It started as an innocent discussion. The team was having a movie night and nobody was really paying attention to the movie, but one offhand mention of Asgard peaked someone’s interest, though later nobody remembered who. It was probably Tony that brought it up, though it could have been Clint, but soon everybody was questioning Thor on what Asgard and the other realms were like. The questions were simple at first, innocent interest about the places and the people, and Thor was happy to oblige.
Thor told them tales of his youth and his home. He told them about the beauty and danger of his home, about his friends. He proudly spoke of his father and his mother, and nobody commented about the fact that he did not mention his brother.
He told them about the Bifrost and its purpose, and he told them about Heimdall.
He told them of the Warriors Three and grinned his way through the stories of their valour and bravery. He told them of the time Volstagg had eaten the entire feast before the guests showed up, about the time Hogan single-handedly ended a three thousand soldiers deep conflict, about the time Fandral stole the wife of a great rival only to later reveal they’d both been in on a joke.
He told them about the fierceness of his old friend Sif and her victories, not noticing the satisfied smirk Natasha wore through the whole story. He did grin in agreement when Tony muttered that they’d better never let her and Sif meet though.
The stories went on for over two hours, Thor doing nearly all the talking and the other five merely listened attentively, save for Clint and Tony throwing in the odd comment and the others asking occasional questions.
Eventually the group became comfortable enough in the conversation that they starting asking more specific questions, ones that were born out of Midgardian tales of Asgard.
Bruce’s questions were fairly simple, questions that a scientist would ask, and Thor told him as much as he could about how the Bifrost worked and about how Asgardian magic was not so far removed from Midgardian science.
Steve asked only one or two questions, and they were about similarities between Asgard and Earth. Thor obliged gently, fully aware that the Captain was also out of place in this time and place, and he gave as much detail as possible when describing how the Aesir threw parties and banquets just as humans did.
Natasha asked the first serious question, when she asked if there was any truth to the stories about Ragnarok. Thor frowned a little at the mention but shrugged it off quickly - he did not know the Black Widow very well but he could tell her curiosity was harmless. He explained how Asgardians understood the possibility and looming certainty of Ragnarok and was jovial in telling the tale of how Odin vanquished Surtur.
Tony spoke next, slyly stating that he just had to know if there was any truth to the story of Thor in a wedding dress trying to retrieve his hammer.
Thor turned red at the embarrassing reminder and buried his face in his hands, his friends laughter surrounding him as he confirmed that that had really happened. Honestly, he would rather have not spoke of it, but Tony and Clint teamed up on him and good-naturedly prodded him until he told the story.
It was a good story, in all fairness, and it drew smiles even from Bruce and Steve, who was largely quiet and just listening.
It was in this story that Thor, completely unthinkingly, finally mentioned his brother.
“My friends teased me mercilessly upon my return” Thor said. “My face was red for three days after.”
“Bet that clashed with your pretty dress” Tony smirked, and Thor threw some popcorn at him.
“That awful garment was burned at the first opportunity, Stark, I assure you” Thor grinned. “It was Loki’s idea, really. He wanted to burn the dress he’d had to wear so I decided I could get rid of mine the same way.”
The room was suddenly quiet, and Thor’s face fell as he realised he had brought up his younger brother without meaning to. He tried not to mention him at all around his friends, all too aware that they would never be able to see Loki the way he still managed to.
He was about to apologise when Tony chuckled and said, “you stuffed Loki in a wedding dress as well? I don’t know everything about Norse mythology but that sure wasn’t in the story I heard.”
“No, my brother was in a far simpler dress. He came disguised as one of my handmaidens.”
There was a short silence and then a general rumble of quiet laughter filled the room, Thor grinned in delight as he realised he had not ruined the calm atmosphere.
“I bet he loved that” Bruce murmured.
“He did not” Thor laughed. “He was near as humiliated as me.”
Everyone laughed again, and Clint snorted.
“He was embarrassed by wearing a dress? That’s nothing given some of the other stories about what he gets up to” the archer smirked.
“What stories?” Steve asked innocently.
“Aw man, half of Norse mythology is just Loki fucking up. There’s this brilliant one about him and a giant horse” Clint laughed, revelling in the idea of some humiliation coming to the God of Mischief. “He got knocked up by a horse!”
