Chapter 1: Mother
Loki wakes to a ferocious cacophony taking place somewhere in the vicinity of his nest: banging, hammering, screeching metal, howling impact wrenches, voices bawling to one another over the racket, it sounds as if the whole ship is being brutally dismantled. He scrambles from his bed, fully-awake and half panicked, and jerks his boots on.
Who is down here and what is the meaning of all that hellish noise?
He pauses to take a few gulps from a beaker of water—he ends up draining the glass; why is he so thirsty?—and splashes the remaining droplets onto his face. Then he moves across the room and puts a cautious ear to the door. No nearby voices, no footsteps. The coast seems to be clear.
He slips out onto the walkway and shuts the hatch tightly behind him. He wishes he had the power to cast an illusion over it. Alas, all his energy is being diverted to feed the little life growing inside him. He wonders how long it will take for his magic to return. A few weeks? Months? Once the child is born? Never? Now that’s a terrible thought: spending the rest of his life as a weak, pathetic commoner, no talents to set him apart, no means of expressing or entertaining himself, being forced to rely on others for protection.
A terrible thought, yes, but also ridiculous; Frigga hadn’t lost her magic after having Thor, though he had been a tremendous drain on both her powers and her body for as long as she carried him.
“That is how I knew your brother was going to be a strong one,” she had told Loki during one of their evening sorcery lessons. “He almost took the life from me when I bore him, but within a week’s time the seidr had returned to me threefold. I believe this was so I could protect him from without now that he was no longer protected from within.”
Loki had not responded. He sat hunched where he was, gloomy and frustrated.
Frigga smiled and placed her hand on his back. “Do not fret, darling. Your magic, like your life force, never really disappears; it is only temporarily redirected.”
“Then where has mine gone?” Loki muttered, staring down at the weak green glow on his fingertips—all the magic he could currently summon.
Frigga’s smile faded. “Well,” she said carefully, “our bodies use a great deal of energy to prepare for a baby. A lull in power is a natural thing, part of our cycles. I notice that my abilities seem to diminish at the start of my blood—”
Loki cringed. “Oh, Mother.”
“—yet yours seems to fade just before it arrives. I think perhaps this has something to do with the length of your cycles, darling. Are you keeping a journal like I told you?”
“As much as I can.”
“It would be very prudent, especially considering how unique you are. Keeping a daily record of how you’re feeling and how your magic fares is the only way you’re going to find your rhythm. And once you do, your seidr will blossom.”
Loki strides down the walkway, following the noise. His seidr had certainly blossomed. Blossomed into the weaker servant of his more powerful womb, no thanks to his fertility god of a brother, and now every ounce of his magic is being absorbed by the small, oblivious parasite inside him.
He wants it out. He wants his powers back. He doesn’t want to be a mother. He doesn’t want to see what’s going to start happening to his body in a few more weeks. He doesn’t want to feel the kicking of tiny feet or watch his breasts swell and his stomach grow round and tight. He doesn’t want to feel Thor’s clumsy, beautiful hands on him, coaxing their overactive child to sleep as they lie together in bed, smiling and cuddling and trying on names—
A snarl of disgust escapes Loki’s throat and he thoughtlessly lashes out with his foot, kicking one of the walkway’s support beams. He hears the crack at the precise moment he remembers his magic is no longer protecting him from such impulsive acts of self-destruction, and his snarl rises to a deafening scream.
“FffaaaaAAHHH COCKSKITTFUCK CÀO HELVIT FICKEN LANDĪCA FÖRBASKAT—”
Every bad word he knows in every language he knows, and he knows a lot of them. He collapses against the rail and clings to it with white-knuckled fingers, ranting into the wide open space below. His shouts ring off the metal walls and echo through the ship in an overlapping stream of violent cursing.
When he finally runs out of air, he stands panting and trembling on the walkway, his eyes shut tightly. Then he begins to chuckle. His right foot is a throbbing mass of pain, most likely broken somewhere. His chuckles turn into guffaws. He tries to put weight on it, testing the range of motion. Walking is possible, but it’s going to be excruciating. He laughs as the tears trickle from the corners of his eyes.
“Oh, marvelous,” he gasps. “Brilliant. Absolutely fantastic. Yes, let’s break the whole fucking thing right off then, shall we? Why not.”
After some time he manages to regain both his wind and his senses. He straightens his back and gingerly puts his foot down. He takes a breath and begins to limp—gods, one or more of his toes is certainly broken—in the direction of the ceaseless din he’s been listening to for the last fifteen minutes.
Presently he finds himself in the engine room at the stern of the ship, facing an array of eight massive accelerator drives on the far wall, one of which is silent. The smell of hot metal, smoke, and ozone hangs in the air. A line of workers, composed of Asgardians and former gladiators, stretches from one end of the room to the other, working on the huge cable that leads into the non-functioning drive head. The line is charred in places. The row they are making is nearly deafening; the vastness of the room only amplifies the noise.
At the fore of the defunct accelerator is the Valkyrie Brunnhilde, who also answers to “Val”, “Hilde”, and “Angry Girl”. She is elbow-deep in wires with a medley of power tools lying scattered on the deck around her. Korg, with his pleasant and cheerful tenor, is reading instructions to her from a manual. Loki recognizes the book as one that Thor had given to him, and assumes it must have been taken from his stateroom.
Oh dear, this must be quite an emergency if Thor had been forced to raid his quarters. He is typically very mindful of boundaries. Bedrooms, no matter how infrequently they are used, are practically sacred ground to him.
Loki approaches with an unsteady gait and watches Brunnhilde growl and curse and struggle with something deep inside the power processor. Her knuckles are gouged and bleeding and she looks very hungover.
He clasps his hands behind his back and smiles down at her. “How are things going? Excellent, I trust?”
Brunnhilde stops what she’s doing and slowly turns her face toward Loki. There is nothing in her eyes but murder, misery, and machine-driven madness.
“Your brother has been looking for you,” she says, carefully enunciating her words between gritted teeth.
