Everything is arranged. Instructions written out. Arsenal assembled. Accounts transferred, loose ends tied up. The director of the Center for Missing and Exploited Tertiaries will help Loki get settled. Steve Rogers is one of the few friends Thor still has, a great guy with a greater mission. Ever since his best friend was kidnapped as a child and never seen again, Steve has been out to fulfill justice on behalf of the tersh community. His efforts led to the exposure and destruction of HYDRA, one of the highest-profile human trafficking organizations in the world, and his dedication to his job is rivaled only by his compassion. He lives to help others.
Loki will be in very good hands.
Thor tries to act normal so Loki won’t suspect anything. It works, but not because of Thor’s ability to pretend; it’s been two weeks since Vali was born and Loki is exhausted, not quite as sharp as he usually is. Thor helps in any way he can. He’s learned how to feed Vali and change his nappy, how to bathe him, dress him, soothe him when he’s crying.
It’s as close to being a father as he’ll ever get, so he savors it.
He sits on the couch with the baby cradled in his arms, feeding him a bottle while Loki naps in the bedroom.
Thor looks down at him—such a tiny thing, so beautiful with his wispy black hair and big blue eyes. Thor wonders distantly who his father is. If he’s still alive and in Thanos’s clutches, being assaulted, used as a stud to breed other tershes. If this is his first child or his fifteenth. If he’s ever seen any of them.
Vali murmurs and spits out the empty bottle, one of his little hands reaching up to grasp at Thor’s shirt.
Thor tries not to think about how little time is left, but it’s impossible.
All we have is time, he thinks, until we don’t.
He puts the bottle down and lifts Vali onto his shoulder, rising from the couch and walking smoothly over to the window, humming a tune as he cradles the tiny baby against his broad chest. Vali begins to fuss, and Thor allows himself one last fantasy.
“Shh, little one,” he whispers, and kisses the small, warm head. “It’s alright. Daddy’s here.”
And then he starts to sing.
The last night comes too soon. Thor can’t sleep. He waits until Loki’s breaths whisper slow and deep beside him, then he carefully slips out of bed. He pauses at the bassinet and gazes down at Vali, lying peacefully on his back and wrapped in a pale green blanket with little rabbits on it. He looks back at Loki, skin radiant in the golden glow of the nightlight, and tiptoes out of the room.
The temptation to drink is strong. Thor wanders into the kitchen and takes the bottle out from under the sink, stares at it blankly in the dim light. Then he unscrews the cap and pours it into the sink. Every last drop. He turns on the faucet and flushes the drain clean, until the thick, syrupy scent of whiskey is gone. He suddenly feels a lot better.
Then Vali begins to cry.
He tucks the empty bottle back into the cupboard and heads for the bedroom. Loki rolls over just as he enters.
“I’ve got him,” says Thor, lifting the baby from the bassinet. “Go back to sleep.”
Loki nods fuzzily before sinking back down on his pillow and closing his eyes.
Thor bounces Vali lightly, whispering words to soothe his urgent cries.
It’s strange how normal this feels now. Before Loki came into his life, Thor had never even touched a baby. Now his arms—bare and bulging with muscle—are folded around this small, defenseless little human. His hand completely covers Vali’s back.
Vali squirms and starts screeching, a piercing sound. Thor checks his nappy and finds it wet. He carries him into the living room and lays him down on the coffee table, which has lately been turned into a makeshift changing platform. He winds up the little stuffed cat—Jacques Cat, he and Loki call it, the only toy that seems able to quiet Vali’s worst crying fits—and places it beside him. The wailing dies to a light blubbering as the soft melody of Frère Jacques fills the air.
Thor works efficiently, removing the soiled nappy and cleaning Vali’s tiny bottom with the ease of an experienced parent. In a few minutes, Vali is dry and secure in a fresh nappy, and Thor picks him up again.
“There, that wasn’t so bad, was it? All good now, yeah?”
Thor kisses Vali’s warm little head and strokes his hair. Vali continues to whine and fuss.