Natasha smiled at the synchronised outburst from both Steve and Tony. She had been familiar with the story but clearly they hadn’t. “The story is that he gave birth to an eight legged horse.”
“How does that even work?” Tony muttered, phrasing it like a rhetorical question.
“I can’t remember how it goes, I just know that’s how it ends” Clint grinned, gesturing to Thor to continue. “Go on, Thor, tell us the story.”
“Yeah, this I’ve got to hear” Tony agreed, folding his arms and looking pointedly in the God of Thunder’s direction.
Which was probably why he was the first to notice that Thor’s whole demeanour had suddenly changed.
In place of the jovial and laughing man that had sat there two minutes ago, there now sat a man who looked solemn and angry, his whole body tense and his expression stormy.
“Thor? You okay there, buddy?” Tony asked, frowning.
“Thor?” Steve prodded, voice taking on an authoritative tone automatically.
But Thor didn’t answer, merely closed his eyes as if in pain. The others waited a few moments before Natasha spoke up.
“Are you okay?” she asked gently, her tone betraying nothing.
Finally Thor looked up, but all the joy and laughter had gone from his face.
“I will not speak of that incident” he said quietly, speaking with an air of finality.
Nobody protested, but everybody frowned at the sudden change in their friend.
“Okay, that’s fair” Tony shrugged, trying to lighten the mood. “I probably wouldn’t want to talk about it if my brother fucked a horse. So anyway, let’s...”
“I care not about that” Thor interrupted in a harsh voice. “But I will not talk about what came after.”
And what that Thor rose from his seat and stormed out of the room, leaving five thoroughly confused heroes in his wake.
A few years ago a mood like this would have sent his hammer through any available surface, and Thor was vaguely glad that he had learned some form of gentility from Jane Foster because he doubted Stark would appreciate having to replace everything in the room. Still, it would have felt good to vent his frustration by smashing some furniture to dust; it wasn’t nearly so satisfying to simply collapse onto the nearest armchair with his head in this hands.
He hadn’t meant to get upset, it had just happened automatically. It always did when someone brought up his brother and his nephew in the same sentence, especially when someone thought it was funny.
It wasn’t funny. It wasn’t funny in the slightest.
Oh, he understood why others thought it was; he knew the Midgardian story was more or less the same as the tavern version that was told in Asgard. People had laughed at the time, laughed at the thought of their foolish prince birthing an eight legged foal as the result of his own dealings.
At first he had laughed too.
Although Loki had tried to keep the whole thing quiet, it wasn’t long after his night as a mare with that giant’s hot-blooded stallion that the story went around the taverns. Soon everyone knew that Loki had lured away the beast to keep his promise to them and they knew how he’d accomplished this. A few had nodded in quiet approval of his clever idea, but most had just laughed at the thought of their proud prince being taken as a mare by a stallion far larger than any usually found in Asgard.
Thor had jested about it many times, with his friends and with Loki himself, though Loki never found it funny. To his credit he wasn’t offended, as such, merely irritated that it was being taken as a joke.
There was no telling what Loki would have thought had the night had no consequences beyond some embarrassment, but it wasn’t long until Thor realised that Loki was dealing with far, far more consequences than he had imagined.
“You jest, brother, surely” Thor laughed.
“Do I look like I’m joking, Thor?” Loki snapped, his cheeks tinged red with embarrassment. “Why would I lie about this?”
“You are the God of Mischief” Thor pointed out.
Loki rolled his eyes in response. “An astounding observation, but not one that matters right now. I am being serious, Thor. I am carrying a child. The result of my … adventure, with the stallion Svaðilfari.”
Thor frowned at his brother, trying to see through whatever deception Loki was playing at, but he found himself unable to. It explained why Loki had been so insistent upon speaking with him alone in his private chamber, but he had learned never to take his mischievous brother’s word on anything.
“Your lies are usually more believable, Loki.”
“This is not a lie, Thor!”
It was the desperation in Loki’s voice that finally caught Thor’s genuine attention.
The God of Thunder peered intently at his brother, who for once seemed to drop the proud mask of superiority that he tended to wear around everyone save for their parents. Now that he knew to look for it, he noticed that Loki looked tense, and perhaps even a little frightened.
