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Five days pass before Thor sees Loki again.

He arrives late to the weekly assembly of court, looking positively horrendous. His skin is paler than usual, his face a gaunt hiding ground for shadows. Grey half-moons hang under his eyes, which no longer sparkle with life. They are dull and depressed, devoid of animation. His hair is a lank, oily curtain of unkempt locks. His clothes appear wrinkled, as if he’d fallen asleep in them and woken up only minutes before.

He slinks through the door, still limping slightly, and sits in the nearest chair. He deliberately ignores the five pairs of eyes on him—and one eye in particular.

Thor pauses in the middle of his report, tempted to say something. A soft “good of you to join us, Loki” or perhaps a simple “welcome”, but judging by Loki’s deliberately avoidant posture—eyes lowered, shoulders hunched, hands in his lap—Thor decides to say nothing. He takes a breath and continues the conference with as much focus as he can.

A lot has happened since their disastrous visit with Dr Banner. A brawl broke out in the passenger lounge on C Deck, but Korg, now the chief constable on the Statesman, managed to get it under control. A pair of young girls went missing and it was several hours before their absence was finally noticed. The terror-stricken parents petitioned their leaders for help, and Heimdall quickly located the youngsters in one of the cargo bays. They were fine, having gotten themselves lost while exploring the ship. Brunnhilde found the cause of the broken ion accelerator and got it working again with a little engineering from Bruce. A faulty pressure indicator was the culprit, and the ship was finally restored to its original speed. Then some of the more bootleg-savvy Asgardians figured out how to build a still and were brewing some truly evil spirits, which was the indirect cause of the brawl on C Deck. And lastly, the rats that were present on the ship while it was docked on Sakaar were breeding with the rats that came aboard during the exodus from Asgard, and now the ship was infested with a very colorful, hardy strain of vermin that ate metal and shat coal. Dr Banner did not advise consuming the creatures as a means of reducing the population, but that hadn’t stopped the Asgardians from building an entire menu around this new species. Apparently rattus askaarius is quite tasty. Of course, six months of prepackaged meals can drastically alter one’s tastes.

All this and more is discussed at great length and detail among the court. Loki sits through the entire meeting without saying a word, and once the assembly is dismissed, he is the first one out the door.

Tormented with concern and desperate to speak to him, Thor plows through his companions and inadvertently steps on Miek’s foot (or maybe that’s his hand) in his hurry to reach him. He begs a hasty pardon to the whimpering alien before flying from the room. He spots Loki just as he is vanishing around a corner, and breaks into a sprint. He manages to catch up to him before he can turn down another corridor and vanish for good.

“Loki, wait!”

He slaps his hand on the wall in front of him, stopping Loki in his tracks.

“I have something to give you,” says Thor breathlessly.

Loki tightens his lips and ignores him, staring straight ahead. However, he cannot resist looking down when he feels a gentle, insistent nudging at his arm. He is met by the sight of fourteen foil-wrapped vitamin packets held in Thor’s cupped hands.

Loki smiles acidly. “You mean you have something to give the baby.”

“No, these are for you,” Thor insists, trying to keep his voice soft and neutral. “You’ve not been eating well. And judging by how many times I’ve seen you at dinner this week, you’ve not been eating at all.”

“I eat,” says Loki. “I know where the cafeterias are.”

“Yes, but you need more.” Thor raises his hands, holding them insistently toward Loki. “Please. Just take them.”

“Ah, yes. So you don’t have to worry. It doesn’t matter whether I use them or not, you just want them out of your sight so you may alleviate the growing weight on your conscience.” He rests his hand on his stomach, a not-so-subtle implication to a growing weight of his own. “Am I right?”

Thor clenches his teeth and tries to heed Banner’s advice. Trading verbal blows will avail him nothing. He must resist the urge if he hopes to make peace with Loki.

“Please,” he says, bowing his head and lifting his hands.

After a moment of silent glaring, Loki snatches up a handful of the packets and hurries away down the corridor. Thor heaves a sigh and gently curls his fingers around the remaining parcels.

It isn’t much, but it’s better than nothing.


In the following two weeks, Thor spends approximately three hours in Loki’s company, and not one of those hours is private. It’s intentional, Thor knows. Loki doesn’t want to be alone with him, doesn’t wish to speak to him, doesn’t seem to want to even be touched by him.

Thor is baffled. He doesn’t understand why Loki is being so evasive. What could he have possibly done to warrant such a shunning? There is more to it than their argument in the infirmary, of this Thor is certain. Something else is at work here. He’s desperate for an answer, but Loki never gives him the chance to ask.

At least, he hasn’t yet.

Loki comes to court dinner a few times, a sullen, sour guest who picks at the lumps of rehydrated TVP and engages with no one. He dampens the others’ cheer with his dry, monosyllabic retorts whenever they try to include him in conversations, and leaves without offering to help clear the table—not that he has ever offered to help with anything, especially drudgery he believes is better suited for servants. Never mind that Thor himself gathers their used trays, sweeps the crumbs from the table, and makes the trip down to the disposal unit with a garbage bag in tote; Loki is far too proud to stoop to such demeaning tasks.

But his physical deterioration is undeniable.

Brunnhilde notices. Korg notices. Heimdall would have noticed even if he didn’t have the power to see everything. Something this obvious is practically palpable. However, it’s not Heimdall whom Thor approaches after dinner one evening. It’s Dr Banner.

“Aw, c’mon, man, please,” Bruce groans as Thor trots to his side. He is walking down the corridor and back to his room as quickly as possible, trying to avoid precisely this situation. The anxious looks Thor has been giving him for the last few days are starting to really stress him out.

“Banner,” says Thor sternly, “I am asking you as a friend, as a best friend, actually—”

“Look, I can’t just break doctor-patient confidentiality. I mean, I know I’m not a licensed MD or anything, but—”

“I am asking you as a father, Bruce. A very worried father who just wants to know one small thing. You don’t have to go into detail, I only want… I must know if Loki has been to see you since our first visit. That is all. A simple yes or no answer and I shall be on my way.”

Bruce whines and scrunches his face into an expression of woe. “Aw mannn…”

“Bruce, please. Please.” Thor grips his shoulders—not in a threatening way, but a very urgent, needful way—and stares earnestly into his eyes. “Yes or no?”

Bruce sighs, rolls his head back, and finally slumps in defeat. “No. No, he hasn’t been back. There. I’m sorry. Can I please go now?”

Thor’s hands slide away and he takes a numb step back. To say he looks troubled would be a grave misstatement. He is eviscerated.

“Aw, look, I,” Bruce sputters, “I can’t treat somebody who doesn’t wanna get treated. That’s all up to Loki. If he wants to do this all on his own, I got no control over that.” He softens when he sees Thor’s despondency. “Have you talked to him yet?”

“No,” says Thor roughly. “He refuses to speak to me.”

“Still?”

“Still.”

Bruce sighs again. “Did you give him the vita-packs at least?”

“He took some of them. I still have four or five left.”