“Are you hungry? Is that the problem?”
Cradling the infant in one arm, Thor goes to the kitchen and opens the fridge. There’s a half bottle of breastmilk on the top shelf. Thor grabs it. He holds the bottle under the warm tap for a minute, hushing Vali as he continues to cry and clutch at Thor’s bare chest.
Thor winces as a sharp baby fingernail rakes against his nipple. “Ow. Hey. There’s no milk in there, trust me. I’m getting your milk now. Shh, Vali, it’s okay.” He starts humming Frère Jacques and rocking from one foot to the other. When he deems the milk warm enough, he takes a seat at the kitchen table and offers Vali the bottle. Vali latches onto the nipple eagerly and starts sucking.
Silence never sounded so sweet. Thor sighs, a tired but triumphant smile on his face.
“So you were hungry. Does this mean you’ll sleep the rest of the night, hm? Let Mama have some time off?”
Vali doesn’t answer. His blue eyes are half-lidded, content.
Thor’s smile fades. This little one has no idea what kind of a world he was born into. How dangerous and depraved it is. How close he came to being sold right out of the womb, taken away and passed into the hands of the highest bidder.
Horrible images fill Thor’s mind, what-ifs and if-I-hadn’ts playing over and over like a morbid film reel: Loki sitting on Thanos’s lap, crying as his pregnant belly is pawed and petted; Vali growing up in a world of vice and wickedness, trained to be obedient, used for sport; Loki being kept in a cage and raped every nine months for the rest of his reproductive life. Exploited, abused, nothing but a vessel to carry the fetishes of the sickest men on earth.
Thor shakes the images from his mind.
Enough. It’s not going to happen. He won’t let it. And he wants Loki to know that he won’t have to spend the rest of his life living in fear, always looking over his shoulder. He deserves to know.
Thor reaches across the table and grabs the spiral notebook that Loki likes to scrawl in.
Like any assassin, Thor has always preferred to exit quietly and without notice, but he can’t leave without saying goodbye. Not this time.
He picks up the pen and starts to write.
These last 4 months have been the happiest of my life. You have taught me so much. Not just cooking but how to be a man, how to take care of someone. How to care about someone, even if that someone is just myself. I’m so grateful we met.
You don’t have to worry about your “leasee” anymore. I have taken him out, which means I’ve probably been taken out too. Please don’t be sad or angry. This is what I do. This is my job. There was no other way. I’m glad that I got the opportunity to go out like this. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
Please let yourself be happy again. It’s OK to forget.
Enclosed you’ll find everything you need to start your life over. Below is Steve Rogers’ number and the address of a safehouse where you need to go. Call him when you get there. Don’t stay here.
I wish I could be there to watch Vali grow up into the wonderful, special young man that I know he will be. You’re going to be fine. Both of you.
I love you so very much, Loki. Thank you for saving me.
With all my heart,
He drops the pen and rips the page out of the notebook, folds it one-handed, tucks it into his pocket. He sniffs and jabs his fingers into the wet corners of his eyes. He’ll be sure to leave the letter and the rest of the paperwork in an envelope where Loki will find them.
Vali finishes the bottle. Thor lifts him up onto his shoulder and pats him until he hears a small burp. The pats turn to rubs. Thor closes his eyes and bows his head, trying to memorize the smell and feel of this baby whose future he would die for.
Maybe this is what it means to be a father.
He sniffs again and stands up, and carries Vali back to his bassinet.
“I need to run into town,” Thor lies, zipping up his leather jacket. “Need anything?”
Loki pauses and thinks, then shakes his head. “No, I think we’re fine.” He gives Thor a sidelong glance. “Be careful. Motorbikes are dangerous.”
“Life is dangerous.” Thor stumps over in his heavy boots and kisses Loki’s forehead. “Be back later.”
They’re lousy last words. But Thor can’t risk Loki getting suspicious. He’s too perceptive, too intuitive. Thor gazes into Loki’s eyes one last time, flashes a hollow smile, and turns to leave.
