“Yes, but you’re the one who decided to love me despite all that,” he replied, stretching his arms above his head after sliding down from Fenrir’s back.
“You make me worry for you too much. And when you are carrying our child, no less.”
“Nothing will happen to me in Asgard,” he said, approaching close to reassure her, putting his hands gently to her waist.
“Nothing will happen to you,” she echoed, lifting a finger to brush across his lips. He let her wrap her arms around him and hold him tightly, and he let her order him to stay put until Hela was born. And he actually did it, but perhaps only because there was nothing more interesting to do elsewhere than letting her take indulgent care of him.
“Half lovely,” he mused at the end of that time, holding the newborn in his arms as he rested, sweat still drying on his brow. “It seems the Norns do not know everything.”
But even then, in a matter of only a few short years, he felt a familiar desire growing in him—the longing for another child. And not much later he found himself pregnant once more.
“Oh dear,” said Angrboda, finding him smiling wickedly over his fingertips one morning. “Have we another little one on the way?”
He had laughed fully then, a deep, rolling laugh. “Am I so obvious? If so, I will have to return to Asgard to scandalize my relatives at the soonest opportunity.”
When he left this time, he did so when she was awake, at least, and with her grudging acceptance. “Hurry back,” she said, wrapping him in an embrace.
For the look of accusation in Thor’s eyes when he arrived in Asgard, though, he might have not left. “You do actually come here simply to flaunt your belly,” Thor said.
“Yes,” Loki said solemnly. “Of course I do, and for no other reason than that.” Perhaps there was a wet gleam at the edges of his eyes.
He stayed for several months, and many nights found the brothers together, away from the crowds, talking. It had been a long time since they’d spoken that way, although the memory of it was at least part of what kept calling Loki home and make him unable to leave it finally behind, that place where so much pain inhabited every corner. After his fall, after they had become enemies, it had taken many years for him to be allowed to return to Asgard, and he had walked between the worlds alone and in darkness. And it was in that time that he had met Angrboda, formed an alliance with her that had at first been purely professional, or as teacher and student: show me what it is to be Jotun (though perhaps he had never learned the lessons she taught, instead choosing other things to take from her words). When later he was granted return to Asgard, he had found that as much as he wanted to go home, he never wanted to stay there. He had spent his time traveling between the two realms, never fully satisfied with either, never able to be fully happy. The frozen stillness of Jotunheim would eventually have bored him to madness or drowned him in a feeling of inexplicable loss. And the lure to mischief on Asgard was far too strong, especially with so many deserving targets.
But these were moments in which he felt content.
“I can feel the child’s shape now, I think,” Loki said one night as he talked with Thor, his voice soft but intense, his palm resting just below his sternum. “I feel it coiled like a serpent, I feel it moving within me, waiting to be born. See, here.”
With that he grabbed Thor’s hand and rested it on his belly, grinning. Once Thor would have been horrified; now, determined not to do anything to push Loki away again, he let his hand rest where it was put. He did not understand what drove his brother in this, but he often did not understand Loki. He was used to that.
“There is definitely something snakelike about it,” Loki nodded with a sigh of pleasure. “You can’t imagine how it feels to have life growing within you, knowing it is destined for great deeds.”
“If it makes you happy…” Thor said uncertainly but with a spark of protectiveness glowing in his eyes.
Loki had leaned against his brother and said no more, and when at last the time came when he would have to return to Jotunheim or risk giving birth in Asgard (Angrboda made a far better midwife to a Jotun male’s birthing than any Asgardian would have) he found he wished he could have stayed.
During the years that followed, he took great pleasure in raising Fenrir, Hela, and Jormungand, with Angrboda at his side, but he found that the urge to bring more such children into the world had passed. As the three grew he brought them with him now and then to Asgard when he went on ever-longer journeys, remaining away sometimes for years at a time. More often he went alone, or just with Fenrir, for the wolf was the only one of the three who seemed to feel even the slightest bit at home in Asgard (only Frigga had ever warmed to Hela, and no one quite knew what to make of Jormungand).
Occasionally he would return to find the dwelling he shared with Angrboda empty; when that happened he would wander through the rooms for several days as if he were lost; then his face would twist into a frown and he would depart again, leaving the door open behind himself so that the snow would spill inside and the winds would wreak their havoc. Just so she would know he’d been there.
One such time her absence spared him the awkwardness of having to explain that, well, he was again a parent, but this time a father. And that he had wound up getting married to an Asgardian woman at some point, hadn't he mentioned? Oh, he supposed it had simply slipped his mind before now...
The few times in those years that he did find her at home, they spoke little, although sometimes he caught her looking at him fondly but with a strange absence in her eyes as if she were looking through him. Then he would go to her side and press a kiss to her cheek, trying to make her smile as she once had.
He came and went, and they rarely saw one another more than in passing, and he was unaware of what was still to come.
He should have been faster. He had traveled the hidden roads to Jotunheim oftener than anyone; he had done it hundreds of times, and he was swift as he had been when he danced away from Svadilfari in a wide, grassy field under moonlight, and he was cunning as he had been when he caught Angrboda’s eye for the first time in the midst of a game of luck and skill in the tavern between worlds, and he was as clever as he’d been when he sought out the Norns and deciphered their tellings of his family’s future. He should have arrived at the home he’d made out in the snowy emptiness long before the Aesir could have gotten there. He should not have arrived to find an unfamiliar orange glow on the horizon, the glow of their home aflame. He should not have dashed up to the burnt timbers of their doorway to find her body huddled within their home where the Asgardians had trapped her, her skin blackened and crackled, head buried between her once-cold arms. He should not have had to put his hand to her body and had it come away covered in white ash and traces of seared blood.
As soon as Tyr’s hand was lost he had run, practically flying. His heart had torn in two at the knowledge that he was leaving Fenrir on his own, just at the moment he was being bound, howling in desperation in his new confinement, finally deemed too dangerous to run free. But he had to think of the others. Of Angrboda and Hela and Jormungand. He had to warn them that the Aesir might soon turn their anger and distrust from Fenrir and to the rest of his strange family.
He darted through the other rooms, kicking away red embers and stumbling through wafts and billows of smoke. He found no other bodies. His breath, his sobs choked in his throat. Relief. At least his other children were safe, most likely, wherever they were.
He went back to Angrboda’s body and stared at it. Outside, in the mud made by fire-heat and heavy boots tramping through the snow in front of his home, he heard a few of those who had done this still moving about, though they did not dare to confront Loki then. Not when he was maddened with grief. They would deal with him later.
He looked at Angrboda’s body, and he whispered gratitude to her as he never had before, for bringing him some sort of peace when he had needed it. And he promised a legacy to her, by which she might be remembered.
“No, wife, I haven’t betrayed you,” he would later tell Sigyn, in honest tones and with sorrow in his eyes, when the signs of his final child began to show. “I ate a woman’s heart. That’s all I did. Just that.”