“Indeed? How surprising. No, I’m much more interested in whatever it is you seem to be destroying right here. I hope it’s nothing too important?”
At this point Korg chimes in, which probably saves Loki from getting his nose punched through the back of his skull.
“Ah, yeh, a few awas ago we got a malfunction warning on this thruster thingamajig ere,” he says brightly. “We all came dan ere and it was smoking like med. We had to ron the fens for a bet, but everything’s fine now.”
Brunnhilde curses under her breath and drops her flashlight with a clatter. She grasps the side panel of the processing unit and rips it off with a frustrated roar.
Loki arches an eyebrow. “Yes, it certainly sounds that way. What exactly are you trying to do?”
“Figure out what in f”—a clang as one of the workers drops something—“ing Hel’s arsehole is wrong with this godsdam”—a drill rattles against metal—“piece of cun”—a prolonged session of hammering—“ocksucking thruster!”
Loki discreetly covers his grin with his hand. Thor was right. The Valkyrie is most profane when she’s sober. Poor Korg; his craggy face is a bright, rocky red, and he’s trying vainly to hide it behind the pages of the tiny manual in his hands.
Loki clears his throat and says politely, “Have you tried reconfiguring the primary power connector?”
Brunnhilde gives him a dead-eyed look. “Why, no. Not at all. Never even entered my mind. Wonderful suggestion, your highness, you’re a genius and you’ve just saved all our lives, how can we ever thank you.”
That degree of sarcasm genuinely impresses Loki, and he would have come back with an even more sarcastic retort except that he finds himself suddenly quite interested in this little mechanical problem. Just last week he finished reading the section on the ship’s ionic propulsion system, and despite a couple of huge distractions since then, the details are still fresh in his mind.
“I’m serious,” he says, “have you checked the main leads for electrical problems?”
“That was the first thing I did,” she grunts. “Took me half an hour to find a fuckarse multimeter, but everything on this end is as it should be. I switched everything to manual, overrode the autoremote setting, and took it off maximum power.”
“In case the coils were overheating.”
“Yes. But when I ran a power cycle, something popped in the converter and now nothing works. Our thrust has been reduced by twelve percent and I suggested we put the other seven accelerators on normal ITO for the time being, just in case it’s something power-related.”
Loki nods. “Good thinking. Have you examined the fuel pump?”
“I ran a diagnostic on it,” she answers. “Seems to be working fine. Zenigon-3 gas is very inert, incredibly stable. My Warsong used it. No stripping, no residue, no clogging.”
“If that’s what we’re using.”
“We are. I checked the refill canisters. They all say zen-3.”
“What about in the past? Are there any empty canisters on board? A maintenance log, perhaps?”
“None that I’ve seen.” Brunnhilde narrows her eyes as she catches on to Loki’s thoughts. “You think they might have used old propellants?”
Loki leans against the accelerator’s hull, taking the pressure off his injured foot. “Possibly. Zen-3 was barely in use at the time this spacecraft was built, which, according to those manuals”—he points at the thick book Korg is still hiding behind—“was roughly seven years ago. That means zenigon-3 and zerigon-6 are still standard for a ship of this type. Those older fuels could erode the tank lining after a few years, depending on how often the ship was used. And if the tank lining erodes—”
“Then the ionization process is fucked.”
“Not the word I would have used, but whatever works.”
“And that would overwork the injector nozzles and cause them to shut off,” she says.
“But it would not shut off the power running to them,” adds Loki.
“And the fuel pump has a failsafe protocol, so if anything is going to get fried—”
“It is going to be the converter, precisely.”
Brunnhilde drops onto her bottom and sits with her arms resting on her bent knees. “And if it runs long enough, it could take out the whole frontend of the computing unit. Motherf—”
“Well, let’s not be too hasty,” Loki interrupts, hobbling to her side. “We don’t know how many flight hours this ship has logged, nor do we know what sort of fuel they’ve been using. It could be these drives have only ever seen zen-3 propellants and this is the first time it’s ever been flown.”
She gives him a dubious look. “You sound like your brother, you know.”
“I’m not usually this optimistic.”
She sighs and rubs her face. “I could open up the tank and see if the lining’s still there, but it’s a completely sterile, sealed environment. If I open it up, I’m not sure I can ever get it working again.”
“Then don’t.” Loki’s face twitches as his foot flares with sudden pain. “Ngh. Take a look at the pump and see if the injector main is still working. That should be enough to tell us if the nozzle is functional.”
“But it won’t tell us if the tank lining is destroyed.”
“One thing at a time, dear. Start with the pump and work your way backwards. Don’t worry about the tank. We know what might be wrong with it but we don’t know what’s wrong with the rest of the assembly, so let’s focus on that first, shall we?”
Brunnhilde nods, and Loki sees that her eyes are filling with tears. For some bizarre reason he feels a knot begin to form in his throat. He forces himself to look away. It doesn’t do much good; he can still hear her wet, defeated sniffling.
“I really don’t want to be the one responsible for stranding us all out here in the middle of this empty stellar nothingness,” she snarls, disguising the anguish in her voice. “This is not what I do. I am not an ion drive specialist. I’m not a mechanic or a damned chemical engineer, I am a fucking Valkyrie.” She holds her bowed head in her hands and stares at the floor.
Loki draws his lips into a stiff line and carefully bends down to give her shoulder a pat. “Yes, well, you’re no HVAC technician either, but his majesty said you did an excellent job of replacing the air filter last month, so you never know.”
Brunnhilde snorts. “Air filters are very different from MHD propulsors.”
“We must all start somewhere, mustn’t we?”
She raises her head so he can see the fantastic eyeroll she gives him. “Right. Thanks, Mum. You’re the best.”
Loki’s heart skips a beat or two. He clears his throat and stands straight. “Erm, well, I’d better go and find Thor and see what he wants. I don’t suppose you know where he is?”
