“Oh, fuck me,” Dahlia groaned, the piece of paper wilting in her hand.
“What happened, sweetheart?” her wife called from the kitchen.
“I’ve got the last Laufreyson kid this year,” she put the heel of her hand to her head. “I thought for sure after Jormungand that he’d request James instead of me.”
Her wife walked in and handed her a glass of red wine with three ice cubes. She sat down next to her and put an arm around her shoulder,
“Just promise me that you won’t let him ruin your year. What about the rest of the class?”
“They all seem alright. The class should split so at least they’ll only be seventeen of them instead of twenty-four,” she took a sip of her wine. “I can’t believe I have to have conferences with him again.”
“This is the last one though right?”
“For now,” she muttered darkly.
On the first day of school, she prepared herself with a fortifying Xanex and triple checking the spelling on all of the children’s name tags. Her classroom was set and her lesson plan ready. The first week would mostly be getting them all used to the routine of school.
They formed a ragged line outside her door and when she opened it, she smiled brightly, her eyes darting down the line trying to figure out which one was the youngest Laufreyson. The last time she’d seen him, he’d only been two and napping through Jormungand’s graduation.
“Good morning class, I’m Mrs. Travis. You can call me Mrs. T. Let’s come inside, hang up our bookbags.”
Her indominatble T.A. Blaize stepped in and introduced himself. They did the initial scramble to locate cubbies and comfort a few teary faces. One little boy hugged the little girl crying the most,
“It’s okay. Mrs. T is really nice,” he assured her. “She sings and plays guitar after lunch!”
“She does?” The girl sniffed.
“Uh huh, and she gives out really good stickers on Fridays.”
She smiled to herself, one of the younger siblings then. It was lovely to see kids already willing to pitch in.
The class gathered on the carpet. They each said their name and got a name tag. The weepy girl was Thrud, who was already maintaining a death grip on the comforting boy’s hand.
“And you?” Mrs. T prodded him.
“Oh! I’m Sleipner,” he smiled broadly, showing off two missing teeth. Her head spun. “But everyone calls me Sleepy cause I like to nap a lot.”
“Sleepy,” she repeated dully. How was it possible? He was so....sunny! He had the same dark hair and light eyes as his siblings, she could see that now. “Do you want us to call you that or do you prefer Sleipner.”
“Either is good,” he said agreeably. “I like my name, but I do like to sleep too.”
He had an infectious giggle. In all her years with the Laufrysons, none of them had ever done anything so undignified as giggle. Even though she’d had them all as kindergarteners. They had laughed, certainly, but usually it was a dark chuckle or a sarcastic chortle. All of them had seemed like small adults.
“All right, Sleepy,” she smiled at him, “you tell us if you ever want to be called something else. Now, who’s next?”
Maybe this year wouldn't be ruined after all.
“And then we fingerpainted and then we sang two more songs and then it was sticker time!” Sleepy hung off his father’s hand, skipping. His bright pink Doc McStuffins backpack thudded up and down.
“Did you get a sticker?” Loki asked, smiling down at him.
“Uh huh! I got a dragon for Jojo because those were his favorites,” he smiled. “And next week I’ll get a skeleton for Hel. And then a dog for Fenny.”
“What about for you?”
“I’ve got tons of stickers at home,” he shrugged. “They’re too old to get them so I will for them.”
“That’s very kind of you,” Loki unlocked their front door and then punched in the security code. “But they may think they’re too old for stickers.”
“They only think that,” he said confidently. “Everyone likes stickers.”
Loki headed into the kitchen, Sleep still chattering away as he sliced up mango as a snack. The others would be home soon and it was best to stave them off before dinner or he’d be slowly whined to death.
“And then me and Thrud built a really tall tower!”
“Thrud,” Loki tuned back into the rambling story. “Who’s that?”
“She’s this super nice girl in my class!” He beamed up at his father. “She has long hair and she let me braid it. She has a pet snake! His name is George. She made a picture of him for me and he was black and had yellow eyes.”
“I see,” Loki handed him a plate of sliced fruit. “Did you get any handouts in your bag?”
“Uh, I dunno. Why?”
“I want to know when Open House night is.”
The desired handout was indeed sandwiched between a primitive drawing of a snake and an optional worksheet that Sleepy had apparently already filled in on the bus.
Most parents came to Open House. And then he could know for sure. The door banged open,
“Dad!” Hel’s voice rang through the house. “We’re home!”
“I can hear that!” he shouted back.
Technically Hel and Jojo should still be on the bus with Sleepy, but they were enjoying soccer and had managed to convince some poor class mother to include them in the carpool rotation despite Loki not owning a car. He supposed he could do an Uber if anyone ever dared to ask him to take his turn.
“Can I have juice?” Hel asked as she took her share of mango.
“Water,” Loki poured them all glasses. “You can have juice with dinner. Did you have a good day?”
“What did you do?”
“Nothing,” she took her water and drank down in one gulp. “Can I go out on my bike?”
“Do you have homework?”
“Yes,” she grumbled.
“What about you Jojo?”
The boy raised his unblinking eyes to his father’s and nodded a reluctant yes.
“Alright, then why don’t you both get it done and then we’ll have the weekend free.”
“Sleepy doesn’t have to do homework,” Hel glared at her brother, who wilted under it. She sighed. “It’s not your fault. You’re just little.”
“That’s right,” Loki agreed. “But I bet you could draw something for your new friend. Since she made you the picture of her snake.”
“Yeah!” he went right back to smiling. “Can I use marker?”
“I’ll put down some newspaper.”
They were all focused on their own work when Fenny came home. His backpack had swollen to twice the size of his siblings now that he was in middle school and hit the floor with a catastrophic thunk. He slinked into the kitchen, sat down at his spot on the table and opened his chemistry textbook with a frown.
“Dad, what do you know about the periodic table?”
“On what you need me to know and how fast I can google it.”
“I was a drama student, Fen. I can fake my way through some of it. Let’s see.”
Once he got Fenny off on the right foot and making a list of things they’d need for his shoebox helium display, he checked over Hel and Jojo’s work and gave them permission to play outside. He had gotten dire warnings from neighbors about his tendency to let the kid’s out unsupervised, but frankly Loki only pitied the person that attempted to abduct them. Anyway, he’d been raised nearly feral and he’d turned out...well. He was happy about how he’d turned out and that’s what mattered.
He made a vat of mac and cheese with broccoli on the side in sort of a quiet desperation. Mostly he shoved vitamins at them in the morning and assured himself that they were all growing at a normal rate.
He tried to coax stories about their days from them as they devoured carbs and slurped down juice. Sleepy offered a few, but Hel only gave him a blank look while Fen changed the subject. Jojo didn’t say anything, but then again he rarely did.
After that, they ‘helped’ clean up and then piled in front of the television to bicker over what to watch. Then it was rounds of bedtime, staggered in half hours. Sleepy went dutifully and then it got progressively more difficult. Jojo wouldn’t go to sleep unless he could hold Loki’s hand, Hel insisted on an extra chapter of her current favorite: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Then she wanted an extra hug, a glass of water, all of her stuffed animals on the bed with her so only her nose was visible in the pile, and Loki still wound up singing to her quietly until she passed out.
“All right, Fenny,” Loki trooped downstairs.
“Dad, c’mon,” he whined clinging to his PS4 controller. “I’m thirteen and it’s Friday night!”
He studied the sharpening planes of his son’s face. The places where there used to be adorable chub. The clever blue eyes and the curly black mass of hair that was now ruthlessly gelled into spikes.
“Fine,” he conceded, draping himself over his favorite chair and picking up his tablet. “But if you don’t get up for pancakes in the morning then that’s on you.”
And if Loki did a little Facebook stalking well that was why he had his tablet password AND fingerprint locked. He was proud of his clever monsters, but not stupid enough to trust his privacy around them.
“Daddy,” Thrud raced to meet her father, wrapping her arms in a death lock around his leg, then stood on his foot, so he could walk with her attached.
“Hello, sweetheart,” he pat her head. “Did you have a good day?”
She nodded, giggling as he took an exaggerated step, “I missed you though.”
The twins were already in the car, matching lollipop sticks hanging out of their mouths. Magni had his hair stuck up in two pigtails and Modi was flicking them with an amused finger.
“What happened to you?” Thor asked, amused as he helped Thrud into her booster seat.
“Just this girl in my class,” Magni shrugged. Thor looked at Modi who gave him a baffled look in return. The administration at this new school had insisted the twins be in different classes. It sat badly with Thor, but he hadn’t wanted to make too many waves right away.
“Can I bring in George for show and tell next week?” Thrud asked.
“George doesn’t travel well,” Thor reminded her. “But you can bring your snake bracelet?”
She stuck out her lower lip and crossed her arms over her chest. Thor counted to three and...yes there were the first trembling tears.
“Dad!” Modi protested, “She’s doing that thing! Don’t give in!”
Thor kept his eyes on the road, “I’m sorry, sweetheart, but we can’t.”
“But I told Sleepy I would!”
“My friend,” her lip started to wobble and the tears poured down. “And he’s been really nice and braided my hair and showed me where the water fountain was.”
Thor glanced back at Modi who was giving him a stern look.
“Why don’t we invite him over?” He offered. “Next weekend.”
“I want to see him this weekend,” but her tears started to dry up.
“Well, I don’t have a way to contact his parents,” he pointed out. “On Monday I’ll send you in with a note with my number and his parents can call me.”
“Okay!” She sniffed and Magni handed her a tissue with an eyeroll. She blew her nose, “And it’s just his daddy. He doesn’t even get to be with his mommy in the summer like us.”
“Every family is different,” Thor brightened a little. It’d be nice to meet another single father. Moving had left them with less of a support system, but this is where he was needed.
The boys had started, wrestling, straining against their seatbelts in an effort to reach each other.
“Don’t make me pull this car over,” he growled, the memory of his father laying over him like an ill fitting suit.
When they got home, the boys tumbled out and found their basketball. Thor let them get their post-school energy out as long as they didn’t trample Thrud, who followed her brothers eagerly. She was fast and small, but they were still four years older and twenty pounds heavier collectively.
“Daddy, help me make a basket!” She called out and he ambled over, plopping her on his shoulders.
“That’s cheating!” Magni protested as she tipped the ball into the basket.
“I’ll stop helping her when you two stop playing such hard defense against her.”
Sweating and laughing, they all piled in for dinner, launching themselves at the meal the housekeeper had made that morning. Thor put on a Disney film and the four them fell asleep in a heap before it ended. When Thor woke up, Thrud was draped over his face and the twins had their heads pillowed on his stomach. He carried them all up to their beds and then trudged to his lonely dark room. He knew that he and Sif were terrible for each other romantically, but she was still his best friend and he missed her fiercely. He texted her a picture from their basketball game and was pleased when she wrote back quickly, asking about the kid’s first week.
It was a strange new life, in a strange new place, but Thor was confident that they would get through it together.
Dahlia prepared for Open House by putting out the kid’s drawings of their family at their places at the long table, freshening up the centers, and practicing the deep breathing technique her therapist had convinced her would be more effective than wine.
“Mrs. Travis!” A man’s voice boomed through the room, startling her. An enormous man with shoulder length blond hair and smiling eyes was reaching out to pull her into a momentary hug. She was horrified and also a little delighted. He smelled like a forest. “I’m Thor, Thrud’s father. She told me that you’re a wonderful teacher!”
“Thank you,” she righted herself, smoothing down her shirt. “Thrud’s a delight to teach. Though I think she’d rather be outside most of the time.”
“Yes, her old school was a little more experimental,” he smiled like Thrud did, wide and beaming. “And I’m afraid her mother and I preferred to learn in nature then in a classroom.”
“We try to teach to every kind of style,” she remembered her scripts and steadied herself as other parents started to trickle in. “I’m sure that Thrud will enjoy our nature walks.”
“I’m sure of it as as well,” he took a seat next to a few other parents, making the usual comic sight of adults it small chairs even worse than usual. His knees were almost under his chin.
She braced herself, waiting for the boisterous atmosphere to be ruined by the entrance of Sleepy’s father, but the night went on without an appearance. She went over curriculum, answered questions, and gave out her contact information to anyone that didn’t already have it.
A few parents lingered after the formal presentation, but several others, including Thor, were dashing off to other classrooms.
Just as she thought she might get away with the worst moment of the night being Mrs. Johanson weeping over her divorce in the middle of discussing her daughter’s tendency to do the same , the door opened a last time. Loki slipped in, waiting for her sooth Mrs. Johanson and send her on her way before stepping up to her.
“Good evening, I apologize for my tardiness, but the middle school Open Night is at the same time,” he didn’t sound sorry. She wondered if he was capable.
“Of course. We should coordinate more,” she said nervously. Deep breathing, she reminded herself. “I’m sorry for the inconvenience.”
“My son,” he started then stopped hesitating. She frowned. He never hesitated. The year she’d had Fenrir, he’d lashed into her after the first day for not calling him about a faint scratch. With Hel, he’d written her a letter three pages long about how she was failing to let Hel express herself in her way. Nothing about how ‘her way’ was to use only black crayons and markers to draw hyper realistic pictures of bone, sinew, and muscle. And the year she’d had Jojo, he’d given her holy hell for daring to suggest that the boy needed some speech therapy for his lisp. After that, Jojo hadn’t said a word to her or any other teacher in the building ever again.
Never once had he stopped.
“Um,” she licked her lips. “He’s a delight, actually.”
“A delight,” he repeated, the faintest suggestion of a smile on his lips. She nodded, mouth going dry.
“Yes, absolutely. He’s helpful, kind, and I think he’ll be reading soon,” her words fell over each other, but they were true. “The other children adore him.”
“And you’re wondering if he’s actually my kid,” he suggested, and now there was a very real smile there.
“Um,” she licked her lips, “he’s definitely not like his siblings.”
“No,” he looked almost soft, “he’s not. He’s my sunshine.”
Oh fuck, that was almost MORE creepy than when he’d obliquely threatened to have her fired without quite ever saying it.
“He’s lovely,” she agreed. “And I’ll do my best to look out for him.”
“Thank you,” he said gravely, then looked idly around the room. “He said he’s made a particular friend.
“Oh, Thrud, yes. She’s had a hard time adjusting and he’s been very nice to her,” she offered. “I think her father wanted to set up a playdate, but you’ve just missed him.”
“Thrud wants him to come over?” his eyes went slightly wide. And it occurred to her that no one had ever invited any of the others over while she’d had them. Fenrir had been a biter, Hel...was Hel, and Jojo didn’t speak to other children much either.
“Yes,” she said firmly. “I think it’d be good to let him. Friends are important.”
He turned back to her, and there was a faint sparkle of glitter under one eye. Jojo’s current teacher loved glitter. It was almost comforting to see it. Human.
“They are,” he agreed quietly.
“Here,” she fished in her desk for the envelope she’d removed from Thrud’s backpack on Monday. “It’s her father’s number.”
“You opened it?”
“I thought it was to me,” she raised her chin and he laughed, low and dark. Fenrir had gotten that from him, apparently.
“Clever,” he tsked, then opened it reading it quickly. “Excellent. Thank you, Dahlia. Parent-teacher conferences in six weeks?”
“Yes,” she sighed and mentally penned in a few more yoga classes between now and then. It was either that or go through all the good red again.
Unknown Number: Hello, I’m Sleepy’s father. He would love to see Thurd this weekend.
Hi! Meet @playground by school @11 on Sunday? Older 1s at soccer until then. Can get pizza after?
That would be fine.
Sleep is a g8 kid! Thurd <3 him a lot.
He likes her very much. He's requested to meet her snake.
NP! We can eat at our house.
Very well. 11am on Sunday it is then.
It turned out that ‘soccer’ was the same pewee league that Jojo and Hel were in. Loki had thought he’d have the entire game to prepare himself for the impending collision, but as soon as he got out of the taxi, he spotted him.
It had been so long, but he looked so much the same. Loki’s breath caught in his throat.
“Dad?” Hel frowned up at him. “Are going to hurl on the field again? Because you didn't even eat the bad hot dogs.”
“I’m fine,” he turned his attention back to unloading the taxi’s trunk, dispersing equipment, snacks, and the iPad accordingly to each child. Fenrir took Sleepy’s hand and they headed into the stands to stake out a spot while Loki kneeled down to secure shin protectors and cleats. Jojo wrapped a hand around his bicep when he started to rise.
“What is it?” Loki asked quietly.
He pointed to the sweep of blond hair and broad shoulders that Loki had spotted. “The picture.”
Loki met Jojo’s eyes. They stared at each other, communing. It wasn’t unusual for Jojo to creep into his bed after a nightmare. That he’d found the picture wasn’t surprising really. It wasn’t particularly well hidden in his pillowcase.
“Yes, that’s him,” he agreed. “He’s also Thurd’s father, so you’ll get to meet him in a bit.”
“What picture?” Hel demanded, having crept in close.
“Hel, what have I told you about eavesdropping?” he growled.
“Be better at it,” she intoned. “But who is he?”
“He’s someone that I used to know,” he said neutrally. “Now, today’s challenge is that neither of you get red carded. If you manage that you can have ice cream with dinner tonight.”
“But Dad!” Hel’s eyes went wide. “What if someone else starts it?”
“Then you end it,” he agreed. “But let’s not create problems this time, shall we?”
She considered that, “Can I get a macaroon instead of ice cream?”
“I will buy you one. I’m not making them for you again until your birthday.”
“Fine,” she held out her hand, “shake on it.”
He shook on it and they ran onto the field with only a last querying look from Jojo. Loki slipped through the throng of parents, careful to stay out of Thor’s line of sight. He settled next to Fenrir, who was playing a driving game while Sleepy sat on his lap and watched.
They’d gone out running that morning, the five of them. Sleepy had only recently graduated from being pushed in a stroller to trying to keep up on his tricycle and his fatigue was showing. Loki relished their runs, his wild lovely children matching his pace as best they could. Fenrir would be faster than him soon as he grew into his gangly legs. Hel and Jojo still needed to stop here and there to rest, pick a flower or inspect a beetle.
His life was not as he had thought it would be at there age. His eyes drifted unwillingly back to Thor. As children, he had followed his brother doggedly. He had been determined to lead their family business together, taking it to new heights with Thor as the public face and Loki as the brains behind it.
But that was a long time ago. He’d kept quiet tabs on him, of course, but over the years Loki had let Thor go in stages until he was only a picture under his pillow and the memory of an illicit kiss on the cheek. Years and bleeding wounds separated them now, even on the precipice of reunion.
“Daddy, I have to pee.”
Loki laughed at himself and turned to take Sleepy off Fenny’s lap, “Let’s go then.”
Hel and Jojo behaved themselves admirably for the duration of the game. Neither of them were that good at the game, but their matching glowers made them useful for intimidation if nothing else. Jojo even managed to pass the ball to the kid that scored the winning goal.
“Macaroons for everyone,” Loki waded into the melee to put Jojo up on his shoulders.
“Guess what!” Hel looked enthusiastic, something that was always cause for concern. “Thurd’s brothers are on our team! One of them let me do his hair in pigtails. He says it was Magni, but they switch places sometimes. They’re twins! But if you pinch one of them, the other one doesn't feel it.”
“Hel if you’re trying to make friends, please save the experimentation for after they've already decided to like you,” he said with exasperation until the reality sunk in. Ah, so there were three children after all. He hadn't been sure if they were all Thor’s from what he’d found online. He kept his profile annoyingly private.
“Thurd!” Sleepy squealed with joy, pelting across the field to hug a petite blond girl. “You came! Look, my brother and sister are on the same team as your brothers! They’re over there with my dad.”
Thurd looked up. She had all of Thor’s strength in her jaw, but her face was Sif’s. He would have recognized it anywhere. He gave her an anemic wave.
Hel had rounded up the twins, circling them with avaricious interest while Jojo kicked a ball idly up the field. Fenrir appeared at Loki’s elbow,
“Uh, Dad, why does Thurd’s father look like he’s gonna murder you?”
And there he was. Thor was coming down the field with a purpose, thunder in his eyes.
“I may or may not deserve it,” he allowed. “Go make sure your sister doesn’t try to dissect his kids, okay?”
Fenrir peeled away obidiently as Thor reached them at last. They stood a mere two feet apart. Loki braced himself. Not enough. The hug knocked him to ground.
“This is designer!” he protested, even as he tried his best to hug the stupid lump back. Fuck, he even smelled the same.
“Why didn’t you tell me it was you!” Thor sat up, dragging Loki with him.
“I wasn’t sure...of anything,” he admitted. “It’s been a very long time and we didn’t part on good terms.”
“No,” he sighed, then brightened, “but look at you now. An entire brood. How many are there?”
“Four,” he righted his shirt. “Fenrir, Jormungand, Hel, and Sleipnir. And you’re at three?”
“Indeed, Magni, Modi, and of course Thrud,” he smiled indulgently. “They’re my jewels.”
“Gross,” Loki pulled a face. “Mine are monsters. Horrid smelly monsters.”
Jojo, who had been getting close to their little reunion, stuck his tongue out at his father, then gave him a wink before rejoining his siblings.
“That makes nine for lunch then,”Thor stood. “How many pizzas should we get?”
“Fenny can do one on his own. The other three will split one,” he smiled faintly. “But I bet yours eat more then mine.”
“Like of plague of locusts,” he boasted. “Come, we’ll get one for each and that’ll leave leftovers for tomorrow.”
“I’ll have to wait for our cab.”
“Nonsense! I’ll drive. There should be enough room in the van.”
It was a bit of a squeeze, but the kids did all manage to get in with a seatbelt for everyone. Thurd and Sleepy’s high voices lapped over each other over as Hel peppered the twins with questions. Fenny and Jojo held themselves away, watching and waiting.
“How did you come to be here?” Thor asked as Loki buckled his seatbelt.
“I walked,” he said dryly. When Thor shot him a look he laughed. “Well, I did. I walked and hitchhiked for awhile. I found a job in this town, in a bookstore while I figured out what to do next. I met Angie, went back to school. I got a job in P.R. for the papermill. I’m the department head now, work from home a lot. We had the boys, split up, got back together and there was Hel. Angie was murdered about six months after that.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“So was I,” Loki sighed. “She was a tough woman. She made a lot of enemies. She killed the guy who killed her while she was dying, so there’s that. Fenny remembers her best, but the other two don’t really.”
Loki looked out the window. “I wanted him. I knew I wanted one more. So I found someone. We made a deal. And I have him.”
“Why four?” Thor frowned.
“Because that’s how many it took to fill this.” he tapped his chest.
“It’s hardly your fault. I know that now,” he scrubbed a hand over his face. “But it all left a mark. Honestly, I’d have more, but there’s no space in the house and I can’t really afford to feed another mouth. I miss having a baby though.”
“I don’t,” Thor shook his head. “Babies are so much work. I like this age.”
“Wait until they’re teenagers.”
“I can hear you,” Fenny grumbled and Loki flashed him a toothly smile.
“And I you, Fen.”
Thor's house was surprisingly simple. He'd been bracing himself for a bloated McMansion or something in equally poor taste. Instead, it was a bland split ranch with blue aluminum siding set back a bit from the road. The kids tumbled out in a messy, noisy lump. Jojo gravitated toward Loki's side while Fenny organized the rest into a three on three game of basketball.
"You want the iPad?" Loki glanced down at Jojo, who nodded. Thor sat down on the stoop and Loki sat beside him, the chill of the step leaking through his pants. Jojo pulled up his chess app. "So. What are you doing here?"
"Well, you must've heard that father died," Thor glanced at him and Loki gave a rough nod. "An heir came forward."
"Hela?" he guessed.
"How did you know?"
"Mother mentioned her once. A long time ago," Loki glanced to his own Hel, where she dipped under Magni's arm to pass the ball to Fenny.
"Anyway, she took over. Bankrupted the company while I was away. I took over what was left with the remaining shareholders, but it was agreed that we needed to relocate. It will be smaller now. The market has changed substantially."
"And Sif?" He asked lightly.
