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Laughing and Not Being Normal

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When Thor was a little boy playing at being king, he always kind of assumed that kingship would be a cheerful parade of glorious victories in battle, sumptuous feasts, and thrilling adventures with his friends. Enemies, he thought, ought to be both unambiguously evil and defeated with relative ease—not enough ease that it should be shameful to have fought them in the first place, and a little bloodshed never hurt anybody, but he didn't actually want any of his army to die.

Now, as an adult and as king, Thor feels a little embarrassed about the whole thing. He knows, logically, that children think childish things and he was not at fault for having such a naïve understanding of what a responsibility kingship is, but he can't help it. Every time he looks in the eyes of another Asgardian and sees only trauma and fear, he spares a thought in the back of his mind for his child self: this is the glory you sought.

He avoids mirrors.

But he does look them in the eyes: he owes them this much. And besides, he's been serving soup to his people at practically all hours; it would be terribly awkward to just avoid eye contact the whole time. The escape ship doesn't really have days as such, on account of they aren't orbiting any star, but they do have a clock, and the clock says it's been four cycles of what was previously a standard-length Asgardian day since the ruination of his home and the escape of his kingdom.

Four days.

He ladles another serving of soup into a bowl and gives the bowl's owner a tense smile.

"Thanks," says the Grandmaster.

"My pleasure," Thor says. And then, "Wait, what?"

"Ah, for the soup," the Grandmaster clarifies.

"How are you…" Thor gestures with his ladle, feeling suddenly like he must have missed something. "... here? On my ship?"

"Ah-ah," the Grandmaster says. He does something with his eyes like he's maybe trying to wink, but not quite succeeding. "My ship. You're actually on my ship."

"All right, I would argue squatter's rights," Thor mutters. The Grandmaster rolls his eyes. "But you understand my meaning. Why are you not back on Sakaar?"

"Sir, you're holding up the line," says the Grandmaster's—assistant? Lieutenant? Babysitter?

"Oh, yes, you're right," he says, and he dances around the end of the table to stand next to Thor. "My apologies, Topaz, you do keep me in line, don't you?"

She kind of smiles at him, or grimaces. Then she holds out her bowl for Thor to fill, which he does automatically, and then he feels weird about it. Topaz dutifully leaves the line to stand next to the Grandmaster, and Thor tries desperately to seem like he has the situation under control as he fills the bowls of the next people in line.

"Anyway, you didn't really think I'd amassed the sprawling empire I had on Sakaar without coming across some local teleportation technology, did you? You saw all the portals, right? You noticed those? Big holes in the sky? You know those went places, right?"

"Well," Thor says. "Yes, but. Well."

"Love the eye patch, by the way," the Grandmaster says. "Very distinguished."

"Why are you here," Thor grinds out. "Why not literally anywhere else in the universe? I'll have you know you hold no power over myself or my people."

The Grandmaster shrugs, unbothered. "Here seemed interesting. I'd been feeling like I wanted some kind of, hm, some kind of adventure—an outing—a romp, one might say."

"You're insane," Thor tells him seriously. "This is a ship full of refugees."

"And free soup!" the Grandmaster agrees.

"If the Valkyrie finds out you're on board, she'll cut your throat in your sleep," Thor warns him.

"Oh, she's quite welcome to try," he says. "It is so entertaining when people try to kill me for the first time. They never expect all the, you know, the glitter."

"Or the light," Topaz suggests. "The light is disorienting too."

"The noises," the Grandmaster agrees with a pleased shudder. "It's really, uh, quite the spectacle. Anyway! We must be off. I do like your Asgardians, you know, you tell such delightful stories," he adds over his shoulder. He's already gliding away, his stupid gold robes flowing behind him, Topaz just a step behind.

"What in the hell," Thor says to himself.

 

*

 

"Hey! Brother! Are you in there?" Thor yells through Loki's door. He knocks twice, just for good measure.

"No," Loki calls back.

"I'm coming in," Thor decides. He takes it as a sign of healing in their relationship when the door actually opens when he turns the handle.

Loki has been busy liquefying on his bed, apparently. His ankles are thrown over the short metal railing of the footboard and he's got the pillow all crushed up under his armpits so he can lie on his stomach and read at the same time. It's a pose Thor remembers well from their childhood. "I'm not here," Loki tells him without looking up.