“How do you know?”
“I am a sorcerer” Loki said quietly, resisting the urge to roll his eyes again. “It is a simple spell.”
“How? Must I really provide details, brother?”
Thor grimaced. “I mean how can you possibly be...”
“Pregnant, is the word I believe you’re looking for” Loki sighed. “At the time of conception my physiology allowed for it, I suppose. I just did not think of the possibility.”
“And now you’re … with a horse?”
“That would seem an accurate assumption” Loki smirked, revelling a little in the discomfort this was causing his hot-headed older brother. “I have had the healers confirm it.”
Thor was quiet for a moment before he sighed and said, “Loki, of all your schemes, this is perhaps the strangest thing you’ve ever done.”
“I am aware” Loki muttered coldly, and then he sat down on the bed and looked pointedly at his brother. “I am trusting you with this information, brother. Please do not spread it around the taverns like you usually do.”
“I would never, brother” Thor said seriously. “Who has been told?”
“Only mother and father, and now you” Loki said. “The healers who examined me have been sworn to secrecy by our father.”
“But surely they will know once you...”
“Thor, I don’t care what they will know. For now, my only concern is if you are able to keep your mouth shut for the next few months.”
“I give you my word, Loki” Thor said, a little wounded by the lack of trust.
A grateful look flashed over Loki’s face, so fleeting that Thor almost missed it, and then he simply nodded. “Thank you.”
And then Loki was on his feet and leaving briskly, his movements so graceful that even one who knew of his pregnancy could not have guessed he was with child.
Thor sighed deeply as he remembered that night. He had later learned that Loki had only told him of the pregnancy because Frigga asked him to. Thor assumed that their mother wished for as few secrets as possible in the family, and given what he now knew about Loki it wasn’t all that surprising.
He hadn’t really thought about it after that night, something he would later come to deeply regret.
As the months following Loki’s announcement wore on, Thor had barely spared a thought for his brother’s condition. Little changed about Loki, who continued to attend meetings and banquets and everything else just as he always had. He didn’t drink alcohol, but that was the only difference, and Thor only noticed about three months after he had become aware of the reason why.
Loki didn’t change physically, and when Thor asked him why not - again, months later than he probably should have - the God of Mischief merely retorted that he was using a spell to conceal his pregnancy. Thor asked him to drop it for a moment in private so that he might see his brother as he truly was, but Loki had refused. He’d not spoken to his brother for three days afterwards, so Thor had not asked again.
Really, Thor had been wrapped up in his own life, as he always was. His brother was there, but Loki kept such a careful watch over his actions and appearance that Thor mostly forgot about his condition most of the time.
Thor wished now that he had taken more time to speak with his brother about it. If he had, perhaps some of the unpleasantness that followed might have been avoided.
But then he had learned already that he couldn’t change the past, especially where his brother was concerned.
He just wished he had taken some time to ask about Loki’s pregnancy. Besides a couple of questions, the next time the two discussed it in detail after the initial announcement was when they were both out in the fields and Loki suddenly doubled over.
They had been out collecting some specimens needed for a spell which their mother was working on. It was a small pleasure of Frigga’s to have her sons collect plants and herbs for her on occasion, just as they had when they were small boys. They were not so enthusiastic now - Loki because he worked on his own spells and Thor because he had better things to do than gather flowers - but neither denied their mother, who so rarely asked for anything.
The conversation had been sparse and not interesting, so when Loki suddenly gasped and doubled over, he instantly had Thor’s attention.
“Loki? Are you well?”
Loki was quiet for a moment, and then he sank to his knees. “Thor, I think I’m...”
He was cut off by a sharp gasp that tapered off into a quiet groan.
“Loki! What is it?” Thor begged.
“Get Mother” Loki pleaded, looking up at Thor with frightened eyes. “Tell her it’s time.”
“Time for what, brother?”
“The baby, Thor! It’s coming. Get Mother!” he pleaded, his eyes shutting tight against the sharp pain that was radiating from his body. “Please!”
Thor was in two minds - he didn’t want to leave his brother out here alone but he knew nothing about childbirth and he knew they needed help. He hesitated a few moments until Loki moaned again, this time sounding so incredibly pained and scared that it pushed Thor to his feet. He summoned his hammer and flew quickly to his mother’s chambers.