"She sees the children when she's on leave," Thor shrugged. "She hated giving up her career to be home and I hardly blame her. She video calls sometimes when she can. Moving didn't change that."
"But the others..."
Thor scrubbed a hand over his face. "It seems that everyone leaves in the end. Even if they go unwillingly."
"I know," Loki watched the children stumble and crash into each other, a giggling pile of youth. "But we don't have to let that make us bitter."
"You have grown."
"Therapy," he said blandly. "Lots and lots of therapy."
After that, the years of separation gave way to near constant contact. Thrud and Sleepy were inseparable friends and it turned out that Thor’s hours were sometimes out of his hands. The cheery teenage girl he’d hired to meet the kid’s after school got the lead in the high school play and abruptly quit midway through October.
“I’ll get them,” Loki decided. “They can stay with us until you're done with work.”
“I couldn't ask you do that,” Thor protested, but there were dark circles under his eyes. He hadn't had practice of doing all of this alone. Loki shrugged.
“You’re not asking. I’m telling. Just tell the school to send them to my bus stop.”
Seven wasn't that much harder than four, he decided, even if their afternoon routine required more strategy. Sleepy and Thrud sat under the table, avoiding the older kids’ awkward feet, and making elaborate maps of imaginary places.
“No, not like that,” Fenny sighed, and took Modi’s pen out of his hand. “Their way of doing multiplication is stupid, this is the easy way.”
“Let me see,” Hel demanded, leaning in hard against Modi. “You never show me the easy way.”
“You never let me,” Fenny grumbled.
“Cause you’re mean about it,” she pointed out, but then listened carefully as he broke it down for Modi.
Magni’s fingers had gotten glued together while working on his history collage and Jojo was painstakingly peeling the dried bits off to unstick them.
“I like your hoodie,” Magni told him. It was Jojo’s favorite, a dark green one that had been Loki’s in a former life and swamped him. It said ‘King College’ on it in peeling gold letters.
Jojo gave Magni a fractional smile and Loki had to hide his own grin in his hand.
When everyone’s homework was done, he let them loose and the mob spread through the house. Shrieks of laughter echoed through the halls and the rattle of video game gunfire scored out from the living room.
“Can I help make dinner?” Magni asked, coming to Loki’s elbow. His eyes were wide and his mouth a tense line. “I help a lot at home.”
“I think your father will be back before then,” Loki glanced out at the setting sun. “But I guess we could invite him too.”
“We’ve had take out every night this week,” Magni pulled a face.
“I see,” Loki opened the fridge. “Do you like chicken fingers?”
Magni helped him cut the chicken into strips then carefully battered them while Loki sliced carrots.
“Dad used to talk about you sometimes,” Magni laid breadcrumbed stripes onto the greased baking pan. “He said that you were his brother.”
“I am,” Loki agreed.
“But you don’t look alike because you were adopted.”
“Yes,” he sighed, trying to ignore the faint pull at an old wound. “But we grew up just like you and Modi, in each other’s pockets.”
“He said you were a brat,” Magni shot him a look, testing to see if he’d gone too far.
“Did he?” Loki grinned. “Then I don’t suppose he told you about the time that he tried to sell me to a passing circus.”
“He did not!” Magni’s mouth fell open.
“He did. And the going price for a bratty little brother was a corndog and a roll of arcade tokens.”
By the time dinner was ready, Magni was brimming with new stories and clearly eager to repeat them to his twin. When Thor knocked on the front door, he rushed to open it, eyes glittering.
“Dad,” Magni said seriously. “Uncle Loki is worth way more than a corndog.”
Thor burst out into laughter, looking up to find Loki just behind his son. He gave him a wink and Loki, to his great embarrassment, felt the stirrings of a blush.
“He’s worth more than a thousand corndogs,” he agreed. “But I was very young and very hungry and your uncle had tied my shoelaces together that morning.”
“Dad does that to me when I leave my shoes in front of the door,” Fenny ambled in.
“And yet you still do it and I still almost break my neck coming from getting the paper,” Loki slung an arm over Fenny’s shoulders. “Miserable child.”
“Old man,” Fenny leaned into him for a fraction of a second, then his nose twitched. “Chicken fingers?”
“I made enough for everyone,” Loki glanced up at Thor who blinked in surprise. “You should stay.”
They ran through half a bottle of ketchup and all the honey mustard packs that Loki had stolen from McDonald’s. The honey glazed carrots were consumed by Magni and Modi and that shamed Fenny and Jojo into reluctant bites. Sleepy happily piled his onto their plates while Hel stacked hers into a leaning tower.
“These are good, thank you,” Thor said quietly.
“Hardly gourmet and Magni was a help,” Loki shrugged. “And yours actually eat something beside pasta and flesh, so that’s nice.”
“They’ll eat the wallpaper if they’re not fed regularly,” he agreed, pride lacing his voice. “Still. Thank you.”
“Yes well,” Loki turned his eyes to his own plate. “That’s what family is for. Or something.”
“So I've heard,” Thor put his hand on Loki’s shoulder for a moment, warm and heavy as an oncoming storm.
Loki’s bed felt vast as an ocean that night. He lay in the center, staring at the ceiling, listening to heat turn on as the temperature dropped. Frost was coming, he could feel it, smell it in the air.
Jojo came first, worming his way under the comforter to claim the prize spot of head on Loki’s chest. Loki stroked his wild hair, cow-licked from restless sleep. Then Hel, on cat feet, hopped up to wrap herself around the empty second pillow. Her feet rested on Jojo’s waist and her hand stretched out until it caught Loki’s fingertips.
Sleepy clomped in, waking them all and made a great fuss in getting settled on Loki’s other side, his limbs stretched in every direction. It wasn't until the morning that he found Fenny had joined them too, curled up at the foot of the bed with his nose buried in the blankets.
Both of Loki’s arms were numb and he’d sweat through the sheets. He wouldn't have moved for all the money in the world
“All right,” Loki resigned himself, sitting down beside Hel, “what do you want to do for your birthday this year, little spider?”
He knew the answer. The same thing she’d wanted to do every year since she turned five. Go to the creepy medical history museum and then have a fancy lunch just the two of them. When he had become clear to him that his children were the starkest loners to ever enter an elementary school, he’d arranged for their birthdays to be bonding times.
“I want to go the museum,” she began, and he nodded, “but...can we take Magni and Modi? I was telling them about and they wanted to go. I know it’s a special day, so if not that’s ok-”
“Of course they can come,” a giant weight rolled from his chest. “I’ll ask their father tomorrow.”
“Thanks, Daddy!” she lit up and gave him a hug.
He hugged her back hard. So maybe they were sort of her cousins, but they were real friends that she had mostly made herself. It counted.
When he thought of his own childhood, skirting the edges of his brothers friendships like Charlie looking through the window of the candy shop, it burned him to think he had not managed better for his children.
Maybe things weren't set it in stone.
“Of course!” Thor said as soon as he was asked. “I’ll take the others. We can do something too so they don’t feel left out. Perhaps we can go to the amusement park.”
“Uh,” Loki remembered the last time he'd attempted such a trip in Technicolor horror, “sure. Hope you like roller coasters.”
He’d had a brief twinge that the boys might not like Hel’s choice of location. The museum smelled like formaldehyde and the placards were a little text dense even for an ambitious third grader, but he had forgotten the boundless love of gross things that most eight year olds held in their hearts.
“It’s two brains smashed together!” Modi starred with abject horror and delight.
“It’s from conjoined twins,” Hel explained, her cheeks flushed with happiness. She had on her favorite dress, a long black thing with leggings that had silver spider webs on them. He’d given her a new necklace that morning to match and she kept the touching the little spider pendant with reverent glee. “Lots of stuff can be done now to separate them, but it’s hardest when they’re connected head to head.”
“Could’ve been us,” Magni elbowed his brother with a grin.
“Ugh, gross,” Modi elbowed him right back. “You already can’t live without me.”
Hel dragged them still bickering to the next glass case full of antique prosthetics. Loki trailed behind holding jackets and trying not breath through his nose. His phone pinged,
Oh god, it’s you. they’re all you, but worse because there's more of them. It was a text from Thor and Loki grinned. lost them three times. Jojo won all the games, carrying around giant stuffed animal that looks like a demon. ton’t let anyone help carry it. fen has a speed pass somehow? Stolen?! he says you bought it online for him last night....LOKI WHY
Don’t let Sleepy go on with him. he wrote back. He only thinks he likes roller coasters and Fen eggs him on.
There was a few minutes between messages during which, Hel, Magni and Modi listened attentively to a docent as she explained the process of mummification. His phone dinged,
too late. puke everywhere.
Packed a clean set of clothes in his bag. And Fen’s.
how did you know he got Fen?
Because I taught him how to aim.
why are you doing this to me?
;) You wanted to take them. Seemed a shame to turn down a free trip for my babies.
The boys were lovely over lunch too. They must’ve gotten used to fancier places from Thor and Sif’s obligations. The waiter was charmed by the picture of three well groomed eight year olds and gave them extra ice cream with dessert. Hel’s birthday cake was decorated with sparklers and the boys helped her blow them out.
It was all very charming and sweet.
why do fen and sleepy know all the words to frozen songs and why are they singing them so loudly over and over again?
Remember that time you broke my discman because you didn’t like my collection of musicals?
LOKI CHILDREN ARE NOT WEAPONS
“Daddy, why are you laughing?” Hel side eyed him.
“Sometimes, sweetheart, things work out. Try eating your cake and not just the frosting, hm?”
Watching Loki parent gave Thor a headache. Not because it was bad, but because the cognitive dissonance of memory versus reality was overwhelming. As a child, Loki had not been particularly...caring. If Thor was being honest, which he tried to be whenever he could, Loki had been a lying brat with more knives than sense.
The only think Loki had nurtured were grudges.
If Loki had a soft side (and that had been a large if), it had been reserved solely for their mother. Only for her had Loki produced gifts or a hug. Compliments he had given out more freely, but they were a means to an end.
Still, Thor had to admit that even then he knew Loki had loved him. It was a painful, abrasive sort of love. The kind that got too close and wanted too much. And if Loki hadn't given out hugs, Thor had found ways to take them without being rebuffed and teased smiles out of him
It was different with the children.
“Ah, little snake, that looks nasty,” Loki squatted down as Jojo wailed, his arm held out to show off a bloody streak of road rash. The betraying bike had been left on the sidewalk.
“I’m sorry,” Magni skidded to a halt, “I didn't mean to make him fall over!”
“You didn't,” Loki assured him without looking up from his wound inspection. “It’s a hard turn to maneuver. Go on inside and get me the first aid kit, please. It’s under the sink.”
Magni sped inside, obviously eager to make good despite Loki’s reassurances. He gave Thor a contrite look on the way back out and Thor patted him on the back as he passed. Loki had pulled Jojo into a hug and was saying something quietly to him while Jojo’s tears quieted. With just a few deft maneuvers the road rash was cleaned of gravel, slathered in antibacterial cream and bandaged with a colorful cartoon character.
“Go on then,” Loki laughed when Jojo looked warily back at his bike. “You don’t want Sleepy beating you around the block do you?”
Jojo’s eyes widened and he frantically put his helmet back on and ran for his bike. Loki waved him off and went back to sitting on the steps next to Thor.
“You’re a good parent,” Thor watched the boys ride off again just as Sleepy and Thrud rounded the corner on their trikes.
“Thank you,” Loki scrubbed his face with his hands. “I never get used to them getting hurt.”
“Neither do I. Modi broke his arm when he was in first grade falling out of a tree and I didn't sleep for days. I think it’s their job to scare us.”
“I wish I could go back and apologize to mother,” Loki muttered and Thor frowned. There were so many things to apologize for that their past could be blanketed in sorries.
But...he knew what Loki meant.
“We took years off her life, didn't we?”
“Must've. I bet we don’t really remember the half of it. Fights. Falls. Broken bones. Fevers.”
“That one time that you ran away for three days,” Thor grimaced.
“Ah yes. My grand adventure,” Loki shook his head. “And the time you wrestled that feral dog.”
“Mother was sure I’d get rabies,” he turned his arm over so Loki could see the three white spots. “I still have the scars. I should get a dog.”
“Good to know you’re still touched in the head.”
“Dogs are meant to be good for children.”
Loki looked at him out of the corner of his eye, a smirk so familiar it ached on his lips. “Tell me how that works out for you.”
Out of sheer bullheadedness, Thor went out the very next day to the local shelter. He was firm that he needed a dog that was good with children. The nice volunteer smiled and agreed and showed him several puppies and a few older smaller dogs. Thor liked them all, but in one cage was an enormous hound.
“What about that one?” He asked, getting closer. The dog stood about three feet at the shoulder with a silky black coat and tall sharp ears. The eyes got him, a pale blue that silvered in the florescent light.
“Uh, we don’t know much about her,” the volunteer frowned. “Dropped off a few days ago, right at the door. She’s been gentle enough, but sir if you have children-”
“I could bring them here to meet her, can’t I?” He put his hand to the bars and she sniffed it delicately. Discerning.
“Yes, of course.”
The children didn't ask which one she was. Somehow the three of them moved as unit right to her cage. She backed away for a moment as they mobbed the bars and a warning was on his lips, but it never came. After a breath she was at the bars, licking a bit of jam off Magni’s face from their rushed breakfast and snuffling Modi’s hair.
“What should we name her?”
The three of them argued about it all the way through him filling out the paperwork and giving over a sizable donation to the shelter.
“Spike,” Magni pouted. “Shadow,” Modi contended.
The dog didn’t seem to care as long as the children kept scratching her behind her ears. The volunteer had told Thor she was most likely a Great Dane, fully grown, about three years old and spade. There was no old name. Poor girl had been left there without a history or anyone to claim her. Thor tried hard to not read into that.
“What do you think, Thrudie?” Modi turned to their sister to arbitrate. “Shadow is an awesome name right?”
Thrud looked thoughtfully at the dog that stood taller than she did.
Magni groaned, “Why?”
“Cause I love pink and Sleepy showed me a really funny cartoon with a mouse named Pinkie.”
“Pinkie and the Brain?” Thor laughed. “I haven’t seen that show in years. Pinkie is the silly one, right?”
“Uh huh!” Thrud grinned. “I like Pinkie.”
“Pinkie it is,” he decided as the boys expressed varying degrees of horror.
The Laufreysons were not impressed as a collective. Jojo, Hel, and Sleepy gathered in an anxious knot behind Loki when the dog first appeared on their lawn along with their cousins.
“I thought you said you got a dog, not a horse,” Loki said dryly, his hands captured by frightened fingers.
“She is a slightly larger than average dog?” Thor offered a smile. “She won’t hurt you. She’s very sweet.”
“Dog!” Fenrir shouted from the sidewalk, his bookbag dropping forgotten. “Dog! Did we get a dog?”
“Oh shit,” Loki groaned. Then glanced down at interested looking Hel, “Don’t repeat that.”
“What? What’s wrong?” Thor looked between Pinkie and Fenny. “Is he afraid of them too?”
“Dog!” Fenrir said rapturously and rushed to meet Pinkie. The two of them collided in a mess of paws and feet, with Pinkie trying to lick off Fenny’s face.
“No,” Loki said helplessly. “He’s like freakin’ Cesar Milan. Dogs LOVE him. But the little ones have always been scared, so we haven’t gotten one. It’s probably his number one complaint in life.”
“Yes, who’s a pretty girl,” the normally reserved sullen boy was beaming and lavishing kisses on Pinkie’s muzzle. “Look at you! Do you want to go for a walk, huh? I bet you do!”
“Ew,” Hel declared. Jojo nodded in terrified agreement.
Pinkie did, in fact, love Fenny. When the time came to gohome, the other three still hadn't come anywhere near her though they’d stopped flinching every time she barked. Meanwhile, the dog had fallen asleep with her body draped over Fenny’s lap. Thrud and Magni had been painfully jealous.
“He stays still,” Thor explained. “You can’t be wiggle worms and expect her to cuddle.”
He had anticipated the extra work of walks, feeding, and another body about the house. If anything that worked well. Pinkie liked to sleep in the Thrud’s room, flopped next to her bed which seemed to help the little girl sleep more soundly.
What he could not have anticipated was the dog’s placid battle on the Laufreysons. Pinkie was not content to be loved by only a single member of their household. She started with Sleepy. The boy was easily the most terrified of her. So Pinkie started bringing him her toys. Drool soaked balls and chewing ropes.
“No, doggie,” Sleepy would step back. “I don’t want to play.”
“You just have to throw the ball,” Thrud held his hand. “Please?”
Sleepy picked up the mangled tennis ball and threw it. Pinkie made an undignified run after it, returning it to him and laying all the way down. When he cracked a tiny smile, she rolled over on her back exposing her belly, tongue flopping out as she looked hopefully at him.
“You’re silly,” he giggled, a little high and anxious.
“Look, you can rub her chest,” Thrud showed him how she rubbed the dog’s ribs as she wiggled. “Doesn't she look like she’s laughing?”
Tentatively, Sleepy ran his hand over the smooth fur.
“She feels nice.”
By the time Loki came to gather the children, Thrud and Sleep were using the worn out, but very pleased Pinkie as a pillow while they watched cartoons. Loki frowned. Thor beamed. Loki’s frowned deepened,
“You’re going to have to get a dog.”
“What? No. No way. I have enough lives to take care of. I don’t need a needy, drooling beast. I have you for that.”
Thor flicked a dried piece of macaroni at him, watching in satisfaction as it pinged off Loki’s shoulder.
Pinkie approached Hel differently. She waited until the girl was sitting on the grass reading her book. Then very cautiously, she dropped a mouthful of feathers at her feet.
“What’re those?” Hel’s little nose, Loki’s right down to the nostrils, wrinkled up. “Are those...”
Pinkie took a step back, giving her finding to her. Hel picked up the glossy black feathers, a little blood still on the tips.
“Good dog,” Hel said reverently, cradling the feathers to her chest.
“You should take those in and clean them,” Loki sighed, looking vastly put upon. “Or they’ll smell.”
After that, anything Pinkie scavenged before Thor could stop her was dropped in Hel’s lap.
“Do you worry about it?” Thor asked with a frown as Hel cooed over a sliver of bone.
“If I started, I would never stop,” with a twist of his wrist Loki peeled another apple, adding it to a pile for a pie. Magni was happily making a dough under Loki’s direction. They were all certainly eating better these days.
“I know the feeling.”
Jojo didn't want to play. He didn't want bloody gifts. He resisted whines, big eyes, licks, and every other attempt at doggie affection. Thor could practically see Pinkie plotting. It was a little disturbing and nearly human. When it was clear she was struggling, Thor decided it was time to step in and help.
He had to wait. Jojo came over the least of any of the kids. He seemed just a little too much older to play with the twins and Hel, but too young to spend all his time with his older brother. Of all of Loki’s children, he was the hardest to figure out. Maybe Thor sympathized a little with Pinkie.
Eventually there was a quiet moment. Loki had taken most of the kids out to a movie. Fenny had a project for school and Jojo had a slight fever. Thor heated up soup for lunch.
“Would you like to go for a walk?” Thor offered. Jojo gave him a narrowed eyed look. The same Loki gave him whenever he was trying to decide if he was joking or not. “I know you haven’t been outside much the past few days.”
Jojo gave one nod and slid off his chair to get his coat. He frowned as Thor clicked the leash onto Pinkie’s collar, but didn't protest. They went out into the slush. It was a good kind of cold. Jojo kicked a rock.
They walked quietly for some time. When they came to the park, Thor let Pinkie off the leash. There was no one else around and she found a big stick for fetch.
“You know your dad and I lost our mother?” Thor had thought long and hard about the things Loki said and didn't say. Thor wasn't bad with people. It just took him a little longer sometimes. Jojo nodded cautiously. “Has he told you about her?”
Jojo seesawed his hand.
“She was very beautiful,” Thor took the stick from Pinkie and threw it far. “Kind. She always knew the right thing to say. We were terrible children.”
Jojo hid a small smile.
“I miss her, all the time,” Thor said more solemnly. “More so now that I've met you and your brothers and sister. She wanted to be a grandmother very badly and she would've love you all very much. I know what it’s like to feel sad. To miss someone.”
Jojo was wearing an ancient knit hat with a Batgirl logo on it. It was a faded purple and jammed down over his ears, just a single black lock of hair licking over his forehead. He had Loki’s eyes, they all did, but otherwise he didn't resemble his father. The face must've belonged to another. A woman Thor had never met and could barely imagine.
“I miss my mama,” Jojo spoke in a thready voice. But Thor heard no hint of a lisp. “She died.”
“I’m sorry,” Thor squatted down. “What was she like?”
“She was funny. And really strong,” Jojo’s ice blue eyes filled with tears. “And really tall. Dad says we’ll all be tall like her.”
“I bet you will.”
Jojo leaned into him a little. “You’re kind of okay.”
“Thank you. You’re not so bad either,” Thor put his arm around his shoulders, drew him into the half-hug. “You know, you’re a lot like your father. He doesn't say much either.”
“Dad talks all the time,” Jojo frowned.
“Yes, but he tries hard not to say anything.”
That seemed to give the boy food for thought. He watched Pinkie catch the stick a few more times. When she trotted back, she put her muzzle right onto Jojo’s shoulder and licked his ear. Thor tensed for fall out, but Jojo just stayed perfectly still, eye’s wide in surprise.
“She likes me?”
“Why wouldn't she?”
“Dogs like Fenny. They hate me.”
“I think you've found the exception.”
Jojo was stiff and a little awkward with her, but by the time they got back to the house, he’d relaxed enough to take off her leash and offer her the Post-Walk Treat.
When the rest of them returned, in a clatter of coats, shoes, overlapping voices, and whines, Loki locked onto Thor. He sat down beside him on the overstuffed couch. There knees touched, a single point of warm contact.
“You never talk about her,” Thor said immediately, not wanting the iron in his mind to cool. “Their mother. Your wife.”
“We never married,” Loki shrugged. “And we were awful together. If she’d lived, she probably would've moved out again eventually.”
“Jojo misses her.”
“So does Fenny,” he didn't skip a beat, showing no surprise that the boy had confided in him. “They remember her. I try to talk about her to them. It’s easier with Fenny. He’s old enough to ask.”
“Is it why he doesn't talk? Because I didn't hear a lisp.”
“He’s just a quiet kid,” Loki jutted out his chin. “He talks when he has something to say.”
Jojo wandered up just then and held out his hand expectantly. Loki deposited a pack of gummy bears into that he seemed to have pulled from the air. A smile crossed the boy’s face,
“And a dog.”
“No,” Loki said immediately, betrayal carved in every feature. “Not you too!”
Jojo giggled and Thor saw the moment Loki caved as swift as a house of cards.
Brain was the mutt of all mutts, a surprise to Tho who expected Loki to go for some designer brand animal. He was of middle weight with a brindle coat and large watery brown eyes. Fenny was delirious over him, but to his great dismay the dog slept only with Jojo, curled neatly at his feet. The dog was also as dumb as a box of rocks much to Pinkie’s endless despair. She tried to teach him life skills, but he was, on his best days, more of a lightly animated pillow then a playmate.
“I hate you,” Loki informed Brain as the dog's front legs slowly slid apart on the tile floor, a look of bafflement on his face. Thor stifled a laugh. “You too. All of you. I’m sending you all to the moon and keeping your things.”
“You’re just saying that because my dog is better than yours.”
“Yes,” Loki hissed, viciously, as Brain hiccuped then barfed on his shoe. “I really am.”
The holidays drifted by in a haze of crinkling wrapping paper and the sharp crack of shattering walnut shells. Loki had never cared much for them though he made sure to get piles of things for his own children and one parcel for each of Thor’s. After a quiet afternoon spent online, Loki decided on a deep red v-neck cashmere sweater for Thor. It seemed distant and intimate all at once which covered Loki’s feelings on the matter quite nicely.
“Thank you,” Thor had smiled and given him a poorly wrapped package in return. Loki had braced himself for something tacky or impersonal, but instead it was a book. A leather bound copy of W.H. Auden’s poems. Loki pressed his hand to the embossed cover.