“Last time I saw him he was underneath the instrument panel in the main control room, upstairs.” She points above her head. “On A Deck, I believe.”
“Thank you.” Loki turns, then pauses to look over his shoulder. “Keep up the good work, Valkyrie.”
She gives him an incredulous look. “I’ll keep up the work and see if any good comes of it.”
Loki smiles. “I suppose that’s all any of us can do.”
Thor is striding down the main corridor on C Deck, his footsteps heavy and his long legs slicing powerfully beneath him. In his arms is a tangle of wires and circuit boards and diodes that have lately been ripped from the secondary control panel on B Deck. His face looks like the sky just before a storm breaks: dark and ominous, full of deadly potential. Anyone in his path immediately leaps out of the way and presses against the wall, waiting for him to pass. Though the corridor is not particularly narrow, everyone on the ship has either seen or by now heard of the Battle of the Bifrost, and none of them wants to be struck by a stray bolt of lightning, accidental or not.
Loki can hear Thor’s aggravation even before he sets eyes on him; his stomping is loud enough. He hesitates at the intersection of the access hall that Thor has just passed and almost reconsiders his plan, but the pain in his foot has been gradually eroding his judgement for the last twenty minutes. He grits his teeth, rounds the corner, and does an awkward, one-legged jog to catch up to his brother.
“Thor,” he says breathlessly, “we need to talk.”
“Ah, so the technology wizard finally appears,” Thor declares sourly, “five hours too late and when his knowledge and expertise are no longer needed. I’m sure the selfless humanitarian efforts you were undertaking at the time were far more important.”
Loki feels something in his soul shrivel up and expire. Perhaps now is not the best time to do this. Thor is grumpy and stressed and tired-looking and probably not . . . no. No, this cannot wait. Gods, his bloody foot is killing him.
“I apologize for being unavailable earlier, but there is something I must tell you.”
“I am a little preoccupied at the moment, Loki.”
“I understand, but this is important.”
“Then make it quick.” Thor turns down another hallway and continues his aftward journey.
Loki sighs with irritation and hobbles ahead, then turns around and trots backward to face him. “This is not a subject for quick conversation.”
“Then it will have to wait until I’ve dealt with the thousand other matters that are—” Thor’s frown shifts from one of anger to one of concern. “Are you limping?”
Somehow Loki’s answering smile radiates every ounce of his agony. “No. It’s a new dance I’m learning. Perhaps I could teach it to you later.”
Thor glowers. “If you’re going to be sarcastic, then stop wasting my time.” He pauses before adding: “Nice of you to let me know you had no interest in keeping our appointment, by the way. You know how much I love waiting for hours on end.”
“Come on, Loki, I know you’re not that absent-minded.”
Loki frowns. “You’re not talking about . . . Thor, what time is it?”
“According to the ship’s chronometers, half past nine.”
“In the evening?”
“In the morning.”
Loki pales. His internal clock is nearly eighteen hours behind. How is that possible? He has never slept that long in his entire life.
Thor catches a glimpse of his face and slows his stride. “What?”
“Nothing. It’s.” Loki shakes his head vaguely, and the long-winded speech he has been rehearsing suddenly gets tossed aside. “Thor, I’m pregnant.”
Thor scoffs and resumes his pace. “And I am queen of the fairies. Yes, Loki, I get it. A wonderful joke, very amusing. If you’re done playing games now, perhaps you might find a way to make yourself useful, hm? Just this once?”
Loki stops and watches Thor stalk past him.
“Thor,” he repeats, “I am pregnant.”
Thor slows to a halt. He turns around. His face is blank, utterly unreadable. After what seems like an eternity, he finally murmurs, “That is impossible.”
Terror clutches Loki’s heart. This is not going to end well. He doesn’t need foresight to see that. He wants to run, to flee, to escape the pain and discomfort, the anger and betrayal, that is surely about to crash down on him. But for the first time in his life he has no place to go, nowhere to run, no magic to speed him away from this awful confrontation. He must face it with as much courage as he can muster.
Gods, he’s doomed.
His hands begin to wrestle with one another as he takes a deep breath. “My blood never came. Neither did my season. I thought it was because of being out here, being in this environment. The stress, the changes in—”
Thor holds up his hand. Loki stops mid-sentence.
“You. You told me you bled.”
Loki swallows dryly. “I lied. I’m sorry.”
Thor’s face darkens. “You said you had cramps. Headaches. You . . . I tended to you. I tried to heal you.”
“And I appreciated it, Thor, I truly did—”
“You led me to believe you were feeling awful.” Thor takes a step forward. “I did everything within my power to help you. You looked me in the eye and deceived me for three weeks—”
Loki takes a cautious step backward. “Believe me, Thor, I didn’t want to.”
“Then why did you?”
Loki struggles for words. Honest words. It’s much harder than he thought it would be.
“Because I didn’t want you to worry,” he stammers. “I didn’t think it could happen. I thought it was simply an irregularity. I mean, really, I know nothing of myself. I am a Frost Giant trapped in the form of an Aesir”—yes, good angle, perhaps this will garner some pity—“and I have no idea about Jötunn sexuality or reproduction or how long I’ll—”
Thor tosses the bundle of wires to the floor. Circuit boards shatter on impact, diodes popping and plinking. Loki flinches and backs against the wall, his heart thumping with fear.
He had expected Thor to be happy. Bursting with pride. A grinning, delirious fool with tears in his eyes and rainbows pouring from his heart. Not this angry, menacing beast that bore no resemblance to the sweet, gentle man who had loved him so tenderly yesterday. For the second time in his life, Loki has legitimate reason to believe that Thor might kill him. He is certainly capable of it. And given Loki’s powerless state, it would be easy enough.
Thor stands with his arms held out and his fingers bent into claws, staring at the floor and breathing heavily. A tendril of electricity crackles on the back of his hand and races up his forearm, but it is the only one.
“Are you going to get rid of it?” he asks roughly.
Loki gulps. “I would have more options were we not traveling through the middle of space. But as it stands, I don’t believe there is any other alternative. I must keep it.”