“Well, he definitely needs more ‘cause he’s probably out by now. Look, I’ll grab some from the infirmary and give ‘em to you, and you can leave ‘em on his pillow or something. They’re real fruity, the kids love ‘em, so there’s no reason why he—”

“I don’t know where he is staying.”

“Oh.” Bruce quirks an eyebrow. “You, uh. You two aren’t like”—he wiggles his fingers—“sleeping together anymore?”

“We never have. Loki hates sharing a bed with me.”

Bruce opens his mouth. Closes it. Opens it again. “But you’re. You’re still living together, right?”

“We haven’t lived together since we’ve been alive, honestly.”

“But you at least know where his room is.”

“I don’t.”

Bruce is beginning to look agitated. “Well, where does he hang out most of the time?”

“I have no idea.”

“Can you catch him at lunch tomorrow?”

“I don’t know where or when he takes his meals.”

Bruce stares at Thor with disbelief. “Do you spend any time with the guy or was this just some kinda weird-ass incestuous booty call you answered a few months ago? ‘Cause seriously, I can’t be an OB/GYN and a psychiatrist to you guys, my hands are already frickin overflowing with problems and this’s not even my thing, I didn’t go to college for this kinda shit, I don’t have a degree in dealing with dysfunctional pregnant gods.”

Thor lowers his head. “I understand. I appreciate everything you’re doing, Banner. Not just for me, but for my people. We are forever indebted to you.”

“Ah, jeez. I didn’t mean. Don’t look at me like that—”

“If it were within my power, I would have Loki by my side as much as possible. But he is a free spirit. He comes and goes as he pleases. I cannot bend him to my will.”

“No, no, don’t, definitely do not try to bend him to your will. That’ll just make things worse. Argh.” He drags his hands over his face and a brief silence falls between them. He reaches out and grasps Thor’s bicep. “I’ll get you some more vita-packs. Okay?”

“Thank you.”

“Don’t try to corner him.”

“I won’t.”

Bruce smiles sadly. “And try to get some sleep, man. You look almost as bad as he does.”

Thor nods. “I will try.”


And he does try. Every night for the next month and a half, Thor lies alone in his bed, staring listlessly at the shadows on his ceiling. At no point in the day does he have reprieve from his cares. He is actively tortured by his imagination while he is awake and haunted by nightmares when he sleeps. One in particular stands out, a recurring dream that is the consummation of every fear an expectant father could have. And it always begins and ends with Loki.

“Thor, it’s time,” Loki tells him in a breathy, strained voice. His hand is on his belly, full and round now, ready to bear. His pale eyes are wide and gleaming with terror. “He’s coming.”

Somehow Thor believes it isn’t just their son he is talking about.

“I’m not ready,” Loki groans and slides to his knees. “I’m not ready!”

Thor reaches out to him and suddenly he is lying in his bed, drenched in sweat, his heartbeat thumping in his ears. Merciful Norns, he thinks, his body sagging. It was only a dream.

Then a baby begins to wail somewhere just outside his room. Thor bolts up in the dark and runs to the door. The corridor is empty, filled with a sinister, unwholesome yellow light. A trail of bright red blood leads down the hallway and disappears around the corner. Somewhere at the end of this gruesome path a newborn is screaming shrilly, its helpless sobs echoing eerily through the ship.

“Loki!” Thor calls, and begins to jog down the corridor. He is sick with fear. Shaking, trembling. He cannot think. His heart quivers with dread. “Loki, where are you!”

He follows the blood, which grows more abundant with every turn. Signs of struggle begin to appear: smeary red handprints, spatters and droplets from direct blows—he’s got him, he’s got Loki—cracks and scorched patches that cover the walls like bruises. Loki does not answer. There is only the sound of Thor’s boots and their son’s cries of distress.

“Loki!”

The dream drags on like this for what feels like hours. Thor searches every deck of the ship, following the tracks of violence while he listens to his child shriek and screech.

Sometimes the part with the wolves doesn’t come until right before the end. Sometimes it happens midway, around D or E Deck, but it’s always the same: Thor comes upon a female goat lying in the corridor, surrounded by a pack of wolves. She is in travail, the head of her offspring just beginning to emerge. She bleats at the predators and tosses her head, kicks her legs at them. Her eyes are wild, terrified. The wolves sit just out of reach and wait, patiently and confidently. They smell the blood. They close in slowly, inch by inch.

They are going to eat the life she is bringing into the world.

Thor’s heart breaks at the unfairness, the sheer ugliness of it all. He lays into the wolves with a fury so powerful that its evidence can be seen even after he wakes: tangled bedsheets, blackened walls, singed pillows, the stench of fear and ozone in the air.

But he never wakes at this part of his dream. That would be too merciful. No, Thor grabs the wolves by their necks and hurls them into the walls. Bones break. Tendons snap. Stubborn snarls and barks of surprise fill the air, along with clumps of hair and sheets of thick red blood. But the wolves inevitably crawl up from where they fall, heal themselves, and return to the circle to wait.

Usually it’s the sound of his crying son that forces Thor to abandon the poor goat. He hates to do it, he feels wretched for it, but Loki and the baby are more important. He must go to them.

He can hear the she-goat screaming behind him as her newly-born offspring is torn to shreds and devoured. All that time it spent in the womb, Thor thinks, being carefully knitted together, only to be rent apart before it has taken its first full breath. He cries tears from both eyes as he runs, sobbing for air, following the blood trail.

The dream ends in the same place every time: the solarium on A Deck, a vast, open room with a huge glass dome for a roof. This is a favorite gathering place of the passengers, an area where they can relax and enjoy the benefits of whatever natural light filters down through the specially-tempered panes.

But there is never any light here in Thor’s dream. The solarium is dark, cold, and empty—except for one person.

Loki stands in the center of the room. His head is tilted back, staring up at the stars. He is wearing a long white shift, something all mothers in Asgard are familiar with. The giving of the birthing gown is an ancient tradition, a gesture of hope and goodwill, and typically takes place after the pregnancy is announced. It’s an unspoken assurance that the child will be born and that its first clothes will be made of the same fabric its mother wore at its birth.

The front of Loki’s shift is covered with blood. His belly is flat. Empty.

“Loki,” Thor moans, restrained by some invisible forcefield and unable to draw any nearer. He reaches out impotently, desperately.

Loki turns. His hands are bloodstained and his flesh is gray and dead, covered with a web of black capillaries. He looks like the corpse Thor had been forced to abandon on Svartalfheim. He points one red hand toward the dome—to the stars beyond.

“He’s gone,” he murmurs, tears clinging to his lower eyelids. “He’s gone.”

Then Thor sinks to his knees and fills the ship with his howls of grief, and the nightmare ends there.

Sometimes he wakes up immediately, sometimes later. Usually his cheek is wet with tears and there’s a tightness in his throat that makes him believe he was being strangled while he slept, or possibly screaming. But one thing is always certain: there will be no more sleep for him after this.

Tonight is no different.

He crawls from his wrecked, reeking bed and goes to the lavatory. He carefully removes his eyepatch and turns on the tap. He cups his hands under the faucet and rinses his face with water that is strangely purer than what flows from the pipes.