“Thank you,” he said for lack of other words. He hadn't read Auden since he was a sulking barely out of teens boy, only weeks away from leaving everything (including a dog-eared book of the very same poems) behind.
“I read them,” Thor had turned his gaze to his children, who were gamely at war with Loki’s in the front yard. “After you left.”
“Oh,” Loki strained to remember where he’d last turned down a page. What lines his heavy handed pen had stroked beneath. Had he scribbled in the margins.
He read his new leather-bound copy as the year died and a new one began. The kids were asleep around him, having begged to stay up until midnight and then promptly passing out as soon as they’d gotten past the giddy hugs of having made it.
How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.
He had read The More Loving One along with a dozen others. He remembered how the words felt fresher than other works, more alive to him with their modern words and sentiments. How Auden had felt those pangs and marked them.
He knew when he was younger that he’d disagreed. Surely it was better to be the unknowing object of affection then to feel the sick pang of love growing in you like a weed. Surely the worst pain was to yearn for the unattainable.
Loki had lived through a lot of pain since then. He’d sat in a quiet room with another person, who had degrees on their wall. They’d talked about abandonment and the hollowness he carried with him.
He’d had children. Children that he loved with an intensity that cast any previous affections into shadows. His babies with their dark hair and bright eyes, each made in his image and as different to him as the sun to the moon.
Now, he found his unrequited affections almost amusing. They warmed him, in a way. To know that he could still feel giddy at the casual touch of a man. That his blood could still rush in his ears over a compliment or a careless smile. To savor the rekindled friendship between them, to feel the green potential of growth without hindrance or hope.
The book stayed on his kitchen table, perused by idle hands through the house. It’s pages were a little stick and dog-eared and marked within days. It looked familiar soon enough, no longer a precious memory, but an object used with absent affection.
Winter went on. Loki loved January. How the air seared through his lungs and came out in puffs of white smoke. The way his children looked bundled up to their eyeballs and their normally wane skin glowing pink. They went sledding and had snowball fights with Thrud and the twins.
Other children started to appear. It was as if the Odinson’s had cracked through some wall Loki hadn't known was built around them. Modi and Magni knew everyone in the third grade and soon Hel did too. His little girl went to three birthday parties and her first sleepover in the span of a two weeks. She had a bestie named Judy, who was so painfully ordinary that Loki had no idea what the two girls could have in common. Sleepy, of course, had made plenty of friends on his own terms.
Fenrir even flushed his way through asking an androgynous beauty named Trin to a movie which Loki chaperoned with sharklike glee. Their romance lasted all of three weeks, but afterward Fenny stayed friends with them and their friends.
And Jojo flowed between all of them, a smile on his face, even if there were no words on his lips. He made up games for the youngest ones, played mediator for Hel’s set, and teased his older brother mercilessly about his romantic exploits.
But in February, the old sadness came to live in Loki’s chest. It sat down hard on his progress and rolled around in his more unseemly tendencies. He usually managed to fake it for the kids, but there was little left of him once they went to bed.
“Is there anything I can do?” Thor asked quietly on a night when their households were jumbled together.
“Excuse me?” Loki looked up from folding laundry. Often he thought about leaving the Sisyphean task to the kids, but the idea of seeing the stacks of clean and dirty clothes towering over their beds kept him at it.
“You seem...different,” Thor settled on. “Less lively.”
“Oh,” he hadn’t thought Thor would noticed. Maybe had hoped he would, maybe had hoped he wouldn’t.
“We don’t have to talk about it, but I noticed and it seems lonely. I can help”
“You could pair Jojo’s novelty socks.” He gestured at the pile.
To his surprise, Thor started on the task without complaint. It didn’t fix the weight in his chest, but it did make it a little easier to breath. To just not be alone.
They were weirdly tender with each other. He’s not sure how to reconcile that with everything that came before. Thor starts helping around his house on the nights that Loki has the kids over which was almost every weekday. After homework, Magni always helped make dinner and with his boundless energy to borrow, Loki had branched out from mac and cheese like dishes to all sorts of things. Sometimes they spent a pleasant hour or two pouring over recipe sites, just the two of them. Before February, Thor would come and eat with them all and then bundle them all off with a glancing thank you.
After February, Thor stayed. He made Modi help wash the dishes, while he fixed a flickering light in Loki’s en suite or fiddled with the thermostat so the house was warm without roasting. He helped fold laundry and took Fenny outside in the snow to practice pitching.
Loki watched. He was quiet. The depression tied his tongue some, but the rest of it was something else.
Something that was waiting.
Thor drove Fenny to his baseball tryouts on a windy Saturday in March. The longer days were starting to soak under Loki’s skin and wake him from his dormant state.
“Daddy,” Hel was wiring together a cat skeleton while Judy showed her pictures from a kid’s magazine of some bland boy band. “Can we have macarons?”
Magni looked up from his book, “You promised you’d teach me.”
And it was a big project, but today Loki felt up to it. They set out their ingredients and decided on their flavors. Modi drifted in and out, bothering his twin until Magni threw flour at him. Gorgeous green and golden cookies emerged even as Loki arbitrated an argument about play dough ownership and managed to get a brush through Jojo’s wild locks.
The whole house smelled of melting chocolate as they made their fillings. Peace wrapped around the house even as the window panes rattled. Modi bit his lip with concentration as he filled the cooled sandwiches.
Fenny burst in as they finished, giving Loki a big hug.
“I made the team, Dad!” Loki hugged him back, all too aware of his chin not needing to fall to sit on top of Fenny’s head. The boy was growing, filling out. His voice was already dropping.
“Congratulations,” he pulled back to smile at him. “You worked hard. I’m proud of you.”
Thor stood behind them, beaming with matching pride, “He struck out three batters in a row. He’ll be a good asset to his team.”
“Thank you for helping him,” Loki had to look away. He handed Thor a Nutella macaron. “For your help.”
White straight teeth neatly bisected the treat. Thor chewed slowly, then smiled again,
“These are delicious.”
“Dad, I need silpats so I can make them at home,” Magni said earnestly. “Uncle Loki showed me how.”
“They’re not cheap,” Loki glanced at Thor. “He can borrow mine if he wants them.”
There was a brief pause as Thor finished his cookie.
“Mags, can you go find your brother?” Thor glanced at the ceiling. “I hear trouble.”
“Okay!” Magni jumped off his stool and ran upstairs.
“I feel like we’ve colonized your house,” Thor took a seat at one of the stools at the counter across from Loki.
“It’s fine. We have a little more space,” Loki shrugged. “And really they only raise the noise level a few decibels then on a day when it’s just us.”
“Loki,” Thor started, then stopped. His reached for another macaron, one of the coffee ones. He turned it around in his hand. “Maybe it would be easier if we just bought a bigger place.”
“You certainly have the money,” he tried not to feel stung. “I wondered why you bought something so small considering.”
“No,” Thor shook his head, “Not what I meant. I meant get a house together. For all of us.”
“Um,” Loki blinked. “What?”
“It’s just that I do have some money, and by rights some of it should be yours anyway. The kids get along and they’re always all together anyway. It would mean half the work on home maintenance and it’d be easier to arrange childcare,” Thor was....babbling. Loki stared at him. “We could split the meal preparation more. It’d be cheaper-”
“All right.” He said quietly.
“I mean, of course we could figure out a reasonable split...” Thor trailed to a stop. “All right?”
“All right,” he repeated. “I think Fenny’s a little old to share a room, but the others probably can manage. So we’d need six bedrooms at least. The more bathrooms the better. I’d prefer to stay in the school district.”
“Of course,” Thor had forgotten he was holding the macaron. Loki watched, mildly dismayed, as it crumbled under his excited grip. “Anything you want. I know a good real estate agent. We’ll probably have to fix up a few things before the houses can go on the market.”
Not anything, Loki thought, as he listened to Thor’s plans. What he wanted was five bedrooms. Or maybe still six, but the last as an office. He organized the macaroons into neat concentric circles on a plate.
It would be easier. Convenient. Less lonely. And he would have the warmth of Thor’s cheer to hold his hands up to in the depth of every winter. That would be enough.
If he didn’t kill him while house hunting first.
Two brothers search for a house in Lake County with a goal to remain in their current school district, have enough space for their combined families, and stay within their budget, a cheerful narrator would say. Real estate agent, Pat Whelms, is on the job showing them over twenty properties.
To preserve his admittedly limited sanity, Loki has started to narrate their search like an episode of House Hunters. He found HGTV soothing and he’s not about to apologize for that. Like any good bickering pair on the show, he and Thor apparently had very different visions of their future home.
“I don’t see why we can’t get that cool one with the old fashioned look,” Thor looked frazzled, gesturing at the very modern kitchen.
“Tudor,” Loki supplied. “And because it had ancient plumbing and ancient windows to match. The whole idea is to upgrade, not buy a moneypit.”
“I can fix it,” Thor shoved his hands into his pocket.
“When?” Loki raised an eyebrow. “In your ample free time?”
“These modern things are all the same looking,” Thor sighed. “It’s all...chrome and marble and glass. It’s not cozy.”
“We grew up in marble and glass,” he pointed out and even as he said it, he realized he had been circling back to places that reminded him of their last shared home. The one that he had hated so fiercely for so long. “Maybe we can look at some other older places.”
“Of course,” Pat chirped, clearly trying not to lose her patience. “Let me see what I can find for you!”
Will these two brothers ever agree? Loki voice-overed, Or will they go their separate ways?
They looked at fake Tudors and fake Victorians. Thor pined over a log cabin that fit literally none of their needs and caressed Home Depot catalogs in a way that flustered Loki on a deep level. To combat the truly astronomical stress levels, he took up yoga. He couldn’t carve time out to actually go to a class, so he put YouTube videos on the living room television and more often than not, Hel and Sleepy wound up trying to keep up. They fell over in various piles almost every time.
In the end, they buy a farm.
Loki had no narration for this turn of events. It wasn't a very big farm, in all fairness. It had a barn, but it had been renovated and turned into a sort of living room with a large stone fireplace and a ping pong table that the previous owner didn’t care to move. There were no animals, just a few small fields that had been left fallow for a few years. Loki had stood amid wild grass for awhile, thinking about ticks, bears, and horror movies.
It was the house that had grabbed them. It was spacious and airy, full of exposed wood beams that made Thor smile and try to hang off them like the world’s beefiest monkey. The kitchen was updated, but still pleasant. A large staircase bisected the lower floor and behind it were two large bedrooms and a bathroom between. The second floor had four smaller, but very serviceable bedrooms and another bathroom.
And for Loki’s surly teenager, there was an attic room that had probably been intended as a studio of some kind. The walls sloped in and it gave Loki a slightly claustrophobic feeling.
“I love it,” Fenny lay down on the hideous carpet, arms and legs spread wide. “Can I get a minifridge?”
“No, I need some way to lure you out so you don’t become a cave troll.”
All of that was good. The land around them meant their neighbor’s were further away than usual. The kids could ride their bikes on the nearly empty streets.
As soon as they found it, Loki knew that they would buy it. That Thor would move the heavens to get it. It looked like it had sprung fully formed from the mind of a Hallmark movie director’s wet dream. There was even a porch with enough room for rocking chairs.
Loki wanted to loathe it. A part of him still longed for the smooth chrome and glass. An icy modernity that lofted up into the clouds. A latter day kingdom for a latter day king.
But he had become more practical after he’d passed into his fourth decade. He was no king, not even a prince. He was a father first, a hard worker for a faceless corporation second, and then whatever else was left of him last.
Maybe enough to be a brother.
To take a lover again.
For now though, there was more than enough work to do. The kids packed their own stuff with varying degrees of self-sufficiency. Loki taped up boxes until he wanted to die rather than smell cardboard ever again and that was just his own bedroom.
“Can’t we hire movers?” he whined at Thor.
“We did,” Thor reminded him. “You didn't want to pay the extra fee to have them do the packing.”
It had been a lot of money. Sometimes Loki hated himself. Was he punishing himself or being practical? Where was the line?
“My hands hurt,” he went on whining instead. Thor pat him on the head which was remarkably soothing as well as deeply irritating. “The kids are all excited or crying all the time. They’re happy about the new place, sad about this one. And we bought a fucking farm, Thor. A FARM. Why are we like this?”
“Um,” Thor shifted about an inch closer, “because we weren’t hugged enough as children?”
Loki started laughing and Thor went over with him until they were both shaking with it.
“A farm!” Thor boomed, tears running down his face. “We bought a farm! I killed a cactus last year!”
The farm continued to be theirs though. They put both of of their houses on the market and after a few nerve wracking weeks, sellers were found. Paperwork done.
On moving day, the kids were a hurricane. Loki didn’t bother feeding them nutrients. He stopped at 7-11, bought the largest size slurpees that they made and followed it up with donuts. He bought himself a mug of coffee as big as his head.
“All right, troops,” he brought the goods back to the van to the delighted shrieks of his brood. “Listen up.”
The four of them went eerily still, hands paused where they reached for their treats.
“I’m giving you sugar because I expect you to use your energy for good, not evil. When we get to the house, the furniture will already be mostly where it should be, but I need each of you to unpack as many boxes as you can. And sensibly, understood? Bathroom stuff in the bathroom, and so on. If we’re mostly unpacked by the end of the day, then we will have pizza, Cheetos, and ice cream for dinner.”
The four of them quivered, Sleepy whimpered in repressed excitement.
The farm was only ten minutes from the old house, but by the time they got there every cup in the car was empty and every wrapper drifted on the floor. Five sets of feet hit the good earth.
Thor was yawning, the twins leaning sleepily against the car and Thrud idly plucking dandelions.
“Good morning,” Thor waved.
“Good morning,” Loki said around his tingling teeth. It had been very strong coffee.
“We figured we’d all go in together,” Thor handed Loki a shiny new key. He skipped up the steps and they trooped into the small living room. There were boxes piled high in every room.
“Ready?” Loki asked. Thor and his children nodded.
“READY!” His brood shouted in unison and then scattered. Then returned to each take charge of one Odinson, explaining very quickly what needed to be done.
“What did you do?” Thor asked, eyes wide.
“Sometimes, one must make a deal with the devil.”
Dark heads zoomed around with shaking fingers and too wide eyes for hours. Magni and Modi locked the door to their room after being knocked over in the hall too many times and Thrud had fallen asleep on her bare mattress, run ragged. Even Thor was starting to look winded as Loki finished up the kitchen and headed into his bedroom.
Lunch was eaten on the fly, pre-ordered sandwiches thrown around to be washed down by caffeine free sodas (Loki would make a deal with a devil, not hand over the whole thing). He started breaking down empty boxes in a pile by the front door, that quickly turned into a teetering tower.
At five, his brood was coming down of their collective high and stumbling, zombie like to his feet.
“Pizza,” they all mumbled.
“Pizza,” he agreed.
“Pizza?” Modi raised his head hopefully off his father’s lap.
It was a homicide of cheese and sauce. Four bags of Cheetos and six large containers of ice cream went to their grave. Thor managed to find a Disney movie on DVD and put it on and Loki couldn’t even find the energy to make fun of him for still owning a hard copy of anything.
The house already felt different than those first tentative empty days of painting and minor fixes. Nothing echoed. Furniture and throw rugs and shelves groaning with mis-matched everythings changed the shape of the rooms. When everyone else had fallen prey to a food coma, Loki walked room to room.
Hel and Thrud in the first room by the stairs, closest to the bathroom for Thrud’s tiny bladder. The walls were a dusky blue. There was a unicorn lamp on Thrud’s bedside table and a mounted bat skeleton on Hel’s.
Then there was Sleepy and Jojo’s room. Sleepy had wanted a lamp like Thrud’s. His whole side of the room was rainbow themed and it was disgustingly adorable. Jojo’s bed was clothed in sage green and he’d already put up a cluster of photos on the wall by his pillow. Loki dind’t have to look to know what they were. Angie holding him. Fenny putting him on his shoulders with a trenchcoat around them like a bad cartoon. Loki and Hel starting a bonfire.
And a new one, printed fresh for the day, of all four Odinsons gathered around a table, playing a card game. Magni and Modi flanking Thor with identical cheesy grins and Thrud throwing her cards triumphantly down in a blur.
The empty room upstairs would soon have a desk and his computer resting on top of it. A place for the days he worked from home. There was already an empty laundry basket by the door. He gave it an idle kick out of habit. Damn thing.
Fenny’s attic was mostly done too. The bed was already unmade somehow, covers rumpled. Loki didn’t go all the way in. Fenny was old enough to keep a few secrets.
Back down the stairs, and after a brief glance at the dazed pile of humanity in the living room, he slipped into Thor’s room.
It was the least unpacked, unsurprising considering how Thor had spent most of the day bouncing from room to room helping everyone else. The bed was still naked. Loki frowned and opened boxes until he found utilitarian blue sheets and pulled them free.
“You don’t have to do that,” Thor leaned in the doorframe. Loki was already onto the pillows. “I was getting to it.”
“When?” Loki shrugged. “Everyone should sleep in their beds comfortably tonight, don’t you think?”
“Right now I think they all might sleep on the floor. Thrud’s foot is nearly in Jojo’s nose.”
“We’ll wake them or they’ll be cranky in the morning,” he smoothed down the pillowcase.
“You’re so....domesticated,” Thor said. He sounded amused, but when Loki looked up there was no teasing in his smile.
“Behold, the amazing Loki,” he said dryly.
“I’m beholding,” Thor said quietly. “All the time.”
He didn’t know what to make of that. So of course, that’s when Sleepy called out,
“Daddy, can I have more ice cream!”
“No, you bottomless pit!” He yelled back. “Have an apple!”
“Do we have apples?” Thor frowned. Loki could just make out the creak of a floorboard.
“He’ll never eat one not covered in sugar and baked to death, so it hardly matters if we do or don’t,” Loki sighed and pushed past Thor. Sleepy was already in the kitchen, one hand on the freezer door. “Seriously?”
“Um....it’s for Thrud?” he tried.
Loki looked over his shoulder. Thrud was passed out, her foot indeed almost in Jojo’s nose. He looked back at Sleepy.
“Lie better,” he tsked. But he was happy and loose and maybe still a little wired from the coffee. He took out the last of the ice cream, sat down on the floor and fished a spoon off the counter. Sleepy plunked into his lap and they ate it together.
“I've led troops into battle, I think I can handle it,” Thor said gently as if Loki was acting hysterical.
“I see,” Loki said evenly, a gleam that promised danger in his eyes and Thor instantly regretted acting like he knew anything about anything ever.
“Um, I’m sure it’ll be fine?”
Loki reached out, picked Jojo up from the counter where the boy had been diligently taking down the list and held him out to Thor. The boy’s legs dangled down and his eyes danced just like his father's.
“Take this. It’s dangerous to go alone.”
Thor tucked Jojo under one arm. The twins had been ignoring all of this at the table, but Magni perked up.
“If Jojo’s coming, then can I come?”
“Of course, more hands to help.”
Loki looked at him solemnly and handed over the keys to the van, the far more spacious of their two vehicles.
It turned out that Cosco on Saturday morning was only marginally better than a battle and only because there were samples. It took Thor a half hour to find a parking space and he only succeeded by sending Magni out to clear away a cart then sprint out of the way before some other desperate shopper could horn in on their space.
“At least we have cart,” Thor took it from Magni and headed for the enormous bay doors.
Thor had vague memories of having gone shopping in a bulk store like this before. Surely he had once or twice as a child, even if the servants had usually handled it. Or maybe in the early days of sharing a home with Sif right after the twins were born and everything was a sleep deprived haze.
No vague memory had prepared him for the towering shelves and the crush of bodies as they rushed to fill their carts sky high. He flashed his membership card (Loki had handed it to him, explaining the process as if he was a very dim puppy) and they were in.
“Electronics?” Thor glanced down the rows of television, a distractable frisson of interest spiking through him.
“Bread,” Jojo said firmly, taking hold of the edge of Thor’s jacket and tugging him past intriguing aisles of small appliances. Magni had climbed onto the bar at the end of the cart, holding on with glee as Thor pushed the cart forward, around clustered groups.
The bakery smelled excellent, but almost as soon as Thor reached for an item it was snatched away by someone else in the crowd.
“Hm,” he stood back and surveyed the situation. “Magni, you get the muffins. You've got smaller hands, you can wriggle through the crowd. Jojo, if I boost you up, can you reach the higher bread shelves?”
The managed to survive the bakery and the frigid walk into the milk prison. The cart was already half full and they’d only struck a bare handful of things off their list. A kind woman handed them spears of carefully sliced corndogs that they ate behind her cart as Thor regrouped.
“Chicken patties,” Jojo read off.
“He doesn’t make those?” Thor felt obscurely deceived. He liked the chicken Parmesan Tuesdays a lot.
“Uncle Loki says it doesn't matter if they’re processed garbage because we all eat them with so much sauce and cheese we wouldn't know the difference,” Magni explained. And he sounded just like Loki.
“Huh,” Thor put the box into the cart.
Cereal (four kinds), canned tomatoes, tissues, paper towels, and Thor had to pause while the boys reorganized the cart to keep it from falling into disaster.
“What lovely children,” an older woman with bright pink pants gave Thor a wide smile. “So helpful.”
“Thank you,” Thor grinned at her.
“Are they both yours?”
Thor glanced at them, unsure if they were listening. Magni was holding back the brick wall of tissues so Jojo could slot in the frozen waffles. They didn’t look much alike as Thor and Loki had never looked alike.
“Yes,” he said with pride. “They are.”
Toothpaste, listerine, multi-generational multivitamins, and inexplicable cotton balls gave way to snacks and the boys started going off list.
“That is too many jelly beans,” Thor plucked the gallon jug from Magni’s grip and set them back up on the shelf. “All we need from this aisle are granola bars.”
Jojo pointed wistfully to box of gummy fruit snacks. Thor leaned in and looked at the ingredients.
“There are some vitamins in these…” he glanced down at Jojo. “No. No we shouldn’t.”
Jojo sighed, nodded and dutifully went to get the granola bars. Thor manhandled the cart back into the stream of shoppers and something caught his eye. When the boys weren't looking he snuck it into the cart.
Then the checkout lines.
“We’re gonna get old and die here,” Magni declared. Even though every conceivable register was staffed, the lines snaked into the aisles.
“Mission objective,” Thor declared and Magni instantly straightened up and grinned. Jojo frowned in confusion.
“It means we get to do a fun job,” Magni explained.
“I require new socks. I think I saw some packs in the middle of the store. Retrieve them in the correct size before I reach the register and be well rewarded.”
Magni saluted and ran off, Jojo on his heels. Thor took out his phone and played Muffin Maze as he inched slowly toward the line.
“Daddy, look!” Magni returned after Thor was just about to lose his last free life and he had made a promise to himself that he wasn’t going to pay those fiends another dime. Unless he got really stuck.
“Let me see,” Thor made a show of studying the package before giving a curt nod, “Mission: Success.”
“Score!” Magni fist pumped. “And Jojo found something for Uncle Loki. Can we get it?”
Jojo held up a black sweatshirt that would swamp Loki’s frame. It had a frowny face emoji on it, obscenely large.
“Yes,” Thor beamed. “Excellent choice!”
When they finally reached the register, the checkout process was gratifyingly fast. Thor handed over the card again, everything ran through. He saw the giant pretzels rotating mere feet from them and announced a snack break.
They sat beside their cart, breaking the pretzel down between the three of them and eating with relish. When they finished, Thor pulled out his surprise.
“Lollipops for all!”
The boys cheered and made a careful show of selecting just the right flavor. Thor took a watermelon one and contentedly made his way back to the van. It was strange not to load up the car with plastic bags, but very fulfilling to stack everything in.
“We didn't get any red meat.” He realized.
“Cow,” Jojo offered, words distorted around his treat.
“Cow?” Thor glanced up at the rearview mirror, but apparently Jojo felt that explained the entire thing nicely and was now looking out the window determinedly.