"Then I suppose you won't mind if I do this," Thor tells him cheerfully, and he flings himself onto the bed beside him. Thor laughs and Loki shrieks as the book bounces and his place is lost: another classic from childhood.

"Someday," Loki hisses, "I shall succeed in killing you."

"Hmm," Thor says, wiggling so that he takes up more space and Loki is almost shoved off the bed. "I believe you, of course. Anyway, did you know the Grandmaster is on the ship with us?"

Loki wrinkles his nose. "Ugh, really? I can't say I'm surprised, I suppose. It would have been too easy if he had stayed on Sakaar."

"I was surprised," Thor admits. "Do you think he's dangerous?"

Loki looks at him skeptically. "Are you actually asking my opinion on something?"

"Sure," Thor says. "You were—you knew him. Sort of."

"Knowing someone isn't the same as knowing someone," Loki says, and Thor doesn't get it until Loki widens his eyes in emphasis.

"Oh, for—you actually—?" Thor exclaims in horror. "Loki!"

"Oh, I'm going to need you to finish that thought," Loki says dryly. "I actually what?"

"You know, you—" But Thor can't really make himself say it, because for all that they've both been adults for centuries, Loki is still his little brother. So instead he makes a crude gesture with his hands.

Loki rolls his eyes. "Yes, Thor, we—" and he imitates the gesture. "I—" another gesture— "with him, and a handful of other morons. How else was I supposed to gain power in his wretched little social circle? By gladiatorial combat? Please."

"Well…" Thor says, but he's got a point.

"Anyway," Loki says after a moment. "Do I think he's dangerous? Generally, yes. Do I think he's planning anything particularly nefarious? Probably not."

"What, why not?"

"What's the point?" Loki says simply. "He doesn't actually care about making other people miserable. He cares about having fun. He cares about the narrative." This point is illustrated with a little wave of Loki's hands. "I would be surprised if there was fun to be had in making a bunch of sad people even sadder."

"Hmmmm," Thor says.

"I would advise you keep an eye on him. But I think it will mostly be mischief, if anything, from him."

"And from you," Thor guesses.

"Hmmmm," Loki says. After a moment, he picks his book back up and starts flipping through it to find his place again. Thor stares up at the beaten grey ceiling. It looks pretty much the same as the ceiling in his room.

"Really? Really, with him?" he insists after a while.

Loki shrugs and doesn't look at him. "I like sex and I like power. It was a win-win situation."

"But he's so—so horrible," Thor says, feeling whiny.

"You don't have to like someone to fuck them," Loki points out. Thor grimaces. "Also, he does have a certain charm."

"Does he?? Does he really??? I feel I hardly know you."

"Well, he's rather—actually, you know what I just remembered? I don't need to have this conversation with you," Loki decides, and he swings himself up off the bed.

"Brother, no!" Thor cries. "We were bonding."

"Goodbye," Loki says, and leaves.



*

 

"So," the Valkyrie says, falling into step beside Thor on the way to the kitchen. At least, that's where he's headed. She might be headed somewhere else. "Have you spoken to our dear idiot friend Korg lately?"

"Don't call him an idiot," Thor tells her. "And no, I haven't. How is he? And how is Miek?"

"Miek's just fine. He's got scissors for hands," the Valkyrie says, as if that explains anything. Thor guesses it does, sort of. "Korg has been trying to start a—a social club, of sorts."

"A social club," Thor repeats cautiously.

"Yes. He wants to play card games, he says. And charades."

"I see," Thor says. "That's… fine? That seems like a low-risk undertaking?"

"You haven't played his card game. He's awful at it, but certain among us are teetering on murderous over it," the Valkyrie tells him conspiratorially. She leans towards him, still walking briskly. "You have to play."

"Am I playing to prevent murder, or because you want murder to actually occur?" he asks warily. "Because I'll tell you now, next in line for the throne at the moment is still Loki and nobody wants that. Again."

The Valkyrie shudders. "I wasn't even there and I can tell that one's a nightmare. Anyhow, no, I want you to play because it's fun and you don't have enough fun in your life right now."

"Oh," Thor says, feeling touched.

"Come to the portside prow common room at 0800," she tells him. "Bring food."