Thor’s mouth pulls down into a scowl but his eye gleams with unshed tears. “Do you want it?”
“That doesn’t matter.”
“It matters to me, Loki. Do you want this child?” He raises his head and Loki puts on a brave but flimsy smile.
“This isn’t about what I want,” Thor growls, stepping closer. “Stop answering questions with questions and speak plainly for once!”
“Fine!” Loki snaps as an unexpected fury takes hold of him. “I’m terrified! Absolutely riddled with fear, is that what you wanted to hear? No? Right, of course, you were probably expecting me to say how excited I am and how I’ve been looking forward to spawning legions of offspring since the day I started bleeding. After all, it’s what every woman yearns for, isn’t it? Motherhood, children, a household to rule. Why should I be any different? I’ve got a womb, haven’t I? It’d be a shame if it weren’t put to use—”
Thor snarls, “If you hated this part of you so much, then why didn’t you just have it removed?”
Something that has been bottled up in Loki’s heart for centuries abruptly pops open, and pure rage comes bubbling out. He slams both hands into Thor’s chest. It doesn’t even move him. That makes Loki even madder.
“Why should I mutilate my body when it’s your fault I’m like this!”
“My fault that you were born with a woman’s parts?”
“Your fault for making them work!”
It takes a moment for it to sink in, but eventually it does. The anger drains from Thor’s face as he recalls what he was the god of long before he ever received his hammer.
Loki is a shaking portrait of anguish before him, teeth bared and eyes streaming with tears. “You did this to me,” he seethes. “You made me fertile. You made me want you. 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.”
But Thor looks as if his heart has just been ripped from his chest. Loki could almost feel sorry for him if he wasn’t already feeling so sorry for himself.
“How far along are you?” he asks, gazing at Loki’s belly.
“I don’t know. A few months?” Loki makes a fist and holds it out. “According to Heimdall, it’s about this big now.”
“Heimdall,” says Thor. Then his face twists into an expression of unimaginable grief. He turns his head to the side and heaves an unsteady sob.
Loki has never been so stunned in his entire life.
The burst of emotion is brief; after another two half-choked breaths, Thor gives a congested sniff and nods to himself, then raises his face. He looks more awful than Loki feels, broken foot and all.
“Loki,” he rasps, “I will give you anything you want if you spare our child’s life. I will tear the stars from the heavens and split the sky in two. I will give you the throne of Asgard and spend the rest of my life in bondage, but please . . . please don’t kill our baby.”
Loki sighs and puts a hand to his forehead. He is beginning to feel distinctly nauseated. “Did you not hear a single word I just said? I have no other alternative. You’re going to be a father, Thor, and I am going to be a mother, and we are going to be the most inbred royal family Asgard has ever seen. It’s everything you’ve ever dreamed of. Congratulations. I’m sure Mother and Father would be proud of us.”
A tear trickles down Thor’s cheek. “How long have you known?”
“Since yesterday. Though I’ve suspected it for much—” Loki balks, grimaces, then crumples as a wave of nausea overpowers him. He braces his hand on the wall and bends down to spit a mouthful of saliva onto the floor.
Thor is by his side in an instant, which is rather unfortunate because when Loki inevitably vomits up the volatile mixture of acid, bile, and recycled water from his empty stomach, some of it splatters onto Thor’s boots. But Thor either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care. He places his hands on Loki, one to his chest and the other to his back, and the nausea that has been churning in Loki’s guts instantly vanishes.
Healing hands. What a multi-talented man.
Loki spits one last time and wipes his mouth on his sleeve, then slowly straightens. Thor is staring at him as if he might be dying instead of just a little sick. Loki grins weakly.
“I should probably eat something. It’s been a while.”
Thor cradles Loki’s neck and strokes his jaw with his thumb, his pained expression deepening.
“Also, I’m afraid I’ve broken my foot, so I really must go see a healer right n—”
“Climb onto my back. I’ll carry you.”
“No, thank you, I think I can manage on my own.”
“Yes, but you don’t have to.” Thor kneels down and gestures to his shoulders. “Come on, up you go.”
“Oh, please. You’re not turning into one of those men, are you?”
“Those silly, fretful fools who smother their expectant partner and treat them as if they’re too frail to do anything. I am not an invalid and you are not going to be my nursemaid.”
“The only thing I am trying to be is a good man, Loki,” Thor says softly. “Surely you cannot fault me for that.”
That sounds like a personal jab, but perhaps it’s only Loki’s imagination. He is very keyed up right now, struggling for control over the mélange of emotions coursing through him. After lengthy consideration, he gives a resigned sigh. He hops around to Thor’s back and wraps his arms around his broad, sturdy shoulders. Thor tucks his arms beneath Loki’s legs and rises, gives him a little chuck to center his weight, and then begins to walk in the opposite direction he was originally headed. Whatever task he had been carrying out is no longer a priority.
Loki rests his cheek against Thor’s collar and tries not to think about how much better he feels. Everything is very surreal right now. The last 24 hours have been a sickening seesaw of extremes: pleasure and terror, humiliation and relief, all-seeing introverts and omnipotent tyrants. And now this. Guilt and comfort. Sorrow and joy. Humility and rage. This powerful, deadly, tender-hearted man who has just learned he’s going to be a father.
“It’s odd,” says Loki.
“You carrying me while I am carrying you.”
Thor pulls his face into a tight expression. “You are carrying us both, Loki.”
Loki falls silent for a few moments. Then he says quietly, “Are you frightened?”
“Frightened? Me?” Thor grunts. “I have faced thousands of enemies and fought countless battles without a drop of fear in my heart. I’ve laughed at perils that would curdle the blood of the bravest warriors in the universe. I have had my hair shorn by a nearsighted, razor-wielding old man and my eye gouged out by the Goddess of Death. Being a father?” His voice drops. “I’m petrified.”
Loki swallows the lump in his throat and hugs Thor’s neck, burying his face in his arms.