Loki was waiting on the steps, tossing a ball to the dogs, who fought over who got to bring it back. He had a scarf around his neck that fluttered in the spring breeze. He looked very...poetic. A pale and dark splotch against the rich wood of the house.
“We have returned from the great hunt!” Thor grinned, releasing the boys who tumbled out with empty lollipop sticks.
Loki inspected the haul approvingly, calling everyone out of the house to help unload. Even Thrud and Sleepy were assigned cereal duty, transferring the bags into plastic containers as the older children put away heavier items.
“The meat can go in the freezer in the basement,” Loki directed.
“We have a freezer in the basement?”
“It’s the large white thing in the corner,” Loki said dryly. “Next to the washer and dryer?”
“I thought that was a storage unit of some kind,” he admitted.
“I mean, arguably that’s what it is,” Loki allowed and headed into the basement with Thor following behind him laden down with chicken in various forms.
The freezer was deep and full of various cuts of beef.
“Where did all this come from?
“A cow,” Loki started plucking up packages from Thor’s arms.
“I’m not a complete idiot, I do know where beef comes from. But none of this has a grocery label.”
“I pay into a collective group at work. We buy an entire cow every year and split it up by size of family. We usually wind up with about forty pounds of meat in various forms, but considering our family growth, I might up the amount next year.”
“Is this like your vegetable thing.”
“Yes,” Loki closed the freezer with evident satisfaction at a full larder. “CSA has the same principle. The kids don’t always like what they get, but I do try.”
“I know,” Thor tugged on the end of Loki’s scarf once, gently, “I see it. You’re trying all the time.”
Loki’s realest smiles were always quicksilver things. Thor watched one glide in and then away all in a masterful second.
Just enough. Enough for hope to really kindle and start a flame.
I know tracking the kids' ages can be confusing, so here's a quick guide.
Fenny, 13 (nearly 14)
Modi, and Magni, 8 (nearly 9)
Sleepy and Thrud, 6
“I can’t believe they didn't do this at the kids’ old school,” Thor had his camera up, taking video, his eyes noticeably wet. “It’s adorable.”
On the makeshift stage, forty kindergärtners wearing miniature graduation robes were singing an incomprehensible song. Some of them had wandered out of their line, others were waving to their parents. Sleepy and Thrud were standing next to each other, Thrud was clearly only mouthing the words to the song in a mumble while Loki could hear his son belting it out with pride.
“Isn’t it?” Loki had already taken the traditional shots to hang alongside the other three in his room. Four gapped tooth smiles over nearly a decade. And no babies left. He didn’t really want another child, but he would miss this phase of life.
Hel and the twins had an exam, but Jojo had been allowed to attend and he was applauding and laughing as the little ones took sweeping bows. Mrs. T then gave out certificates and if in the past she had looked delighted to be free of a Laufeyson, today she looked a little sad as Sleepy hugged her legs.
“I wish mom could’ve seen them,” Thor said quietly, just loud enough for Loki to hear. “She would’ve been so happy.”
“Yes,” Loki swallowed hard. He could well imagine their mother standing between them, her crown of grey hair and her pride in their reconciliation. “I think she would’ve. Father would’ve wandered off already and be talking up some poor young mother.”
He waited for Thor’s retort, but there was only a sharp snort of laughter.
They took the graduates and Jojo out for pizza after.
It was the first time after such an event that Loki could look around at the other families and not feel disconnected. Jealous, he could admit now. That curdling horrible feeling that plagued him much of the time. There was nothing to be jealous of now. Not with Thor blowing straw wrappers at Jojo and Sleepy talking animatedly to Thrud about their summer plans.
There was nothing missing now.
Which is, of course, when Thor said,
“Sif will be landing in a few hours.”
Thrud went silent, eyes wide, “Mama’s coming?”
“Yes, little one,” Thor summoned a very believable smile. “She missed an earlier flight or she would’ve been here for your graduation. She informed me only now. It was a surprise.”
“Well,” Loki heard himself say, “I’m surprised.”
As soon as they got back to the house, all Loki could see was a riotous mess. All the kids were deployed to tidying immediately as Loki frantically scrubbed the stove.
“You know that Sif wasn’t any kind of housekeeper. She’ll hardly care.” Thor sounded mildly amused, but that didn’t stop him from vacuuming.
“She hates me,” Loki pointed out stiffly. “I thought I’d have another month to find an excuse to be missing for two weeks when she visited.”
“Don’t, please-” Thor stopped and gave him a pleading look. “Don’t leave us alone.”
“You were married to her for a decade and friends for years before that. I think you can manage.”
“It’s awkward,” Thor shifted uncomfortably. “The kids...they’re old enough to know that she’s far away by choice. That she could live at home, but doesn’t. I’m not angry at the choices she made, I knew when I told her I wanted children that it wasn’t really her area. And she’s good with them when she’s here, but...”
“But.” Loki agreed. “Fine. I’ll be here.”
She arrived in a rented car just before bedtime. Loki made himself conspicuously absent for the initial reunion. He repressed his own curious brood by having them help set up his office into a guest room, but they were all straining at the door to hear anything.
When they could be held back no longer, they trooped back downstairs.
She looked as beautiful and fierce as Loki remembered her, despite the years gone by. Her hair was still dark and her eyes still piercing. Her smile was incandescent and some ancient childhood crushed flared briefly to life before he ruthlessly quashed it. Thrud was in her lap, clinging to her. The twins were sitting quietly at her feet, investigating the presents she must’ve bought them.
“Hello, trouble,” she caught his gaze and he froze.
“Hello, goldie,” he felt reduced back to little older than Fenny.
“I’m Sleipnir!” Sleepy chimed, holding out his hand for a shake. “Everyone calls me Sleepy. Thrud is my best friend-cousin.”
“I see,” Sif shook Sleepy’s hand solemnly. “A pleasure to meet you.”
“I’m Hel, this is Jojo,” she gestured to her brother vaguely, “Fenrir is standing on the stairs because he thinks he looks really cool when he leans on the bannister, but I think he looks like he’s going to fall off and then we’ll have to go to the hospital again.”
“Again?” Sif looked right at Loki which he thought was...fair, actually, based on what she remembered.
“We had a fractured ankle from a soccer game two months ago,” he explained. Thor was coming back in the front door with a single small suitcase. It figured Sif packed light. “We have a room for you upstairs.”
She stood up, easily tucking Thrud to her side as she stood.
“Thank you. I’m a bit jetlagged. I wouldn’t mind seeing a bed.”
He gave her a brief tour as they went, pointing out the bathroom and her children’s bedrooms.
“Why don’t you got get into your pajamas, duckling?” Sif kissed Thrud on the forehead. “I’ll come read you a story after if you want.”
“Okay,” Thrud climbed down reluctantly and headed for the bathroom.
That left them alone, two pillars hovering between the door and the bed.
“I’ve been meaning to say,” she started and Loki could fill in a number of things to finish that, but the last one he expected was, “thank you.”
“What for?” He blinked.
She waved her hand at the house, “For all of this. For taking care of my children.”
“Thor does that,” he denied. “He’s a good father.”
“Of course he is,” Sif’s eyes darted around the room. Evaluating exits, Loki realized, an unconscious assessment. “But he’s just one person. With their grandparents gone...I’m thankful that he found you.”
“They’re good kids,” he settled on saying. “Easy to care about.”
“When we were young,” she started then stopped, giving him a weary quiet look.
“It was a long time ago,” he decided. “Why don’t we just start fresh?”
“I’d like that.”
It was clear Sif meant it too. She spent her two week visit as peacefully as she was able. She learned the routines of the house and tried not to disrupt them, but disruption was inevitable. School ended and all the kids were home for five days before various camps and activities started.
“All right, I’ve got,” Loki checked the list, “Sleepy, Modi and Fenny for the dentist this morning. Then come back, rotate out kids and off to the optometrist.”
“I can do the optometrist,” Thor offered. “So we both have a shift at home.”
“I could take some of them to the park?” Sif sipped her coffee. “I don’t mind.”
“Of course,” Loki said smoothly as Thor stared at her silently. Lost in thought? It was hard to tell just then. “There’s usually enough kids around for a pickup game of soccer in the afternoon. They’ll be thrilled.”
She led small outings, taught Hel how to shoot a bow and arrow one lazy morning, and dutifully took her children on small outings to give them much needed one on one time. Every time they headed out though, Thor would stand on the porch staring after the rented car.
“You could go with them,” Loki pointed out.
“They need to be alone with her sometime,” Thor mumbled, but he still waited until the car was out of sight.
“Do you not trust her?”
“I trust her,” he sighed. “But every time, it gets harder for them when she leaves.”
“Dad!” Fenny wailed inside the house. “Hel’s in my room and she won’t leave!”
Loki rubbed between his eyes and got up, “How much longer do you think she’ll stay in the army?”
“She can retire in ten years, but I doubt she will,” Thor shrugged. “She loves it.”
“More than she loves them?”
“That’s not fair.”
“Parenting rarely is,” he went inside and broke up the dispute with a few curt words.
“I hate you,” Fenny slammed his door shut.
“I still love you, Daddy,” Hel sing-songed.
“Good pandering,” he leaned down to give her a hug. “Stop provoking your brother.”
“But he doesn’t play with us anymore,” she groused, hugging him back. “I just wanted to see what he was doing.”
“Fen’s got some growing pains right now. You have to let this stuff sort itself out.”
Even if Loki couldn’t quite take his own advice. He went for a long walk once Sif and the others were back. The fields had proved to be an excellent place to take long walks, the kids’ feet having beaten down paths here and there into the overgrown sections. With summer rushing in, everything smelled golden and lush.
He had said far worse things at a far older age then Fenny, but it still hurt. Normally he might tell Thor these days, but he was preoccupied. So instead he walked under the fading sun and turned it over and over in his head. His therapist had often said to him, “Take a break and remember that it’s always all about you.” Which at the time had felt harsh, but he returned to it like a mantra now.
When he got back, everyone, but Fenny was gathered in the living room laughing and talking. Loki slipped upstairs. He knocked.
“I don’t want to talk to you!”
“I know,” Loki sat down outside the door. “I know you’re angry with me, Fen and that’s fine. You can be mad. You can hate me whenever you need to, but I’m not your enemy. I just...I want you to remember that no matter what, I love you. Maybe that isn’t enough. It never was for me. But I do.”
He didn’t hear anything on the other side of the door. Wasn’t sure Fenny was even listening, but he went on,
“When I was a few years older than you, I behaved...very badly. I betrayed everything my mother stood for. I left home and I never saw her again. She wrote me letters though. She always found me, and wrote. And she always told me how much she loved me in those letters. I didn’t understand then. I thought it was overly sentimental and possibly a lie. But then I had you, Fenny. My first born. Angie put you in my arms and when you opened your eyes, I understood. Because it cannot be said enough, because it’s a love too large and overwhelming to be contained.”
“Gross,” the door cracked open, one dark eye glittering around the corner. “Dad, don’t be sappy. It weirds me out.”
“Too bad,” Loki gave him a tired look. “You, Fenrir Laufreyson, were the first person I ever really loved. Deal with it.”
“Double gross,” the door opened the rest of the way and Fenny sat down next to him, “I don’t hate you.”
“Thanks,” Loki put his arm around his shoulders and kissed the top of his head. “But I meant it. You can hate me if you want.”
“Okay, Dad,” he snorted. “Thanks for the permission, I guess.”
Downstairs, something exciting must’ve happened as everyone started shouting at once.
“She’s really nice,” Fenny said quietly. “But she’s not like Mama, is she?”
“No,” Loki sighed. “Your mother was a fighter too, but more for herself than for a cause. The third time we went out, she started a brawl in a bar. She punched a guy out cold.”
“Did you not love her?”
“I did,” Loki assured him. “I cared for her a lot, but we knew we weren’t forever. Some people in your life will be like that. Important, but not permanent. Others stay.”
“How do you know which is which?”
“You don’t always. If you did, life would get boring pretty fast.”
He had not reckoned on it being harder when Sif left than her arrival. Thrud cried for hours, inconsolably and nearly silently. Sleepy tried a dozen ways to cheer her, and when that didn’t work, he sat beside her on the couch equally disconsolate in solidarity.
The twins were harder in a way. They made no obvious signs of upset. Modi went out with Hel to collect pine cones, and refused to talk about it. Magni glued himed himself to Loki’s side, standing just in his peripheral visoin as he went about his day.
“Let’s make garbage cookies,” he decided when he it became clear that the boy was not going to bored into doing something else.
“What’re those?” Magni frowned.
“We make a regular dough like for chocolate chip cookies, but instead of chips we dump in whatever looks good in the kitchen.”
The project helped a little, Magni carefully measuring and dumping in all sorts of things. Fenny descended from the attic, his hair mussed on one side and if Loki had to guess he’d say the boy had just woken up.
“You should put in pretzals,” he leaned on the counter, reached out and poked Magni on the nose. “You’ll be okay, kiddo.”
“Yeah?” Magni looked at his older cousin with obvious worship.
That night Loki left his door cracked, unsure which child would crawl into bed with him, but certain that he wouldn’t be left alone after the tumultuous dinner and consumption of many garbage cookies.
He certainly hadn’t counted on Thor coming in, sitting beside him on the bed. Loki set down his book.
“Nothing,” Thor looked down at his own bare feet.
“Oh my fucking god,” Loki threw back the covers. “Get in you big dumb ox. And if you snore, I’m pushing you out.”
“I-” Thor started to protest, then stumbled to a stop and laid down beside him. “What are you reading?”
“Whitman. I thought a little country idyllic poetry suited our new house.”
“Oh,” Thor yawned. “Read it to me?”
Loki did and out of long habit, he found himself running his free hand over Thor’s hair as he would one of the children when reading them a story.
Loki looked into the doorway, Sleepy was shuffling there in his Batman onsie. Loki lifted the other side of his blanket, already looking forward to a very overheated night’s sleep.
The boy shuffled in and tucked in close,
“Daddy, will my mommy come and take me away?”
Loki froze, “What?”
“Thrud says she wants her mommy to take her with her, and I said I didn’t have a mommy to do that and she said I definitely did and we got in a fight, but now I can’t sleep.”
“Okay,” he sucked in a breath and then let it out again slowly. “Do you want me to tell you the story of how I got you again?”
Loki set aside the dreams of a long dead poet and focused on his son.
“One day, I was looking at Hel and Jojo and Fenny and thinking about how much I loved them. And I thought, my heart has grown very big and it isn’t full yet,” he started. “So I went on a quest.”
“What’s a quest?”
“It’s when you have a very big thing you want to do and you have to do a lot to do it,” Loki adjusted the blankets a little, “I tried many things and in the end, I got very lucky. I found a very lovely woman and she agreed to carry my child in return for some money and a few favors. I only met her one time. When you were born, I was the first one to hold you. The woman that carried you signed a lot of papers. She can’t come get you, Sleepy, because she isn’t your mommy. She was a nice person, who did a nice thing.”
“Does that mean I don’t have a mommy?” Sleepy’s hand wound into Loki’s hair as if he were still a toddler.
“Maybe not, Thor mumbled, reaching across Loki’s stomach to pat Sleepy’s side. “But you have two parents and that’s what matters.”
Loki frowned at him, “Are you adopting my children without my permission?”
“Yes,” Thor looked amused. “Fight me.”
“No,” Loki snorted. “Fine. Sleepy, you’ve got two daddys. How’s that?”
“That’s neat,” Sleepy decided with a yawn. “But kind of confusing.”
“Agreed, little love, agreed,” Loki muttered.
Though she begged to stay home that summer, Daddy told her no. There was no one there during the day to watch her. So instead, after a lot of tears, she chose riding camp. The horses were big and a little scary. Every day, her counselor Amber asked her if she wanted to ride.
“No, thank you,” she said politely, but firmly.
Instead, she’d get to brush Mo, the Shetland pony that liked to roll in the dirt. They were the same height and he wasn't scary at all.
Uncle Loki picked her up instead of Daddy on the fourth day. As he was signing her out, Amber approached. She stopped dead when her uncle looked up.
“Yes?” he asked shortly.
“Um. We were just all a little worried about Thrud. She seems afraid of the horses. We want her to have the best possible time, and...” she trailed off under Uncle Loki’s look.
“I see,” he set down his pen. “Thank you.”
“Um. You’re welcome.”
Thrud got into the car with a sick feeling in her stomach. Uncle Loki could be mean sometimes Not to her though. Just... everyone that wasn't family.
“Are you enjoying camp?” he asked and she bit her lip and nodded. “Truly, Thrud. Do you like it here?”
“I do!” She sniffed. “Really. The other kids are really nice and I like brushing Mo.”
“All right,” he just nodded. “That’s fine then.”
When they got home, he made her a snack. Riding camp started early, so she was the first one home. Usually Daddy picked her up and they would eat junk food. Uncle Loki sliced an apple and spread them with peanut butter. He let her sit by the window and didn't ask her anything. Instead he brought over some sheets of paper and some crayons, so she could draw. When Daddy got home with the others, Loki got up to greet them. Thrud held the purple crayon tightly.
A few minutes later, Daddy sat down next to her. He looked at her drawing.
“It’s Mo,” she explained. “Except he’s a unicorn.”
“Good job,” he put his arm around the back of her chair and she relaxed a little. She loved how Daddy was like a wall between her and everything else.
“Can I keep going to riding camp? Even if I never ride a horse?” she blurted.
“Of course, sweetheart,” he kissed the top of her head. “But why don’t you want to ride one?”
“They’re really big. And sometimes they throw people.”
“The ponies that they have for the camp are very gentle though,” he frowned. “When did you see someone get thrown?”
“The older kids,” she looked down at her drawing and added a sun. “One of them tried to do a trick and the pony didn't like it.”
“That would be scary,” he agreed. “But I don’t think that you’ll do something a pony doesn't like, right?”
“I guess not,” she drew a smile on the sun.
The weekend was next and she spent it collecting rocks with Sleepy. They were building a little castle with mud and pebbles in the front lawn. She forgot all about camp until Monday, but no one said anything to her in the morning. Daddy drove her in and gave her a hug and a kiss before leaving her with Amber and driving off to drop off Jojo.
The day went normally. She talked to her friends and brushed Mo and fed one of the goats a carrot.
But Uncle Loki picked her up again. Except this time, he didn't go right to the sign out book. Instead, he approached Muffin, one of the training ponies. Amber looked at him with wide eyes,
“If you’ll indulge me,” he held out a carrot which Muffin accepted. As she ate it, he leaned in and pressed his cheek close to one of Muffin’s twitching ears. He spoke softly, to her. So quietly that Thrud only knew he was talking at all because she could see his lips moving. Then he drew away and gave her an affectionate pat on the neck. “Come here, Thrud.”
She took her time walking up to him, but he didn't hurry her along. He only waited until she was close and then gently picked her up. Uncle Loki was very tall, taller than the counselors and she was brought straight to eye level with Muffin.
“What’re you doing?”
“I’ve had a talk with this one,” Loki explained, very seriously. “I’ve told her that you are my beloved niece and that you are a kind little girl. She said that she knew that already because she’s watched you with the other animals. We came to an agreement. If we bring her a carrot once a week, then she will let you ride her with no trouble at all. You don’t have to, but you can.”
“You talked to Muffin?” She frowned. “But horses don’t talk.”
“Everything living has a voice if you know how to listen,” he didn’t look like he was making fun or making things up. When Uncle Loki was teasing, his eyes did a sideways thing that they weren’t doing now. “And according to her, her name isn’t Muffin. She prefers Dandelion.”
Thrud, very slowly, reached out to touch Dandelion’s neck. It was soft and one black eye tracked her movements without concern.
She didn’t ride her that day or the day after, but on Thursday when her turn came up, Thrud summoned all her bravery and approached Dandelion. Amber beamed and helped her up into the saddle, explaining everything that Thrud had heard her say to the other girls. Dandelion moved slowly around the ring, unconcerned by Thrud’s trembling hands.
Thrud could feel the life beneath her, large and peaceful. The day was hot, insects buzzing wild in the trees.
She’d remember that day for the rest of her life. It was the first time she fell in love.
Town camp was great! Sleepy loved the arts and crafts room where they could use as much glitter as they wanted and wide open field where they could play tag after lunch. He liked riding the bus with Modi, the way that Modi always sat on the outside and gave the other older kids looks if they tried to pick on his little cousin.
“What’d you get for lunch?” Modi would always ask and they’d take out their sandwiches and snacks, switching them around until they were both happy with their meals. Sleepy enjoyed his double serving of plums every day while Modi relished extra chips.
Every day was running and laughing and awesome.
Until the very bad, no good day when he was skipping with his friend Tina and his shoe got caught and he fell down. There was a lot of pain.
He tried not to cry, but it was hard and it hurt a lot. The nurse wouldn't let them move him, so he had to sit in the dirt for a long time until two people in blue jumpsuits showed up with board and they put him on it, and talked to him while looking at his ankle.
“His father will meet you at the hospital!” The nurse called out as they carted him away.
The ride in the ambulance would have been fun if he hadn't hurt so much. He tried to ask questions about all the things he could see, but the answers wouldn't stick in his head.
The hospital was big and loud and scary. He couldn't stop crying now, big hiccuping sobs.
“I want my daddy,” he heaved a heavy breath. “Please.”
“He’s coming sweetheart, promise,” a nice lady in white clothes assured him. “Just hold on.”
The door to the E.R. slid open and Uncle Thor came thundering through, his eyes wide.
“I’m looking for Sleipnir Laufeyson,” he said desperately.
“I’m over here!” He waved to him and then he was being wrapped up in a big hug, strong arms around him.
“Your father is on his way,” his uncle pet his hair. “He was at a meeting in the next town over.”
“I fell,” Sleepy explained, drying his face on his uncle’s soft red t-shirt.
“We’re going to take him to x-ray now.”
Uncle Thor couldn't stay in the room while they took pictures of his ankle, but he came back in as soon as they were done. He held his hand while they waited for the picture to develop and then, Daddy was there.
“Sleepy,” his father’s eyes were went and he hugged him so hard and then they were both crying. “I’m so sorry, baby. I should’ve been here faster.”
“It’s okay, Daddy. Uncle Thor kept me company.”
His ankle was broken and he had to get a cast. He chose a lime green cover for it and Daddy bought duct tape the same color and decorated his crutches with it. Everyone at the house signed his cast.
It was hard to go back to camp because he wasn't allowed to run and he had to swim with a plastic bag on his foot. But the other kids thought his cast was cool and they let him spend extra time in the arts and crafts room.
And the whole time he had it on, Uncle Thor let him ride around on his shoulders whenever they went out.
Cooking classes only ran for two weeks, but for those two whole weeks Magni didn't go to town camp with his brother. Instead, he walked into a real live professional kitchen and he got an apron that he’d carefully written his name on with a fabric marker.
The instructor’s name was Clarence and he a short man with a big mustache and a loud laugh. There were only five other kids in the class, so they all got plenty of attention.
“Today, we make art!” Clarence would boom every morning. He would write the list of ingredients on the board, but not tell them what they were making. Usually Magni could figure it out just from that, but sometimes it was new.
They got to use real knives and Clarence showed them how to hold the blades so they wouldn't cut themselves.
Magni’s favorite day was Friday. On Friday they could experiment.
“You can do whatever you like, but think carefully about flavors,” Clarence warned. “We want to be able to eat it when we are done.”
On the first Friday, Magni made lasagna, but the noodles came out rubbery and weird. Clarence pat him on the back,
“A good try.”
He thought about it most of the weekend then approached his uncle on Sunday.
“Can we make lasagna tonight?”
“I don’t see why not,” Uncle Loki didn’t look up from his laptop. “Why don’t you make sure we have everything for it?”
Magni laid out all the ingredients then went back to his uncle.
“It’s all out.”
“All right, preheat the oven and put a pot of water on the stove. Come get me when it’s boiled.”