Frigga took one look at her son’s panicked expression and was on her feet, asking what was wrong. Thor stumbled over his words about Loki and the baby and Frigga gasped and ordered him to take her to Loki, and Thor quickly complied.
By the time he and Frigga reached Loki, his brother was in the form of a mare, lying on the grass and nickering in pain. Thor gulped as he took in the swell of the mare’s belly, which was larger than most equine pregnancies he’d happened to notice.
Thor held back, out of his depth, while Frigga immediately fell to her knees by the mare’s side, situating herself behind Loki’s head and running tender fingers down the mare’s neck.
“Peace, my son, peace” she whispered. “It will not take long.”
The mare whined in pain and Thor shut his eyes, finding that he could not watch this. He desperately wanted to run back to the palace and not return until this ordeal was over, but he refused to admit to such cowardice. His own discomfort paled next to Loki’s. And so he remained there, and kept his eyes shut as he listened to the calm murmures from his mother and the high pitched noises of pain from his brother.
True to Frigga’s word, the birth - like most equine births - was over quickly. Thor could not say how long it took, but he knew it wasn’t very long until the pained noises stopped, and only then did he dare to open his eyes.
He blinked against the sunlight twice before his eyes focused on the new addition to the group, and then he rubbed then harshly, fearing that they were betraying him, for the foal he witnessed appeared to have twice as many legs as it should have.
But his eyes adjusted quickly to the sunlight and the baby horse still had eight legs, and was already trying to scramble up onto them.
Thor watched as the mare’s form glimmered and shifted back into the shape of his brother.
Loki looked very pale and sweaty and tired, but he smiled as he looked at the eight legged foal. He sat up with more grace than should have been possible, although Thor knew it was merely a desperate show of strength when Frigga put her arms around Loki and he gratefully fell against her.
“He is perfect” Loki whispered, reaching one hand out to the odd foal who by now was on his feet, walking without too much trouble albeit he was clearly shaky and uncoordinated. “Come here, my son.”
The gray foal looked up and trotted over to Loki, stumbling once and then butting his nose against Loki’s fingers.
Loki’s smile was blinding as he ran his hand gently along the foal’s face and neck. “Hello, my love.”
Thor was stunned at the gentless emanating from his brother. It was something he had never seen before. He looked to his mother for answers, but Frigga was focused on Loki and didn’t seem surprised at his reaction.
“Isn’t he wonderful, Mother?” Loki murmured, wrapping his arms around the foal when the strange being snuggled down against his side.
“Of course, my son” Frigga quietly agreed, stroking the foal’s ears with gentle fingers while placing a soothing kiss to Loki’s temple. “Rest now, Loki. You have been through a lot today.”
“We should find him something to eat first” Loki said, suddenly alert.
“I will find him some mare’s milk, brother” Thor said, grateful for the opportunity to run a simple but helpful errand.
His mother and brother looked up as if they had almost forgotten he was there, but their eyes were both grateful.
“Thank you, Thor” Frigga said quietly.
Thor nodded and turned to leave, but before he did he had one question he simply had to ask. “What will you name my nephew, Loki?”
“His name is Sleipnir.”
That day out in the fields, Thor could never have guessed the pain that the name Sleipnir would one day bring to him. Loki’s voice had been full of love and contentment, something that Thor had never associated with his brother, and for the weeks afterwards nothing had changed.
Word got out, somehow, of the truth of Sleipnir’s parentage, but Loki seemed unconcerned. Thor would have been surprised if he hadn’t been there when the foal was born, if he hadn’t seem how much Loki loved the strange creature. Thor couldn’t say he really understood it, but he did realise that Loki was simply too fond of his child to care what anyone had to say.
People asked Thor about it, of course. Fandral and Volstagg were incredulous, finding it both hilarious and astounding. Hogan didn’t comment, and neither did Sif, but he knew they were both a little intrigued. Thor didn’t speak much of it, though, merely said that he knew the foal was Loki’s and that it was certainly odd to have an eight legged foal for a nephew.