"All right," Thor agrees. "Valkyrie—thank you. For thinking of me."

"Don't get too used to it," she says defensively. "Ugh, feelings." Thor laughs. "But as long as we're— shudder— feeling things... You know my name isn't actually just Valkyrie, right?"

"Yes," Thor says. "I'm not stupid."

"Okay," the Valkyrie says, doubtful. "Whatever you say."

"I would call you by your name," Thor tells her with a meaningful look, "if I knew what it was."

The Valkyrie glances at him. "I figured you would have asked Heimdall by now. I'm certain he remembers my name," she says. There's a note of bitterness in her voice.

Thor scoffs. "Heimdall? Why should I ask Heimdall your name? I figured you would tell me yourself if you wanted me to know."

The Valkyrie considers this. They pass the entrance to the kitchen. Thor doesn't stop walking. "... Huh," she says eventually.

Thor decides to spell it out for her. Open communication! What a marvellous thought. "I have no interest in—in seeking things out about you, that you don't want me to know," he says slowly. "I trust you to tell me what you want to tell me. But that means that if you want me to know something, you have to tell me. I am neither a mind reader nor a busybody. All right?"

The Valkyrie looks away, but she nods. "All right," she agrees. Thor pretends not to hear how thick her voice has gotten.

"Good," he says.

"Sigfríðr," she says abruptly. "My name was—is—Sigfríðr."

"Is," Thor tells her firmly. He stops walking and turns to her, holding his hand out. "I'm happy to know you, Sigfríðr."

Sigfríðr looks at his hand for a moment, and then she holds hers out and grasps his forearm, like a warrior. "I'm happy to know you, Thor," she tells him.

They smile at each other for another moment, and then Thor says, "I was—" and Sigfríðr says, "Anyway, I—" and then they both stop and chuckle.

"You go do what you were doing. Bye," Sigfríðr says, turning away.

"See you at 0700," Thor says, and Sigfríðr splits off to stride down a hallway which, if Thor is not incorrect, leads eventually to Banner's room.

"Hm," he says to himself, and continues on to the kitchen with a lighter heart.

*

 

Game night is… well, it's something.

Thor drags Loki along—well, Loki goes willingly, because he loves to destroy people at games, but they agreed without discussion that it would be better if everyone thought he was there because Thor wanted him there, and not because he really wanted to play—and the Valkyrie seems to have bullied Banner into coming too, and of course Korg and Miek are there, as well as a handful of Asgardians and former Sakaarian prisoners. Unfortunately, the Grandmaster and Topaz are also there. The Grandmaster seems to have been in cheerful conversation with a baffled but genial Asgardian woman; Topaz is silent, and looks as stern as she ever does. Thor looks around immediately for Sigfríðr, but she's nowhere in sight.

"Ah! Thor! This is my buddy Thor, everyone," Korg greets him. Thor isn't sure he's really cottoned onto the fact that he's a kind of major figure on the ship. "Haven't seen you in a while, have we?"

"Ah… Yes, my friend, it has been several days. I have been busy, as of late," Thor says. He crosses the room to sit between Korg and Banner on one of the semicircular couches. He so, so passionately does not want whatever is about to happen between Loki and the Grandmaster to happen in front of him. What was it the Grandmaster said about there being glitter and weird noises when people try to kill him?

"Ooh," the Grandmaster says when he sees Loki. Thor braces himself. "It's you! I was wondering if you were involved in the downfall of my planet." The woman next to him gasps.

Loki tips his head sardonically. "I think you'll find it's not the first nor the last time I have had a hand in destruction on such a scale." From anyone else, the words might be apologetic, or at least an admission of guilt; from Loki, it's bragging. Thor is so, so tired.

"I knew I liked you," the Grandmaster says gleefully. Topaz rolls her eyes. Loki just smiles thinly. "What a show! Of course you ruined my whole, you know, my whole thing, but, well, it was so exciting. All those spaceships zipping around, pew pew!" He mimes handling the controls of a spaceship.

"Thor, is he supposed to be here?" Banner asks. "'Cuz I don't—I don't remember him boarding? At any point? I feel like that's something that would, uh, it would stick out, you know, in my memory."