The oven was easy. He had to be more careful with the water as it was heavy, but he managed and turned the flame on high. It took a long time for the water to boil, but he stayed in the kitchen. Modi drifted in, flicking the back of Magni’s neck,
“Cool. Do you want to play Mario Kart after?”
Modi leaned against his back.
“When do you start camp with me again?”
“After this week.”
“Okay,” Modi sighed. “Cause it’s not the same without you.”
Magni smiled a little at his hands.
“Miss you too.”
It had been kind of okay to be in different classrooms this year. Magni missed being able to talk to Modi whenever he wanted, but it was also kind of nice never being called by the wrong name or get their work confused.
Town camp would be fun, but it was nice to have this sliver of time with a pot of water and the promise of good food.
When the water boiled, Modi had already left again. Magni went back up to Uncle Loki’s office.
Uncle Loki saved his work and came downstairs as he promised. He was very good about promises. Together they let the noodles slither into the water, even if Uncle Loki wouldn't let him drain them.
“It’s too heavy,” he chided and shooed him back. The puff of steam rose up from the stove and put waves into his uncle’s hair.
Together they browned the meat and layered the dish. Together they made broccoli to eat on the side and slathered a white bread in garlic and butter.
They never talked much when they cooked and Magni liked that. He liked how quiet Uncle Loki could be. How they could move together like a team.
And he really liked how when the dish came out and the family said it was good, Loki deferred entirely to him,
“Magni made it,” he’d shrug. “I’m just the sous chef.”
The next Friday, Magni didn’t make lasagna. He’d already perfected that. Instead he tried a souffle and when it collapsed, he just smiled. Uncle Loki would help him do it right later.
“You want to go to school?” Modi had pulled a face. “It’s summer! Come to camp with us.”
“I like school,” Hel sniffed. “And anyway, it’s different school. And there aren't any grades or tests.”
“Still sounds boring,” Modi groaned. “At least Magni is making cupcakes and stuff.”
“I’ll be making explosions.”
There weren't actually many explosions, to her disappointment, but there were lots of other fun things. The first week was chemistry themed and they did get to make some cool slimes. She explained to Magni how bread was held together and how yeast was alive and he actually listened.
She gave Jojo the slime, pleased when he played with it all night.
The second week was forensics and she loved every second of it. The teachers set up a fake burglary and set up clues. Each day they went over different kinds of evidence.
“And then we got to match fingerprints!” She explained to her father. “It was so cool! And then we got to look at hair under a microscope. Tomorrow we get to look at different kinds of people’s blood because there’s lots of different kinds.”
“You’re O positive,” her father told her with a smile. “In case you get asked.”
When Sleepy broke his ankle, her Uncle Thor gave her one of the x-rays when they came home.
“I can keep this?” She asked, eyes wide. She felt terrible for her little brother, of course and had already brought him her best pillow and his favorite action figure while he lay too small and pale on the couch.
“He said you could and I bet the rest of your class would like to see it.”
She brought it with her the next day and the teacher showed them all how to read it.
It was pretty much the best summer ever.
It was pretty much the worst summer ever. For two whole weeks, Modi had waited patiently for his brother to finish up cooking classes and start coming to camp with him. At least he’d had Sleepy for company, even if all he ever wanted to talk about was Minecraft and lanyard stitches. Then the kid had gone and busted his ankle and for three whole days Modi rode the bus alone.
He’d never really done that. Been alone. The other kids on the bus were fine, they mostly left him alone though. So he spent the whole half hour ride just by himself.
It was the worst.
And then there was camp itself. The other boys in his group were okay, he got along with them all mostly, but none of them were really his friends. He spent a lot of time alone, drawing in his notebook. Hel had told him once that before they had come to school, she hadn't had any friends and at all. It seemed weird then and worse now. How could she stand it?
The first day Magni came with him, he was overjoyed, but when they got to camp Magni hit it off with a boy called Justin and his friend Thomas and they included Modi mostly. It was just...not what he’d hoped.
“I’m bored,” he whined to Hel.
“You should’ve come to science camp with me,” she sniffed.
“But that’s school!”
“I’m not the one who’s bored.”
“Maybe try a few new things,” his father suggested.
So Magni tried out for the play, but he got put in the chorus and he just mumbled along in the back. He played different sports and he was pretty good at most of them, but none of them were as fun as soccer. He made daisy chains with some of the younger kids and helped paint a mural.
None of it was right. None of it was with his brother.
He crept into his dad’s room after he was meant to be in bed. Dad was still awake, the little television in his room playing a football game. He was sitting on his bed, some financial papers spread out in front of him.
“What’s wrong?” he looked up immediately. Modi climbed up on the bed and leaned into him.
“I don’t like camp.”
“No?” Dad frowned. “What don’t you like about it?”
“It’s just...boring. And I don’t have any friends. And Magni has plenty even though he wasn't even there for two weeks which isn't fair. And he won’t be in my class next year,” he turned his face into his dad’s arm, hiding. “He doesn't want to be my brother anymore.”
Dad pulled him in close and rubbed his back,
“You know that your uncle Loki and I didn't talk for many years.”
“It’s what makes me saddest in life,” his father sighed. “We both had good reasons, but in the end, we lost years of each other’s lives. I don’t know what it’s like to be a twin, but I do know that you and Magni are much smarter than I was.”
Dad didn't tell him what to do, but Modi thought he understood. He went back up to there shared room. Magni wasn't sleeping either. He was using a flashlight to read though he turned it off hastily when he heard someone coming near.
“It’s just me,” Modi sat down on his brother’s bed.
“You okay?” Magni sat up, frowning.
“No,” he sat his chin on his knee. “Camp is really boring.”
“I like it.” Magni countered.
“Because you have friends and I don’t.”
“Sure you do. The only reason I made friends was everyone already liked you. You just don’t pay attention.”
“That’s not true,” he frowned. Was it? “I want you to pay attention.”
Magni’s frown matched his. They were quiet for awhile then Magni nodded.
“Okay. Want to play soccer tomorrow?”
“But there’s no game scheduled.”
It turned out that you could start a spontaneous soccer game if bought a ball and were willing to make a few adults mad when you were supposed to be playing freeze tag. They played for an hour and Magni passed Modi the ball every time.
The whole summer, Jojo got to paint. The program was almost an hour away from home, but Jojo didn’t mind the long bus ride there or the car ride back with just him and Dad. On the way there, he listened to his hand-me-down iPod full of Fen’s music. He liked some of it and he gave all of it a chance.
The teachers at the art school were really easy going. They didn't make him talk so he did more often because they didn't know that he never did. The kids there were totally different from his old school. All of them liked to paint and draw.
“I like to make things out of garbage,” one girl said proudly, showing off a mobile of soda can tabs.
“That’s really cool,” he mumbled and she smiled at him. It poured over him like warm water.
Her name was Alyce and the whole summer they sat next to each other. Jojo painted a picture of her face and she made him one of her mobiles with cut up sharp bits of plastic from soda bottles. He hung it over his bed and it caught the light just right, sending arcs of green and brown over his walls.
He came home with dirty fingernails, messy pinch pots, and lots of paintings. At the end of the summer, he had a little notepad with email addresses written in it from four different classmates, but Alyce’s was on the top with an angry face sketched next to it with the words ‘Write me or else!’
It was much easier to write an email than talk a blue streak. He wrote her the first email that night and was pleased that she wrote back right away.
“She’s the love of my life,” he told his father as he showed her the selfie Alyce had sent of her new purple hair. “Can I have purple hair?”
His dad looked at the photo, looked at Jojo and sighed,
“I really cannot be upset. You come by it honestly.”
Uncle Thor suppressed a laugh.
“Shut up you,” Dad ordered without looking up from the picture. “I’m glad you found someone you care about, Jojo. Think about the purple hair. If you still want it next week then I’ll find a place to do it right.”
He did still want it in a week. Dad made the appointment for a week after that. Jojo didn't change his mind.
He walked into the salon, a little nervous, because he can tell that Dad was a little nervous for him. The stylist is a tall thin man with a lot of tattoos. When he smiled, he had a gold tooth like a pirate.
“Hel is going to be so jealous,” Jojo whispered and that made his father smile.
“She will,” he agreed. “This is Jojo. He would like purple hair.”
“Bold move,” the stylist didn’t look phased. “What shade of purple?”
Jojo showed him Alyse’s picture. She had a pretty pastel.
“I like this. But also darker?”
“Ombre,” the stylist suggested. He showed Jojo a picture of what he meant, with light purple at the top and dark at the bottom. “When you’re hair grows back in, it’ll be black, light purple, then dark purple. So if you don’t want to keep it up, it’ll still look cool.”
It took a long time to get the dye done, but Jojo was good at waiting. When it was done, his dad let him use his phone to send a picture to Alyce.
No fair! she texted back, You look way cooler than me!
“If the kids at school make fun of you,” his dad started in the car.
“They won’t,” he shrugged.
“They just won’t.”
Because Jojo knew how to stare at someone until they got creeped out and walked away. Because they were scared of his little sister and his big brother, who might not go to the school anymore, but everyone remembered as being very big for a little kid.
Because Jojo wouldn't let them either.
“All right,” his dad sighed, then glanced at him. “It looks amazing. I wish I’d had the guts to do something like that as a kid.”
“You could still do it,” Jojo pointed out.
“Well, not really. I mean with my job and....” his dad trailed off and looked down the road. Then he grinned. “What do you think about green?”
They turned the car around and the stylist laughed, but made time for them. His dad didn't do his whole head, just one thick dark stripe near the front of his face.
When they got home, everyone gave Jojo compliments until he was flushed. Only Uncle Thor had the guts to say anything to Dad.
“I like it,” Thor smiled and touched the green streak with one finger. “Reminds me of a boy I used to know.”
“Yes,” his dad grinned. “Me too.”
A few months before summer started, his dad had started a conversation with a frown.
“It has been brought, rather rudely, to my attention that you’re too old for day camp.”
“Yeah, Dad,” Fen rolled his eyes. “I aged out of town camp last year. You were mad about it then too.”
“You could be a counselor,” he offered. “Or one in training anyway. They don’t seem to pay which seems unfair.”
“Or,” Fen prompted.
“Or,” his dad swallowed hard, “you could go to sleep away camp.”
“Really?” His eyes went wide.
“Yes. Really. Your uncle seems to think that I’m holding you back from the joys of the great outdoors. There’s a four week program, lots of outdoor activities. Hiking, boating, swimming in a lake” his dad looked like the words were choking him. “Even some real outdoor camping.”
He gave his dad the fastest hardest hug he could manage.
“I can’t wait!”
On the day, his bags packed, Fen might have felt a little more reluctant. It was sort of scary to hug his siblings and cousins goodbye.
The camp was only about an hour away, but it wound away from the town Fen had spent his whole life in and around a huge mountain. The camp was in the valley, a shining jewel of a lake at its center. As they pulled up amid dozens of other minivans, his heart fluttered nervously.
His bunk was a low slung wood cabin and inside there were beds for ten boys and two counselors. Half the boys were already clustered at the back talking animatedly while their parents said their goodbyes.
“You must be Fenrir,” a tall teenage boy smiled down at him over a clipboard. Not that far down. Fen was tall.
“Fen,” he corrected quietly.
“And I’m Ben!” The counselor laughed. “Easy to remember than. Do you like top bunk or bottom bunk?”
“Either is okay,” he eyed the top bunk with interest. It was high, but there were bars if he rolled over too much.
His dad’s hand tightened on his shoulder and Fen waited for him to protest, but there was nothing. The grip loosened and when Fen glanced back, his uncle had an eyebrow pointedly lifted. His dad nodded and his hand dropped away.
One of the boys peeled off the group, looking up at Fen’s dad then at Fen,
“My name is Sigurd. You should bunk with me.”
“Uh,” Fen blinked. “Okay?”
Sigurd took his arm and dragged him to a bed in the back corner, he whispered,
“It’s cool. I’ve got two moms, so I get it.”
“I-” Fen looked back at where his dad and uncle were having a fierce conversation. “Okay.”
After settling on the bed situation, Jeremy started giving him advice about how to set up the top bunk so he’d be comfortable. His dad helped make the bed and unpack most of his things. But by then a lot of the other parents were going.
“Ben says you can call us on Friday,” his Dad leaned down and pulled him into a hard hug. “But if you need me, I’ll be here in a blink.”
“Okay, Dad,” he tried to sound bored, but he maybe clinged a little into the hug. His dad’s eyes looked a little wet.
“And we’ll bring everyone to come see you on Family Day in two weeks,” his uncle gave him a hug too. “Have fun, Fenny.”
The first night was hard. He didn’t know where anything was and the food wasn’t very good. Sigurd helped some and with his lead, a lot of the other boys were friendly enough. He did miss his attic room though, the cabin was full of strange noises and too many strangers. He curled up and slid his hand under his pillow, surprised when it brushed a square of paper.
He pulled it out and held it up to the moonlight. It was a photo, a picture of his entire family posed on the steps of their house. They’d taken it only the second day they’d moved in and everyone looked tired and a little irritated. Hel had a scratch on her nose and his dad had a smudge of something on his cheek.
It was great. He slid it back under his pillow and closed his eyes. Maybe his dad had put it there or maybe his uncle. It didn't really matter. They were out there, not so far away really, and he’d be home soon.
The very next day they went on their first hike and Fen fell in love with sleep away camp. Ben turned out to know a lot about trees, and he didn't mind all of Fen’s questions. Sigurd stuck to Fen like glue, explaining all about camp traditions like the first swim of the summer where they all jumped off the dock into the lake in a shrieking mass. The water was cold and muddy. Fen could sink his toes into the muck.
The month passed by in a blur, punctuated with phone calls home and Family Day where he had by far the biggest family. After they all left, his entire cabin had besieged him asking questions about what it was like living with so many people all year round.
“Loud,” he summarized with a laugh.
On the last day, he felt nervous all over again.
When he saw the minivan, distinctive among the others because Uncle Thor had put up their entire stick figure family in the back so that it took up almost the entire back window over Dad’s vehement protests, he found himself smiling.
“Nope,” his dad got out of the car. “That’s not my son. My son is a boy and that is not a boy. That is a teenager.”
“Dad!” He laughed.
“You've gone up another inch,” his dad hugged him tight and he smelled just like home. “And you've got a tan. I didn't even know we could tan. Are you all packed up?”
“Of course,” his dad laughed. “Why don’t you say goodbye to your friends and we’ll finish up for you.”
“Fen, say hi to my moms!” Sigurd grabbed his hand and dragged him to two very tall, imposing women.
“Nice to meet you,” he said politely.
“We’ve heard a lot about you, Fen. You can call me Val and this is Brunhilde.”
“Fen has two dads!” Jeremy exclaimed, “Isn't that cool?”
Fen had never really gotten around to correcting this idea of Sigurd's. If it had been a kid from school, he would've said so right away and probably with some meanness. But Sigurd had been so nice to him.
“Yes,” Val laughed. “That’s very cool. Should we meet them too?”
Before Fen could protest or come up with a diversion, they were there. His uncle shook hands with them both with a broad smile,
“By your names, I would guess we once came from the same part of the world.”
“Likely,” Val looked away. “But that was a long time ago.”
“Wasn't it though?” his dad stepped up beside his uncle. “Let’s not talk about it. We do have an extra hour or so before we have to be back for the sitter though. Would you like to get lunch?”
So Fen got to spend an extra lunch with just Sigurd and he forgot to warn his dad about the mis-impression. Instead, they ate burgers and read each other the Trivial Pursuit cards that the diner had on the tables.
“Maybe we can see each other again before next summer,” Sigurd said hopefully.
“Yeah, maybe,” Fen nodded. “Dad said I can get a phone for my birthday this year. I’ll send you the number when I do.”
To Fen’s great surprise, he fell asleep on the drive home before anyone could say anything to him. He was exhausted as though the entire summer of staying up late had caught up with him all at once.
When he got home, the mob was waiting. Sleepy climbed his brother like a tree, settling himself on his shoulders with a triumphant whoop while Hel tried to tell him about everything she’d learned all at once. Jojo presented himself, his hair gleaming in the sun. Fen touched the purple locks,
“Looks really good, bro.” He was rewarded with a toothy grin.
His cousins came on as a second wave, Modi offering up a soccer ball with an extortion for a game later. Magni held up a plate of cookies for him to take one and Thrud gave him a sparkly picture that left glitter all over his hands.
“I missed you brats,” he laughed and the collective hug almost brought him down to his knees.
He did play soccer with Modi once the crowd subsided. Magni, Hel, and Jojo joined after awhile and Fen switched to more of a referee to keep things fair. He missed camp already, but he’d missed this too.
Dinner was everyone trying to talk at once and Dad smiling so hard, Fen was actually a little worried about him. He even let everyone stay up late to finish watching Fellowship of the Ring, the little ones deemed old enough now to watch it with parents present.
Sleepy climbed into Fen’s lap at Rivendell and was sleep before they left it. Fen played with his hair idly. When the movie ended, only he, Jojo, Dad and Uncle Thor were still awake.
“Help us get them to bed?”
Fen nodded and picked up Sleepy. He carried his little brother, who was definitely heavier than he was a month ago. He’d missed the last half the saga of the broken ankle, the cast removed a few days ago. The ankle still looked skinner than the other one, but otherwise all was well. Fen tucked him into his bed, pulling the Minecraft printed blanket up around his shoulders.
To his surprise, his brother turned and pat Fen’s hand gently.
“Night, Fenny.” Then seemed to fall back into a deep sleep.
He went back to the living room, and found just Hel left, curled tight around her pillow. Her hair was longer, he realized. And her face had changed somehow. Not a lot, just a little. He picked her up too and she roused enough to grumble.
“You could walk,” he suggested and she snorted.
He took her up the stairs. Uncle Thor was talking quietly to Thrud, who had apparently stirred on her journey as well.
“Tuck me in,” Hel ordered and Fen did with a laugh though he might’ve argued on another night. “I missed your stupid face.”
“I missed yours too, pointy nose.”
She dug said pointy nose into his arm until he yelped in protest and tickled her soundly.
“Enough,” his uncle laughed. “It’s time for all of us to sleep.”
Fen poked her one last time for good measure, then stood before they could retaliate. Uncle Thor put a hand on the back of Fen’s neck, gentle, but firm and propelled him from the room. He guided him to the steps up to the attic.
They paused there, in the growing quiet.
“It’s good to have you home, son.”
Before Fen could reply, his uncle was gone and his heart thudded unevenly in his chest. His eyes stung for some reason and he ignored it to take the stairs up to his room two at time. He returned to his kingdom in the stars, flinging open the window to let out the musty smell.
If you're interested in finding me on tumblr, I'm dragonmuse there.
As he aged, Loki had come to love fall. After all, he no longer had to report to school regularly and his life went on much the same through summer. So he learned to enjoy the way the leaves turned and t-shirts gave way to soft sweaters and his black boots emerged again from the closet.
He could admit now, very quietly and buried very far down, that he liked the plaid shirts Thor pulled out of the depths of his closet. They were worn soft things that were pulled idly over t-shirts then thermals as it got colder. Long locks of blond hair draped over the pilling fabric and it made him seem much more approachable. As one of the class mother’s had said wistfully, unaware that Loki was in hearing range: ‘A Farmers’ Market DILF’’.
With the children occupied through the summer, they’d spent more time together. They made budgets, discussed the vagaries of conveying morals to their clan, and went grocery shopping ad nauseam. It was a new kind of closeness, not just the reassembling of the ruins of their brotherhood from the first half of the year. They were building a partnership though Loki hadn’t quite dared to put the name to it yet.
And the day Sleepy had broken his ankle, Loki had rushed there, heart in his throat. But...but he’d known. Known with surety that Thor would be there, taking care of his child as tenderly as his own. It had been a long time since there’d been anyone else that he could trust with his children and it felt more precious than gold.
Even now as they went about the tedious process of lawn care, bedding down the garden for the winter, his eyes tracked his brother.
Around them, the world was getting ready to sleep. The last garish display of color would give way to the comforter of white pulled tight around it’s chin. The house would be very warm with it’s new boiler and the fireplace in the living room.
“I’m going to go split logs,” Thor announced, pleased with the axe he had in hand.
“Well, you’re dressed the part,” Loki grinned.
“I’m a lumberjack and that’s okay. I sleep all night and I work all day...” Thor sang with a laugh, winding his way down to the fallen tree in the backyard.
If Loki had needled him that way when they were children, it would’ve been a brawl. How good it was to have grown past that. To be easy as old shirts together. He shook his head at his own sentimentally, pruning down the rose bush.
“Daddy!” Hel appeared at his side, “Can I help?”
He handed her the smaller shears, showing her how to make the cuts. She and Magni had taken to braiding each other’s hair, long straight lines down their backs now that Magni had grown it out long. She looked older, her features sharper. He had one of those weird wavering seconds, where he could imagine her a grown woman.
“What’re you doing?” Modi wandered up, abandoning whatever he’d been doing with Thrud and a pile of sticks.
“Pruning down the bushes. They’ll grow back bigger next year,” Hel explained haughty as if she hadn’t just been told that herself. They were ever his children, with all his strengths and flaws on display.
“If you have a moment, I could use help pulling up the dead vegetable plants,” Loki offered and Modi, surprised to be asked, nodded.
They worked together down the long rows. Loki glanced up occasionally, catching the spot of red and black, Thor’s shirt fluttering out behind him as he chopped.
The dogs were chasing each other and Thrud and Sleepy through the messy fields. They’d all have to get checked for ticks by the end of the day.
Thor carried up an armful of logs and began stacking them neatly into the tiny woodshed that leaned up against the house. Red leaves fluttered around them as the wind rushed in. Modi pulled to hard on a plant and landed on his butt with a laugh.
When they went back in, Loki drew out the big slow cooker and filled it with meat, potatoes, carrots, and soup stock. Magni ran back outside and collected up the last of the fresh herbs, sprinkling them in amid the vegetables with bitten lip concentration.
The woodshed filled steadily, dirt and sweat streaking Thor’s face and doing little to diminish his clear exuberance. Eventually Fen wheedled him into letting him hold the axe over Loki’s loud objections.
“He’s stronger than we both were at his age,” Thor assured him.
“That’s not saying much on my part.”
Fen ran all the way back up to the house to show Loki his first perfect split,
“See, Dad! I can do it!”
“I see,” he looked at his half-grown boy, a leaf stuck in his dark hair and his smile the match of Thor’s. “Good job.”
That night after the stew was consumed by the hoard, Thor showed Fen how to stack their wood in the fireplace and let him light the tinder. The fire blazed to life to the cheers of the little ones. It was a little early in the season for it, but Loki heated cider and passed around mugs for all.
“You know,” Thor sat beside him on the couch. He smelled of sweat and woodsmoke, still unwashed from his days work. His hands were cupped around a thick clay mug that Hel had proudly produced the week before from her art class.The handle was too small for Thor’s fingers, but he accepted it with pride. “That this was the same time of year we met up again.”
“It was only a year ago, my memory hasn’t gone that soft,” Loki said wryly. He nudged Sleepy away from the fire with one foot over the boy’s laughing protests.
“It’s been a good year,” Thor helped him make a leg barrier as Sleepy tried to vault over Loki’s calf.
“Yes, it has,” he took a sip of his cider.
“We should celebrate.”
“We don’t have enough holidays and birthdays around here?” Loki raised an eyebrow. “With Thrud’s party next week, Halloween after that, then Jojo and Hel’s.”
“And yours,” Thor reminded him.
“I’m too old for birthdays.”
“You’re younger than me.”
“My point stands.”
“Shut up,” Thor elbowed him, then reached out held out his hand so Sleepy fell into his palm. “Enough, pup, go play cards with your sister.”
“Aw,” Sleepy pouted, but was quickly folded into a game of Go Fish with Hel and Modi.
“Anyway, I’m older than you and I still like birthdays.”
They’d celebrated Thor’s forty-fifth birthday in April with a cake loaded down by candles and many handmade presents from the kids. Loki had silently presented him with a classic Gameboy, very like the one Loki had accidently dropped in a puddle while ‘borrowing’ it when they were children. Thor had been delighted and hugged him so hard his ribs ached afterwards.