At least he’s not the only one.
As they enter the infirmary on A Deck, they pass a young Asgardian couple on their way out. The two have smiles on their faces that only grow bigger when they see their king and their prince.
“My lords,” they chime, bowing their heads.
Thor at least has the semblance of mind to acknowledge the gesture, but Loki ignores them completely. He rests his chin on Thor’s shoulder and stares dully ahead as they make their way through the antechamber of the infirmary. Bruce Banner is standing in the doorway to the main examination room, rubbing his eyes tiredly. He looks up when he hears Thor’s familiar footfalls and gives him a feeble grin.
“Oh good, finally, someone who isn’t pregnant.”
Thor nearly stumbles on his last step; both he and Loki stare at Bruce with wide eyes. “What?”
Bruce waves his hand. “Aw, it’s. Y’know. What do you expect. We’re on the outer space equivalent of the Trans-Siberian Railway. There isn’t much to do other than eat and sleep and . . . you know. Make babies. I tell ya, Asgard’s gonna have one hell of a population spike in about six months.”
Loki shrinks behind Thor’s shoulders. Thor puts on a smile.
“Well, that’s good news, I suppose.”
“Oh, yeah, from a survival standpoint, definitely. I just hope we can get you guys settled on Earth before all these babies start popping out.” Bruce clasps his hands together and takes a breath. “Sooo, lemme guess: something’s up with Loki’s motor skills.”
Thor blinks. “I’m. I’m not sure what level mechanic he is, but he did repair a small airship once, so I suppose his skills are intermediate?”
Loki hangs his head in despair.
“What? No, I mean his ability to walk. Y’know, ‘cause. You don’t usually carry him around like that.” Pause. “It looks kinda weird, actually.”
“I’m right here, you uncivilized brute,” Loki snaps. “You may stop speaking of me in the third person.”
“Sorry. I thought”—Bruce squirms—“thought that’s what royalty does. Queen Victoria used to speak of herself in the third person.”
“Do I look like a queen to you?”
Bruce takes a breath to answer, but Thor interrupts before any blood can be spilled.
“He believes he broke his foot. Will you examine him?”
One of Bruce’s eyebrows takes a hike up his forehead. “Uh. Yyyeah, sure. Right this way.”
They follow him into a tidy, state-of-the-art room, all the surfaces white and sleek and clean. In the middle of the room is a comfortable-looking examination bed, and Thor turns around and carefully sets Loki onto it. Loki bends to remove his boot but Thor beats him to it, placing one hand on Loki’s chest and holding him in place.
“I am fully capable of removing my own footwear, Thor.”
“I know, but . . .” His eyes drift to Loki’s midsection and he whispers, “You should not contort yourself.”
“I’m not contorting myself.”
“You were bending over.”
“Yes, well, that’s how it’s done, isn’t it? Taking one’s shoes off.”
“It might hurt the b—”
Loki gives him a perfectly homicidal glare. Thor’s voice cracks.
“Buh, belt. Belly? You could hurt your belly.”
Bruce, who is clearing a variety of phallic-looking instruments from the side table, looks up. “Uh oh. Stomach problems, too, huh? You might have an ulcer. Hell, I’ve had two since Asgard went kablooey. I’m working on my third one right now.” He pats his stomach gently. “I could take a look inside, if you want. I’ve got this little ultrasound pen that projects a three-dimensional image right into the air.”
“Really?” Thor asks, his eye wide. “So we could actually see—”
“Absolutely not,” says Loki sharply. “My foot, Doctor Banner, if you please.”
“Right. Triage. Man, it’s been a while since I’ve done the GP thing, so just bear with me. Gotta get this obstetric stuff outta the way first and then find my scanner . . .”
The moment Bruce turns his back, Thor draws close to Loki and stares at him pitifully.
“I could ask him to show me how to use it,” Thor says under his breath. “Then we could look at it in private.”
“What makes you think I even want to see it right now? It probably looks like some sort of”—Loki’s hand flutters as he searches for words—“stumpy, half-formed piglet with transparent skin. I might vomit.”
Thor looks as if he’s just been stabbed. “Loki, how can you say that, it’s our chil—”
“I want to see it.”
“Well I don’t.”
“It’s the best way to see if it’s healthy.”
“Heimdall said it was. You trust his sight, don’t you?”
“Yes, but Heimdall is not a doctor.”
“Neither are you.”
Thor gives up trying to reason and goes straight to begging. “I want to see it, Loki. Please.”
“For the last time, no.”
“What are you going to do, wait until it’s born before you look at it?”
“If I must look at it sometime, then yes, I would rather wait until it is fully formed and out of me.”
Bruce materializes between them. “What’re you guys talking about?” he whispers, startling them. “Does someone have a tapeworm? Hey, if you do, it’s okay. It can happen to anyone, even royalty and gods. I’ve got a couple good anti-parasite medications in the supply cabinet if you—”
The only thing that prevents Bruce from getting a boot heel to his solar plexus (and his third ulcer) is Thor catching Loki’s foot and pushing it back.
“That’s enough,” Thor says warningly. “Loki, why don’t you just lay down and relax for a moment. You’re being—”
“It’s lie down, you fool, and you should know that ordering someone to relax has exactly the opposite effect.”
“Okay,” Bruce cuts in, “lie, lay, la-dee-dah, it doesn’t matter. I just need someone to take the damn boot off. Please?”
Loki sets his jaw and bends down to remove his boot, grimacing with pain as he slides it off.
“Okay,” says Bruce, “let’s get that leg up on the table. Easy does it.”
Thor stands by with his arms crossed while Bruce carefully peels off Loki’s stocking, revealing the damage: his second and third toes are swollen, as is the top part of his foot around the injured digits. The skin has already passed red and magenta and is now darkening to a brutal shade of violet.
He gives a low whistle. “Oh, yeah, that. That definitely looks broken. Jeez, how did you do even do this? I thought you guys were like magically impervious or something.”
