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Raise Him Right

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If there was one fact that Thor was sure of, it was that Loki was dead. It wasn’t a fact he thought of lightly, though perhaps his demeanor said otherwise. He had always mourned in private and kept up rather cherry appearances with the rest of his team. They made him smile and laugh, so there was no need to overburden them with his childhood tales of Loki, or the little things he remembered and suffered over.

No, he’d held Loki as he died. His childhood playmate and best friend had died in his arms due to the gaping wound in his abdomen. It was a wound that even Thor couldn’t have prevented. He’d mourned- the second time in doing so, to be clear- over his beloved brother. But Loki was dead, and that was a fact.

Thor landed another solid punch on the training room punching bag. Each hit sounded dully in the empty room. The other six bags he’d busted laid on the other side of the floor, sand spilled everywhere and indented with the final blow from his fist. His current bag joined their fate with an unchecked punch as his mind treacherously thought of Loki’s laugh in the golden halls of Asgard, just hours before his-

Mister Odinson, you have met your daily quota for exercise today. May I recommend some stretches to help end your training session…

Thor panted into the warm air as J.A.R.V.I.S. began to list off different routinely stretches. He couldn’t help but grin up at the ceiling, for J. was the ultimate helping hand, even in the training room.

The cleaning bots emerged from their corner and came over to begin sweeping up the used bags and scattered sand, beeping dutifully as they worked. As he watched, Thor waved a dismissal, a towel thrown over his shoulder. “No thank you, J.A.R.V.I.S. I… I’m done for the day. If you could perhaps prepare the blender in the kitchen, however… that would be very much appreciated.”

Of course, sir, I’ll have the blender prepared right away. Will you be having another fruit smoothie today?

“Yes, I think so. Nothing better after a good training session, eh?” Even if J.A.R.V.I.S. didn’t have a physical representation to joke with, Thor could imagine the smile and chuckle the AI would have given. The slight flutter of the lights were testament enough.

No, I think not. Even Sir and Captain Rogers enjoy a smoothie or two after their own training sessions. The blender is prepared for whenever you’re ready, Mister Odinson.

“Thank you, J.A.R.V.I.S.,” Thor said as he passed the cleaning bots. They whirred goodbye and continued cleaning as J.A.R.V.I.S. called down an elevator.

It is no problem at all, sir.

Normally, the ride up to the Common Floor was uneventful. Thor was examining the new calluses on his hands while wiping away stray beads of sweat. His mind kept trying to treacherously replay snippets of Loki when he got absent-minded enough, such as his quips on the dark elf ship and the all too familiar glares Loki would shoot him from adolescence up. With little grimaces, he shoved the thoughts to the side, determined not to let his mind be bogged down.

Suddenly, the smooth jazz Tony insisted on playing cut out into static as a shudder ran through the building, rattling the elevator as it ascended. Thor leaned against one creaking steel wall as the shudders stopped as quickly as they had started. When the building refused to give another groan he looked up to the ceiling, the insufferable music cutting back in again.

“J.A.R.V.I.S., what was that? It is unlike the tower to quake so violently.”

Thor was met with silence. Also unusual, for Tony had explained long ago that J.A.R.V.I.S. always responded in a timely matter. Over the four years that Thor had frequented Earth that statement had upheld, and the silence that surrounded the recovering elevator ride worried him.

Apologies, Mister Odinson. The tower has a visitor. Sir and Agent Barton both require your presence on the Common Floor. The visitor claims to be a friend of yours, and both Sir and Agent Barton want you to confirm so.

A friend? Thor furrowed his brows. Outside of the Avengers, he didn't have many friends on Earth. There was Jane, Darcy, Selvig, and Darcy’s assistant, but otherwise, he couldn’t think of anyone. Not to mention, had they been the cause of the building shuddering? Nobody had the strength other than he or the Hulk to do so, and Thor could think of no one else.

“Well, I was going to the Common Floor anyways. Who is this ‘friend’? Did they give a name?”

A pause. The lights flickered blue overhead as an all too familiar voice was relayed over the speakers. “My name is Fandral the Dashing, and I’m here to talk to Thor. It’s a matter of utmost importance that he speaks with me.

Fandral? Fandral was on Earth? Thor grinned brightly as J.A.R.V.I.S. replayed the voice clip again. After such a tormenting workout and betrayals of his own mind, it would do him well to trade stories with an old friend.

“Fandral is a good friend of mine! Tell Tony and Clint that I’ll be there in a moment. Your elevators are slow, after all.”

Of course, Mister Odinson.

By the time Thor got to the Common Floor, Clint and Tony were leaning against the kitchen counter. Fandral stood across from them, a rather large bundle in his arms. Outside the glass windows, Thor could make out the insignia of the Bifrost on Tony’s balcony, which looked a little worse for wear. That might have been the cause of the ominous creaking in the elevator if he were honest.

"Fandral, hello!" Thor immediately called, not even a step outside the elevator. His cheerful grin lessened at the awkward scene before him, though his wave of greetings was returned as he strode over.

All three perked up at the sight of him. “Hey Thor,” Tony greeted, “Your uh… friend here just kinda teleported onto my balcony? Not the coolest thing to do, since it almost broke, but I’ll let it go since it’s still in one piece.”

“Scared the shit out of me,” Clint laughed. He pointed over towards the sitting area where a video game looked to be paused. “I was playing Dishonored when a fucking rainbow exploded out of my peripherals, and then the god damn tower groaned like it’d been stabbed. I thought we were gonna go down, then here this guy is, standing there like nothing happened!”

Fandral shared a knowing look with Thor as he chuckled lightly. “Aye, the Bifrost isn’t to be underestimated. But Thor, it is great to see you again! I wish I came bearing better news but... Well, you know how it is.” The ear-to-ear smile he tried to sport didn’t quite convince Thor, though he tacked it up to the stress of whatever news he brought.

Thor waved his arm towards the counter where Tony and Clint were standing. “Aye, of course. Please, come sit down at the counter. You can tell me what happened while I fix the two of us something to drink.” Smoothies, obviously. Thor wasn’t sure if Fandral had tried one before, though his charming shieldmate always had a tooth for fruity foods or beverages.

As Tony and Clint moved to the sitting area, Fandral instead kept rather quiet as Thor prepared their drinks. He seemed much more intent on worrying over the bundle in his arms, checking on it under the cloak that’d been pulled over it. He smoothed the fabric down, like a mother worrying over her cold child, as Thor slid over a pink strawberry smoothie.

“It's called a smoothie, a concoction made of fruit, ice, sugar, and milk. They’re rather good; you’d like it. These are strawberry smoothies. But anyways, the news. Does it pertain to the, uh, parcel you’ve brought?” Thor motioned to the bundle, finally pulling attention to it. Fandral nodded as he took a tentative sip of his smoothie.

“That’s quite good, actually. But yes, this ah… parcel, you said, is related to the news. It’s not a long story, per say, but it’s important you pay attention. Oh, and keep this in mind, would you? You said that Loki was dead, correct?”

Loki? What did he have to do with the news? Thor pressed his lips together and stared his old friend down. First New York, then the search for Loki’s scepter after the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D., and now this news? Honestly, all the trouble Loki’d caused in his final years were beginning to truly grate on Thor.

With perhaps a bitter tone, he said, “Yes, he is. Died two years ago on Svartálfheim while he fought the Dark Elves. You helped us escape Asgard, remember?”

Fandral nodded, his eyes darting from his drink to Thor’s gaze intermittently. “I remember that well, yes. I’ll begin with this: a few afternoons ago, Odin was going through his hearings as usual. It was about an hour from sunset when Amora the Enchantress entered for her turn. Do you remember her? She was Loki’s friend for a time, your ex, I believe-”

“Well she was yours too, aye?” Thor sipped innocently at the lip of his cup as Fandral blushed to the tips of his ears.

“I- okay, she is, but that’s not the point! She went in for her hearing but demanded that the guards leave her and Odin be. They tried to tell her no but he agreed. So, all the guards in the room left and they closed the door. Five minutes later there she left screaming, and that was only after the guards barged their way into the room. On the throne they found-”

“Bro is that a baby?

The two gods jumped in their seats as Clint popped up behind Fandral’s shoulder. He was grabbing the extra game controller from the basket when he’d noticed. Thor blinked as the bundle in Fandral’s arms squirmed. A tiny hand poked out, reaching for the purple-tinted glasses that gleamed on Clint’s nose.

“.... Yes, this is a baby,” Fandral drawled. He shifted them and tucked the hand back into the cloak. Apparently they’d woken up from a nap, for now they refused to stay bundled. Two tiny feet poked out and kicked as a frustrated whine built in their throat. Almost expertly, Fandral hushed them down from the verge of a tantrum.

Thor took one look at the baby and knocked back the rest of his smoothie. He pushed away the cold glass and ignored Clint’s sudden complaining about his inability to get a brain freeze. When Fandral said he brought news, Thor expected it to be about a battle or a quest, not something so serious. He’d been away from Asgard for too long, obviously.

Fandral bounced the baby in his arms, trying to smile when he caught Thor’s gaze. Keyword try, for Thor wasn’t convinced. The dark bags under his eyes were off-putting, since Fandral was never one to neglect his beauty sleep.

Now that he thought about it, Fandral looked a little less put together than he normally did. His fluffy, cared for blond hair looked unbrushed and limp. His leathers and armor looked as though they were hastily thrown on, as did his weapon’s belt, which had sagged on his frame when he’d first been standing across from Clint and Tony. There had been no quips or jabs when Fandral had seen him, instead his words replaced by a stressed smile that didn’t reach the lost twinkle in his eyes.

Thor pressed his lips together grimly as the baby gave a soft cry. “So, this baby is Odin, correct? With Mother gone I assume I’m needed back in Asgard, to rule in Father’s place until he is grown again.” When Fandral shook his head, Thor frowned. He flicked the condensation droplets off the empty smoothie cup in frustrated confusion. “Then why are you here with a baby, Fandral?”

His blonde friend shrugged as he pulled the cloak’s hood off the babbling baby. A head full of black hair was revealed, along with a string of happy giggles. That tiny hand reached out again, this time to grab Fandral’s mustache. Despite the cute actions in front of him, Thor couldn’t bring himself to smile and laugh along. What happened to Odin? How was Loki involved?

“To be honest with you, Thor,” Fandral started, “Heimdall found Odin last night. He was here in New York, at an elder person’s home. We got him out and brought him back, though some of the healers are worried-”

Thor rolled his eyes and threw his hands into the air. “Fandral. What are you trying to tell me? None of this is making sense!” He at least had the sense to flush at his sudden outburst. He folded his arms and growled, “You tell me that Odin had a hearing with Amora, yet you found a baby- or something in his place on the throne. You tell me that Odin was in New York despite being in Asgard, and you tell me Loki, who is dead, was involved in this.” Thor threw his hands in the air again as the facts continued to not solve the mystery equation Fandral had given him.

“I need you to tell me straight up, Fandral. What’s happening?”

Fandral groaned into the Common Floor’s cool, tension-filled air. He ignored the curious scuffles of Clint and Tony in the background for instead peering soothingly at the baby. There may have been a strong hand on his mustache but that was little the price to pay when his tiny charge giggled that brightly.

Fandral.” Thor interrupted. They looked at the baby before locking gazes, demand and tension mixing into an uneasy cocktail.

"Thor, you must let me finish. I'm trying to tell you that Odin wasn't... Odin. It was Loki."

Thor raised a skeptical eyebrow at Fandral's words. Truly, he must have been joking. The baby on his shoulder moved again, a whine as he squirmed, and Thor was given a view of exceptionally green eyes. Jade green, a deep and curious gaze; eyes that Thor knew only Loki to have.

Suddenly, the mountain of memories that Thor had been avoiding all day tumbled down on him. Loki camping when they were twelve, Loki laughing over dinner, Loki crying when he fell and scraped his knee, Loki jumping with excitement over his first advanced spell, Loki falling from the Bifrost, Loki alive in New York, Loki dying from their idiotic plan-

Thor squeezed his eyes tight and pressed the heels of his palms to them. He could feel the wet, hot tears that brushed against his fingers, even if there were only a few. Through a sputtered breath he hissed, "How are you so sure that that's Loki, and this isn't a scheme or someone else's sick sense of humor? I watched him die, Fandral."

"I know that, Thor! Sif, the other warriors, and I have been trying to figure this out all week. Why else would I keep him attached to my hip? Besides-" Fandral leaned forward, a whisper to his voice as he said, "-I don't think it's normal for a baby's skin to turn from blue to white, now is it?"

“His skin did what now?” Clint balked from the sitting area. He’d moved back to his game a while ago, and Thor could see the gears working in his brain, the steam practically rising from his ears. “He’s adopted, right? Jootoon?”

“Jotun,” Tony corrected without hesitance. “That’s how you pronounce it, right?” It must have been his strong memory or he’d been going through the old reports while they looked for Loki’s scepter, since Thor wasn’t sure when the last time they talked about Loki’s adoption was.

Fandral eyed them wearily. Loki gurgled on his shoulder as he gazed at the two curious men. “Did you tell them?” He asked Thor, concerned for Loki’s safety. Midgard didn’t know about the nine realms, so perhaps they wouldn’t think negatively about Loki for his heritage.

“I told them after the Chitauri attack in 2012. Tony is known as a genius and Clint had… an intimate exchange with Loki back then,” Thor explained, voice clogged as he wiped away his stray tears. His awkward chuckle died when Clint folded his arms along the back of the couch.

“‘Intimate’ is a fucking word for what he did to me- what he did to dozens of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents,” Clint growled. He couldn’t see past the purple tint in his glasses, but Thor could feel the squinted stare that the archer was giving him.

“Well,” Fandral uncomfortably laughed, “You’ll be pleased to know that Loki here is perfectly harmless. Just a lot of drooling, sleeping, pooping, and giggling. He’s a normal, healthy baby.”

“As normal as any healthy alien baby would be, I’m assuming,” Tony said. He ignored Fandral’s squint and the roll of Thor’s eyes.

Deciding to officially butt into the conversation, Clint hopped over the couch and marched back up to the counter. He leaned against it and raised an eyebrow at their visitor, a finger poking Loki’s forehead. They all ignored the giggles as he asked, “So why’d you bring him? I’m sure it would have been easier to have this conversation without babysitting.”

That was something that had been nagging Thor, though only slightly. While Fandral wasn’t terrible with children, as shown by the example in front of him, Volstagg was the one who had a proper family. He’d raised two daughters and knew how to talk and interact with kids. Even Sif seemed more experienced with them than Fandral did.

“I was placed in charge of Loki,” Fandral said. “You see, when we found out that ‘Odin’ wasn’t Odin, Heimdall immediately searched across the Nine Realms. He found him in New York, so Volstagg and Hogunn went to bring him home. Sif and some guardsmen went in search of Amora to bring her back to the castle for interrogation. I would have gone instead, but, well… Seeing as I’m her ex, we figured she wouldn’t take well to seeing me.”

Thor couldn’t help but chuckle at the thought of Amora seeing Fandral march up with a hand full of guards. It wouldn’t have ended well at all, if old memories recalled anything of use. He vividly remembered flying pans, snakes, honey, and chicken feathers the day after Fandral had broken up with her. It’d been a similar experience with himself, but it was blatantly obvious that Fandral had gotten the shorter stick when it came to Amora.

Tony came up behind them and leaned on the counter on Fandral’s other side. He too observed the drooling baby as he asked, “So now what? You just gonna take Tiny Trouble over here back up to Asgard and raise him again? Magic him back to his angst-ridden adult self?”

“That’s a good question, actually,” Fandral said. He turned back to Thor and smiled with snark that must have been hidden by his tired demeanor. Thor did not like the way he was being looked at so expectantly.

“Oh my god,” Tony said. He looked between the two gods and laughed in disbelief. “Nonononono! We can not have a baby in the tower! No siree!”

“It’s not that we can’t have a baby in here, I’m sure. It’s more like we can’t have a baby Loki in the tower,” Clint agreed. He frowned in disgust at the saliva-covered hand that Loki popped out of his mouth to wave at him.

“Oh please, have mercy,” Fandral snorted. He pushed off the stool and went around to Thor’s side of the counter, holding out his charge with an eagerness Thor hadn’t seen in him since before he’d arrived. “Since Asgard was a terrible, toxic home for Loki in the first place, we thought that obviously he would be raised here on Earth, where people are more accepting of what’s different. And who would be better guardians than Thor and the Mighty Avengers? He’ll be in great hands.”

Loki stared at Thor with curiosity in his deep green eyes. He smiled, a high pitched squeal leaving him as he tried to reach out to touch the shiny, fluffy long hair in front of him. Thor leaned away as Fandral held him out further, only giving Loki a better chance of grabbing his hair.

Thor eyed the baby in front of him cautiously. “You’re sure this is Loki?” If that were truly him…. Norns, he wanted so badly to believe Fandral, to hold Loki close and protect him from the dangers of the world as he grew up again, to relive old memories or make bad ones better. He wanted to raise Loki right, but only- and only if- this was the Loki that had been lost to him. Otherwise, who was he to change someone else’s wrong into a right?

“By the Norns, Thor, if I was 100% utterly and completely sure that this was Loki then I’m sure this entire conversation would have gone differently, that this entire situation would have been handled differently. But I’m not sure. All I know is that this baby has black hair and green eyes, and that his skin changed from blue to white as soon as I picked him up. As far as we can tell, this is Loki.” Fandral cocked his head to the side of Loki’s to catch Thor’s gaze, pleading. “Come on, Thor. I know you want to hold him. My arms hurt too, so if you could speed this up a little-”

“Shut up,” Thor said with a huff. He replaced Fandral’s hands under Loki’s arms and held him against his shoulder.

If he were completely and absolutely honest, it felt right to tuck Loki close, to hear his babbling in his ear as he observed the kitchen over his shoulder. Loki was small, about the length of his arm from fingertip to elbow, and he fit comfortably there when held. After holding him as he died it was refreshing and comforting to hold him as he lived.

“Wait wait wait, we’re going to let him keep the villain baby? Who could probably, at random, magic into his adult self?” Clint asked, eyes peeking over the rim of his glasses incredulously. He watched the interaction with an angry tug on the corners of his lips. An arm waved about as he said, “I’ve had a few magical encounters thanks to this job, and I don’t know about you, but they always end badly. I’m not going toe to toe with this sociopath again! Nobody should!”

Tony nodded along understandingly, though his lips pressed together in a contemplating frown. “I agree,” he started with a wave of his hand, “but we’ve been letting Natasha keep you, so perhaps we should let Thor keep him. Sure, Loki’s a force to be reckoned with, but even I have to acknowledge that there isn’t much mischief he can get up into as a helpless baby.”

“Gaahhhbrrrrrb,” Loki seemed to say in agreement. Thor bounced him as a distraction as Clint fumed on the other side of the counter.

“Do not compare me to him! I have done nothing to be compared to his likes. He shouldn’t even be here, he should be back up in Asgard where they can reverse this and then put him on trial for the trouble he seemed to be orchestrating. I thought he was dead, you know, and it turns out he’s still out there wreaking havoc!”

“I held him as he died,” Thor interrupted. He ignored the three pairs of eyes by grasping the tiny hand that Loki kept trying to pull on his hair with. “I felt a piece of me die too, because he died in battle trying to do the right thing. I lost him on the same day as my mother, just hours afterward. It was my fault. I was the one who dragged him out of the dungeons to help me.

“And it haunted me, I think. Everywhere I turned afterward reminded me of what I’d lost. And then we began searching for his scepter since Hydra took it after S.H.I.E.L.D. fell. It was like I was cursed, always to be mourning or wishing that I could have helped him, that I could have prevented his fate. But here he is, and he’s… okay. Going to be okay.” Thor looked up to them with a fiery, determined gleam in his eyes. “I’m going to right the wrongs that I did to him. And if you think it’s your place to say that I cannot, then I fear I have something else to say to you, Barton.”

The kitchen fell into a tense silence. A gurgle by Loki broke it, but by then Clint had stormed out with a few mumbles of angry disgust and a stomp in his step. Tony and Fandral exchanged looks as Thor rearranged the cloak about his baby brother.

Tony swiped away the empty smoothie cups and deposited them in the sink with a heavy groan. “How about this,” he said as he walked back over, “we have an Avengers meeting later. I’m not going to separate you from him, but you’ll definitely be his main caregiver. Any trouble he gets up to while here is technically on you, with him being your responsibility and all. Sound fair?”

Thor nodded mutely. Fandral clapped him on the back as Tony left to go work on some upgrades down in his lab.

“By the looks of it, things will be going smoothly down here. Sadly, I do believe I’ve overstayed my welcome. I have to go back up and help the search for Amora.” He shuddered at the thought of flying pans and snakes. “I’m sure we’ll find her, though I’m hoping Sif will have better luck than I. If I see her back at the castle I’ll have her accompany me, Hogun, and Volstagg for another visit soon. We found your old chest full of baby and toddler clothes, so we’ll be dropping a few things off.”

“That sounds great, friend. I’ll see you soon then.” Fandral clapped him on the back once more before starting for the glass door to Tony’s balcony.

With a baby now on his hip, Thor watched the rainbow bridge whisk Fandral away, only to be replaced with the view of New York's skyline with the beginnings of a sunset. Loki cried at the groan that the balcony’s structural supports gave. It truly did sound like the building was being stabbed, as Clint had said. Thor sighed and went back to the sitting area, Loki nestled on his chest as he turned off Clint’s video game.

It was going to be a long next few months, and he was going to need all the strength and luck he could get.

Chapter Text

On a blue-grey New York morning, Thor stared through the slightly parted curtains with a glazed look in his eyes. His blankets pooled over his legs and sat unused to the left of his arm, instead Loki and his much, much smaller blanket draped over his chest. Said baby finally snoozed peacefully, his chest rising with each breath. Thor cupped his feet in his larger hands and tucked the blankets better around his brother. If Loki woke up now then Thor might actually break down crying.

As the morning carried on Thor remained there, half asleep, with Loki tucked close on his chest. The sunshine eventually peaked through the day’s thick clouds for but an hour, but it was enough to wake Thor up. He stared around the orange sunlit room blearily, recollecting what’d happened yesterday to fuel the strange irritation he felt dwelling deep down.

------

Around nine that night before, Thor had settled back down onto the couch with Loki almost dozing on his shoulder. The sitting room was a wide, luxurious space for watching movies, playing games, and any other sort of group activity that the game/coffee table was used for. Three couches faced off to the mounted TV on the wall, one of which Thor sat on the end of. Tony jumped over the back of the couch to the right and settled in the middle. Clint appeared out of nowhere, refusing to meet anyone’s gaze as he sat on the couch across from Tony. The elevator dinged and the rest of the Avengers filed in, laughing at some old joke as they took their seats.

“Alright!” Tony had announced with a clap of his hands, “Welcome everyone to our latest Avengers meeting. Today on the menu we have the topic of Loki.”

A collective heaved sigh went on throughout the room. Thor raised an eyebrow as Loki shifted on his shoulder, as if on cue.

Bruce scooted forward to the edge of his seat, hands rubbing together uneasily as he eyed the rest of his teammates. “Not that I’m tired of talking about Loki and alien invasions and ways to stop them- and by that I mean I am- but what has warranted another Loki/alien meeting? Also, why does Thor have a baby?”

That got a few heads turned. Thor snorted as Steve tilted his head in sudden confusion and Natasha raised an eyebrow. Clint folded his arms and grumpily tried to stare Loki down from the farthest edge of the left couch. Tony smiled diplomatically as he waved an arm in his general direction.

“Thor, buddy ‘ol pal, mind giving us a few introductions?” He asked, eyelashes batted pleadingly.

Thor had sighed but sat up anyways. Loki whined on his shoulder, the cloak Fandral had draped on him falling off. It had been re-wrapped around him to make sure that the summer breeze didn’t bother him, and as it fell it revealed his shock of black hair and big green eyes.

“My fellow teammates, I’d like to introduce Loki. Loki, this is the Avengers. Say hello.” He picked up an arm and waved it. At least Tony chuckled, and a smile graced Bruce’s lips. “I’ve been placed in care of Loki until he’s fully grown again, so, for the time being, he’ll be living here with us.”

While the room hadn’t exploded with exclamations of support or anger, Thor remembered the tension setting in within seconds. Suddenly Clint was much more pronounced in the way he staunchly stared down Loki, chin tilted up and arms crossed. The gears that turned in Steve’s brain were transparent within his eyes, in how he clasped his hands in front of him diplomatically when Loki shifted again. Natasha turned to look out the window, thinking much in the same fashion as Steve. Bruce looked taken aback, though he and Tony seemed perhaps the least disgruntled, surprisingly.

Nobody said anything for the longest while. Then, Steve nodded decisively.

“Alright, well, at least that explains the topic of the meeting. Thor, how’d he get turned into a baby?”

“Amora the Enchantress,” Thor said with a reserved bite of anger. “Loki was acting as Odin and held a hearing with her. Obviously, he didn’t agree with something she said or wanted and this was the result. While Amora isn’t as powerful a sorcerer as he is, I’m sure Loki was drained from the constant illusion and wasn’t expecting her magical attack.”

“And the real Odin?” Natasha asked. She eyed Loki for a moment before her gaze flickered back up to Thor’s own, chin held in her fingers as she thought. Thor had no doubt that she was spinning a hundred different possibilities in her clever mind.

“He was in an elder person’s home here in New York. Heimdall found him soon after Amora left Loki in this state.”

“Is your dad alright?” Steve asked. Thor nodded, relieved to see some of the tension leave his friend’s shoulders. He was surprised that by saying it out loud he found some relief, too.

“My father is alright, though the healers are concerned nonetheless. He is getting old, after all. He and Asgard are once more in safe hands.”

“What about Loki?” Asked Bruce, who eyed Loki with both concern and curiosity. At Clint’s scowl, he blushed lightly in his cheeks. “I-I mean, I’m sure he’s okay, being a sorcerer and all, but is he a healthy baby? Do you even know how old he is right now?”

Thor had peered down at his baby brother, meeting his jade green eyes with his own bright blue. Loki breathed out through his mouth and settled his head once again under Thor’s chin, content as the cloak was brought back over his head and shoulders. Thor started to rub circles into his back as he drifted off to sleep, a frown marred into his features.

“I do not know how old he is, nor how healthy a baby he is. I just know that he’s smiling and laughing and napping as healthily as any baby would be.”

Bruce smiled warmly. “Well, maybe I can give him a check-up, run a few scans to see how he’s doing. Nothing intrusive or intense of course, but that way we can get a baseline incase something happens.”

A wave of unknown relief washed over Thor then. He returned Bruce’s small smile with one of his own. “I would be eternally grateful, Banner. Thank you.”

“So we’re just going to let him keep the baby?” Everyone turned to look at Clint, whose scowl had deepened considerably.

Tony leaned back into the couch and shrugged. “What else are we supposed to let him do, Clint? We’re not sending him away, we’re not that cruel. Anyways, Loki’s a helpless baby. There’s not much mischief he can get into.”

Clint rolled his eyes at the nonchalance of Tony’s tone. “Sure, okay. But I raise you all this: what if he’s the one who's behind this? Made himself look like the victim so he could get his slimy ass into our tower and learn everything he needs to know? Then BAM! He takes us all out and the world is in trouble all over again!”

Steve crossed his arms and leaned back into the couch too. Thor remembered the furrow of his brow intensifying as he finally shook his head. “That’s a little extreme, Barton. I think it’s a good idea to keep Loki here since we all know what the result was the last time he was raised in Asgard. That way we can keep an eye on him and made sure that he’s healthy.”

“So we’re just going to wipe his ass and clean up after him?” Clint growled, “He’s Loki! He killed on our land and he tried to invade us! Do you really want to wipe shit from the ass of the dude who killed people that you know?”

Clint,” Natasha warned. Thor hugged Loki closer when he noticed the that Barton had curled his hands into fists. Distantly, thunder rumbled off as a warning to the people down below.

“Well do you want to burp and feed him?” Clint challenged. He looked at everyone for an answer. When no one spoke against his hostility he smirked, which Thor couldn’t help but immediately greet with his own frown. “I guess Thor will be taking sole care of him then?”

“Well yeah,” Tony said. He snorted, looking over the team with a hint of annoyance in his eyes. “Clint, that was the whole point of this meeting. We were just going to introduce Loki to the rest of the team and let them know that he was in the Tower. Anyone who wants to help Thor can, but since he’s his little brother, of course Thor is taking care of him.”

“Agreed,” Thor rumbled. Outside it started to rain as the clouds formed quickly overhead, more thunder rumbling into the atmosphere. “Any help would be very much appreciated, so I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. However, I am not forcing anyone to give up their time. And, while he did not leave positive lasting impressions when he was here first, I assure you I will not tolerate any negative actions towards Loki in this state.” He side-eyed Clint for emphasis but said nothing more.

Clint made a noise of offense but was ignored by Steve’s resounding clap to signal the end of the meeting. “So to recap, Loki was transformed into a baby by someone called Amora the Enchantress on Asgard while he was disguised as Odin. He’s now in Thor’s care and living with us until he’s grown up. Bruce will do a few light tests and we’ll keep him safe. Anything else?”

Natasha waved her hand to jump back into the conversation.“Are we keeping him from the public eye?”

Thor nodded, careful not to jostle Loki in his hold. “Yes, or at least right now. I don’t want to see the media making jibes and shouting their opinions for a month straight. I also do not want Fury to know. I don’t want him and a tiny band of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents trying to take him away.”

“Understandable. All the attention from either party would probably be too much for you and Loki anyways,” Tony said. He of all people would know.

Clint squirmed in his seat as he frustratedly looked out the window. “I can’t believe we’re actually doing this… ”

“Well, what are we going to do, Clint?” Tony snapped, “We literally have no say in this! If Thor is going to take care of him then he’s going to take care of him. We're not the ones making the decisions here.”

Thor nodded at Tony, and noted the concealed frustration that his warm eyes held. “However uncomfortable it may be for some you of, Loki is staying here. I understand that some of you may feel discomfort with him in the tower. He didn’t have very positive interactions with any of you, but please withhold your judgment until after he’s grown. The Loki that I know is not the one that you’ve all met.” Loki snuggled into his shoulder then, preparing to go to bed. It was late, after all, and Loki had had a busy day. Thor felt himself smile, fond and tiny, as he tucked his brother closer into his arm. “I respect that some of you are uncomfortable, so there is no need to worry about helping if it will only harm you. All I ask is that you treat him kindly at this time.”

The mood in the room had lessened into something more understandable and benign. When nobody else had anything to say, Steve disbanded the meeting. Clint huffed and went down to the training room, Natasha following after cooly. Tony went down to his lab and Steve turned on the nightly news. Bruce led Thor down to the medbay where he checked Loki out.

Fortunately for them, Loki seemed to be a healthy baby. Bruce couldn’t determine how old he was, sadly, but together they deduced he was around six to nine months in comparison to a human baby in motor skills. He could sit up on his own and roll from his back to his stomach without help, crawl, and laughed and smiled and babbled whenever talked to. Already he seemed quite familiar with Thor, as he looked at him and giggled when Bruce was checking him over.

With a clean bill of health, Thor had wrapped Loki back up in his cloak and rode the elevator down to Tony’s lab. The clothes that Fandral had dressed Loki in weren’t going to be sufficient in the long term, of course, and Thor had no diapers, wipes, or any type of baby essentials. Ever the aide to help, Tony had such basic essentials postmated to the Tower and even promised to have Happy take him shopping in the morning.

Everything seemed well and dandy until around midnight. Thor was awake, one of Tony’s Starkpads in hand as he read up on six to nine-month-old babies. Loki was asleep in the crook of his left arm, chest rising with every puff of breath. He was oblivious to the low audio videos that his older brother played and the distant sound of late night drivers down below.

What did wake him, however, was the half-muffled BOOM that resounded throughout the facility.

Loki had flinched in Thor’s arm. Thor blinked as jade green eyes met his, then panicked as tears filled those eyes and a cry built in his throat. A full-on wail of despair rose from Loki and Thor quickly threw the Starkpad down to calm him, albeit just as emotionally stricken as his baby brother.

It took an hour to get Loki to fall asleep again.

J.A.R.V.I.S. was helpful in where the explosion came from. Tony was apparently having a few troubles with making new Iron Man armors and improvements. Something about the coding not working, or a short circuit. Either way, the result had been an explosion that not even the fifteen floors between Thor’s room and Tony’s lab could muffle. The explosions went off three more times through the night, evidence of Tony’s latest allnighter, which meant that Thor had to soothe Loki back to sleep just as many.

So, when daylight finally breached his curtains for that single hour that the clouds permitted, Thor groaned as loud as he dared to let himself into his pillow. It was early, too early in fact. Steve was probably up and out for his run, Natasha at the gym. Tony was still down in his lab but Clint and Bruce were probably sleeping.

All that taken into consideration, and irritation pushed aside to be handled at a later date, that meant it was a perfect time to go shopping for Loki.

“J.A.R.V.I.S., could you have Happy prepared for that shopping trip in about fifteen minutes?” Thor looked up to the ceiling as he got out of bed and tugged on a shirt. Loki slept peacefully in his swaddles, thankfully.

Of course, Mister Odinson. Would you like me to have Sir send up his card for you to use like promised? And for Loki’s morning bottle to be made?

Thor grinned, eyes closed in pure relief. “Oh J.A.R.V.I.S., that would be wonderful.

------

“Ugh, I think that’s the last of them,” Happy said with a groan. He hunched over with his hands on his knees as his breath and strength returned to him. Thor leaned likewise on the counter, looking over the literal sea of white plastic bags and boxes that lined the Common Floor’s floor.

“Babaaaaaaaahhh!”

“Hello Loki,” Tony grinned. He sat on a stool, Loki on his lap, who was also trying to grab his nose. Thor grinned when Tony repeated the phrase for the sixty-fifth time and blew raspberries into Loki’s palm, grinning even bigger when Loki went into a giggle fit.

After coming up the elevator for the first time, Loki in one of Thor’s arms and six bags in another, Tony had offered to watch him. He was taking a rare lunch break from his lab while reading over some debriefs that J.A.R.V.I.S. had forcibly notified him of. Since taking Loki, Thor and Happy had made about four trips back down to the parking garage. The Common Floor practically had rolling dunes in baby toys, foods, and essentials.

“Thank you, Happy!” Thor said as he clapped the man on the back. Happy weazed and stumbled but still managed to flash him a thumbs up.

“Thanks, Hap!” Tony chimed in as the elevator dinged and departed. He continued to play with Loki as Thor took a seat on the nearby stool.

“I would also like to thank you too, my friend. I realize that all these supplies are not cheap, so it was very generous of you to lend me your card,” Thor said. He tickled Loki on his side so that way they both could hear another round of excited giggles.

“Nah, don’t worry about it!” Tony waved him off, “It’s important that we have these things if Loki here is going to be staying with us. Hey, I’ll go send Dum-E up and he’ll help you with the bags. Drop them off on your floor, right?”

Thor nodded as he took Loki back. “Yes, preferably. I’m going to turn a guest room into Loki’s room.”

“Alright Big Guy, I’ll send him up.” Tony hopped off the stool and flashed the brother duo two finger guns as he moonwalked into the returned elevator.

Thor watched him go with a tired, yet content grin. He stood up with Loki on his hip and stretched, a pleasurable whine leaving his lips at the feeling of tightened muscle. He hadn’t had time to work out, and with all the shopping bags on the floor, it seemed he’d be getting one anyways. It’d be a challenge, Loki in one arm, but it was more than do-able.

Two trips later and a helping claw from Dum-E, Thor was hefting three bags into his arm when the tower gave an ominous creak. Rainbow colors flashed just out of his peripherals and highlighted the sleek metal designs in the kitchen and on the hardwood floors. Thor turned around to see the Warriors Three and Sif on the balcony, a large, paint-flaking chest carried on their shoulders like in a casket procession.

“Thor!” Fandral greeted, waving his free arm. His words were muffled from the thick window glass that separated them, yet Thor could hear the enthusiasm in his voice purely from knowing him for so long. Not only that, but he looked both happier and healthier too; his armor on straight, hair combed and flowing in the wind, eyes bright with no dark spots detected. Even his grin stretched comfortably on his colored cheeks.

“Aye, hello friends,” Thor called with a grin of his own. He dropped the bags and went out to open the balcony doors so the chest could make it through. Loki stared on curiously from his shoulder as they entered the tower and threw down their load with ease.

“Is this the one with our childhood goods?” Thor asked as he leaned over to analyze it.

“Would be the very one!” Volstagg heartily laughed, “We snuck a look just to be sure. There are a few outfits I remember you both wearing when you were young!”

Thor laughed likewise. Volstagg was a couple hundred years older, and if memory served correctly, then there were a few times Thor remembered seeing him in training when walking the grounds with his father. There were probably outfits that Thor hadn’t seen in centuries, buried under layers of dust and memories. It would be amusing to pick through the chest and see what his mother, Norns bless her soul, had packed away.

“What’s with the bags and boxes?” Sif asked, pointing towards the sea. Dum-E was currently dragging two hefty-looking bags back towards the elevator, leaving much of the pile still intact.

Thor raised Loki higher in his grasp. “Those would be essentials for Loki here. Diapers, wipes, food, blankets, toys, a few summer clothes, etc. Tony had a few things delivered last night, but that was only to tide us over.”

Fandral groaned as he flopped onto the closest couch. The rest of his teammates followed likewise, the four of them piled atop one another like tired puppies. Thor couldn’t help but chuckle at the thought as he and Loki took a seat on one of the other couches.

“He adjusting well?” Fandral asked, vaguely motioning his hand towards Loki. He had to throw Volstagg’s arm off his face so he could see.

“Well enough, I suppose. How’s the search for Amora?”

Hogun groaned. “Too long.”

“We keep finding her trail, but it always disappears or ends before we can find her,” Sif explained with a dreary sigh. “She isn’t as powerful a sorcerer as Loki, yet she hides just as well as him. Even the magicians that we’ve taken with us are having trouble tracking her, which says a lot. They aren’t royal magicians for nothing, you know.”

Thor hummed, brows furrowed together despairingly. He’d hoped that by the time Fandral came back that he’d have some answers, or at the least news that Amora had been caught. He shouldn’t be surprised or disappointed, he tried to tell himself, for Amora was known for disappearing and reappearing whenever she wanted.

“I want to know where she is and why she turned Loki into a baby,” Volstagg pondered airily. He waved his free hand around as he said, “I mean, what warranted such a spell? Obviously he disagreed with something she was talking about or asking for.”

“How can we be sure this is a punishment?” Hogun asked, voice a low rumble. He could always be trusted upon to look at all sides of a problem and shed light to such areas. One had to look at every piece of a puzzle to solve it, after all.

Fandral scoffed beside him. “How can this not be a punishment? We all saw what happened when Thor and I broke up with her. She thinks that Loki deserved this for some reason. She’s her own judge, jury, and executioner, so who knows how long this could drag on for.”

Sif shook her head in silent agreement as she shifted into a proper sitting position, that way she could get a better look at Asgard’s youngest prince. Hogun grunted as she nudged him closer against Fandral in doing so, which she ignored as Loki babbled into Thor’s shoulder.

“Hey little guy,” She smiled. Loki mimicked her back, though it was partially hidden as he pressed further against Thor’s shirt.

“So he is adjusting well then? The rest of your Avengers; how are they handling this?” Sif continued. She looked over the sitting area as if one of them would pop out and say hello. Thor didn’t blame her; Fandral had probably retold his hour of dropping off Loki and explained Clint’s disdain, perhaps even Tony’s beginning reluctance.

“They’re handling this well enough, I suppose. Clint is the only one who seems fully against having him in the tower, let alone on Earth if someone where to ask. Tony seemed reluctant but has been immensely helpful thus far. Bruce has been accepting and gave Loki a check-up last night, and Steve and Natasha seem rather neutral.”

“So he’s safe then?” Volstagg asked, a brow raised curiously. Thor chuckled his affirmation.

“Loki is in great hands. Already Tony watched him for a few minutes today while Happy and I were bringing the baby supplies up-” he gestures to the bags littering the elevator entrance still, “-and I’m hoping to have someone help me with him tonight.”

“So no real hitches then?” There were doubts in Hogun’s voice, which Thor had to at least acknowledge.

“Well, Loki had a hard time staying asleep last night. Tony working down in his lab and all. Clint hasn’t said or done anything more than general opposition, though I’m being cautious about it transforming into something else. Otherwise,” Thor pressed his lips together with a shrug, “it’s been rather good.”

“Well if that’s the case, then perhaps we should take our leave?” Hogun asked, taking a look out at New York’s skyline. The sun peeked through a few clouds at a prim four o’clock, high in the sky on the partially dreary day.

Volstagg sighed, arms tucked behind his head as he stared at the ceiling lights. Thor could practically see the exhaustion creep back into his bones. “Perhaps we should. The soldiers will be expecting us, and I’m sure the wizards are throwing a tizzy that we took a trip on the Bifrost.”

Sif snorted in agreement. “They probably are. I realize that it’s important to find Amora, but I’ve been looking for her for about a week and I’m tired of staring at trees and pondering whether or not she’s there.”

I’ve been looking for her for about half of that time, and let me tell you, dumbly patrolling around the plazas aren’t any fun either! The most fun I’ve had is helping mothers by keeping their children away from the pastry stores. I need some action, not just standing around looking pretty!” Fandral huffed, pushing off the couch so he could kick at the chest. The rusted golden lock rattled dully against the wood, a few flakes of paint shedding onto Tony’s grey rug.

Thor chuckled as he maneuvered Loki onto his leg. It always took him off guard how time passed differently on Asgard than it did on Earth. Just a night on Midgard meant almost four up at home, which would explain why Fandral seemed so exhausted when he’d dropped off Loki. At that point he’d been watching him for half a week, so he’d had gained some experience in looking after a baby. As Thor had figured out the night previous, it was exhausting, attention-demanding, and much more difficult than Frigga had made it seem.

As the Warriors Three dragged themselves off the couch, Loki let out a whine. Thor raised an eyebrow at his squirm, face scrunched up in another cry as he rocked to get off his brother’s knee. For a baby, Loki sure was an awfully demanding little thing.

Volstagg watched as Thor carefully hefted Loki down onto the plush rug. Immediately Loki settled down, the tears that threatened to well over his eyes hastily retreating. He even smiled, the snarky little thing that he was.

“Is he crawling yet?” Volstagg asked. His question was answered when Thor motioned to Loki, who was rolling onto his stomach to hastily make his get-away. Clint had left his game controllers on the ground, which were primarily Loki’s next curiosity target.“Well, I reckon that he is then. Ha! Have fun keeping an eye on him- they’re trouble when they’re mobile.”

Thor laughed along with Volstagg’s nostalgic yet grim chuckle. When Loki got too close to the cords he got up and pulled him back, earning a frustrated squeal from his baby brother. “Aye, he has been trouble when I’ve let him down. Always trying to put things into his mouth.”

“You should start cleaning up the floors,” Volstagg suggested, “so that way there’s less for him to try and eat. Or a pen for him- my wife and I always set our daughters down on a blanket in a designated safe area.”

Fandral hummed as he stretched his legs, too watching Loki try to crawl his way towards the abandoned controllers for the second time. Helpfully, he whisked over and pulled them off the ground just before the baby got there, earning him a frustrated whine and a betrayed look from Loki.

“What?” He asked, voice an octave higher. “You can’t eat that, Loki! No, you can’t!”

“AAAHHH!”

“Well AAAAHH to you too, Mister!”

The group chuckled as Fandral put his hands on his hips and leaned over Loki, repeating everything back to him just so Loki would say it louder. Thor grinned, eyes crinkled at the corners, when Fandral picked him up and pressed raspberries to his rosy cheeks. Loki laughed and giggled, smiled and preened. There was something so soothing about seeing his brother so unbelievably happy after the events of the past few years. Like a bandage to his broken heart, a balm to his wounds.

“If I ask you to, Fandral… could you perhaps babysit Loki sometime?” Thor asked. Where the idea had come from he knew not, but it was a damn good one and he was all too pleased to roll with it. He tilted his head upwards, voice lilted likewise as he proposed the question.

Fandral hummed overdramatically as he scooped Loki onto his hip. He pondered, making funny faces to Loki, to purposely prolong his answer. Loki babbled with glee at the attention.

“I don’t know, Thor,” he said with a high pitched voice, “I suppose I could! Any excuse to come see this happy little baby is a good excuse to me. What’ya say Lokes? Want me to babysit?”

“Ahhh bah! Gabhhbra!”

“I think that’s a yes,” Sif mused. Thor grinned when Fandral confirmed with a nod.

“Aye, I’ll have you come down when I need you then. If I have Heimdall send you a message, could you be down within a reasonable amount of time?”

Fandral rolled his eyes, then whipped his head to blow a raspberry onto Loki’s outstretched palms. “Of course, Thor,” he muffled into Loki’s hand, “I’ll grab what I need and be down immediately. No questions asked.”

And that was that. Thor took Loki back from Fandral and wished his friends well as they made leave for the balcony. He and Loki waved goodbye as the Bifrost whisked them away, back to the ever-daunting task of finding Amora.

Mister Odinon, I’m sensing unusual energies from the chest. It might be unwise to open it.

“Hm?” Thor looked up at the sound of J.A.R.V.I.S.’ familiar voice. “Do not worry my digital friend, there should be nothing malicious inside. Volstagg even looked, so there is no need to fear. Just dust, old clothes, and toys and blankets.”

Without waiting another beat, Thor flicked off the chest’s padlock. Volstagg had left it open, both for efficient access and so Thor wouldn’t have had to keep track of the key. He threw the rusted lock onto the couch, outside of his baby brother’s reach, before pushing open the chest. A breeze of dust wafting out as new air enveloped the inside’s contents.