There wasn’t much that changed for Thor, though, in the weeks that followed. His life resumed as normal and he foolishly assumed that Loki’s did, too.
How wrong he had been.
He would never forgive himself for not realising the truth, for not even seeing it until months after Sleipnir’s birth.
He was heading down to the stables to collect his horse for a ride, needing to burn excess energy, when he’d run into his brother, nearly knocking him down. Thor good naturedly apologised, and was about to merely saunter past Loki when out the corner of his eye he caught the expression on Loki’s face.
Loki’s face was streaked with tears, and he looked furious and devastated at the same time.
Thor was instantly alert. “Loki, what has happened?”
“Leave me, Thor” Loki growled, attempting to stalk past him, but Thor prevented him with a firm grip to his arm.
“I cannot, brother. You cannot expect me to leave you like this.”
Loki looked down and didn’t say anything, and Thor put one hand on his shoulder and stared at his brother’s face until Loki looked up at him.
“Tell me, brother.”
“It doesn’t matter to you, Thor!”
“How will I know that if you do not tell me what apparently does not matter?”
Loki’s eyes blazed with a sudden angry and he violently shoved Thor away from him. “And since when do you care, Thor? There is no stopping him now!”
“Stopping who, Loki?”
“Father” Loki hissed. “He intends to bridle Sleipnir and use him as his next mount!”
Thor was surprised, to say the least. It hadn’t been what he was expecting, and he hadn’t thought about what his nephew would be doing in the future. He hadn’t seen him in a few weeks, truthfully, and he suddenly wondered how much his nephew had to have grown for Odin to be considering this.
Thor chose his words carefully. “That would be an honour for any horse, Loki.”
“Sleipnir is not any horse, Thor! He is my son! My son, and my father intends to use him as a steed” Loki yelled, anger and humiliation radiating from him.
“If you do not want this then why don’t you tell Father? I’m sure he would...”
“Do exactly as he likes, as he always does” Loki interrupted, and he turned away from Thor. “I know he’s angry about Sleipnir, but my son deserves better than to carry our father around all day. It’s not right that he be punished for me.”
“Punished? What are you talking about, Loki?”
Loki laughed, bitter and angry, and Thor suddenly got the feeling that he had missed something, something important.
And he was right.
He listened as Loki told him the truth, then, the real truth, and it horrified him.
Loki told him of how he’d told his parents about the pregnancy; Frigga had been warm, but Odin had been incredibly disappointed that Loki would get himself into such a mess. Loki told him about the way their father had shunned him throughout his pregnancy, and when Thor strained to remember he realised that yes, their father had been unusually cold during that time. He just hadn’t realised.
Loki told him about the way he’d hopefully introduced his son to their father, praying that Odin would see past the creature’s strange appearance and accept him as Frigga had, perhaps even love him the way Loki did. But Odin had merely nodded and asked that Loki be careful not to let anything like this happened again, and he had waved them away without even really acknowledging Sleipnir.
Loki told him about all the ways that Odin attempted to cut any connection between him and his son short, telling him that it was just a horse and he had better things to do than coddle the creature.
The worst, though, was Loki telling him what Odin had so recently told him.
‘The horse is sure to be fast, built the way he is. He cannot simply roam around Asgard unchecked, Loki. This way he will be of use to the realm.’
Loki had argued fiercely but Odin’s word was law, and he had ordered the stable masters to bridle Sleipnir so that Odin could begin training him as his next battle mount.
Thor sat, stunned, as Loki told him the truth of the past months, and his stomach sank to his feet.
All the while Thor’s life had been continuing as normal, Loki had been being belittled and made to feel inadequate by their father, and Thor had done nothing.
Worse, he had not even noticed.
“Brother, I am sorry.”
Even worse, he could not do anything to change it. He could, and would, speak with their father on the matter, but he knew that it was a battle he would lose.
And Loki knew that as well, because he merely scoffed and shoved past his brother, still in tears.
Thor let out a pained growl now, trying to shove away the unwelcome memories. That conversation had ruined something between he and his brother, and he knew that Loki had never really forgiven him for not noticing how badly he was struggling with their father during those months.