“I like them, I’m just not interested in my own.”
“Is it because of your eighteenth?” Thor asked quietly.
“Let’s not have that conversation and say we did,” Loki said firmly.
Eighteen meant you were a legal adult. Eighteen meant all the creeping suspicions of youth confirmed when you sent away for your birth certificate and the state came back empty handed. Eighteen meant yelling and recriminations and adoption papers dug out from locked boxes with tears running down his mother’s face as he packed his bags. Eighteen was a long time ago.
“All right,” Thor sighed. “But I do think celebrating our family can’t be a bad thing.”
“How do you do that?”
“Sound so sincere? It’s an unbelievable talent.”
On Monday, Loki took an early lunch break and went to therapy. He went only every other week now and looked at it as maintenance rather than improving at this point. Dr. Lewis’ office was small and didn’t have a proper waiting room, just a chair in a hallway shared by other offices. Loki had long ago memorized the cracks in the paint and usually amused himself by imagining the walls finally splitting open, and what sorts of things might come tumbling out.
“Come on in!” Dr. Lewis called when the hour ticked over.
The room was small, but filled with light and plants. Dr. Lewis always sat in a chair that was far too big for her. She was young, though not as young as she’d been when they first began, with dark hair, cat eye glasses, and an amused tilt to her mouth when it was at rest. When they’d met she hadn’t had a Ph.d, she was just finishing her masters and willing to give a break to clients to begin her practice. That had been nearly fifteen years ago. It was the longest relationship of Loki’s adult life for better or for worse.
“Good morning,” she said cheerfully as he folded himself into the couch. It sagged in a familiar way beneath him.
“Good morning,” he smiled at her. “I see you re-potted the jade plant.”
“You were right, it was getting a little crowded,” she laughed. “I think I could hear it sigh in relief once I moved it.”
“Having more room to grow seems an apt metaphor,” he folded his hands into his lap. “It seems that I may have reached a point of decision.”
“About Thor?” She guessed, folding her legs neatly. She always wore tight pencil skirts and white button down shirts that strained decorum, but Loki found it a charming quirk rather than an annoying affectation.
“It seems I must...do something. Say something. Shouldn’t I? Otherwise, we’ll just keep going as we are and never talk about it and that’s never ended well for us.”
“But you’re worried.”
“If I’m reading it wrong then I have good reason to be.”
“Not arguing there.”
He stared out the window over her shoulder. There was only parking lot there and more squat office buildings. He thought about plaid shirts and woodsmoke.
“He’s my brother.”
“Yes,” she agreed.
“If one of my children were to approach another like that....it’d be horrifying. I’d do everything in my power to stop it. To keep them safe from that.” He had to squelch down nausea even saying it.
“So would I,” she said strongly. “I’m not saying that I’m exactly happy to cheerlead incest at any age, but you are both grown men. That makes it a little different. And your relationship has always been...unorthodox.”
“Codependent and unhealthy, you said.”
“Yes, when you were still children,” she agreed.
They’d talked over it a thousand times. His father’s demands unmatched with any visible pride or affection, the encouragement of violence as a show of masculinity, combined with their mother’s confusion over her unorthodox child had isolated Loki early. He idealized his brother, crushed every time Thor was not who he expected him to be. There’d been no physical indulgence in his fantasies then and they had quickly turned from love to curdled violence in any case.
Now though. Now there was warmth. Loki had risen from the ashes of his own fires for the sake of his children. He wasn’t a violent man anymore than Thor was now.
“And now,” she sighed, “now I can’t think that you could make room in your life for anyone else. So you might as well do what makes you happy.”
He waited on that. Waited out the week of homework and bedtime and rushing between work and school. The house heaved with life, mess spilling out where it had only just been contained.
On Saturday, Loki made a cake. Alone. He took his time and built it out of a dozen layers. He alternated them with food colored. Red. Yellow. Green. Yellow. He frosted it chocolate and garnished it with strawberries. He lit no candles. He made no explanation when he served it after dinner.
But Thor knew and touched his hand feather light,
“Happy Anniversary, Loki.”
That night, Loki did his usual walk on the second floor, checking that every bed was tucked full of a sleeping child. He smoothed down covers and rescued stuffed animals from the floor. He turned off reading lights until the house was silent and dark. He went halfway up the attic stairs,
“Good night, Fen!”
“Night, Dad!” Fen pushed down his headphones. “Asleep by eleven, I promise!”
“Mmhm,” he said doubtfully, but the headphones were already back on, blocking out all outside intrusions.
He went down to his room. He looked at himself in the mirror. He was still handsome, in his own way, he thought. Tall and slim with broad shoulders and clear eyes. His hair was still mostly dark, laced through only a little with silver, and the single dark green streak that needed the roots touched up.
Maybe there was someone else out there for him. Someone sly and funny and not his brother. Loki peeled off his sweatshirt, stood there in his bare feet and loose t-shirt that was probably Thor’s to begin with.
He gave himself a wry smile.
He slipped into Thor’s room and shut the door behind him.
There's more to come, but most likely not until after the new year. Have a peaceful week and catch you all on the other side! Thank you so much for being kick ass readers!
There were a thousand ways it could’ve gone and Loki had worried over all of them. The trouble with being a genius (and he was in his own way) was that your brain could devour itself. Dr. Lewis had once likened it to an ouroboros, the snake locked in an infinite act of autocannibalism.
He liked that word. Autocannibalism. Loki had long been attracted to complications both in his life and his vocabulary. So he could easily imagine the million and five ways that walking into Thor’s room could’ve detonated the careful peace they had been building.
But Thor had looked up, his hair golden and loose around his shoulders, still damp from a late shower and his broad shoulders a little rounded as looked at his phone. His finger dragged over the screen with deliberate care, most likely Words with Friends, a game Thor played only with strangers and refused to see the irony. He was wearing a t-shirt that was riddled with holes and Loki was confident dated back to high school.
He looked a little worn really. When the door closed, he looked up without much surprise. He folded back the comforter and Loki slipped in beside him. The sheets smelled a little like pinesap. The woods hadn’t quite left Thor behind today.
For awhile, Loki let it play out as though the night was simply chilly and he wanted a bed mate. He watched Thor pick out words, a faint smile on his lips when he got a good one. After some time, Loki walked his hand over to rest on Thor’s bicep. He shifted minutely closer, his knee bumping into Thor’s thigh.
Thor dropped an ‘X’ on a triple letter score. He grinned and looked at Loki as if for approval.
“Yes, you’re very clever,” Loki laughed, feeling only a little foolish at the apparent decay of his seduction skills.
“Thank you,” Thor said gravely, set the phone aside and turned to face him. He was suddenly very close. Close enough that Loki could see the annoyingly charming crinkles at the corners of his eyes and smell his toothpaste. Their toothpaste since Thor apparently just used whatever was at hand. Loki wouldn’t be surprised if he occasionally just used Loki’s toothbrush because it was closer in the cup.
“If we weren’t raised as brothers, we’d have started fucking the day after we met again,” Loki blurted.
Thor blinked once, very slowly, then his grin widened, “Did that sound better in your head?”
“You have no idea,” he buried his face in his hands. “I had so many good lines.”
Rough skin slid around his wrists and pried his hands back.
“I’ve heard your lines before,” Thor was closer now. His lips were chapped from the cold and he needed to shave. “They work because they’re designed to fool. I think we’re past that.”
The kiss was easier than finding a reply. Loki did not anticipate the almost immediate overdrive his libido would kick into. There was no accounting for the span of Thor’s hand spread wide over his ribs making him feel simultaneously vulnerable and safe. He could not have planned for the way their legs would tangle together or the sheets would bunch annoyingly between them.
They kissed and kissed, the bedside lamp casting their shadows across the sheets and against the wall until they became one.
Loki had assumed the sex would be good because he’d never had bad sex with someone he liked. Whether that was fortune or low standards, who could say? He had not accounted for how insanely hot it would be to look up at such a long beloved face as they writhed together. It felt less like a risk and more like the world’s best footnote in their ridiculous shared epic.
Afterward, they burrowed deep under the covers together. Thor lay a heavy possessive arm over Loki’s chest and rested his lips at the curve of his shoulder. There was a book of things they should discuss, but Loki let them go for now. There’d be time in the morning.
He woke feeling deliciously good. They were still laying close together, Thor had turned on his stomach, but he still hand one hand resting lightly on Loki’s chest. He decided to enjoy it for another moment, then figure out how to proceed.
“Daddy!” Hel screamed and Loki was in pants and halfway up the stairs before he had a chance to think. Good job, body, way to be on the case. Both dogs barreled up the stairs with him, barking in excitement.
Hel was standing in the bathroom, with no obvious blood on her.
“What happened?” Loki asked, breathlessly.
“I flushed the toilet and water came out of the shower drain! And it smells really bad.” She pointed. Loki took a step inside and gagged.
“What happened?” Thor was right behind him, looking down at the drain. “What is that smell?”
“The pipes are clogged,” Loki guessed. “We’ll need to get a plumber in.”
“I would do it, but I have a client meeting today,” Thor frowned. “I could move it, but they came from out of town.”
“It’s fine, I can. I was thinking about working from home today anyway,” Loki hadn’t been, but it wouldn’t be a problem.
After some experimentation, they found the kitchen sink wasn’t draining, but the water just sat, so there was enough for everyone to brush their teeth and then it was off to school. By the time Loki had hustled everyone out the door, Thor had already left with a heartfelt apology.
Loki stood, still in his pajama pants now mildly damp, and sighed,
“Karma, you instant bitch.”
Then he called work. The plumber turned up quickly at least.
“Definitely a main line clog,” the man frowned. “I’ll snake it, but I think you might have a septic tank issue.”
“Of course, we do,” he rubbed his forehead.
“Let me snake out the line then see about the tank.”
A text came through as the plumber went back to his truck.
School just called. Modi got suspended! Can’t get out of meeting, can you get him?
On my way.
“Sorry,” Loki passed the plumber on the way back. “My son. I’ll be back quickly.”
“No problem,” the man flashed him a smile. “Got two at home myself. Big handfuls.”
The last frayed remains of a day afterglow died a cold death as he pulled into the school’s lot. He’d been here a time or two to answer for his children’s crimes and it was never something he relished.
The principal’s office was right at the front door. He signed in and looked through the glass door. He could see Modi sitting in a chair, his legs pulled up tight to his chest. He looked worn out.
“You know, you’re meant to leave the trouble making to your cousins,” he said quietly, slipping inside.
Modi frowned down at the floor, “Is Dad coming?”
“He’s in a meeting. Come on, let’s go face the music,” he put a hand on his shoulder.
“Mrs. Deerfield will see you,” the school secretary waved them in.
Mrs. Deerfield was a pleasant enough woman with steel grey hair and forever wrapped in a cardigan. She frowned at Loki, but he was used to that. He let Modi pick a seat then took the other.
“I was expecting Mr. Odinson,” she glanced down at the file on her desk. “But I see you’re down as a guardian.”
“I am,” he agreed. Then waited. She looked at him expectantly. He looked back at her serenely.
“Modi had a run in with another boy,” she finally began, when it was clear Loki wasn’t going to offer any explanation or ask any questions. “They called each other a few names and then Modi punched him. The nurse thinks the other child will have a black eye.”
“I see.” He said dryly. Beside him, Modi was still staring at the floor.
“Both boys are being suspended. I am told by the teacher that Modi was very provoked. Three school days. And when they return, we expect them to apologize to each other,” she put a form in front of Loki. “This is the incident report...well. You know what to do.”
“Yes,” he read it over carefully, noticing a lack of detail, then signed it. “I’ll take a copy.”
Modi trailed Loki out, the copy of the report in his hand. They got into the car and Loki tapped a finger against the steering wheel.
“He was making fun of Jojo!” Modi blurted. Loki blinked, turning to him. His own children took much longer to crack generally. “Ollie is always mean about Jojo’s hair and stuff and then he used a bad word and I was just so mad!”
“A bad word?”
“I’m not saying it,” Modi folded his arms over his chest. “I don’t care if Jojo likes boys or whatever, but they shouldn’t be mean about it.”
“I don’t know who Jojo likes,” Loki said lightly. “That’s up to Jojo, but there will always be cruel people, Modi. You can’t punch all of them.”
“Because that only takes care of one of them at a time,” he turned the car on. “I’m starving. Let’s get fast food for lunch.”
“Really?” Modi’s eyes widened. “But...”
“Aren’t I in trouble?”
“Maybe with your Dad, but not with me,” he decided. “You did the wrong thing, but your heart was in the right place. Don’t do it again and we’re fine you and me.”
“Oh,” Modi untensed a little. “Can we get tacos?”
“As long as we get them to go. The plumber is still at the house.”
The plumber was still working when they arrived. They took their spoils into the living room and ate while Modi watched a Batman movie.
“Modi?” Loki offered him the last taco. “What do you like about school?”
“I dunno. Nothing.”
“Nothing? Not even your friends?”
Modi shrugged and bit into his taco, “They’re okay. I just...I dunno. I liked my old school better.”
“What was better about it? The teachers?”
“I was with Magni,” he muttered. “And we were team. It’s not his fault, he likes everything at school. And he’s better at school stuff.”
“Do you like your art classes?”
“They’re okay?” He frowned. “I mean the teacher is nice and we make fun stuff sometimes, but I’m not really good at it or anything.”
“All right, watch your movie. I’m going to go find out what’s going on with the plumbing.”
The plumber gave him a wave as he approached,
“I’ve fixed your immediate problem,” he flushed the toilet and nothing came up the shower drain. “But the septic tank probably should be serviced. I’d be worried about overuse with the number of people in the house. I can get you a deal with a friend of mine, but it’ll be a few thousand at the least.”
“Right,” Loki paid the man and took his card then sat down on the floor with a groan.
His phone rang.
“Modi is fine,” he said immediately. “Three day suspension for punching a bully.”
“Ugh,” Thor groaned. “I should’ve taught him how to run away instead of punch.”
“You did a good job, he gave the other kid a shiner,” he leaned against the cabinet. “The plumber thinks we need to redo the septic system. I can take money out of the vacation fund and maybe get a home equity loan, but if we wait-”
“You don’t read the statements I gave you, do you?”
“I told you, I don’t have any claim on that money.”
“It’s not mine!” Thor snapped and Loki felt a full body shudder of horror. He had forgotten what it was like to be on the sharp side of his brother’s anger and it was an unwelcome reminder. “I’m sorry, but Loki, I’m sending you the statement. Again. And instead of talking over me listen.”
“I’m listening,” he allowed.
“It’s mother’s trust for YOU. She put it aside. And if you can’t bring yourself to touch it for you, then use it for the children. She left us both one, so you’re not depriving anyone.”
“Mother’s trust?” he frowned. “She had money of her own?”
“She was a very clever woman. Read the statement, make the appointment for the septic system. I’ll be home regular time. Tell Modi to do his homework and stay in his room. I’ll talk to him when I get home.”
“All right,” he mumbled.
“And I love you,” Thor said softly, then hung up so Loki didn’t have have to say it back.
Jerk. The phone beeped again. He looked at the pdf coming in and reluctantly opened it. The document was long, but it was clearly what Thor had claimed. The trust was in his name, Thor listed as current custodian. After what had happened with Hel, Loki had assumed their father’s money had been entirely wiped out. When Thor spoke of inheritance, Loki had pictured a small sum, enough to subsidize Thor’s lifestyle.
It was substantially bigger than that. Enough to do whatever they wanted to the house and more. Enough to send the kids to college without worry or loans.
Enough to ease the kink between his shoulders that always started up when he thought about money.
Someone had taken time to carefully manage the trust. To invest it conservatively. To grow it. Without ever knowing if they’d see the owner again.
I love you too.
He called the number on the card. He thought about Modi and Jojo. He made a plan. He made another phone call.
Also afternoon snack because he didn’t want to to be eaten alive by their offspring before he could do anything.
Modi reluctantly turned off the movie and went upstairs as directed. Loki concentrated on work for a few hours. He would still work, he decided. The money wasn’t infinite and a pension was never a bad thing to have.
The kids came in waves, off different buses (they were allowed on the buses now which was nice) and devoured everything in their path before falling into various stages of homework. Even Sleepy and Thrud had worksheets that they filled out with serious expressions that Loki never failed to delight in.
When he finished his work, Magni hopped on a stool and looked expectantly to Loki,
“Let’s do chicken parmigiana tonight,” he decided and Magni nodded and pulled out the big pan.
It was a picture of messy calm when Thor came home. He gravitated to the kitchen, two fingers caressing Loki’s wrist which was almost more electric than a kiss would have been. While the kids were occupied, he told Thor his idea.
“I’ll let you put it to them,” Thor said gravely. “But I think it’d be good for them. Let me talk to Modi first. I do want to put a little fear into him about punching his way out of things.”
“I knew a boy who did that a lot,” Loki nudged him.
“And that’s why I want to make sure my children aren’t the same.”
Dinner was consumed, Loki set a subdue Modi on dishwashing and Jojo on drying.
“Sit down with me for a minute after you’re done,” he instructed and Jojo gave him a sideways look. He clearly already knew about Modi’s suspension, the word passed around the children almost immediately. Magni had given his brother some of his ice cream with a solicitous smile.
“Did I do something?” Jojo asked and Loki ruffled his hair, muted shades of purple falling through his fingers.
“No. But you are leaving water on the dishes.”
He made himself a cup of tea and sat by the window. He looked forward to spring when it would still be light out this time of night and he could see across the field into the woods. The boys slid into chairs at his left, looking at him warily.
“I have a proposal for the two of you, but it’s up to you if you want to do it. The decision is a big one, so I want you to think about it. All right?”
“All right,” Jojo repeated. Modi frowned and nodded.
“I was going to talk to you about it after this year, Jojo. The art camp you went to is part of a regular school program with a heavy emphasis on the arts. I was thinking about sending you there instead of beginning middle school here.”
“Really?” Jojo asked, breathlessly.
“Really,” Loki smiled at him. “I think you’d do better there. But it does mean a very long bus ride to and from school every day. You probably won’t get to do any afterschool programs and we may not be able to go to all your events like we do now. So there is a trade off.”
“But I’d get to go to art school every day.”
Jojo sat back in his chair, smile broad. “I want to do that.”
“I thought you’d say that,” Loki nodded. “Now. I called the school and they have two openings starting for the spring semester. So you don’t have to wait to go.”
“Two openings,” Modi frowned. “So...for me too?”
“I know that you don’t have an artistic soul,” Loki allowed. “But they do have something that I think you might like if you’re willing to give it a chance.”
“How do you feel about learning to dance?”
“Uh,” Modi licked his lips. “What?”
“They have a fairly good dance program. Modern, tap, and ballet,” Loki took a sip of his tea. “You’ll both still have regular classes like science and math. But you’d get to be on your feet and moving around for at least two hours every day.”
“During school?” Modi’s eyebrows lifted. “Like recess?”
“Oh no, it’ll be very strict. You’ll have to listen to your instructors, but it won’t be sitting. And it’ll give you a chance to make new friends.”
“It is a really long bus ride,” Jojo told him. “But it’s the best school. The hallways are filled with art and the teachers all really cool. I’ll introduce you to all my friends.”
“But we won’t be in the same grade,” Modi pointed out.
“No, but the school is much smaller,” Loki leaned in, “so there’s only one lunch period.”
“You can definitely eat with me,” Jojo said immediately, then a little more shyly. “Thanks for punching that guy for me.”
Loki hid his smile behind his mug. “We don’t hit people.” he sing-songed.
“Yes, Dad. Of course,” Jojo rolled his eyes. “Because beside for Fenny, we’d all break our knuckles.”
“There is that.”
They drove out to the school the next week. Modi stepped into the dance studio cautiously, not sure what to make of it.
“You go,” the dance instructor said in a thick Russian accent, pointing at Loki. Her hair was a flaming red and she wore all black. “Leave him with me.”
An hour later, Loki tentatively came back to collect Modi. The boy was covered his sweat, his cheeks a bright red and he was sitting in a full lotus on the floor.
“I want to go here,” Modi breathed out. “Ms. Romanov says I have to start with the little kids, but she’ll move me up quick.”
Jojo, who was somehow covered in paint already, and had been hugged by every kid that had been there over the summer, punched the air in triumph.
When they got back, Thor was waiting, listening eagerly.
“This dance instructor sounds very strict,” Thor noted.
“She is! It’s so cool,” Modi gushed. “She’s like the best coach ever.”
Magni wandered in to listen and after it had wound down, he pressed his lips together,
“We won’t even be in the same school anymore.”
“Yeah,” Modi put his arm around his shoulders, “but we’ll both be happy. And I can teach you some sick moves.”
Magni leaned into him and nodded.
Thor came to Loki that night. They’d spread the word to the children that privacy in general was going to be more strictly enforced now that everyone was getting older. A locked door meant you could knock, but you had to respect being turned away.
So they had their nights when they needed them. The kids had gotten used to them sleeping in the same bed and didn’t question it. And really, Loki had always been a private person.
He slid warm and solid under the covers.
“You’ve always been clever, but I think age has also made you wise,” Thor murmured. “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me now. Let’s see how they take to it.”
“I suspect they’ll do well,” Thor leaned in for a kiss. “Now let me show you how clever I can be.”
The summer of tattoos, forgiveness, and college.
This chapter takes place several years past the last one. Ages are:
Modi, and Magni, 13
Sleepy and Thrud, 11
The main arc of the story is done, but since this was never intended to be one long story, but rather a series of vignettes, it’s not over yet! Time will be accelerating from here on out though and I do have an ending in mind. If there’s some milestone that I’ve missed that you really want to see, leave it the comments and I’ll see if I can weave it in!
“I want a tattoo.”
“Not a car?” Thor frowned. Loki looked up from his computer.
“I can’t take one to school until I’m a sophomore,” Fen shrugged. “I can save up for one.”
“What would you get?” Loki asked before Thor could launch further protest.
Fen pulled up his phone, flipping through pictures apparently. He had grown tall and broad this past year, the final growth spurt bringing him to Loki’s height at last. While they shared many features (the black hair and blue eyes that had been replicated on all his children, the fine long nose and slightly weak chin), Fen was the most like Angie. He had the build of her family, muscular and broad at the chest. He had her quick temper and slow boil wit.
His graduation was in a week and he had his cap and gown hanging neatly over the back of his door. A summer job lined up at the burger shack near the golf course and a small scholarship that would carry him across state-lines.
They’d all pitched in to help with applications and Loki had obligingly driven around half the east coast to help him find the college he wanted. Fen was a solid kid in body and spirit, an oak of an older brother who could hold three of his younger siblings off the ground at once to their shrieks of laughter.
It’s not that Loki’s job was done (he had already figured out that that would never truly end), but he felt a certain completeness looking at him. This was his eldest, his first born. He hadn't fucked him up irredeemably. He was on his way to being a responsible member of the human race, albeit one with some ink apparently.
“This,” Fen said at last and showed them both a crisp black on white sketch of a raven, wings just opening to fly.
“It’s beautiful,” Loki tilted his head. “Did Jojo draw that?”
“Yeah, I asked him too,” Fen smiled tightly. “I mean I made him redo it like ten times, but I paid him! Promise.”
“In actual money or in candy bars?” Loki raised an eyebrow.
“Why a raven?” Thor was still looking at the photo.
“I dunno. I like them,” Fen shrugged. “I want to get in on my shoulder.”
He pointed to the upper left of his chest where a shirt would easily cover it.
“I’ll take you,” Loki decided. “I’ve heard of worse graduation gifts.”
“It’s a permanent decision,” Thor pointed out. “And he’s young.”
“You and I both made harder ones at younger ages,” he touched Thor’s wrist glancingly. “At least this only hurts him and even then, just briefly.”
The graduation was strange. Boring, as many of these events were, and strange since every student was only allowed three tickets. After some discussion, Thor and Loki went without any of the children. They’d have cake at home instead.