Thor waved his hand to disburse the cloud as he peered over inside. A smile graced his features at the clothes he saw. Red tunics and capes, golden onesies and matted, once furry blankets. Dirty old plushies sat in one corner over bundles of cotton blankets, patches missing from their furs and a few buttons missing from their eyes. Thor laughed as he picked one up, recognizing the dragon plush he used to carry around with him everywhere. Frigga would always animate it with her magic, to make it fly around the gardens for her sons to marvel at and play with. Mirthfully, he handed it to Loki, whose eyes were round with curiosity as he tried to stand up against the chest’s edge.

Mister Odinson, some of the objects within the chest radiate a strange energy while others do not. Might you have any insight as to why this is so?

“Well, J.A.R.V.I.S.,” Thor hummed, “I’m sensing a bit of magic, if that were to help. It seems my mother enchanted a few blankets and clothes to help preserve them.” He hefted up a golden blanket as an example.

The fleece looked perfect, as new as the day his mother had gotten it. Thor could practically see the warm, yellow strands of her magic woven between the old threads. A great satisfaction humbled its way into his chest at the sight and feel of her magic. It was almost like she was still there, unpacking the chest beside him. Her hand over his, gentle voice laughing as she recounted every memory about every toy, the scent of Asgard’s clear summers wafting through the open windows on a sunny afternoon…

“Gaahh...Aaarrh!”

Thor looked down to see that Loki had moved from the wall of the chest to against his knee, an arm outstretched for the blanket. His green eyes seemed enchanted by it, which he just couldn’t seem to reach. Loki proved his disdain by looking up to his older brother with a whine, tears already starting to pool in his eyes. He made another grabby hand for the corner of the fabric, where a distinct L.O. happened to be stitched.

“Huh, I think this is yours, Mr. Loki Odinson,” Thor chuckled.

“Baa!” Loki babbled in agreement.

With a nostalgic twinkle to his eyes, Thor opened up the blanket and dropped it over his brother’s head. Loki smiled as he peeked out from under it, falling onto his butt as he grabbed and flailed it in his arms. It seemed just having the blanket in his possession was enough to simmer down his mood. Then again, he’d reached out for it first, had been enamored by it. Perhaps he knew that it was his, Thor mused.

“See J.A.R.V.I.S.? Nothing harmless here. Just a baby and his blanket,” Thor joked with a grin.

J.A.R.V.I.S. flickered the lights in acknowledgment while Thor hefted his brother into his lap, blanket now swaddling him. He stood, closed the chest with his foot, and started for the elevator. It was a tad late for a nap, but perhaps he would be able to wring one out of Loki. Afterall, it was important for babies to keep a predictable schedule. Or at least, that’s what Thor had read the night before.

Dum-E had made a sizable dent in the bag pile while certainly making the most out of the elevator. A rueful chuckle escaped Thor at the thought of somebody needing it, only to be greeted with the sight of Dum-E and a pile of bags when the doors opened. To prevent that from happening to some poor intern, when the doors opened again Thor pushed everything he could in. Dum-E whirred gratefully.

“No problem, little one. Thank you for helping me!” Thor smiled, bright and beautiful, unaware that it was lost on Dum-E’s lack of camera sensors.

Together they unloaded the elevator on Thor’s floor. Dum-E went back down to Tony’s lab afterward, presumably to return to the hell that was his inventor’s latest project. Thor pushed all the bags and boxes out of the way so he could go through them later. He was in no mood to at the moment, especially with Loki wriggling on his shoulder. No, he’d do that later, after he and Loki were well rested from their naps.

With a groan, Thor collapsed onto his bed. Loki settled down in the crook of his arm, cheek snuggled against his mother’s magic. Thor carded hands through his short hair until he heard little snores; a lullaby to his ears. Sleep claimed him soon after, where he dreamed of summer afternoons, the laughter of his mother, and two pairs of brotherly hands grabbing at a flying plush dragon in the gardens.

Chapter Text

For once, living with Loki didn’t end with knives in Thor’s side or endless dead-end thoughts on how he’d failed his little brother. Living with Loki was actually fun, like it’d been when they were just wee tots. Of course, it had remained that way until sometime during their adolescence, but their youth felt as though it was being replayed out for Thor to re-experience.

Loki was a very happy baby. Thor wasn’t fazed; he encouraged his brother to laugh and smile and blew raspberries on his cheeks just to hear him babble. The rest of the team happened to be a little miffed, not that Thor could blame them.

“I was just expecting… less giggling?” Steve tried to explain one day, Loki on his hip as Thor ran a paintbrush over the walls of Loki’s nursery. “From the way he acted as an adult, I guess I was expecting a grumpy baby. Lots of crying?”

“Oh, he cries for sure,” Thor said with a puff of laughter. More solemnly he added, “Despite his behavior from recent years, Loki was a bright, happy person. I’m still not sure what caused that to shift, but I remember many sunny afternoons filled with his laughter.”

That must have been a good enough answer for Steve, for he had nodded and resumed watching Loki for the remainder of that afternoon.

So, Loki was a happy baby. A needy, happy baby, to be exact. He loved to be doted on and in the center of everyone’s attention. Particularly his big brother’s, though Thor was with him all day anyways, so there was no need to worry. Although, during dinner time he liked to wave his food around to everybody before he ate it, as if saying, “Look! My food is so good, look at how well I eat it!” If he weren’t concerned with baby food getting everywhere, (as Loki had once gotten it all over Clint’s hair and clothes, much to the archer’s dislike) Thor would find it adorable.

Fandral nor Sif and the other warriors had stopped by again, too busy with the hunt for Amora. It’d been a few weeks already, and no sign of the rogue sorceress. The fact that she was still hiding was enough to put Thor in a bad mood. He tried to put it from his mind and somewhat successfully ignored the itch to fly up there and find her himself. Anger thrummed hot in his veins just at the stray thought of her.

She should be brought to justice for what she did!” One half of him argued. The other said, “But Loki needs you, and your kingdom is capable. Let them handle it while you tend to your brother’s needs.

Obviously, it didn’t take a genius to figure out which half Thor listened to in the end.

For him, it was more important to make sure that Loki was adjusting well. It seemed like he was, too. Loki slept well and woke up, usually, in a good mood. He had a big appetite and played well. Specifically, he loved to play with the old plush dragon that Thor had recovered from the chest. He waved it around and giggled loud enough for everyone in the tower to hear. Thro tried to keep his growing pile of toys tidy, yet they could probably be found on every floor of the tower anyways.

Loki refused to go anywhere without his blanket. It was the one Thor had found in the chest, preserved with his mother’s magic and stitched with his initials on the bottom left corner. When he didn’t have it wrapped around him or in his grasp, it was probably with Thor, and if not with his big brother then a tantrum was afoot.

In short, Loki was adjusting well, which was a relief to Thor every time he realized that. It was just… Loki had been so… pained over the last few years. He’d been confused and angry and lost. Then there was New York, then the suffering and anger in the dungeons, followed by Thor’s own stupid plan that almost led to the Dark Elves winning. Their mother had died, which hadn’t sat well with either brother. Not even hours later Loki too had died- or, well, Thor thought he had- with a gaping hole in his abdomen.

Thor had carried guilt for the longest time, convinced it was his fault. It had been his plan, hadn’t it? If he hadn’t of freed his brother from the dungeons, then there would be an extremely high chance he still would have been alive. Toiling his time away in a cell and slowly succumbing to insanity, yes, but alive.

Eventually though, as always, he came to terms with Loki’s ending and put the past behind him. Then S.H.I.E.L.D. had collapsed and Hydra got Loki’s staff, thus beginning the Avenger’s involvement in trying to get the weapon back. The past came back to haunt Thor again, but now… it haunted him in a happier way.

Said happier way was currently trying to eat the bubbles of his bubble bath, for the sixth time to be exact, and Thor heaved a sigh as he pushed Loki’s sudsy fist away from his mouth.

“No, stop that. Bubbles don’t taste good, I’m telling you, Loki. You won’t like it.” He took a small pitcher full of water and rinsed off Loki’s front, dowsing all the bubbles in reach.

Loki liked baths, very much so, and he gurgled with glee when Thor ran a soapy hand through his hair. Even as a toddler, Loki kept his cleaner tendencies.

While Thor appreciated cleanliness too, he realized that he himself probably looked like a mess after almost two weeks of raising his brother. Loki was quite the hair-puller, it turned out, and had pushed Thor to keeping his hair in a ponytail or bun. Still, his strong, grabby hands pulled strands loose, leaving them sticking out awkwardly for hours on end. Thor was contemplating just shearing off most of his glorious hair if it meant Loki wouldn’t pull it. He also thought that the developing dark bags under his eyes was in part to his brother somehow. His clothes were baggy from Loki’s pulling and were smeared with the remnants of his drool, snot, and burps. With that faraway look in his eyes, Thor looked like he’d survived a war. In a way, he currently was.

“Or! Or!” Loki called. He couldn’t say many words, but loved to say uh-oh, no, Daga, and Or. Daga was what he called the plush dragon their mother used to enchant, and Or was Thor’s name. Loki was calling him as he tried to reach for the pitcher that his brother held, though Thor put it aside as he addressed his little brother.

“Well look at that, there’s that smile. Hello!” He grinned as brightly as he could and laughed when Loki slammed his hands down into the shallow water, giggles absurdly loud while his hair stuck in every which direction.

“You look like a bilgesnipe, Loki,” Thor said with an amused twinkle in his eyes. Loki didn’t understand what that meant, however, and went back to trying to eat bubbles.

“J.A.R.V.I.S., remind me to get Loki bath toys. I can’t have him eating bubbles every time I breathe him,” Thor said. The bathroom lights brightened blue overhead.

Of course, Mister Odinson.

Thor hummed as he carefully worked his hands over Loki’s head. Every moment or two he’d have to wash off his brother’s hands to prevent bubble-eating, but otherwise, he was able to create a soapy afro from Loki’s gently-cleaning baby shampoo. Pitcher at the ready, Thor was about to rinse him off when the lights flickered brightly from above.

THOR!

Thor flinched in surprise and emptied the pitcher an inch behind Loki. His brother paid no heed to the shout overhead, finally fitting his bubble covered hand into his mouth. With a growl, Thor pulled it back out and looked upwards as Loki started crying.

“Tony! What’s the matter? Why are you yelling?”

It had been a while since Tony and Thor had talked. Actually, it’d been a few days since any of the team had truly sat down and conversed with him. Not long after Loki moved in they’d all made themselves scarce. Help from them petered out, leaving Thor and Loki to tend by themselves. While it was nice to hear Tony’s voice again, Thor found himself a bit aggravated.

Better question: why aren’t you at the battlefield?! Why didn’t you respond to your transponder?

A beat of silence. Then, Thor hissed through his teeth, his frame leaned against the edge of the bathtub. “I left my transponder in my bedroom, apologies. Is there any way I can sit this one out? I’m in the middle of-”

What?” Tony laughed overhead, though it sounded more like a bark of disbelief. “Buddy, we need you out here! Cap and Hulk are getting overwhelmed and I have no idea where Nat and Barton even are. Come on, get your butt in gear and come help us out here. These A.I.M. bots are kicking the crap out of us!

Loki had quickly stopped his crying when Thor offered his clean thumb for him to hold. Thor watched, an itch of frustration in his chest, as his brother splashed around. There was no way he was leaving his defenseless baby brother alone in the tower. Sorry J.A.R.V.I.S., but even the AI’s super monitoring didn’t put his nerves at ease. Besides, what if someone decided to attack the tower too? Then Thor would really find himself in a pinch.

An explosion sounded through the speakers and part of it pitched to static as the microphones in Tony’s helmet peaked. Thor heaved a sigh and shook his head, knowing full well that Tony couldn’t see it. “Apologies Tony, but I can’t. I’m in the middle of giving Loki a bath. You know I can’t do impromptu battles. I can't leave him here alone.”

Tony cursed colorfully a beat later. Thor wasn’t one to censor himself or others, but he had a sudden urge to warn Stark of his language around Loki.

Thor, seriously. Loki will live if you leave for like twenty minutes and come beat some A.I.M. ass. I promise you he’ll be okay. We need your help.

“Where’s been your help these past two weeks?” Thor shot back, a surprising amount of fire behind his words. Tony sighed and cursed through the speakers again.

Fair point, Point Break. Seriously though, get out here. That’s an order. We’ll discuss what we need to during the mission debrief afterward.

Thor growled again. He’d successfully rinsed the soap out of Loki’s hair. A warm blue towel now around his brother, Thor drained the bathtub and marched out to his room. The lights overhead lit up similar to how they did before, his conversation with Tony still ongoing.

“Tony, I can’t leave Loki-”

Thor, so help me God, you need to get out here now!” Another explosion went off in the background, followed by a few metallic clinks. Tony groaned as he presumably regained his balance. “Seriously dude, that’s an order.

Suddenly, Thor regretted supporting the whole ‘Tony and Steve are co-captains of the team’ decision.

“Fine,” he snapped, throwing open his door loud enough that it reverberated around the room. Tony had a point. While he was still Loki’s big brother, he was also still an Avenger. He had a job to do. It was just hard trying to balance that with the new element added to his life. “I’ll be down in five, ten minutes. I can’t promise you anything, Stark.”

Whatever, that’s fine. Just get down here, please? We’re getting our asses kicked. See you in a few.

With a click, Tony dropped the call. The lights returned to their regular glow and Thor huffed around the room. What did they expect? With a baby in one arm and a hammer in another, he really wasn't it the best Avenger to be relying on. Whatever though, as Tony had said. Thor glanced at Loki, swaddled in his towel, and groaned.

This was going to be the worst battle he’d partaken in in centuries.

------

Thor wasn’t even halfway to Central Park’s south end when Tony buzzed back into the coms. He’d heard Natasha and Cap communicating before, talking casually over the noise of the battle, but Tony’s sudden outburst caught all of their attentions. Which, to be honest, was not what Thor had wanted in that moment.

Oh my god, you have got to be kidding me! Thor, do you have Loki strapped onto your chest right now? Are you seriously flying over to fight A.I.M. bots with your baby brother in tow?

Steve groaned over the line. “Please tell me you did not.

Thor felt a flash of irritation. “What part of ‘I can’t do impromptu battles’ did none of you understand? I didn’t even know that A.I.M. was attacking until Tony called,” he said. He tried to keep the growl out of his tone but may have failed. As a big brother and an Avenger, he could only do so much at a time.

What about your transponder? Wouldn’t you have gotten a notification on that?” Clint asked, sounding oddly neutral on the already hot topic.

Was giving Loki a bath. Didn’t have it on him.” Tony said. Thor heard a few mutters of understanding, though with an edge of exasperation. He grimaced and carded his hand through Loki’s windswept hair, who thankfully wasn’t crying as they flew.

I would think Loki would be safer at the tower,” Natasha said, though it sounded more like a question.

J.A.R.V.I.S. is there, but even he can only do so much if Loki needs a changing or needs to be fed,” Clint intoned. “Besides, it’s always a bad idea to leave a baby alone in a famously known building of which could be attacked at any moment. I certainly wouldn’t leave my baby if I were in that situation.

Thor sighed gratefully. At least someone could understand his train of thought. “Thank you, Clint.” And he meant it. It was the first time in a while that he and the archer had talked, too, since Clint had distanced himself not long after Loki moved in.

“Anyways,” Thor continued, hoping to steer the conversation away from any underlying arguments, “I was going to get any stragglers on the perimeter and help any stranded civilians.”

Good idea,” Cap grunted. There was an explosion, a few groans, then metallic clinks as Thor heard the echo of Steve’s shield on the battlefield. “Ugh, just took out a few. Stay on the sidelines, Thor. Hulk’s having a day at the ballpark and they’re swarming over here.

“I can see that,” he muttered.

True to his word, Thor could see the Hulk’s green form in one of Central Park’s numerous fields. A yellow-grey blob of A.I.M. bots surrounded him, buzzing around as though they were pesky flies at a picnic. Except more deadly, since they flashed like one of Tony’s party disco balls as they shot off lasers every second. In one hand Hulk wielded a fully grown tree, swinging it at any bots that dared to get close enough. They flew away like foul balls, most exploding upon contact. A few flew sky high. Thor hissed and dodged one that came at him like a bat out of hell.

“Uh oh!” Loki said. He could crane his neck just enough to see the Hulk down below. Thor turned his head away as they landed a few fields over. It wasn’t too big, perhaps just a couple hundred feet wide, and littered with broken A.I.M. bot parts. It was the perfect place to start out. Through the trees, Thor could see Natasha, Steve, and Clint’s clearing. It too flashed like a red, angry disco ball. A few lasers singed past the trees as the fighting carried on.

Tony must have seen him land, for the next moment he was launching into Team Captain Mode.

Alright, now that we’ve got Thunder Head here we should keep the heat off him, so we’re handling the big guys and he’s handling the little things. Time to keep our eyes up and fists at the ready. Thor, just shout if you need backup. We’re not letting Little Boy Green over there get hurt.

“Gaah… Aaa!” Loki said, though that might have also been his agreement to Tony’s statement, if he could hear it.

“Hush, little one, it will be alright.” Thor took one of Loki’s waving hands and pressed a kiss to it. Loki grinned brightly and snuggled into his brother’s collarbone. Despite the explosions in the background, Loki seemed rather content. His little hands were fisted into the material of Thor’s cape that hung low on his shoulders. Thor adjusted the harness so he wouldn’t have to reach as high. He seemed undisturbed by his new, laser-flashing environment, so Thor figured that he’d be alright if he got to work.

So, heaving a sigh, he did just that.

There were few stragglers to catch. Thor was alright with that, seeing as Loki was very verbal at the moment. Some bots heard Loki’s string of babbles and came over looking for a fight, though they usually found a hammer in their metallic face as soon as they took a step in Thor’s direction. Once he summed lightning, which resulted in an epic explosion and Loki wailing in his harness. Loki liked thunder but not lightening, which Thor still had a hard time remembering. He didn’t call down another bolt during the duration of the battle, instead relying on his accuracy and the brutality of Mjölnir.

Perhaps the hardest challenge was being spotted. A.I.M. weren’t the biggest baddies on the Avenger’s list- not by a long shot, to be completely honest- but they certainly weren’t to be underestimated. If the members dressed in yellow weren’t making an appearance, then their mustard and grey colored bots surely would. They were programmed well, seeing as A.I.M. was primarily focused on technology. Their tech couldn’t come close to Tony’s, Thor knew, but they could recognize the Avengers individually and formulate battle plans fairly easily. With Loki strapped to his chest, Thor really didn’t want to be recognized by evil, hive-minded robots.

Keyword hive-minded, because those bots were programmed to target the largest hitters in groups. And, if one didn’t already know, Thor could be a very heavy hitter. Even if he wasn’t pulling his fair share, chances were they’d go for him anyway. Just being seen by one of those robots’ red LED illuminated lights spelled trouble.

Perhaps that was why, ten minutes into swinging Mjölnir with a protective hand over Loki’s back, Thor shouldn’t have been surprised when Steve buzzed into the coms.

Uh, guys? Was it just me, or did you see an entire cloud of bots just up and fly away?

Stuck a couple arrows in a few,” Clint said. A few helpful thwips! sounded as he shot off a handful more. “But yeah, about twenty of them literally just flew off. I can try and follow them, see if they’re going for another part of the park or not. If they go back to their base then we can launch an attack later.

“I don’t think A.I.M. would intentionally recall bots and have them come straight to their base. Not unless if they were hoping to leer us into a trap. I do believe they’re smarter than that,” Thor rumbled. Loki “Bah!”ed in agreement.

I think they’re moving for the Hulk; I can see them coming this way,” Tony said. He spoke the words with distaste, as though he’d just spit out one of Steve’s old-timey mints when expecting pure, unadulterated sugar candy.

Just keep an eye on them, wherever they are. If they don’t leave the park and no one needs back up then just stick to your battles,” Natasha advised, as though they all weren’t overwhelmed in the first place. Steve and Tony chipped in their affirmatives, so Thor nodded resolutely and threw Mjölnir at an outlier about fifty feet away. Loki couldn’t see it, but he seemed to cheer when it exploded and Mjölnir came back. Thor chuckled and patted his brother, both in agreement and an effort to keep him calm and content.

Tony’s worried voice came back over the coms a few moments later. “Hey guys? They skipped out on the party that the Hulk’s having over here. Which is odd, because he’s pulling major weight. Who’s hitting heavier over south-east of us?

Not us,” Clint scoffed. “They left the clearing that Steve, Nat, and I are in. If they’re not going for you or Hulk…

“Uh oh,” Loki said.

Thor felt his arm push back as Mjölnir returned to his firm grasp. Loki pointed upwards, surprisingly speechless, before he stuck his hand inside his mouth. Confused, Thor furrowed his brows and turn around to see what Loki had pointed at over his shoulder. A litany of Asgardian curses slipped out as he stared at a cloud of grey, buzzing bots coming over the treetops.

“Hey guys?”

Oh jeez, those were alien curses. This might get bad. Thor, remember how I said just to shout if you need backup…?

“Tony, I’m going to need backup.” There was most definitely not fear in Thor’s voice as he risked a glance down at his brother, of whom eyed Thor with wide eyes and a mouthful of fist.

Panic spiked hot in his chest as the angry bot swarm appeared way closer than they should have been. Backup was on it’s way, Thor was sure, but currently, his teammates were swearing up a storm as they tried to hurry up their own battles. The coms were alive with frenzied grunts and the explosions and lasers of the A.I.M. bots. For once, nobody screamed, “Language!” over the chaos, of which Thor contributed to as he took to the skies, a hand on Loki’s head. Where he had stood sizzled, the dead, black grass tinged with the embers of a laser.

“They’re shooting lasers,” Thor called out, voice rising as another three beams shot past him. Loki let out a particularly loud whimper as it passed.

Clint snapped back as Thor shot into the nearby treetops, a few bot explosions echoing in the coms. “They’re always firing lasers! They’ve never stopped firing lasers!

“Just get over here!”

Every opening I find is always blocked by another damn bot,” Natasha said, a hiss lacing the end of her sentence.

I can’t get over there! Somebody get to Thor!” Steve ordered, desperate. The shield echoed in the coms as it ricocheted against more than a dozen robots. Even through the explosions, Thor knew that nobody could escape their battles. They were swarmed before he had arrived. His presence on the outskirts meant nothing to the raging battle further inside the park.

I’m out of arrows- repeat I’m out of arrows! Shit, fuck, oh God,” Clint cried out. Thor found he was just as screwed as the mechanical roar of the A.I.M. bots got louder from behind.

Go too slow and the bots would get him. Go too fast and Loki was put in even more danger from the high speeds and winds. There was no winning for Thor.

The tree branches slapped in his face. He could taste the leaves as he ducked through the treetops. He managed to blow up at least a dozen bots as he went through, which was nothing compared to the ever-growing swarm that followed him. He hoped that Loki wasn’t being hit by any small branches as he flew through. He couldn’t bear to look down and see the big tears that fell down his cheeks. Looking down would make him falter and fester the guilt that already plagued his stomach.

Thor itched to roll into a landing and send Mjölnir straight through their formation, lighting dancing wildly off it’s surface. The destruction it’d wrought would be beautiful. Or to even have Steve besides him, the man hidden behind his shield as Thor struck it. The ever powerful urge to do something other than flee roared in his ears, but Thor knew he couldn’t stand there, defenseless without Mjölnir, with Loki harnessed against his chest.

Weaving between the branches and hoping the bots would hit one was Thor’s biggest weapon at the moment. It wasn’t a good strategy, really, but it was the best Thor had. Another branch smacked him in the face. It managed to cut his cheek below his left eye. Thor flinched and jammed it closed as pain flared where the leaves had grazed against his eyeball. Loki wailed in his ear as they went through another treetop, back out into the open air, so Thor could find a better place to defend himself at.

Central Park was big. Where they were, in the south end, it’s clearings were filled with A.I.M. bot debris and abandoned picnic blankets. Through the trees there were pathways, winding their way through each clearing. From his sky-high glances that he snuck, Thor could see the Hulk and Tony tearing through robots in the southwest end of Sheep Meadow. Even more southwest of that, in Heckscher Ballfields, he could see the rest of his team being overwhelmed. Clint was nowhere to be seen, though he was probably waiting in the trees for easy kills.

Suddenly, he had an idea. A very bad, bad idea. But if it worked then Thor could cry just as heartily as his brother in pure, utter relief.

The A.I.M. bots had followed them back out into the open skies. Whatever pit had dug itself into Thor’s stomach deepend as more emerged from the green canopy than had been following him before. Their red, glaring LEDs flashed in the sunlight. Without waiting to see if they still had their sights on him, Thor sped back the way he came and towards Sheep Meadow.

He kept close to the treetops. If something went wrong he could duck back under. His hand stayed firmly on the back of Loki’s neck as Thor pushed himself faster. It was risky, his idea, but the payoff to the heat on his back could be worth it.

In theory, if the robots saw the Hulk and Tony, who were destroying way more robots than himself, then they’d go join the fruitless fight in taking them down again. Then, however many still stayed hot on his trail, Thor could handle if he ducked into a fresh clearing and finished them with Mjölnir. It wasn’t a foolproof plan, but it was a plan nonetheless.

Thor pitched a look over his shoulder to make sure the robots were following him. He’d only turned his head forward again when he’d been tackled from the left and shoved back under the trees. Thor screamed as he went down into the branches and as the swarm shot right over his head, unknowingly.



For a second he laid there. The sounds of the battle drifted around him. He could feel Loki against his collarbone as Thor blinked and pushed onto his elbows. He dropped down again with an unnatural cry.

Pain raced up his back as Thor recognized that he’d crashed onto one of Central Park’s sidewalks. His head throbbed where he’d smacked the back of it on the concrete. Loki was screaming and flailing in his harness. The throbbing in his temples got worse with every scream, and there was a spike in his heart rate. The spasm of one metal claw against his thigh shot Thor into a painful, stiff sitting position.

Partially broken by the fall, there was one A.I.M. bot. It’s bottom half had been ripped off or crushed. Oil dripped all over Thor’s bottom half as the robot’s LED flickered. He had never liked looking over the robots’ vaguely human faces, with their one large LED and another small camera pupil. It’s functional laser hand twitched, sparks flying from the wrist. The claw spasmed again as it inched up his thighs.

Thor jerked into motion as a growl tore through him. “You got lucky, robot. I would advise that you stay down.

He kicked on instinct as he emphasized the end of his sentence. The robot squealed angrily at the motion. It reached up for Loki’s flailing legs but fell short by an inch.

Absolute fury erupted from Thor at the sight of such an act. This monster was trying to hurt his little brother! How dare it try to touch an Odinson, helpless to his defense, like the absolute utter abomination that it obviously was. Thor reached out a hand to call Mjölnir while his other went to crush the robot’s head. It would suffer in Hel for trying to prey upon him and his brother, and Thor would take great pride in the warm, blood-like oil that would drop off of his metal-clenched hand as he served justice.

Except, neither happened as two more robots crashed through the trees and grabbed onto him.

Loki immediately screamed when the whirring bodies slammed into them. His distinguished shouts rang like a gunshot in Thor’s ear. “OOOR! OOOOR!

His hot tears ran down past Thor’s neck and shoulders as his fists pounded on the side of the attacking A.I.M. bots. Those red LED’s lit up at his touches, and Thor’s vision saw it’s own red when they tried to turn their attention to him.

“DON’T YOU DARE TOUCH HIM!” Thor roared as he wrenched his arm back. The A.I.M. bot went flying with a metallic scream as it’s arm separated from it’s shoulder joint. Sparks flew and lightning rippled over Thor’s freed arm as he snarled and went for the two other attackers.

The combination of Loki’s frenzied screaming and Thor’s own clamors of anger had attracted a series of robots. Seeing their damaged brethren, they took one look at Thor, ripping the head off the second bot holding his arm, before flashing their red LEDs and diving straight for him. Thor kicked off the robot on his thighs just in time to cup one mighty, oiled hand on the back of Loki’s neck as he flipped them over before the oncoming dogpile.

Thunder rumbled aggressively overhead as they tackled and pinned the brother duo to the ground. Static crackled in Thor’s ear. Lightning rippled over his arms and back, he could feel it raising the hairs on the back of his neck and against his leathers and armors. The knuckles of his right hand dug uncomfortably into the grass as another robot added itself to the mix, driving more of Thor’s weight towards his brother. Even on his elbows and straining against the robotic pile, Thor knew he couldn’t keep himself off Loki forever.

Lightning crackled overhead when Loki let off another wail.

OOOORR! AAAAUGHHH! OOOOORRR!!

CRASH! Another bot.

RRRRRRRRUMBLE! The thunder clapped overhead as lightning crackled, as it thrummed deep in Thor’s veins, as a growl tore wildly past his lips.

As faithfully as the beat of his heart, Thor could feel the next clap. The sky lit up with it’s harsh light and Thor heard it reverberate around the park, like it was right next to his ears-

WRRAAUUUUGGGHH!! HULK SMASH!

Like a gamma-radiated angel sent from heaven, Thor heaved a breath as the Hulk tore the pile from his back. Metal screeched as limbs were torn and bodies crushed, all helpless under the wrath that was the Hulk. Thor heaved himself onto his sore, oil-soaked back and watched with ragged breaths. Loki cried likewise, tiny hands clutching his brother’s cape and armor, as Thor tried, feebly, to calm him. His gaze lolled back as he groaned and let his head fall against the ground.

The annoying static that had been filling his right ear pitched. His head jerked as Nat’s, Clint’s, Steve’s, and Tony’s voices filed in.

-Or! Thor! Tho- btzz-

Thor, ca- zzbt- ear us-

Thor did th- shzzzt- get there on time- zzzst-

Point Break, for- bzzzst- sake co-bstzzzt- in!

“I’m here,” Thor croaked. His hand fell from the earpiece as they all expressed some curses of reliefs. A few more explosions. Thor watched the Hulk uproot another tree and go to town on the remaining swarms of the robots. He just carded another hand through Loki’s hair as his brother finally tempered down his wailing.

Thank God,” Steve said, voice clear as the com started working again. “Stay right where you are; I’ll be right over in a minute. Clint was over by you trying to take them out but got spotted and pushed back over here.

I think you drew just about the entire hoard,” Clint huffed.

I’m already flying over, Cap,” Tony piped in. “You guys keep taking out the last dregs of that swarm. Hulk and I got the rest of them over here. I’ll keep an eye on the Odinsons. Looks like we’re almost done here folks.

As he spoke, Thor watched as Tony flew over the clearing and took out a steady dozen of robots. With no clear intent to rejoin the fight, he propped himself up enough to make Loki comfortable. Nothing came close to attacking them again. Thank the Fates, for finally doing something helpful.

Chapter Text

“In case you were worried, Loki is sleeping deeply and soundly, Mister Odinson.”

Thor spared a single glance upwards as he eased away from Loki’s door. He closed it silently, releasing a breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding. Much to his appreciation, J. was always looking out for the two of them. He seemed in tune to Thor’s inner worrying, which was both comforting and unsettling. Still, Thor found that he couldn’t move away from Loki’s nursery as he replied.

“Thank you, friend J.A.R.V.I.S. I figured he was slumbering well since he didn’t stir when I opened the door. After this afternoon… it’s just relieving to see that he’s okay.”

“Dr. Banner said that he gained no injury other than a few scratches, which have mostly healed. And, after some cuddles and a well-needed bottle, he seemed calm. His endorphin levels and heart rate were also within the normal parameters that were established-”

“Thank you, J.” Thor’s eyes crinkled humbly as he took in the blue-lit lights above. “I appreciate that you look out for him as well. I know I’m not very keen on leaving him with you alone, but you truly are more helpful than you can imagine.”

Perhaps it was his imagination, but Thor thought he could detect a flattered hum behind the AI’s words. “It is no problem, Mister Odinson. I’m only doing what I can to help, and to support young Loki in his developing age.”

Just as Thor parted his mouth to speak, the lights flickered and J.A.R.V.I.S. apologized.

“Sorry to interrupt, but Sir wants to know if you’re ready for the team meeting. Everyone else has gathered on the Common Floor and are ordering Chinese for later. Would you like anything?”

“Ten times whatever Steve is getting- I do not know the name but it is very good. I’ll be down in a moment, thank you, J.A.R.V.I.S.”

Before departing, Thor checked on Loki one last time. Still, his brother slept soundly. With a soft click, he closed the door and walked away. His chest hurt just leaving his floor- leaving Loki- but the other Avengers were in the building and his baby brother would be fine. It was just… his screams from that afternoon still rung hauntingly in Thor’s ears. Remembering the absolute terror in Loki’s voice, and his hot tears running down his rosy cheeks…And the wild look in his eyes, as he clung to his armor, so small in his bigger arms… Thor winced as he stepped into the elevator, non-verbally trusting J.A.R.V.I.S. to alert him if Loki woke up.

Normally when he entered the Common Floor after a hard-fought battle, hands would be waved in greeting and Tony and Clint would call out, “Thor!” or even, “Hey, Point Break!” Today, however, when Thor exited the elevator, he got a few tired stares and weak smiles. Bruce gave him a pat on the back as he passed, and Tony held his hand out for a high five. Thor amused him and returned the gesture, though the genius just pulled a taut smile and made himself even more comfortable into his rut in the couch.

The other Avengers seemed to be in much of the same attitude. They were tired and hunkered deeply into their cozy nooks, not quite ready to recount their latest battle yet there nevertheless. Thor could read the stress lines on their faces. Granted, he realized sheepishly, he was the root of those stresses, but it was a look that he hated to see any of them bearing.

Clint had just finished tucking himself into his blanket-burrito when Tony groaned to commence the meeting. Thor made himself comfortable on the couch beside Natasha, who was likewise burritoed in a blanket as she lounged in her pajamas. They all tried to sit up a little straighter, however, as their co-team captain started speaking.

“So… today happened.”

“Brilliantly put, Shakespeare.”

“Screw off, Clint,” Tony said, tired, lacking the snap that his comebacks normally held. “We’re supposed to sit here and dive into the logistics of the battle and everything because Fury couldn’t bother to schedule a debrief, but I think none of us really want to. We all know what happened and we’re only doing this meeting just so we can say we did.”

“If we’re here just to say we did, can we just give a quick recap? For the records?” Steve suggested, hand running through the hair by his temples as he neglected the notepad in his lap. Thor could see a few stressed doodles that had been absentmindedly scribbled. There would probably be more to follow throughout the debriefing.

Bruce held up a finger to start. “Well, didn’t it start with Clint’s afternoon run being interrupted? I vaguely recall Nat shouting about grabbing his bow and arrows for him.”

“Yup,” Clint said, popping the p. “Had to change into my gear in a public bathroom. Remind me to change in the bushes next time, I swear it’ll be more sanitary.” The remark had at least Tony cracking a smile, who shook his head with a suppressed chuckle.

“Yes, that did happen. I got Legolas’ distress call around two then hastily sent out a message via the transponders. While Bruce, Steve, and Nat got into a quinjet, I went ahead to see what was up. Turned out that A.I.M. was up to their old deeds again, on a Tuesday no less! Cruel beings, they are.”

Natasha hummed, her eyes glazed over as she recounted entering the field. “We got to the park and started taking care of the robots, but A.I.M. must have counted on us thinking it was an easy mission because they steadily sent over more waves. We were overpowered in no time. A little embarrassing to say the least, considering we’ve stopped an alien invasion before. We should really add endurance fighting to our training regimen.”

“Already been added,” Steve affirmed.

“Good! But anyways, that led us realized that we were missing a key player!” Tony said, fake realization coating his voice. “So I called Thor, who hadn’t responded because he was giving Loki a bath.”

Thor groaned and lolled his head back. “I do apologize Stark; I thought I would be okay to not have my transponder on me for at least one hour. I’ll always keep it on my person in the future.”

“No, no! It’s alright- sometimes even I don’t have it on me. And I know for a fact that there are times when nobody else does too. Don’t sweat it, Point Break, you’ve had Loki on your plate. This was just an… inopportune moment, and, despite feeling pretty frustrated about today, I’m trying to see the better side of this since I know you’ve been stretched pretty thin.”

“The battlefield is an unpredictable place, too,” Steve added, “so there’s no need to start fretting over one event. Sure, we can take measures so it won’t happen again, but for now the day was saved and we’re not going to hammer anybody on anything. We’ll just work harder and come up with a system so Loki won’t be alone in the tower during these attacks.”

Steve spoke calmly and with conviction. His collected manner massaged at the knots of anxiety that pounded Thor in his temples, bringing a relief to his heart. His team had his back, even when stress made him feel like they didn’t. Nothing felt more soothing than just knowing that fact.

“What about Fandragon? Fan- Fran- whatever that dude’s name is? Wasn’t he like, your backup babysitter or something?” Clint asked, tongue gently peeking out from his lips in his stuttered frustration.

Tony sat up with recognition. “Yeah, what about him? Didn’t he and your other warrior friends stop by last week to drop off that dusty old chest in your living room?”

“They did,” Thor nodded. He chuckled, tone warm as he said, “And his name is Fandral, by the way. But yes, he is Loki’s babysitter when I nor any of you are around. The thing is… it takes time for me to alert Heimdall, who then has to collect Fandral, who will only be sent down here after he’s gotten his things.”

“How long?” Bruce asked. His nails plucked at the skin of his other hand as he, undoubtedly, tried to do the mental math on the time differences on Asgard and the travel time of the Bifrost. Thor saved him the trouble of needing to steal Steve’s notepad.

“Time runs slower here than it does on Asgard. It takes about an hour and a half to two hours for him to come down.”

The team blinked owlishly and exchanged concerned glances. Tony leaned back further into the couch, if that was still possible, and massaged his goatee.

“You would have had to have called Thor to send that Bifrost message the second you got Clint’s distress signal,” Natasha mumbled. Steve nodded beside her in agreement, his eyes downcast as a pencil twirled between his dexterous fingers.

Thor knew what they were thinking. He’d been in hundreds of battles since adolescence. In just twenty minutes anything could happen. But in an hour and a half? Two hours? Pages and chapters could be written for the history books.

“I know it’s a long amount of time, but if you all could handle your own for at least an hour and a half, then I’d storm in more than ready for battle. Upon my own heart until my dying breath, I promise you that.”

Steve shook his head solemnly, a hand raised to wave him off. “Don’t worry about that, Thor. We’ll work something out in due time. Is there any plans you already have made that we should be aware of?”

“What about scheduled missions?” Bruce asked suddenly.

“Aye,” Thor nodded to them both, “I do. I’d call Fandral the night before and have him stay until we’re back.”

“Good. If we can avoid… whatever happened today, then I’m all for it.” Clint paused and leaned forward over his hugged-pillow. If the sparkle in his eyes were anything to go by, then Thor had the feeling he was in for an interrogation. “By the way, what actually happened? Because you were the only one in that area and suddenly you had like, 80 percent of those A.I.M. bots on you and I couldn’t even get close.

“I…” Thor hesitated, because even he wasn’t entirely clear on what had happened. One minute he’d been flying and the next… “I’m afraid I’m not entirely sure either, Clint. I was trying to lose the robots tailing me when suddenly I was tackled from the treetops. The next thing I knew Loki’s crying had attracted much of the hoard.”

“A.I.M. does like the heavy hitters,” Tony grumbled. He swatted at Bruce’s still picking hands with a shake of his head. “I just can’t believe- no wait, actually, I can believe- that they’d let their robots go after you and a baby. I mean, come on! In your care or not, that’s rather inhumane.”

“A.I.M. isn’t very humane,” Steve intoned with a huff.

“Well, really, neither is the practice of having a baby on the field, but it’s certainly a low blow when they just continue attacking.”

Thor couldn’t help but swerve his head around and raise an unamused eyebrow. Really, it was surprising that the archer hadn’t said anything on Loki for the whole recounting. After purposely distancing himself just because said villain-turned-baby was in the tower, Thor had been expecting something to rear it’s ugly head sooner or later. It may have been a small slip of the tongue, but it still had him and the team squinting.

“What?” Clint asked, taken aback by the looks and silence. Then, he scoffed and slouched, one teal colored throw pillow hugged even closer. “Hey, I’m not against him here! I’m actually rather with him. Just sayin’ it wasn’t the best idea, but I certainly wouldn’t leave my children in a famous villain-beacon of a tower all alone either. Er- theoretically, of course.”

Bruce also raised a single, almost unjudging eyebrow. “And, theoretically, what would you do?”

“Call someone reliable, probably from S.H.I.E.L.D.,” Clint shot back hotly, immediately. He cooled the next minute, gaze downcast as he said, “But, seeing as we’re not letting Fury and his higher-up goons come and storm the place, and we couldn’t have a debriefing with him anyways, I would have called my theoretical Asgardian buddies. It’s either that or not responding at all, and I think we all realize how desperate I’d have to be for that to happen.” He shrugged then, eyeing Thor, who regarded him back with a relaxed posture and a pensive look.

Silence reigned again once the team realized that Clint and Thor were assessing one another. Thor rubbed a tired hand over his stubbled beard. He sighed, heavy but airy, and presented a warm smile.

“I realize that you have not been the most welcome with Loki these past two weeks, but having your support today, even if minor, is truly heartwarming. I know it is hard to put yourself into my shoes, so thank you for being considerate, Clint. It helps immensely just to know that I’m not terribly flawed in the decision that I had to make, even if it was a bad one.”

Clint pursed his lips and nodded. He gazed over at the over Avengers before diverting his gaze out the Common Floor’s night-tinted windows. “I don’t think any of us blame you for having to make that shitty choice, but you’re welcome. Being forced to choose between your job and your family is… really, really shitty.”

“Too bad we can’t pick, huh?” Tony snorted.

“Can we?” Clint asked with a lilt of hope.

No,” Everyone groaned. Even Thor, who had sunken down the rest of the way into the couch and covered most of his face with his hand.

If he could, Thor knew he would choose family. There were no globally-threatening villains, and Asgard could hold it’s own. Loki was in more need of help than the general population, who had the Avengers and countless other heroes, like the X-Men or the Fantastic Four, at their disposal. Given the chance- especially with the lacking amount of help that he’d gained within the last two weeks- Thor would easily choose to sit out on his job and raise Loki for a while. But alas, he gave his word to the people of Earth that he would always be there to protect them, so there he was, doing his job.

As if reading his mind, Steve tapped the eraser end of his pencil against his neglected paper pad with a look of guilt and worry. “Hey uh… Thor? Is there anything we can do to help lighten your load? I realize that we haven’t been very handy, as promised, and you look-”

“Like death warmed over!” Tony said, an epiphany lighting his tone. “I was just thinking about that, Capsicle. Seriously, Thor, we’ve kinda been asses about this whole “Big Avengers Family” thing by leaving you with the kid. Name anything we can do, whenever, and we’ll do it.”

“We will?” Clint squeaked.

“We will,” Natasha warned.

Thor blinked in surprise. Steve looked on patiently.

Worrying his lip between his teeth, Thor furrowed his brows and thought hard. Surely, truly, he needed the help. And he wanted the help; just thinking about the lack of it was enough to raise the fire and lightning in his blood. But to bother his friends? They hadn’t offered much more aid than they could handle, for their own reasons, Thor saw. Clint had been brainwashed by Loki, Tony thrown out a tower. While Bruce himself hadn’t actually met his brother, the stress of who Loki would become could be just enough to call the Hulk. Even Natasha and Steve hadn’t had good interactions with him before. They were uncomfortable by him, could tolerate him just enough, but Thor knew that it was better not to push Loki into their lives when he had screwed with them all enough already.

“No, I- I couldn’t-”

“He’s asleep, right?” Natasha interrupted. Her fierce tone was the one that she used in battle, but with interest. Thor nodded, too tired to say his affirmation. “Good,” She continued, “I’ll take him for the night then. I’ll watch him in the morning, give him a bottle, and after you’re done sleeping in you can spend the rest of the day with him.”

“Natasha…” A smile broke over Thor’s face. Like a warm, tropical wave, relief washed over him for the second time that night. He knew Loki would be in good hands, in the safety of his new extended family. A tiny irk of uncertainty wound in his stomach after a moment, however. Did Natasha know how to handle a baby? Would Loki wake up during the night and cry for him? Did Natasha even have a cradle in her room for him?

Like the spy she was, Thor knew that Natasha could see the panic in his eyes by the pout she gave him.

“Don’t worry, I can take care of children just fine. I’ll have DUM-E move the Common Floor cradle up to my room. Loki’ll still be in the tower- just two floors down. You need a good night’s sleep and some time away from brother-sitting.”

“I agree,” Bruce said with a cough. “After today, we can see just how much you’ve been working your butt off to take care of him. We haven’t been… very helpful; definitely not as helpful as we’d promised. Let Nat take him for the night. He’s already asleep, right?”

Correct,” J.A.R.V.I.S. helpfully supplied from above. Thor sighed in defeat, though the grin that continued to adorn him was of gratefulness.

“Fine,” he conceded, “I’ll go grab him. I’ll pack his bag and… please, let me know if he’s any trouble, I can-”

“Stay in your room and sleep,” Natasha tsked. She smirked like the cat who caught the mouse and turned to Tony. “Can we wrap this up for today? Send our Chinese up to our rooms? I’ve got a baby to watch and Thor needs food and sleep.”

“We’re done!” Tony agreed with the clap of his hands and a whole-body stretch. The other Avengers groaned likewise as everyone headed for the elevator to their respective rooms. Natasha followed Thor up to his, where she waited, hip cocked, as he slowly entered Loki’s nursery.

The room was unfinished. Two of the walls were painted a soft green, like the meadows back on Asgard, and the other two were of a rich, lighter brown. Steve had been generously painting the scene of a field next to a forest before he had gotten busy. The only thing that was finished was the ceiling, which was blue with fluffy, wonderful clouds. Some glow in the dark paint was used too, for in the dim light stars could be seen dotting the artificial sky. It had taken him a few days to paint all the details, but that had been almost two weeks ago.

“Steve should add some animals and finish those trees when he comes back,” Natasha hummed with a whisper. Thor looked over his shoulder and nodded in agreement. He packed some diapers and wipes, among other necessities, into Loki’s travel bag.