He shuts off the tap and stares at the droplets on his hands.

The power to heal. The power to mend. The power to purify and enrich, to make fecund the soils that would otherwise remain fallow. To give seeds a place where they can sprout and take root.

He has unwittingly done this to Loki. And Loki hates him for it.

Thor squeezes his hands into fists and looks up at the reflection of his dripping, haggard face.

For years I tried to avoid you but you were too stupid to get the hint, and now I am pregnant with your child. My body finally has what it’s always wanted. I hope you’re happy.

Happy? No. He is not happy. He wants to be—he would love to be—but he can’t. Not if Loki isn’t happy.

Thor sighs.

He always knew he would be a father someday. He was looking forward to it, building a family with a loving mate who was just as thrilled by the prospect of parenthood as he was. He cherished the idea of holding his children in his arms and guiding them through the world, teaching them, playing with them, watching them grow.

This is not how he expected it would happen. Perhaps he has been too naïve, too optimistic in believing that everyone could want children as much as he does. Even as a young boy, Thor got more enjoyment out of spending time with babies and toddling children than his own peers. His older playmates were less tolerant of his antics and not afraid to tease him back, correct him, compete with him—and that was all well and fun, but not quite as rewarding.

The youngsters, on the other hand, adored him. He delighted in making them laugh, impressing them with his strength and his knowledge of a world that was still so new to them. He liked feeling big among these small, uncoordinated people. Their clumsiness made him look as graceful as a swan. He reveled in the idea of being their hero, of protecting them from whatever terrors their little minds could conjure. It made him feel important. Responsible. Just like Father.

Thor was still quite young when Loki had been born—or more correctly, when he had joined their family—and perhaps this was where his love of the small and defenseless had come from. His memories are dim, but Thor recalls standing in the doorway of a cool, shaded room, watching his mother nurse Loki, murmuring songs of winter and ice to him while she stroked the veil of fine black hair on his head.

It all makes sense to Thor now, but at the time he hadn’t known Loki’s true parentage. He didn’t realize Frigga had simply been soothing him as best as a Jötunn infant could be soothed in this strange, warm realm. All he had seen was his mother and his baby brother, a quiet scene of love and contentment, and had wanted to be a part of it, too.

“It’s alright, Thor,” Frigga had said gently, not even lifting her eyes, “you may come in.”

Thor obediently, timidly crept into the room and climbed onto the chaise beside his mother. He didn’t pester her with questions this time. He knew enough of the world of grown-ups to know that this was no place for talking. So he listened to Frigga sing in a low, comforting voice and watched Loki feed until his eyelids began to droop sleepily.

Like all children, Thor burned with curiosity about the world, about himself and the people who were closest to him. Why they said the things they said, why they did the things they did. How comes and what fors were the most used phrases in his vocabulary. He was fascinated by these tiny, awkward people with their soft bodies and big heads and toothless mouths. He wanted to know more about them, how they had gotten here and why they were so precious to the big people. Finally, he couldn’t stand it any longer.

“Where did Loki come from, Mother?” he whispered as softly as possible.

If Frigga had been unnerved by her son’s question, she showed no sign of it. “Your father gave him to me,” she said, “after he gave me you.”

“So he was a gift?”

She laughed quietly. “Yes. You are both my precious gifts.”

Thor mirrored her smile. “May I hold him?”

“Of course. Here, let me show you how…”

After much careful maneuvering, Frigga placed Loki in Thor’s arms. Thor was not yet the big, bruising child he would become in a few more years, and at first he struggled to wrap his arms around the cumbersome bundle, being careful to neither embrace too tightly nor too loosely.

“Support his head,” Frigga instructed softly. “Yes, just like that. One hand underneath. There, very good.”

But just as Thor seemed to find a comfortable way of holding him, Loki woke and screwed his face into a tiny, furious frown. He hiccoughed and writhed, threatening to cry.

“Shh, Loki,” Thor whispered, gently rocking him as he had seen his mother do. “It’s good. I’ve got you.”

There was a whimper and a wibble, and then Loki had relaxed once more, his eyes fluttering closed.

Frigga beamed. “What a gifted young man you are, darling. I could not have done better myself.”

Thor had never been so proud in all his life. He practically glowed from his mother’s praise.

Now Thor stares at his grim, rugged reflection in the mirror. His eyelids have begun to fuse together over his empty socket, the scarred skin still pink and shiny—a sunken, unsightly hollow that will surely frighten any child who looks at him.

He wonders if his son would cry if he saw his face. He wonders if his son would ever see his face. Or if he would ever see his son’s. That future seems to be fading fast.

Thor turns and dries his face on a stale towel, puts his eyepatch back on. He returns to his room and gathers up his strewn clothes, dresses himself, and does what he has done every night when rest evades him: he wanders the dim, low-lit corridors of this spaceship palace with only his thoughts for company.

They are not good thoughts. And a great deal of them have to do with Loki.

He walks. He worries. He wonders. He knows the Tesseract is somewhere aboard this vessel. He knows who is after it. He has heard whispers of the Mad Titan, of a quest for the same magical stones he himself has been seeking. He believes with a fair amount of certainty that it was this Titan who had poisoned his brother’s mind six years ago, had given him his scepter and his mission—a mission that Loki had failed and whose spoils ended up in Asgard’s vault.

It’s like watching the stars align, Thor thinks, staring out of a window with his arms crossed and a deep, concerned frown on his face. All of these events revolving at their own speed around some great cataclysm, time growing shorter and shorter as one by one they lock into their destined places. Thor can sense it, like a hum too low to be heard with one’s ears but whose vibrations can be felt in the air. It prickles at the back of his neck, grips his shoulders with sharp claws, fills his mind with horrific pictures.

Somewhere out there is a very powerful being who has been denied his prize. Somewhere out there is a monster who is after Loki. Weak, languishing Loki. Pregnant, helpless Loki, whom Thor has loved and always will love—and there is nothing Thor can do to protect him. He has been denied that privilege. No; that duty.

He wonders if Loki still loves him. He wonders if Loki will allow him to be a part of his life, or if, once they reach Earth (if we reach Earth), he will disappear for good, returning to Sakaar or some other realm. If he will allow Thor to be present when he delivers their child into the world. If he will even be alive to deliver their child, for now in Thor’s head looms the image of a huge, vengeful shadow standing over Loki’s crumpled, lifeless body, the baby inside him slowly suffocating before it has even had a chance to—

Thor’s fist thumps into the glass, sending a shower of sparks raining onto the floor. An electrified tear rolls from his eye, which glows white-blue in the darkness.

Something violent and primal overcomes him. Suddenly he longs for the taste of blood in his mouth, the crunch of bone in his teeth. He wants to tear flesh. He wants to destroy and maim, to dismember and mutilate. He is the God of Thunder. He is the King of Asgard. He is a father. And he will kill anything that threatens his family.

If only Loki would allow him.

Thor’s fist slides from the glass with a sweaty squeak. He closes his eye and leans his forehead against the cool pane, trying to calm himself.

“I am glad I cannot see your thoughts,” says a low, familiar voice from behind.