“Not anymore,” Loki mutters. “And I’d rather not talk about it. Just”—he grits his teeth and winces—“just heal it, would you.”
“Well, I dunno what kinda medical system you guys had on Asgard, but out here the only thing that’s gonna heal these little piggies is time. And maybe a good splint. I’m a doctor, not a magician.”
Bruce picks up a chunky-looking scanner and turns on the holoscreen. The device flashes and then projects a static-streaked image into the air above. He adjusts a few settings and holds the scanner over Loki’s foot. The image sharpens into lines, refocuses, and reveals the broken bones in perfect clarity.
Thor’s eye widens with interest.
“Yeah,” Bruce declares, squinting at the display as he moves it back and forth, “you’ve got a hairline fracture in that second phalange and metatarsal. That third-toe joint looks pretty swollen but I don’t think it’s broken. Looks like I’m gonna have to rig up some kinda splint to get you by in the meantime.”
Loki groans and slumps onto his back. Bruce turns off the scanner and begins to rummage through the cabinets, chattering to himself. Thor draws closer to the bed and gives Loki a supportive pat.
He also reaches for the scanner that Bruce left lying on the side table.
“I’d recommend staying off of it as much as possible,” Bruce says over his shoulder. “For the first few days, at least. You know, no running or jumping or kicking people in the throat or anything like that. Keep some ice on it, keep it elevated. Ah, here’s the tape. I’ve got some anti-inflammatory pills you can take. They won’t do much for the pain but it oughta—”
“What do you think you’re doing!”
“I just want to see it, Loki!”
Bruce whips around and is met by the sight of Loki trying to wrestle the scanner from Thor’s grasp. It’s turned on and pointed directly over Loki’s abdomen. A jiggling, jolting picture of his spine and ilia is displayed on the holoscreen as they continue to scrabble and bicker. Their struggle is interrupted by Bruce stumbling backward into a stack of stainless steel kidney trays, causing them to crash loudly to the floor.
Thor and Loki freeze.
Bruce is gawking at the screen, which shows a tiny infant skeleton nestled safely in Loki’s pelvic region.
“Oh my Goddd,” he moans, putting his hands to his head. “You ate a baby. You monster, you ate a whole fetus! What is wrong with you!”
Thor stares at the display with his mouth open in amazement. Loki stares at the display with his mouth open in shock. Bruce, meanwhile, has his mouth open because he is hyperventilating.
“Oh man,” he gasps, looking away. “Oh God, I’m gonna be sick. This. This is the sickest thing I’ve ever seen. This is pure evil right here. I’m in a room with an evil, baby-eating psycho.”
Thor makes a startled sound. “Loki, it moved! I saw it move!”
Bruce turns his head. His hair is sticking up in spikes. “It’s alive?” he shrieks. “You ate it alive?”
Loki snaps out of his trance and shoves Thor and the scanner away from him, clawing his way to an upright position. “I didn’t eat anything, you buffoon, I’m pregnant!”
Bruce goes still. Then a high-pitched whine escapes his lips. “Oh man, I don’t know which is worse. I think . . . nope. Nope, this is definitely worse. Definitely.” He puts his hands over his face and moans again.
Thor is torn between comforting Banner and entreating Loki to see their unborn child again. Banner wins, but only because it’s more likely that the outcome will be positive. Thor gently takes the distraught doctor by the wrists and pulls his hands away from his face.
“Banner. Bruce, listen, it’s alright. Everything’s fine.” He gives him an encouraging smile. “I suppose it’s a little late to tell you this, but Loki and I have been having intimate relations with one another for some time now and we’re—”
“Oh my God, he’s your brother!”
“Adopted,” Loki mutters.
“And you’re a guy!” Bruce cries.
“Not just,” Loki mutters again.
Thor maintains his smile, but it’s beginning to look desperate. “See, Banner, it’s a miracle. It’s the miracle of life. When two people love each other, they like to do things that feel pleasurable, and Loki and I—”
“I know how sex works! Please, please don’t finish that sentence.” Bruce jams his hand into his pocket and fishes out a bottle of antacid tablets. He shakes four onto his palm and swallows them in one gulp. Thor massages Bruce’s shoulder helpfully as he nods his way into a catatonic state. “I’m okay, I’m okay. I just. Whooo. I just need to sit down for a minute.”
Loki rolls his eyes. Such ridiculous drama.
Thor helps Bruce into a chair and squats down beside him, gives him a few moments to calm himself.
“So,” says Thor after the panting has subsided, “as you can see, Loki and I are going to be parents. And we need your help, Banner. This is a very unusual case.”
“You’re telling me.”
“What makes it so unusual is that Loki is a Frost Giant.”
“A Jötunn,” says Loki crossly. “I’m not an Aesir.”
“An eye-seer? Wh-what?”
“He means he’s not an Asgardian,” Thor translates. “He comes from a different realm. Our father, he . . . well, it’s a long story, but Loki is very different from the rest of us in that he has both male and female parts, but we’re not sure if—”
“Whoa. Wait. You mean he’s an actual, legitimate hermaphrodite?”
“I don’t know what that is.”
“It’s a person with male and female reproductive organs.”
“Oh. Then yes, I suppose he’s that, too.”
“But you said he was a giant.”
“A Frost Giant, yes.”
“A Jötunn,” Loki repeats.
Bruce is now on the verge of a complete mental breakdown. “But he’s not a giant! He’s normal-sized!”
“He is a very small Frost Giant.”
“Then you should call him a Frost Regular or something. Misnomers like that are confusing.”
Thor grips Bruce’s shoulder firmly. “What I’m trying to say is that nothing like this has ever happened before. Loki knows nothing of his people or how they even reproduce. We will need your help to ensure he and our child are well-cared for. Can you do that for us, Banner?”
Bruce turns from Thor to Loki to Thor again. “You guys’re serious? You’re seriously gonna have a baby?”
