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Baby Brother

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Frigga recoiled the moment she saw the thing Odin had brought home.

“What have you done?” she gasped, looking to her husband with unhidden horror.

The baby was small. Wrapped in a thick blanket, it almost disappeared in the bulk of Odin's arms. Only a tiny blue face peeked out, marked with darker lines. It slept peacefully, perfectly content despite its surroundings.

Odin didn't have the courage to meet his wife's eyes for long. He looked down to the child. Half his head lay covered in bandages, but the one eye he had left held a fond look.

“This is Laufey's son,” he said, patting the baby gently through the blanket. “And the newest member of our family.”

“Have you gone mad? Our soldiers have barely cleaned their armor of Jotun blood. The wounds of war are still fresh across the Realms, and you bring this monster here? Into our home?”

“I found him when we sacked the temple,” said Odin. “Would you have preferred I left him there to die?”

“What could you possibly think to gain by this?”

Odin looked to her. Frigga stood her ground and met his challenge with an unwavering glare. Of all people, Frigga knew her husband. She knew his ways.

There was always a purpose in everything Odin did or said.

“It is done.” Odin spoke sternly, settling the matter. “He's here, and it would be best if you learned to accept him.”

“What will the Realm think?”

“Nothing. Nobody will know.”

Frigga pressed her lips together. Even if Odin did invent some story to tell the masses about the sudden appearance of a new prince, her handmaidens and the nobles of the court would know perfectly well she'd not been with child since Thor was born.

Her heart shook at the thought of her son and a frost giant playing together.

Odin turned away, shifting his hold on the infant to set it on a high table. The baby squirmed, brought a fist up to its mouth, but remained asleep.

“I've already made arrangements with the sorcerers,” he went on, his back to her. “Nobody will know. Not even him.”

Frigga drifted to his side, radiant with anxiety and fierce protection.

She watched him pick up a knife.

“What are you going to do?”

Odin turned the knife in his hand and brought it to the side of one of his fingers. A small cut produced a drop of red blood, which he lowered to the infant's lips.

Frigga held her breath, able to feel the radiating cold from the child even as she stood further away. Odin winced as the first touch smeared dark black frostbite across his skin, but he didn't waver, pushing his finger just inside the infant's mouth.

The baby squirmed, expression wrenching in immediate distaste. It whimpered a small cry, writhing to get away.

The change happened quickly. Odin withdrew his hand, curling his fist closed around cut and frostbite, and watched with Frigga as blue skin faded away to pale. The marks disappeared. Red eyes shifted and looked up to them: bright, vibrant green.

The baby smiled.

“Twice more,” said Odin, “and the change will be permanent.”

“You have gone mad.”

Odin caught his wife's hand before she could escape and forced it forward, touching her palm to the baby's forehead.

Frigga gasped, and braced herself for pain. She waited, but there was only warmth. Soft skin. The first brushings of what would be dark hair.

The tension in her posture eased.

She looked to Odin as he held her hand in place.

She remained adamant.

“I will not suckle it.”

“Him,” said Odin. “His name is Loki.”

*****

Frigga could be as stubborn as Odin in some things. She remained true to her word, though she carried the freshly disguised babe into court when Odin made the announcement to the nobles. They crowded around her for a better look at the child, insisted on giving their blessings and gifts.

Frigga smiled, and was gracious.

Whatever magic Odin had the sorcerers work proved true. Nobles and handmaidens alike seemed to remember her pregnancy, what an easy childbirth it had been. They congratulated her and swore their belief that little Loki would grow up to be a fine and strapping young man. A worthy prince of Asgard. A fit companion for Thor.

The business of suckling was left to a nurse.

Frigga walked the halls of the palace one night, unable to sleep. Not an evening went by when she didn't tuck Thor into his bed and sit with him, reciting stories or singing songs until he fell asleep. Now, once the excitement of the newborn had calmed, her routine shifted to include a visit to Loki's bassinet afterward.