Fen took his diploma with good grace and twenty-four hours later, they were in a clean if over decorated shop talking to a girl with a shaved head and talon like fingernails.
Loki held Fen’s hand as she worked, over the boy’s protests. Eventually the hold went hard.
“Dad?” Fen asked his palm getting sweaty.
“What if I don’t like college?” he asked, sounding very young all at once.
“Then you come home,” Loki held his hand tight, watching an arch of black alter his baby’s skin forever. “You can always come home. And we’ll figure it out together.”
“Even if Hel steals my room?”
“She’s not stealing it. I’m giving it to her. She needs the space. But all your things will be in my office along with a pull out couch,” he assured him. “If you need to come home, come home.”
The raven looked good. When she finished, she turned to Loki, “Ready?”
“I mean we just-” Fen frowned. “Dad?”
“What? I can’t shop for myself?”
He didn’t lay down, just lay his arm on the table Fen had vacated while she lay the transfer paper of his wrist.
“Uncle Thor is gonna shit a brick,” he declared.
“He’ll keep his mouth shut if he knows what’s good for him,” Loki said serenely.
It hurt, but quite as much as Loki had prepared for. And there was a sort of morbid fascination in watching the process. In the end, he had a neat bracelet of runes. He’d had it planned for some time, just never quite getting around to it.
“That’s my name,” Fen said quietly pointing to one of the ‘charms’ in the bracelet of characters.
“It’s all of you,” he turned it slowly so he could see the chain going around his wrist. Ten names in delicate lettering in a dead language that his family had tried to keep alive for generations.
“That’s really cool.”
“Thank you. I am a very cool dad.”
Thor did not, in fact, shit a brick. Instead he traced the line of his own rune very slowly and gently. He kissed it in the privacy of their bedroom and then moved to kiss a line from wrist to fingertip.
The summer was one that he would always remember being bookended by The Great Skeleton Fight and The Big Makeup. The fact that he and Fen had gotten tattoos paled in the face of the feud between Hel and Magni.
If Loki had been asked to guess which of the two children in the house were most likely to have a fight, he might have guessed Hel and Fen or perhaps Magni and Modi, but never his daughter and the more placid of the twins. He didn’t even hear it ramping up. If he hadn’t needed something from the office, he wouldn’t even have heard it. Neither of them scored high on the loudness scale (Sleepy won number one there, followed closely by Thrud who had heavy feet for such a little girl), but there conversation was obviously heated as Magni stood in the girls’ doorway.
Before Loki could even tell what they were speaking about, Magni’s hand shot out, grabbed the delicate little rat skeleton that Hel had painstakingly wired together herself over a period of weeks that winter and threw it to the carpet, breaking fragile bones in near silence. Then he turned on his heel into his bedroom and slammed the door shut.
“Honey, what happened?” Loki asked dumbfounded.
“Nothing,” she whispered and then dropped to her knees, to pick up the little pieces.
The entire time they picked up the injured model, silent tears flowed down her face, but she refused to say word about it. Magni was equally mum. When Thor ordered him to apologize, he shook his head,
“She owes one to me first,” and could not to cajoled or punished into anything more. He took his five days with no screentime, handed over the ten dollars Hel said it would take to repair the rat, and listened to the lectures unblinkingly.
Hel repaired the rat with careful superglue. For six weeks (and Loki could remember what an eternity six weeks was to a tween) they didn’t speak to each other. They went comically out of their way to avoid each other.
“Do you know what happened?” Loki asked Modi as he drove him to dance camp.
“I’m not getting in the middle,” the boy crossed his arms over his chest. “Cause then I’ll have to choose and I’ll have to choose Magni, but I think Hel didn’t do anything that bad.”
“What did she do?” He asked, but wasn’t surprised when Modi just shook his head without further comment.
The schism made the whole house uneasy. Thrud and Sleepy spent most of their time at home outside. Modi practiced his routines in Fen’s attic rather than the public spaces since Fen was picking up extra shifts at the burger joint and was rarely home.
“This is so dumb,” Jojo groaned as Hel got up from the couch because Magni sat down. He went on carefully clipping letters from a magazine. “I wish you’d make up so I could watch an entire episode of something with the same person.”
“It’s not about you,” Magni spat. “Drama queen.”
“Hey now!” Jojo sat up straighter. “What the hell did I do?”
Magni looked down at his hands.
“Sorry. I’m just really mad. I don’t even know why.”
“Yeah,” Jojo sighed. “I remember that. Being thirteen is the worst.”
After that, an uneasy step forward was taken. They still weren’t talking, but they would stay in the same room together. Loki decided it was progress.
“Can’t we talk to them about it?” Thor asked desperately. “They were close before this.”
“They won’t even tell us what happened,” he buried his face in Thor’s neck. “They’re getting older now. Sometimes we just have to let them handle it themselves.”
“We didn’t handle it at that age.”
“At that age, we’d half-raised ourselves and you were actively encouraged to solve your issues with me by punching me, so...”
“Fair enough,” Thor sighed. “And I doubt that Hel glued all of Magni’s underwear onto a school art project that was displayed to the entire school.”
He repressed a snicker at the memory, “No, I don’t think so either.”
At dawn on a Monday morning in August, Hel woke Loki up with an urgent shake, her eyes wide.
“I got my period and I don’t know how to use the tampons! I thought I did, but I don’t and I don’t know what to do?”
“Uh,” a sharp spike of fear shoved straight through him. “Okay. Get my laptop.”
She shoved it into his hands and he called up Skype. He couldn’t recall where Sif was at the moment, but considering he was raising her children, he figured she owed him a few middle of the night emergency calls.
“Hello?” She wasn’t quite in focus, and it was dark behind her. She still looked inhumanely put together in her bathrobe.
“The kids are fine. Hel needs an emergency uterus-haver consultation,” he turned the computer to her.
“Of course,” all her laser like focus shifted to Hel. “Take me somewhere private, honey, and we’ll talk.”
Loki couldn’t fall back asleep after that. He left Thor in bed and padded out to the kitchen. Hel emerged red faced and silently handed him back his laptop and slid away.
“Thank you,” he said because he meant it.
“She’ll be fine,” Sif gave him a sunny smile. “She’s got a good head on her shoulders and she already isn’t scared of blood, so that’s out of the way. I’m going to send her a care package if that’s all right.”
“Of course,” he returned her smile. They would never be friends again, but they had managed civil acquaintanceship and that seemed good enough to him. “She’ll be thrilled.”
He went to find his wayward daughter. She stood in the bathroom looking at the in the mirror.
“It’s stupid,” she glanced up at him. “I thought I’d be different.”
“Growing up happens to slowly to be seen day to day,” he stood beside her. “But it’s a milestone for better or worse. Do you want to stay home today?”
It was a testament to how unsettled she was that she nodded. Hel was taking science classes in a program a the community college for her summer activity and she clearly loved it.
“All right,” he considered his options. “If you promise not to give me lectures on what they got right and wrong about anatomy, I’ll watch season two of Hannibal with you.”
“Sweet!” Her face split in a grin.
What were personal days for if not for this?
They spent most of the morning on the couch once everyone else had gone their separate ways. She sipped a soda and managed to keep her commentary to a minimum.
Magni came home on a bus from town camp at three, the first to walk through the door. He stopped when he saw them.
“What’s she doing home?” He asked hollowly and Loki rolled his eyes.
“Why don’t you ask her?” He got to his feet. “And for that matter, why don’t you watch this episode with her. I can tell from the Netflix account that someone got this far and unless Thrud and Sleepy have been logging in, that leaves you.”
Magni flushed and looked at Hel on the couch with a frown. Loki pat her knee,
“I went twenty years without talking to my brother. It only gets less fun.”
Then he adjourned to the kitchen. None of the kids had pieced together that adults could hear them despite being an entire eight feet away from the couch, a fact that Loki took flagrant advantage of. He got started on dinner as his usual assistant gravitated toward the couch and eventually folded himself in on the cushion next to her.
“You sick?” He finally asked and Loki wanted to give him a gold star for being the first to give in.
“No. I started menstruating,” she shrugged.
“Oh,” Magni frowned. “Does it hurt?”
“Sort of,” she picked at a loose thread in her jeans. “Cramps and stuff. Dad gave me some painkillers and that helped.”
Magni nodded vaguely taking that on board.
“I’m still really mad at you,” he told her. She flinched.
“I know, I just don’t get why.”
“Because I asked you not to tell anyone and you told HIM of all people.”
“Because he liked you back!” She groaned. “I never understand that. What’s the point of sitting and whispering and pining over someone who clearly would just say yes if you asked them out.”
“I didn’t even know he liked boys,” he contended.
Loki started at his phone, faking interest in a work email. He’d had a vague suspicion that Magni might be leaning more towards bi than straight. He made it his business to keep all appearances of being blissfully ignorant of his children as sexual beings until they made it his business.
“But he does! I heard him talking about it in class,” she huffed a breath. “I was trying to be a good wing-person.”
“That’s not a term.”
“Well I think it should be an equal opportunity position.”
Loki suppressed a laugh.
“You took away my choice,” Magni said eventually and the laugh died unheard. “If I was gonna tell him, then that was up to me. But I asked you not to and you can’t do you’re ‘I’m an alien’ act about it.”
“I don’t have an act!”
“Yeah, you do,” he shook his head. “It’s okay. I kind of even like it sometimes, but I know you know that wasn’t cool.”
“I really did want to do the right thing,” she flushed darkly. “I’m sorry. It was stupid. Please talk to me again. I miss you a lot.”
“Okay,” he held out his fist and she bumped it in her stiff way. “I’m sorry I broke your stuff. That was stupid too.”
“It’s okay,” she burrowed back in under her blanket.
And thus The Makeup began. Hel made Magni a series of increasingly ridiculous slimes. Magni baked her zombie gingerbread people. Peace reigned once more.
Then Fen, the troublemaker, went to college.
In theory, Loki had known it was coming for months. The reality of going to the store and picking out bedding and lamps was a whole other realm. The really real reality of packing up the car to the brim with things was another.
“Dad,” Fen pleaded. “Please don’t cry.”
“I’m not going to cry,” he denied, already feeling a thickness in his throat. “Why would I cry? It’s just my first born, who I’m incredibly proud of, being grown up enough to be on his own for months at a time.”
“Thor, help me,” Fen turned to his uncle who had been discreetly trying to wipe away a tear. “We haven’t even left the house yet!”
“You raise a child for eighteen years and then tell me how easy it is to watch them leave to go live their lives,” Loki sat down hard in the passenger seat.
“Oh my god,” sliding in between his suitcases, Fen closed his eyes. “You are ridiculous. You’re a literal parody of yourself.”
“And for that, we’re going to get burgers for lunch,” Thor declared.
“No, please!” Fen’s eyes went wide. “I can’t eat another burger, I’ll die! Dad!”
“I can’t help you,” Loki put his hand to his head, “I’m too busy swooning. Quick Thor, the smelling salts or I'll faint dead away!”
Fen’s roommate was a nice enough looking young man. Loki was instantly suspicious, but restrained himself to a low key interrogation as Thor helped Fen loft his bed and slide the desk beneath it.
“Let him live, Dad,” Fen chided and they bent together to put away clothes and line a shelf with books. They got lunch, bought bumperstickers for the cars, and then there was no more time.
“I love you,” Loki pulled Fen into a hard hug. “I trust you to make good choices. Text me once a week so I know you’re not dead. We’ll see you in October.”
“Okay,” Fen pat him on the back gently. “I love you too, Dad.”
Thor swept them both up in his attempt to hug one or the other.
“Conquer and return triumphant,” Thor grinned.
“I love you too,” Fen laughed, and there was a faint glimmer of moisture in one eye. “Please leave. Immediately.”
As they drove away, Fen stepped in to help two girls that were struggling with a trunk. They were already smiling at him, making conversation.
“He’ll do marvelously,” Thor assured him.
“Who’s worried about Fen?” Loki groaned, slumping lower in the seat. “I’m going to be a mess. And we’re down a driver!”
“Hel will have her license soon.”
“That is the least reassuring thing you could’ve said.”
Modi offered the envelope to Thor like it might explode,
“You open it,” he ordered, his eyes glued to his feet. “I can’t.”
“All right,” Thor pulled it open carefully. “Should I read it to you?”
“Just tell me they rejected me so I can move on,” he muttered.
“I can’t do that.”
Modi’s head snapped up, “Why not?”
Thor turned the paper so he could see it, “You’ve been invited to audition.”
“No fucking way,” his jaw dropped then snapped closed. “Sorry for cursing.”
“I think in this case, I’ll let it slide,” Thor laughed and pulled his son into an exuberant hug. “I’m so proud of you!”
“It’s just an audition,” he said weakly. “They only accept like twenty people a year, so I’m not going to get in.”
“Not with that attitude you’re not,” he chided.
“I have to set up the audition time like...right now,” Modi sprang back, eyes frantic. “They fill up really fast and they don’t add more.”
He leapt on the closest laptop, figured out it was Thrud’s when the My Little Pony theme song started to play on boot up and groaned. He spread the letter out on the table beside it at Thor watched impressed as he checked dates and carefully entered in his information to set up his audition day.
“It’s so weird,” he bit his lip. “It’s in five sections during the day and after each section they can tell you not to come back. I should just go alone. It’ll just waste someone else’s day driving there or whatever. No one else is allowed in to watch anyway.”
“You’re not going alone,” Thor shook his head. “How about we make a mini-trip out of it? We’ll drive in the night before and you do whatever needs to be done and then we can go do tourist-y things before heading home.”
“Okay,” he sighed. “But I don’t want anyone else. If I get booted out during the first section or something, the fewer witnesses the better.”
It was a snowy day in February when they set out. Fat flakes drifted slowly to the ground, bedding the farmhouse down for the weekend. Loki had put a box into Modi’s hands before he left with instructions not to open it until they were on the road.
“Go ahead,” Thor urged. “I’m curious.”
Carefully, Modi unwrapped the paper. He was already so nervous that his hands shook, the pressure of the coming day like an ocean resting on him. Inside was a jewelry box and he opened it with some confusion. There was ring inside, matte black metal. Nothing shiny to distract someone judging him. Jojo’s raven, the one that Fen had tattooed on his back, was engraved on it.
It fit perfectly on his middle finger which just felt right.
Modi barely slept that night even the hotel bed was soft and his father was actually a quieter sleeper than Magni. He played games on his phones and distracted himself as much as he could.
Close to dawn, his phone buzzed with a message from Magni,
Break both your legs and come back with your shield or on it.
Fuuuuuuuuuck you, dingledick he sent back with a grin.
He slept for a few hours after that.
Thor didn’t sleep much either. He wasn’t sure what to do with himself. He bought them both coffee from a street vendor and was forced to say goodbye to his son at the doors of a glossy auditorium. Prepared for performance, Modi suddenly was not a gawky high school boy, but a performer in his sleek black tights and white t-shirt. His hair was slicked back out of his eyes and he’d lined his eyes out of habit so the light blue of them sparkled.
“I’ll text you between sections so you know when to come get me,” Modi assured him, and strode in with a confidence that must be mostly put on, but made him look taller.
When Thor turned around, vaguely planning what to do with himself, he found himself face to face with Ms. Romanov. Her red hair was back in a tight bun, but otherwise she was in street clothes.
“I didn’t know you were coming,” Thor blurted.
“Modi is a good student. He was the only one with the courage to apply this year,” she gave a one shouldered shrug. “I will be here.”
“Would you like to get breakfast?”
They ate together at a posh restaurant down the street from the auditions.
“Thank you for helping him with this,” Thor said after they’d ordered.
“It is my pleasure. When I first started teaching Modi, I thought he would be only an average, but pleasant student,” she sipped her water. “But he has proven very dedicated and more importantly, creative.”
“I guess I never thought of him that way. When he was little, he just wanted to play soccer or rough house,” like me, he added silently. He’d always quietly thought of Modi as the child most like him. His rough and tumble ways intimately familiar. Magni was Sif born again, fierce and tough, but also very clever and hard to anger. Even Thrud was...well Thrud was like Loki. Prone to dramatics, quick to laugh and cry, and preferring to talk than to fight or better to keep silent.
“Small children are like clay,” Ms. Romanov gave an artful shrug. “Some of how they are is simply where they were dug up from, the rest is shaped by life passing.”
“How did you come to teach dance?” Thor asked, unsure of how to respond to that.
They talked lightly through the meal and just before Thor paid the check, his phone chimed.
“He’s on to round two.”
“Good,” she showed not a trace of excitement. “Let’s go for a walk.”
It was probably too cold to take a long stroll through the city streets, especially since Ms. Romanov seemed to be wearing only tights and a thin dress under her coat, but she never complained. They walked up and down long city blocks, mostly silent.
Modi went on to the third stage.
“This he will excel at,” she declared. “He learns choreography very fast and takes critique well. Some of the other students will not.”
They walk into a museum, but Thor couldn’t have said later what was on the walls. He was reminded a little of standing at Sif’s bedside, holding her hand as she pushed the twins into the world. She’d been stoic in childbirth, tight lipped and focused. There was little he could do, but wait.
“Solos,” Ms. Romanov sighed. “He will be nervous and a little stiff, but the work is good.”
The short winter day was already closing, growing dark as they set out into the wilderness again, this time heading for the auditorium. There weren’t as many families as there had been that morning. Everyone looked like Thor felt and some worse. Half of them were talking on cellphones, making predictions and dinner plans.
“Interviews,” Thor frowned. “I don’t know that he even prepared to get this far.”
“And he’s not a talker,” she shook her head. “But they’ve seen what he can do. That must speak for itself.”
The kids streamed out all at once. Gone were poised performers and here was a mess of limbs, acne showing from under the morning’s concealer and hair starting to fray out of buns. Modi tumbled loose from the spaghetti of teens and stopped short when he saw his teacher.
“You came,” he said breathlessly.
“Of course, I did,” she barked. “Now. How did it go?”
“I don’t know,” he rocked a little on his feet and for a moment, Thor could see the toddler that had hated to stand still even before he could walk steadily. “The ballet class at the beginning was easy. They took out one kid because they were tripping everyone else up. Modern was kind of fun. The cherography section was tough, I don’t think I nailed it, but I listened and corrected as best as I could.”
“And the solo?” Ms. Romanov’s eyes were gleaming.
Modi’s tension bled away and he gave them both a broad smile, “I fucking nailed it in the face. Wasn’t stiff at all, promise.”
“When will you find out?”
“Not for another few weeks,” Modi shrugged philosophically. “But I did the best I could and I can’t do anything else. I feel loads better.”
Thor punched the sky, then lifted Modi off the ground.
“Dad!” he was laughing and his face was bright red. “Don’t dump Gatorade on me, it’s not a game!”
Thor set him down, feeling many sets of eyes on them, but grinning unrepentantly.
Ms. Romanov gave Modi a kiss on the cheek, “Good work.” And then she was gone as if she had never been there at all.
“Wow,” Modi touched his cheek. “She’s never said that to me before.”
“Then wait until I tell you what she said at breakfast.”
They spent most of the next day doing tourist things just as Thor had promised. On a ferry to the Statue of Liberty, Thor took a selfie of the two of them and posted it to his Facebook, On our way to Liberty, coming from Juilliard auditions. #blessed #proud #dance .
Every single one of the kids and Loki liked it before they set foot on land again.
Three weeks later a very thick envelope arrived in the mail.
Magni brought it inside, put it on a cushion, kneeled in front of his brother and held it up to him.
“Lord Dipshit, I believe thou hast a great honor in store.”
Modi lifted it up, whacked his brother on the head with it for good luck, then sliced it open.
His whoop of joy was so loud, the dogs began to howl.
“Goddamnit,” Magni hugged him tight. “Now I have to get into NYU or Columbia or I’ll be driving fucking everywhere to see you prance around on stage.”
“It’s not like you have to come watch me,” Modi rolled his eyes.
“Whatever, shithead, like I’d miss a single one,” he elbowed him in the side. “Even if you are just a stupid tree in the background.”
“We should call Jojo,” Modi grinned wider. “Oh man, he’s gonna shit bricks.”
They called him on Skype. Jojo answered bare-chested, his long hair bleached out and streaked in blues and greens. There was paint on his chest and his comforter was around his waist. He was clearly in bed, a lean second body tucked in next to him.
“You ho!” Magni laughed. “What the hell?”
“You don’t have to answer if you’re boning!” Modi hid his face in his hands.
“Is that the twins?” Alyce sat up, using Jojo’s chest to shield their own. “Hi, boys. What’s up?”
“I thought you were in Chicago,” Magni grinned.
“I flew in for the weekend,” they flushed. “I’m thinking of transferring to Bard.”
“Because of their find academics or because you want that D?”
“Shut up,” Jojo flipped him off. “Why are you calling so early?”
“Look at this shit,” Magni took the letter out of Modi’s hands and waved it at the camera.
“A piece of paper? I’m very impressed,” Jojo lifted his eyebrow, the one with three piercings. The one he’d probably got pierced just to make that expression look cooler.
“I got in,” Modi inserted.
“You got in,” Jojo repeated flatly. Then his eyes went wide. “Holy....you got into fucking Julliard?”
“That’s my brother!” Jojo cheered, throwing his hands in the air, dropping the blanket and giving them an eyeful of Alyce’s chest. Their left nipple was pierced. “Sorry, honey!”
“It’s fine,” they giggled and pulled the sheet back up. “Congratulations, Modi. That’s amazing.”
“Thanks,” he flushed.
“Hey, could you do me a favor?” Jojo leaned in close to the camera.
“Could you have Dad call me like right after you tell him?”
“Why?” Modi narrowed his eyes.
“Cause if I get him when he’s really happy, he might not have a complete mental breakdown when I tell him that Alyce and I got married yesterday?”
“WHAT?!” Loki was just walking in the front door, half-tripping over Sleepy.
“I got into Julliard!” Modi said loudly.
“Congratulations,” Loki gave him a hard hug. “That’s amazing, I’m very proud of you and we’ll celebrate tonight however you want, but hold that thought.”
He turned to the Skype screen where Alyce had disappeared entirely and Jojo had apparently spontaneously summoned a t-shirt.
“Hi, Dad!” Jojo chirped. “So, how was work today?”
“You got married?!” Loki pointed a finger at him, “You denied me a wedding! The first wedding! I’m going to eat out your heart with a spoon, you terrible child.”
“Um, that’s why you’re mad?” Jojo blinked.
“Don’t be an idiot, I knew you were going to marry Alyce from the first day you met them. But I expected to be invited!”
“We’re going to have a reception in the summer,” Alyce slid back into the picture, now in a button down shirt and slacks, their hair brushed. “Sorry, Mr. Laufyson. It was kind of an impulsive thing.”
“Married!” Loki threw his hands in the air almost hitting both twins in the face. “You’re both ungrateful terrible children. Is either of you pregnant?”
“No!” They denied. Jojo went on, "There's only one uterus in the room an it's unoccupied."
“Good. Wait until you have some cash in hand. Babies are stupidly expensive. You’re coming back here for the reception?”
They nodded in time with each other.
“Do you want to have it at the farm?”
“Fine. Choose a date. Alyce, if your parents aren’t agreeable, you can certainly stay here during school breaks. And for your deception, you get to tell Thor all by yourselves. Oh, and Fen, I bet he’ll be thrilled. I expect you to do so by the weekend, understood?”
“Congratulations. I wish you many years of happiness,” he said in a way that was threatening enough to raise the hairs on the back of Modi’s neck. Then Loki ended the call.
“Right!” He clapped his hands together. “Where do you want to go for dinner, Julliard student?”
“Um? Mexican, I guess?” he frowned. “Are you really mad at Jojo?”
“I’m angry that he didn’t think he could talk to us about it,” Loki pat him on the shoulder. “I’m angry that he stole your moment a little. But what’s done is done. That’s not encouragement for you two to do the same, by the way. I’d prefer if you’d all get married after being a little more established.”
“I never want to get married,” Modi frowned.