Thor resists the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose, because he's supposed to be a king now and kings don't do that sort of thing. Also, it would hurt his eye socket. "No, he isn't supposed to be here. He teleported on at some point. As long as they keep out of trouble, they're allowed to stay." He looks at the Grandmaster and Topaz, who meet his gaze with jaunty carelessness and smug austerity in turn. "You are here by my permission and the permission of my people only," he reminds them. The Grandmaster gives him a thumbs up.

"Thor," Banner whispers to him, "this is insane."

"I know," he sighs.

"No, I mean, like, even for—you guys," Banner clarifies. Thor frowns at him. "Sorry! I'm trying to be sensitive to, like, cultural differences, but jeez. This seems… foolhardy."

Thor sighs. He knows it's foolhardy. "The other option," he whispers, feeling like a child, "is to release them into the vacuum of space, where: ) they die without honor, or ) they find some other planet to wreak havoc upon. Banner, I cannot make myself responsible for either fate."

Banner considers this. "Okay," he says slowly. "I mean, mercy is—but—okay."

"Do you trust me?" Thor asks him.

"Uh, sure."

"Trust me on this, then."

Banner just looks at him, skeptical, but then he nods shortly, and Thor claps him on the back. He is never, ever telling Banner that much of this decision was based on Loki's understanding of the Grandmaster's ways.

Meanwhile, Korg has been passing out cards to the assembled group. He claps his rocky hands together as he finishes the deck and says, "Right then! Newcomers, this is a simple game. There are six suits in this deck of cards, each with seven number cards and six face cards for a total of thirteen cards per suit. Each player begins with four cards in hand. Now let's say I start. I put a card down. It's the three of bones. Now Miek here has to play either a three or a bones card. Miek, you got—?" Miek does some shuffling with his cards—Thor can't tell how, on account of his scissors for hands—and produces a card that is, upon inspection, a six of bones. "Excellent job again, little friend. And now the handsome fellow on Miek's other side, our new friend Ári, yes? Have you got any sixes or any bones?"

"I like to think I've got some bones," Ári says, to laughter. "Yes, let me see—ah, I don't have any sixes or any bones."

"Right, so now you draw a card from the deck," Korg instructs him. Ári does so. "And then we see if Eira has got any sixes or bones, and so on. That's basic gameplay, does all the newcomers understand?"

"Yes," says Thor, unsure why this game apparently gets so violent. Loki nods, looking wary for the same reason.

"Right then, now's onto the rules. Now the rules are very complex." What? Had they not just gone over the rules? "The only rules as I'm allowed to tell you is I'm not allowed to tell you any rules."

Oh, no, Thor thinks to himself. Loki leans forward, grinning.

"For round one we'll have no rules, because I'm a kind sort of fellow. But no promises as to round two," Korg tells them. "Let us begin. The game of Gridë is a game of rules."

Round one is, as Korg promised, fairly straightforward. The round ends when someone—in this case Miek—runs out of cards; Miek then gets to instate a rule, which he communicates to Korg through a series of hand-knife gestures.

"Miek says the rule of drops is now in play," Korg announces. "Good choice Miek. The game of Gridë is a game of rules."

"What's the rule of drops?" Banner asks.

Korg tuts. "Ah-ah-ah, no explaining the rules."

"Oh, Christ," Banner mutters.

It turns out that the rule of drops is that when you play a drops card, you have to say, "Two of drops," or "Five of drops," or whatever it is, and if you don't say that, Korg snaps his fingers at you in a friendly manner and says, "Penalty for not obeying the rule of drops" and makes you draw a card.

Bruce ducks out early in favor of spectating and not destroying the room.

Later rounds introduce the rule of carapaces, for each card of which suit you give the player sitting to your left a punch on the arm; the rule of politeness, for which everyone is forbidden to speak unless for a different rule, and if you get penalized for anything you have to say "Thank you" very politely to Korg as he hands you your card; the rule of thing with nine legs, for which each card from that suit reverses the order of people playing; the rule of concubines, for which the person who played the concubine face card has to kiss the hand of the person on their right; and so on. Thor is pleased to see that he himself isn't actually terrible at it; once he realizes what the rules are, he doesn't tend to forget them. It just takes him a while, sometimes, especially when it's something like the rule of carapaces, because there's no way to guess what the rule is until someone who already knows what it is has demonstrated several times. Also, there's a suit that's thing with six legs and there's a suit that's thing with nine legs, and the illustrations on both of them are a little inscrutable and hard to immediately tell apart from each other.