“Aye, that would be kind of him. As much as I would love for him to finish it, after this last week I’d hate to bother him…”

“Don’t be like that,” she said. Even though he couldn’t see her, Thor was sure her fiery red eyebrows were furrowed. “Do you really think that if you asked for help we’d turn you down? Sure, the week has been busy, and we haven’t offered too much, but that’s about to change. Anything you need, you ask.”

“Thank you, Natasha,” Thor said. And he meant it. Handing over Loki’s bag, he nodded trustfully and looked her in the eyes. She was determined and skilled, and Thor knew that Loki would be in safe hands.

Loki huffed in his sleep. His head turned and he grasped onto Daga a hair tighter. Thor slipped his hands under him, carefully, and pulled him close. Swaddled in his yellow blanket, Loki was passed to Natasha, who held him as if he’d always meant to be cradled there.

“Tell J.A.R.V.I.S. when you’re up, and I’ll bring him over. Sleep tight Big Guy. Goodnight.” With that, Natasha gave him one last smile and headed for the elevator. The bag was slung over her shoulder and Loki was tucked close. Thor watched, stomach tight, until the doors closed and they disappeared.

I can offer updates if anything happens during the night, Mister Odinson. I’d advise adhering to Agent Romanoff’s advice, however. Your food will be up in about five minutes. Goodnight, Mister Odinson.

Thor nodded, the movement slow as he eased himself down the hall. “Aye. Thank you, J.A.R.V.I.S. Good night.”

He pushed open the door to his room and stumbled over into bed. He collapsed down and groaned. The city was lit from down below, the horizon bright but the sky dark. Thor gazed upon it from his sprawled position. He laid awake for but ten minutes, ate what he could of his Chinese in the last five, all while thinking about Loki before sleep claimed him for the night.

J.A.R.V.I.S. did not need to once disturb him.

Chapter Text

The sun had just risen. Soft golden light flooded the living room floor, and Natasha basked in it as she drank her morning coffee. Like a cat just waking up from a nap, she gazed over the New York skyline blearily, her white, porcelain mug pressed against her lips in waiting. Hands still cradling the warmth, she took an indulgent sip and hummed as a flock of birds passed by the window. The sun remained unwavering with its morning glow.

In a tower full of super heroes, one had to find peace where they could. Natasha usually found that peace in the early mornings, when the world was just waking up and everything seemed innocent. Work would begin soon for the average Joe, but she could at least bask in the silence and peace before her’s started again too.

Blaahhh… grrahbbb.

Natasha spared a glance at the Iron Man themed baby monitor. It seemed she’d jinxed the end of her shift with that last thought. Downing the last of her delicious coffee, she untangled her legs from their crossed position, stood up, and stretched.

“Is he awake?” She asked, voice quiet, as she deposited the empty cup in the sink. J.A.R.V.I.S. lit the lights blue overhead as she padded towards her room.

It appears that Young Loki is in fact awake. He’s been moving about his crib for two minutes, and verbal for one.

Natasha nodded her acknowledgment as she pushed open her bedroom door. Light filtered through the partially opened curtains, and Loki, in his crib, laid in the middle of the golden glow. If it weren’t for his past deeds, she’d almost mistake him for a baby angel. A tired yet fond smile graced her features as Loki, on his stomach, looked up and recognized her. His energetic babbling only increased when she stepped forward and scooped him up and out from under his tangled blanket.

“Good morning, Loki,” Natasha said as he grabbed onto her shoulders.

“Awnney Nawsha!!”

“You must have really slept well for you to be so verbal, huh Little One? Usually you’re all grumpy in the morning. How about we go and get you a bottle…” Loki gurgled in what seemed like agreement- his legs kicking, a giant smile on his babbling face- as Natasha took them down to the Common Floor.

Bruce had already wedged himself into a corner of one of the couches, contenting himself too to the silence of the morning. When Natasha and Loki exited the elevator he raised his half-drunk coffee mug in greeting. The sounds of her limpidly putting together Loki’s bottle emanated around the space, and Bruce sipped at his coffee and scrolled through the morning news as she worked.

A few minutes later, he looked up when Natasha’s cat-printed feet appeared in his field of view. His first glance was at Loki’s smiling, drooling face, which prompted a little smirk of his own. Natasha bounced him in her hands, again, and held him out farther.

“I’m starting breakfast and he wants to see his Uncle Bruce.”

“How do you know that?” Bruce scoffed, though his words held no malice as he cradled Loki in one arm.

Natasha shrugged as she moved back towards the kitchen. The microwave beeped, announcing that Loki’s bottle was done. “He kept making grabby hands towards you and saying ‘Onnle Uce’. Figured he wanted to say good morning.”

Bruce hummed as he turned his attention to Loki. True to her word he was cooing happily in his arms, and kept mumbling “Onnle Uce”. A smile crossed the doctor’s features as he took the warm bottle from Natasha and gave it to Loki, who held it with practiced ease as he began his breakfast.

Setting down his StarkPad for but a moment, Bruce absentmindedly turned the TV on to some kiddie TV shows. Loki kicked his legs once then turned his head, eyes already tuned in on the colors and ears to the music. Bruce rubbed circles over his hip, the motion born from unconscious thought after two weeks of interactions with the toddler. Despite his previous uncertainty with him, Bruce had to admit that spending his time with Loki was soothing. Sure, the kid could be attention demanding, but there was something relaxing about watching him crawl around, coo, and giggle at the simplest of gestures. Just a friendly smile could trigger a giggle attack, and it was therapeutic to his poor, gamma-radiated soul.

Soon the clinking of the pans died down and the telltale click of the burner being turned off caused Bruce to raise his head. He watched Natasha move a stack of pancakes onto a plate, alongside plates of bacon, sausage, and toast. With his spying little eye, he also spotted a freshly brewed pot of coffee, which smelled just heavenly. He groaned at the sight. He may have been currently working on his second mug of the morning, but a third would be much appreciated.

“Do I smell pancakes?” Clint’s groggy voice intoned his arrival before either Avenger could see him. The archer popped out of the hallway on the other side of the room, his hair ruffled and Hello Kitty pajama pants wrinkled. He stretched with a yawn as he stole a freshly buttered piece of toast before Natasha could stop him. How he could do so and not fear death, Bruce knew not.

“You smell correctly,” Natasha tsked, “though would it kill you to wait until everyone else was up?”

“Nope!” Clint said, toast already gobbled. Natasha had to move the bacon plate out of his reach as he plopped down on a stool and made a grab for it. Even his morning pout, combined with his bedhead, wasn’t enough to earn him some bacon.

Clint blinked his puppy dog eyes once, twice, then scowled and gave up. With his chin resting defeatedly on his fist, he eyed the coffee machine a few feet away. The rich scent could still be smelt from the half-finished pot.

“Can I at least have some coffee?”

“Nope.”

Clint groaned. In the background, Bruce suppressed a few wry chuckles. Even Natasha sported a tug at the corner of her lips.

Whyyyyy!?

“Because someone needs to be burped after his bottle. And, since you complain that we do it wrong every time we try, you get to burp him from now on.”

Clint’s stink-eye could kill. Bruce was glad that he wasn’t on the receiving end. He watched from behind, an eyebrow raised, as Natasha stared back unbothered. She gestured the bacon plate in his direction, where Loki squirmed as he watched TV, expectantly.

“Well?”

With another groan, Clint slipped off his stool and plopped down onto the couch beside Bruce. He folded his arms and regarded Loki with that pout of his that Bruce knew meant that he was reluctant. Loki just kicked his right leg and paid him no heed, still suckling contentedly at his bottle.

“Do I have to?” Clint whined, head craned back to peer at Natasha.

“Yes,” came the unmoved reply.

Bruce laughed as he set aside his StarkPad to shift Loki over into Clint’s arms. The archer didn’t protest, through his eyebrows twitched once Loki was cradled. Still a quarter to his bottle, too, which meant that Clint would have to continue holding him. Bruce went back to the news, grinning blatantly, while Clint suppressed a whine and slumped into the couch.

By the time Loki had finished his bottle, Steve had returned from his morning run. Both he and Bruce allocated to the kitchenette to start eating breakfast, leaving Clint to stink-eye them as he maneuvered Loki onto his shoulder. Natasha took a sip from her blissfully warm coffee and sighed, and Clint knew the smirk that adorned her lips.

“Fuck you guys,” He bit out.

Language,” came three replies.

If it weren’t for Loki’s little giggles as he was burped, Clint probably would have rebelliously sworn through a string of curses. Instead, he flashed the group a quick bird just outside of his new charge’s peripherals, eyes still glaring daggers. With a sigh, he turned to face the TV, at least familiar with the children shows on screen.

For all it was worth, burping Loki was basically practice. Unbeknownst to the other Avengers, minus Nat, his third was on the way. With Natasha- they believed she would be a girl- coming soon, Clint knew he would have to get back into the swing of baby care. Since Loki was already in the tower that need was checked off instantly, though it really wasn’t like he wanted to take care of Loki, of all people in the universe. Of course, out of everybody that this supposed Amora wanted to enchant, it had to be him. And here was Clint, and basically the rest of the Avengers, taking care of the villain-turned-baby as a result.

Still, the media would of course eventually find out about Loki, since they all couldn't keep him locked up as he regrew. But they would headline about how weird or unsettling the thought was, that Loki was growing among them, and Clint had to agree. He was still absolutely pissed that they were taking care of him. Loki had attacked and killed on their home planet, and baby or not Clint was half tempted to send him right back to Asgard. Steve had a point though. If Loki were sent back to then he would probably grow up just as damaged, maybe even more so. Thor was the most responsible person for him at the moment. He was still an Avenger, however, and so here Loki was, to stay in their growing family.

Perhaps the only good part about the situation was that Thor didn’t have to raise him alone, and the team wasn’t forced to take care of Loki either. It’d become a group effort, with a good portion of the parenting aspect more on Thor’s shoulders. Meaning, Clint only had to tolerate him a few times a day, nothing more. Since the Central Park incident two weeks ago, everyone had started to participate in Loki’s daily schedule, thus integrating him into theirs. Clint had been upgraded from laundry duty to bottle duty, apparently. Natasha tended to take him a few nights a week, as well as into the morning. Steve played with him after breakfast, and Tony and Bruce helped around and during nap time. Thor still spent the most time with him, though Loki truly was part of the Avenger family now.

A burp in his ear pulled Clint out of his thoughts. Two tiny hands gripped at his shirt as Loki burped up again, which Clint patted him through. When he was done, and babbling without a care in the world, Clint shifted him to his free shoulder and pulled the soiled burp-cloth from his other.

“There we go….Loki. Now, uh, I can pass you off to your high chair and I can steal all of Cap’s pancakes…”

A few chuckles of protest came from the kitchen. Clint didn’t stop the grin that crossed his face as he bent over and stuffed the cloth into Loki’s overnight bag. The secret fatherly part of him couldn’t help but bounce the baby as he stuck his tongue out at Steve, teasingly, while Bruce futilely stole a few more cakes from the stack.

Natasha got up and maneuvered Loki’s highchair between her and Clint’s stools. The scrape of the legs wasn’t exactly pleasant over the flooring, but Clint didn’t mind as he snarked at his teammates. What he should have paid more heed to, however, was the warning gurgle Loki gave. Without much further ado, he felt the cut of his jaw be attacked with warm, wet, and slobbery.

Eugh! Loki, what the hell!?” Clint jerked his head away to awkwardly peer down at the baby in his arms. A line of drool connected his jaw and Loki’s lips, where a few sparse teeth gleamed in his grin. The giggling might have been adorable, but the feeling of cooling baby drool was not.

“Ha! I think Loki wants to thank you, Clint,” Steve laughed. Loki accentuated his point by tightening his grip on Clint’s shirt and tugging himself upwards. Steve chuckled into his breakfast as Clint groaned and tried to shift the wriggling, kissing baby in his arms.

“That’s very kind of you, Loki, but I could do without the kisse- eugh, kid, stop!” He could practically feel his tongue, and for heaven’s sake would he stop sucking? Clint was entirely too sure that his jaw was not a bottle, and that kissing did not involve becoming a human- or alien- vacuum. “Stop sucking face, stoooop!”

Finally, hands secured under Loki’s armpits, Clint held Loki outstretched above him. The drool dripped down, again, as Loki was moved into uproarious laughter. Clint turned his head just in time to let it drip down onto his clean, not-baby-kissed cheek. As funny as the scene probably was, he couldn’t help but shudder out of embarrassment at the feeling of warm saliva on his chin, accentuated by Bruce’s desperate attempts to stop choke-laughing into his orange juice.

Natasha took Loki while his brain rebooted. She also threw a clean towel in his face, which he gladly accepted. If she could pass some sort of S.H.I.E.L.D. memory wipe that’d be great too, because he was sure that those existed. S.H.I.E.L.D. had everything, ranging from lipstick daggers to belt guns. If anyone had a way to erase the Loki-kiss from his mind, then they certainly did.

Steve pushed a hot stack of pancakes towards him as he slumped onto a stool. Clint pulled it away from Loki’s hands a few inches over. He couldn’t help but shoot the baby an incredulous look.

“Now my pancakes too? Really kid? I mean, seriously, who taught you how to kiss? You have atrocious style, and after attacking me you’re trying to steal my breakfast? You truly are a villain.” His only response was another bubble of laughter, accompanied by shining green eyes and round rosey cheeks.

Natasha had a smug look about her face as she settled back onto her own stool. Clint side-eyed her as he stuffed half a pancake into his mouth.

“Whut augh ‘ou phinking ohfer phere?” She frowned briefly at his poor manners, but the grin returned when Loki tried reaching out to him again.

“Nothing really, Clint, but you have to admit that it’s pretty adorable that Loki wants to thank his Onnle Linny for giving him a nice burp. It’s not very often he gets to give you any appreciation kisses.”

Clint downed his orange juice with another shudder. “You let him kiss you? You do realize he’s terrible at that, right? And I’m not his uncle.”

“We’re all his uncles,” Bruce scoffed. “Also, he’s terrible at it because he’s a baby. And because only Tony and Thor are brave enough to give him kisses, so really he’s only got two terrible teachers.”

Steve snorted into his own glass of juice. “How do you know that Tony’s supposedly a terrible kisser?”

Bruce shrugged. “Pepper told me some funny stories.”

“Right, right,” Steve said, rolling his eyes. The super-soldier pushed out of his seat and deposited his dishes in the sink. On his way back he pulled Loki right back out of his high-chair. Clint ignored the oncoming giggles as Steve continued, saying, “Well, I think it’s nice that we’re encouraging positive behaviors from Loki. All babies need love, so it’s only right that we nurture him. I think it was pretty cute that he tried to give you a kiss!”

“Of course you would think so, Cap, but just wait until he’s trying to suck your face. It won’t be too cute then!”

Steve shrugged in surrender, as if to say “So be it, then.” He lowered himself onto his back in the living room, Loki held firmly within his arms. Once down he settled him onto his chest. Watching Loki adjust always brought out a few wry chuckles, then a few more once he tried to zoom away. Steve caught him before he could crawl off his shoulder, then hoisted him up above. It was time for push-ups; the kind that Loki loved to help with.

“Don’t drop him!” Clint called from the kitchen. “We don’t need him turning back into an insane maniac hellbent on killing you ‘cos you dropped him!”

“I’m not going to drop him,” came Steve’s scoff. He already had Loki half-raised above his head. Said baby was about level with the surface of the coffee table, and that was with Steve’s elbows still bent. A full-fledged grin spread across both Steve and Loki’s face once Loki was hoisted all the way up.

“Gah...ah! Gaaha! Baaaaa!” Loki gurgled as Steve lowered him back down. He giggled again when Steve pretended to heave and strain, his descent upwards a little rockier this time.

Steve blew his cheeks up with air until his face blushed a light red. “Oh, Loki! You’re so heavy! I can barely hold you up! Aaaaa- aha!” Even he couldn’t help but laugh a little as he held Loki out again, arms still pretend-straining with his weight.

Childish giggles filled the room as Steve pulled him back down. A few seconds of silence, then the laughter returned as Steve pretended to struggle. Up, down, up, down, and it seemed that Loki would never get tired of the game. Children liked repetition after all, and the fun game with Steve only fueled Loki’s desires.

The game of push-ups lasted for a little less than an hour, though it filled the living room with laughter. At some point Loki wanted down, which was expressed through cries and wails until he was set onto the carpet. He then continued to crawl around the living room area with Steve hot on his tail, so the rest of the lounging Avengers had to pull their feet from the walkway to accommodate the super soldier’s width.

Their game was interrupted by J.A.R.V.I.S. quite suddenly not long after.

Excuse the interruption, but Mister Odinson is back from his appointment. He will be down to pick Loki up after a shower.

“Thor had an appointment?” Clint wondered, brows pinched in confusion as he picked his head off his resting fist.

“Uh-huh,” Natasha hummed, not too interested in looking away from the news she’d turned on. “Told me about it earlier this week. Did he not mention it?”

“Nope,” everyone else said.

Clint asked, “Well, Nat’s watching the news, and I don’t want to interrupt, so mind to indulge us in what he was up to, J.?”

I’m afraid Mister Odinson wanted to keep the appointment a secret to surprise you all, so I am not allowed to give out that information, Agent Barton.

“What?” Clint scoffed, incredulous. “That’s dumb! Nat probably knows, so why can’t you say? Come on J., let us in on the secret!”

That information is private, Agent Barton. And Agent Romanoff does not know, actually.

“But J.-”

Steve stood up from the floor with an interruptive grunt, coupled with an exasperated glare. “Come on now Clint, you could argue with J.A.R.V.I.S. all day and never get any real information. Thor’ll probably be down in ten minutes, and we’ll see his ‘surprise’ then.”

Clint groaned, but wait with the other Avengers he did.

When the elevator dinged and Thor stepped out, the entire room delved into delayed hysterics. Steve was slack-jawed, Bruce kept taking double takes as he sputtered, and even Natasha squinted with a cocked head as she regarded the Thunderer in complete surprise. Clint, by far, was the most explosive.

WHAT did you do to your HAIR?!” He wailed, standing, as he sunk to his knees in shock. “Why in the world would you cut your hair, oh my God, Thor?!”

Said God of Thunder chuckled as he almost sheepishly stood in the middle of the common floor. He shifted his weight from foot to foot as he ran a hand through his newly shorn, wet hair. The old blond locks that everyone had grown used to were gone, now replaced with buzzed sides and short hair on the top.

Everyone stood either speechless, or in Clint’s case, devastated, at the completely new look. Thor has said once that it was illegal to cut royalty’s hair in Asgard without said royal’s consent, and he’d never seemed to want to cut his. In fact, he’d always seemed keen on growing it out. For the longest while, a handful of Loki’s hair had actually been braided into it, though with his baby brother now returned perhaps that explained the change. But the shorn hair, after years of seeing blond locks, was truly an intimidating change.

Finally, Steve stopped gaping and managed a surprised squeak. “Uh- why such a big change, Big Guy? Thought you loved your long hair.”

Thor jolted out of his sheepish stupor and chuckled. The hand in his hair moved to rub at the back of his neck as he said, “I did- do! But, well, with Loki back, and with him being so grabby, I figured it was a needed change. It looks…. good, yes?”

Bruce startled into a reply, his words mixed with Steve’s and Natasha’s. “Oh gosh, Thor, yeah!”

“Of course Big Guy, you’re looking great! Don’t worry about us.”

“Did we ever once say that you looked bad, Thor? You look really good, actually.”

“You wear my own hairstyle better than me,” Clint huffed after them, arms crossed as he scrutinized the God. Then, he unfolded his arms and chuckled. “Oh, Tony is gonna have a heart attack when he sees this.”

“Is that not bad?” Thor snorted, hands falling to his sides with a playful roll of his eyes. Somewhere under a couch, where he absolutely was not supposed to be, was a little baby trickster who was definitely trying to crawl away, and Thor was sure he’d seen a tiny foot disappear in his haste. He stepped forward after him.

“I mean, yeah, but it’ll be funny to watch him freak out. C’mon, you were totally waiting to see our reactions, don’t lie!”

“Perhaps I was,” Thor said, smirking slightly, as he stopped at one couch. He could hear shuffling, of someone crawling his way. Bent at his waist, Thor peered under. His blue eyes were met with Loki’s green, and the baby’s quickly widening smile let loose a string of incomprehensible baby chatter.

“Oooor! Or! Or!” Without even needing to be pulled out, Loki crawled out from underneath the couch and into his brother’s waiting arms. He erupted with a wave of laughter as Thor pulled him close and jostled him around, his chubby cheeks assaulted with kisses and light scratches of his brother’s beard. The sight of his brother’s newly shorn hair, however, quickly gained his interest as Loki went quiet.

“Uh oh,” Natasha chuckled, “I don’t think he likes it, Thor…”

Indeed, as she’d observed, Loki did not seem too keen on the new hair. He’d wriggled up onto his brother’s shoulder and was grabbing his tiny hands around what short strands were left. A frown marred his normally smiling lips.

“See, you’re why I cut it in the first place, Loki- ow! Just because it’s short doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt!” Thor hissed as Loki tried to pull the hair with two fists instead of one. He moved Loki’s hands back down to his chest, but with a telltale whine Thor knew he’d upset his brother.

“Or…” Loki sniffed, tears already welling up. To Thor, the fact that he couldn’t get past his new hair warmed his heart.

“Oh Loki,” Thor whispered, “It’s alright. My hair will grow back. I’m just can’t have you pulling it while you’re so little. I love you, Little One.” His warm chuckle against Loki’s temple did nothing to stave off the growing cry, and nor did Tony, who exited the elevator and promptly screamed.

“Hey guys, J. said that ThoooooOLY SHIT! Thor, buddy, what the hell?”

Thor felt his chest light up with flattered laughter as he turned around to face the stunned inventor. Growing up with Loki might have rubbed off on him a bit, otherwise, he was somewhat mischievous in nature himself. The team’s surprise but support was much appreciated. Still, he found he could take some pride in the confusion that was etched into Tony’s face.

“Surprise?” He laughed, over the sound of Loki’s now full-blown wailing. In the background, he could hear Natasha turning the TV volume up on the news.

“That’s a freaking word for it,” Tony muttered as he stalked over. “I’m almost offended that you chopped them off.” His brown eyes raked Thor over, skeptical. He looked undecided, perhaps even a bit offended. Finally, Thor reveled in the begrudging nod that the inventor gave.

“The Stark patented nod of approval,” Clint drawled, impressed. He was draped over the back of the couch, bored, as he watched. “By the way, where’s the plushie? I’m tired of listening to the screaming.”

“Bag,” Natasha said, still invested in the news.

Tony moved over to the overnight bag and indeed pulled out Daga, along with Loki’s blanket. He threw over the blanket as, with a playful roar, he started to animate Daga. Loki quieted a bit as the blanket wrapped around him, and as he saw Daga ‘flying’ through the air.

“Daga…?”

“Rwar! Loki, I’m coming for kisses! Rwaaaar!” Tony moved Daga through the air, up and down, before circling around the brother duo. Loki moved out from under his blanket to peer, wails tempered, as Tony flew Daga around him.

“Kisses time! Mwah mwah mwah mwah mmmmwah!”

Loki giggled, softly, when Tony brushed Daga up against his cheek with over exaggerated kissing noises. Thor chuckled overhead, rumbling against his brother, as he too assaulted Loki with kisses. The wails had been traded in for laughter, and it warmed Thor’s heart when Loki needed a break and tried to seek refuge under his chin.
“Alright, no more kisses. Crisis averted, team!” Tony let Loki finally grasp onto his dragon before he vaulted over the couch and took a position next to Clint. Thor was about to follow, ready to play with Loki, when Daga started… flying… a few feet away.

“Uh, Thor?” Bruce asked. His glasses had slipped down his nose as he looked up from the StarkPad, eyes squinted as Daga started to fly in a circle around the room. Everyone else looked up, with varying degrees of realization and surprise. Natasha paused the TV as everyone wearily watched the dragon.

Steve stood with his arms twitching at his sides, gaze cautious. “Thor, please tell me that you know more magic than you let on.”

The hum and tickle of magic was all too familiar. It pricked against the hairs on his arms, made goosebumps raise on his skin. Unlike the magic of his mother’s, whose reminded him of warm summer days and deserts on a breezy balcony, it felt like tediously crafted magic, of long afternoons in the library, of biting one’s tongue and feeling regretful of it, and of something just a hint bitter and painful. Thor never knew how to feel about it, but he was no stranger to Loki’s magic.

“While I can do some very, very basic healing magic, I assure you I do not possess the magic needed to levitate an object. This, in fact, would be Loki.”

All eyes turned to the grinning baby in Thor’s arms. The small being still had his hands fisted into his brother’s shirt, his blanket partially fallen off his shoulders, as he stared at the dragon. Daga glowed a soft green, the same color that gently wafted over Loki’s fists. He seemed almost obsessed with watching Daga. Everyone else was too, until the game controllers started to float alongside books and magazines and throw pillows.

“Tell him to stop,” Clint hissed out in a controlled panic. “I thought he couldn’t do magic as a baby, why the fuck is he making everything float? Make him stop before he tries to kill us!”

“I don’t think he could kill us with a throw pillow, even if he wanted to,” Bruce mumbled. His voice held a hint of strain. Nobody knew what was happening, not even Thor, who looked confused above all, and he was starting to lose concentration over the Big Guy.

“Suffocation is a thing, Bruce.”

“Shut up you two,” Tony hissed back, “You’re not helping! Let’s not panic. Maybe this just means that he’s growing up, ya’know, like babies do. Maybe he’ll get a grip in a moment and everything’ll just-”

The magic spiked. Thor felt the hairs on his neck stand on end, and years of watching Loki try and master his magic was the reason he knew that uncomfortable peak so well. His eyes widened as one throw pillow burst into spectacular green flames. Clint screamed as it dropped onto the cushion beside him, and Thor barely had any time to shout, “DUCK!” before everything but Daga went out in a brilliant green explosion.

“What the shit?!” Tony screamed, diving behind the bar, as a still flying, on fire remote zinged past.

“J.A.R.V.I.S.! Fire extinguisher, sprinkler system, something!” Steve yelled. He’d taken an unaffected throw pillow and was trying to bat down another fire-engulfed remote from the flight path. From his spot behind the far couch, Thor could tell that it was not working. Especially since Loki was going between giggling and crying in his arms.

“J.A.R.V.I.S.! NOW PLEASE!” Clint screeched. Another throw pillow had went for him. A few embers of green fire were being smacked out in his hair, though his panicked expression almost looked comical.

“Stop screaming! It’s n-not helping!” The growl at the end of Bruce’s sentence was far too Hulk-like for anyone’s preferences.

J.A.R.V.I.S. finally turned on the sprinkler systems when another barely-suppressed growl tore through Bruce. Or, maybe it was when the smoke hit the ceiling. Either way, the objects dropped from their paths immediately. The charred remains of a game controller was held in Steve’s ash-covered offhand, a singed pillow in his other. Smoking pillows, controllers, and remotes were scattered throughout the room, and Daga had fallen somewhere near Natasha and Bruce. Frigga’s magic had always preserved the plushie from any of Loki’s outbursts, since it was an occurrence that had followed him into mid-adolescence. It sat as brand new as the day it had been made in a pile of ash, the button eyes reflecting the morning’s light innocently.

Everyone heaved breaths of relief as the system finally shut off. A few wry drops of water landed in puddles over the coffee table, and everyone was in need of a change of dry, non-singed clothes.

“That was… something,” Natasha finally said. She and Bruce stood up from behind the middle couch. Tony peeked out from behind the living room bar, and Clint stood up beside the brother duo behind the third couch. Steve still stood by the coffee table, hair dripping with water, as he tossed the charred remains out of his weapons onto the floor.

“‘Something’ is a word for that,” Bruce said, no green in his veins or strain in his voice. Instead, his shirt clung uncomfortably to his chest and he looked even more tired than he had before. Thor winced as he realized that that may have been, at least partially, his fault.

Tony shook his head as he stepped back over into the ruined living room. “Yeah, that was a trainwreck. Hey uh, Thor? Any idea what the fuck that was?”

Thor nodded, once, though he looked and felt less sure than he would have liked to put forth. “Yes, actually. I haven’t seen this outburst in centuries, to be honest. But, to put it simply, when youth who are magically talented reach a certain age their magic wakes up within them. They begin to use the magic however they like, though it often ends in fires and explosions because they cannot channel the magic correctly. They haven’t learned how to control and use it yet, obviously.”

Natasha eyed over the now sated Loki. She raised an eyebrow at the word ‘channel’. “He has to relearn magic, doesn’t he?”

“Thor, we don’t have any magic users here!” Tony threw his hands up and whined. His drop onto the soggy couch was dramatic and was accompanied by a disgusting squelch. “We can’t have him blowing shit up whenever, either! Is this an Asgard problem?”

Well, he certainly wasn’t wrong. Thor nodded as he shifted Loki, who was trying to grab at his hair again, onto his other shoulder. “Aye. I have to go to the castle and visit Loki’s old chambers. I do believe he kept his old charm bracelet on his desk. Mother made it to help funnel his magic from violent outbursts into something more manageable, like bubbles or snowflakes.”

Tony perked up considerably. The inventor had mentioned wanting to visit Asgard one day, for scientific and cultural business reasons a long time ago. Thor knew better, in that Tony wanted to see the famed technologies, cultures, and lands that he went on about in his stories, and that he wanted to understand the magic that Loki dependently used. A quick stop to Asgard and back? Well, it sounded like an adventure that was just up his alley. Thor hummed warmly at the knowing interest in Tony’s eyes.

“So… you’re going to Asgard then? I could… go and babysit while you get the bracelet, you know, let Loki get some sunlight and maybe talk with Fandral or something…”

Steve pursed his lips in confusion. “If Fandral is Loki’s babysitter and he’s already in Asgard, then why do you need to go?”

“Well then, maybe I want to accompany Thor on this very critical mission!”

“It’s not that critical,” Clint muttered. He’d rolled his eyes and walked away, presumably to go change into new clothes. “You guys have fun with that. I’m not concerning myself in any magical affairs. See y’all later.”

Bruce followed him with a shake of his still wet, water-dripping hair. “Yeah, I’m going to sit this one out too. You guys have fun on Asgard. I’m going to go meditate or nap, or something.”

That left Steve and Natasha still standing in the living room. Natasha looked to Steve, chin slightly tilted. The captain just snorted as he waved her off. “Hey, I’m not stopping you guys from going. It’s a Wednesday morning and we have no missions for the next few days, and assuming someone doesn’t attack the tower, then we at least have three of the six Avengers at the ready. Just… come back with that bracelet, yeah?”

“Of course, Captain!” Thor found himself laughing. He pulled him in for a one-arm hug, warm and tight, before letting Steve go to change into dry clothes. “We’ll be back before the end of the day here.”

“When are we leaving?” Natasha asked.

“Oh, so you are going. See, not everyone can understand the weird chin-tilt language you seem to be able to speak with Clint and Steve. Is it a S.H.I.E.L.D. thing? Because if so that’s kinda dumb, I’m feelin’ left out here.”

“Shut up, Tony,” Natasha said, smirking, with no malice in her voice.

“I got it, I got it. When we leaving, Point Break?”

Thor peered past the two and spotted Loki’s bag on the kitchen floor. Their clothes were soaked, but the bag seemed to have been sheltered by the island’s counter. Loki’s morning change of clothes should be in there since he vaguely remembered packing them.

“We’ll leave once we’ve changed into dry clothes.”

“Soooo like, five minutes?” Thor nodded. Tony couldn’t help but give a fist pump in excitement, and Thor chuckled as he watched him sprinted off to go change.

“See you in five, Big Guy,” Natasha said. She was smiling genuinely as they went and met Tony in the open elevator.

In just a few moments, they were about to see one of the most beautiful cities in their life. Thor felt his chest puff with pride as he tucked Loki close and pressed the button for their floor. It’d been a while since he’d visited, but maybe, just maybe, he was excited to return home, Loki safely in tow.

Chapter Text

The Bifrost ride went as well as it could have. Loki was old enough to travel by what seemed like quite a few Asgardian months, though Thor couldn’t help but hold him a little tighter for his own safety. Just the thought of him flying outside of the rainbow walls made something anxious flutter inside Thor’s ribcage. That feeling only heightened when Loki reached out a tentative hand in curiosity. Tony’s literal breathless, yet excited babbling and science-talk were not helping either, and Natasha stood perhaps just a bit too still. Thor shifted Loki away from the walls and laid a comforting hand on Tony’s shoulder, in an attempt to help him remember to breathe.

First Bifrost rides were always fun.

It’d been a while since Thor had seen the inside of the observatory. As soon as the rainbows stopped flashing in his eyes he gave a tentative grin to Heimdall, who regarded him with a warm smile and a half-bow. Tony stood star-eyed at the architecture around him while Natasha looked back out over the view of the cosmos in interest. Thor chuckled as he nudged them both towards the gatekeeper.

“Heimdall, hello! It has been quite some time, old friend.”

“Aye Prince Thor, it has been quite a time. It is good to see you again. Prince Loki seems to be in good health as well,” Heimdall said, voice resonating under the dome. Thor nodded as his teammates snapped to attention. He was used to the acoustics and space that Heimdall’s voice seemed to occupy, though it amused him to see his friends’ reactions.

“Aye, Loki is in very good health,” Thor said happily. “Bruce and I believe he is growing healthily, though at more of an Asgardian rate than a human one. I cannot sense anything harmful in the remnants of Amora’s magic, so right now all is well. Any word on the search for her?”

Heimdall shook his head, eyes closed in his slow movements. “Ney, no word. Even I cannot find her. She and Loki share the same knack for hiding from my view, I’m afraid.” A deep sigh tumbled from him then, and Thor knew that their search, by now, had gone on for months. It wasn’t the longest hunt in Asgard’s history, yet it was still tedious nonetheless. “Would you like for me to alert the castle of your return, my Prince?”

Thor pressed his lips together and shook his head. “If you could just call down Sif and the Warriors Three that should suffice. I assume you already know we’re here for a swift purpose.”

Heimdall nodded and turned to send off a summoning raven. Tony raised an eyebrow as he rounded to look at the brother duo.

“Really? No royal treatment for the four of us?”

Thor laughed as Tony cocked out a hip and placed his free hand there threateningly. His other carried a small, slim briefcase, which actually held an Iron Man suit in case something went awry. Though, mainly, it was so he could analyze whatever flora, fauna, cultural differences, or energy signatures he came across. Currently, however, he looked somewhat robbed of an experience, and in a way Thor supposed he was.

“Oh please,” Natasha murmured, teasingly pushing at his shoulder, “you’re a millionaire. Like you need royal treatment.”

“Hey!” Tony scoffed out, somewhat offended. Whatever statement he was going to make afterward was cut off by Loki’s uproarious laughter, which caused an even more offended look. “Oh, you think this is soooo funny, don’t you Megamind? Huh?”

“Ahaha! AAAAH! Onnle Ooney!”

“Yeah? You laughin’ at me, Kiddo?”

Loki squirmed in Thor’s arms with a ferocious laughter attack. He nuzzled under his brother’s chin and peeked out with excited green eyes. Just the sight of Tony’s teasing, questionable gaze had him giggling all over again.

Feeling the vibrations against him made something ache in Thor’s chest. It was eerily similar to the anxious flutter from the Bifrost, actually, though held a hint of fondness. He didn’t know what it was, which was a little concerning. The thought nagged at him, though he shoved the eerily possessive emotion aside as Tony, now making faces for the fun of it, also had him chuckling a little.

Heimdall had at that point returned to his post. He watched, gaze soft yet face unreadable, as Tony peered over Thor’s burly arms. The inventor was trying to tickle Loki at his sides, which were just barely covered by Thor’s forearm, though he managed just fine to tickle Loki into another giggle attack. Heimdall couldn’t help but huff softly in his own amusement, eyes now cast back over the cosmos.

When Sif and the Three were still not there a few moments later, Thor stepped up towards the dais and looked out alongside him. Loki quieted down too, snake-themed pacifier adopted and eyes watching the stars with as much curiosity as the Avengers besides them.

“Have you been watching out over us?” Thor asked, head included towards Heimdall.

The gatekeeper nodded, steadily. “Aye, of course, my Prince. It is my duty to make sure that you and Loki are faring well on Midgard. You had a rocky start, but it seems you have been making leaps in bounds in Loki’s caretaking.”

“He’s pretty easy to take care of once he has someone’s attention,” Natasha said. Her voice was subdued, like she feared intruding on the conversation. In Thor’s natural environment, who knew what kinds of different social boundaries there were. It would do them well not to cross one.

Luckily, Heimdall seemed openly amused at her response. “Well, with a tower full of attention all for him, I doubt you’ll have any trouble bringing him up.”

“Ha!...H-Ham! Hiem!” There was Loki’s curiosity again. He had turned in Thor’s grip and stared up at the gatekeeper with wide, jade green eyes. The snake pacifier had been passed on to Tony, who held the slobbery object with only mild distaste. One hand was outstretched, greedily making grabbing motions as he stared particularly at the plunged sword in the dais.

Thor hummed as he gently bounced him. “That’s right Loki, that’s Heimdall! You probably got to know him real well when you were king, huh?”

“No!”

Surprised, Thor huffed out a choked bit of laughter. “What do you mean, no?”

Heimdall had to laugh at that himself, a few wry chuckles unraveled from his put-together manner. Thor found himself raising an intrigued yet concerned eyebrow that even Natasha mimicked.

“That, my Prince,” Heimdall said, “is a story for another time. For now, I do believe your ride is here.”

The suddenly not-so-distant sound of hooves on the Bifrost indeed alluded to the arrival of his friends. Thor turned around just in time to see the four of them swing off their mighty steeds. He raised an arm in greeting, which all but Fandral returned.

“Hello Thor-!” Sif was cut off by the sudden, uncharacteristic squeal of delight from behind her.

“Oh hello!! Hi Loki! Oh, look at how you’ve grown! Did you miss- Oh, Thor, your hair!”

Fandral’s switching demeanors had Thor laughing until his gut hurt. His friends expressed similar reactions once they entered the observatory, ranging from Volstagg’s laugh of surprise to Sif’s look of utter concern. A wry smirk edged his lips in greeting to his shaken friends.

“You’ve cut it!” Fandral continued to say, voice awed as he dared to lean up. Thor flashed him a toothy grin as if he would bite if his mane were touched. Fandral yelped and took his hand back.

“Someone didn’t cut it without consent, did they?” The hard steel of Sif’s voice was accompanied by a hand going to her weapon, which brought a choked laugh out of Thor.

“Nay, I asked for it cut! There is no need to be concerned, my friends.”

“I can’t remember the last time you’d cut your hair,” Hogun said. He looked to be observing the differences and was at least pleased by them.

“I think I know why he cut his hair,” Volstagg suddenly said. He chuckled at the curious glances his peers sent him.”

Thor shared his knowing grin, because yes, it was the same reason Volstagg had last cut his own. When no one said anything and the questioning looks continued, he gestured down to Loki. “Little One wouldn’t stop tugging, so I decided to do something about that particular problem. Isn’t that right Loki, hm?” He booped a kiss onto Loki’s temple to gain his attention. A “No!” was his reply, along with a hand fisted in his short hairs. The tug was painful, but only less so now. Thor let his head be yanked with a pained smile to his friends, who laughed at Loki’s chorus of “No, no, no!” Thor shrugged the hand off while he moved to envelop each of them into chest-squeezing hugs.

Fandral grunted into his shoulder gleefully. “Well, at least you look good with short hair. If you try and copy my style, however, I might be less than pleased, my friend.” There was a challenging twinkle in his eyes, though Thor snorted in reply.

“I fear I do not carry the volume of bounce needed for such a style. You’ve outmatched me fairly, Fandral.”

“And rightfully so!” He triumphed, backing out of the hug only to swipe Loki right out from his friend’s grip.

A possessive complaint was ready on the tip of Thor’s tongue, for he’d just gotten back to the tower and his brother, but Fandral shot him That Look, the pleading look, and Thor groaned and let him coo. He’d get more time to see Loki later. For now, Fandral hadn’t seen either of them in weeks, maybe a month, so visiting was overdue.

“Careful Fandral, you’re going to break him with all of that pent-up admiration!” Volstagg teased. The other two of the group snorted in agreement, though the three of them held excited grins of their own at the sight of the returning Princely duo.

Fandral scoffed, Loki brought close to his chest. “Oh please, like anyone could break Loki. He’s rather resilient, both as a baby and as an adult. I think a little bit of coddling is needed every once in a while, yeah Loki?” He cooed down at him and sent a wink to Thor.

“I think we all know well enough now that even Amora can’t get rid of our favorite trickster. I hadn’t heard word from any of you for a few weeks now, so I can only assume the last few months here have been busy.” A look to his side had him jumping into action. “Oh! And, as I’m sure you’ve figured out, I’ve brought the Man of Iron with me alongside Black Widow. Tony, Natasha, these are Sif and the Warriors Three; Volstagg, Hogun, and Fandral.” He gestured to each easily, a little embarrassed for forgetting Tony and Natasha’s presence so rudely, while Fandal waved a hand to them while waving Loki’s own. He laughed against the baby’s chubby cheek happily.

“Nice to meet you all. But yes, it has been very busy,” Hogun sighed. “We haven’t found Amora yet, though our guards are still on the lookout. It is nice to have the moment off, though. Welcome back to Asgard, my friend.”

“Welcome back indeed,” Sif grinned. She slugged him, hard, and Thor found himself laughing as something akin to bruising-pain fired over his shoulder. “Would it have killed you to send a message before hand?”

“It was a very impromptu decision! We’re here just to grab something and go, not too much visiting today.”

“We’re here for a magic-conducting bracelet for ‘ole Loki here,” Tony clarified, sliding up to the lady towering over him. He flashed her his signature smile. Thor could already feel the amusement and dread settling in his stomach. “Name’s Tony Stark. It’s nice to meet you, Lady Sif.”

Sif but raised an eyebrow and shot Thor a look that read, “Seriously? He’s supposed to be a hero?” but said nothing otherwise. Instead, she nodded, recognition shifting into her eyes. “You need the bracelet Queen Frigga had made, correct? It’s probably in his room, on one of his many shelves or desk.”

“Thank you, Lady Sif,” Natasha said. She pulled Tony, unkindly, by his arm back a few steps. The ire in her eyes had Thor barely suppressing his laughter. “We’ll be sure to grab it and leave, that way we’re out of your hair. I’m sure Amora is more of a pressing matter than Loki is right now.”

Volstagg shrugged as he moved back out towards the horses. “Eh, both her and Loki are matters that the courts are concerned about. Loki is safe with his brother and you Midgardian heroes, though, so there is less for us to worry about. Come, we should return to the castle quickly, while the guards are still out for the afternoon. There will be less commotion for us to deal with.” He waved them out, but not before Thor and his friends bid goodbye to Heimdall. The gatekeeper nodded in reply, his eyes focused over the faraway galaxies.

“Goodbye indeed. May your search be successful. Your hair looks nice by the way, Price Thor.”

Thor laughed as he walked out into the homely warm sunshine.“Thank you, Heimdall! A good day to you as well!”

“Hello and goodbye Heimdall! Again, it’s good to have you back!” Fandral called, a sighing trill indicating his great spirits. By the time he had effortlessly climbed back onto his horse with Loki still held tight in his arms, Thor had adopted a look of confusion. He mounted his own horse, which the group had brought along for him, and helped Tony on behind.

“Fandral, what do you mean ‘again’? Did something happen to Heimdall in my absence?”

Like the drama whore that he was, Fandral whipped his head back with stars in his eyes. “Really? Did we not tell you what happened?”

“Eyes forward,” Hogun grumbled. He too glanced back then, though with exasperation. “Heimdall was gone for a while, that is all. Nothing to worry about, Thor.”

Tony hummed noncommittally from behind him, which was his only indicator that the inventor didn’t quite believe Hogun’s words. Thor found himself inclined to agree.

“Isn’t it a tad bit worrying that the dude who’s supposed to look out for extraterrestrial threats to your kingdom just… up and disappeared for a hot second?”

Thor cast the warriors with a dark, concerned look. “I believe I have to agree with Tony here, my friends. Why was Heimdall gone?”

Sif rolled her eyes as she slowed her horse down to match Thor’s’ pace. Natasha sat undisturbed behind her, her balance not at all affected by the heavy duffle bag of Loki’s slung over her shoulder.

“I’ll have you know it’s because a certain trickster somebody declared him a traitor to the kingdom and was going to have him imprisoned. Heimdall ran with the sword for a little over a year and a half. By the time that Loki had been turned into a baby, he had returned. Since we were all so stressed about Amora and Loki, the court dismissed his claimed treason and let him return to his position.”

Thor blinked as Sif unloaded the kingdom’s hottest gossip. “Huh.”

Loki giggled somewhere on Fandral’s shoulder. He was peeking over, staring at Sif and his brother as he plodded along a head of them. Thor cast him with a disapproving glance, as if he could reach the adult-Loki who was buried deep inside.

“You can’t just become king and start accusing people Loki, that’s bad.”

“I don’t think he really cares, Thor,” Natasha huffed, a smile despite her tone.

Thor shrugged in response. “It’s better if we reprimand him anyways then never do it, isn’t it?”

“Whatever you say Thor; you’re the big brother here.”

He rolled his eyes at Volstagg’s tease but grinned as the group boiled into familiar bouts of snickers. Even Tony was chuckling over his shoulder. As if to prove a point, Thor slapped the reigns and picked up the pace. He snatched Loki out of Fandral’s arms- ignoring the whine of protest- and led the group back to the castle. He could hear Tony stunned into silence at the scenery, for more than just a moment, and he took that time to finally revel in the feeling of being home with both his new and old family and friends.

It was, truly, a much-needed feeling.