“That’s fine too,” Loki got to his feet. “Marriage talk later. Let’s go round up everyone for mountains of tacos and celebrate.”
Magni put his arm around Modi’s shoulders and pulled him in close as Loki went upstairs to get changed,
“It’s super cool,” he put their foreheads together. “And if you never get married, I won’t either.”
“That’s dumb,” he pushed at him gently, but Magni didn’t let go.
“No it’s not,” he said insistently. “It’s you and me, Mods. Always.”
Modi didn’t reply, he just nodded and held on.
Ages for those keeping track are now:
Jojo and Alyce, 21
Modi, and Magni, 18
Sleepy and Thrud, 16
When the twins left for college, the house echoed. There were shadows that Thrud had never seen before without the light spilling out from all the bedrooms to banish them.
All at once, she and Sleepy were the sole focus of their parents attention after long years of being small and unnoticed. She hated it. She didn’t want all the questions and the help with her homework. She wanted to be part of a group, unnoticed.
Sleepy thrived on it. He beamed under their attention, preening and taking center stage. Literally. He was the star of Pippin that year while Thrud worked costuming, learning to sew under Jamie’s mother’s careful tutoring.
“Do you like it?” her dad asked when he picked them up from practice.
“It’s fine,” she shrugged. “Useful.”
She wasn’t like the others. She didn’t have a lifelong passion, or a special skill. She liked bright colors, horses, getting good grades, and being useful.
The year of just her and Sleepy knocking around the farm was one of the worst she could remember.
“What about me?” Sleepy asked her, all wide eyed hurt when she confessed it to him deep in the night.
They often had ‘in house’ sleepovers, piling into Fen’s old attic room with the big bed and a view of the woods to binge watch tv series and eat snacks without Thor or Loki hearing them (or at least pretending not to, Thrud knew they had to notice when they came down blurry eyed at noon for breakfast).
“It’s just not the same,” she looked down at her hands. “You’re my best friend, but you’ve got your own stuff.”
He did too. Sleepy had skipped the awkward stages of adolescence somehow, growing straight up. His dark hair had a slight curl to it that gave him an impish look instead of the sleek predatory gaze of his blood siblings. He treated everyone like a potential friend, ignored anyone trying to make him an enemy, and crossed through clique borders like a registered diplomat. He was the star of the play, president of the chess club, and on the varsity soccer team. His grades were only average, but teachers doted on him. Sleepy was busy.
Thrud just followed in his wake. She went where he went because he was an all access pass. She worked in costuming while he stood on the stage, she played mediocre chess while he wiped the floor with everyone and chatted at the same time. She played field hockey because the practices were the same time as soccer.
All of her friends had been his friends first. Even her other best friend, Jean, had been delivered to her on a platter by Sleepy. He’d befriended the new girl, talked up Thrud, then said they should be study buddies.
Thrud didn’t resent him for it. She preferred it.
She missed having more shadows to stand in.
Modi skyped with her once a month and sometimes she thought he understood best.
“Magni was everyone’s favorite for a long time,” he rumbled over the line. He’d shaved his head recently, the first blond stubble prickling back up. “It was so easy to let him be in charge.”
“You don’t think he still is?” She curled up around a pillow.
“Depends on who you’re asking about,” he was eating celery sticks, dipping them into peanut butter methodically. “I mean, it’s not like Dad or Pop would admit to having a favorite.”
“Do you have one?” She asked, then winced. “Forget I asked.”
Magni rolled his eyes, “It’s you, duh. Best sister.”
“What about Hel?” She frowned.
“Hel is great. She’s also scary and mean.”
“But Magni is your favorite, right? Like overall?”
Modi went quiet and looked out into the distance, then he shrugged and dipped his celery again,
“We’re twins. I think I’m legally mandated to say yes. But you’re the only one I’ve got a standing Skype date with, so.”
So there’s that.
The summer comes and they come home. Magni was wider, his arms strong and his hair a wild bleached halo around his head. He presented her with a pink frosted mound of donuts and hugs her so hard that her ribs creek. Modi was leaner, and wilder. He danced for them by the firelight of a bonfire that Pops lit with a manic look in his eye. Modi spun in the darkness, throwing wild shades of himself in every direction while Magni clapped a beat.
Then Hel returned in sleek black clothes and earrings made of shark teeth that she hung in Thrud’s ears then kissed each cheek. She smelled like faded roses and Thrud hugged her for too long.
“Hello, Sparrow,” Hel smiled gently at her. Sometimes Thrud was possessive of that smile. Hoarded Hel’s kindness knowing just how rare it was. “What’s the newest thing you learned?”
“I can hem your pants,” she offered and Hel put skirts and pants into her care with dotted chalk lines.
Thrud sewed them in careful straight lines and hid small smiles of pride when she saw Hel pull them on in satisfaction.
None of them started preparing for the wedding, except for Pops who was already making phone calls in his icy voice with clear demands for excellence. He had Thrud take notes and she made up neat spreadsheets for him.
Fen came home, the woods still clinging to him. He was a park ranger far from there, watching for fires and guiding home the lost wanderers who tackled his forest. He set Thrud up on his shoulders as though she weighed nothing and carried her around as he hugged everyone else. His shoulders were steady as a throne and her head brushed the ceiling.
The house was home again.
Jojo and Alyce returned last. They’d spent the year in a satlliete campus in Italy, but unlike Fen their travels hadn’t claimed them. They were still utterly themselves with their colorful skin and hair, hands ever twined together.
“Ah, the Queen of the Castle,” Jojo beamed and enfolded her. Alyce came at her from the other side and they were a tent of gauzy linens around her.
Alyce and Jojo took her and Sleepy shopping the next day.
“You should have something new for the wedding,” Alyce explained, floating from store to store ignoring the eyes that tracked them. Alyce made an impression no matter where they went and paired with Jojo, it was impossible to fly under the radar.
No one looked at Thrud at all. She felt utterly safe and at peace.
“Do I need to wear a suit?” Sleepy asked, holding his brother’s hand like they were children instead of nearly men.
“Wear a dress,” Jojo laughed. “Whatever you want, kiddo.”
“What about you?” Alyce asked Thrud.
“Just a plain dress,” she requested.
“I know it’s an outdoor thing, but if you want to be fancy that’s fine,” Alyce assured her.
Thrud shrugged. She shrugged off the wild prints and the pants suit. She skidded away from the flaming oranges and reds. She remembered the way her mother only wore her dress uniform to special events.
“Because sometimes, dumpling, I just want to look like everyone else,” her mother told her.
Thrud missed her mother the way she missed being a little girl. Dimly and without specific memory. She saw her a few times a year, talked to her once a week. Sometimes she thought her mother understood her better than anyone in the whole world and that’s why they had to be so far apart. Because she could hear her mother as Alyce offered up another choice.
“It’s okay to be a part of something bigger than yourself,” her mother would say. “In the end sometimes those are the moments to live for.”
Thrud lived to be a part of her family. To be helpful. To make things run. Now that her family was spread so far around the world, she felt lost. She looked at the dress Alyce offered and she started to cry.
“It is pretty ugly,” Alyce said gently and hung it up. “Do you want to get some ice cream?”
“I’m not a kid,” she sobbed.
“Sure, but ice cream is good for folks of all ages. C’mon.”
They walked down to the food court and Alyce didn’t say a word when Thrud ordered a plain vanilla cone.
“You know why I fell in love with Jojo?” Alyce asked her when they were settled.
“He says you’re soulmates,” she licked her cone and it was sweet and cold. Good.
“Maybe,” Alyce smiled, a little dreamily. “It’s a good thought. But I loved his quiet. Maybe that’s selfish because it wasn’t a good thing that he didn’t talk, but I was a kid. I had all these thoughts bottled up and no one ever really listened. He did.”
“Yeah, he’s good at that,” she agreed. She could remember Jojo when she first met the Laufeysons. How he’d seemed like he was another species all together, so still and quiet that you could be in the same room with him for hours and not know until he got up to leave.
“I’m not,” Alyce sighed. “I’m working on being better because he has a lot to say that matters and I want to listen to it. But I’m a talker. What about you?”
“Guess I like listening,” she frowned. “Dad says I’m a chatterbox, but I think that’s just at home.”
Alyce ate her mango sorbet, letting it melt on her tongue before they said, “The thing is Thrud, you’re probably the most loved person I know. Or maybe your whole family is one big ball of it since it seems pretty equally spread around.”
“But they’re all...gone,” Thrud choked out. “Everyone left. And it’s not the same.”
“Life does that,” Alyce reached out and curved their hand over Thrud’s. Their nails were blunt and there were traces of paint lodged in their knuckles. “But your family is getting bigger too. You’re part of this....web that spreads and grows and stays put. The way your family loves is special.”
Thrud didn’t say anything. But she did choose a dress, pale yellow with a web of lace over the sheath. Alyce smiled at her and bought her a string of fake pearls that sort of matched the shark tooth earrings.
Instead of a separate parties before the wedding, Jojo and Hel kicked Dad and Pop out of the house and filled every extra nook and cranny with their friends. There was liquor, but not in abundance.
With great solemnity, Jojo gave Thrud and Sleepy a single red solo cup of beer.
“Drink it slow,” he warned. “Stop if you get too dizzy.”
Sleepy wrinkled his nose after a few sips and abandoned his cup by the sink. Thrud held onto hers like a lifeline, drifting from room to room. Modi snagged her as she went past.
“Damn Laufeysons,” he groaned when he saw the cup. “Corrupting us all.”
“It tastes bad,” she made a face and he laughed gently at her. He plucked it out of her hand and downed it.
“Then don’t drink it. It’s bad medicine anyway,” he put one of Magni’s eclairs in her hand in replacement. “Hel told me you fixed her hems. Could you mend up my tights?”
“I can try.”
“Okay, thanks,” he stretched and she marveled at the clean line his legs made, how his ankles seemed to move in a way hers just wouldn’t.
The party went late and there were people stumbling in the halls. Thrud fell asleep easily with a smile on her face. The house didn’t echo at all.
The day of the wedding was cloudy, but Pop went out to glare at the clouds until Thrud was sure they wouldn’t dare let out a drop. Fen and Dad had made the archway, lacing ivy through it and studding it with wild flowers. Modi beat down a path in the long grass, set chairs out in rows. Hel had found antique lanterns, hung on the end of each row with a flickering candle. Magni had cooked and cooked with Pop playing sous chef with a bemused smile on his face at taking his turn at being ordered around.
Jojo did everyone’s makeup including his own, meticulous and gentle handed. He kept Thrud’s face soft, dusting blush on her cheeks and lining her eyes with gold. She felt utterly relaxed with his hand on her chin.
“I’m so happy for you,” she told him and he grinned, that feral Laufyson grin that even Sleepy could flash if he had a mind to. Modi and Magni had learned a version, but none of them could quite replicate it.
“Thanks, kiddo,” he placed a cool kiss to her forehead.
They had no wedding party. Not even an officiant. They were already legally married for over a year. Instead, they walked together barefoot and in matching flowing robes. They said their vows staring tenderly into each other’s eyes and accepted a shower of rose petals when they kissed.
There were photos, of course. Their house was full of pictures. Recitals, graduations from kindergarten to college, one of all of them the day Dad legally adopted the Laufeysons, and now, the first wedding.
There was space left for a lot of pictures still, she realized as she hung up the happy couple. Room for partners and grandchildren. Room for lives that were extraordinary.
Room for one or two that weren’t.
She looked at that empty space and smiled.
If someone has asked Loki who would produce the first grandchild, he probably would’ve guessed on Jojo or Modi. He certainly never would have guessed Hel. She was moving up the ranks of the county police department, second in command of homicide in just five years. She’d never expressed an interest in children or marriage. In fact, Loki had only found out that she had a boyfriend at all a few months ago.
“This is Max,” she’d brought him over for a Saturday lunch. The man was square jawed and sharp eyed. He wore a suit and tie like that was just his casual wear. “He works for the government.”
“Good to meet you,” Loki held out his hand and felt iron in the shake. “How long have you known our girl?”
“Three years,” Max smiled and all at once, the company man facade cracked away. He had a crooked front tooth and a boyish grin. “She wouldn’t let me meet you until she was sure.”
“Sure of what, honey?” Loki raised an eyebrow at her.
“Sure you wouldn’t like him better than me,” she said tartly, pushing past him into the house.
Max was mostly bland and pleasant with a wicked sense of humor when provoked. He had the same put together practically that defined Hel’s life and Loki wouldn’t be surprised if she chose him because they simply looked right together.
“He’s hiding something,” Thor grumbled.
“He’s an FBI Agent,” Loki shrugged. “Of course he’s hiding something.”
“How do you know that?”
“Well it was either that or CIA given the lack of specifics and given that Hel’s department had to liaise with the FBI a few years ago...”
“Why wouldn’t he just say then?” Thor’s frown deepened and Loki had to laugh, leaning in to kiss his wrinkled forehead.
The house was empty these days. Sometimes Jojo and Alyce would come to stay for awhile and Modi would crash when he was back stateside, but mostly it was just them. They’d both unwound some, gotten used to touching in the kitchen and cuddling in the living room without concern of someone stumbling in. He missed having his brood under his roof with a ferocity that was hard to put into words, but the tradeoff was good too.
“Hel probably loves the mysterious man in black thing.”
Maybe she did and maybe she didn’t, but she must’ve liked Max for something, because she called Loki late one night, her voice echoing in a bathroom,
“I’m pregnant, Daddy.”
“Okay honey,” Loki stared blankly out the window.
“I’m going to keep it.”
“Okay,” he repeated.
“You’ll help us?”
“Whatever you need.”
She gave birth in the local hospital with just Max in the room, but she came home as soon as they were released for the hospital. She stood on the front step of the house, a small bundle in her arms and Max standing just behind them weighted down with baby things.
“This is Freyja,” she set the blankets into Loki’s arms. “Freyja this is one of your grandfathers.”
“Hi there sweet girl,” Loki lifted her close so he could make out her small features and kiss the tip of her little nose. She opened her eyes, sky blue and blinked blurrily up at her. “Oh, I did miss that baby smell.”
“Creepy, Dad,” she diagnosis. “Don’t forget to let Pops have a turn.”
“He can get his own grandbaby,” he grumbled, but easily turned the bundle over to Thor as he helped Hel get inside on settled on the sofa.
They stayed for six months. Hel went back to work after three, but Loki had been slowly turning things away at work, making his way towards retirement. No one bothered him about working from home while he rocked Freyja and sang her the same lullabies that had put all four of his children to sleep.
“Maybe we should’ve had more kids,” Thor teased him gently, sitting on his desk while Loki rocked in his office chair. “You look happiest like this.”
“This is better. We can give her back to her mother at night,” he laughed quietly, but he was happy.
Thrud came home for two weeks and Loki suddenly had competition. Freyja loved her aunt’s golden hair, playing with the long strands and Thrud wore the baby carrier with practiced ease.
But it was Magni who produced the next grandchild. He just appears with a baby one day and no boyfriend. The boyfriend, David, had been around for awhile, a fellow chef with a certain pretentiousness that Loki had never liked and even Thor hadn’t really warmed to.
“Um,” Loki looked at the toddler in Magni’s arms. “What?”
“I know,” Magni groaned and pushed into the house. “It’s a long story. It’s David’s sister’s kid.”
“And David is where?”
“Flew the coop,” he said with the kind of anger that had once kept Loki company. “His sister...let’s say they found her an unfit parent. They took the kid out of the house and we were the only ones willing to foster her. I was going to call you this morning to tell you all about it, happene in a whirlwind, but then I woke up today and the bastard was gone. Left a sniveling note about me ‘being a better man’ or whatever. I think he expects me to just give him back to the foster system like the poor kid hasn’t been left enough times.”
“What’s your name?” Loki asked the toddler quietly. The boy’s eyes are infinitely wide and a deep brown. He’s shaking a little.
“Alan,” Magni supplied. “He doesn’t talk, but the pediatrician says that’s normal considering. He’s nineteen months old.”
“Well, Alan, why don’t we get you a nice lunch and a diaper change?”
“Fuck, thanks, Pop,” Magni dropped the boy into Loki’s outstretched arms. “I knew you’d know what to do.”
There was an apartment and a job that Magni loved, but they disappeared in the space of a week. Sold and resigned without a look back.
“I’m proud of you,” Thor held his son close, while Loki built a block tower with Alan, little hands doing more destruction than creation.
“What else could I have done?” Magni smiled tiredly. “The kid didn’t do anything wrong.”
Loki sicced the law firm his company retained on David and David’s sister. Then on the adoption system. By the time Alan’s second birthday rolls around, he was legally an Odinson. Freyja loved him with the hapless affection of a one year old, offering him her banana slices and a mushy smile whenever he came close.
The next time Jojo came home, he sat quietly with Alan for a long time. The two came to some kind of understanding and not long after, the boy started to sign what he wanted. Food, drink, and most often a plea for ‘hug’.
Magni moved in when Hel moved back out, and made no move to leave. He started making plans and in a few more months with some careful investment of the family money, there was a new upscale cafe on Main street. Only open for breakfast and lunch so Magni could pick Alan up from daycare after naptime and be home to make dinner.
When Modi was stateside again, he burst into the house and zeroed in on his twin. They were still magnetized to each other, snapping back together as if they’d never been parted.
“My knee is bad,” Modi brought Magni into a tight hug, their chins mirror hooked to shoulders. “I’m done with principal roles, so fuck it.”
Down the street from the Wolf Pack Cafe, a dance school sprung into existence. Wolf Pack Tap and Ballet boasted the famously retired Natasha Romanoff, who taught all the entry level classes with the same kind ferocity she’d always had, even though she now leaned on a cane.
Alan would spend many happy hours under her tutelage, his baby legs never overtaxed as she spun him in giggling circles.
Thrud married when Alan and Freyja were just old enough to serve as ring bearer and flower girl. Her wife, Milay, was an incredible beauty, the Uruguayan diplomat to the U.S., holder of multiple degrees, and obviously head over heels for Thrud.
“You are my steady star,” Milay told Thrud, their hands joined, the hems of their dresses overlapping. “My bright light that guides and supports me.”
Loki did not cry when Jojo got married and he didn’t cry now, but his heart thudded hard in his chest and his throat closed up too tight for a word to peep out. Thor was openly crying, tears falling down his cheeks and into his beard without check.
Milay and Thrud took turns with pregnancy, each producing deliciously fat babies. They didn’t need anything like the live in help that Magni did, but they visited as often as Milay’s schedule would allow. Rafeal and Luca were both sweet boys that spent most of their time begging sweets off Magni and watching the world go by. They walked late, content to be hauled everywhere by their mothers, and to make everyone laugh with their determined crawls.
Jojo and Alyce never really settled in one place that long, flitting off from country to country, making beautiful things. They landed at home here and there, gave out kisses, hugs and treats to all the babies, but it ended there.
“I’m okay with being an uncle instead,” Jojo shrugged when Loki asked at last. “We can live the way we want to this way.”
“What way is that?” he asked.
“Without any heavier anchor than wanting to come home.”
“All right,” Loki gave him a bruised smile. “As long as you do now and again then I’m happy.”
He never asked Fen. Fen, who had grown almost wild over the years, and came home like clockwork for the holidays and one week in winter. Fen, broad and strong as a bear, who could lift all the children up at once and carry them around like a docile horse.
Loki’s beloved first born, who called deep into the heart of summer one year to declare,
“Hey, Dad, can I bring someone home this year?”
Someone was no stranger at all, but a boy that Loki recognized now all grown up. Jeremy was as tall and broad as Fen.
“AAA baseball for a few years, coaching after that. Now I’m a P.E. teacher, cliche, I know,” Jeremy said sheepishly.
“It’s not a cliche if you bring your own spin to it,” Fen denied, his arm around Jeremy ’s shoulder, possessive and proud. “Voted Teacher of the Year.”
“Sure, in my school which only has twenty teachers,” Jeremy laughed, and it was deep and kind.
“Small school,” Loki couldn’t stop looking between the two of them, watching with a familiar eye.
“Small town,” Jeremy agreed. “Didn’t know this one was patrolling our woods until he had refuel his truck.”
Fen smiled sheepishly, “I didn’t get into town much.”
Loki heard the past tense and was grateful.
Jeremy liked kids. Fen liked Jeremy . There was a surrogate, and the unexpected joy of twins, Sigrid and Sam. Brunhilde had passed away years ago, but there was still Val, who loved to drink and swear and fake arm wrestle the children. Loki secretly loved her though he fought with her every time she came over.
All of the children called Loki ‘Grandpa’ and Thor ‘Poppop’. Sif was deemed ‘Mimi’ by Freyja and the name passed through the tribe and it was decided. She did better with the grandchildren, content to be a tertiary planetary body to the their orbit. She was good with gifts and once she retired, happy to have them in and out of her house for short visits.
Sometimes Loki talked to their mother, when no one was around to hear. He described the grandbabies to her,
“You’d love them all,” he said with confidence. “They don’t know what kind of great-grandma they missed out on.”
The short period of privacy had come to abrupt end with the arrival of grandchildren and Loki occasionally missed it. He often wondered if the children knew about them. He sometimes almost became brave enough to ask before the words dried off and drifted away.
If he had, maybe the answer would have surprised him. How the open secret had drifted down through them and settled quiet in the usually boisterous hearts of their children.
How as they built their own families, created their own relationships, that they all thought of the two strong pillars they stood on.
There were two silent factions, split along ragged, often crossed lines. Those that knew and had accepted it and those that knew, but denied it. Of all of them, only Hel knew and accepted it from the beginning. She had the greatest capacity for ambiguity and understood the blur of lines between things. Jojo and Thrud were mostly in the accepting party, but they never discussed it between each other.
Sleepy lived his entire life, never really articulating it to anyone. Before he was thirty, he was mayor of their little town and the word ‘incestious’ had come to mean something else entirely. The town was ‘overrun by Odinsons’ as one letter to the editor suggested. The diner and the dance studio flourished. Hel was the county corner. Jojo and Alye painted a mural for the town’s bicentennial and it was the first thing people saw when they came down Main Street. So Sleepy had to fend off enough accusations without worrying about what his fathers were up to.
Magni and Modi probably saw them the most, living with them as they aged. They were probably the only siblings that discussed it with any depth at all.
“I guess they’re happy, so who cares?” had been the mutual conclusion.
Jojo was the only one that brought it up with a therapist, who had been by turns horrified and curious. He worked it through in his own time.
Jeremy tried to ask Fen after a long visit, “I mean...I don’t know how to ask.”
Fen looked out over the vast forest. He’d built their deck himself, sanding down the wood and planning it so he couldn’t see their neighbors or even the dirt wood, just the trees and the wild that he loved.
“They love us and if they had to love each other to do what they did...” he ran a hand through his hair until it stood up on end. “I have to be grateful for it.”
Thor’s seventieth birthday party was held in the height of summer. Everyone came home all at once for the first time in a decade. The farm rang out with laughter and shouts. Children were underfoot and adults climbed trees, showing their partners where they had once spent their days.
Loki’s hair was silver now, still long and lush. Thor braided it for him in the morning so it hung down his back in gleaming line. As a present, Loki had strapped a new watch to Thor’s wrist, and kissed him with a bright smile.
“What will you wish for, Poppop?” Asked Freya. She was already half-grown herself. Loki’s genes had been heavily at work on her, her face sharp and clever.
“Another seventy years, just like this,” he told her.
“If you tell it won’t come true,” Alan warned.
“But it will,” Loki bobbled Sigrid on his knee, the baby drooling on his fine wool pants. “Sometimes you just have to make it true yourself.”
Thor sucked in a breath and blew out the field of candles. White smoke rose from the wicks, hazing over the generations. There weren’t seventy more years in Thor’s steady heart, but for what remained he would remember that moment with crystal clarity. When all of his love was in one place and too big to be contained.
Thank you all so much for coming with me on this fun romp. I'm leaving the Wolf Pack here, hopefully wrapping up enough loose ends to satisfy.