Thor turns as Heimdall approaches, his golden eyes glowing in the starlight. Thor is so miserable he can’t even bring himself to speak, much less smile. Heimdall smiles for him, patient and kind.

“You have been spending too many nights in these halls,” he says. “You cannot outrun your dreams.”

“I am not trying to outrun them, Heimdall,” Thor murmurs. “I am trying to understand them.”

“I think you already understand them. You run because they frighten you.”

A brief silence falls. Then Thor says, “You were the first to see our child.”

Heimdall nods slowly. “I was.”

“You were the one who told Loki he was carrying.”

“I was.”

Thor shuts his eye and prepares himself. “How did he react?”

Heimdall is quiet for a moment. “He was shocked. Afraid. Uncertain. Like many new mothers.” Pause. “He asked me if he should tell you.”

“What did you say?”

“I told him it was none of my business.”

“Did he ask anything else?”

“He asked my opinion. He became distraught when I would not offer one. He wept.” Heimdall takes a long breath. “He is afraid of failing.”

“Who isn’t?”

“He is afraid of failing you.”

Thor shakes his head. “Loki has never cared about impressing me. The most important person in his life has always been himself.”

“Not anymore.” Heimdall’s words are blunt and certain.

Thor looks up soberly.

Heimdall’s face is sterner than usual. “He pines for you in his hermitage. His pain is consuming him. He will perish without you.”

Thor’s breath quickens. He straightens his back and turns to Heimdall. “Show him to me.”

Slowly Heimdall reaches out with both hands and grasps Thor’s head. He closes his eyes. A few moments later, Thor’s left eye goes gold as the Allsight comes to him, and suddenly he is flying from the window, racing bodiless through the corridors and down through the decks, turning, twisting, following access halls and service ladders before arriving at a thick metal hatchway deep in the belly of the ship.

Thor hesitates. This is a barrier that Loki has deliberately erected to keep others out. Beyond is a sanctum, a place of privacy. He is not welcome here.

“Inside,” Heimdall bids.

Thor takes a breath and flows through the metal.

The room is small. Cluttered. Dark. There is a huge spool of wire that has been turned on its side and made into a table, and on it sits a small golden cube, projecting a glowing hologram that appears to be some sort of title. It is the only source of illumination. The walls hold many objects that Thor recognizes: Loki’s helmet, his daggers. His armor and leather battle clothes. Vials of ointment and potions. A suspicious pair of locked boxes. A few technical manuals. Bottles of liquor that had curiously gone missing at the beginning of the voyage and, oh—a crystal stopper. The crystal stopper. The one he had thrown at Loki on the night they became more than just brothers.

There isn’t anything else you’d like to give me? Nothing you’d like to say? Because… here I am.

Thor turns, searching for him. There—what is that? There appears to be some sort of storage space set into one of the walls. The metal roll-up door is open and the interior is shadowy. Thor floats nearer.

It is a nest, he realizes. A cozy little cave filled with mattresses and pillows and blankets, and in the midst of it all lies Loki, dressed only in a loose tunic and cotton breeches. He is curled into a ball, one hand pinned against his belly and the other pressed to his forehead. He is grimacing, his breathing labored. He is in terrible pain.

“Loki, no—” Thor falls through him when he bends to embrace him, and ends up on the other side of the wall. He blinks and suddenly Heimdall’s face is in front of him. They are standing at the window once more.

He grasps Heimdall’s wrists with shaking hands, heaving for breath, his eye gleaming with moisture.

“Go to him,” says Heimdall firmly. “You know the way now. Go.”

No further bidding is needed. Thor pulls away and dashes down the corridor as fast as he can.


A Midgardian song is playing softly on the audio cube, one from the preprogrammed “Lullify” playlist. The language of the singer is not very different from Low Asgardian, and Loki has no trouble understanding it.

“Ei stemme eg høyrer frå urgammel tid
Kviskrar eit stev åt meg
Om folka som bur og vandrar på jorda
Me lengslar heim til ein Gud…”

Another cramp flares through Loki’s womb and he winces, trying to massage the discomfort away. His touch does nothing. His hands are useless. His head pounds with a nauseating migraine. The crumpled wrappers of his last three vita-packs lay nearby, emptied of their gelled, fruit-flavored contents. Also useless. No vitamin can quell this level of malaise. He has given up praying for relief. He can only lie here and endure, allow himself to be abused by thoughts of the future.

If there is a future for him. If this pregnancy doesn’t kill him first. If he doesn’t die in childbirth. If Thanos and his minions don’t find him and demand to know what became of the Tesseract they were promised.

The more Loki dwells on it, the less likely it seems he will live to see the end of this voyage. And if by some miracle he does survive, there will be no welcome for him on Earth, not even with Thor’s endorsement and apologies on his behalf. People had been killed, their pitiful, simple lives destroyed. He will forever be hated and scorned. The Midgardians will demand justice, and Thor will feel the sting of their resentment as well. Guilt by association.

There can be no Asgard as long as Loki remains. That much is certain. Regardless of his present feelings, he cannot and will not allow Thor or their people to be dragged through the mud. They will never be able to rebuild their lives if he stays. He must leave. And he means to, as soon as he is able. It’s for the best. The Commodore is still functional. It won’t get him very far, but at least it—

There is a loud bang at the door. Loki sits up too fast and his head reels, throbs, makes his stomach twist. He bows forward as he hears the squeak of the turning wheel, unable to think about anything other than his own pain.

Whoever it is on the other side, let them come. Perhaps his misery will end tonight, once and for all. That would be a mercy.

The hatch flings open with a sharp groan and clangs into the wall. Loki raises his eyes.

Thor stands in the doorway, breathing heavily, his face distorted with sorrow. He says nothing. He steps into the room and walks toward Loki’s cave, stands at its opening for a few moments, then slowly sinks to his knees. There is a steady stream of tears running from his left eye. The sight fills Loki with nausea and he lays himself down in the pillows again.

“You just couldn’t stand it anymore, could you,” he mutters. “Couldn’t bear to be away from your child for another day.”

“It is you I cannot bear to be away from, Loki.”

Loki’s mouth snaps shut. He tightens his arms around himself defensively.

Thor blinks and another tear rolls down his cheek, following the path etched by its predecessors. The song on the cube continues to play.

“Så mange tankar gjev ingen svar.
Dei lurar seg sjølv for det meste.
Kjem det ein dag då allting blir bra?
Blir urgammel pine til glede?”

Thor turns his head to the side, listening. One corner of his mouth curls into a faint smile.

“So many thoughts give no answer,” he translates. “People fool themselves for the most part. Will the day come when all things turn out well? Will old pain become joy?”

He turns back to Loki, who is now staring at him with tears of his own shining wretchedly in his eyes. Thor stretches out his arm, laying his hand palm-up on the blankets.

“Will it, Loki?”

Loki’s hands remain stubbornly tucked under his arms. He makes no move to accept Thor’s offer.

Thor extends his other hand. “I am not going to drag you into my arms, Loki,” he says softly. “Walk into them. They are open for you. They will always be.”