------

Throughout the ride back, Sif and the Warriors Three were steadily picked off. First, it was Hogunn, who was pulled aside by a few soldiers. There was a disturbance in the training yard and was needed. He bid goodbye to the princes and their visitors before riding off.

Volstagg was next, soon followed by Sif. They were both pulled aside by older wizards, some of which Thor vaguely recognized. He thought that Loki would have definitely recognized them, and maybe cringed because he was always going on about the senile older wizards. Both warriors seemed to be scolded for abandoning the search, since many were worried about Amora reappearing with Odin in his current state. Thor waved them goodbye while Fandral barely managed to escape being caught too.

Once out of range, Fandral slowed his horse’s pace so he could ride alongside Thor and Tony. Natasha had been relocated to behind him once Sif had left, so when they pulled up she made a few funny faces for Loki. She was met with giggles and shy grins, Loki tucked beneath Thor’s chin. Fandral tried to make a few faces, too, but was quickly reminded that he probably shouldn’t when his horse nearly trampled a poor citizen.

Tony whistled as they neared the palace. Thor laughed, about to remark on the beauty of his home, when his companion said, “That’s a big damn statue of Loki, huh? Do you think he made it or was it a tribute?”

That got Thor’s attention. With a frown, he whipped his head in the direction that Tony was staring in. What he saw indeed was a giant statue of Loki. Golden, like all the others in Asgard, with his arms outstretched. His signature helm sat regally atop his head, though the look of his armors and the horns reminded Thor far too much of the Loki from New York. He’d only seen the videos a few times, but his pose and expression were reminiscent of Loki’s first confrontation with Steve. He felt his stomach roll uneasily when Loki shifted and babbled in his arms, gaze caught on the statue. They hurried away, Thor a melting-pot of emotions about its appearance.

“When did that get there?” He asked Fandral once it was out of view. Fandral perked up for a moment in thought.

“Ah, not long after the Dark Elves. ‘Odin’ had it made in remembrance of his lost son, though we all know that’s a lie now. We just left it up because there are other things to worry about. Besides, he wasn’t that bad of a ruler…”

Tony laughed in disbelief from behind Thor’s shoulder. He could practically see the cocked eyebrow that the inventor wore. “Wait, seriously? The dude impersonated his dad and cast him off to Earth! You’re seriously defending his rule?”

“And now he’s a baby. Karma, if you ask me. Truly, he wasn’t that bad!” Fandral defended, “He lacked military interest and pulled our troops from the Nine Realms, but education, magic, and citizen’s right made some progress, so it really wasn’t all terrible.”

Natasha side-eyed her teammate and nodded. “We’ll just take your word for it. We weren’t here to see him as king, anyway.”

“Uh-huh, okay, sure.” Tony still sounded disbelieving, and certainly not in agreement with Natasha, though not that Thor could blame him. He was skeptical too. The Loki from New York and the statue made some worrying thoughts flitter through his mind, but the Loki that he knew wasn’t heartless like that Loki. In fact, it sounded like he’d made some progress for topics that he’d always been passionate about.

Fandral pulled his horse to a crawl as they passed by the outside entrance to the palace gardens. They were just outside the castle, guards stationed familiarly up ahead. Thor gave his friend a look of confusion when Fandral made to peer over the garden walls.

“Hm. Looks like you can’t see her from here.”

“Her?”

A bittersweet smile graced his features. “Aye, her. Loki wasn’t all narcissistic with the statue. He made one of the All-Mother too.”

Thor felt his heart skip a beat. Loki had a statue made of their mother? And in the gardens too? It was- used to be- her favorite place. She tended to the plants perhaps more than the garden keeps themselves. She certainly cared more than them. If Frigga weren’t on the balcony overlooking the garden then she was undeniably down within it. With a shaky, yet warm resolve, Thor decided that he and Loki would visit before they leave. Loki, if he were older, would love that.

A tap on his shoulder from Tony snapped Thor back to attention. Fandral nudged them along to the stables, where they hopped off their horses to trek the rest of the way through the palace on foot.

Loki babbled the whole way through, attracting curious gazes from static guards, though was growing fussier and fussier. He wanted down, but could not have down, because the floors of Asgard’s hallways was not a good place for a crawling baby. By the time they hit his room, he was close to a full-blown tantrum, and not even the prospect of blanket and Daga could calm him.

“Why are we hesitating?” Tony asked, impatient when Thor decided to still take his time by gazing at the door. “Baby Boy here needs a nap or something, can’t we pick this up a bit?”

“Well I would, but to be truthful, I do not know if Loki has enchanted his doors. I’m not quite in the mood to be shocked or burned for trying to open them.”

Fandral furrowed his brows with a hum. “I thought Queen Frigga undid the charms on his doors after his fall? Shouldn’t it be fine?”

Thor raised him an eyebrow. “You think he wouldn’t come and re-charm his room as king?”

“Huh, true.”

“Would it be too suspicious if he did? I mean, as Odin, wouldn't it be odd for him to visit his old room? He couldn’t visit as Loki, so.”

“Natasha’s right,” Tony said, “Either he re-charmed them and didn’t care about his appearance or left it be because it was too much of a risk. Who’s most likely to get cursed or whatever- everyone or just you?”

Thor heaved a sigh as he waged the odds. On one hand, Loki had always charmed his door to repel him and most people. On another, he was also someone Loki could trust more easily than others, so maybe he’d be fine. On another hand, if Loki hadn’t re-charmed anything then he was free to open the door with no concerns. Fandral was probably neutral to all, unless anyone in the general public could be afflicted too. In case of anything happening, Tony and Natasha were definitely not handling the door. He cast Fandral a concerned look, then passed Loki over for him to hold.

“I’ve been expelled, burned, shocked, and even soaked from trying to open Loki’s door. If anything were to happen, I have the most experience with it. I’ll open it.”
Tony nodded, though took a step back. Natasha did too, as did Fandral. None of them seemed too fond of the list he’d just rattled off, and Fandral had seen the aftermath of most of them. Getting caught in the crossfires of one of Loki’s spells was never very pleasant.

Thor gazed upon the door with old apprehension. It was just one golden-trimmed doorknob. The worst that could happen was a petty burn. There was nothing to worry about. No harm would come to his friends or even Loki himself, Thor was almost sure of it. Still, an old anxiety settled cold in his hands as he grasped the worn metal. He heaved a breath inward, similar ones audible from behind him, and threw the doors open.

There was a swish of air and the doors slammed back against the walls. Dust flew off the floor and naught-touched drapes flapped against the covered windows, offering little light into the dreary room. Deep shelves lined the insides of the walls, from chest-level to about a story above Thor’s head, each holding tomes thick with ranging topics through the sciences and magics. Underneath were deep drawers that hid Loki’s extensive wardrobe, spanning almost the length of the bookshelves. The floor was covered with pelts from one pathway to the next, winding around his bed, to the stairs by Loki’s hearth and towards his bathroom. The alcove by his favorite sitting window looked depressingly dark, the papers on his messy, messy desk wrinkled and curled. Ash fluttered from its spot within his hearth off to the right. The logs had been disposed of, but it was obvious that a fire had not been lit in a long time. The big canopy bed, more pelts piled thick, sat beyond the hearth and diagonal to the sitting area. It too was dusty and cold.

No, it seemed Loki had not been back after all.

Thor forced himself to relax from the instinctual flinch. Nothing had attacked him but a breeze of cold wind and dust. He stepped inside and still found no curse or spell flung his way. Daring, he continued in. Soon his friends followed, Fandral more cautious than the two Avengers.

Tony whistled as he took a hesitant seat at the end of Loki’s king-sized bed. “Alright, I can admit that the guy has a nice room. Kinda homey? I can definitely see that he was a workaholic. His desk is littered, but it’s not like I’m any better either, so. And all these books! Thor, I would trade a lot of things in my life just to decode and understand those. I’m guessing there’s some pretty advanced mathematics in a few of those.”

“There should be, yes,” Thor mused absentmindedly, “though it would probably be wise not to touch anything other than the floor, the seats, and the bed. I’m not sure what my mother de-enchanted and what she left. Loki charmed most of his possessions.”

“I wouldn’t dare rifle through his things,” Fandral grumbled. He sat on Loki’s bed next to Tony, currently trying to calm said baby’s tempered wails for a nap. A grimace laced his shudder. “I once picked up a bag of his and I got a burn all the way up my arm for it. The Allmother made him apologize, but let me assure you it was one nasty burn. Almost as bad as that of a dragon’s, if you ask me.”

“Aye, Loki did not appreciate his possessions being touched. Sometimes I could be the excuse, others not. I’ll look through his desk.”

“I’ll get his blanket and Daga. Maybe while we’re here he can fit in a nap. Do you think we could get lunch before we leave, Thor?”

He nodded to Natasha as he took a ginger seat in Loki’s desk chair. “I was planning on grabbing lunch and fitting in a nap. I also wanted to visit the gardens and see my mother’s statue…. She would have loved to meet you all.”

Their expressions softened when Thor went silent. He never talked about his family too much, though he always had such kind things to say about his mother. Frigga’s death had hit him hard, even if he’d never known a trace of it.

They managed to work in silence for a while. Natasha and Fandral traded Loki, so now both she and Tony were stretched out over the bed in hopes of luring him to sleep. Fandral hovered over Thor’s shoulder, the two of them moving papers and marking places within once-untouched tomes. Each was reshelved according to Loki’s system. Papers went into parcels, pens rightfully stored away. The desk’s surface held no trace of the bracelet, sadly, so it seemed that going through the drawers was required.

They worked for another while longer. Off to Thor’s right, he could hear Loki gurgling as he wound down for a nap. While he couldn’t make out what they were saying, Natasha and Tony were whispering to one another. If he looked over, he’d see Natasha laid on her back, Loki held comfortably to her chest, with Tony’s knuckles absentmindedly rubbing over Loki’s cheek as he drifted off. The sight melted Thor’s heart, to see that his brother truly could be cared for by his teammates, and spurred him to continue looking. He wouldn’t fail either of him- his team and Loki. Without that bracelet, magic was inevitable, and so was disaster. That was something he could not have. So, looking it was then.

Fandral hummed as he closed the second drawer on the right-hand side of the desk. He glanced over at the resting Avengers before turning to whisper to his best friend.

“So, how’s he been? Healthy? Growing? He seems to be speaking, which is new.”

Thor closed the drawer on the left side of the desk with a fond smile. “Yes, he’s been very healthy and talkative. He already has a few teeth and is speaking a normal amount- for us, apparently. Bruce and Tony had been concerned that he could say so much with so few teeth. They just passed it off as an ‘alien’ thing.” He stopped for a moment, trying to file the other important improvements.

“Still crawling, though he can stand against other objects… laughing, smiling, crying when he wants attention... Honestly, I’m a bit afraid he’s going to grow up even more spoiled.” They both snickered at that one, Fandral clamping a hand over his mouth as he laughed just a tad bit too loudly. Thor’s mouth tugged into a smirk of its own accord, mood uplifted as he went and opened another left-hand drawer.

“So they’re getting along well with him? Your teammates?”

“Hm? Yes, for the most part. Clint is still rather reluctant to interact with him, though Natasha has been the most helpful. Bruce, Tony, and Steve help out during the day, help keep an eye on him when I need a break.”

“Or, you know, when he needs extra attention.”

"That too, that too.”

Fandral hummed once more as he finally seemed to tear his gaze away from the Midgardians. He’d been watching Loki slowly drift off, along with Tony, who, after a busy week of inventing and business management, was ready to drop at any time. It seemed sleep was finally catching up to her runaway misfit.

“So, what brought on this search? I thought you’d have a while still before having to worry about anything magic.”

“Well aye, I thought so too.” Thor chuckled lowly, almost a bit pained, or perhaps it was tainted with the oncoming of realized panic. Despite what little training he had, Thor was by no means a magician. The panic was induced from an inability to provide a basic necessity for his magic-born brother. But really, he wasn’t going to spend too long analyzing that fear, or else he’d get nowhere. “Loki’d begun crying in a fit over my hair- I’m taking it as he doesn’t like it. Anyways, Tony was pretending to fly Daga over-”

“Daga?”

Thor blinked. “Oh, yes! The plushie Loki and I used to share. He calls it Daga.”

Fandral “Aaah”ed as he moved aside a few notebooks, deep in his current drawer. “I don’t think I was ever acquainted with the plushie, though I do think I remember Loki carrying it around with him when we first met. He was young then. We were young.”

“Norns, how old were we, Fandral? We must have been at least 600, 650.”

“Aye, I had just started training before Loki would- which was lucky for me, since I’m closer in age to him than you or Sif. He wouldn’t be training for at least another 60 years if I recall correctly. I remember he’d greet you at the end of practice, right behind your mother’s skirts, the dragon tucked under his arm. Or a book, he was particularly attached to the library even then.”

Thor’s eyes glinted fondly as he moved aside a particular spellbook that Loki had been enamored with for centuries. “He’d always been interested in the library. Mother used to take him every week. They’d read for hours.”

Loki, being the younger of the two, hadn’t been allowed to train for centuries until after Thor had already started his. He’d bid his time with school or studying, usually about magic or whatnot, and would accompany their mother to see him afterward. Thor remembered many sweltering afternoons where, as soon as he exited the training yards, Loki would pull away from Mother’s skirts and tackle him into a hug. Despite smelling of sweat, wreaking like a Bilgesnipe, Loki would hold him tight and speak of how much he’d missed him, what he’d done that day, and how he wished to start training so they could be together.

Norns, when did they stop being so close? Was it when Thor befriended Sif and the Warriors Three, or was it after Loki started training and was isolated for his reliance of magic? Was it truly because of their Father? What had ended their after-training tradition? How Thor longed with a heavy heart to see Loki’s eyes filled with such admiration, a hug of his own volition. He didn’t mind the ones that ended with a knife between his ribs- those happened frequently, even then. Just what had driven them so far apart? He never truly recalled their drift, only knew that one day they were as close as could be and the next not. One day he received a hug and bright smiles, the next Loki lagged behind, nose shoved in a book, as he refused to speak with, let alone look at, almost anyone. It was like a punch in the gut to know that they’d drifted apart and that Thor hadn’t even noticed it.

“Thor?” Fandral nudged his leg from his position on the floor, his head tilted upwards with concern. Thor jolted out of his reverie and looked down to see golden brows furrowed. “You alright mate? You just stopped talking. By any chance, were you cursed?”

Thor scoffed, then cuffed Fandral in the back of his head. They both snickered as Fandral pushed at the desk chair that he sat on. “Hey, we’d know if I got cursed! My brother was never exactly subtle in making it public when someone had displeased him.”

“Norns, we both know how true that is. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve been charmed or tricked.”

“Yes yes, now please, my friend, let us keep looking. I’m worried because we haven’t found it yet, and he’s sleeping, and trust me when I say that we do not want an upset Loki on our hands.”

“Norns, yes, your highness!” Thor could have cuffed Fandral for the lazy salute he gave but found he was overcome with suppressed laughter as they went back to sifting through Loki’s desk. Surely, they’d find the bracelet in no time.

------

Surely, it felt like it would be a thousand years before Thor found that damned bracelet.

They’d shifted from digging through Loki’s desk, which held nothing of help, to going through his clothing drawers and wardrobe. The drawers were situated just under the bookshelves that were embedded into his walls. There were about twelve of them in total. The wardrobe was beyond his desk and towards the bathroom. Both options had clothes spilled everywhere in a messy cacophony, though no bracelet was in sight. Thor regarded the bookshelves as if they could hold any answers.

On one shelf he recognized Loki’s favorite possession from their hunting trips- from his second one, in fact. It was a baby dragon skull, the only thing remaining from a sickly baby dragon that he, Thor, and the Warriors Three had found. With his magic training just started, he could do nothing to help the little thing except offer it milk from a bottle in hopes that it would survive. It didn’t make it three days after Loki’d stumbled upon it. Loki had mourned it for days. He used the pelt as the hide for his personal spell journal, which he actually carried around up to and during his days in the dungeons. The skull was kept as a reminder, Loki had told him, that there was always something more he could do. The quote still sent impressed shivers down his spine.

Sadly, there was nothing else to note on the dusty shelves or in the upturned drawers. Most held old tunics or winter clothes. The last time Loki’d... well, lived, in his room, it’d been in the summer, just before his fall. His summer clothes were in the wardrobe, of which they’d left with doors open and clothes slipped out.

The bracelet was nowhere to be found.

“Thor,” Fandral called, a tired sigh tumbling from his lips, “we’ve been looking for the better part of the afternoon. I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry, and Loki will wake up from his nap soon. We should probably take a break, my friend.”

Thor exhaled heavily as he gazed upon the opened drawers and rumpled clothes. His friends were shifting awake from their nap and he had no bracelet to show. A break would do them good. And if they couldn’t find the bracelet them maybe Tony could make something, or perhaps they could commission a blacksmith, or- or- or they could do something. Loki would not grow up well without a guiding hand regarding his magic… That much, he was sure.

“Aye, I think that would do us well. I’ll go wake up Tony and Natasha, they’ll be plenty hungry. If Loki is done with his nap then him too, but it’s wise to let him sleep.” Thor hefted himself to his knees and slapped Fandral on the back, who almost face-planted into the drawer from the strength behind it.

Natasha turned her head to look at him as he approached. She blinked groggily, sleepy still, though she dared not move with Loki laid across her chest. Thor smiled as dared to sit beside her.

“Have you found it?” She asked, voice deep. The shake of his head was enough to pull a breath from her. “Well, this certainly isn’t as easy as we thought it’d be. Any idea where Loki would have hid it?”

“The last place you check, duh. That’s how all lost things are. Prolly some dumb rule of the universe, I bet you.”

Both Avengers turned in surprise to see Tony, curled against one of Loki’s pillows, blinking groggily at them. For someone who wavered between criticizing and supporting his brother-turned-baby, Tony sure seemed to enjoy the comfort of his bed. He raised an eyebrow at Thor’s surprised jolt and smirked rather smugly.

Stretching, he pointed to one of the two bedside tables. “Like there, or in the bathroom or someplace equally stupid. It’s always somewhere like that.”

Natasha frowned and managed to nudge him with her bent knee. “Really now? Well then why don’t you check, Mr. Wise Guy?”

Fandral came to stand beside them as Tony groaned and rolled over. He watched, confused, as Tony settled a hand on the knob to the bedside table.

“By the way, Point Break, if I get cursed from opening this I’m totally pinning it on you.” With that, he yanked the drawer open.

Tony blinked, once, twice, then reached into the drawer. What he pulled out would have made Thor scream had his brother not been sleeping. Instead, a crackle of lightning was heard overhead as Thor stood, wide-eyed, as Tony dangled Loki’s bracelets from his fingertips.

“Uh, is this it? It’s the only thing in the drawer.”

Fandral looked between the two teammates with a smirk. “Oh, that’s it alright. I can’t believe we just spent a whole afternoon upturning Loki’s room just to find it, too!”

Tony shrugged and threw it over to Thor. He cuddled back down into Loki’s admittedly comfortable bed as Natasha held up her charge’s right arm.

The bracelet that had cost Thor hours of his afternoon was more like a band than anything. It was a handful of inches in length and was less than an inch in height. It was silver with raised runes, which curled over the entire length. Three plates sat in the middle and dipped down into a well, where a dull, red jewel sat.

It didn’t look like much, no, but rumors told that his mother had gone to the dwarves on Nidavellir for help on such a bracelet. The charmed wear on Asgard for magic-born folk was too weak for Loki. They broke in a flourish of sparks and fire within days, even hours, after being in contact with his brother. This lead to the Allfather and Allmother taking desperate measures. The bracelet was the result of their cooperation with the dwarves, and true to the promises they were told, it did not break once in contact with Loki’s magic. He’d worn it for centuries and nary an issue, which Thor hoped would be the case once more.

He rubbed his thumb over the chipped gem, the worn metal, before taking Loki’s tiny, tiny wrist between his bigger fingers. Loki was still asleep, drooling on Daga, as Thor slipped the bracelet over his wrist. The gem glowed brightly, now green, as it shrunk. Now four and a half inches in length, it curled comfortably around Loki’s wrist. The gem flickered and went out, yellow instead of green. Loki sighed in his sleep but did not wake. A few bubbles fluttered from his fingertips and floated throughout the room.

“Really? Is that it?!”

SHHH!!

Tony flinched as everybody turned and hushed him. He scoffed and motioned to the dormant bracelet, then looked to Thor with exasperation. “Seriously, you guys look for like two hours for that thing, and that’s it? No big hoo-rah, no confetti? That’s bogus!” He stage-whispered, flopping back into the pillows dramatically.

Thor couldn’t help but chuckle softly. “Well, whoever said that all magic was over-the-top and brilliant?”

“I don’t know, I just thought it was another dumb rule of the universe!”

“For the love of everything holy, if you don’t shut up then I’ll make you,” Natasha growled. Tony stuck out his tongue but, without needing to be told thrice, lowered his voice.

“Here,” Fandral offered, stepping towards the door, “how about I take you all to lunch. The cooks should have something dished up for the royal family by now, and I’m guessing you all must be as hungry as I am. One of us can stay back until Loki wakes up. He’ll be hungry then too.”

“I’ll stay,” Thor found himself immediately offering. It’d been all day and he’d barely spent any time with Loki. And, despite the search, he wasn’t very hungry. If anything, he just wanted to hold Loki as he woke up and feed him some cut grapes afterward. Loki loved grapes, loved sharing them, and that was enough for him.

“You sure, Point Break? You’ve been working all day to find that thing.”

“Aye, I’m sure. You both go eat, you’ve had quite the day. I’ll handle him for a little bit.”

Natasha hummed before she finally sat up. Loki whined on her shoulder, eyes scrunched up, but he calmed the next immediate moment that Thor cradled him. He took Natasha’s spot on the bed- warm, Loki’s pelt too familiar- as Daga flopped onto his face. Thor chuckled as Natasha picked a wry wing up so he could see.

“I’ll be fine, my friends. As soon as he’s up and awake we’ll meet you in the mess hall. Please, go enjoy yourselves! It’s not every day that you get to visit Asgard.”

His friends conceded, but not without fond smiles and tired nods. Tony and Fandral moved towards the door as Natasha brushed a few locks away from Loki’s face. She tapped his shoulder when she turned to leave.

“Alright big guy, see you in a bit then. Thanks for looking.”

“It was no problem, Natasha.” Thor chuckled as she left. When his words died out, and Loki’s bedroom door thudded closed, he allowed himself a moment of relief.

It’d taken a few hours more than he’d hoped, but the bracelet had been found. He lifted up Loki’s wrist again so he could see the familiar accent. It was silver, which emphasized much of his brother’s wardrobe. Any childhood memory with him would be wrong without it. He remembered it being weird once Loki had enough control of his magic and no longer needed the conduit’s help. Grabbing his arm no longer meant he had to grab by the elbow, lest Loki complain that he was going to crush his wrist in a metal and deathly grasp. Which, if he could mention, only happened once and it was by accident, thank you.

Thor hummed as he settled his brother into a more comfortable position, his head tucked by his chin. The pillows were plush and the pelts warm. Often, when they were young, Thor remembered nights where Loki would sneak into his chambers across the hall. They’d settle into the same position- Loki laying over him, head tucked, with Thor’s arms tight around him after a nightmare- and they’d settle down for the night. Their nanny would come in after sunrise and scold them for sleeping together, saying something about how they were much too old to be sharing beds.

Honestly, Thor thought it bull at the time, and holding Loki now, found he did still. With a sigh, he relented himself to listening to Loki’s breathing as he too felt sleep tug at his eyes. Knowing his brother’s schedule, Loki would be awake within less than half the hour, though he could still relax within his memories knowing there was time. They’d both be awake and ready for the rest of the day soon enough.

Chapter Text

The sound of Loki’s door opening not so silently jolted Thor from his half-sleep reverie. He looked over just in time to see a fluff of blonde hair before the door closed once more. Ah, just Fandral then. Probably wondering if Loki was awake and what not. Well, at least he himself certainly was. With a grunt he shifted into the pillows, looking around with bleary eyes as his mind seemed to, as Tony always eloquently put it, “boot back online.”

He hadn’t a full minute to himself before a telltale whine shifted his focus downwards. Someone shifted, moved his sleep-laden arms, and whined again into his shoulder. Thor laid still as Loki eventually managed to push himself up into a sitting position. His blanket fell off his shoulder and Daga was held tightly within his right fight. Big green eyes blinked sleep away as Thor fixed him with a smile.

“Well, good afternoon Loki.”

“No,” Loki grumbled, then threw Daga in his face. Thor laughed as he picked the dragon up and handed it back to his brother. Best to keep silent. Someone was a grumpy waker and took a few minutes until he was all smiley.

Loki looked around his old room with little interest. It seemed he didn’t recognize the dark walls and the book-filled shelves. Instead, he was more interested in looking at the assorted pelts that lined the top of his old bed. Thor watched as Loki crawled over to the pelt of a stag, running his hands through the fur and trying to grab what he could. He chuckled as Loki went over to different pelts, trying to grab and touch whatever fur pattern interested his eyes.

“Oh- hey, wait!” Thor lurched forward when Loki suddenly made a mad-dash for the edge. Panic beat frantically as the image of Loki, caught on the edge of the Bifrost, flashed before his eyes. He caught him right before he could crawl off onto the hard golden floors. A displeased cry was his thanks.

“Noooo! Nooo!”

“Yes, yes!” Thor hushed in the face of Loki’s near tantrum. The abrupt shake in his breathing receded as the adrenaline tempered within his veins. Grounding, he pressed a kiss to Loki’s forehead. “It would be unwise for you to fall off the edge now wouldn’t it, Little One?”

“No!” Loki said, though Thor knew that his brother wasn’t trying to agree with him.

With a sigh, he conceded. “Alright, fine. No crawling by the edges though.” Thor released his hold on Loki, watched him, then immediately jumped forward when Loki tried for the edge again. “Hey, what did I just say?!”

“NOOOO!”

Thor scoffed as he wrestled his squirming brother to his side. Loki sat, body half turned away, with his arms scrunched full of his bedding. A chuckle escaped Thor as Loki turned tearful and defiant eyes his way. It seemed, just for the moment, Loki was letting him speak.

“Do you want to play? Or go eat? If you tell me no, then I’m just going to sit here and hold you until you’re ready. How does that sound?”

Loki’s eyes welled up with more tears. He murmured “No, no!” as his little legs kicked to drive his brother’s protective arm off. Thor hummed as he scooped him up and held him still, a warm hand rubbing at his back until his sniffles were quiet. He gave a kiss, just a sweet chaste one, to his temple. It took a moment, but a little hitch of a giggle was audible.

“Ohhh, does someone just want kisses?” Thor whispered, realization dawning on him. He hadn’t given his brother kisses or playtime all day, though the latter would have to wait until they were home. Loki’s schedule would probably be messed up for the rest of the week due to the time differences between realms, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t spoil Loki while they were still here.

“Or,” Loki whispered. He squirmed again, but this time Thor loosened his grip and let Loki lay completely flat on his stomach. He grinned when Loki fixed him with a watery smile. “Or, no!”

“No?” He fake-pouted, giving Loki his best puppy-dog impression. “No kisses for the Little One? But he loves kisses from his big brother!”

Loki giggled, his head tilted towards his fist. There might have been a bit of drool that pooled onto the light armor that he was wearing, but there was little chance for rust. Instead, he chuckled as Loki reached one slobbery hand up to pat at his mouth.

“Kisses?”

“Or!”

Thor waited a moment, his gaze locked with Loki’s, before taking an audible breath in and pressing smacking kisses all over his palm. Loki roared with laughter as Thor gathered him up and pressed even more to his cheeks and chin, all over his hair and into his neck. He stopped for breath once, making sure to look his giggling brother in the eyes, before diving back in again. The giggling doubled when Thor found himself laughing alongside the wriggling mass.

“Or! Or!”

“What, what? You needn't be so loud, Little One.” He pretended to cringe and clean out one ear with a pinkie. His smile grew at the payment of one solid guffaw.

“Mmmmwah!” Loki imitated the noise then patted his hand over Thor’s lips. Thor kissed his palm and grinned when Loki stole it back.

“Well, I’m taking it as you’re wide awake now. Would you like lunch? We’re going to go see Auntie Natasha and Uncle Tony, and we’re even going to see Fandral again. Doesn’t that sound fun?”

Loki didn’t offer him an answer this time. He was much more interested in trying to crawl out of his grasp again. Not that Thor found he minded, since he noticed an abundance of bubbles in the air. The bracelet was working fabulously, then. If he remembered correctly, bubbles meant happy magic, so it seemed that all was well. He let Loki scramble away as he collected the diaper bag and whatnot from around the room.

“Ready for lunch?”

“Or!”

His heart filled with heady warmth as Loki crawled over towards him. Thor hooked his hands under his brother’s arms and hefted him up. He took one last look around the room, more than a bit messy, before stepping out into the hallway.

Once upon a time, he’d thought that his brother would never be around again. Mourning had been so hard when everything his brother represented was just across the hall, so close to him and his bleeding heart. There were many late nights were he sneaked in to sit on the sill of Loki’s window, where he gazed at everything and remembered the places his brother had been. It was so hard to believe that Loki wouldn’t walk in right then and shoo him out for waiting there like a creep. He remembered being tight chested, like someone had held his lungs hostage after a punch to the stomach, at the thought of never seeing his brother again even if he was yelling at him. It was just too much.

Now though, perhaps Loki might live there again. It was hard to believe, since Loki would have to be punished for sending their father away and for stealing his identity, though there was little he could do at the moment. There was a chance, an itsy bitsy tiny one, that maybe, when he was all grown up again, he’d want to live beside him once more. It was fantasy, a pipe dream, but it made Thor rumble with happiness as he passed by his own room.

He could hear the dining hall before he could see it. Down one long corridor, go through one restricted door, turn one corner then two, and ta-da, he was standing in the entrance to the biggest dining hall in all of Asgard. Warriors drank mead and sang songs around corridor-long tables as they feasted on boar and ripe fruits. Shells of cracked and tossed nuts crunched underfoot, adding to the harmonious cacophony of feasting warriors. He could smell the alcohol on every person’s breath, heady over the scent of finely cooked meat. Many rejoiced as Thor walked in. He laughed and greeted them in turn, but kept his voice lower for the sake of his shy brother.

Nearer to the kitchens, the hall divided into secluded sitting rooms. The one with the balcony was the royal family’s, where Thor had most often eaten breakfast as he’d grown. Currently, he saw Fandral waving him over. When he got closer he noticed Natasha sitting where his mother used to and Tony where Loki would. Thor greeted them all with a wave as the volume of the warriors dimmed behind him.

“Welcome back, my friend! Was your nap plentiful?”

Thor felt the grin come up to his ears as he looked towards his brother. “It was a very good nap, wouldn’t you agree, Loki?”

“No!”

“You’re saying that a lot lately,” he huffed, though brightened the next moment. “Say, what has the kitchen made for lunch today?”

“Roasted boar, the usual. Though they put out some delectable sweets once I mentioned that you and Loki were here, so that’s nice. Your Lady Natasha has been cutting up some grapes for him to snack on before you leave.” Thor looked over to where Fandral had motioned and grinned at the small bowlful of sliced fruit.

“Oh, wonderful! Thank you, Natasha. Look Loki, grapes! You love to munch on grapes for lunch.”

He sat down besides Natasha and settled Loki on his lap. His bag was flung down and, immediately after, Loki curiously reached for the bowl, his gaze wandering as he greedily stuck his hand in. Thor chuckled as he pulled the bowl, too, into his lap.

“Asgardian grapes taste weird,” Tony murmured, sticking his tongue out to pick up the skin he’d avoided eating. Natasha grimaced as he did so.

“We’re on a different planet, Tony, of course they’re different. At least they look like regular grapes.”

“True that, true that.”

Thor chuckled as Loki, undisturbed by the difference in Earth and Asgardian grapes, shoved another into his mouth. He didn’t bother to wipe away the drool as his brother munched down another. Taking one for himself, he felt the taste of it burst bright on his tongue, sweet and crisp. The view of the gardens below caught his eye. Many memories of playing down inside them resurfaced, of playing hide and seek while Frigga tended to the plants. He lounged into his seat and greedily gazed over what the balcony allowed.

The trees swayed with the afternoon’s light breeze. Thor eyed the big ones around the edge of the wall, where the vines grew plentiful and the flowers and pathways were shaded beneath them. He’d climbed every one at least once, often due to races with Loki on who could reach the top first. His mother’s pond still sat in the center of the expansive garden, her fountain wonderous in the middle. Runes decorated the lip, offering protection to the life around it.

Everything looked exactly the same as he remembered it. Well, almost.

The only thing that was new was the statue of his mother, tall, on the other side of the pond. She looked gentle, vivid in beauty. Just like he remembered her. She was gazing upon the plants with that tender gaze of hers. It reminded him of the time he’d chased Loki into her tapestry room. Loki had hidden behind her skirts, tears welled and lip pouted.

“Thor keeps telling me he’s going to put spiders in my bed!”

“That’s only if you keep turning into snakes to stab me!” Thor remembered he had retaliated. Frigga just laughed, gaze fond and bright, as she’d scooped both of them into her lap for a light scolding. With a deep pang, he realized he missed those days.

The hurt and the longing could be set aside for another time. Thor chuckled as another memory resurfaced, this one brighter, brought on by Loki plunging his hand into the grape bowl again. His tone delved into one of nostalgic fondness as he set his chin against his fist.

“I remember one afternoon Loki and I got in trouble for throwing grapes down onto the training warriors. We were sitting on the balcony across the hall, where you can oversee the training grounds. We were testing their ‘dodging skills’.” He remembered beaning one warrior straight in the eye. That was what had gotten them in trouble.

Tony snickered, arms folded as he leaned back and eyed Loki. “Lemme guess- his idea?”

Fandral frowned. Thor must have recounted the tale to him before, to warrant such a look. The event took place before they were training themselves, so it was before he’d met Fandral and co. It was an old story, after all.

“No,” the blond eventually said, a finger raised in opposition. “I remember Thor telling that tale a long time ago, except Loki was of appropriate age in attendance. I remember him getting very upset when Sif insinuated that he started it. Actually, he got so mad he made the bowl of stew in front of her flip over and spill onto her head,” Fandral said, a puff of laughter lacing his breath.

Now that was familiar. And yes, Thor did remember after a moment. He laughed at the memory while Loki took another grape in his drool-covered hand. He tried to take the bowl for a moment, a whine as he tugged it, though Thor held his grip. They’d played this game before, and truly, he was not in the mood for picking up spilled fruit.

“So we got the bracelet,” Natasa said, switching gears. She indicated to said band. “Is there anything else that we needed to grab while we’re here?”

Thor pondered the question for a second. Then, he shook his head. “No, I do not believe so. I wanted to stop by my mother’s statue for a moment on the way out, but after that, we should be fine to leave whenever ready.”

“You should visit your father while you’re still here, too,” Fandral said. He said it softly, a suggestion. Thor felt him reach out to his left arm, where his warm palm urged him to consider. Hot shame trailed up and coursed through his stomach, like liquid lead, though he swallowed it down as he remembered why his father hadn’t been on the agenda.

He’d gotten letters from Eir not long after Loki had come into his care. Odin was strong and returning to his normal self, though the process was slow. His father was occasionally confused due to whatever Loki had bespelled him with. Even Eir and her staff in the healing halls were having trouble trying to break it.

Truthfully, Thor had been hoping to give his father some time to recover before visiting. The same day that he was exchanging letters with Eir via the Bifrost- which Tony hadn’t been very happy about, seeing the bridge come down, attack his balcony, only to leave a folded piece of paper- he’d also written a few to Odin. The ones he got back were in familiar handwriting, though his words seemed loose and troubled. He was having difficulties, Eir had told him, (which had been evident in the writing) and urged Thor to give his father time. He’d been planning to make another trip once Loki was a bit older and when his father had made progress. If he was up and around already, though, a visit would do him nice. To be honest, after seeing the statue of his mother and being in Loki’s chambers again, it would do him well to see another familiar face and, if he was lucky, a hug from his father.

“How is Daddio doing, by the way?” Tony asked. He’d lounged forward again to curiously lay his chin into his hands. Thor took a moment to nod in acknowledgement.

“Eir told me that he was… well in health, though Loki had bespelled him before becoming king. Last I heard, he was still having trouble breaking it. Eir and her team haven’t been able to yet, either. Is he still well, Fandral?”

His blond friend nodded, smile small. “Aye, he is doing well. He likes to walk the halls and chat with the staff. Often he visits the garden to sit on the bench besides your mothers statue. I think he talks to her- tells her stories. The council happens to be taking care of the political matters right now, so he is free to recover.”

“Aye, and I’m to be contacted if something needs royal consideration,” Thor rumbled. While he never liked paperwork or attending council meetings, and the council seemed set on him staying on Earth with Loki, he’d still forced their hand in that matter. He was the only fit person of royal descent, and despite living off planet, he was not going to let them make drastic decisions for his kingdom without his say-so first.

Natasha looked out over the balcony and hummed. Thor squinted and peered after her when she stood up, Loki’s bag now slung over her shoulder. “We can hit two birds with one stone. Your father is down in the garden, just like Fandral said. You ready?”

Oh, alright then. Thor sluggishly blinked then looked down to Loki, who peered up with wide eyes and an innocently parted mouth. He had a hand in the mostly empty grape bowl, drool on his chin, hands, and staining the green jungle onesie that Natasha had dressed him in. “I think we are,” he decided, hefting Loki onto his hip.

Fandral took the grapes while Tony lept up from his seat, briefcase in hand. Natasha tightened the bag around her shoulder before the five of them set off for the gardens, which was a less-than-five-minute walk through the palace. Thor followed at a much more relaxed pace, feeling content to point out hiding places and waving to the familiar guards. Loki didn’t take much interest, though occasionally he would wave too. That was enough to alleviate some of the anticipation and butterflies that fluttered uncharacteristically in Thor’s stomach.

Natasha whistled as they emerged into the prospering space. They’d walked out from under a tall arch, flourishing vines trailing all the way up and over onto the balconies. Thor felt pride spark thick in his chest. This was his mother’s garden, where her blood, sweat, and tears were shed. So many afternoons were spent here as stress relievers, as a hobby, as a helping hand to the garden tenders. He’d defend every leaf in her honor if need be.

Fandral took the lead at some point during their walk. The gardens were expansive, as could be seen from the balcony. While they weren’t quite the size of the training grounds, which were the pride and joy of most of Asgard’s finest families, many spent their times walking through or tending to the luxurious space. The pathways started out simple at first, where low flower beds were planted next to the entrance, but soon grew complex and confusing as the flowers grew taller and thrived. The paths became slimmer and were hidden by petals and stalks, though the ground itself remained clear. After centuries of running and playing within the garden’s walls, Thor knew every trail like the back of his own battle-scarred hand. Fandral too, for he’d accompanied Thor on many of his romps towards adolescence.

The floral-cluttered pathways widened once more as the trickle of water became tell-tale. The tall flowers opened to reveal the pond, where fish swam in the clear, cool water around the five-tiered fountain. Water bubbled at least an arm's length from the tip, where it cascaded down into the tiers. Valkyrie and depictions of Valhalla decorated the bottom lips, telling the tale of Asgard’s future and where their loved ones await. The top few offered runes of protection, which rumors said his mother personally crafted into the fountain.

“Well shit,” Tony said, head turning to take in the scene. He’d relaxed his hands onto his hips in an effort to lean back and absorb everything, then keyed in on a blue looking sunflower not even a few feet away. Thor chuckled when Tony turned back to not-so-offhandedly ask if he could analyze the flora and fauna.

“Sure, Stark,” Thor said, a grin tugging at his lips as he walked past, “but do not steal any. I will haul you, and them, back up here.”

“Aye aye, Point Break!” Thor assumed there was a salute accompanied with the words, but since he’d passed, he couldn’t see. Instead, he mirthfully shook his head and caught up to Fandral, who’d slowed to a stop just beside the pond.

Across from his mother’s statue was a bench, where people could sit and admire their once-queen. Sitting on one end was his father, a smile on his face as he chattered to seemingly no one and anyone. Without any reason to, Thor felt his stomach tense up.

Natasha gave him a pat on the back as he leaned back towards Tony. “I’ll go make sure he doesn’t bring any weird alien seeds back to Earth. Go talk to your dad, tell him that the Avengers sends their best.” She patted him again and walked off. Surprisingly, she always knew when to offer cryptic support at just the right time.

Another touch on his arm surprised him. Fandral hadn’t even moved from his side yet Thor had forgotten about him. The apologetic glance he gave was enough to tell him that he understood. Norns, why was he so nervous to see his father again?

“He’s a little confused, but he’s missed you very much. Come on, I’ll be right behind you.”

His mouth felt dry, yet his saliva thick. Thor pushed the words past his lips anyways. “Thank you, Fandral, I know you’ve always got my back. Let’s go, shall we?”

And with that, he forced his legs to move, step by step, towards the person he loved, the person Loki hated. Did Loki hate Odin? Did Odin hate Loki? Would he look upon him, a babe, with disgust? Would he remember what happened and be angry? Did… did he still love him?

All those anxieties melted away just as quickly as they’d appeared at the bright, full-teeth smile that his father shot him. His shoulders eased down and a lost but trying smile adorned his lips in response.

“Thor, my son, hello! My… you look so well.” Odin spoke with such a love-softened tone as he pushed himself to his feet. The attendant that had been chatting with him helped, her hand on his elbow, which he patted as he stood to his full, short height. As if compelled, Thor strode forward to pull his father into a hug. Odin laughed into his shoulder. “And you’re strong and healthy, too! Norns, you’ve grown so well..”

“How could I not have?” Thor said, voice caught as he held Odin as tightly as he could with just his one arm. “I have an amazing father who has helped me.”

“And brother, it seems, too.” Odin pulled away to gaze upon Loki, who had been squished between them. Loki looked to them both shyly before pushing himself further into his brother’s chest. Their father scoffed at the action, though fondly, so he could cup a hand over Loki’s cheek. “No hello? You must have just woken from your nap.”

“How did you know?”

Odin grinned all too knowingly. “He’s always doe-eyed after a nap. Or around his mother; he’s particularly attached. You must be such a help to her for taking care of him today, Thor.”

Thor blinked in confusion. He turned to look at Fandral, who pressed his lips thin and rolled his wrist in an attempt to provoke a response. Thor nodded, hesitant, and pulled Loki a bit higher onto his hip.

“A-aye, of course. I thought he could get out of the nursery for once, come enjoy the gardens like I and Mother do.”

Odin hummed, then ran his cupped hand down to Loki’s shoulder. “May I?”

“Oh, uh, of course! You ready, Loki?”

There was no response, only a confused hitch of breath, then he was being lifted by his armpits into his father’s arms. Odin cradled him, arms firm yet gentle, as he nestled Loki’s head into his elbow. Loki was getting to be quite the squirmer, where he preferred not to be cradled unless tired or being coddled, but despite that, he gazed curiously at the smiling face above him.

“You must be in a good mood today,” Odin said, his voice delighted, “because you always cry when I hold you. Ever since your mother first held you tight, you just picked a favorite! You must have been very sick of the nursery to be so content for me.”

Thor felt his chest puff warmly when Loki gave Odin a tentative smile. Their father laughed and cooed, his pace carefree as he wondered towards Frigga’s statue. He pointed it out, whispered to Loki with a hunch, as though sharing a secret with a friend. Thor watched with utter relief. It was just… nice, finally, to have a good family memory. This moment would not quickly be forgotten.

“I told you all would be well,” Fandral hummed.

Thor looked back, an eyebrow raised for Fandral had said no such thing, though nodded in acknowledgment. Behind Fandral, Tony had a gauntlet over his right hand, half his helmet over his head, and seemed to be rambling to Natasha about the fish in the pond. His briefcase was open, holograms extended above it, as he waved his hand frantically around. He looked about ready to jump in and examine the fish himself, if Natasha’s guiding grip on his shoulder was any indication. Fandral abruptly obscured his view and pushed him back over, his meaning firm.

“I’m going, I’m going!” Thor laughed, letting the movement guide him over to his father’s shoulder.

Loki currently had two hands on their father’s eyepatch. He waved it around, babbling when the light bounced off it just right. A few wry bubbles flew from his fingertips, to which the crows feet around their father’s eye deepened. His scarred over socket sported the same look, especially when Loki tried to press the patch back, except upside down and flipped over.

“You always have been quite the curious one… I think someone will be a mighty scholar when they grow up. Don’t you think so, Thor, my little warrior?”

Something both wicked and nostalgic punched the air from Thor’s stomach. That was a nickname he hadn’t heard in centuries. It’d been replaced by mighty warrior, which soon became less of a nickname and more of a title. He missed the bedtime stories that his father would spin of him. The thought actually brought a dull ache to his chest. Thor reached up to massage below his collarbone as he gathered his words to respond.

“I think he’d make a great scholar someday, and a great magician too. He’ll be very highly valued in everything he does...e-even in battle.”

“A good army does need good mages,” Odin mused, turning to glance over his firstborn. “Much like you, I think. With your running around and static electricity and all. I think you’ve completely ruined your mother’s drapes, what, three times now?”

Thor did not at all remember ruining his mother’s drapes. He did remember, however, being very acquaintanced with static electricity before gaining the hammer.

“You think I’ll be a mage?” Thor asked instead, curious.

“Well, you’re not completely magic-less, my son. You’re so rambunctious, though, I’m not sure if you could sit through your mother’s lessons.”

Thor flattened his lips and decided to press. “You wouldn’t think me weak, or a trickster?”

Odin could only seem to chuckle at his words. “Weak is not someone who has spent blood, sweat, and tears over mastering the very nature of the universe. To control it so well is not a party trick. That would be a fool's mistake, which is something that I fear many people think. Perhaps even I from time to time. It would be unwise to underestimate magic, Thor, and I think you’ll soon learn that with your brother.”