Bruce stares at Loki. Some of the initial shock has begun to fade now. “Wow, this. I can’t believe this is happening. Seems like just a couple years ago we were all trying to stop you from destroying New York City, and now you’re . . . gonna be somebody’s mom. This is crazy.”
Loki gives him a withering look. “I assure you, Doctor, you have not yet seen crazy.”
“Yeah, I know. That’s the kicker, ain’t it? Shit.” Bruce gives his face one last scrub before standing up. “Okay. Okay, lemme get your foot fixed up and then I’ll take a look at this poor kid. Lie back, please, okay? Thank you.”
Grumbling, Loki reclines on the exam bed and tries to make himself comfortable. Thor rises from his crouch and moves over to stand beside him. He picks up Loki’s hand but Loki twists out of his grasp and tucks his hands against his sides. Thor wilts like an unloved flower.
Bruce returns to the bed with a plastic splint and some medical tape, and neatly binds Loki’s injured toes together. He is quick but not very gentle; Loki winces every time the tender digits are touched.
Bruce finishes the job and moves on to his next task. He picks up his ultrasound pen from the nearby instrument tray and clicks it on.
Thor nervously chews his upper lip.
“Okay,” says Bruce wearily, “let’s take a look at Loki two-point-oh here.”
Loki shuts his eyes.
Thor stands on one side of the bed while Bruce stands on the other and extends the pen over Loki’s belly. A three-dimensional holographic cube flashes into the air, its contents scaled a few times larger than life. Both he and Thor lean forward with wide eyes.
“Oh, wow,” Bruce murmurs. “Look at that. Two whole reproductive systems, side by side. There’s his ovaries—looks like they’re healthy, no cysts or lesions. That’s good. Got the fallopian tubes right here. Bladder. There’s the vas deferens . . .”
“I’m right here, you know,” Loki grumps.
“Sorry. It’s just, uh.” Bruce grins. “From a purely scientific standpoint, this is pretty awesome. Lemme enhance this a bit more.”
While Bruce continues to marvel at Loki’s internal plumbing, Thor stares at the more obvious picture: the blue monochromatic infant floating safely in its warm cocoon, unaware of its astounded audience. It has tiny feet, each one bearing five impossibly small toes; lean, perfectly-formed legs which are bent at the knees; little hands with fingers at the ends of two arms, tucked beneath a large head; a stubby nose that Thor just knows is going to look like his own, gods have mercy; smooth cheeks, closed eyelids, a soft mouth. His sleeping child.
He can’t help it. He begins to weep, hot tears rolling down his left cheek and disappearing into his beard.
“Looks like it’s a boy,” Bruce says, turning his pen for a better view. “Yup, testes are just about fully formed. You can see ‘em right there.”
“A boy,” Thor repeats, and pulls his gaze away from the hologram to look at Loki, who has his teeth bared and his hands pressed over his eyes, desperately fighting his own curiosity. “Loki, we’re having a son. It’s a little boy.”
“Wonderful!” Loki blurts. “Let’s hope that’s all he is!”
Bruce scrutinizes the hologram from every angle. “Um. I really hate to ask ‘cause I definitely do not want this image in my head, but do you have any idea when you might’ve conceived?”
“When was your last period?”
“I beg your pardon.”
“Your, uh, moon-blood, I guess. Visit from the red fairy or whatever. You menstruate, right?”
“And when was your last one?”
“Six months ago, roughly.”
Bruce’s eyes widen. “Ohhh-kayyy . . .”
“I only cycle three times a year. It’s complicated.”
“Oh. Right. Like this wasn’t already complicated enough.” A heavy sigh.
Thor draws in a long, soggy breath and digs at the tears clinging to his lashes. “Does he look alright to you, Banner? Is he normal?”
“Loki? Oh, hell no. I’ve never seen a less-normal guy in all my life, but as far as the baby, yeah, it’s totally fine. If I had to guess, I’d say we’re looking at the end of the first trimester, but there’s no way of telling how old it really is. I mean, this is kinda unprecedented, y’know? I’m gonna have to run some calculations to see exactly what stage of development we’re looking at. Lemme see if I can record a few images here . . .”
While Bruce goes about gathering vitals and other information, Thor gazes at the live picture of his unborn son, his heart a soft, sore lump in his chest. Then he looks down at Loki, who still has his hands clamped over his eyes.
“Do you not want to see him?” he asks gently, touching Loki’s wrist. “He is beautiful.”
“Half of him is me. How beautiful can he be?”
“Well, he is,” Thor insists, “even with the tail.”
Loki’s hands fly from his face. “The what!” he shouts, eyes wide as he lifts his head.
“Hey, keep it steady, I’m taking a video!” Bruce squawks.
Thor points sadly. “Look for yourself. It’s only a small defect, but he’s still beautiful to me.”
Loki eyes dart furiously back and forth over the hologram, searching for abnormalities and finding none. There is no tail sprouting from his son’s behind. In fact, there is nothing wrong with him at all, he’s perfectly—
Loki slowly turns to scowl at Thor, who has the barest hint of a smile on his lips. “That was a dirty trick.”
“I told you he was perfect.”
“You said he was beautiful. He isn’t.”
“Maybe not yet, but he will be.”
Loki makes a sour face but inevitably finds himself drawn back to the display. He gazes at it for a long while, his expression relaxing into a more neutral, introspective frown. Thor says nothing, allowing Loki to ruminate without disruption. When he finally speaks, his question is directed at Bruce.
“What are the chances I’ll miscarry?”
“I dunno, honestly,” Bruce answers, scrunching up his face. “There’s about a twenty-percent chance with first pregnancies. Most miscarriages happen during the first trimester, then the numbers get a little better the farther along you are. I dunno what stage of gestation this little guy’s in, though.” He shrugs. “It could happen. It might not. There’s no telling.”
“Still hoping for a way out?” Thor mutters, crossing his arms.
“I was simply asking the man a question,” says Loki. “This is general information. It’s not as if I were sitting here and willing the child to die.”