Loki’s face goes slack. He has not forgotten those words. He has not forgotten any of Thor’s words. Some of them he keeps locked away in his memory, sharpening them into points and waiting for the day when he may have to throw them back. Others are etched into the flesh of his heart, treasured, never to be forgotten. That is where he finds these words now, and their outlines flare like hot coals as Thor’s love ignites them back to life.

Loki swallows and slowly unfolds his arms. He lays his hand in Thor’s and closes his eyes when he feels the power flow into him. Sunlight and water. Fresh air, a warm breeze. Things he hasn’t felt in eight months, that he had given up hope of ever feeling again. They move through him like a wave, obliterating his nausea, calming his heart, soothing the agony in his head. He wraps his fingers tightly around Thor’s and heaves a contented sigh. He looks up at him with his pale green eyes.

“I’ve missed you.”

Thor smiles, though he appears to be on the verge of bawling. “I’ve missed you, too.”

Loki takes a breath and pushes himself up; Thor reaches out to support him. Loki crawls forward and bundles himself into Thor’s arms, buries his face into Thor’s collar, wraps his arms around his shoulders.

“Take me away from here,” he says.

Wordlessly, Thor gathers Loki into his arms, one hand under his thighs and the other around his back, and rises to his feet. “Where do you want to go?”

Loki lays his head against Thor’s shoulder. “Wherever you are going.”

Thor sniffs wetly and lays a kiss in Loki’s oily black hair. “Alright.”

He turns and glides from the room, rolling his heels, calling upon every muscle and tendon to keep his gait as smooth as possible. He doesn’t bother turning off the music box, though he carefully nudges the hatch into position with his boot, steps through the door, and pulls it closed behind him with his foot. It shuts a little too quickly and Loki cringes at the loud bang that follows.

“Shh, Loki,” Thor says, holding him neither too tightly nor too loosely, and begins to walk. “It’s good. I’ve got you.”


Thor hates to do it, but he brings Loki back to his room. He doesn’t have much of a choice. Loki’s former suite has been stripped of its luxuries and is now being used as a recovery room for Banner’s patients. There are no other rooms to spare.

He lays Loki down in the middle of his bed, as carefully as if he were a sleeping infant.

Loki looks around at the dim, disastrous state of the bedroom he hasn’t seen in over two months. “What happened here?”

Thor is tidying up as best as he can, turning the pillows to hide their scorch marks, pulling up sheets that have been kicked off the bed.

“I’ve… not been sleeping well.”

Loki lowers his head. “Neither have I.”

“I’m sorry, I haven’t had time to clean. This place is shamefu—”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“I can’t. It stinks in here.”

“It smells like you.” Loki shrugs one shoulder. “A little burnt and sweaty, but it’s you. It’s comforting.” He reaches down and rubs the bump that his oversized tunic has kept hidden. It’s much bigger now—a sloping, melon-sized bulge in his abdomen.

Thor sits down on the edge of the bed, trying not to stare. It’s impossible, of course. Loki notices his furtive glances and, after a few decisive seconds, scoots closer.

“You can touch me, Thor,” he says. “In fact, I would like nothing more.” He reaches for Thor’s hand and picks it up, pressing it against his stomach.

Thor inhales a long, unsteady breath.

That is his child, right in there. Lokason. Thorson. Their son.

Loki shuts his eyes and sighs, the wrinkles on his forehead gradually smoothing out as his discomfort is drawn from him like bad blood from an infected wound. He opens his eyes and gazes at Thor.

“Get undressed,” he says gently. “Come to bed. I want you to hold us.”

Thor’s heart feels like it’s ready to burst. He swallows it back down into his chest and nods. He stands, quickly strips down to his underclothes, dropping boots and trousers and leathers onto the floor, and slides into bed beside Loki. He slaps the switch on the wall and the room falls into darkness, illuminated only by a narrow line of soft yellow light along the base of the walls.

Sheets billow and pillows puff softly as they get themselves settled. Thor ends up on his side, his head tucked against Loki’s shoulder and his hand resting on Loki’s belly. Loki lies on his back, one arm beneath Thor’s neck and the other clasping Thor’s hand.

“Is this alright?” Thor whispers.

“Yes, this is fine.”

He feels Loki’s fingers in his hair, combing through the shaggy new growth, lightly scratching his scalp. But the caresses don’t last very long. He hears Loki take a deep breath and sigh it slowly out.

“I’m so tired.”

Thor knows. He can feel it, as he feels his own fatigue bearing down on him with the weight of many of restless nights.

“Sleep, Loki. I am here.”

And he means to be. For the rest of his life, just as he promised all those nights ago. Stopper or no stopper. Child or no child. Loki is here, he is healing, their baby is safe beneath Thor’s palm, and nothing is going to touch either of them without first going through Thor. He will not permit it. He now stands between them and whatever malice and malevolence is out there. He will protect them. He can protect them. And perhaps…

Thor never finishes his thought. He falls asleep and dreams of nothing.


The first bell of morning bongs pleasantly throughout the ship, heralding the start of another day. The sound is accompanied by an additional chime in Thor’s quarters—his programmed wake-up call.

He crawls up with a grunt and taps the control panel on the wall beside the bed, shutting it off. Beside him, Loki shifts languidly and draws in a long, slow breath, stretching his arms out to the side with a sleepy whine. Thor watches him until he relaxes and goes still again.

He’s lost weight, Thor thinks. His cheekbones are sharp, his forearms too lean. Bony wrists. Jutting clavicles. Pale, dry skin. It isn’t right. He should be full and well-fleshed, perhaps even a little fat. Not thin and wanting.

He forces himself to stop looking. The more he stares, the more he frets, and the more he frets, the greater his temptation to say something becomes. And he doesn’t want to say anything that might put Loki on the defense.

Thor pulls himself out of bed and flexes his arms, pops his neck, stretches his legs. He stoops to pick up his clothes from the floor.

“Do you have to go?” comes Loki’s sleepy murmur.

“Unfortunately.”

“Hm.” Loki smirks without opening his eyes. “I haven’t slept this well in months. And with you beside me, no less. I’m shocked.”

Hope flutters in Thor’s chest. “I didn’t snore, did I?”

“If you did, I took no notice.”

Thor smiles. It’s not a huge smile, but it makes the muscles around his mouth hurt. Apparently it’s been some time since he last had reason to be cheerful.

“You are welcome to rest here for as long as you like,” he says, pulling on his trousers and his vest. Both could probably do with a wash, he thinks, wrinkling his nose. It’s odd how Loki’s absence caused him forget such basic things as hygiene and appearance. And judging by the limp, greasy state of Loki’s hair, he had forgotten those things as well.

“You can use my bath,” Thor offers as he pulls on his boots. “Only, uh. Try not to use too much water. We decided to effect a mandatory water rationing at last week’s assembly, so…”

“Hm. No long showers anymore.” Loki sighs. “Understood.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s not your fault. You’re doing a good job, Thor, all things considered.”

There’s that hopeful little flutter again. “Would you like me to come back and check on you later?”

“No, I’ll be fine.” Loki rolls over onto his side and nestles deeper into the blankets. “In fact, I think I’ll sleep for a little while longer.”