“Yes, I… I think I shall.”

Their conversation lulled after Thor’s words. There was something about his father that bothered him. This personality before him was certainly of his childhood, the fond gestures and glances were what he remembered the most. It was almost nostalgic, honestly. Though the stern, wisdom-hardened Odin that was of his adolescence was also familiar. It was what he knew the most. This compassionate version of his father was notwrong, per se, just… new again. This must have been the Odin after the war, when Asgard was prospering and the realms were in peace. He was raising a young family, of which he loved, and was able to decompress around. The stresses of kingship perhaps stole that from them, or maybe it was the troubles of parenting, or even both.

But Thor found he was pained that they were only able to see this side because his father was unwell due to a spell. He was confused, mistaking Thor’s age by a millenia at least, telling tales to Frigga’s statue as if she were there. Maybe she was, watching over them with tears in her eyes and her hands clasped endearingly to her chest. He wouldn’t be surprised if she was. He wondered if she’d have broken the spell by now, too, and how Odin would really be acting. Was this the true him? Or an age-addled version of his father who was moved back into his younger years to a time of peace? Thor shook his head and dispelled the thoughts, instead turning his gaze back towards his remaining family.

“...there, can you see her?” Odin was pointing up, having shifted Loki so he could better see the statue. Loki gurgled, an affirment to the question, before deciding that sucking on his fist was better than staring towards the sun. Their father laughed as he turned back towards the bench. “What, are you too good for your Mama now, Loki?”

“Mama?”

Thor felt a bitter grin tug on his lips as Loki’s head practically whipped up in attention, spit-covered fist forgotten. Odin chuckled as he eased himself down onto the bench, like he’d seen this coming from a mile away. Perhaps he had. Thor came to sit beside them, eyes and ears full of Loki wriggling against their father’s chest as he chanted their mother’s name. Somehow, he’d had a feeling that Loki would recognize their mother. Yet, almost two years after her passing, there was no Mama to cradle him. The thought panged painfully right below Thor’s ribcage, where he tried not to wince from.

“Oh yes, Little One. Do you know where Mama is?”

“Mama! Mama!”

There was a gathering pit in his stomach as his father stared adoringly at the statue. How he could with the sun still shining so high, making the gold almost blinding, he knew not. It was probably born from an adoration of a loving husband. A long, long time ago, when Thor wasn’t much older than nine, Odin had laughed as he equated Frigga to the light in his world. Maybe he was just accustomed to her brightness in his life, in whatever form she may be. He just hoped, for all that his father remembered, he didn’t remember that she was gone. It’d be easier that way.

“Mama mama mama mama…”

Their father chuckled as Loki continued. “Yes, your mother, yes. Do you know where she’s at, Little One?”

Thor shot Fandral a concerned look. The warrior stood a dozen paces away, the attendant silent beside him. He shot Thor one panic-hidden shrug, eyes darting to the two beside him. Thor followed his gaze and watched as Odin pressed one chaste kiss to his brother’s temple. Surprisingly, Loki settled against his shoulder, fist once more in his mouth as he mumbled around it. Odin’s hand rubbed comfortingly down his back, smile content. Something warm and wholesome curled around the pangs from Thor’s chest, bringing a tentative smile to his own lips.

Sensing the gap, he pressed against Odin’s side and answered instead. “Mother is probably up in her tapestry room, working on her next project. You know how busy she gets once things begin to fall in place.”

Odin’s lips quirked upwards even more. “Aye, she does love her tapestries. They always turn out so wonderful due to the efforts she puts in. She must be very busy, considering you and Loki are here with me. Come to spend time with your father, huh?”

“Of course father, we love to visit while you work,” Thor said, feeling only slightly guilty. Their father was oft busy in their youth, so actually, visiting during daylight wasn’t an option often taken. Kingly duties came first, sadly. Though, pressed against his father’s side right then, Thor wished to crawl into his lap as he used to when he was young, when responsibilities seemed so far away and he could roam and play all day, when he didn’t have to worry about a turned-baby brother while his splintered family healed. It was a much simpler time.

“You can’t fool me, Thor,” Odin scoffed, though fondly. A flush crept up Thor’s neck at being caught in the lie, even if centuries old. Odin chortled as he spied the look. “You never stand to sit still in my lap during the council meetings. Always want to run down to the nursery and tell the nannies about your latest adventure.”

“Adventure is in my blood, father. It is not my fault it finds me, even if it was in the castle.”

“And who am I to stop you?” Odin said, a hum as he shifted Loki back into Thor’s arms. There was one departing kiss, chaste again before he looked up to his eldest son. “I will not keep you, my boy, I’m sure you have adventures waiting at your fingertips. Loki should probably be taken back to the nursery, too. He’ll need a diaper change soon, if he hasn’t had one already. Take care, and if you see your mother, let her know I love her.”

Thor smiled, even if a little restrained, as Odin leaned to press one chaste kiss to his forehead as well. The old king stood up, his grip shaky as he hefted himself off the bench. His son was there to assist in an instant, even if one arm was full. Thor peered over to see that Natasha was packing up Tony’s suitcase as he rambled a mile a minute, Fandral ready a few steps ahead of them. He looked down to Loki, who babbled carelessly, before leaning forward and pulling Odin into one more touching hug. If for but a second, he buried his face into his father’s shoulder and was comforted by his familiar smell. The arms that hugged him back surprised him, but it only made Thor hug harder. Too many memories raced back, overwhelming his mind, before the calming strokes down his back grounded him.

“Off you go my boy,” Odin hummed, pulling away with fond eyes. “I expect to hear about your adventures soon.”

“Of course, father, I shall retell them to you whenever you’d like.” Thor blinked away a wave of sudden emotions. His tongue felt heavy again, reality slowed, though his father and his assistant walked away just as speedily as a busy king might. Fandral came up behind him, his hand rested comfortingly on his shoulder as he peered after Odin’s retreating form. The movement was comforting, which Thor expressed in a wordless smile and a nod.

Together, the two of them rounded back to the two Avengers before making their way towards the stables. There, Thor mounted his steed, now Natasha sitting behind him. Fandral was explaining something about the fish in the pond to Tony, their heads bowed together, even as the blond slapped the reigns and set a brisk pace for the observatory. Thor followed, perhaps a bit slower, as Loki jostled against his shoulder. Natasha kept him busy with funny faces and raspberries. A tired, worn smile wormed its way back to his own despondent face. He may have felt lost after seeing his father again, after nostalgically wishing for younger, better days, but the jingle of Loki’s laugh never failed to bring clarity and relief.

Heimdall bid them well as he plunged the dias. The colors swirled, Tony stood amazed, and Thor left with a choked chuckle as Fandral was ratted out by Sif and a young mage. His colorful protests and the heady start of an argument echoed them back to Earth, bringing a much-needed seat of amusement to his dulled mindset.

------

By the time the colors faded from their eyes, the Avengers found Steve leaning against the balcony door with an impressed look. He eyed the now-familiar scorch marks on the floor before casting his gaze upwards, as if he could retrace the beam’s steps to see where it’d come from. Asgard, obviously, but the point still stood. When he held up his watch Thor recognized that it was between noon and one, which made sense, considering they’d left not long after nine.

“You’re back,” he stated, as if it wasn’t obvious.

“Yeah Cap, we are!” Tony hummed good-naturedly, already sliding past and into the common room. “I’d chat more but I need actual Earth food then a good thirty-six hours down in the lab. I’ve got so many ideas, and I didn’t even get a close look at their technology!”

“You’re not staying in the lab for thirty-six hours,” came Steve’s exasperated reply.

Watch me,” Tony challenged. He opened the fridge and heaved about six different ingredients for a sandwich onto the counter. Natasha wandered over to make one too, smirking when Tony complained about the loss of his tomato slices.

Thor came to stand beside Steve as he, finally, trudged away from the Bifrost site. It took more effort than he’d like to admit to force himself from the homely connection. Steve was scowling at Tony’s challenging retort, though the look dropped when he got close. Loki was squirming on his shoulder, kicking his legs, though the gentle touch of Steve’s hand through his hair garnered enough attention to still him. Thor shot him a thankful look as he adjusted his brother into a better grip, so perhaps the squirming would stop, if just for his joint-aching arms. Holding Loki like so for such a period of time didn’t do any sort of wonders for his elbows, in all honesty.

“Oh? That the bracelet?” Steve picked up Loki’s wrist, his head cocked as the jewel twinkled. A single spark of electricity snapped from Loki’s fingers in time with a particularly punctuated, “No!” Steve had jolted in surprise at the slight shock.

"Yes,” Thor mused lamely in response, “that would be the one. It took Fandral and me a good afternoon of tearing up Loki’s bedroom to find it. In the end, Tony looked inside Loki’s bedside drawer and found it right after his nap.”

Steve’s eyebrows leaped towards his hairline. “Tony slept?”

“Aye, he and Natasha laid Loki down for a nap while Fandral and I looked.”

“So, what you’re telling me is that both Loki and Tony are gonna have a messed up schedule for the better part of this week, huh?”

Thor’s chuckle was tired, even to his own ears. “I’m afraid so, Captain.”

Steve hummed as he dropped Loki’s wrist, who whined once more before Thor had had enough, prompting him to tug over the playpen and deposit his brother inside. Steve followed him onto the couch as they watched Loki happily play. The captain looked at his watch again before raising a question.

“Do you think it’ll really take Fandral two hours in Earth-time to get down here for backup? You guys were there for what sounded like the better part of the day, yet only three-ish hours have passed here. If he only takes about twenty minutes Asgard-time to get to Heimdall, or whoever, would he really take so long?”

Thor sighed through his nose as he leaned back into the couch. His brain shut off for a second, suddenly distracted by the comfort. It booted back online as Loki threw a toy car against the pen’s mesh walls. “Uh, I’m not sure, to be honest. I know from my own adventures that Heimdall responds as immediate as I beckon him, though time flows differently between our two realms. Jane once explained it to me after our Dark Elves excursion. She believes that for every twelve Earth hours, approximately three days have passed on Asgard, or to that effect. So perhaps my estimate was off when I informed you a few weeks ago, though it is good to err on the side of caution, is it not?”

“You’re not wrong there,” Steve chuckled. “We’ll just keep our optimistics high in the case that Fandral needs to be called. Hopefully he’ll respond quicker than we’re anticipating, which’ll give us a good point of reference should anything happen.”

Thor nodded, agreements muttered from his lips. The thoughts of maths and estimations slid from his head as he sunk deeper into Tony’s luxurious couch. Steve turned on the TV, a children’s show for Loki, as said baby crashed blocks together and was having a hoot of a time. Tony slid off to his lab, briefcase in hand, and Natasha left to go find Clint, or maybe Bruce, to resume whatever plans she’d initially had for the day. Thor, however, found that he was going to actually nap after the clusterfuck that the day had been. It took less than five minutes of Dora the Explorer singing in the background to do him in.

------

If it wasn’t the burning spike of magic that stung his nose, then Thor woke up to a blood-curdling scream. J.A.R.V.I.S. flashed overhead as an alarm blared to life just as his own eyes slammed open. Thor couldn’t even hear the AI’s monotonic voice over the sudden beating in his heart and the rustling of his thrown-off covers. The panic that dulled his senses and gripped his stomach felt steel-tight around his ever-beating heart, holding it too, too small, before it curled into another crashing wave as he slammed open his bedroom door and rushed down to Loki’s.

The hallway smelled just as drenched as his bedroom did. The magic prickled, cried out and wept, before it thrashed out and assaulted his senses. Thor felt his breath knocked out of him, felt his own puddle of magic spike to the defense. The hallway smelled of ozone. Lightening grazed across his arms and down his fingers as he slammed open Loki’s door. Another wall of rogue magic assaulted his senses. He had to slump against the door, breath too tight in his chest, as another eldritch scream tore from his baby brother’s mouth.

Thor pushed through to the crib, not bothering with the lights. J.A.R.V.I.S.’ flashing was enough to see by. He picked Loki up, gentle despite the cry, sorrowful of the erratic static that flickered off his hands, and held him impossibly close. Tears stained his bare shoulder within a frantic heartbeat. As he rushed out of the room, feeling far too much hair between his fingers, he noticed the scrape of extra teeth and no-longer blunt nails. Magic pulsed and Loki cried. Thor tumbled into the elevator and slammed his hand into the down button.

It wasn’t until Thor rushed into the infirmary to see Bruce and Tony’s own panicked expressions to realize he’d barked orders at J. back in the hallway. Bruce’s mouth twisted into a grim line at the sight of Loki, who had hair down past his shoulders and was still crying bloody murder. Thor thought he would commit one when Loki was swept from his impossibly tight grip into a room just down the hall. He followed, voice lodged in his throat, as Tony and Bruce got to work.

Two hours later, sometime past four but too early to be five, Thor laid exhausted in an infirmary bed. Loki laid across his chest, his now-cut nails twisted into his old tank top. Loki’s wails had tempered once with his brother but had yet to cease. Tears still flowed freely from his glass eyes, breathing erratic. Nothing could soothe him. An IV was taped to his arm, offering water, because they were all worried about dehydration. Thor ran a hand as gently as he could through Loki’s too long curls and tried not to look at the other woken and worried Avengers.

There was another hiccup against his chest, another spike in magic that just roiled off Loki. Another fizzle on Thor’s fingertips, which had Loki’s hair standing on end. The crying wouldn’t stop for another good few hours, and the entire time Thor could smell toxic perfume layered over Loki’s own weeping magic. He thought he’d never smell it again, but there he was, breathing deep the cruel anger of Amora.

Chapter Text

Thor jolted awake to his empty bedroom. His heart lurched, expecting to hear screaming or some sort of childish babbling, but instead the faithful ticking of the hall clock greeted him. Relief, mixed with a sort of curious anxiety, settled over his mind as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes and got up. It was barely past noon and he’d already napped, though perhaps that was because the first week of September had already proven to be trying.

About a week ago now, maybe less he mused, the team, but mostly himself, were greeted with the reality of Loki’s magically conflicted punishment. Like skin healing a scab or mending bones, Loki’s magic had been fighting to heal his body against Amora’s curse. Of course Loki was still under its influence, his toddler appearance and mindset proved this, though his natural magic had cut a chink, if not a section, out of the curses’ chains for itself to reverse the damage. This resulted in his magic working to restore him to his natural age, and viola, the aging-event had happened.

When Thor had held him in the aftermath of the incident, he’d ran his hand through Loki’s lengthened hair and down the length of his back in soothing comfort. What little magic he owned could feel the war going down inside his brother. Loki’s magic felt caged, trapped, under the foreign iron chains that seemingly roped around his entire being. It rebelled and lashed like a feral animal against Amora’s leash, though it seemed to be a losing battle. It wasn’t, in actuality, if the chink that allowed Loki to age up was any indication.

The process of returning to normal would just be a lengthy one, it seemed.

Telling that to the Avengers had Tony cursing and Clint rubbing his brow. It didn’t need to be said that none of them were particularly fond of magic, especially Tony and Bruce, who were science to the core. Clint just thought that the entire ordeal was overrated and a waste of his time.

“Let’s just hope we don’t have any emergency visits again anytime soon, yeah?” Steve had said, hopeful that they could avoid the event.

Thor, weary from being awake for so long, couldn’t help but doubt that they could avoid something as traumatic as this, seeing as it had been so unexpected to begin with. He also thought Steve maybe felt the same way, though was trying to be upbeat about it.

Tony had already said nothing but a spike of energy had been an indication of the change happening, so tracking the episodes were going to be a bitch. Thor wasn’t looking forward to the next one at all.

But, when all was said and done and the event had passed, Thor then, and currently, had a toddler on his hands.

Loki, approximately of two years by Bruce’s observations, was a walking and talking machine. He babbled and laughed and giggled like it was no one’s business. He loved to toddle behind his grumpy Uncle Linny and was subjective to start guffawing as soon as his brother walked into the room. Which, Thor mused, wasn’t too far off from the Loki of his adolescence, who usually laughed until he fell out of his chair when Thor came raging into his study after, justly, being abused with whatever new spell Loki’d needed testing.

Words like “Mama!” and “Up!” were the new norm, followed closely by “No!”, “Daga”, and any variation of his family’s names that he could butcher. He was starting to speak jumbled sentences that, most of the time, usually Thor had to translate for him. Clint was also an expert in Loki-Speech, surprisingly.

In fact, on the subject of Loki’s butchered pronunciation, he had a full set of baby teeth. They were sore and tender, occasionally, from having grown in all at once. This only upped the ante on particular tantrums, sending them from manageable to near-nuclear. But, despite that, it didn’t keep him from talking as terribly and strung-together as he did. Bruce had assured him that Loki would gain a better pronunciation skill as he aged, but currently he sounded as terribly proficient as any toddler would.

That was somewhat of a relief to Thor, knowing that Loki was in fact on track to growing up. There was still some inane worry that, somehow, being off of Asgard and living with the Avengers was more damaging than being on Asgard in the first place. It was just a nice reminder that it might not be the case.

Though, all positives aside, literally, Loki was hardly ever in a good mood. Natasha suggested terrible twos, which Thor wouldn’t put past, considering Bruce’s estimations, though the endless crying, attitude, and screaming was generally taxing. Mood swings were often but brief as Loki’s new behavior consisted of tantrums and fighting. If he hadn’t been soothed that the behavior was normal, Thor would have had a breakdown already. No, scratch that, he’d definitely had a few breakdowns, though the possibility of tearing his hair out from concern was still just over the horizon. There remained some time for that to become a possibility.

So, taking that into consideration, Thor attributed his upon-waking anxiety to the fact that his floor was too quiet after having lived a week with a two-year-old. After getting back from a new pre-mission debriefing with Steve that morning, Thor had passed out in a nap while Loki quietly watched TV in his bed. Now, bed empty and floor quiet, he peeked around to see what impossible mischief his brother had gotten into. Hopefully the toilet paper would be intact this time, and perhaps the cabinets in the kitchenette wouldn’t be raided either.

The floor was empty. Hands on his hips, and a bit frustrated by Loki’s characteristic disappearance, Thor sighed deep and heavy. As if pained, he tipped his head back and squeezed his eyes shut.

“J.A.R.V.I.S.?”

“Yes, Mister Odinson?”

“Where’s Loki?”

J.A.R.V.I.S. seemed to chuckle. “Young Loki is on the common floor with Dr. Banner. During your hour and thirty-seven-minute nap, Captain Rogers came to ask you a question but refrained from waking you up. He took Young Loki down to the common floor to color, though approximately twenty-two minutes and eighteen seconds later, Young Loki had a temper tantrum. Dr. Banner helped Captain Rogers to calm him down, though currently he and Young Loki are on the couch as Young Loki refuses to take an early nap. Does this answer your question?”

Almost every shred of stress melted out of Thor’s body. The floor had looked too clean for having housed an unwatched toddler, of whom was capable of both magical and physical destruction. It didn’t matter that his bedroom door was closed when he’d fallen asleep; Loki had proven that he could get out of any room if he wanted to. This was usually followed by some other room being trashed, unfortunately. He answered gratefully as he made a mad dash for the elevator.

“Thank you, J.A.R.V.I.S. You are yet again more helpful than you could understand.”

“I am glad to have been an assistant, Mister Odinson. If you do not mind, I will alert Captain Rogers that you are awake so he may speak to you, as he originally had intended.” Thor said his affirmation hastily as the elevator doors opened. Not a minute later, he was stepping out into an eerily quiet living room.

The common floor certainly looked well lived in. Loki’s toys were strewn everywhere, his playpen in one corner, while other items that frequented the Avengers’ lives were also thrown into the mess. Thor could see the crayons on the coffee table next to Steve’s artistic drawings that Loki had, no doubt, helpfully colored in. It all looked mundane and oddly domestic.

On the main couch facing the TV laid Bruce. He had Loki flopped on his stomach, his blanket half-covering him as Daga rested tight in one fist. Bruce had a Starkpad in one hand, no doubt running and analyzing data, while his other rubbed soothing motions down Loki’s back. Loki, who was rebellious and refused to fall asleep, pouted under the ministrations. He was sniffling, eyes a little red-rimmed, as his cheeks showed dried tear tracks. Someone still wasn’t in a good mood, Thor noted.

With his head turned towards the TV, Loki immediately sat up when the elevator dinged and his brother got out. Thor couldn’t hide his grin when he pushed off of Bruce and cried out in delight.

Or!!

“Hello, Loki!”

Loki wriggled rather forcefully out of his uncle’s grip and stumble-ran into Thor’s wide arms. He giggled, congested, when Thor pressed a messy hello kiss to his temple. His bright smile was a contrast to the snot and tears on his face.

“Well, you’re rather smiley all of a sudden,” Thor mused. He ambled over to the couch and collapsed. Loki made himself comfortable, as he always did, with Daga and blanket. “I heard you had a bit of trouble with your uncles today,” he continued, unbothered by Loki’s nesting. “How come you didn’t want to nap for Uncle Bruce, Little One?” Thor inquired, tucking black strands behind Loki’s little ears.

Before he even had time to register his own question, Loki had burst into tears. Thor sat up in surprise as Loki squirmed and tried to get away from him. Just in his line of sight, he could see the sympathetic, understanding glance that Bruce shot him.

“Hey, hey, whoa Loki! It’s okay! What’s wrong? You’re not in trouble, it’s okay!”

“No nap! No nap!” Came Loki’s reply, his sobs still half-comprehensive through his tears.

“You’re alright, you don’t have to nap right now,” Thor hushed, running his hands through Loki’s shoulder-length hair. He tried to resettle into the couch in an attempt to soothe him. “You usually don’t take one until two anyways. Uncle Bruce was just worried about you, okay? You don’t have to nap right now,” he said, voice as soft and comforting as he could make it.

Either Loki didn’t understand or care, but the word nap was just enough to send him over the edge into another screaming and crying meltdown. Thor held him for as long as he could, though the squirming became too much when the elevator dinged and the missing four Avengers made an appearance. Loki cried and flopped onto the cushion separating the couch’s two exhausted occupants.

“Oh God,” Tony quipped from the elevator, “we’ve walked right into ground zero. Abort, abort!”

Everyone peeked their heads through the elevator, cautious, before starting to walk over on quiet feet. Thor wished they weren’t there, in case the tantrum got messier, but Clint and Natasha were bound to refuse to leave, since they were planning on playing video games for a majority of the afternoon. They’d already made preparations too, if the blankets piled onto the other couch were any indication. Steve had to ask a question and Tony undoubtedly was coming to talk to Bruce. Who, as it was, had turned off his Starkpad and sat up to give Loki a pained look. Usually he left during temper tantrums for obvious green related reasons, though he’d weathered the most of about five of them in the last week.

Thor sighed as they all took tentative seats on the other couches. Clint actually perched on the arm of the furthest one, but the point still stood. Hesitantly, he said, “He doesn’t want to nap. I told him he didn’t have to, but, well..”

“Terrible Twos,” Natasha hummed matter-of-factly.

“I thought he wasn’t really two yet,” Steve mumbled in confusion.

Clint scoffed, a matching scowl twisting his features. “Listen, all babies are different, so sometimes the mark more or less hits the spot. He could be having terrible twos and not really be two yet. Secondly, I think you’re all forgetting he’s alien and nothing will ever be exact with him. We can’t really measure magic, you know.”

“Yeah, but we can still estimate. That way, you know, we have an idea about how to handle him,” Tony said dryly. A few casual rolls of his hand exaggerated his point, more or less.

“And I mean,” Steve started, hesitantly looking over towards Loki, “he’s got the mannerisms of a toddler. I don’t think we’re really too far off, either way.”

Tony grunted in agreement beside him. “It’s just so odd. He was so quiet and giggly and adorable like, last week! And now he’s living hell on Earth. God, I’d hate to be him.”

“Terrible twos,” Nat simply reiterated. “They’ll get better from here on out- assuming this is the worst, anyways. Which, Clint, is why we’re estimating in the first place.”

Yeah but-”

Loki cut off the conversation with another wail. He struggled to a sitting position before crawling over to Bruce, who spread out his legs and let the toddler crawl over to make a bed out of his torso. Warm hands rubbed his back, soothingly, even as the sobs still prevailed. The entire team grimaced when Loki let loose another cry.

Thor reclined into his seat and rubbed a tired, heavy hand over his face. “I think the tantrums are getting worse…” The words felt thick over his tongue. He was running out of options and online advice for handling a toddler.

The team was silent for a moment. They listened in case Loki calmed, but no, the crying continued. Finally, Clint fidgeted awkwardly before coming off his perch.

“Well, maybe he needs a new set of surroundings. Have you tried that yet? Maybe he’s getting tired of the same-old-same-old. Avengers Tower ain’t exactly your golden castle, I hear.”

“No,” Thor said, chuckling softly, “though both are very special in their own rights. Loki knows this, I think, though he may need a new change of space. I haven’t tried a new set of surroundings purely because the tower is so… identical. Asgard was always very spacious, disparate.”

“Didn’t you used to go outside with your mom a lot, you said?” Nat asked. Thor nodded in return, his smile warm to her pursed lips.

“Aye, our mother did take us out often. I.. Loki may be old enough to where he was taken out more daily, accompanying the nursemaid and I. He’s old enough to toddle around, which meant that I probably played with him under our mother’s eye.”

“Can he remember anything from before?” Bruce asked. His quiet voice startled the entire team, despite Loki’s disbursing sobs that were still quite audible. The scientist ran his hand down Loki’s back again as, with his other, he adjusted his glasses. “We know he knows you, and he recognized his father. Hell, he says “Mama” almost all the time now. Is there any way he remembers Asgard’s gardens?”

Loki raised his head. “Mama?” He asked, softly. There were a few sniffles, tears still streaming down his cheeks, though the sobs had quieted to hitched breaths. Thor felt his chest both swell and tighten at Loki’s hopeful expression. He leaned over to press a kiss to the crown of his head.

“Mama’s with you always, Little One.” To the Avengers he said, “It’s very well plausible he remembers the gardens then. Perhaps a day out would do him well? I’m still worried about S.H.I.E.L.D. and paparazzi, though at this point, I’m willing to do anything for an hour of serenity.”

Steve shrugged, nonchalant as Tony suddenly started typing away on his phone. “S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t very organized right now anyway, Big Guy. Sure, Maria and a small faction, from what I hear, are still up and running what they can- hell, I’m sure Fury’s in charge of it too. But I doubt they’re in any condition to worry about the little guy here.”

Clint scoffed, again. “They’ll worry when that baby face of his starts to fill out.”

“Steve’s right,” Natasha said, “S.H.I.E.L.D. has other concerns right now. I think we’ll be fine for an outing or two before Fury’ll have anything to say about it. We have time before Loki becomes any sort of concern. We’ll handle that bridge when we get to it.”

“That still leaves paparazzi,” Bruce said. “We may be the Avengers, but we don’t exactly blend in. Especially with a baby. Loki needs space to play and run, and where we can relax and watch him. Where’s the best place to do that?”

“A park,” Thor immediately said. He’d visited a few with Jane and Darcy before. To be truthful, the structures that humans created for their young were quite entertaining and encouraging, and though not quite accommodating to his build, it was fun to climb and navigate to the tune of the children’s imaginative minds. That is, when he was pulled along to play with them, of course. It would be nice to visit one with Loki in tow.

“Central Park is just a few blocks away. There are like, four or five playgrounds there alone. We could go have a picnic or something, it’s nice and sunny outside,” Natasha said. If Thor could read her any better, he’d say that she almost sounded hopeful.

“We’ll be right out in the open, paparazzi could get us from any angle,” Bruce protested, and for good reason. Nobody wanted to see a startled and agitated Big Guy.

Aha! Not now we won’t!” Tony proclaimed. He held up his phone in triumph. “It looks as though the Avengers will be attending the premiere for The Visit this evening, so the paparazzi will be nice and occupied! Are we gonna have a picnic? Please tell me we’re gonna have a picnic.”

Thor felt a grin tease at his lips. Was this working out? By the Norns, it was. He felt emboldened by the prospect of a domestic picnic, just like the ones he used to have back home.“Well, I see why not! We’ll feast like the warriors we are!”

“Or, you know, we’ll have a few sandwiches and kick around a soccer ball,” Clint shrugged. The Avengers snickered at the thought of nicely kicking a soccer ball without some sort of competition or problem. Even Thor massaged a hand to his jaw and chuckled at the thought.

Steve stood up and stretched, a groan pressed tight between his lips. “Alright, how about we start packing up then? Sandwiches, fruits, a salad, maybe some snacks? We gotta get a basket and then a stroller for Loki...Do we have a stroller for Loki?”

“Uh, yeah!” Tony popped off the couch and ran over to a rarely-used closet. Out he pulled an unopened box with a stroller printed in blue on the side. “Just gotta assemble it. Heh, assemble, get it?”

“You’re fucking horrible,” Clint called, already halfway across the floor so he could grab his own necessities. “Typically I like your jokes but you’re starting to sound like a dad and it shows. Do yourself a favor and quit while you’re ahead!”

“Uh-huh, okay Clint, keep tellin' yourself that! You just can’t handle how great of a joke that was!” Tony’s shout was accompanied by the sound of the box falling, along with a startling rattle.

Don’t break the stroller, Stark,” Nat sighed. She and Steve had relocated to the kitchen and were packing food into a cool-safe bag. Bruce offered Loki over before going to help. Thor held him tight as he walked past, listening to the quiet bickering that’d started up.

“I’m not gonna break shit, Romanov. In fact, I’ll probably build it even better than any of you here could! Hell, I could build a damn better stroller than whatever company this came from!”

“Tony, they’re a stroller company, they probably know more about baby logistics and parental concerns than you do.”

“Yeah, Steve? Well I bet they don’t have the researching power of J.A.R.V.I.S., huh? I could stroll circles around their asses, literally! Just you wait, Loki’ll have a super-powered stroller by next week!”

“Please don’t,” was Thor’s only input as he ducked into the elevator, bound for his floor. Uproarious laughter and a shout of Tony’s disbelief followed him up.

About fifteen minutes later, Thor reappeared on the common floor. He’d changed into nice-fitting jeans and black boots. It was September, so despite the warm sun there was a hint of chill. He’d dressed out of his heavy hoodie into a green shirt and his favored grey jacket for the sake of simplicity. While not as hot as Asgard, he wasn’t fond of being uncomfortable in Earth’s weather.

Loki, who was squirming per usual on his hip, wore thin jeans and a favored brand of American shoes; red Converse. He had an unassuming Captain America shirt on; it was white with red sleeves and a blue shield in the left corner of the chest. Over it he wore a green jacket. Of course, there were snakes on it. Loki had squealed with joy when Thor had brandished him with his favorite “Jackie”.

The elevator opened to show the common room in a state of mess. Across the floor in the living room were rolls of, what Clint explained to be, bubble wrap. Styrofoam and opened wrappers littered the space around Tony, who had a screw in his mouth as he worked one into the joint of a mostly-built stroller. Steve watched, in jeans, sneakers, and a beige jacket, besides Natasha, who’d shrugged on a black hoodie and pulled on boots. A pair of sunglasses rested in her short red hair. The bag that Thor assumed held their food laid between them.

On the other side of the room, in the kitchen, Clint watched as well. His sunglasses were on, despite being in the building, and he’d folded his jacket-clad arms. Bruce sat on the other side of the bar, chin rested against his fist, as they waited for Tony to finish.

Thor let Loki go run over to his Aunt as he stood and readjusted the baby bag over his shoulder. “I thought you’d’ve had this done by now, Stark.”

Tony stopped working to look him dead in the eyes. A warm laugh worked through Thor’s chest. “You know what, Point Break?” Tony said, voice dripping, “Not all of us are gods, excuse me.”

“Yes, and not all of us are geniuses,” Thor shot back. Clint lost it over in his bar stool.

Tony stood up and haphazardly spit out the extra screw. “Low blow and you know it, you blond, glorious asshat. There! Loki’s dumb stroller is finished. It’s not my fault the instructions were contradictory and bullshit.”

“No,” Steve said sweetly, “it’s just your fault that you can’t read instructions that the average American can.” Tony glared and took the offered dark-blue jacket, though with a huff and a snap to his actions. Steve snickered.

“Alright asshats, let’s get this show on the road! I want some of that potato salad that Bruce packed and I want it now!”

“Well,” Thor said as they’d maneuvered the stroller up the stairs and in front of the elevator, “you might have to wait a second my friend. You’ve waited this long, haven’t you? What’s ten more minutes?”

Hell.

Everyone laughed at Tony’s impatient groan. Natasha picked up Loki and buckled him into the stroller. He was, in fact, not a fan, though the faces that she and Thor shot him over the sun visor were enough to hold off a temper tantrum. Thor took position behind him and bent over to give smooching kisses all over Loki’s forehead. The giggles were an abundant fuel to his beating, loving heart.

As they all piled into the elevator, Thor couldn’t deny the excited air of domesticated normalcy that each Avenger radiated. He was excited too, he realized. There was lunch to be had with his family, his brother and shield-mates, and for once it might be without (too much) interruption. A crackle of static electricity wound up his arm, causing his hair to stand on end. A ripple of laughter went through his family as every hair frizzled and stood too.

By the time they walked out into the tower’s lobby, everyone had frazzled hair and sported matching giant, ear-to-ear grins.

Chapter Text

Surprisingly, the walk to the park was about as quiet as any of the Avengers could have hoped for. Either the paparazzi wasn’t expecting them to be out until their supposed appearance for the movie premiere or there was some other alien explanation for why almost no one snapped a picture as they passed. The one person who did was a teenager from a cafe window who laughed when Tony and Clint purposefully posed, pretending to wrangle each other for a headlock, as they passed.

Thor walked Loki’s stroller casually as they ambled onwards. Loki, surprisingly, wasn’t overstimulated by New York’s busy streets and odd smells. He seemed enamored, honestly. That, or he couldn’t stop watching Clint and Tony play monkey-in-the-middle with their soccer ball and Steve, who refused to let them accidentally break a shop window.

“You know, them throwing it over and around you only makes the probability of breaking something increase, right?” Bruce said, casually, as he caught the ball from Clint and threw it towards Tony. Steve just frowned.

“Yeah Cap, we’re just havin’ a bit of controlled fun!” Tony said, “You don’t have to get your knickers in a twist.” At that, he threw the ball high back over Steve’s head.

Just as Steve made a lunge for it, Clint pressed forward and passed it to Thor, who caught it one-handedly and lolled it over to Tony easily. “Seriously?” he snorted, an amused yet disbelieving huff escaping him.

“I haven’t an idea of what you mean,” Thor hummed, strolling along innocently. Loki erupted into giggles in the stroller.

“Alright boys,” Natasha chided, “leave Grandpa alone, you know how he gets with his blood pressure and all. Besides, we’re almost there, you guys can hold on just a few more minutes now.”

Steve crossed his arms as he walked beside her. A grin pulled at his lips. “Oh, is that how we’re doing this?”

“Doing what?” Nat asked innocently, returning his grin with one of her own. Thor couldn’t help but chuckle as Clint and Tony began to giggle, their eyes delighting in the staring contest that Steve and Natasha had made for themselves.

Steve blinked first and looked away with a curse.

“Language,” Bruce reminded, just as Tony and Clint shouted overtop of him. Loki laughed and laughed and laughed, the entire time, as they entered the park.

There were multitudes of playgrounds within the land that consisted of Central Park. The most infamous, and biggest, place for picnicking and playing was in Sheep Meadow. Across a path or two from that was the Heckscher Ball Fields (which Thor remembered less than fondly from the A.I.M. attack) and, besides that, the Heckscher playground. There were other playgrounds nearby, too, but those were what Thor took note of as the Avengers passed through first.

Sheep Meadow was as packed as it could be on an early September afternoon. Touring families were away for the season as school had started, leaving more room between those lazing about or playing. Despite the openness of the field, Thor felt great relief and hope in avoiding too much attention from prying eyes. Surely they would be fine for one afternoon.

The blanket was spread out within a matter of seconds. Thor parked the stroller and hoisted Loki out and into his lap. Everyone was already seated and unpacking food since it was past noon and no one had eaten. Tony, of course, was heaping his disposable plate high with Bruce’s potato salad. Steve had to lean over and smack his hand away so everyone else could have some. Thor chuckled as he pulled out Loki’s lunch; a sandwich cut in half, grapes, and a few cheese cubes and crackers. There might have been a cookie or two hidden away but, shhh, that was for later. He then piled his own plate high with sandwiches, potato salad, veggies and ranch, and cheese and crackers.

“Or!” Loki said, squirming so he was standing on his brother’s thighs. Thor hummed an acknowledgment as he took a plate and began to arrange Loki’s food so he could eat.

“Do you like the park, Loki? It’s pretty big, isn’t it? Perhaps more so than Mother’s gardens, but between the two of us, I think her’s is prettier.” Loki giggled at the hushed tone he took on near the end, seeming to nod in agreement.

“Mama- Mama ou’side an- and play!”

Thor gave him a big grin for recalling the memory so easily. “You’re right! We did go outside and play with Mother in the gardens. That was fun, wasn’t it? Here, how about we go play after you eat. Aren’t you hungry, Little One? I’ve got grapes.”

“Gapes!” Loki said, then plopped down. Chuckles went around the blanket as he went quiet and began work on his grapes and cheese cubes.

Thor’s grin was big across his cheeks- he could feel the pleasant stretch- and with certainty, he could say that this was the most relaxed and happy he’d been in a long while. His brother and his found-family were enjoying an afternoon together, no paparazzi to hound Loki, no S.H.I.E.L.D. to take him away, and Bruce’s potato salad really was a marvel. Something warm and fuzzy- maybe deep-seated contentment?- grew in his chest as the moment stretched on.

It felt perfect.

There was bickering and joking and all-around general feasting, providing an air of family. Carrot sticks and celery were thrown in teasing gestures and inside jokes reduced them to near tears. Bruce laughed so hard his water came out through his nose and Tony bent over laughing so hard his first plate of food went right into the grass. His laugh-ridden cry of dismay only fueled their high spirits. As he laughed, Thor realized he wouldn’t’ve had this afternoon go any other way.

As lunch wound down, as paper plates were all stacked together near the mess that was the picnic basket, Thor hummed and laid down. His head rested upon the edge of the blanket beside Loki, who was slowly polishing off the last of his crackers. Natasha was on her stomach beside Clint to his right, while next to Loki Tony was still eating potato salad. Across the blanket, Steve had too resorted to lying on his back, though had created a pillow out of the discarded jackets as he propped his sketchpad against his bent legs. Bruce, between him and Tony, had brought out his StarkPad again and seemed to be reading something. Thor turned his gaze over the horizon, to the buildings glistening overhead, and closed his eyes to let the warm sun bathe over him.

All was silent until Loki pushed himself to stand. “Or!” He said, jumping straight onto his stomach. Thor grunted and sat up, an arm wrapped around his haphazardous brother.

“I was sunbathing, you minx!” He laughed, delighted. “Would you like something, brother?”

“I- I wanna play.”

Thor pursed his lips and settled his head back again. “Why don’t you lie here with me for a little bit? If you start playing right now you’ll get a tummy ache.”

Loki, like the spoiled prince he was, tilted his head and whined with displeasure.“Buh- buh I wanna play, Or.”

Thor raised an eyebrow. “Well, maybe I could play…”

“Play, Or!”

“I could play tickles!”

Thor gave a hearty roar as he flipped Loki over and assaulted him with flying fingers and temple kisses. Loki rang out with gleeful shrieks as he squirmed and wriggled. Another grin pulled at Thor’s lips from his own laughter. “I am the Tickle Monster,” he roared, “and I give tickles to good little children!”

“Hi, I hate that,” Tony stated.

“Well it’s a good thing that you’re not two and getting tickled then, isn’t it?” Clint scoffed. As if to prove his point, Loki let loose another peel of laughter under Thor’s dramatic assault.

“S’op, s’op!” He giggled, which only increased once he wriggled out from under Thor’s arms and into Tony’s, surprised, lap. The arm holding the potato salad plate wrapped securely around him as he clung to Tony’s shirt.

“Well,” Tony said around his spoon, “this is a turn of events.”

“Again!” Loki said, then dove out of Tony’s arms and back under his brother. Tony choked off a curse as he, barely, saved his potato salad. Thor laughed as he started the tickling again and Loki rang out with delighted peals of laughter the whole while. Soon he squirmed out again and into Tony’s arms, predictably, as repetition was oh-so-important with toddlers.

“Hey, I’m fine with this as long as you don’t ruin my salad, alright Kid?”

Loki blinked, then grinned. “Ok! Again!” And dove right back out.

But, of course, tickles got boring after a while. Loki was back in Tony’s lap as Thor huffed and laid on his side, tired yet smiling. “No more, Little One,” he begged, “you’ve tired me right out, you devil.”

“Hey, has he ever tried potato salad, Thor?” Tony scraped together the last of the remaining salad onto his spoon and threw his plate along with the others in the trash pile.

Thor furrowed his brows, arms behind his head, then pursed his lips in a no. “I don’t believe he has. He is old enough to try it, though I do not believe he will enjoy it much.”

Tony blinked in surprise. His chest then stuck out with Stark Determination. “Why?! Potato salad is awesome, Thor. Especially Bruce’s. Thaaaanks Brucie. I’m sure Loki’ll like it! Right Lokes?”

“Your welcome,” Bruce offhandedly said at the same time Thor explained, “Loki has a sweet tooth, and though he likes salty flavors, I do not believe he’ll appreciate the vinegaresque aftertaste.”

“Well, let’s just find out and see, huh? Open wide buddy, you wanna try Bruce’s salad?”

Loki opened his mouth and eagerly swallowed down the spoonful that Tony offered. The engineer watched with bright eyes as Loki settled against his shoulder and chewed. His face wasn’t one of pure dislike, though Loki did shake his head in general disagreement. Tony couldn’t help his indignant gasp.

“You don’t like Bruce’s potato salad?! You are evil!”

“No!” Loki said, then pushed away. Tony sputtered and the team snickered as Loki ambled to the other side of the picnic blanket.

Steve barely had enough time to open his arms before Loki launched himself onto his stomach. He groaned, a smile on his face, as the toddler wriggled into a curled lying position.

“Hi Loki,” Steve said, his pencil-hand cautiously lowering back to his sketch.

“Hi Oncle Seeb.”

“Do you want to watch me draw?” Steve asked, voice soft next to Loki’s ear. His pencil grazed over the depicted skyscrapers overhead. The drawing was of the team from his perspective. On the left was Bruce smiling at his StarkPad then Tony eating potato salad. Next to them was Thor bracketing Loki, a giant grin mirroring the one Loki wore under him. Then there was Clint, looking at Natasha’s phone as they watched videos or hacked governments, who knew what they were doing. He was currently sketching in the skyscrapers and trees in the background, creating a lovely domestic scene between the normally chaotic Avengers.

Loki watched him sketch in silence for approximately five minutes before getting up and declaring, “Nope!” and toddling away. Chuckles went around again as Steve rolled his head back in defeat. Thor, from his sunbathing position, felt himself grin and rumble with suppressed laughter at Loki’s childish antics.

“Loki,” he murmured, “are you being troublesome?”

“Nooo!” Loki sang out somewhere to his right.

The grin strengthened across his cheeks and the rumble strengthened into full-on chuckles. There was a toddler’s giggle now directly in his right, which was accompanied by an “Oof!” and an adult sigh. He cocked an eyebrow to Clint’s silence. Clint wasn’t hateful to Loki, though could be dismissive. Thor wondered how this interaction would play, seeing as Clint had a variable track record with Loki dependent on the day and moods throughout the day.

“Oncle Linny!” Loki said, clambering into a half-standing half-sitting position on Clint’s thighs.

Another sigh. Clint ran a hand through his straw-colored hair before it went to Loki’s back, just so he couldn’t fall over if he inconveniently let go of his shirt. Light reflected off his purple shades as he cocked his head, regarding the eager toddler before him. It was almost like he was weighing the pros and cons. He probably, honestly, was. Natasha, laying beside him, nudged his leg with her elbow. He obstinately paid her no heed.

Finally, “Hi kid.”

“Linny!” Loki chirped, his attention zeroing back in. He’d gotten bored and had started staring at the other families across the park while Clint had debated. Even as a toddler, he was oddly patient at the most unexpected times.

“Yeah, hi Loki. You’re uh… attention hopping here. Thor, Tony, Steve. What, was Bruce not interesting enough for you? I’m sure there’s an Octonaut app installed on that StarkPad of his.”

“There is,” Bruce loftily confirmed. Meanwhile, Loki just giggled and pulled himself closer into his uncle’s arms. Clint kept a steady poker face but, decidedly, didn’t encourage or discourage Loki from his clambering. If anything he was tolerant, which was exactly what was expected and asked of him, concerning the history anyways.

“I wan- wanna- Linny wanna play!”

I wanna play?” Clint asked, an eyebrow raised. “Or do you wanna play with me?”

“I-I- I wanna-” Loki huffed, his face smothered into Clint’s shoulder. “Wanna play, Linny!”

Clint shrugged as Loki pulled back off his shoulder. “I don’t have anything to play with, Loki. Did you bring your toys? Maybe Bruce would be better to play with, he’s got Octonauts, Loki! Your favorite TV show!”

Octonauts was, indeed, Loki’s favorite TV show, though the tempts weren’t enough to dislodge him from Clint’s loose grip. Thor opened an eye to peer over, a smirk creeping over his cheeks. Clint was holding Loki supportively enough and wasn’t discouraging his advances, which was enough for him.

“We’ve got toys in the stroller, Loki,” he called out. Loki seemed to perk up in Clint’s hold.

“Nonsense, don’t let Clint hand you off like that!” Natasha teasingly tisked. She pulled herself onto her elbows and wacked Clint on the arm. Loki laughed at his indignant “Hey!” She grabbed the soccer ball that had sat abandoned behind her partner and bonked it off the side of his head. Again, Clint protested while Loki laughed. She smiled, smug, and set it down in front of the two of them like a present. Sweetly digging Clint’s grave, she said, “Uncle Linny would love to play ball with you Loki. He’ll show you how to kick it around, I’m sure. He is your favorite uncle after all, right?”