Thor had spoken with Odin, of course, and with Frigga. It turned out that Frigga had spoken on Loki’s behalf as well, but she had no more success than Thor. Odin refused to allow Loki to act as if being the mother of a damned horse was anything more than an embarrassment, and he simply told Thor that at least if he used Sleipnir as his own battle horse then some good had come of the situation.
It was one of the only times in his life that Thor ever remembered his father seeming unkind. Frigga had sadly told Thor that there was always a purpose to what Odin did, but Thor had never been able to see any purpose behind it.
He’d tried to mend what had been broken with Loki, but he’d failed in that, too. Loki visited Sleipnir frequently, and Thor always saw that the visits pained him. He had wanted Sleipnir to be free, not shut in the royal stables.
Truthfully, though, what hurt Thor most of all was that Loki would never allow himself to seek any comfort from his brother. And deep down he knew that that wasn’t just because of Loki’s pride, but because Loki could not forgive him for his acute failure to notice that anything was wrong, both during and after the pregnancy.
Thor had been so wrapped up in his own little world at the time; he saw that clearly now. Had the events unfolded now, after he’d met Jane, he liked to think that he would have been different. He hoped that if it were all happening now, he’d enquire after Loki and the baby’s health, he’d be more attentive during the birth, he’d visit his nephew after and make sure both he and Loki were actually alright.
But it was no use dwelling on what he might do now. It didn’t change that he hadn’t done any of that when it mattered.
Thor heaved a sigh as he realised that he could, however, change one thing. He could apologise to his friends for his actions, because he knew they had meant no harm.
The Avengers were gathered in the kitchen when Thor came to find them, multiple pizza boxes stacked on the table in front of them. Everyone was eating, and Steve and Tony seemed to be in the middle of a heated discussion about pizza toppings.
“Mushroom on pizza? You’re a national icon, Cap, that’s blasphemy!”
“This is coming from the man who thinks fruit belongs on pizza?”
Thor smiled tirely at the discussion, and waited in the doorway until Natasha noticed him and quietly cleared her throat to alert the others. They all turned to Thor, all falling silent.
“My friends” Thor nodded quietly. “I wish to apologise for how I left earlier. I did not mean to cause discomfort.”
The others shared meaningful glances before Clint shrugged and waved him over. “No worries, man. Come grab a slice.”
Thor did so, devouring a slice of pepperoni pizza far slower than he usually would.
The others instantly settled back into their conversation, and Thor listened to the usual chatter and banter. He debated internally over whether he should raise the issue with his friends and be honest with them.
Part of him wanted to talk about it. He selfishly wanted some guidance, some reassurance that he could not have known about what was really happening with Loki and his nephew, but he didn’t dare voice it. He didn’t deserve false reassurances and he didn’t want to put such a burden on his friends.
Besides, he ought to have known. He ought to have paid more attention to his brother, he ought to have looked out for his nephew. He had underestimated his father’s pride and sense of family appearance, and his brother had suffered for it. He wouldn’t ask his friends to try and justify that.
They wouldn’t want to discuss Loki anyway. They had never known him before New York’s attack, and though it pained Thor to know they all saw Loki as nothing more than a villain he understood their rationale.
He wondered if they would see Loki any differently, see him any differently, if they knew about Loki’s past. If they knew that Loki was a loving parent, that he’d been tormented and humiliated and belittled, would it make a difference to them?
Thor could have asked them, but he did not. It didn’t matter, not really, because it wouldn’t make any difference to Loki, and that was what actually counted.
And so Thor pushed down the anger and the guilt inside him and quietly ate pizza with his friends, promising himself silently that he’d never fail these people like he’d failed his brother. He would never ignore them and he would always be there for them, no matter what. After all, he was a different person now.
He was mentally promising himself that when he next returned to Asgard he would visit and spend some time with Sleipnir, take him out into the fields and tell him that he was sure Loki missed him, when a gentle voice caught his attention.
“Thor? You okay there?”
It was Bruce’s voice, bringing him out of his thoughts, quiet enough not to interrupt the loud discussion the others were having.
Thor nodded once, forcing himself to smile at the kind doctor. “Yes, my friend. All is well.”
And for Thor himself, that was true, he acknowledged with no small amount of guilt. Here with his friends on Midgard, with Jane waiting a few states over, he was well.
He just wished he could say the same for Loki.