Loki, of course, is excellent at Gridë. So are Topaz and, surprisingly, Miek, although half of Miek's participation is made of him gesturing to Korg and Korg translating appropriately. The Grandmaster is satisfyingly mediocre. Korg is actually really no good at it at all, but he's extremely good-natured about the whole thing. The other Asgardians—Ári, Eira, Rúni, and Arnbjorg—enjoy varying levels of competence; Rúni is the best, although they're still not as good as Loki or Topaz.

The Valkyrie wanders in after perhaps half an hour. "Sorry, everyone," she starts, "I got caught up with—I'm sorry, wow, excuse the fuck out of me."

"Believe me," Thor says, "I know."

"Do you? Do you know, your Majesty? Because it looks like you morons are all sitting around playing cards with the guy who enslaved some of us for years."

Well, when you put it that way.

"If it helps," Loki says with a look on his face like he wants nothing more than absolute chaos, "he's not very good at cards."

"Hey," the Grandmaster says mildly.

"I apologize for my ignorance, but are you… important, or something?" Rúni asks.

"I like you," Loki tells them. "Your ignorance is excused. He's very much unimportant."

"Hey," the Grandmaster says, somewhat less mildly.

"You're the washed-up ruler of a backwater planet covered in a literal trash heap," Loki tells him, dismissive. "All you've got now are your tacky clothes, your admittedly intimidating bodyguard, and half a dozen people who helped to ruin you. You're unimportant, friend."

"I liked you much better when you were sucking up to me," the Grandmaster complains.

Thor looks to Sigfríðr, like, see what I've been dealing with? She just looks back at him, unimpressed.

"If you stay, you can destroy him at cards," Loki offers. He adds, generous, "You may even destroy me at cards if you're good enough."

Sigfríðr glares at him. Then she glares at the Grandmaster. Then she glares at Thor, which he thinks is a little unfair. "I need a fucking drink," she decides, but she does play. She is, of course, excellent, even when very drunk. Also, she starts to share after the first bottle, and then it gets really fun. Even though Banner doesn't drink, and Thor doesn't partake this time because he's not certain he wants that level of emotional intimacy with everyone here.

"Fuckin'... Concubine of drops, and um, Bruce, gimme your hand," Sigfríðr mumbles, around halfway through the second bottle,

"Oh, I'm not playing," Banner tells her, not for the first time.

"But you are to my right," the Valkyrie informs him, listing slightly to the side.

"I think Thor is to your right." He's getting a little bashful.

Sigfríðr considers this. "I can't decide," she declares, "so I suppose I'll just have to kiss both of you. Your um. Your hands." Thor looks at Banner, who looks back at him. They dutifully give her their hands, and she presses messy kisses to their knuckles, one and then the other. "There," she says, patting them both, "now I'm safe. Thor, it's your turn." Thor takes his hand back, laughing.

"Actually, that was an awful lot of talking for a rule that doesn't require any talking," Loki points out, because he's a shithead. He's no longer sitting like a normal person; instead he's mostly upside down, with his legs over the back of the couch. He has a thing about ostentatious lounging. "You should probably take, oh, at least three penalty cards for all that."

Sigfríðr just sticks her tongue out at him.

"I love having friends," Korg says. "Don't you love having friends?"

"'Friends,'" Loki mutters. "I wouldn't call us that."

"I'd say rivals, probably," Sigfríðr agrees. "Except I don't even care about you enough to call this a proper rivalry." She nods to herself. "I think the thing is, ah, the thing is that I'm just, I'm so much cooler than you that it's like, kind of embarrassing."

"She's ah, she's got you there, mate," Korg tells Loki.

"That hits me right here," Loki deadpans, gesturing towards his heart. "Really, I don't think I shall ever recover."

"I mean, let's tally—tally it up," Sigfríðr insists. "I can beat you up, first of all. I have a better outfit than you. I can drink—drink more than you. I found the Champion before you did. Thor likes me more than you. Banner likes me at all. I mean, that idiot—" she points to the Grandmaster, whose glazed eyes take a second to catch up to her hand—"actually paid me to hang around. I'm like, killing you on the coolness front, frankly."