Clint swiveled his head to her with one hell of a frown. “Hey, no, don’t go putting that into his head-”

“Ye-yeah! Oncle Linny, ball! Play ball Oncle Linny!”

“Oh Clint,” Tony cooed from across the blanket, “I think you’re outnumbered on this one, sweet cheeks.”

“Shut up, Stark,” Clint hissed, though his grip on Loki tightened as he leaned forward to do so.

“If you play now, I’m sure he’ll get bored in ten minutes and come play with someone else. It’d be better to get that over with now, right?”

Clint sat in silence for approximately a minute, stewing over Bruce’s words, before he hefted the two of them up. The sigh he heaved could have been painful, though Loki’s excited cry of joy drowned it out. Everyone that wasn’t him had a brief chuckle as Loki got down and ran into the field, Clint following behind with the ball dribbled. If looks could kill, his certainly would.

They stopped about a foot and a half away from Thor’s crossed legs. Clint rolled the ball ahead and tapped it to a stop so it was positioned just in front of them. He beckoned Loki over and, when two tiny hands clung to his left pant leg, a hand came to pet over his hair.

“See the ball Loki?”

“Ya!”

“I’m gonna kick it, okay? Just like this.”

With no force or intent behind it at all, Clint swung his leg back and struck the ball with the top of his foot. It rolled about half a foot away before coming to a stop. Despite the lack of action, Loki roared into laughter. A smile played upon the ends of Clint’s lips, though he coughed to cover it up. “Think you can kick it for me, kid? Show Thor how much stronger you are?”

“Yeah!!” Loki raced forward and kicked the ball as hard as his tiny body could. It must have been an amusing scene, as depicted by Clint’s snort, because the ball was half his height and rolled within a foot anyway.

Tony scoffed and leaned forward to swat at Thor’s bent elbow. “Hey,” he scolded, “ya gotta look, man! Besides, didn’t you already nap today, Big Guy? Shit, if you’re that tired, maybe we’ll whisk Loki away more often.”

“‘M well awake,” Thor shot back, his voice deep as he rumbled. One electric blue eye cracked open to fix Loki with a smirk at his latest kick. “By the Norns, look at him go, he’s a strong one indeed! Look how far that kick went. Loki, I think you’re stronger than I!”

Loki guffawed with laughter as he raced after the ball. This time Clint jogged after him to steer him back towards the blanket, which soon developed into a sort of game between the two. Loki would run and kick and kick, spurred on by the support of his brother and the other vastly amazed Avengers. Clint would follow and keep the ball corralled, though usually had to fight not to trip over the rambunctious toddler. Despite that, Thor was pretty sure he heard a solid snicker from him ten minutes later.

For about some twenty minutes, perhaps more, Thor laid under the shade and sun as the early afternoon wore on. Loki just kept running and running to Clint’s disbelief, though Thor could only rumble with subdued laughter because he knew first hand just how rambunctious his brother could be.

The gleeful sounds of Loki enjoying a day out, as compared to being stuck in the tower for yet another day, brought a warm curl of relief to his anxieties. It had felt as though, despite the magic situation being somewhat handled, Loki just wasn’t being cared for properly. But if the games and socialness (and even the few bubbles that he’d managed to spot) were anything to go by, then perhaps he was doing a better job than he’d originally thought.

Handling a toddler was tough work. He wasn’t terrible with children, but nor was he great either. For being a God of Thunder and being privileged and proficient almost his whole life, he paled to average in caretaking, and Norns was it humbling. Handling a person so small and young took a lot of energy and effort, which he was learning the hard way. If his mother were still around, he would have thanked her profusely for putting up with his undoubted childish theatrics and treated her for a full day. Loki, always their Mother’s Son, would have been right alongside with him, he was more than certain of it.

“You enjoying yourself, Big Guy?” Someone asked to his right.

Thor turned his head minutely, eyes once more closed, and hummed in agreement. He could hear Natasha settle in the grass beside him.

“Yeah, I thought so,” she said, a smile obviously worming its way onto her face. Thor turned his head so it faced her and hummed again. “Loki seems to be enjoying himself too. It’s almost surprising that someone so angsty could have been such a happy kid. Almost.”

A tug on his lip pulled it into a sly smile. “Aye, he sounds just like he used to when we played in Mother’s garden. Just laying here reminds me of many peaceful afternoons…”

And it did. Had the bustling sounds of New York traffic been any less, Thor knew that he would find himself drifting back to memories of adolescence, of laying under his Mother’s trees for entire afternoons at a time. The warmth of the sun on his face and the breeze over his hair was almost enough to pull him swimming through a torrent of memories anyway.

For the first time in a month, truly, he knew that the swell in his heart was that of utter happiness. Nothing could feel better than this moment, right then and there.

So, coincidentally, it was at about then that Loki, still kicking around merrily, trampled to a stop as a frisbee landed a few inches from the ball. Clint came up behind him, hands in his jacket pockets, as Loki stared at it shyly.

“What, we’re stoppin’ for a frisbee? Nothin’ more than a piece of plastic, Kid. Someone probably threw it over here by accident.”

And as if speaking of the Devil, a young boy no older than seven ran up. He was of average size, a bit round, with brown hair and a baby face. He sported a giant grin with eyes dancing as he stopped before the Avengers’ picnic blanket. Loki immediately moved behind Clint’s legs, his tiny fists curled into the denim. A zap fizzed over the surface of his bracelet.

“Hey kid,” Clint grinned, a hand resting over Loki’s head, otherwise ignoring him.“This your frisbee? It’s pretty sweet-lookin'. Wouldn’t wanna lose that, now would we?” He stooped and held it out to the boy, who laughed and took it graciously. Behind him, a tall red-faced man, presumably his father, ran up with a puff of breath.

“Thank you!” The boy gasped, stars in his eyes. “Sorry if it was in your way,” he said then to Loki.

“Nah,” Clint mused, “we were just kickin' the ball around. You’re fine, don’t worry about it.”

The dad, catching up on the conversation, laughed as he ruffled a hand through his son’s hair. “Ha! Well, thank you, I guess. Maybe the ole’ throwing’ arm of mine is a bit rusty, heh. Oh! And thanks, for everything, by the way. What do we say, Blake?”

Clint chuckled and moved to wave them off. “Oh it’s nothing, just my jo-”

“Thank you!” Blake cheered, nice and loud with an extra hop of excitement. Then, as all cheery children do, he beamed at Loki again. “Hi! My name’s Blake. What’s yours? Do you wanna play frisbee with my dad and me? He’s really good!”

“Oh,” the father said in surprise, “he’s so tiny I didn’t even see him there! Hey, lil guy.” Loki cowered further, which brought the man’s attention to the onlooking, relaxing Avengers behind him. “Say, sorry for being nosy, but what’s a kid doing with the Avengers? It’s not often you guys take a day out in public.”

“What? Oh, no-” Clint blinked and looked down at Loki, miffed about the sudden turn of conversation. “No, he’s, ah, Thor-”

“He’s Thor’s?”

“No!” The other Avengers said, all at varying degrees of denial and surprise. Even Thor choked a bit as he sat up.

Loki turned around and ran straight into his open arms as soon as he was close enough. Thor scooped him up and stood besides Clint. He made sure to shoot a smile both to his brother to calm him down and to Blake, who had started to squirm in excitement at his approach. Hopefully it was charming enough, as Loki was always the better one when it came to children. Thor found he never knew what to say or do in their tiny presence.

Sadly, Loki was a bit preoccupied with being a child. Rather on topic, actually, because how was he going to explain this without saying that it was Loki?

“Hello! No, ah, this little warrior isn’t mine. He’s, um. He’s my friend Sif’s-” Norns, if she ever found out about this she was going to murder him, “ -and I’m, ah, watching him while she’s away. For, uh, a few weeks, anyway. His name’s, uh-”

“Lucas!” Natasha called from the blanket. “His name’s Lucas!”

“Yes!” Thor said, perhaps a bit too agreeably. “His name’s Lucas. Sweet thing, he is.” The chuckle afterward might not have been convincing either, strained and tight as it was, though if the father thought anything of it he didn’t say a word.

“Well, welcome to Earth lil guy! Say, maybe he’s a bit too small for frisbee,” The father said pointedly to Blake, “but if it were alright, maybe the two of you could go play at the park. Only if that’s alright with you though, Thor!”

Thor pursed his lips and shook his head. “No, I think that’d be fine. We came here for that very purpose anyway; we would have migrated over at some point during this fine afternoon. What do you say Lo- uh, Lucas?”

Loki just buried his head further into Thor’s shoulder with a whine. Thor huffed and couldn’t help the roll of his eyes.

“Well, I think that’d be wonderful. He will most likely need a nap after anyway. Is anybody else coming?” He turned to look at the remaining Avengers at that.

The group glanced among themselves in surprise before Tony shrugged in an “Eh, why not?” sort of way and stood up. He picked his way through the mess of their picnic to come stand beside them, yellow-tinted sunglasses over his face. He looked every bit the cool superhero the media advertised, though perhaps a tad more domestic.

“Eh, why not? I haven’t been to a playground in like, decades or something.”

“I’m sure there’ll be something fun to do there,” Natasha hummed, also getting up to walk over.

Bruce adjusted his glasses then sheepishly looked down at his StarkPad. “Here, let me finish reading this passage then I’ll clean up and come over. I won’t be more than five minutes, maybe.”

“Me too,” Steve said, “I’m almost done with this drawing. We’ll be over in a jiffy, don’t worry about us.”

“Well alright!” Tony said, clapping his hands once while sporting his media-presentable grin. “Let’s get this party started!”

The father jolted with surprise, both miffed and seemly amazed at the eventful turn in his family’s afternoon. “O-oh, of course! This way- my wife has my daughter with her over at Adventure Playground. And- oh! Uh, I’m Chester and this is my son, Blake.”

“HI!” Blake said, all too excited, as he ran after his father with spirited bounds.

“Well hey yourself,” Tony said as he immediately took over as the source of entertainment.

Thor found himself beaming in relief, a content hop to his step as they followed Chester. Natasha and Tony kept Blake entertained the whole while as Chester talked with Clint and himself, though he didn’t find himself saying much with Loki in his arms. Instead, he opted for silence. Loki had always been great with talking- with persuasion and children, with his Silver Tongue and all, and letting him deal with all those particular situations was really coming back to bite him in the ass.

Adventure Park wasn’t the oldest playground in Central Park, nor was it the busiest, which Thor found he could be thankful for. However, there still happened to be a number of children running and screaming about. He felt an amused grin inch up his cheeks; the children were jubilant and creative, with their cries and made-up games. He’d hardly had any time at all to absorb the chaos before Chester was being pulled over to, presumably, his wife.

“Please don’t tell me you were running an illegal drug ring that warrants your arrest by the Avengers,” she whispered, punctuated by a particularly not-so-subtle and cautious tug to Chester’s blue flannel. It got a laugh out of Clint, who looked over to Natasha cheekily.

“Ooo, busting drug lords? Man, we’ve got the easy cases today!”

“A bit below our radar,” Natasha admitted, though gave the couple a reassuring nod. “We’re here on babysitting duty- thought we’d come to the park. Your husband and Blake have been very helpful.”

“Yeah! I-I’m gonna play with Lucas, Mama!” Blake had ran up and hugged his mother’s pant leg with excitement. In a stage whisper he said, “Lucas is from Asgard, and I don’t know if he’s been on a seesaw before!”

The confused look on her face warranted another rendition of Loki’s debrief, of whom had pulled his head away from Thor’s shoulder to look around. At the sight of other playing children he sported a shy grin and Thor heard the breathy giggle he gave. Still, he kept close to his brother and watched with curious, intelligent eyes. Thor hummed and nodded along with Tony’s debriefing the whole while, as he was much more preoccupied in making sure Loki was having a nice time.

Before he knew it, he was being pulled along by Blake, suddenly now two children under his care instead of one. The group had split up before he’d even processed what had happened. Tony had heaved himself, somehow, into the jungle gym and was playing with the kids up there. Clint was hanging upside down on the monkey bars, Natasha was helping kids around the seesaw, and Thor found himself at the swings as Blake practically threw himself into an empty one by the toddler set.

Between Loki’s curious babbling and the background screams of laughter, Thor just managed to make out Blake’s voice say, “At school me and my friends always play on the swings! We play as superheroes and- and we fly!”

“You do?” Thor asked, raising his voice into a miffed tone as he settled Loki into the swing’s seat. Loki gave a laugh and kicked his legs. Any particular worries Thor had had about being in public faded away, the darkness eclipsed by Loki’s innocent light.

“Yeah!” Blake was saying, “I’m always Iron Man, because Chase says I’m the best at math, though I think Summer’s better than me. She likes to be Captain America, ‘specially ‘cause her mom is a soldier. Chase likes to be Black Widow, since she’s really cool, but sometimes he’s Hawkeye too.”

“Is anyone the Mighty Thor?” Thor asked, feeling particularly cheeky and, oddly, left out. Blake, who was making a valiantly successful effort to get swinging, slumped against the chain a bit timidly. Thor found himself frowning in sympathy. “Well,” he said, making sure to sound busier than he actually ever was, “perhaps I’ll have to accompany Steve and Tony on one of their school field trips and become your Mighty Thor.”

Blake shot up in his seat- legitimately so, as he was suddenly standing was he swung- and Thor felt his heart leap into his throat as Blake shouted, “REALLY?!”

“Of course!” He gaped, knowing he’d already dug himself into a PR hellhole, “But only if you sit down and swing properly, we wouldn’t want a mighty hero like yourself to fall and injure yourself!”

Blake sat himself down with enough force to bounce the swing as he went, though it seemed he’d had enough experience to keep moving his legs as he chatted away. Thor made ample conversation as he pushed Loki, just a few gentle sets of movements to ease him into the idea. Truthfully, he’d admit to tuning out to some of Blake’s words. There was something so dazzling about watching Loki smile again after the last few years. It never failed to take his breath away. Without a doubt, he was grateful that the Norns had blessed his family with a second chance.

“Up!” Loki demanded a moment later. Thor obliged and gave another push. A bubble- tinted the colors of the rainbow by the filtered light through the trees- formed fat and round from Loki’s fingertips. Blake shouted an amazed “WHOA!” and then continued to ramble on about his friend Julia’s bubble adventures from barely two weeks past. In the meanwhile, Thor delighted himself with the elated feeling in his gut as Loki continued to laugh and smile and produce happy bursts of bubbles from his uncontrolled magic.

“So then is Lucas the God of Bubbles?” Blake asked, curious as he leaned against the swing’s chain again. Thor found himself choking on surprised chuckles.

“Bubbles? Norns no! He’s the god of something much more exciting.”

“Really? ‘Cause you’re the God of Thunder and have like, cool lightening ‘n stuff. What’s he the god of?? How do you know if you’re a god of something?”

Thor tipped his head one way then another, thinking. “It’s, well, different depending on whether the title is bestowed upon magical or physical prowess. Those like Lo- uh, Lucas have magical prowess, which can be apparent in young ages. And I didn’t always have cool lightning powers. My father tells me it used to just be very chaotic static electricity.”

“Eh, still cool,” Blake giggled. “What’s he the god of though?”

Well, it wouldn’t be a lie to choose another one of Loki’s titles. Mischief and Lies were definitely off the table for the time being. Besides, Thor had strong evidence for his claim. It was based in a memory from not even a week ago, one which sparked the whole bracelet-hunt in the first place.

“Lucas,” Thor hummed, “is the God of Fire.”

“FIRE?!”

“Oh yes, fire. He set the Avengers living room ablaze the other day, did you know that? Very fickle thing, magic is. Your great Captain was dodging flaming pillows and Black Widow was deflecting sparking remotes for a whole five minutes! J.A.R.V.I.S. most valiantly protected us with the sprinkler systems.”

Blake had a sparkle in his eyes as he awed at the story. Loki gave a particularly deep laugh, the smug bastard. Thor leaned forward to plant a smacking kiss to his cheek in retribution, in turn leading to another stream of bubbles flying off into the park. He felt himself secretly preen at the show of happiness.

It took less than five more minutes for Blake to get tired of swinging. He helped push Loki for a good two before his demanding “Up, Or, wan up!” and spit-covered magic bracelet lost his interest as well. Thor divided his attention between abiding by Loki’s childish wishes, the spoiled (adorable) prince he was, and watching Blake run around with other children. Chester came by and nabbed his son for a family picture not too long later, just in time for Loki’s terrible twos to kick back in again.

“Down,” he said, still giggling from his elated high.

“Down?” Thor asked, already steadying the swing as he rocked his hands back and forth with its momentum. “Are we tired of swinging now too?”

“Down!” Loki said again, much grumpier the second time, as the swing still hadn’t stopped. Thor tsked and let it fall steady.

“Have patience Loki, you will be down in a minute. Would you like to see Auntie Natasha? Or perhaps go play with Uncle Tony in the jungle gym? I see Uncle Bruce and Steve are here, and Bruce is in the sandbox-”

“DOOOOWN!” Loki cried out, a spark of electricity zapping from his bracelet. Frustration was already coloring his pale cheeks, though Thor knew from experience that whining came before the tears and the full tantrum.

He hooked his hands under Loki’s armpits and pulled him out of the swing, murmuring exasperatedly the entire while. “You’re quite pushy for a 105-year-old, you know that? Only about age two and you order me around just like the advisors do!”

Loki, still wanting down onto the wood chips, petulantly smacked his brother’s shoulder. Thor just raised an eyebrow and hitched him higher into his grasp. Well, if that’s how he wanted to play this game then perhaps it was time for Auntie Natasha to take the reigns. Besides, it would be safer by her, where there were less running kids and wood chips to trip on. Loki, in being held tighter, wriggled with a displeased whine. He never was one for being denied what he wanted, despite his claims for being the patient and open-minded brother.

A few eager children ran and followed Thor towards the seesaw. Most were preoccupied with Steve on the other side of the fence, it seemed, where a bunch of adults had congregated to speak with him and their children. That, and the rest of the child-horde happened to be swarming the jungle gym like bees, playing games with Tony and Clint throughout the impressive wooden structure. Screams of laughter rang abundant from the depths where Thor could not see.

Natasha, on the other hand, he could.

She raised an eyebrow as he approached, a child slipping off her lap with a high giggle. Up in the air about three kids sat huddled in a seat, snickering to one another as they waited. Thor gave each a bright smile, as they were eye-level, before turning back to his teammate with Loki held in outstretched arms.

“I think Lucas wants to see his Aunt Nat.”

“DOOOWN!” Another zap of lightning.

Natasha raised a fine eyebrow before accepting Loki into her lap. He still wriggled with discomfort, because being down with Aunt Nat wasn’t down-down, but he did smoosh his face into her shoulder.

“No Or,” Loki said, peering out at him. Thor pouted dramatically.

“What? I’m not allowed to love you anymore? Is Auntie Nat better than me?”

“Yeah,” both said simultaneously. Natasha’s eyes crinkled as she smiled all too knowingly. Thor pretended to be more hurt than he was just to hear the tiny sniffled laugh that was buried in her shoulder.

“Thor’s been hogging you, huh Lucas? I think, since we’re at a playground, he should let you play with other kids,” Natasha hummed all honeyed. Without looking up she said, “That’s why we brought him here- and yes, that means putting him down, and yes he’s young but he’s also alien and stronger than literally every kid here. If he falls in the wood chips he’ll be fine. So, Thor, stop mother-henning him; he’ll still be perfectly okay by dinner time.”

Thor scoffed and crossed his arms, a small frown on his lips. Sometimes he wished that Natasha could read him less like an open book. “I’m not mother-henning, I’m just worried a normal amount, alright? Besides, he was playing fine earlier and I’ve only carried him around a small bit. Are you going to give him a few rounds on the seesaw, or must I take him to Bruce for fun in the sandpit?”

Pointedly, Natasha readjusted her grip and eased the other side of the seesaw down. She looked a little smug at her exit, and then a lot smug by the smile she coaxed out of Loki. Thor scoffed again and made it a point to ignore the two of them as he helped the other children on and off the seesaw for an odd few moments. And while Loki seemed to enjoy his time with his aunt, it was soon apparent that “Down” meant “No, not down on the seesaw, I mean down-down or else I’ll electrify this whole dang seesaw, Auntie Nat."

“Take him to Bruce,” She hummed. She let Loki down onto the wood chips and Thor had to lunge forward to catch him from going under the seesaw. There was another whine, edging towards that looming tantrum that Thor found himself frustrated about, and a zap of lightning. Natasha ran a soothing hand through his inky hair with an understanding smile. “Tony and Clint have the gym locked down on child-duty, so maybe the sandbox is the next best place. He can run and play and not get trampled. Let him live, Thor, he only has this second chance once.”

Thor felt his cheeks heat. Somewhere in the center of his chest, a sharp sting of hurt told of his embarrassment. He was very aware of Loki’s peculiar second chance, not that he needed anyone else to inform him of so. And while there were bound to be plenty more playground days ahead of them, he still found himself defensive over letting his younger brother romp and play in the clustered area. It was fine in the park, where it was clear and safe, and Loki played perfectly well there. But what if something happened? He had to be there for him, that was the entire point about being an elder sibling, which he had spectacularly failed at, apparently, the first time.

But Natasha had a point, he would most readily concede. Loki would never live, grow, or learn under a stifling presence. Maybe he was being a tad bit overbearing… call him over-protective, but Thor had watched him die a few times. But, looking over the playground and the running kids and multiple other parents and Avengers, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to let Loki run around if just for the afternoon. A month being cooped up in the tower deserved at least that much of a reward.

So, with a sigh, Thor nodded and gave her a trying smile. It was tight, but the alleviated rise of her brow told him that she understood. “Aye, you’re right. Thank you, Nat. Always so right,” he tsked, teasing, “I hold him for two seconds too long and I’m being overprotective!”

“You’re damn right,” she called as he left. Thor felt his smile turn into a grin, especially as he finally let go of Loki and steered the running toddler towards his next destination.

Loki barreled into Bruce with as much grace as a running puppy, which essentially he was. Bruce was knocked forward on his perch with an audible “Oof!”. He whirled around, bewildered, with a hand on his glasses. At the telltale giggle and head of inky hair, he begrudgingly smiled and sighed as he lifted the toddler into his lap.

“Are we already tired of playing with Thor for the day?”

“Yeah.”

Thor felt himself pout again. “Am I really that bad??”

“Yeah,” they both said, one giggling and the other looking quite smug. Thor scoffed and took a seat next to them on the edge of the sandpit.

Bruce leaned over towards the stroller, which haphazardly held the Avengers’ discarded jackets, picnic blanket and basket, and Loki’s toddler bag. He shuffled around one-handedly through the mess before grunting in triumph and bringing out a sippy cup. Loki’s eyes lit up and his hands latched on greedily.

“Sippy!” Loki cheered, already taking big gulps of whatever pink juice Thor had filled it with earlier.

“Yeah, it is your sippy,” Bruce said. At Thor’s combo of a smile and a raised eyebrow he shrugged. “It’s kinda warm out, and figuring his heritage and that he’s been running around for a while, I figured he could use some hydration. Snacks are in his bag if he gets hungry later. Alright, now go play!”

Thor tried not to worry too much as Loki slid off of Bruce’s lap with ease. He stumbled through the unsteady ground at first, though quickly gained an understanding as he sipped and toddled around. Every once in a while he would pick up something interesting from the sand and race over to show the two awaiting Avengers.

“Wow, that is a cool rock! Thank you, Lucas!” Thor awed, taking the aforementioned common pebble and setting it beside him. It went into the pile with three more exactly like it. Maybe Loki was starting a collection, though Thor was beginning to think that Loki was too shy to play with the other kids.

Before he could point that fact out to Bruce, a child maybe two years older than Loki came over with a bucket and a shovel and plopped down at Loki’s feet. Instantly they started talking a mile a minute, or so the Earth-saying went, without a care in the world. Bruce, also watching, nudged his shoulder when Loki took a seat next to them. He still sipped at his cup, and was rather quiet, though that didn’t seem to bother his new friend. Bruce nudged him again with a lopsided smile.

“I was worried how he’d react with so many people around, since he’s been so cooped up inside the tower. He was shy with that other kid earlier- er, Brock?”

“Blake,” Thor hummed.

“Yeah, him. Well, either way, it’s actually kind of astonishing that he’s having almost no trouble adjusting. He wasn’t even bothered by the traffic and noise earlier, did you notice? And the number of kids and people around now- and- and he’s just okay with that. I’m surprised, and relieved, that he’s adjusting so well. Maybe that explains why you had such an easy time adjusting to earth life too.”

Thor nodded, his lips pursed as he found resonation with Bruce’s words. “I don’t think that could have been articulated better, my friend. I have to wholly agree with you; I’m surprised and relieved as well.”

“I think it could have been worded a bit better, but glad we’re on the same page.”

Thor snickered and slapped a hand onto Bruce’s back, who lurched forward with the momentum and choked on his spit in surprise. “Aye, I’m glad we are too.”

Their conversation lulled again afterward. A few girls set up camp less than a foot away from their perch and, for a good fifteen minutes, Thor and Bruce found themselves building a castle with them. It was more a large mound of sand with a few sticks for towers and rocks for windows, but, well, it was the creativity that counted. Loki, a few feet more into the sandpit, had a much more impressive castle with his new friend, to Thor’s playful jealousy.

Really though, it was just his excuse to peer over and make sure that Loki was okay, which, of course, he was. At some point he conceded to letting Loki have his afternoon and turned his attention the best he could elsewhere, otherwise all the compartmentalized worry would come and bury him. And really, being currently surrounded by dozens of other kids, he couldn’t say he was in much of a mood to deal with that at the moment anyway.

He didn’t have to silently glower much longer because a resounding scream of excitement shook through the playground and a horde of children ran towards the fence. In that exact moment, Tony and Clint jumped into existence beside them and took their own perches on the ledge. They both were snickering as children ran from all edges of the park- sandpit included- towards where Steve had last been seen.

Bruce didn’t need to even hear their snickers to know that something was happening. “What’d you two do?” He accused, scowling.

“Ha! I- hehe- I didn’t do anything! It’s more like what Tony did-”

“Shut up!” Tony cackled, smacking Clint’s shoulder flippantly. “I didn’t think they’d all go and play tag-”

“What child wouldn’t want to play tag with Captain America!?”

“I don’t know! My back was hurting and I wanted fifteen minutes, give me a break!” Somewhere on the other edge of the sandpit, a group of accidentally-eavesdropping moms started laughing. “See?” Tony said, “They get me!”

“What in the name of the good Lord is happening?” Natasha asked, striding over and standing behind their group. Even though he hadn’t done anything, Thor felt himself sweat in fear of her hidden wrath.

“I think-” Bruce interjected, cautiously adjusting his glasses, “-Tony said that Steve was going to play tag. And now everyone wants to play tag.”

“‘Good Lord’? Like you believe in the ‘Good Lord’,” Clint mumbled.

Nat shifted her weight from one foot to another and stewed silently on the information. She canted her head, thinned her lips, and then smacked both Tony and Clint over the head. At their resounding whines she smiled and took a seat beside them. “At least make sure the toddlers don’t play; they shouldn’t run on the woodchips.”

Tony stood up while waving his hands, exaggerating the movements as if to clear the air. “Alright, alright. Give me, like, five seconds.” He coughed, then raised his hands and cupped them around his mouth. “HEY KIDS! SIX AND UP AND WITH PARENTAL PERMISSION, OR ELSE NO TAG!”

A resounding whine went through the horde, though more than a few parents breathed out in relief. There were shouts of “Please, please, please?!” and cries of dismay as parents pulled out their coats, though the PSA from Iron Man himself was taken seriously. The toddlers were whittled out- and relocated mostly to the sandpit, actually- and a couple of handfuls of grade schoolers left for an early dinner or other scheduled evening plans.

Steve looked more or less confused as to why a literal demon horde of children had just bombarded him, but at Tony’s announcement he looked both resigned and peeved. The look he shot the Avengers through the fence bars had even Thor giggling with anticipation. Clint and Tony were cracking up through their teeth so much so that the two of them could barely sit upright. Resigned as he was, though, Steve bent down and set ground rules for the playing kids, from the looks of it anyway.

“Oh my God,” Tony gasped, “he’s actually doing it. Oh my god, Clint, he’s actually fucking doing it-”

“You better fucking record this, Tin Can-”

“I will, I will!” Tony hissed. He tapped the arm of his sunglasses and Thor heard the tinny voice of J.A.R.V.I.S. affirming that “of course I’ll would record the event, Sir.”

Thor turned and snuck one look at Loki- still playing with his mystery friend without a care in the world- then turned back to watch the event unfold before him. There was an impressive army up against Steve, it seemed, and he was intrigued to see how it would play out.

The group spread apart so everyone had a good head start and space to run. The round had barely started before a black boy around aged eight who was it- as explained by Tony, the one would be tagging first- all but shouted, “TAG CAPTAIN AMERICAAAAA!!” The other two and a half dozen, or more, children didn’t hesitate to banshee scream and take off. Steve barely had enough time to flush in panic before he bolted.

Tony wheezed and nearly doubled over. “H-holy shit, lookit him go! RUN BROOKLYN, RUN!”

Thor bellowed as he watched Steve dodge and weave excited, grabby children. He’d always known that Steve was dexterous, but even the team training couldn’t compare to the frantic mess that this was. As a bystander, he felt his blood soar with the promise of battle-- or, anyways, as close to it as he could get.

“The hunt is on indeed!” He laughed, “Look at him run! I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so frantic! This must be quite a challenge.”

Bruce shuddered beside him. “I wouldn’t want half a hundred children running after me either..”

“I think this is absolutely perfect,” Clint giggled, wiping tears from his eyes. “Oh god, Tony, what have you done?”

“Created a masterpiece, obviously.”

“Or put us on the news, when we shouldn’t be,” Nat added. Tony groaned beside her. She gave him a sympathetic pat, the corners of her mouth curling. “At least they’ll be more focused on this than on Lucas...also, this is frankly hilarious, so.”

Tony and Clint exchanged high fives before going back to their gracious entertainment. Thor cheered every time Steve just managed to dodge, or when a child was a thread’s width from catching Steve’s jacket. At one point he was so absorbed that Bruce had to pull him back from standing and shouting his excitement.

“Jeez, you guys really do get pretty into this athletic stuff on Asgard, huh?”

“Of course! Battle and games of sport are viewed as shows of one’s traits, worth, and nobility. Not to mention, it is excellent entertainment!”

Bruce shook his head mirthfully and gave him a few trying pats on the shoulder. Thor felt himself grin impossibly larger as he said, “I guess you’ve got a point there, buddy.”

He turned his attention back to the game. Exclaims of “Tag!” rang out like a warning, an omen of doom, like a tail behind Steve. While the older kids were doing most of the running and tagging, it seemed the group still kept up fairly well with whatever direction or diversion Steve threw their way. So much so, in fact, that Steve actually scaled about five feet into a tree to take a rest. Beside him, as Thor laughed at his cleverness, Tony gasped indignantly.

“HEY! TREES ARE OFF LIMITS- THE KIDS ARE GONNA FALL!”

The speck across the fence leaned back and hit his head against the tree with, presumably, a whine of frustration. “GIVE ME A BREAK, SHELLHEAD!”

“FIFTEEN SECONDS!”

“Oh, we’re being generous now, are we?”

Tony side-eyed Nat as he sat back down. “Well, considering that he’s actually stopping to catch a breath, despite the whole super-soldier thing, I figured a quick breather wouldn’t hurt.”

And, true to that, Steve jumped down and took off running all over again. The children that had gathered at the base of the tree awed as Captain America jumped right over them, though took off running not even a second later.

Thor was just beginning to wish for a bowl of popcorn, or some of the leftovers from the picnic, when two grubby hands pulled at his jacket. Startled, he looked down, then smiled as Loki climbed into his lap. Relief and fondness banished the secret anxiety he’d kept bottled all afternoon.

“Well well well, welcome back Little One. Did you have a fun time in the sandpit?”

“Yeah,” Loki said, not at all paying attention to his brother as he waved around his empty Sippy. “Seeb?”

Thor blinked. “Steve? He’s busy playing Tag- can you see him, over there?” He pointed over his shoulder and Loki, immediately, giggled.

“Silly Seeb!”

“Yes!” Thor laughed, “Steve is being silly! Maybe you can tell him how silly he is when he gets back. Wouldn’t that be fun?”

As if on cue, Steve vaulted over the fence separating field and park and scaled up the side of the jungle gym. Panting on the second level, he watched as the kids filtered in through the entrance and ran over.

“Hey!” Tony shouted, standing up to scowl more effectively, “You can’t just jump over here like that! The kids’ll get hurt!”

Steve’s eyes flashed in annoyance as he took a few deep breaths. “Says who? You don’t make the rules.”

“Actually, I have been this entire time. I’m surprised more than anything that you’ve been listening.”

From up above, it sounded like Steve muttered “Me freaking too” before holding his up hands for a timeout. “I just need, like, two minutes.”

Tony raised an eyebrow, unconvinced, that was, until Thor smirked and nudged him.

“Steve looks like he’s been sweating. Doesn’t it normally take him a while to start doing so?”

Bruce sighed behind the two of them. “Maybe we should give him a minute, then wrap it up? Lucas’ starting to get squirmy again.”

Tony sighed through his nose at the sight. He turned around and clapped his hands. “Alright, Capsicle, you get two minutes! I’m even being generous and giving you a safe zone- no tagging in the sandpit, kids! Also, because we need to wrap this up, Captain Gorgeous, everyone is it. So… in T-minus two minutes, get runnin’!”

Steve didn’t even wait the allotted time. The children below screamed with enthusiasm as he rushed down the levels of the gym. With practiced ease, he dodged their hands, leapt over bars and dove between walls. A cloud of sand went up as he rolled into the sandpit. Behind him, a whine went up as the kids stopped at the pit’s edge and stared in.

“Someone’s eager to get home,” Nat hummed.

“Or, you know, not lose to a bunch of kids,” Clint snickered. The look Steve shot both of them was short of murderous.

Still corraling Loki to his lap, Thor laughed deeply from his stomach. “Nonsense, this has been a wonderful challenge! We should come back and do this again soon; perhaps we could participate as well.”

“Next time, ask me,” he panted.

Tony leaned back onto his hands, eyes narrowed with both satisfaction and annoyance. “Yeah yeah, will do Capsicle.” He paused, then grinned like the Cheshire Cat. “Hey L, you wanna give Steve that hug you’ve been wanting to give him?”

Thor’s smile dropped in confusion. Before he could ask, Tony weaseled Loki out of his impossible grasp and let the toddler run free, right onto Steve’s chest. The soldier was too exhausted to even push or pull him off. Still confused, Thor looked over Tony, who winked.

Oh, alright then.

“Give him a big hug, Lucas! Steve’s been so strong and brave to play Tag with the mighty children!”

“Yes,” Loki agreed, firmly latched onto his uncle. Steve was smiling beneath him.

Tony nudged Clint, who sported a complimenting wicked grin. It didn’t even need to be said between them what was happening, which Thor found freaky in its own right, but ignored for the sake of the moment.

“Hey, Steve?” Tony sang.

“Yeah?” Came the exhausted and cautious answer.

“Remember how I said that I make the rules? Well, one last rule. Lucas is immune to the safe-zone rule and immediately by-passes the six and up rule. Say ‘Tag!’, Lulu!”

“Taaaag!”

Between Thor’s own belly-deep shouts of laughter, the Avengers, and the cries of laughing children, Steve’s very obvious swear was drowned within the noise. Loki giggled above him, then shrieked with it when Steve tickled him for punishment.

“You win,” he sighed later, once the noise had died down. A ways back, the telltale shutter of cameras caught his attention. Steve tilted his head back just as Thor felt his heart drop with anxiety.

Calmly, Bruce got up and began distributing jackets. Thor took Loki, ignored the way his hands minutely trembled beneath the camera’s gaze, and buckled Loki into his stroller. He shucked his own jacket back on while Nat took Loki’s bag. Steve got up, only to be dogpiled by thankful children not two seconds later. Tony and Clint snickered at the sight. Thor would have too, though he found it hard to smile while grateful parents took pictures of the sight. There was no paparazzi, though any picture could have Loki’s face and that scared him.

When Steve finally got up, the Avengers bade their goodbye and started for the exit. Thor smiled as bright as he could for the children- gave an extra wave to Blake and presumably his sister, both red-faced from tag- and hoped it didn’t look too tight in the pictures. The sound of Loki laughing below him in the stroller brought him back to reality.

Steve, making funny faces, straightened up once they were out of range. Quietly, he said, “Never again.”

“Seriously?” Thor asked in surprise. “That looked like quite a challenge, and fun at that. The kids enjoyed it, too.”

“Looks like growing up in Brooklyn did teach you something, punk!” Tony sang up ahead. His only warning was Steve’s growl before he launched forward. Tony yelped and sidestepped Steve’s attack, only to be caught around the waist.

“Have mercy!!” He cried.

Steve chuckled ruthlessly and slung him over his shoulder. “I think the co-team captains are going to have a very thorough discussion once we get back to the tower.”

“Please tell me that was an innuendo.”

It, evidently, was not. Tony complained about being carried the whole way back to the tower, much to Loki’s amusement and the team’s entertainment. Thor grinned despite his anxiety, grin tugged deep into his cheeks.

He might have still been nervous about the paparazzi, though they never did show up. No S.H.I.E.L.D. either, and while Loki’s babyface would be in the news that night, no real attention was brought to him. If anything, it was Steve’s game and the trending picture of Tony slung over his shoulder that caught the most attention.

At the moment, with Loki laughing in his stroller and Clint wheezing to his right, he couldn’t help but think that everything would turn out fine in the end. Despite the anxiety still settled in his stomach, Thor knew it was right.

Chapter Text

When the microwave beeped, an otherwise perfectly hot bowl of soup was transferred to the fridge. Thor traded it for a sippy cup full of orange juice and a small bowl of strawberries, freshly cut that morning from breakfast. As he carried them over to his living room, Loki’s blankie slung over his shoulder, he couldn’t have felt more like the moms in the shows and movies that Tony always showed him. Or like his nursemaid from childhood, really. Both worked.

His current nursemaid, or the closest thing to it, might have been his saving grace: the TV.

Currently, a curious show about hero pets was on. Loki, curled up and quiet, watched with rapt attention. A small sniffle was his only tell of discomfort, or the grab for Daga who laid an inch above his head. Loki may have been sick, which worried him to no end, but Thor still felt his heart simultaneously melt and clench at the sight.

“Hey, feeling any better?” He asked. The cup and bowl were set within Loki’s peripherals, as if egging him to gain an appetite, though all his brother did was sniffle and shake his head.

“No,” Loki said. His voice was congested and his face was marred in a permanent frown. His downy hair was pulled back into a ponytail, which usually helped with his temp, but today it was greasy and unkempt and seemed to be of no help. Thor shot him his best trying smile as Loki breathed onto his curled fist.

“Do you remember what Uncle Bruce said? Cough into your elbow if you feel like you gotta cough. We’ll have to wash your hands before he comes to visit if we have to.”

“Ohay,” Loki said, muffled as his elbow was nudged up towards his mouth.

Thor ran a hand over top his brother, lips still set in a grim smile, as Loki nuzzled into his own elbow. Wonder Pets went to commercial and he took the chance to bundle Loki in blankie while his attention was divided. His brother must have been feeling truly terrible to willingly let himself be swathed so efficiently. He ached in sympathy as he got up to fetch the now cooled soup, hopefully warm and not blisteringly hot or unappetizingly cold.

Whether it was the sickness affecting his appetite or the terrible twos, Loki was intent on not eating. He was on a strict diet of fruits, veggies, and soup anyway, so perhaps he was just sick of his diet. With the Dragon’s Fever running so wildly through his veins, Thor found he couldn’t blame him, though that didn’t mean that his didn’t heart clenched with worry every time Loki refused to sit up and eat something, anything.

So, for a majority of the early afternoon, he laid down watching Nick Jr. and trying to convince his brother to eat during commercial breaks. Loki, all swathed and snuggled on his brother's chest, still refused, though he did manage some juice from his sippy at some point and Thor counted it as a win.

The streak of losses had started almost a week ago. Two days after Loki’s first playground date he was taken outside again. This time it was just them two, Tony, Clint, and Nat. They visited one of the closer parks in Central Park and, since it was before noon on a school day, there weren't many children running and screaming around. Life always found a way to persist, however, as a handful around Loki age roamed under parental supervision.

Thor still couldn’t fit inside the playground structure so the other three Avengers present made sure to give Loki a hell of a time for him. Whenever Loki crossed a bridge or went down the stairs Thor found a way to make funny faces and tease him through the wooden bars. Loki ate it up with screams of laughter and hops, stomps, and flails of excitement. Then he’d scurry away to the next part of the structure with someone close at his heels. He made a few one-time friends as well, who accompanied the Avengers and wove interesting stories for pretend and play. They scattered when Loki got to the slide and dove into his Auntie Nat’s lap.

“Wheee!” Nat cheered as they went down the swirly slide. Loki had giggled in her lap the whole way down. Thor had crouched at the end and gave his brother a big toothy smile, to which he gained one in return, then more when Clint and Tony had come down one after another and slammed into Natasha’s back. She didn’t budge, which was almost frightening enough, but that fear was only amplified when she inclined her head back with a scalding frown.

“What are you two idiots doing? Don’t you know not to knock into the assassin spy holding the magical baby? It feels like you’re both asking for an ass-whooping.”

“Oh God, please no, my legs hurt enough from last time,” Tony had whined, smile gone, while Clint just continued snickering. Thor smirked when Loki hopped off his aunt’s lap and into his arms.

“Or!” Loki had cheered. When he spouted incomprehensible babble it signaled time to go home, so they had, and Loki had napped peacefully until the Tower had shuddered and woken him up.

It was a visit from Sif and the Warriors Three. Thor had grinned and greeted them merrily with Loki perched on his hip, groggy from his nap. They’d dropped another chest- smaller and more like a tote, actually- onto Thor’s living room floor before collapsing onto his couch. It creaked and later Tony would stare at him exasperatedly down his nose for breaking another couch, though during the moment Thor had squeezed in beside them and had let Loki crawl from lap to lap.

The problem arised when he got to Volstagg.

“Oh, little Loki, I fear you shouldn’t say hello today,” Volstagg had said. He’d then suppressed a cough that still managed to rattle within his chest like a thunderstorm, fearsome and deep and a little worrying. Thor remembered he had frowned and Sif stole Loki back to her lap.

“Are you ill, my friend?” He’d asked, brows furrowed. It wasn’t often Asgardians got sick, usually only when something new spread widely across the kingdom before the healers and alchemists got their hands on it. Illnesses never lasted long afterward.

“Aye,” Volstagg sniffed, “another case of Dragon’s Fever, the healers think. Minor currently, though they are having a hard time making the elixirs work. They said there should be something for me to pick up on the marrow.”

“They even let him continue working,” Fandral drawled, leaning away and towards Thor. “If you ask me, if the Dragon’s Fever turns out to be anything like the last case, then I’d rather have him at home with his wife. I don’t want to get sick.”

Sif rolled her eyes, dramatically, and Loki laughed. “None of us want to get sick, Fandral. I’m sure his wife doesn’t want to either.”

“Yes well I didn’t marry him!”

“EY!”

Thor couldn’t stop the full-body laugh and “HA!” he’d given. Fandral snickered all up until he’d been pulled under his arm, in which he choked and Volstagg had his turn to laugh.

Which, in hindsight, probably should have been the signal to Thor to pull his brother, with the baby immune system, to the other side of the couch. But he didn’t, and of course Volstagg’s laugh had turned into a hacking cough. It didn’t matter that he had turned and expelled the last of it into his elbow. What did matter was Loki coughing the next morning and then conking out for a four and a half hour nap three hours early, then the slow burn fever that’d stuck with him for the next day and a half.

Bruce had promptly freaked out upon being told that Loki was sick with an alien virus. Tony’s eyebrows had shot up and the two of them had shared one curious yet alarmed look. Loki, who was mid-fever and shivering on Thor’s shoulder, was oblivious to his brother’s worry. With regret, Bruce had quarantined his floor and took vitals and blood samples down to the lab. Then, with little else to do, Thor took Loki up to Asgard to see what the healers would say.

“A case of Dragon’s Fever,” Eir had sighed after checking him over. Thor stood beside her, shoulder’s hunched and arms crossed in worry.

“Is it a bad case? I know Volstagg was sick, said that there would be medicine ready for him rather soon, actually. Is there any way that the same can be true for my brother?”

Eir’s only response had been hesitation and firmed lips. Then, “Jotunn biology, while sometimes very similar to us Aesir, is still very different. We only have some elixirs made for Aesir. Your mother, Queen Frigga, often had to wait for medication for Prince Loki as well. We’ll have to develop a new elixir for him. I wish this was like previous instances, my Prince, so I could readily give you a medication for him. I’m afraid this is not the case.”

Thor had sighed and rubbed a tired hand across his brow. “Alright, we can wait. Should we stay here?”

Eir shrugged. “It would be easier to monitor him, yes, but his new cultivated life is back on Midgard. If it helps to soothe your nerves, we can watch him for a few days and then send you back. If anything happens Heimdall can always bring you two back immediately; I do not have any concerns.”

So for two days they had stayed. It had been nice to sleep in his own giant bed again. Weird, too, because it wasn’t what he’d come to think of immediately as home. Home was Avengers Tower, where J.A.R.V.I.S. alerted him that Loki had gotten out of his room in the early morning, where team breakfasts were daily, where Loki’s aunts and uncles visited all day to play and lend a hand. In Asgard? It was just him and the nannies, none of whom’s names he knew.