“Really? Because that would be the most convenient outcome for you, wouldn’t it? It’d solve all your problems, free you from any unwanted responsibilities.”
Bruce’s face tightens with discomfort. He shuts off the ultrasound pen and carefully backs away.
“Do you really think me so cruel as to be capable of such a monstrous wish?”
“I know what you are capable of, Loki, and this would not be the worst wish you’ve made.”
Loki curls his lip. “Oh, you know me so well, don’t you? Fuck me for a few months and you have me all figured out. Go on, say it. I am a terrible person and you think having a child might be good for me, that it would cure me of all my undesirable qualities and turn me into a virtuous, docile little pet.”
“I absolutely do not think that. You are projecting your feelings onto me.”
“Am I? Are you sure about that? You haven’t fantasized about the two of us raising a brood of children together? Me, selecting you from a host of hundreds for precisely that purpose?”
Color springs to Thor’s cheeks as he recalls the words he spoke seemingly years ago. “Fantasy is of no matter, Loki. This is reality. You are not a terrible person and I am not trying to cure you or change you. I love you as you are. I care about you.”
“Then you can at least pretend to be a little concerned about my well-being instead of obsessing over that thing inside of me!”
“I am concerned about you, you fool! Can’t you see that!”
“No, I can’t!” Loki shouts, squaring his shoulders. “I see a man who cares more about propagating his own wretched bloodline than the one who shall be forced to bear it! The one he claims to love!”
“That is a lie!” Thor thunders.
“Is it? Admit it, I was only ever a vessel to you! You wanted this to happen! You were praying it would happen!”
“I wanted no such thing! I knew how much the thought of pregnancy terrified you—”
“And yet you did it anyway!”
“Right, I chose to impregnate you, Loki, without your consent, even though I knew you had no desire to be a parent. I have been forcing myself on you since this journey began, taking you against your will, holding you down and making you—”
“How dare you insinuate that this is my fault!”
“You’re responsible, too!”
“How can I be responsible for something I have no control over!”
“Guys, guys.” Bruce has finally had all he could take; he steps into the midst of their quarrel with his hands raised. “Jeez. Take it easy. You . . . you two have some serious issues you need to work through, like I’m not even kidding. This whole ‘brother’ thing just creeps me out, but then you throw in a uterus and an egg and a few million sperm and—oh God I did not need to say that—and now you’ve got a baby on the way, and screaming at each other isn’t gonna help anyone. Especially not that poor little fetus in there”—he points toward Loki’s belly—“who’s already beaten like a million odds just by making it this far. And he’s still got a long way to go.”
The fury that had been raging between Thor and Loki quickly dies to a smolder.
Bruce continues, “Look, I’m no shrink or anything, but I can tell when people are having major problems, and you guys take the freaking cake. I’m serious, you need to sit down and figure out how the hell to get on the same page. You’re gonna be parents, for crying out loud. I know that doesn’t automatically make you perfect or anything, but come on, blaming each other? Calling each other names? I know teenagers more mature than you two. You’ve gotta try harder than this. ‘Cause this . . . this right here is unacceptable.”
He puts his hands on his hips and a moment later a funny look crosses his face. “Aw hell. I sound just like my dad.”
Loki slides off the examination bed and snatches up his stocking and his boot. He gives Bruce a tired but polite smile. “Thank you for tending to my foot, Doctor Banner.”
“Uh. Sure, no problem. Hey, lemme give you a few of these vita-packs before you go, I’ve been giving ‘em to all the other moms that come in here. Folic acid is really important, you know, and these things have a mix of everything: B-vitamins, calcium, trace minerals, omega-3s, they’re good stuff. Might as well schedule your next appointment while we’re at it. I’d say two weeks from now would be a good—”
But when Bruce turns around to give Loki the vitamin packets, he discovers that he is talking to thin air. He looks over at Thor, who is staring at the doorway with his mouth bent into an unhappy frown.
“Did he just disappear?”
“He walked out,” Thor mutters. “Limped out. Doesn’t matter, he’s gone.”
Bruce pulls his lips into a sad, sympathetic line and hands Thor the packets. “Well, uh. Just make sure he takes some of these soon, okay? Microgravity environments are hell on the unborn. I know he’s been having problems with the food here, too, so he really needs all the nutrition he can get.”
Thor nods solemnly and accepts the packets as if they are priceless jewels.
“And try to get him back here in two weeks. If you can.”
“I will try.”
Bruce smiles thinly and claps Thor’s shoulder. “It’ll be okay. I dunno how—I mean. You’re sleeping with your adopted brother who’s a hermaphrodite, and now he’s pregnant with your kid and it sounds like he totally hates your guts, but . . . uh. I forgot where I was going with this. Sorry. I’m lousy at comforting people.”
Thor bows his head. “What am I going to do, Banner?”
The frailty in his voice makes Bruce wince. “I don’t think there’s anything you can do, man. Just . . . he’ll come around soon, I think. And when he does, be there for him, okay? Just listen to him. Don’t try to say anything, just let him vent and get it all out in the open. It sounds like he’s got a lot on his mind.”
Thor looks down at the packets in his hands.
“He always does.”
Chapter 2: Father
This chapter is pretty dark and contains some disturbing (but figmental) imagery, so please heed the tags before proceeding. Also, there are a lot of callbacks and references to In the Flesh, so if you don't want to miss out on all these little Easter eggs, a quick refresh might be helpful.
Though this chapter ends on a better note than it starts, not everything gets resolved. There is still a lot of story that must be told, so please keep that in mind and enjoy these characters as the works-in-progress that they are. Thank you! HJB
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
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 a 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 Ark, 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 is now returned 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.
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.”
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.”
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?”
“Don’t try to corner him.”
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 of 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.
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.
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 did. 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.”
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.”
“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 so 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 blue 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. Lokison. 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.
“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.”
“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.”
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.
He turns. Loki is sitting up, staring at him.
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 enunciation.
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.”
“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 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.
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 had 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.”
“You know. The Galadiators.”
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.