Thor nods. “Alright.” He pauses. “There are more vita-packs in the bathroom if you… want.”

“Thank you.”

He is tempted to say more. If you need to locate me, Heimdall will be in the navigation center until noon. I can bring you lunch if you don’t feel like leaving the room. I have a spare shirt in my closet. The toilet’s been acting strange lately so you have to press the button twice—press, don’t hit. If you want to visit Banner this afternoon, I think I can reschedule my meeting with the

Thor shakes his head. Too much, too soon. Loki will be alright. He mustn’t overreact. He must be delicate.

Gods, sometimes he wishes he had attended finishing school like Fandral suggested.

He goes to the lavatory and performs his usual morning ablutions, cleans his teeth, grooms his beard, combs his wet fingers through his hair. He dries his face and shuts off the light, then heads for the door. Loki’s soft voice brings him to a standstill.

“Thor, wait.”

He turns. Loki is sitting up, staring at him.

“Yes?”

Loki extends his arm, stretching his fingers toward him. Thor obeys, walks quietly over to the bed and grasps Loki’s hand, sits down.

“Before you go,” Loki says softly, “would you hold me? Just for a moment, I know you’re very busy. I only… in case the headache comes back.”

For some reason the hope that has been fluttering in Thor’s chest abruptly folds in its wings and plummets to the pit of his stomach.

“Of course,” he murmurs, and slips his arms around Loki’s sharp, slim frame. He hears the sigh of relief in his ear as whatever residual aches and pains Loki must have woken up with begin to dissipate.

“Hm, thank you,” Loki whispers, pressing his face into the side of Thor’s neck.

“You’re welcome,” Thor answers. It sounds terribly flat to his own ears.

After a few more moments, Loki gently releases Thor and gives him a thin smile. “Alright, I won’t keep you any longer.”

With great effort, Thor makes himself return the smile. He manages to maintain it as he stands up and crosses the room, and pauses at the open door to give Loki a little wave. Loki returns it with a wiggle of his fingers. As soon as the door whooshes shut behind him, the grim, gloomy frown that Thor has been wearing for the last several weeks comes back.

He knows better than this. It is foolish to expect everything to made right in a single night, especially without lengthy discussion and possibly a few more arguments.

But he had hoped to start this day with a little more reassurance than what he currently has.

Loki seems to be in a more agreeable mood, yes, but Thor doesn’t trust that his anger is completely gone. Surely it’s still there somewhere, stewing out of sight, and Thor is certain it will make itself known at some point in the future, whether it’s today or ten years from now. Loki doesn’t forget. Loki is a grudge-holder. He still hasn’t forgiven Thor for some of the things that happened in their childhood—not that Thor was the antagonist in all of those cases, but if he ever did anything to offend Loki, Loki immortalized it. He carved it into stone and into his memory. He didn’t just keep receipts; he organized them alphabetically, chronologically, and had them color-coded according to severity.

But that isn’t what troubles Thor. That is simply Loki being Loki.

No, the question Thor is asking himself now as he makes his way to the flight deck is whether Loki’s sudden change of heart is genuine or if it’s because of Thor’s ability to relieve his pain. A walking salve, a sentient tranquilizer—these are not things Thor wants to be. He wants more. He wants it all: the love, the loyalty, the trust, the family. And perhaps that’s the problem. He wants more than what Loki can give him.

Especially the trust.

“G’morning, Chief!” Korg calls cheerily, and Thor raises his hand in greeting.

He cannot think of these matters now, as important as they are. They are far too distracting. There are things he must accomplish today, appointments he must keep, orders he must give, tasks he must delegate.

But knowing that Loki truly loves him would have made these responsibilities so much easier to bear.


The day proves to be long and stressful, and Thor doesn’t return to his quarters until after the third night bell chimes, announcing the beginning of curfew. He is tired and demoralized and hopes Loki will not feel like talking tonight, if indeed he is still around. Thor doesn’t trust himself to keep his mouth in check, not when he’s feeling so cynical, and ending the day with a screaming match is not something he’s particularly looking forward to.

When the door to his suite slides open, he stops. Stares.

This is not his room. It can’t be. It’s too—

Thor’s eye widens and he steps inside. The gaudy, brightly-colored paintings that have been assaulting his senses since the beginning of the voyage are gone. The room feels larger and more subdued now. The bare walls are actually a slate blue color, he notices. Very calming. Peaceful. The bed is made, the charred, banana-yellow sheets replaced with fresh ones of a dark blue hue. A plethora of mismatched pillows is stacked at the head and the foot. He recognizes them as the ones from Loki’s cave.

Thor floats through his transformed chamber, unable to believe what he sees. The floors are cleared of obstacles. The furniture in the adjoining parlor has been rearranged and accented with more pillows and throw blankets. The shelves that were once empty now hold boxes and bottles and trinkets and small weaponry, all neatly arranged to be as aesthetically pleasing as possible. The music box sits on the bedside table, which has been cleared of its litter of food wrappers and empty paper cups. There is still the lingering odor of electricity in the air, but most of the reek has dissipated and now the room smells fresh and sweet. It smells like Loki. It smells like them both.

A lump rises in Thor’s throat as he picks up one of the pillows.

Loki has done this. Loki has brought his room to Thor’s and blended it together to create a harmonious fusion of their lives. Thor has no doubt that if he opens the closet he will find it organized, Loki’s clothes and personal items hanging alongside his own. This space, it belongs to both of them now. It is theirs. This is something Loki wanted, and he made it happen. It was all his doing.

Thor turns suddenly when he hears the bathroom door open. Loki steps out, barefoot and damp, dressed in a bathrobe and absently toweling out his hair. He spots Thor and he freezes.

Say something, Thor commands himself. Say something, you fool.

“I like what you’ve done with the place.”

He winces. It’s a painfully unoriginal line, but at least it’s true. Loki seems to approve of it; he smiles a little, his cheeks bright and slightly pink from his shower.

“I’d hoped you might.”

His voice is calm and collected. No bitter sting, no sharp edges.

Thor wants to say more, but he can’t find the words. He watches Loki pad across the carpet and sit down on the opposite edge of the bed, continuing to dry his tangled black locks. They have much more curl to them when they’re wet, Thor realizes. His hair is longer, too, the ends almost to the middle of his upper back. It’s beautiful. Loki has never worn his hair this long. He’s always kept it short, perhaps trying to compensate for some of his less masculine features. He must have become more comfortable with his body these past few years. Maybe he doesn’t hate his anatomy quite so passionately anymore. That would be a—

“How was your day?” Loki asks, and suddenly Thor is transported to a little cottage in some green, quiet forest where he is a typical, everyday man who has just come home to his spouse of ten years and the most important matter that has been on his mind all day is what’s going to be for dinner. It’s so surreal it almost makes him dizzy.

“Er. Fine. It was… a day. Loki, what. This is. You must have.” Thor gestures broadly to the room around him. “I mean, it’s lovely, but why would you… why?”

“If we’re going to live together, I require a certain amount of comfort, you know.”

Thor stares. “Live together?”