One perk was that the Warriors Three and Sif were able to visit. They helped for the few hours they could between work and sleep despite being run ragged for the, now almost pointless, search for the witch. Thor appreciated their help, loved that he could see them without worrying about a Bifrost trip, but still found he missed home.

What did lessen that ache, however, was a visit from his father.

Odin had knocked on his door the evening of his first full day back and had him in surprise. “Father?” Thor had asked, a grin creeping over his cheeks.

“Well, there he is,” Odin had chuckled. Thor stumbled under a tug and surprisingly strong arms as he was pulled into a hug. He could hear rumbling laughter in his father’s chest. “I heard my sons were back home and I hadn’t seen hair nor hide of either of them. Peculiar, if you ask me.”

Thor had stepped back to rub at his neck bashfully. “Ah, I’ve had my hands full, Father. Had my fair share of worrying, as well, but it sounds like I’ll be back on Midgard in about a day’s time. I’m sorry for not visiting earlier. But, ah, I heard from Eir that your recovery is going well!”

They moved in towards Thor’s fireplace, bedroom door closed, to sit and talk. Loki was fast asleep under a mountain of furs on his bed. He’d been too sick and tired to try and argue his bedtime, like he normally did, and had passed out the second Thor had tucked him in. They settled down on the couch to keep cozy and warm. Thor sat on one end, a pillow under one arm, and his father on the other end, still talking about his recovery. It had occurred to Thor then that he couldn’t remember a domesticated memory with his father like so, at least not one from within the last century.

“Aye, I’m no longer as confused as I was,” Odin had continued. “I realized about a week ago that it was odd that Loki was a baby the last time I saw you. Despite that, Eir refuses to tell me why my mind has been tampered with. Something about remembering naturally and not interrupting that process. I may be a king, but even I cannot rush my recovery.”

“Eir hasn’t told you?”

“No, she has not. I’m remembering more and more by the day, however. And your brother?” Odin leaned forward to gaze upon the sleeping toddler, which earned a trying, fond look from his eldest.

“Also remembering more and more by the day. Eir says that they should have an elixir for him ready in a fortnight, perhaps less. This Dragon’s Fever case is very tricky, apparently, but Loki is well enough to go back to Midgard. Even sick he’s missing his aunts and uncles fiercely, Father, and it’s only making his already bad tantrums worse. I’m looking forward to going back.”

Odin, this calm, mellow, recovering version of his father, had chuckled with empathy and spent the rest of the night catching up with his son. It had been a balm to a sore, empty place in his chest that Thor had become more and more familiar with in recent months. He refrained from mentioning details about Loki or the coup d'etat in favor of telling tales of combat and stories of parenthood. Sometimes he could win a laugh out of his father and Thor couldn’t help the delighted grins that overtook him. If he were lucky, Odin would be reminisced by an old memory from happier days. It took all he could muster to memorize what he and Loki had done as children, to remember why his father talked so lovingly about them.

But that had been a week ago. Now, back in the tower, his floor was once more quarantined and he’d been living almost exclusively with Loki. Bruce oftentimes visited, though not without all of them washing their hands and sanitizing, then wearing masks and gloves. This was standard procedure for the rest of the Avengers too, much to all of their exasperation.

“We are literally the only ones on Earth aware of an alien virus,” Bruce had hissed, eyes rimmed red after studying what he could down in the lab. From what the rest told him, he hadn’t come out for about the entire time Thor had been gone. “We don’t know if this thing can mutate and spread to us. I am not risking that. Thor, I’d fully quarantine you two if I didn’t know that Tony has contingency plans and that your and Steve’s immune systems were helping to protect ours- herd immunity and all. Just… please follow the procedure?”

And so they had, if just to pacify Bruce about the nasty alien virus that had him scared half out of his mind. Perhaps that was why Thor wasn’t phased by him coming up that afternoon, mask and gloves on, with a clear, lightweight Stark Industries hazmat suit on, sans the hood. Thor waved hello silently before returning his hand to rubbing at Loki’s back.

“Uh, hey Thor, Lo,” Bruce said, his voice muffled by the paper medical mask. He shifted the hazmat cowl over his shoulder to a better position. Thor didn’t think it was very comfortable since he did that every time he wore it.

“Hello Bruce. Can you say hi, Lo?”

“Hi.”

Bruce winced as he stepped into the den. “Yeah, he sounds miserable all right. Hey Lo, I hope you’re feeling better. Good news, though? Nat just picked this letter up from the balcony for you.”

Thor raised an eyebrow at the parchment Bruce waved around. “I didn’t feel the tower shudder?”

“Ah, no. Tones said he was tired of “feeling like his house was gonna come toppling down every time your homeland felt like sending a piece of paper.” He reinforced the balcony about, I don’t know, three days ago? Either way, hopefully you’ve got some news about those meds for Loki. I don’t think my stuff can work for much longer, he keeps acclimating to it so I have to up the dosage, which isn’t ideal. I haven’t figured out a new formula, either, so what I’m saying is I’m at my wits end here, Thor.”

Well, he certainly sounded and looked like it. Thor was pretty sure those were the clothes he wore during yesterday’s visit, and the day before that, and the day before that. If anything, he looked as rugged around the edges as Thor felt. He even sported the same look that he’d had been sporting every other day for almost three whole months now; wrinkled clothes, messy, greasy hair, bags under his eyes, and mysterious stains. "Exhausted and desperate", he’d dubbed it. Tony called it “Mom with Four Toddlers”, but it wasn’t Tony’s look to name, so ha.

“I can tell, my friend. Here, take Loki and I’ll see what it has to say.” They switched armfuls and Thor leaned back to fully open the scroll in front of himself.

“Thor,

Hello and best regards, my friend. I’m sending this letter with news concerning the elixirs for your brother. It’s been a few days longer than the healers originally estimated- many apologies from them, my Prince- but the Three and I will be down for a visit within a day’s time to deliver his remedies. We are all joyous to finally have a solution for his illness. I think even your father is secretly relieved.

I can only believe that you’ve ran out of pastes and solutions for Loki’s symptoms and have refused to come back for more, considering the time differences and your lack of appearance. I know you’re not that conservative- you’re terrible with rationing. Stop being bull-headed. At least your healer friend has been around to help, thank the Stars. On that note, we will be seeing you soon. Stay healthy.

Warm regards,

Lady Sif.”

Thor grinned. He thumbed the dried ink and said, “Well I have good news for you, Bruce! Sif and The Warriors Three will be down with elixirs for Loki soon. You can take us off quarantine and we can stop wearing those masks. By the Norns, maybe you’ll even sleep after this!”

Bruce blinked at him, deadpanned. “Shut the fuck up.”

“Language!”

“Bad,” Loki sniffled, bringing up a sticky hand to lay it over his uncle’s mask. Bruce visibly shuddered under the touch, like someone had forced him to kiss a fish or something. Thor laughed and accepted Loki back.

“Please don’t tell me you’re going to wash your mask now.”

“I’m not. I’m getting hand sanitizer for him and you, then I’m going to wash my mask. Something tells me that neither of you are taking this as seriously as I am. ”

“No, we’re not.”

“Actually, on that note, where is your mask?? Are you trying to get sick, Thor? What would happen if you got sick while Loki still needed you?”

Thor sighed and moved a black, greasy lock of hair out of Loki’s eyes. As much as he loved Bruce, sometimes the man made him want to jump off the Bifrost. “Oh, I don’t know, I’d ask for an elixir from the healers on Asgard and recover with my brother. I can only assume we’d be under further lockdown, so perhaps Loki and I would watch movies all day, read books, have grilled cheese…”

“Stop- stop being sarcastic, you ass. Jesus, I can’t believe the reporters eat up that Ye Old Grammar and Manners bullshit, you’re such an asshole.”

“Perhaps, but you love it.”

“Speak for yourself.”

“Oh, I am,” Thor snickered. He ignored Bruce’s exaggerated eye roll as the man disappeared and came back with a half-used bottle of hand sanitizer. Petulantly, like a child, he let the doctor clean his and Loki’s hands.

Once he was done, Bruce eyed the cold soup curiously. Loki’s strawberries were also almost completely untouched and his sippy was, thankfully, almost empty. “Has he eaten much today?”

“Not a lot since breakfast. Can you help me before Sif and Three come? Lo might get crabby.”

Bruce sighed and nodded in agreement. A sick and crabby Loki was certainly nothing to be trifled with. Just the former was enough of a handful if the “I don’t want to eat” behavior was any indication.

Thor settled his brother between them and together they tag-teamed Loki into nibbling on strawberries and finishing his juice. The worry that’d been hounding him for the last week eased slightly with the knowledge that an elixir was coming, though it was also appeased by seeing Loki nibbling mindlessly on fruit while watching Ni Hao, Kai-Lan. Such a simple creature he was.

True to Tony’s advancements, the tower didn’t shake when the Bifrost touched down. The two Avengers weren’t aware that Sif and Three were even in the building until J.A.R.V.I.S. told them so. At that point, the four Aesir were in the elevator and on their way, medicine in tow. Thor barely had a second to think of straightening the living room or cleaning Loki up before the elevator doors opened.

Where is my little best friend?” Cried one very worried voice. Thor snorted as Fandral all but strut into the room. “There he is! Oh, the poor soul looks so miserable, Norns bless him. Hello Loki, hi!”

The other three warriors followed Fandral in, albeit at a much more relaxed pace, as their blond friend came and knelt in the space between coffee table and couch to smile at Loki. Thor waved to them all, a little self-conscious of his relaxed and toddler-stained attire, as they all wore their normal battle regalia. Fortunately, none of them seemed to have noticed him much at all. Loki, sick and still attempting to smile for Fandral from behind his empty sippy, had captured their attention all on his own.

“Hi Fannel,” Loki sniffled. He giggled when Fandral pillowed his head in his arms to talk with him.

“How are you feeling, Little One? Is Thor taking good care of you? I can’t imagine being sick is any fun.”

Loki shook his head so hard that his body almost swiveled with him. It wasn’t any good for his congestion headache, apparently, as he snuggled into his brother’s side afterward. It warmed Thor’s insides to know that Loki trusted him enough to come to him for comfort.

“Not fun. O-Or is good- good bubby.”

“I’m a good big brother?”

“Yeah,” Loki affirmed, shifting and shuffling against his side like the restless thing he was. Fandral smiled at the interaction, crinkled eyes and all.

“Well, that’s certainly wonderful to hear. I believe Sif or Hogun might have a few very special gifts for you though. I bet you’ll be feeling better in no time thanks to them!”

Almost immediately Bruce was on his feet. “Wait, before you guys do anything, I’m going to have to ask you all to put on masks and gloves.” He vanished and came back with a box full of masks and another of gloves. He ignored the confusion- and perhaps disinclination- of the four guests and thrust the boxes forward.

“Uh,” Fandral drawled, “you do realize that we most likely do not need those, right? Aesir don’t get sick easily.”

Even from behind the mask, Thor could see the frown that Bruce targeted Fandral’s way. Loki “Uh-oh”ed into his side.

“No,” Bruce hissed, “but I do know that you guys can get sick. Volstagg gave Loki this Dragon’s Fever, or whatever, so I know that illnesses can spread up in Asgard. I also know that, from experience with Thor and Loki’s blood samples, you guys develop antibodies like we do. True, they’re more efficient, stronger, and last longer, but none of you happen to be completely 100% invincible. Even if you’ve gotten sick before that does not guarantee that you won’t get sick again.” At that Bruce aimed a particularly direct warning glare to Volstagg before continuing.

“The rest of you, presumably, have antibodies to a previous case of Dragon’s Fever but not to the current outbreak, unless you’ve contracted it and recovered up on Asgard and I’m unaware. So, with that line of thinking, you are all at risk for contracting it, again in certain cases. Your healers told Thor that they weren’t sure if it could mutate and spread on Earth, that it was unlikely, but that he had to be careful. This is me being careful. You’re all lucky I don’t shove you in hazmat suits and lock down the whole fucking tower. I am not being held responsible for an alien virus epidemic because I don’t have advanced enough science or medical equipment, not to mention a proper fucking degree, so for the love of everything holy, please put on the masks and gloves.”

Silence reigned over the group. Thor smirked during the entirety of Bruce’s lecture. He’d heard the thing six times over and knew almost every point of argument Bruce had, mostly because the argument had been turned against him more than once. It made him both amused and proud to see Bruce put his politeness aside to pull out all the stops.

Sif side-eyed him and, arms still crossed, pointed an indifferent finger his way. “Thor isn’t wearing any of those, though.”

“Well, he should be!” Thor frowned and felt particularly cheated out when gloves and a mask hit his face.

“I’ve worn mine,” he protested, though still slid the items on. “I had them on almost all of yesterday and this morning. I took them off earlier to feel Loki’s forehead for fever and for breakfast. I’m not wearing them just to give you a headache my friend, I swear.”

“I’m sure you’re not, Thor. I don’t take you for the type to purposely be a pain in the ass,” Bruce said, exhausted more than anything. He slid onto the floor next to Fandral and leaned over enough to grasp Loki’s hand in greeting. Loki smiled, sniffled, and mumbled a “Hi, Oncle Uce” back.

Thor scratched at his mask and chuckled when the Three found themselves in similar situations, especially Volstagg. Beards were not meant to face oppression by masks, or at least, not the tiny ones that Bruce and Tony always seemed to be wearing. They were scratchy and small and uncomfortable, an inconvenience at best, and even if he wouldn’t tell Bruce so, he may or may not have been ditching it whenever he could. Still, it was nice to finally not be the only one affected by the troubles.

Sif, now gloved and masked, sat down and seemed to be the only one besides Bruce who wasn’t affected by her current state of dress. She seemed aware of it, actually, and Thor was sure he could make out her pleased smile under her mask.

“So,” she started, “how has Midgard been? I can’t imagine you’ve been outside much, but surely there must be some interesting stories you haven’t told us yet. When you visited we didn’t get that much time to catch up, after all.”

Thor hummed in agreement. “Did I tell you of the time the Avengers fought robots in Central Park? I had Loki on my chest that time.”

Hogun, sitting next to him, lightly hit the back of his hand over his arm. “I believe you did during one of the other times we stayed for a visit. Your shield mates were not happy with that battle, if I recall.”

“No, we were not,” Bruce murmured grimly.

“Nothing else?” Fandral pouted.

“I’m afraid not,” Thor sighed. “I was supposed to have gone on a scouting mission with Steve yesterday, I believe, but since Loki has been sick I’ve been benched.”

“What were you going to scout?” Sif furrowed her brows and leaned back into her chair.

“Loki’s scepter,” Bruce said. He pushed his glasses further up his nose at the Warriors’ alarmed look. “We did have it after New York, don’t think that we lost it or anything, but S.H.I.E.L.D. had been corrupted from the inside by an evil organization known as H.Y.D.R.A. They actually used the tesseract about 70 years ago trying to gain power. Obviously they lost, but they had secret agents within the S.S.R. and then S.H.I.E.L.D. and, when Steve uncovered them about half a year ago, they took Loki’s scepter with them. We’ve been trying to find them since.”

Volstagg took a position similar to Sif with his crossed arms and leaned position. The only difference was his miffed expression instead of a frowned one. “Well, that doesn’t sound none too wonderful at all. I’ve only seen his scepter in the, ah, pictures Thor has shown us, but from what I’ve seen it sounds powerful. May the Norns be in your favor; I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of his staff, cosmically powered or not.”

Bruce scoffed. “Yeah, Clint wasn’t much of a fan of it. But luckily for us, it gives off a gamma radiation signature similar enough to that of the tesseract, so Tony and I have been trying to track it. Maria, an ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent that's been working for him, still has some sources from the tiny team that’s been working in the shadows. Sounds like they’ve got some intel that she’s passed along to us, but not enough yet.”

“Did Steve not find anything?”

“No, no one was at the facility he went to. Gamma radiation was off the charts though, so they definitely have the scepter and have most certainly used it. Place was cleared out though.”

“We’ll catch them,” Thor assured, gravely. “Is Steve back?”

“Yeah, got back sometime this morning. ‘S been sleeping since he walked into his bedroom, I think.”

Fandral frowned into his arms. “I thought, with Prince One and Two under observation, I thought none of you all would have left the tower. Fear of contamination, held responsible for an alien virus epidemic? I’m surprised he was cleared for battle.”

A vein twitched on the side of Bruce’s jaw. “Yeah, me too.”

Fandral clicked his mouth shut and Loki “Uh-oh”ed again. Even Thor pressed his lips firm at the controlled loathe in Bruce’s voice. The group went quiet, still, and the only indicator of the passage of time was the birds outside and the tick of the hallway clock.

“Thor told the world that Loki was your kid,” Bruce said, smirking towards Sif.

“Wh- what?”

“Bruce!”

The scientist finally laughed, a wide grin evident under his mask. It was the first smile Thor’d coaxed out of him yet, and he would have been proud of the achievement if he hadn't felt so childishly betrayed.

“I thought you were trying to keep him a secret?” Hogun chuckled and was unphased by Volstagg’s booming laughter in his right ear.

“We were- are!” Thor protested. “We took Loki out to the park last week because he needed some fresh air and time to play. He made a friend and his father wanted to know why the Avengers had a kid. I- we- none of us are prepared to tell the world that it’s Loki, since the world is not ready to hear that yet, and we didn’t- don’t- want S.H.I.E.L.D. overhearing and trying to butt into the conversation. I panicked and said that Lucas was Sif’s son and would be spending a few weeks with us. That is all I said, and I told Bruce in confidence I was concerned about getting my ass kicked if a certain someone ever found out! Asshole!” He emphasized the point with a kick hard enough to jostle Bruce, who snickered and grinned in return.

“That’s revenge for being a smartass earlier. Consider us even.”

“Oh, yes, thank you, clearly.”

“So,” Fandral snickered, “you collectively decided to rename him Lucas? Did that seriously work?”

“As far as we’re concerned,” he affirmed. “Tony hasn’t heard anything from S.H.I.E.L.D., no one’s tried to hack J. or sneak into the upper floors. Even the news didn’t cover much of him; they were too busy gushing over Tony and Steve.”

Sif knit her brows together, perplexed. “Why, what’d they do?”

“Steve carried Tony over his shoulder after he got about 60% of the playground to play a game of Tag with Captain America- without asking him, of course,” Bruce said. “Steve was very confused and overwhelmed, and while I admit I laughed more than maybe I should have, it was kinda funny to see Tony plead to be put back down later.”

“And him?” Hogun asked, leaning over a bit to get a peak of Loki from under Thor’s bulky arm.

Thor basked in the memory of Loki enjoying his first day on the playground. “Loki loved every second of it. He went on the swing, then he went on the seesaw with Auntie Nat, then he was in the sandpit with Uncle Bruce and me, and then he even won tag with Uncle Steve! Wasn’t the park fun, Lo?”

Loki finally peeked his head out from under Thor’s arm. His eyes were unfocused and he was kicking his legs uneasily under his blanket. “Y.. yeah,” he murmured.

“Lo, you ok?” Thor didn’t like the whine that Loki gave.

“O-or… hot..”

Thor shot a look to Bruce. “Feelin hot? Maybe we should untangle you from blankie, huh? Maybe you’ll feel better.” He reached for said blanket but backtracked when Loki whined and tugged it back.

“Nooo! Wan blankie! Or, hooot!”

“Maybe you’re just too hot,” Fandral suggested. “You’ve always been built like a brick wall and have ran warm like a phoenix. Hugging you during the warm season has always been a risky bet.” He pushed off his pillowed arms and stretched them out wide with his most charming smile. “Is big brother Thor too hot? Maybe you could come and sit with me. Wouldn’t that be better than sitting with big ole sweaty Thor?”

“I thought for sure that Fandral was going to say something else,” Sif murmured. She sounded as exasperated as she looked.

Volstagg snorted into his shrugged shoulder. “Now you see, even Fandral knows better than to inflate Thor’s ego.”

“Shut up,” Thor muttered, shooting them a glance as he shifted Loki into his lap. It was hard to feel from beneath the latex gloves, but Loki’s forehead definitely felt warmer. More importantly, Lo shied away from his touch not even a second after. Thor tried to ignore the pang of hurt and panic that immediately shot through him.

"Hoooot,” Loki complained, wriggling away. He would have toppled off of Thor’s legs, to Thor’s immediate panic, but Fandral grasped and hauled him over with ease.

“There we go, isn’t that better?” He hummed. Loki just sighed and tucked his head into his neck, content. “See? Big Brother is just too warm-blooded. Not comfy for sick cuddling, no not at all.”

Loki nodded, then whined. “No, hot. Fannel hot!” He wriggled and wriggled and pushed Fandral’s jaw away.

“Wh- hey, Lo, hey it’s ok-”

Hooooot! No!” Loki pushed Fandral away one last time. Fandral had a strong hold, however, and Loki worked himself to tears as he bent backward over his arms and grasped at the couch.

At that point Thor and Bruce shared concerned looks. “Another fever?” Bruce thought aloud, reaching to steal the toddler. “Thor, what was characteristic for this Dragon’s Fever again?”

Thor fumbled to come up with an answer.“The- uh- well fever, obviously, though the first fever is typically long and strenuous, then smaller day fevers which last less than a day’s time, along with coughing and general congestion. Uh, he had a fever last night but it broke before I put him down and he hasn’t had one yet today. Congestion’s been bad but I’ve got him blowing his nose rather regularly.”

Bruce hummed noncommittally. Loki had calmed the moment he’d been secured in his grasp. The latex gloves prevented him from getting an accurate feel of his temp, but any fever for a Jotunn was bad. Or at least, that was what he’d figured, considering Loki’s biology and heritage. Jotunar lived on an ice-cold, almost barren planet from what Thor had said. In his Jotunar form just a too-long touch could result in frostbite, which explained why his body temp registered as dark blue on most thermal imaging scales. He had actually confirmed Loki’s virus by looking through thermal imaging and seeing the fever himself, which was great, but that still told all of nothing on how to properly treat it.

The long fever Loki had sustained and broke on Asgard was one thing, but this felt like the hottest flash fever that he’d had on Earth yet.

“J., give me his temp in comparison to our established parameters.”

“Young Loki’s temperature is outside the current parameters, Doctor Banner. Immediate action to bring down the fever is required. Would you like for me to call Sir for assistance?”

Bruce shook his head and shuffled up to the couch. “No J., I got this. Everyone off the couch, now.”

Everyone complied, startled, and stood out of his way. Thor fidgeted between him and Fandral as he laid Loki down.

“Fandral, run to the kitchen and grab me a towel. Wet it with lukewarm water. Not cold, not hot, lukewarm. Thor, get down here and help me.”

Fandral scampered away and Thor fell to his knees. He smiled at Loki, tryingly, and brushed warm tears from his emerald eyes. Strangely, he felt almost disconnected from the situation. His hand trembled and it took all he had to suppress the shivers. “Bruce,” he said, “what’s happening? Do we need to go up to Asgard?”

“Sif and Hogun got the medicine, right? I- we- we should be fine if they do, I don’t know. Just- his fever- his fever needs to go down and we should give him those meds, Thor, like, pronto.”

The two warriors shared an alarmed glance before diving into their own separate bags. Thor thumbed Loki’s bangs out of his face as they shuffled around, elbow deep, in search of the medicines.

“I’ve got symptom relievers,” Sif announced, dragging out a bag. The small bottles inside clinked as Bruce took it.

“The elixir,” Hogun said, drawing out a lime-green colored liquid. It was in a triangular flask topped with a cork and sloshed around as appetizingly as Earth medicines often did. Which, really, was to say not at all appetizingly. “Only a sip every quarter of the day, Eir said.”

Bruce looked up and scrunched his brows together. “What is that, like, 5 mL? Yeah, sounds about right for his age group, we’ll go with that, sure. Uhhh Thor, go to the medicine cabinet and bring me one of those marked cups; you know what they look like. Volstagg, wanna make faces at Loki and cheer him up?”

Volstagg immediately unhooked the mask from his face and leaned over the back of the couch to beam down at the toddler. Loki smiled, just a little bit, and hugged Daga.

Thor passed Fandral on the way to the medicine cabinet. Fear pounded in his chest, not because he didn’t trust Bruce to help, but because he feared for Loki’s health and safety. A week without any medicine on Midgard meant it’d been more than a fortnight on Asgard, and considering this frisky Dragon’s Fever case, that was a long time for a two-year-old to go without medicine- especially a Jotnar one while experiencing flash fevers. Something inside him cursed himself for preening when J. had told him that morning that Loki hadn’t had another fever in his sleep. He’d jinxed himself right off the bat. But not only that, he’d allowed the fevers to go on so long without proper medical attention. Loki was like two for Norn’s sake! Now here he was, fumbling for a tiny medicine cup in his cabinet while Loki cried because his fever was too high and he was too hot.

Norns, he was the worst. They should have just stayed in Asgard where the healers could properly take care of Loki and administer meds instead of Thor half-assing what he could and using up all the Star's forsaken medicine and putting his fellow teammates at risk- his brother at risk- the Earth at risk- andlosing his brother again-

“Thor? Kinda need that cup, buddy!”

Right, self-deprecation later, Loki now. “Coming!”

Thor jogged back to find that most of the panic in the room had left. Volstagg and Fandral were handling Loki on two fronts, bringing uncertain smiles and giggles from his brother as lukewarm water from the towel dripped down his temples and onto the couch cushions. It created a dark circle around Loki's head, like a halo, only a sick one or something. Bruce had swept everything off the coffee table to make room for the assorted medicines that Sif had brought, which she seemed to be explaining as she held up a jar of Winter’s Breath. Hogun cradled the elixir in wait for his turn.

“Here, cup for the elixir.” He slid it over so Bruce wouldn’t be able to see the tremor in his hand.

“Thank God,” Bruce muttered. Hogun passed the elixir and Bruce had to take a second to uncork it. A cloud of teal puffed up when the oxygen hit the potion, making Bruce squint skeptically.

“It’s supposed to do that,” Volstagg assured. Bruce must have trusted him, considering Volstagg had been sick once already, as he wasted no time in pouring 5 mL into the cup and turning back around.

“Hey Lo,” Bruce breathed, “wanna take some medicine for me? It’s gonna make your fever go aallll gone! Can you sit up for me?”

Loki in fact could sit up, but not without whining. Thor re-took his seat and supported his brother the best he could when Bruce made Loki sip the elixir until it was all gone. Some of the panic in him eased when Loki sighed and laid back down. So did the background static that’d taken up in his mind, curiously. It felt nice to breathe easier again. Also, ow, now that his adrenaline was weaning, when had he gained a headache?

“Is that it?” Fandral asked, gazing curiously at the Avengers’ resident doctor. “Will he be okay?”

“He should be,” Bruce breathed, “or else he’ll probably have to go back up to Asgard. I’m not too concerned because he’s got proper medicine now, but my main priority is getting that fever down. J.?”

“Young Loki’s fever is still high, though the temperature has plateaued.”

Sif grabbed a paste from the collection of symptom relievers and held it out. “Here, Loki should be able to take this in about an hour. It’s called Skadi’s Blessing. I was going to explain this one next; it is a paste that should be rubbed into all heat centers on Loki’s body, so wrists, back of the neck, elbows, etc. As soon as it’s absorbed by the skin the fever can be relieved or even nullified.”

“How much will he need?” Bruce asked, taking the jar and opening it for inspection. A soft blue paste stared up at him, untouched and perfect.

“Loki won’t need too much, Eir said. Something about his biology, I’m not sure. We were in haste to leave and I didn’t hear her full explanation.”

Thor, gaze down upon his brother, frowned. Something about that sounded too familiar to his ears.

“Mama, why do I have to have so much of Skadi’s Blessing? It’s sticky and smells like dew! Loki only has to wear a little bit and he can wear his tunic afterward and I’m too sticky to wear mine!”

“Maybe that’s because you’re always outside fighting. You’re too sweaty and smell nasty! You can’t absorb Skadi’s Blessing if you’re sweating too much, duh! It’ll just rub right off and then you’ll have a fever forever!”

“Will not!”

“Will too!”

“Mama! Loki stuck his tongue out at me!”

“Did not!”

“Did too!”

“Boys!” Someone- his mother- laughed, clear like a summer day and loving like the hugs she gave. It sounded like the tinkling of bells. “Enough fighting. Remember how Loki’s hands are always colder than yours, Thor? That just means that he doesn’t need as much Blessing as you do; he absorbs it quicker. You, my dashing Sunshine, burn through Skadi’s gift so quick that you need extra to keep lucid. Besides, did you not see your father two weeks ago? He was just as covered as you!”

“Well, when you put it that way…”

“Exactly. But maybe it would help to come in and bathe more than every other day…”

“Mama!”

“Ha!”

“Shut up, Loki! Mooooom! Loki stuck his tongue out again!”

As the laughter faded from his mind, Thor couldn’t help but be miffed. Such an old memory, buried under centuries of who knows what. The reminder of his mother’s laugh brought a shiver to his spine, the look of Loki sticking out his tongue just as she looked away… now that, despite the tremors and the headache, that just brought a smile to his lips.

“So we’re good now then?” Fandral asked, drawing Thor out of his thoughts too early. He ignored the pang of sadness in his chest in favor of watching his blond friend sag against the coffee table in relief. “Well great, that was the most panic-filled three minutes of my life. I never want to relive that again. Remind me never to study alchemy and elixirs, I don’t think I’m fit to be a healer.”

“No, you’re definitely not,” Bruce murmured mostly to himself. Fandral still heard and squawked, which made Bruce grin like the cheeky scientist that he was.

“Something tells me that we should have given Loki the elixir as soon as we walked in,” Volstagg sighed. He peered over the side of the couch again to grin at Loki, who smiled and waved his adorably chubby baby hands.

“That would have been wise,” was the general agreement. Thor kept quiet but nodded his affirmation. His friends began a discussion amongst themselves, something sciency, as Bruce piped up quite a bit, but Thor found himself drifting back to the toddler in his arms without a care for their conversation.

Loki seemed much more at peace now. He still sniffled like someone had shoved rocks up his nose, but at least the tears were gone and he was swaddled back into blankie without a care in the world. Thor ran his hand up and down his back, gently, and swabbed the pad of his thumb over Loki’s rosy cheeks. Two emerald eyes gazed up in curiosity and Thor felt his chest burst for the love and adoration he felt for his brother. Something very warm inside of him was grateful that Loki would be all right. Maybe Loki sensed it, since he was magic after all, as he laid his head back down and snuggled closer. The throbbing in his temples lessened. Thor hugged him tight and let the conversation waft over him.

His friends were important, but his brother right there, right in his arms? He was the most important one of all.

------

It wasn’t much later before Sif and Three had to leave. Thor waved goodbye to them, flapped Loki’s arm the same, and together the two of them relocated to his bed. The tremors had left long ago and Thor felt more present and together now that things had calmed. Loki, too, was feeling better, evidently. Thor had had a hard time keeping him in one spot to put on Skadi’s Blessing because Loki wanted to dance and run and wriggle and laugh. Seeming him more himself was enough of an elixir to Thor’s heart than any physical medicine ever would be.

Bruce had come back after disposing of the warriors' gloves and masks only to find the living room empty. When he’d appeared, confused in Thor’s doorway, Thor had bashfully waved and dropped his head back onto his pillow. Loki giggled from under another.

“Pooped out?”

“Is that the term? Well, I guess I’d have to say so.” Thor smiled through the last eases of his headache when Loki not-so sneakily pulled another pillow on top of himself.

Bruce laughed, a hip cocked onto the doorframe. “Well, now that someone is looking to be returning to his cheery self, then yeah, I can see why. How are you doing?”

“Good,” Thor smiled, absentmindedly, as Loki crawled under the blankets. He could feel the bed jostle with Lo’s toddler energies. “Feeling more like myself now that he’s feeling like himself. Headache is weaning, too.”

Now there was Bruce’s patented concerned look. “You had a headache? Since when? You- you’re not getting sick, are you?”

“I- I don’t-” Thor clicked his mouth shut and shrugged. “Headache started just after we got Lo his medicine. Felt a bit odd during the moment, probably just one of those adrenaline rushes, you know?”

Bruce looked doubtful at that. “Describe odd?” He asked kindly, curiously, and Thor felt obliged to divulge.

“Uh, just a bit shaky. I think it was just from the adrenaline, you’ve seen me after battles. Felt like I was a bit out of it, nothing too bad, promise. Now that Lo’s alright I’m feeling just about 100% myself.” Thor grinned, especially once Loki stole another pillow for his mound.

“Uh-huh,” Bruce said. He stuck his chin out, thought, then nodded. “I’m no expert, but sounds kinda like a panic attack.”

A panic attack? Now that was new. But Thor was a Prince! He’d gone into battle and fought the toughest of warriors! He didn’t just get panic attacks. His mouth opened to say so but audibly clicked shut when Bruce held up an offending finger.

“Don’t say that you don’t get panic attacks, because I can probably tell you 1000 reasons why that’s completely wrong. I get panic and anxiety attacks, Tony gets them, Steve and Clint get them, hell I’m sure Nat does too, I think, but Clint probably helps with those ones. It’s not out of the question that you’d get some too, considering your long life and the battles and the violence you’ve seen… it’s plausible, Thor.”

Thor furrowed his brows and considered the notion. All factors considered, Bruce had a point. Panic attacks weren’t unheard of on Asgard, though that wasn’t to say they were well researched and looked into. Warriors almost certainly got them but would never confess to having them. To say so was to admit to being weak, as terrible as that sounded. It was an old idea, an old masculine notion, and was a fading train of thought within the public masses. It still existed, however, and Thor felt part ashamed and part frustrated with himself for having one.

“It’s very plausible,” he conceded, “but after today, it’s not a thought I’m looking into at the moment. I’m more concerned with taking an N-A-P and getting this one to do the same. Perhaps later we can speak more about it, or something.”

Bruce hummed noncommittally. “Alright, Thor, if you say so. I’m gonna go put those medicines Sif brought in your medicine cabinet then go take a na- ah, an N-A-P myself. Take it easy.”

“Aye, you too!”

The bedroom door eased closed about halfway, leaving Thor to listen to the sounds of Bruce bustling around in the kitchen. He breathed deep and relaxed, thankful that the hectic day was coming to an end soon, along with Loki’s sickness. He was getting tired of blowing Loki’s nose and listening to rumbling coughs. Laughter and giggles was much more appropriate for a toddler of his age.

Speaking of a certain black-haired brother, Thor raised an eyebrow and peered at the suspicious blanket-pillow mound in the middle of the bed.

“Oh Stars, it seems my brother, Loki, has disappeared! Where oh where could he have gone?”

Something giggled beneath the sheets. Thor grinned and shifted onto his side so he could see better.

“That giggle! It almost sounded like him! Loki, is that you? Oh Lo, please, where are you? Tell me, brother, if you can!”

The giggling intensified tenfold. The mound moved, something underneath wriggling towards the blanket’s skewed edge. With every move Thor could hear the giggling with vivid clarity.

“Lo? Is that you? I can’t see you! Please, say something!”

BOO!”

“WHOA! Loki?!” Thor pretended to sit up shocked, an armful of Loki, when his brother popped out from under the blankets and pounced on him. He laughed and tickled him, ignored the sticky hands and kicking legs, until he had a pliant, giggling puddle of a brother. A grin tugged at his cheeks, tucked safely into Loki’s crown of raven hair.

“Hi,” Loki giggled.

“Well hello Loki, I was wondering where you were.” Loki said something back that was barely intelligible, so Thor just nodded and hummed like he understood. “Wow, you’re so sneaky, I couldn’t even tell you were there. Hey, do you want to read with me?”

Loki tilted his head back with a curious gasp. “Read?”

“Yeah, we can read a book. Why don’t you go grab one from your room and we’ll read it together.”

Loki’s excited smile was answer enough, if the squirming to shimmy off the bed already wasn’t. The toddler disappeared and came rounding back with a hardcover book held high over his head. Thor smiled fondly when Lo climbed back up, giggling, and flopped back into his arms. “All done!”

“It is all done, thank you for grabbing… Five Little Monkeys Jumping On The Bed. Wow, that sounds like you!” Thor laughed into downy hair when Loki arced away from his tickling fingers.

“Noooo!”

“Yes, that sounds exactly like you! Now come here, grab Daga and Blankie, yeah, there you go, and come snuggle. There you go, thank you… you ready?” He grinned when Loki nodded vigorously. All snuggled up, the two of them wrapped safely under their blankets, Thor began. “‘It was bedtime, so five little monkeys took a bath…’”

Chapter Text

“I-I- I don’ want juice!”

“Loki, you picked out juice yesterday. Just a few sips, for big brother? Please?”

“No!”

Thor sighed and sagged against the kitchen counter. It was barely noon and he wasn’t much in the mood for arguing with Loki. Someone didn’t want to drink the juice that they had picked out for their own lunch the day prior. He could give Loki milk, or water, or something, but he’d caved in to Loki’s demands during breakfast and playtime already. After all the parenting he’d done so far, was this the hill he was going to die on? Making Loki drink his juice?

Yes, because he was just too stubborn to give in again.

“Prince Odinson, Doctor Banner wanted me to inform you that he’s on his way up.”

Thor pinched his brows together and nodded. “Alright, thank you J. Perhaps Bruce can be more persuasive than I.” With that he set Loki’s sippy on his table, ignored the cry of “Noooo!” and the thump of legs against the stands of the high chair, and made his way around the island into the living room.

The sight of Bruce brought a sense of relief that Thor was sorely in need of. It felt like the weight of a hundred suns had been removed from his shoulders. He grinned as brightly as he could and pulled Bruce into a hug.

“Bruce, hello my friend! What brings you over? Actually, if you have some free time, I could really use some assistance with Lok-”

“Thor, I don’t think we have too much time for that right now. Why aren’t you dressed? Tony’s going to kill you if you’re not ready in fifteen.”

Thor frowned and had to take a few steps back, both mentally and physically. Skeptically, he eyed Bruce’s state of dress. Ironed pants, tucked in dress shirt, a cardigan over that. It only proved to make him frown more, because why was Bruce dressed like so and why he was expected to be ready as well?

“Oh my God, Thor, please tell me that you remembered.”

“Of course I did!… But hypothetically, let’s say, if I didn’t remember… what would I be forgetting again?”

“Oh my God, oh my God you forgot??” Bruce threw his head into his hands and groaned. “J., please tell me that you at least reminded him?”

“Of course, Doctor Banner. I reminded Prince Odinson about the interview when Sir announced it to everyone earlier this week, three days ago, and last night before bed. I attempted to remind him this morning but a tantrum from Young Loki interrupted me.”

…. Oh.

Thor hissed as he suddenly remembered J. mentioning an interview of sorts in his calendar. He remembered his voice well enough, like a low, constant hum in the background- but that's all he was; background. It’d happened once while giving Loki a bath, another during playtime, last night while he was half-asleep and rocking Loki to bed, and that morning when he was half-annoyed and fed-up with Loki crying over his clothes for the day. Irritation had made him frustrated to the intrusion and he’d ignored what J. had had to say.

So… he was talking about that interview…

Oh, he was going to be so screwed.

His head snapped up with the realization. “Bruce, I’m going to be Bilgesnipe meat in ten minutes.”

“Yeah, I know!” Bruce said, in a whine, as he abruptly stopped pacing. “Jesus, Thor, how did you forget? Tony’s been talking about this since like, way before Loki got sick, and that was almost a week ago!”

“Yes, well, I’ve been a bit preoccupied! Norns, um, tell Tony I’ll be right down and, uh, send Fandral a letter, will you?”

“And Heimdall’s really just gonna listen to me?”

“Nonsense, he’ll listen to me because he’s probably watching right now.”

“He’s what- okay, you know what, whatever, yeah, ok, fine, but you better be ready in eight!”

Thor waved Bruce off and ignored the finger pointed warningly his way. “Yes, yes, I’ll be ready! Now go!”

A second later the elevator departed and he was alone again. Well, almost. The crying from the background certainly hadn’t stopped. Thor turned around with a sigh and gave Loki his best smile. In the high chair, the juice sat untouched and Loki hadn’t eaten his mac and cheese. In fact, big tears still rolled down his cheeks defiantly.

“Want to see Fandral for the afternoon?”

“NO!”

“Ouch- fuck!” Thor winced as Loki threw his sippy in emphasis. It clattered somewhere on the hardwood, hopefully the cap still on. The spot hit on his temple throbbed dully. Hello, five-minute headache. He sighed again, bone-deep, and squared his jaw.

It was just another day dealing with Loki, that’s all it was. He swore, it was just another day.

------

The bustling had been going on for a solid ten minutes. Thor had been dressed and presented to the other Avengers for a good twenty before that. He checked his watch again and observed as people set up cameras and computers and whatnot. Everyone looked to have a job except for the Avengers, who either stood or sat around the main living room couch in wait.

It was exactly like any other press function Thor had gone to, but also different. A twinge in his stomach had started and hadn’t left yet. He wasn’t sure why he felt so bad about the occasion.

“I still don’t see why we had to do this on the common floor and not in the press room downstairs,” Clint muttered. He fussed with the cuffs of his button-down before huffing and shrugging on a leather jacket. Thor felt he was much in agreement with him there.

“It’s supposed to be a bit more personal than a regular press junket,” Natasha reminded him. She watched as set-up members moved boxes and cables around so another camera could be constructed.

Ah, yes, that was why. Because the Avengers had been around for over three years and hadn’t done anything with the public in a while barring the park day, as that wasn’t officially arranged by their PR team. They were doing a TV interview for the local news as to stay in contact and friendly. The special would be aired during dinnertime coverage and wasn’t live, so there would be time to edit anything not public-friendly. The whole ordeal was a nice sentiment, and ordinarily Thor wouldn’t have minded, but the interview was supposed to be up-close and personal so Tony had opted for the common floor living room instead of the press room downstairs. It almost felt a little bit too close and too personal- now that they were harboring a secret baby, anyway.

Thor eyed the floor and the cabinets dubiously. The Avengers had cleaned up once he’d arrived and they’d shoved everything either in storage or up on his floor until the interview was over. Even when Fandral had arrived, very flashy and via the Bifrost, he’d been spun through the balcony doors and right into the elevator as to avoid creating a mess.

“Wait- what’s happening?” Fandral hadn’t even gotten the chance to say hello. Thor had grimaced in greeting. He explained the situation, that Loki was fed, that J.A.R.V.I.S. was on standby should anything be needed, and that the elevator could be brought to their floor should he really need it (which, hopefully, was only in case of an emergency that wouldn’t happen). There were Earth clothes in the guest bedroom for him, but otherwise, everything was all set.

It was with that Thor had shoved Loki into his arms and the elevator had closed. The Avengers had shared a collective groan of relief. They’d all of two minutes to move the biggest couch in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows for the best background before J. had allowed the news crew to come in and set up. Since then they had all been standing or sitting around in wait.

Well, everyone except Tony, who was pacing looking more or less like Thor’s old training master, who had always been upset about something. The only difference between them was Asmund Stefanson couldn’t keep his mouth shut and Tony hadn’t given the time of day to anyone except whoever was on the receiving end of his phone.

“You’re going to give me a headache,” Bruce said. It was a warning, accompanied with a tired sigh. Tony grimaced at being told so and dropped his hands.

“Sorry, sorry. I’m just annoyed. The PR team is behind, they can’t get through. Said traffic is terrible but it’s only like, 2 p.m. so I don’t know why it’s so bad right now. Bradley just texted that they’re gonna try and walk, but they’re like 20 blocks away so I don’t know if they’ll even get here on time.”

Steve looked confused at that. “That’s odd. I thought, with it being a press day and all, with it being here in the tower, that they’d have been down in their offices getting everything ready? I thought it was odd they weren’t here, but that’s even weirder.”

“Yeah, I know!” Tony abruptly turned towards Steve and then gestured to the space around them. “They should have been here today! Bradley said they all got an email to take the day off because the date had been moved, executive order from me, which I'll have you know, I did not send.”

Thor felt his eyes narrow. Something didn’t sound right about that. All the Avengers stared in suspicion at Tony, which made him scoff.

“... Was it a bug?” Bruce ventured, for the sake of putting the question out there. Tony shrugged.

“Could be, I don’t know. That’s an oddly specific bug though. But hey, maybe I stayed up too late in the lab last night and canceled the damn event out of frustration.”

“How late did you stay up?”

Tony ignored Steve’s incredulous look in order to furrow his brows and pinch his frown. When he didn’t answer, J.A.R.V.I.S. said from Tony’s phone, “Sir was awake until 4:27 a.m. this morning.”

Clint wasn’t at all phased by J.’s tinny voice as he snapped his fingers together. “Are you going to follow the trail? See where it came from?”

“I am currently “sniffing them fuckers out,” as Sir eloquently said.”

“Basically I’m on it, but I won’t know for a while,” Tony grumbled. “SI’s servers have been getting new updates recently so I’m not sure if it’s just a bug or something sketchy.”

Natasha glanced back over from watching the crew. She made room for Clint to come and lean on the couch behind her, his elbows aligned with her shoulders. “So what you’re saying is that this could be a setup or a completely normal interview, and we won’t know which until either J. gets back to us or until something happens.”

“Correct,” Tony said, lips thinned.

A pit of worry dug in Thor’s stomach. The thought of Loki upstairs made his fingers itch to call Mjölnir. She hadn’t gotten any action further than being a doorstop lately, and if anything about this interview was off, he would gladly give her reason to sing again. The interview could even be completely normal but he knew that wouldn’t lessen the worry in his veins. All that mattered was that a threat was possible and it scared him more than he’d like to admit.

Outside, clouds began to roll overcast.

The crew continued setting up and the Avengers continued waiting. Without the PR team present Tony and Steve were forced to step up to confirm any questions still left standing. Thor sat prettily and let the breakdown wash over him as a few people from make-up came and prettied whatever they could. He didn’t let them put too much on, and neither did Bruce and certainly not Natasha, but despite that, it was probably difficult for the make-up crew do their thing with him squirming so much. His seat just wasn’t comfortable and Thor was beginning to suspect that Tony needed to buy a new couch, one less beaten up from Mario Kart and movie marathons. He shifted and sat once more before the crews all scuttled away and Tony and Steve came to take their seats just in time.