Loki frowns at her, upside-down. "You got paid? What, have you got some sort of, some sort of special trick?" He makes a vulgar gesture at trick.

"No," Sigfríðr says, slowly, as if to a child. "I was a scavenger. I was just competent at my job."

"Loki doesn't know what that feels like," Thor stage-whispers to her. "Can't relate."

The Grandmaster gigglesnorts.

"Hey," Loki says at Thor, and then he says, "Hey," again, at the Grandmaster.

"You're good at some things," the Grandmaster tells him generously.

"Oh, no, would you look at that, this conversation just ended," Banner says. "Wow, too bad. I was enjoying it right up until just now."

"Prude," Loki mutters.

 

*

 

Life continues. Day-cycles pass one by one until suddenly it's been a week, and then it's been a month. Thor spends a lot of time serving soup, which he likes doing because it feels like a really practical thing to do to help, and the constant low-level social interaction means he hasn't much time to just sit there and stew, which is what he would be doing with all that free time otherwise. There's only so much time one can spend playing cards and antagonizing one's little brother.

He does spend time at the helm, of course, but he's not actually a pilot; he doesn't have the knowledge or the temperament. He knew the local stars around Asgard, and he had begun to learn the stars around Midgard, but there's a difference between looking out from a night sky to recognize familiar shapes, and using them to navigate through space. He goes to the helm now, though; he's in a mood to be thoughtful, and so he wants to speak with Heimdall. Heimdall isn't a pilot either, but he knows the stars better than anyone, and it's helpful to have a clairvoyant present when plotting routes. Also, the helm is one of the quieter places on the ship, and everyone there knows what they're doing, both qualities which Thor suspects Heimdall never got enough of when he had to deal with the royal family all the time.

"Your Majesty," Heimdall greets him when he arrives. Heimdall has his own chair on the helm, an armchair from some living space or other that someone had dragged out for him, because everybody loves him.

"Heimdall," Thor says, "my friend. How's… space?"

Heimdall indulges him with a small smile. "Space is fine," he says. "The navigators predict that we should reach the next solar system in another week."

"And what do you predict?"

"I predict nothing," Heimdall tells him. "But I will tell you that I don't think we have anything to fear."

"That was delightfully cryptic," Thor says blandly. "But all right."

"You aren't here to talk about what's coming," Heimdall points out. "You're here to talk about what has already happened."

Thor sighs and sits down on the floor next to him. "I would ask how you know, but I suppose I know the answer," he says.

"I didn't see this, it's just that you're just easy to read," Heimdall says, not unkindly.

"Loki used to say I was predictable," Thor agrees. And then, flippantly, "Then I electrocuted him and let him seize on the floor for who knows how long."

Heimdall laughs. "That's new. No mercy for your baby brother?"

"He's not a baby anymore," Thor says, feeling defensive. "And anyway, it was merciful to leave him alive."

Heimdall pulls his legs up onto the chair and leans on the armrest to look down at Thor. "Was it?" he asks.

Guilt pulls at Thor's stomach. "Yes," he says, although now he's not so certain.

"You should know it's all right to grieve him," Heimdall says.

Thor frowns. "Why should I grieve him? He isn't dead."

Heimdall shrugs. "The person he used to be and the person he is now are different. You're allowed to grieve the loss of that younger Loki, even as Loki as he is now stands before you. You're allowed to grieve, period."

"Heimdall, if I begin to grieve every version of every person I have ever lost, I shall never stop grieving," Thor says quietly. He thinks of Jane; he thinks of Hogun, Volstagg, Fandral, Sif. He thinks of his brother, thinks of Loki when he was a child and not a spiky mass of defensive shittiness. He thinks of his mother, his father.

"Then you never stop grieving," Heimdall says simply. "That doesn't mean you stop loving. Or learning. Or enjoying life. It just means that you let yourself feel the pain as well as the joy."

Thor flounders for something to say that isn't, Sometimes I wish you were my father instead of Odin, or, Would you like to be king for a minute or two while I get my shit together? He settles on, "Is this why you wear so much dark clothing?"

Heimdall smiles with his eyes. "No. I wear dark clothing because it looks very, very cool."

Thor laughs, and Heimdall smiles with his whole face, and Thor thinks: We'll be all right.