“I think it’s best for all of us.”

“All of—?”

“Yes. You, me. The baby. Us.”

Thor’s head swims, but not that well; he feels like he’s drowning in something too good to be true. He doesn’t want to say it—he doesn’t want to shatter this wonderful illusion and see the ugly truth—but he must: “Loki, you’ve just spent the past two months avoiding me.”

“And I’ve suffered every day because of it.” Loki drops the damp towel into his lap and turns his gaze to Thor. His face is lean and serious. “I am tired of hurting. I’m tired of being in pain. I need you, Thor.”

“You mean you need me to make your pain go away.” Thor’s voice cracks on the last word and Loki’s eyes widen. “You don’t really want to be here. You don’t even really want me. If you did, you would have been here since the very beginning. You would have stayed.”

“I have stayed.”

“Yes, but not here.” Thor points emphatically to the floor. “Not where I need you. Loki, I want to be able to touch you, to feel you. I want to wake beside you every morning and lay—lie down with you every night. I crave your company. I crave your presence. I love you. Do you not see that?”

Loki licks his lips and swallows. “I see that I have been cruel to you, Thor, and for that I am terribly sorry.”

Thor has to turn his head. If he keeps looking at Loki, he’s going to start crying, and he doesn’t want to lose his composure just yet. He has to get this off his chest, whatever hell may follow, fight or no fight. He can’t stay silent any longer.

“You’re still angry with me, aren’t you. You still blame me for what happened. For me turning you into…”

“A mother?”

“A fertile being.”

He can hear Loki sigh, and for a short while there is silence. “I am certain of nothing, Thor,” he says at last. “I don’t think I ever was. My race, my sex, if there are any others like me, I can only speculate.” A pause. “Thor, please look at me.”

Thor does. Loki’s eyes are large and wet.

“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking—too much thinking, really—in the time we’ve been apart. I’ve had to reevaluate a lot of things I had accepted as immutable.” He smiles weakly. “Change, you know. Growth and all that. It’s what life is about, after all.”

Thor stands soberly beside the bed, holding the forgotten pillow in his hands.

Loki’s smile straightens. “I’m sorry, Thor. I was… it was wrong of me to assume you alone were responsible for me being the way I am. Physically. All my life, I”—he shakes his head and a tear rolls down his cheek—“I’ve wanted an explanation, some sort of reason, someone to blame, anything. All of my failures, all of my faults, I thought they must have had something to do with my deformity. But I never found out, and I could never ask or speak of it. You don’t know what it was like, Thor, growing up with this body and these feelings and not being able to tell anyone—”

“You could have told me, Loki,” says Thor rawly. “If I had known I was doing this to you, I would have sequestered myself and—”

“But I’m not certain you were doing it to me, Thor. It might have been you or it may have simply been the natural course of my development. There is no way I could have known.” Loki pauses to nibble his lip. “And as a child, I knew even less. If you’ll remember, seven years ago I still believed I was nothing more than an Aesir with a birth defect. Then to find out I am actually a Jötunn… it changed everything.”

Loki stares down at his fidgeting hands.

“You were the most obvious explanation for my maladies, so I allowed myself to believe it was you. But never did I hate you, Thor, not for a moment. I tried to, but I couldn’t. I loved you before I came of age, I loved you after, and nothing will ever change that. Believe me, I wanted to tell you. I almost did, many times, and how I wish I had, but Mother insisted it must remain a secret.”

Thor’s fingers dig into the pillow he’s still holding. “Mother knew?”

“Yes. Just she and I. No one else. Not even Father.” Loki wipes his cheeks dry and sniffs. “She meant well, but. I’m not sure it had been the right thing to do.” He shakes his head again and whispers, “I can’t imagine how much different my life would have been had Father known.”

Thor numbly sits down on the edge of the bed. The pillow tumbles from his limp hands and lands soundlessly on the carpet. After a lengthy lull he says, “You were right. Open communication really is not our family’s forte.”

“No, it isn’t,” Loki agrees. He pauses pensively. “We ought to try to change that.”

Thor looks over at Loki.

Loki smiles thinly. “Is there anything you’d like to say to me now, Thor? Any questions you would like to ask? Because”—he spreads his arms—“here I am.”

Thor presses his lips together and turns to stare down at the floor between his boots. There is only one thing he would like to know, only one question he would like to ask.

“Do you love me, Loki?”

There is no sound for several long moments. Then he hears the rustle of cloth as Loki slides across the sheets, feels the dip of the mattress as he sits beside him.

“Thor.”

Loki reaches out and touches Thor’s bristly cheek, turns his face toward him. Pain and uncertainty shimmer in the deep blue shades of Thor’s remaining eye. Loki stares into it with complete sincerity.

“I have loved you, Thor,” he states. “I still do. And nothing in this world, not even death, is capable of striking that love from my heart.”

Thor’s face crumples as he recalls the words he spoke so long ago, when their torn and tattered lives had first begun to sew themselves onto each other.

Loki picks up Thor’s hand, guiding it between the folds of his robe and pressing it to his bare chest. Thor inhales slowly as he feels the warm throb of Loki’s heart through his flesh. He spreads his fingers, his lips parting and a soft breath escaping his mouth as he maps the fullness of Loki’s breast beneath his hand. It isn’t much. Barely a handful. But it’s there, a sign that their son will be sustained and nourished once he is born. Loki’s body—his incredible, beautiful, mysterious body—is already preparing for that day.

Loki’s eyes fall half closed when Thor’s finger brushes against the hard nub of his nipple. He leans closer, his breath quickening, until Thor feels the heavy press of his body.

“Forgive me, Thor,” he murmurs. “Forgive me for making you doubt. For everything I have done and everything I’ve yet to do. I am sorry for all of it.”

“Oh, Loki.” Thor shakes his head. “You know I will always forgive you.”

“But someday you may not. Someday I may go too far.”

“That day has not yet come, nor do I think it ever will.”

“But it might.”

“Loki.” Thor slides his hand around the back of Loki’s neck and holds him steadily. “That day. Will never. Come.”

It is more than a reassurance. It is a promise. It is a vow.

Loki’s eyes fill with tears. He looks ashamed. Hopelessly, miserably ashamed. Thor can’t bear it. He leans forward and kisses him, and it is just as powerful and passionate as their first.

He cups Loki’s smooth, sharp jaw in his palm, slowly tracing its shape with his fingertips. He is tender and chaste until Loki wraps his arms around Thor’s shoulders and pushes his tongue past Thor’s lips, opening him up. Then their pace instantly doubles, along with their pulses. Loki tilts his head and meets the caress of Thor’s tongue while Thor slips his hands between their bodies and begins to untie Loki’s bathrobe.

Loki pulls away with a small gasp. “No, please, I’m,” he says in a frail voice. “I look horrible.”

“You do not. You are beautiful to me,” Thor insists, but he slowly lets go of the terrycloth belt, awaiting Loki’s response.

Loki rolls his lips together and says nothing. An uncomfortable silence falls between them.

After another few moments, Thor smiles kindly and leans forward, leaving a kiss alongside Loki’s nose. “Let me go get clean,” he says, “then we can continue talking. Alright?”