“We good?”

Tony nodded to Nat. “As right as Point Break’s rain. Let’s just hope that nobody has an ace up their sleeve and that I won’t have a headache in an hour.”

The Avengers all nodded in agreement just in time for a young brunette woman with wavy, shoulder-length hair to come and delicately sit beside them. She was seated next to Tony, mic’ed and ready. Thor could already tell that she was a quiet, kind person, and her gaze as she looked over Tony, Bruce, and even Nat held an adoration. He hoped she was as innocent as she made herself appear to be.

“Well hello,” Tony grinned, offering his hand. “Tony Stark, nice to meet you. I assume you’re Savannah Jackson from channel 7, ABC New York?”

“That would be me,” Savannah said, a smile blooming shyly over her cheeks. Thor noticed she suppressed a slight accent as she spoke. “And I presume you’re Tony Stark, the one and only?”

“‘Course the one and only! And besides me would be Doctor Bruce Banner, Prince Thor Odinson, Hawkeye aka Clint Barton, Black Widow aka Natasha Romanoff, and Captain America aka Steve Rogers, though I’m sure you’re already aware of that.”

Savannah laughed as she shook Natasha’s hand, already more than halfway through the line. “Yes, I am! It’s an absolute honor to meet you all, thank you so much for having me. I’m very excited to talk about the opportunities you’re presenting at Stark Industries, Mr. Stark, and some other approved topics from your PR team.”

“We’re happy to talk,” Steve answered, firmly shaking her hand. “It’s always a pleasure to keep in touch with the public and the local news, thank you for coming.”

It was just then that a man of medium-tall height, curly hair, and glasses walked up. He wore a button-down with a dark blue cardigan, a headset haphazardly angled on his head, and a mic set or two on his belt. Thor noticed he’d come from behind camera one.

“All set?” He asked.

Savannah nodded. “Yes, thank you, uh, Leo.” She seemed to grimace at her own words. To the Avengers she said, “Sorry we didn’t get to talk more beforehand, I understand that there was a mix up with your PR team. Hopefully we can just get this done and over with, yeah?”

“Absolutely, that sounds wonderful,” Tony said. He waved her off, understanding and carefree. He glanced at his phone and shook his head. Nothing yet.

Thor watched silently, of both the interactions and the crew, and contented himself to letting the interview go by. He ignored the concern pooled in his stomach and smiled as the cameras turned on.

Setup or not, it was showtime.

------

The interview was going… well, per say.

Savannah was the dictionary definition of professional, polite, and put-together. She asked questions down the line, giving everyone a chance to speak, and she let tiny tangents get their air time before reigning them back in. In essence she was letting them show how human they were while keeping to the heart of things, which Thor found he appreciated.

What he did not appreciate, however, was the theme her questions seemed to have taken on.

Questions such as “Mr. Stark, could you tell us more about the SI opportunities being presented to college students and white-collar workers, and how your new program benefits those with little to no experience?” quickly became traded for “There are rumors that SI will host a kid’s day to encourage STEM and science learning within younger children. Is there any way we can get a comment on that?”

Or questions like “Captain Rogers, as someone who has previously spoken about your own hardships with adjusting to the modern world and symptoms of PTSD- and the rest of the Avengers team, as well- is there anything you or your team would like to say to any viewers experiencing similar feelings?” became “Now, Captain, I understand that you’ve taken Prince Thor and Mr. Stark with you on school visits, which have happened more and more recently. Is there any reason for the increased visits, and is there anything you’d like to say to the kids now that you weren’t able to say then?”

To Bruce the questions went from “Dr. Banner, your work is extraordinary! You are one of the brightest minds among science today, right next to Mr. Stark. What is it like to be able to share your findings with interested students and colleagues within the science community?” to “Kids today are learning about you in school, as early on as the fifth or sixth grade, even. What does that feel like, to know that these kids look up to you so highly in their early lives?”

What was most noticeable where the questions that regarded the Avengers as a whole.

“You all are such a big family! Is there anything that you all do to relax? Any activities that the whole group does, like eating or playing games, or does everyone do their own things? Do you each know each others’ families, or is there a line you all keep for professionalism and safety?”

“You all are such central and public figures in today’s news. People of all ages look up to you. It’s simply amazing that you’re all so humble and willing to keep in touch with the public, especially with the kids of today. The park visit from two weeks ago was such a pleasant surprise, haha! But I hear that the Mayor and the Central Park staff are actually building a new playground in honor of you all. How does that feel? Your thoughts?”

And, finally, the last straw for it all, was “Your work inspires so many children across the globe. Have you ever thought about premiering in a kids show to help boost learning and healthy living within both their domestic and school lives? Recently there was word that a few TV shows were reaching out, I think the crew for Octonauts, for example, reached out most recently. What are your thoughts on voice acting for the youth of today?”

Hearing that one made Thor square his jaw. He could hear the click of his teeth, but despite so, he smiled and answered along with everyone else.

These questions were targeted towards Loki and Savannah knew it. If the increased fidgeting was any indication, Thor knew that she knew that they knew. She was looking for answers and she wasn’t getting them. Even the questions directed towards Clint or Natasha gave her a few raised eyebrows and polite, if forced, answers. He could at least feel a little pride in that his teammates cared, even Clint, who wasn’t the fondest of Loki by any means. It warmed his heart to see that they had his back.

They all looked towards one another. Tony raised an eyebrow; a question. Thor nodded. Like an eased machine, they all slid back into comfortable positions while Tony sat upright. It was both magnificent and terrifying how one cocked head could commandeer an entire room’s attention without trying. It was like watching a king work, and Thor knew what that looked like.

“Miss Jackson, I understand that you’re trying to be polite here, but is there something you want to say? We’re not in the mood for whatever game this is, by the way. 20 questions would have been better.”

Savannah looked taken aback. She cast a glance towards the curly-haired man behind camera one and the man behind camera two. Her mouth opened and closed before she found her footing again. “I- excuse me, I didn’t mean to waste your time or step on toes. There is a question, if you all wouldn’t mind?”

“Shoot,” Thor said, because what was the worst she could say? She already seemed to know about ‘Lucas’, it wasn’t like Thor was paddling upriver. He controlled that narrative.

“You’re the Avengers, and with your line of work and all, I- we, at the station- were all curious about the baby that was with you during your last park visit. Who is the little guy? Is he one of yours- if that’s alright to ask?”

“His name is Lucas,” Thor said, still relaxed into the couch. Outside, in the distance, thunder rolled. “He is the son of my friend Sif of Asgard. She is occupied with a mission from my father and needed someone to take care of her son for a few weeks, or more, depending on how the mission goes. He’ll be staying with us for a while. And no, you cannot meet him.” Savannah’s mouth clicked shut in disappointment.

“Is… is he in the tower? I saw the Bifrost earlier, so-”

“Lucas? Perhaps, but no one needs to know except for me and my teammates. If possible, I’d like for this part of the conversation to be edited out. Lucas’ safety is important to me and I do not want him broadcasted to the public.”

“Of course! That is- that is 100% understandable.” Savannah nodded. No matter how tightly she smiled, her disappointment was obvious. She looked down to her phone, where her notes and questions had been read from, to resume the conversation. She must have found one she was pleased with as she opened her mouth to say-

Ding!

Everyone stopped.

Oh, he was so done with this fucking interview.

Time slowed and Thor cursed the very Fates themselves. He cursed Amora, Fandral, and even his father as the utter anger broiled within him. The only thing that expressed his rage as pure as the thrum of his blood was the deafening CRACK of lightning that lit the sky. He could only lean and bury his head in his hands as finally, finally-

The elevator doors opened. Immediately the wall of silence was met with the earsplitting shriek of a toddler’s wails. The cameras stood still, everyone watched with gaped mouths and widened eyes as Fandral padded further into the room with Loki on his hip. The crying got louder and Thor’s sudden headache throbbed harder. He raked his hands down his face as he finally forced himself upwards. He hadn’t known he’d stopped breathing until he exhaled.

Crying, screaming. Fandral fidgeted, looking as innocent and ashamed as could be. He coughed.

Finally, “Uh, hello my friend…”

Thor sighed. “Hello, Fandral. What’s Lucas done now?”

“Um, J.- the voice- the voice in the ceiling- said that L- Lucas’ naptime was soon. The little guy here wants ‘Blankie’? Uh, I couldn’t find it anywhere and he refuses to sleep without it. The voice- J.- said that he could track the magic- actually, is it your mother’s magic? She made that blanket, if it’s the one that I recall-”

“Fandral.”

“Right, right! Anyway, he said he couldn’t find it on your floor and directed me to, well, here. Could I maybe… Thor? Thor, where are you going?”

Thor didn’t need to listen further. Loki couldn’t find Blankie? Well, Thor knew exactly where to find Blankie.

Bruce and Clint shifted away when he whirled back around. Thor ignored them as he reached under the battered cushion of the couch, and there- right against his fingertips- he grabbed something and pulled it out. Triumphantly, or perhaps in defeat, Thor held the offending blanket up. He took a second to breathe, remembered to open his clenched eyes, and walked around to wrap Loki within his mother’s soothing magic.

To his relief, Loki stopped crying right away. He couldn’t have stopped the smile that tugged at his mouth even if he’d wanted to.

He heard the telltale rustle of clothes as, behind him, Tony surged forward and smacked someone. Clint, as it turned out.

“Ouch! What the hell man?”

“I thought you said you checked the couch!”

“I did! And then Fandral got here and then the setup crews and I didn’t have time to check everywhere-”

“It’s alright,” Thor rumbled. “I was wondering why my seat was so uncomfortable anyway. He must have lost it when he came down for breakfast today. He was on the couch with Nat for tickles, it probably got shoved down there then.”

“Well,” Tony sucked in a breath, “there you have it, Savannah! You’ve met Lucas. He should probably get back up to his room now, naptime and all-”

“Holy shit-”

Everyone turned to look at the guy behind camera one, who had a hand raised to his glasses, and who was definitely not as quiet as he thought he was. Or American, actually, because whatever that accent was, Thor knew it wasn’t American. He squinted at the same time Tony started talking.

“Okay, since when did Curly and Nerdy get fucking Scottish?”

“I- uh, M. Stark- I- can exp-”

“Alright, everyone out.”

Now it was time for everyone to look at the guy behind camera two. The rest of the setup crew began to leave, quick and without question, including Savannah and Curly.

“Nuh-uh, not you two, get back here. You two need to be here for this.” Savannah and Curly came back.

Thor, from behind the couch, watched as the rest of the Avengers abruptly stood up. No weapons spotted so no weapons drawn- yet. Nat took three quick steps and snapped the glasses off of Curly’s face. Curly barely had enough time to blink or register the action.

“Wh- hey! I need those-”

“Oh, cut the act Fitz, it’s obvious they know that we’re not who we say we are.”

“Oh okay, so we might as well just throw all the chips out there then why don’t we? Because that’s a sound idea!”

“Why is Jackson British?” Clint stage whispered to Tony. Thor felt similarly blind-sighted.

“Hell if I fucking know! Hey, what the fuck is going on here? Answer me in two seconds or else-”

Camera Guy Two scoffed. “Or else what? Nat’ll grab the gun off her hip and shoot? Or maybe Clint will pull that knife out of his boot. You don’t have your armor and Steve doesn’t have his shield. Hell, Thor doesn’t have-”

CRASH- CLINGK!

Loki giggled. Thor gave him a smile and twirled Mjölnir to get rid of the extra dry-wall. Despite his clenched jaw, Tony still managed to give him a deadpanned look. Thor grinned. He felt Mjölnir sing within his grasp.

“Two seconds or else I throw her. Also, you won’t like Bruce when he’s mad.” Bruce muttered something- “Come on, don’t bring me into this!”- but he ignored that in favor of watching Camera Two sigh in annoyance through his nose.

Rather than respond with words, however, Camera Two simply reached under his chin and pulled.

Bruce retched. “Ew- what the hell-”

“Oh son of a bitch- of course, of fucking course it’s Fury- Jesus Christ- in my tower-”

“Relax Stark, or else you’ll break something.”

At the sound of the former director’s voice Thor had to take a deep breath inward. The anger mixed with fear and Mjölnir sparked.

“Oh I’ll break something alright! How does your other eye sound- Jesus Christ- was that you? With the email? Wait, don’t answer that, because of course it was you with the email- GOD I should have known-”

Fury shook his head and threw the mask- that was what it was, a mask- so he could stand with his hands behind his back. It looked odd, considering he’d somehow managed to keep his eyepatch, but also because he wore a t-shirt and jeans like any other person. Thor decided he didn’t like Fury looking like any other person. It would be like seeing his father eating grapes and wearing robes or something; it was simply unnatural. Especially since, you know, he was in his living room of all places.

“Hey, get Blondie back here.” Fury nodded to something behind him.

Thor turned around to see Fandral slowly inching towards the elevator, Loki’s head tucked protectively against his neck. At being called out Fandral stopped, his eyes squinted. He looked rather like a caged animal in that moment, and Thor knew what happened when one caged an animal. The outcome was never pretty.

He sighed, relieved the tension from his shoulders, and gestured with his hammer-hand to come back. With every step Fandral took his chest felt tighter. It felt like defeat. Maybe it was the way he was raised, but Thor hated defeat.

Loki peeked his head out to get another look. It made his heart clench with love and worry. S.H.I.E.L.D. was here and there was nothing he could do. They were mere feet away and Thor hadn’t managed to keep Loki safe again. He just wanted his brother to be safe, was that too much to ask?

Well, Fury always got what he wanted. Thor, also, hated that.

Fandral came back as far as to stand beside him. He eyed Fury cautiously, but it was obvious that none of the Avengers seemed to trust the man, so he didn’t either. Thor smirked at the obvious suspicion he radiated. Never let it be known that Fandral the Dashing of the Warriors Three was dull; there was a reason he wielded Fimbuldraugr the rapier, after all.

What made the look of ease fall off his face was Fury walking forward to get a better glance at Loki in Fandral’s arms.

“So, I’m gonna take a guess here and say that Fitz saw something off about “Lucas”. Lemme guess, thermal imaging?”

“Ah, yes sir- Director- sir-”

“Fitz.”

“He- I- he was dark blue, almost un- um- unreadable off the camera’s scale, actually. I’ve of course seen the footage from the Helicarrier in 2012 and adjusted the glasses accordingly but even so, his body temperature is concerningly low-”

“That’s normal,” Bruce interrupted. At the looks he received from both the Avengers and Fury he scowled. “I’m not running around the merry-go-round here guys.”

“Good, because I don’t want you to.” Fury wandered a little closer. Thor tightened his grip on Mjölnir. Fury noticed. Good. “Hold it, Your Highness. I won’t touch. I just have a few questions to ask, since some information was being withheld, you see, and I don’t like not knowing certain things. Like, for example, if a certain psychopathic alien murderer happens to be back on Earth.”

“Loki is not-”

“Oh, so that is Loki then?”

Fandral grimaced. “His name is Lucas, thank you-”

“Fandral,” Thor said.

“Alright,” Fury said, “how about we ask his name? Hey there, lil’ guy. What’s your name?”

Thor frowned and moved towards his brother. “Lucas-”

“Loki!” Loki chirped. He was two and liked being asked questions.

Thor sighed and turned his face towards the ceiling. If anybody asked, yes, he was cursing every deity he knew, and yes, that may have included both himself and Loki. Definitely Amora. Fuck her, wherever she was.

The rest of the team reacted in a similar fashion. Tony threw his hands up and cursed a few more times. Clint sighed through his nose and looked away. Nat cocked her head, lips thinned, but Thor could tell that on the inside she might have been swearing just a bit in Russian. Steve shook his head and went to deal with Tony, who had started yelling another rant. Bruce just rubbed between his brows and went to sit at the island just outside of the living room, where he could watch and intervene but not become the Big Guy. Thor envied him.

Fury waited for them all to gather themselves to continue. “So, you did keep the news about the alien wanna-be conqueror from me. Glad to know that we’re all on the same page now.”

“You did not have the right to that information,” Thor said. He tried to keep the growl out of his voice but also didn’t care when he failed. “S.H.I.E.L.D. is no more and you are one with the public now-”

“Actually,” Fury interrupted, which seemed to be a theme that Thor wasn’t liking, “I’m under the radar, not ‘one with the public’. I’ve still got eyes and ears everywhere. Just because I’m not leading S.H.I.E.L.D. does not mean that I’m not on top of the who, how, when, and where. I’m Nick Fury, I know everything, whether you want me to or not. And I know about Loki, thank you very much.”

“Also, S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t ‘no more’, actually- ouch! Jemma!” Curly, or Fitz, if Thor recalled, grabbed his midsection and shot Savannah- Jemma- a dirty look.

“It’s alright, Agent Simmons,” Fury said, “they mostly know. Not everything, but they’re aware that S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t exactly helpless.”

“Yeah, we got the memo,” Clint said. He rounded back over and stood beside Natasha, who had gone quiet while listening, watching, and examining the glasses Fitz had been wearing. “You know, you could have just like, I don’t know, texted Nat or I? We could have done this without the whole undercover fanfare. Probably would have made this easier and put Thor at ease. And Tony. And Bruce. Prolly even Steve too, if we’re being honest.”

“Hey actually, can you tell me why my fucking AI isn’t working?” Tony stalked back over, as vehement as Thor inwardly felt, waving his phone around. “Because I tried to tell J. not to let Fandral in and now I’m not getting jack from him. What the fuck did you guys do? I swear to God-”

“J.A.R.V.I.S. is fine, stop your whining,” Fury sneered, “we just had to bypass him for a little bit, make sure no one else was listening. He’ll be right back in 15 minutes.”

“Make sure no one was- he’s a state of the art A.I.- no one is fuckin- Jesus, yeah, ok, he better be, or else I’ll sue-”

“A dead man, you’ll be suing a dead man.”

Fandral pinched his brows together and pulled a face. Loki giggled at it and Thor raised an eyebrow. It was a lot to take in, especially for someone outside the radar like Fandral. For him, he watched and let the theatrics happen. The less time they spent dissecting his brother the better. But Fury was here and they couldn’t shoot the shit forever.

“Thor, what is happening?”

He sighed. It was best to get this over with now. The adrenaline would do him no good in this situation. Nothing would get rid of Fury, so at the very least, he could explain and drive the resulting narrative the best he could. It was probably the only positive thing he could get from the outcome. It took a few more controlled breathes and false starts than he’d appreciate, but he finally found it within him to speak.

“Fandral, meet Fury, the previous director of S.H.I.E.L.D. He was killed about a year ago, but that was just a cover, obviously. He still has ties with a small faction of the organization, apparently, as he’s here with… two agents, I believe, in search of knowledge about Loki.”

“Oh,” Fandral said, “well that’s fine, but they can’t have him.”

Thor snorted and grinned. He hefted Mjölnir with indignited promise. “Aye, he cannot.”

“Have him?” Fury laughed. “ Have him?! I’m off the radar! What in the hell am I gonna do with a baby off the radar?”

“We mean S.H.I.E.L.D. We’re saying that we won’t allow S.H.I.E.L.D. to take him,” Fandral clarified.

Fitz, also, snorted. “S.H.I.E.L.D. can’t really handle a baby right now. Simmons and I are busy enough for Director C- er, for the Director as it is. We don’t have many hands on- on uh- on- on deck, that's the word, to handle a baby.”

“We’re just here to ask some questions and get some information, really,” Jemma, Simmons, whatever her name was, said. She looked hopeful in the most innocent of ways and Thor both hated and loved it.

“You could have just texted, Nick,” Tony sighed. He plopped onto the couch and shot Thor a glance. Thor eyed him back. Tony groaned as he lifted an arm and waved it Fandral’s way. “If Thor’s alright with it then shoot, I guess. We’re happy to share information, but only whatever Thor is okay to share. Loki’s his brother, after all.”

Fury nodded. “Alright. Loki, how old are you?”

“Loki is two-”

“Excuse me, Your Highness, but I was asking the other prince.”

Thor squared his jaw to stop himself from snapping back. If only Fury could make him feel something other than anger then maybe they could hold a steady conversation. Or at least, theoretically, since his base instinct still screamed to grab Loki and run. Thor squashed the fear and turned to look at his brother.

Loki blinked owlishly. Fandral repeated the question, to which Loki giggled. “One- one hunny fiffy!”

“One hundred fifty?” Thor parroted, gobsmacked. Loki nodded.

“Y-Yeah! Mama say!”

“Since when can he remember that?” Steve looked around just to make sure he wasn’t the only one in confusion. “Because that’s new, I think.”

“It certainly is,” Thor mumbled. “But it makes sense. He remembers me, Mother, Father, the gardens… it’s only natural he’ll remember more as he grows up.”

“And that he’ll be able to communicate it as well,” Bruce added, voice small from the kitchen. “It was only a matter of time before that happened, so I guess we can count it as a good thing that he’s remembering and communicating now. One hundred fifty is pretty young for you guys, yeah? At least he’s healthy.”

Fury nodded, quiet. “That’s good. Now, can someone explain to me how Loki, the alien with a god complex, became a baby? Because I’m really confused about that, and I’m not so sure that I should be.”

Thor set Mjölnir down on the forgotten coffee table as he made to sit back in his- now comfortable- seat. He didn’t take notice of the way his hand shook or how his leg started bouncing upon seating. Everyone else more or less followed suit, sans Tony, who’d been sitting already. The gesture was one of peace, if Fury saw his glance for what it was. Information for a visit, that was it. No handling, no touching, only questions and answers. As long as they stuck to that, Thor could make room to have a conversation with S.H.I.E.L.D. Probably should have done that sooner, but, well, call him protective cause Loki had died a few times.

“Loki had cast my father out under a curse and had made to rule Asgard in Father’s likeness. He was cursed by a witch by the name of Amora. She has yet to show face since cursing him so we do not know why, but it was that deed which was Loki’s undoing. My father is safe and back on Asgard, there is no need to worry. I am watching and raising Loki away from Asgard in the hopes that we can… raise him right, if you will.”

Fury leaned back in his own seat to put tongue-to-cheek in thought. “Alright,” he eventually conceded, “that sounds plausible, sure. And Father All-King is doing alright, you said?”

“Yes, my father is recovering on Asgard. The healers think he should be back in his right mind at any time.”

“And Loki- this baby here- can’t remember a damn thing about what happened?”

Tony scoffed. “Not that we can tell. His first two weeks with us all he did was eat, cry, shit, and sleep. Do you know what he wanted this morning? Tickles. He likes to go outside and watch TV and thinks he’s one hundred fifty. I don’t think he remembers too much of anything right now, Nick. He’s doin’ it as he grows.”

Fury frowned at the usage of “Nick” but otherwise stayed silent. Thor noticed he was watching Loki, who had started waving his right hand and babbling. Green eyes were getting droopy and his words slurred. Naptime was creeping, and Thor smiled and kissed the open palm that came his way. Suddenly, he was much more relaxed.

“Oh hell no,” Fury muttered. Thor frowned and felt the righteous anger flare within him, but stopped when Fury continued speaking. “The last time Loki was on Earth he had a scepter and a gem, and this time there’s one right on his hand. What, fucking pray tell, is that?”

“His bracelet?” Thor peered down to the hand engulfed in his own with mild curiosity. “A magic conductor, of sorts.”

“A what?” Fitz had to lean forward on the end of his seat after hearing that. “Magic isn’t- well, I mean, you’re here, so I guess, hypothetically, magic could be real, but I’ve handled- and fixed- “magic” objects before and that doesn’t quite look like one. Not that it’s not, uh, your Highness, Thor, uh, but it’s certainly different from the silencing collar Lady Sif had.”

Thor’s eyes widened and he hummed in surprise. Fandral straightened and actually squeaked beside him. “You know Sif??”

“Yes!” Simmons said, “She needed S.H.I.E.L.D.’s help a year back while bringing in an enchantress named Lorelei.” Here Thor and Fandral both grimaced. Simmons laughed. “I assume you know or have heard of her, then? Well, either way, Sif’s silencing collar broke in a fight and Fitz fixed it even though it was ‘magic’.”

“Yeah, well, it wasn’t quite ‘magic’ so much as-”

“FitzSimmons?” Fury firmly interrupted, “Science later, listening now.” Both agents audibly clicked their mouths shut. “Thank you. Thor? Explanation?”

Thor sighed. So much for the interesting subject change. Now, how many times had he explained the bracelet to Tony? A thousand at least. Well, what was one more time, other than an annoyance? “Loki’s bracelet is a magic conductor. He is magic-born, so magic is naturally imbued into his very being. As a child, what will he want to do? Use it, obviously, even though he has no control or technique, which can be quite dangerous, actually.”

“Fire tornado, never again,” Clint muttered. The Avengers shared a collective shiver before Thor continued.

“The jewel in the bracelet basically converts uncontrolled, excess, or destructive magic into something less chaotic and damaging. It is almost like a funnel, or a converter of some sort, as Tony has often likened it to.”

Here Fitz squinted. “Surely you don’t believe that it’s just magic though?”

Tony perked up in notice that he was being talked to. “Me? No, I’m positive it’s science we haven’t figured out, but I’ve got too many works in progress and I’m not giving myself another headache tonight. I can’t make out any intelligible data from Loki’s magic anyway, so fuck that. Right now? It’s magic, I couldn’t give two less shits.”

Steve rolled his eyes. “Give him two days and he’ll be stuck in the lab pouring over his data sheets again. Five bucks says he’ll try and steal the bracelet again.”

“You scared of losing, Rogers?” Clint said with a grin, “Raise it to twenty and you got something, Soldier.”

“I could out bet you all,” Tony said, mostly musing aloud. Even so, it still made everyone roll their eyes. He snickered.

It was then that Loki yawned and naptime finally made itself known. Fandral tsked as he swaddled Loki better into his blankets and got up. Thor fondly smiled as he let go of his brother’s hand.

“I’ll go lay him down and let you finish up here.”

“Aye, alright my friend. Oh, and don’t forget Daga! He won’t sleep without them. You don’t want another tantrum on your hands, trust me.”

“Daaaga,” Loki yawned.

“Of course,” Fandral agreed. “We left Daga on the couch, didn’t we Lo? We’ll just have to pick him up on our merry way, yes…”

His voice drifted as he walked out of earshot and into the elevator. Thor watched them go until the doors shut and he was alone, his brother safe out of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s eyes. It was all the tiniest bit of relief he needed. The other Avengers had watched too, as their heads all turned back to Fury and his two borrowed agents once the Aseir had left. Fury raised an eyebrow when their attention was all returned.

“I’m surprised by how well he behaves, considering the last time I saw him.”

“The Loki that attacked New York certainly isn’t this kid. Something happened to turn him into that.” The words came from Clint, who spoke calmly and carefully. Thor blinked in surprise. The fact that Clint was the one who said it made his heart warm.

Fury, however, only shook his head. “Alright, sure, but let me ask a few more questions then. What are you all going to do when this kid remembers everything? Because believe me, if you don’t have a plan of action or a rebound, then we’re going to have a big problem on our hands. And if that problem becomes my problem then we’re going to have A Problem, understand? I don’t think you need me to tell you that, but nobody wants another invasion, so excuse me for covering our bases."

Thor furrowed his brows and shook his head. Loki would remember in due time, but that wasn’t going to be anytime soon. His brother had been around the Midgardian age of 20 during the New York Invasion, and since he was about two right now, he had no worries. Every day was a new battle that in itself, there was no need to race ahead eighteen years and mess something up in the present.

“We’ll handle it when it arises,” is what Steve had said. Thor nodded.

“Aye, we have time to come up with a proper plan of action. I doubt there will be another invasion, probably more hatred towards me than anything. It’ll be handled, I assure you.”

“Okay then,” Fury said, “then what about once he’s all grown up? I don’t think Mr. Glorious Purpose here is going to want to stay on Earth forever, and forgive me for saying so, but I don’t think too many people are going to want him around either. He is going back up to prison after this, isn’t he? I would think that breaking his parole and pretending to be king for a few years would add, oh, I don’t know, a few millennia onto that sentence of his.”

Something about sending Loki straight back to prison didn’t sit right. It felt heavy and wrong in his stomach and Thor had to grimace at the feeling. Clint had said it himself, and even that was a quote from something he had said; the Loki from New York was most certainly not the Loki that he’d grown up with. Something had happened, something that Loki had never mentioned or talked about, and now that there was a second chance in play it felt wrong to ignore that glimmer of hope, that glimmer of truth, just so his brother could be thrown back behind golden bars for the sake of continuing a sentence that could be rendered null and void by the circumstances.

“Loki…” He hesitated and fumbled for something appropriate to say that would satisfy the former director. “My brother will of course be taken up to Asgard, though his punishment will be up to our father. Odin may render an extension pointless, seeing as Loki will have two conflicting memory sets and an earlier sentence. But his prior wrongs will still have to be paid for in some way or another, so I doubt there is any need to worry, I assure you.”

Fury nodded but stayed silent. He folded his arms, like a content uncle after a holiday dinner, as he, similarly, digested the information. Thor had no doubt that he was running over the answers and looking for holes, thinking of plans and backup plans should anything happen. It almost made him uncomfortable that someone was scrutinizing his brother and his past actions to such an extent. If he weren’t feeling such a bone-deep exhaustion over worrying about the entire situation, he was sure he’d be angrier about that fact.

Natasha leaned forward after a moment. She’d been quiet thus far, for good reason, really. The glasses she’d pinched from Fitz were passed back all while she pinned Fury with her gaze. “You didn’t come here just for spoken information.”

Fury shrugged, nonplussed. “No, I didn’t.”

Tony sat up in fury. “If you hacked my servers-”

“I haven’t hacked anything yet, Stark! The only thing we did was redirect J.A.R.V.I.S. for the time being. And if anything, it would be Fitz’s work, not mine.”

Fitz opened and closed his mouth. “I- uh- wouldn’t do that-”

“Unless it was an order and couldn’t be avoided,” Simmons helpfully finished.

“Yeah, that.”

“Well, that’s all understandable, but what else do you want?” Nat asked. Thor already had a sinking feeling that he knew.

“Simmons specializes in BioChem. Since the current director of S.H.I.E.L.D. couldn’t be here for a myriad of reasons, it would be very helpful if someone would nicely give us some of the health files I know y’all have.”

“I don’t need everything,” Simmons said, seemingly nervous, “though, that would be immensely helpful. Whatever you deem is enough will do, however, uh, Prince Thor, as I realize that you are his acting guardian at the moment.”

“I can take care of that,” Bruce said. He waved off Tony, who offered to come along too, and he motioned for Simmons to follow. They had to wait for the elevator but soon enough they were off and down to the lab. Thor tried to shake off the worry that S.H.I.E.L.D. was going to do something with the data.

“Anything else you’re waiting to spring on us?” Clint wondered.

“Yeah, actually.” Here Fury shifted in his seat and laid his clasped hands across his abdomen. “Sooner or later, that baby face is going to fill out. Even now, just looking at him, it doesn’t take a genius to see the facial similarities. If someone doesn’t figure it out now then they will later. To be honest, I don’t know if y’all should wait until it’s later. I can’t be the only one to know about Loki.”

Thor narrowed his eyes. He didn’t quite like what Fury was insinuating. “And what you’re saying is?”

“To be perfectly blunt, I would like for Loki’s presence to be made clear by New Years at the latest.”

Thor frowned. Steve, who was balking at the request, caught his confused and frustrated look with one of sympathy. “It’s when we celebrate the new year. It’s 2015 right now, so by New Year’s it’ll be 2016. We have about three months from now, Big Guy.”

He nodded, then balked himself.

Three months?! Who knew how old Loki would be, but the answer certainly wouldn’t be full grown! What would the public say? The governments? Gods, the media? Would they even be able to go outside before being slammed with an opinion or a camera to the face, would they be able to have dinner out or have a life in general outside the tower? Would Loki be able to find friends? Peace in both his doubled mentality and the life he’s going to be living? He wouldn’t- and Thor knows he won’t- do well under the scrutiny of an entire planet at the delicate age of five, or eight, or twelve, or even eighteen for that matter. It hadn’t worked well on Asgard so Thor couldn’t imagine how great it would turn out with an entire planet of people who only knew Loki in the worst of lights.

Obviously the others thought so too because Thor could hear their protests as his brain stuttered and rebooted.

“Nick, if you’re really wanting this kid to grow up, you know, not fucked up, then letting everyone know while he’s still a baby isn’t really gonna help when he’s faced with, I don’t know, a million angry people at the age of like, six-”

“Fury, I understand that the people should know, but Loki’s not going to be full-grown by then and there’s no way this will be something we’ll be able to handle-”

“Are you trying to give a five-year-old depression?! Because believe me, it’s not great! At all!”

“There’s no way we’ll be able to cover a planet-wide panic, Nick, you know that. Much less the mental effect it’ll have on him if we’re not careful, or us for that matter-”

Fury just waved everyone off. “I know, it’ll be a hell of a fucking Christmas present, but I don’t think y’all should wait to tell everyone that Loki’s been under their noses this entire time. I can assure you, it wouldn’t be pretty. I’m doing you a favor here. It’ll be easier to curb their hatred when he’s an adorable little motherfucker! Especially one that doesn’t remember. You all can spin this story. You’re the fucking Avengers, you’ll get through this just fine.”

And there was the sudden rush of heat. Thor felt anger color his cheeks faster than he could feel it flooding his veins. Outside, the clouds that had grown to linger growled their blatant disagreement like a feral lion. Even Mjölnir sparked against the glass coffee table. She didn’t like this situation any more than they did.

“I would rather die at the hands of Surtur himself than subject my brother to the torment and subjugation of another planet, again. What makes you think that we should listen to you, or that we even will?”

Fury, when faced with the snarl and the growling voice of the God of Thunder himself, merely shrugged and looked to be enjoying himself. He shot Fitz a look of pure amusement and said, “Because if you don’t tell the world then I will. Or maybe S.H.I.E.L.D. will. Don’t think we won’t find a way. The people deserve to know and I’ll make sure they do.”

"And you think we can’t track you?” Thor said, voice rumbling within his chest. Thunder cracked again outside, and this time lightening was clearly visible within the clouds. “Fuckin’ good luck with that. I’m a hard bitch to track.”

Fitz shrugged, his gaze far away. “He did just show up and let himself into our compound.”

Tony scowled and shook his head. “Doesn’t mean we won’t try, Nicky. We don’t appreciate threats made about children, dude.”

“Oh, I’m not threatening the child, and I don’t believe I’ve made any threats so far. I’m just letting you all know that I know and that S.H.I.E.L.D. knows and that the world has a right to know. Simple as that.”

“Yeah, real simple,” Clint said. He shook his head as if in disbelief. Thor felt just about the same way. Static ran up and down his arms, and if he’d had just the slightest lack of restraint he was sure he’d of been throttling Fury by now. The image was almost therapeutic, at least.

Simmons and Bruce returned to a stiff, silent room. Fury ignored Thor’s glowering gaze as he got up, dusted himself off, and motioned for Fitz to stand as well. The engineer got up like a baby lamb, his arms and legs tangled, as he shoved his glasses back on and followed the former director. The Avengers watched them go like hawks trailing prey.

“You all set?”

Simmons looked up from the tablet she’d procured out of nowhere. “Me? Yes, absolutely. Dr. Banner was extremely kind and helpful.”

“Alright then, let’s move out. DC is probably wondering where you are anyway.”

“I think Director Cou- uuuhhhh, the Director understands perfectly well that you wouldn’t keep us for too long, sir. I’ll notify him that we’re on our way back right now, actually.” Fitz pulled out his phone and started tapping away.

“Hey!” Tony yelled, “Who is going to clean all this shit out of my living room?! None of that footage better be released, so help me God Nick-!”

“The crew will be back up in five minutes, don’t get your panties in a twist, Stark!”

“I’ll twist my panties all I fucking want!”

“Goodbye, Stark!”

“And stay out!”

The elevator doors closed. Bruce blinked, confused to the team’s fury, but otherwise not-at-all too curious. Thor felt the anger and worry leave him, knowing that Fury was gone and Loki was safe, but it left him with a bone-deep exhaustion that he knew would plague him for the rest of the week. Living with Loki had taught him that sometimes he couldn’t help but feel things and then be tired and clueless afterward. It was tiring and annoying and almost satisfying all at the same time. In lieu of having some sort of a mini break down right there, he slid his face into his hands and breathed.

“You okay there big guy?” He felt a calloused hand on his shoulder and warm breath on his ear. Natasha always came to his rescue.

“I’m sure I will be, when this is all over.”

He didn’t need to look to know that she’d grimaced. “I understand that. How about you go upstairs and Tony and I will watch the crew pack up, just to make sure S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t doing anything. We got it covered down here.”

All he could do was nod. Going and seeing Loki, even if he was sleeping, sounded like the best idea in the entire world. His limbs may have felt heavier than a Kronan’s, but he still managed to pick himself up to continue on. “Alright, I trust you guys. Thank you- for having my back.”

“Anytime, Big Guy.”

Thor smiled, or he really tried to. He turned and left for the elevator, which, really, he’d probably have to wait for now that J. wasn’t working and the crew was coming back up.

Outside, the thunder gave way to rain.

------

The once sunny afternoon had given into a gloomy evening. The thunderstorm had raged at first, drenching most of Manhattan for over an hour. It’d given up into a lazy drizzle, clouds low and overhanging. They’d probably be there for the next few days, a constant reminder to Thor that he’d failed on some level.

At first the thunderstorm had been cathartically pleasing. Every crack of lightning felt reverberated down to his core, felt as alive as his anger, grief, and anxiety. It was comforting on some level. A few hours of doing nothing but sleeping terribly and stewing in those emotions, however, grew taxing, and now all Thor wanted to do was forget the incident. Which, in turn, made him feel even worse, so the cycle repeated and continued and the storm stayed. Fitting, really.

Tony had visited at some point. Fandral had passed out to nap not long after Loki had, seeing as he’d been woken during the middle of the night to come down and babysit. Thor had been lying on his bed, groggy and stewing and sifting through his emotions, when J. had asked if it was alright for Sir to enter and then Tony had been knocking on his bedroom door.

“You doing okay, Big Guy?”

The short answer had been no, because it was correct and Thor couldn’t find any way to sugarcoat it.

Loki was going to grow up in a hostile climate no matter what he did. That in itself felt the most like defeat, and Thor hated defeat. He liked learning from his failures, sure, but failure wasn’t defeat. Defeat was a resolute loss, whereas failure was not succeeding but with the chance to do so upon redemption. Loki had a second chance, and for some reason, Thor felt like he’d ruined it before he’d even given his brother a chance to grow up and try. At the very least, a good portion of the public wasn’t going to let him do so, and that fact alone was devastating to him.

He just couldn’t believe that S.H.I.E.L.D. had burst their way in and taken what they wanted. Thor was mad that he’d let them. He could have argued more, maybe even fought some, but in the end S.H.I.E.L.D. probably would have gotten the information anyway. It made him feel useless, afraid for Loki, for their future, and that was an emotion that he didn’t handle well, evidently. He’d been scared for some time about the event that’d happened, and despite all the worrying, in the end he’d only been angry, and that and the fear aftertaste did him no good.

Tony had only heard the resolute “No.” Thor had told him, however, and had nodded with sympathetic understanding. “Yeah, I don’t think I’d be either, if I were in your position. I actually came down to apologize. I haven’t updated J. and the overall security in forever because we’ve been so busy at SI, and now with Lo here, and with whatever Avenging we do, well, I lost track of time. I won’t make that mistake again. Actually kinda pissed that S.H.I.E.L.D. hacked in in the first place.

“But, uh, what I wanted to say was that I’m sorry they got in anyway. It’s my tower, I should have realized something fishy was off. It wasn’t until the PR team didn’t show that it was evident, but we should have called it off anyway. And without J., well, we were really vulnerable. I couldn’t even tell Fandral not to come down the elevator. So… I’m sorry, Thor, I let you down. It won’t happen again, I promise.”

Hearing Tony’s apology had Thor’s heart warming, just a bit, and it was what made the raging storm fade to a drizzling putter.

“No, I-... thank you, Tony. You don’t have to apologize. I should have done more to keep Loki safe.”

“You’re already doing so much for him, Thor. Besides, you’re not gonna lock the kid in the tower, he’s not Rapunzel, we had to let him out at some point. S.H.I.E.L.D. and the public would know sooner or later anyway. Maybe it’s better this way? Less fallout once he’s older, I don’t know.” Thor had grunted a tired maybe, not quite on board with that train. Tony was sympathetic. “You look stressed, Big Guy. Uh, would maybe walkin’ me through your thoughts help?”

And so Thor had. He’d talked about how he was angry with himself and S.H.I.E.L.D., for letting the occurrence happen and for letting S.H.I.E.L.D. walk away after putting their noses into something that wasn’t even an ounce of their business. He talked about how he was anxious about Loki growing up in another hostile environment, one that he’d failed to keep safe. Talked about how he had been so furious in the moment, but also scared somewhere deep down. It’d taken him a good thirty minutes afterward to register that he had still been shaking and suffering from a headache. He talked about how he was tired of being anxious over Loki all the time, from being angry about S.H.I.E.L.D. It’d been two months and he’d had no real reprieve. He was tired of being tired, how ironic.

Tony had nodded and taken everything into consideration. For someone who ran his mouth all day, he was a surprisingly good listener. They talked for another good hour until Loki woke from his nap and Tony went to cook dinner. By then Thor felt calmer and more at peace with what had happened, if a little jaded about it at all.

“It’s my turn to cook- I’ll get started on your favorite Italian, Big Guy. I’ll let J. know when it’s done.” Thor’s heart warmed at the thought of five trays of lasagna made specifically just to cheer him up. It put a smile on his face as he went and got Loki.

That had been a while ago. Thor was sure Tony was going to call the team for dinner soon, but at the moment, it was just him and Lo in his bedroom once more. Fandral was still passed out and Thor found he needed something to do. He needed to stop thinking about his fruitless situation or else he’d drown in his emotions. He’d never actually went through the chest that Sif and Three had brought a few weeks ago… that would be a good way to spend the time.

Chest open, Loki on the bed a foot away and playing with race cars and Daga, Thor settled himself on the edge of his bed and sorted through the dust-covered garments. Old tunics and nightclothes were pulled and folded away. Out went clothes that Loki wouldn’t fit into for months yet and shoes that had bit the dust eons ago, literally. He couldn’t help but snicker at some of the ceremonial garments as he remembered how ridiculous they must have looked. They were good memories to remember.

Hidden under the clothes were old toys not worth using and books that Thor had no use for. Except for one, a brown leather book with an unnatural silver scrawl across it’d binder. He pinched his brows and pulled the book out for inspection. It reeked of old magic- his mothers, he blatantly realized.

Frost and Heart; A Guide to the Habitual and Cultural Ways of the Jotnar.

A book about the Jotnar? Thor felt his heart leap and flutter as he read and re-read the title. Finally, maybe, something that could tell him about the heritage of his brother. He wondered if it was unbiased, how detailed it went into Jotnar customs, whether he could elicit any useful information so late into Loki’s life. For it to be soaked with his mother’s magic meant it must have been good- good enough for her to keep it. Surely answers would be found.

The book’s cover was battered and the leather was torn. Most of the pages had yellowed and crumbled with age, though the feeble magic had kept it well. The paper crinkled when he gingerly thumbed a page, only to be staring dead into his mother’s looped scrawl. After the emotional month that he’d gone through, Thor had to squeeze his eyes shut to avoid a complete and utter breakdown altogether.

Norns, he’d love her advice right now.

And luck seemed to be on his side, finally, as he read her script on the front page.

“Husband- I’ve read the first few chapters and this seems to be the only detailed book in Asgard’s library (which is quite disappointing) to give any intellectual and usable information that suits our needs. Could you please read the first few chapters so we can discuss parenting techniques for our newest son? I fear neglecting to do so will only do him harm in the future. Thank you, dear, for giving us this chance.” The end of the message was signed with a heart. Thor smiled bittersweetly and touched the millennials dried ink.

Well, at least his day was turning up a little bit. This was probably the best thing to happen to him in… well, months.

“Book!”

Thor grunted and leaned forward as someone mildly heavy slammed into his back. Two chubby hands grabbed at his shirt and neck as they hauled themselves further onto him. Thor laughed as he wriggled around and pulled Loki until he was standing against his side.

“What now, little weasel?” Loki giggled.

“Mama! Mama book!”

Thor laughed, soft. “Yeah? You can feel Mother? She must have loved it a lot, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“Loved it a lot like she loved you!” He dove his fingers into Loki’s side and preened when that earned him some valiant giggling.

“Mama- wanna read Mama!”

“You want to read?”

“Yeah, read Mama.”

Thor breathed a fond huff through his nose when Loki climbed into his lap. Distantly he worried about Loki reading the book, his mother’s scrawl, and connecting the dots, but Loki was only two and couldn’t quite read anyway. He had time before Loki needed to know any of what was on the dog-eared pages.

“We can read,” he hummed, “but later tonight, at bedtime. It’s gonna be dinner soon and we gotta wake up Fandral. Want to get him up?”

Loki absolutely giggled at that. He forgot about the book completely as he grabbed Daga and ran out the door yelling, “Sun up, Fannel! Sun up sun up!”

Somewhere down the hall, an ungrateful squawk of surprise was heard.

Thor smiled with a reserved snicker. He up and moved everything but the book back into the chest. The book he carefully laid under his pillow to be read later that night, once Loki was asleep and Fandral had left. There was information on there that was precarious to Loki and his situation, and under no circumstances was he going to let anything happen to that book. Not even curious little brothers who just wanted to read- at least, not yet anyway.

The lights overhead lit blue. Thor sighed with relief and let J.A.R.V.I.S. know that they were coming to dinner. Lasagna sounded wonderful. Maybe his day really was looking up after all.