Often she only looked in on him. Checked with her handmaids to make sure he was doing well.

Sometimes she knelt beside the bassinet and rested her cheek on her arm. Her hand would drift in and stroke his head. The first time a little over an hour passed lost in the soothing gesture she wouldn't have realized if Odin hadn't come looking for her.

She sang to him, too.

This time, Frigga stopped short. Her breath caught in her throat.

The door to Loki's nursery was open.

She hurried forward, and pushed the door wider to spill light on what she hoped she wouldn't see.

Thor stood beside the bassinet, raised up on his toes so he could peek inside.

Frigga swallowed against a tight throat.

Of course Thor had been curious. Whereas Odin's magic had arranged for all the palace to willingly accept Loki's presence, Frigga remained convinced it was Thor's youth alone that allowed him to believe in the sudden appearance of a younger brother. His childishness simply didn't question.

Thor dropped back to his heels and turned, blinking against the sudden light. He held up one hand to shield his eyes and squinted.

“Mother?”

“Thor,” Frigga exhaled, and stepped inside. She pushed the door behind her until it was open only a crack, allowing just enough light to see. Though the nebulas shining through the high-arched window of the nursery would have been enough.

She stepped to his side, and set a hand on his shoulder.

Thor had been allowed to see the baby, of course, but never unsupervised. Odin's disguise for the Jotun babe had long since been completed. Even so, Frigga couldn't help the surge of protectiveness she felt upon thinking of her precious son and his new brother.

She had yet to let Thor truly touch him.

Excuses were ready about the baby's delicacy.

“You should be in bed,” she chided gently.

Thor looked back to the bassinet. He was not yet so tall that he could see inside without gripping the edge and pushing himself up.

“I think he was dreaming,” he said, careful to keep his voice low and quiet. Even so, he spoke with a sort of wonder. “He was all wiggly, and kept making this noise.”

Thor did his best to imitate a gurgling sound.

Frigga laughed.

Thor beamed up to her, glad at least he was not in trouble.

Frigga left his shoulder with a pat, and reached into the bassinet. She picked up Loki and his blanket. The baby was awake, eyes bright and aware and shining in the dark.

She turned to Thor.

“Would you like to hold him?”

Thor's eyes grew as wide as the moon.

He stood stiff, suddenly terribly aware of the weight of responsibility, as Frigga knelt down and gently delivered the baby bundle into his arms. She hovered close, guiding Thor's hands in how to support him. Thor eased himself down until he was sitting on the floor, so that all his attention might be devoted to this one task.

Even at such a young age, Thor's family and members of the court enjoying flattering his strength. Thor enjoyed demonstrating it even more. Yet Frigga had never seen such tenderness in his touch as when he cradled his baby brother then. Thor held him as though he were made of glass. The slightest pressure might break him.

“Loki,” Thor said, practicing the name. “Loki...”

Frigga sat beside him, and stroked his hair.

“I can't wait to teach him to wield a sword,” said Thor.

Frigga nodded.

“You'll do a wonderful job.”

“And we can go out racing along the river.”

“Yes you can.”

“And help with the apple harvest.”

Frigga smiled. Thor never took his eyes away from his charge. He moved his hand only once to loosen the blanket wrapped around his brother, when he wriggled and strained as though it was uncomfortable.

Abruptly a hand shot up and pulled at a lock of Thor's hair.

“Ow!”

Frigga laughed, and put her arms around her son.

Thor didn't make as though to drop him, despite his wince.

“He's restless,” she said, resting her cheek against his brow. “Let's sing to him.”

Thor beamed.

“The same one you sing to me?”

She closed her eyes with the smallest of nods.

“The very same.”

The three of them sat together on the floor. Frigga's soft voice filled the chamber while Thor croaked awkwardly to keep up.

By the ballad's end both her sons had fallen back to sleep, but Frigga lingered still, smiling as she watched over them.

She didn't have the heart to disturb them.