Loki looks relieved. He nods and gives Thor’s hand a grateful squeeze before Thor rises and makes his way to the bathroom.

It’s still warm and humid inside, and as Thor peels off his smelly clothes, he notices that Loki’s tidying touch was not confined to just the bedroom. There are fresh towels hanging up, a little threadbare in places, but clean and folded. There’s a small hamper for dirty clothes, fresh washcloths, a new cake of soap to replace the limp shards Thor has been using, and some of Loki’s bottled oils and essences are arranged on the shelf. Small but meaningful improvements. Thor’s heart hurts at every new discovery he makes.

He puts his laundry in the hamper and steps into the shower, turns on the stream. The water is cold and he flinches a little at the sudden shock, but he doesn’t wait for it to warm; the rationing is for everyone, kings and knaves and all between. Thor picks up the soap and a cloth and begins to work up a lather.

As he washes himself beneath the lukewarm spray, he wonders how long it took Loki to get all this done, how many trips he had to make all the way from the bottom of the ship and up to the main deck and back again, no doubt weighed down by armfuls of pillows and possessions. And while pregnant and still recovering from a long period of unwellness, no less. Climbing up and down stairs, removing heavy picture frames, rearranging furniture—all without the aid of sorcery, Thor suspects. He hasn’t seen Loki cast so much as a glimmer since the visit with Dr Banner… in fact, Thor doesn’t remember a single instance of Loki using his magic for several weeks prior that. Perhaps this pregnancy has rendered him powerless. Bleeding gods, no wonder he’s been so defensive. Loki without his seidr is a fearful, desperate thing.

Now Thor feels thoroughly awful—about everything. If he had known Loki was going to surprise him like this, he would have tried to talk him out of it or at least made plans to take care of it himself. Loki did not need to be worrying about silly, unimportant things like accent pillows and laundry hampers after being so wretchedly ill.

But perhaps he really does want to be here and just couldn’t stand the condition of the room. Perhaps he required these changes immediately. That’s understandable. However, Thor can’t help but wonder if this is all just another way of Loki trying to apologize to him. Well, if it is, he means to sort it out right here and now. He will not have Loki kowtowing to him out of guilt or a sense of obligation. This vicious cycle of miscommunication—or no communication—is going to end with this generation of Odinsons.

When Thor steps into the room with a towel tied around his waist, the lights have been dimmed and Loki is already nestled beneath the covers, curled up on his side. He must have been dozing because he lifts his head with a drowsy smile as Thor approaches.

“You seem tired,” says Thor tenderly, removing the towel and hanging it on a rack that hadn’t been there yesterday. “We can talk tomorrow if you want to sleep now.”

Loki’s eyes wander lazily up and down Thor’s naked body, which glows golden-brown in the low light. “I’m not so exhausted that I can’t speak.” His bare arm snakes out beneath the sheets and pats the mattress invitingly.

Thor pulls back the covers and slides into bed beside Loki, turning onto his side so they are facing each other. “Are you sure? You did a lot of needless walking today.”

“Not as much as you would imagine,” Loki says, slithering a little closer until Thor can feel the warm brush of his bare flesh. “Some of the lads helped me.”

“Lads?”

“You know. The Ga-lad-iators.”

Thor’s eye widens and he lets out an astonished laugh. “You had gladiators carrying pillows and blankets up here all day long?”

“Not all day. I didn’t get out of bed until noon, and that was only to get something from the cafeteria. I even took a nap when I came back.” Loki gives an indifferent little shrug. “Then I got bored and thought I might as well try to make this place more livable. It was only two trips. I even got them to move the furniture for me.” He pauses and cocks an eyebrow. “Did you really think I would spend an entire day tramping up and down five decks in my condition?”

The expression on Thor’s face in answer enough, but he elaborates: “I thought it might be some form of an apology. I don’t want you to feel indebted, Loki. This is not a game of measures and metes.”

“Oh, Thor,” Loki sighs, but the vague little smile remains on his mouth. “I assure you, I did this firstly for my own sake, but I knew you might benefit from it, too. And the baby certainly will, so… everything’s fine.”

Thor takes a deep breath as something that feels like hope begins to pour into his chest. But he is more cautious now, more grounded. No more assuming, no more guessing. Clear and definite communication henceforth, forever and ever, the Norns have spoken.

Thor’s hands search beneath the covers until they find Loki’s, clasping them. “Is it really?”

Loki’s smile trembles. “For the moment, yes.” He wets his lips and slides in a little closer, until his knees and stomach are touching Thor’s. “Tomorrow will be another story. But right now I’ve got something a lot better-looking to focus on.”

Thor’s mouth starts to hurt, which means he must be grinning again. “You can’t be talking about my ugly, one-eyed face.”

“I am and you ought to watch what you say. This child could end up looking just like you.”

Despite the playfulness of his words, Thor sees the warmth leave Loki’s face, along with his tenuous smile. He reaches out and touches his cheek, stroking his soft, pale skin with his thumb.

“You’re worried what he’s going to look like,” Thor murmurs. “Aren’t you?”

“I’m more worried what he’s going to be.”

There’s a tense pause.

“Would you want to go see Banner again?” asks Thor carefully. “Have him take another look, see if it’s still just a boy?”

Loki sighs through his nose. “I suppose at some point I’ll have to go and see him again. But I don’t want to know anything more about the baby. I never did. That’s why I—” He bites off the rest of his sentence and turns his eyes downward.

After a moment’s realization, Thor takes a slow breath inward. “That’s why you didn’t want to look at it. You were afraid it—oh, Loki.” Thor slides his arm around Loki’s waist and pulls him flush against his body. “I am so sorry. I didn’t think it—I had no idea. If I had known, I would never—”

“It’s alright, Thor. At least now I know he’s not a monster.” And then, almost too softly to be heard: “Yet.”

Thor pulls back and stares fervently into Loki’s eyes. “He won’t be. Because you are not. You are amazing and beautiful and I love you with all my heart.”

Loki’s eyes begin to glisten. “What about him? What if he’s just like me? Will you be ashamed of him?”

“What? Never. Never, Loki. I will love him no matter what he is.”

“You won’t force him to hide it? You won’t force him to keep it a secret?”

Thor realizes exactly what Loki is asking him, and his heart burns with sympathy. He grasps Loki’s hand and holds it firmly.

“I swear to you, Loki, I will not do as Mother did. Nor Father. We are not our parents, and this child is not going to be a perfect likeness of either you or me. He is going to be his own person, and I am going to help you raise him so that he is better than the best of both of us. I am going to be with you through it all, Loki, every moment. We are going to do this together, side by side, you and I. I promise you. I give you my word.”

He presses a kiss to Loki’s knuckles, then reaches up to brush away the tear that is skidding across the bridge of Loki’s nose.

“You know,” Loki sniffs, “this is all beginning to sound terribly permanent.”

“I mean it to be.”

After a moment, Loki leans in and touches his forehead to Thor’s. He closes his eyes, twining their fingers together.

“Good,” he whispers.