He walks out the front door of his cabin for the last time. Gets on his bike for the last time. Races down the winding, forested road and into the last sunset he’ll ever see. It’s a beauty. Red and orange and pink and purple, an explosion of color and cloud.
He puts his eyes back on the road and shifts gears.
The private entrance to Club Sakaar is heavily guarded. Thor strides up to it and nods to the first of four suited bouncers.
“I’m here to see the big guy.”
“Got an appointment?”
“No. But I have some information he might be interested in.” Thor slides his phone out of his pocket and unlocks it, then shows the screen to the bouncer.
It’s a photo of Loki. He took it yesterday. Loki is smiling, dressed plainly in a cotton tee, his dark hair pulled back in a low ponytail. Wispy, wavy tendrils frame his face. His eyes are sparkling despite the purple half-moons beneath them. He’s pink-cheeked and fresh-faced, happy and beautiful.
The bouncer’s mouth twitches. He lifts his arm and murmurs into his cuff: “Code Lima, door 1A.” He tilts his head and turns. “This way.”
Thor follows. A second bouncer joins them. He’s escorted through security, patted down, and sent through a metal detector that fails to pick up on the various nylon-based polymer weapons hidden all over his body. Then they lead him inside.
Club Sakaar is an eight-storey sex pit disguised as a high-end casino resort. The main floor is dedicated to gambling: blackjack, roulette wheels, craps boards, pachinko machines, poker tables, everything brightly-colored and cheerfully wholesome—as wholesome as getting into life-threatening debt can be.
The second floor is the sports lounge, the walls dominated by televisions and athletic paraphernalia, an archipelago of booths and bars populated by noisy, rowdy patrons. Scantily-clad waitresses and fast-talking bookies serve the fans an endless stream of beer, bets, and bullshit.
The third floor is a nonstop rave where fruity, psychedelic-colored gelatin shots are spiked with drugs and the music thuds through the walls like a fast-paced heartbeat. DJs and dancers all look like cosplayers at a sci-fi convention.
The fourth floor is the strip club, a massive 18-stage theater catering to every taste a customer could possibly pay for.
The fifth floor is the VIP lounge where wealthy businessmen snort lines of cocaine, pop pills, and pay to have sex with the dancers from fourth floor.
The sixth floor is luxury suites for high-profile visitors (custom bed warmers and four-figures-per-hour escorts optional).
The seventh floor is the “members-only garden”, and that’s what it looks like at first glance. An indoor rainforest, lush and thick and green. But all the entrances and exits are under 24-hour guard and there’s a warren of nondescript doors beyond the orchids and fountains and flowering trees. “Seventh Heaven” is one of its rumored names. The other one is “The Kindergarden”.
No one knows what happens on the eighth floor.
The bouncers escort Thor to the fifth floor and into the sprawling lounge that smells of booze, body spray, and wet pussy.
Thor’s eyes remain fixed straight ahead as he’s led past the partially screened booths, but he sees everything happening around him through his peripheral vision: a teenager dressed in a skirt, getting fondled and finger-fucked by two men twice his age; a woman in a black leather bodysuit performing a private lapdance for a party of four; two heavily-muscled men lying nude on a buffet table, their bodies covered with sushi for the exclusive dinner conference taking place around them; identical twin siblings, a male and a female, fucking each other on a platform surrounded by a shadowy audience. The female looks to be pregnant; Thor guesses around 22 weeks. Her breasts bounce and slap as her brother thrusts into her. Thor tries not to think about the baby in her belly, or who it belongs to.
Thanos is waiting for him at the end of the gauntlet, lounging in a booth with a cigar between his lips and a narrow-eyed smirk on his scarred face. One arm is draped on the back of the seat, the other is stretched out on the table. Thick gold rings and heavy bracelets gleam in the light. A crystal ashtray and a half empty whiskey glass sit before him.
“Well, well,” he rumbles, reaching up to remove his cigar with a flash of ruby and sapphire, “now here’s someone I never thought I’d see in person. Take a seat, Thunderstorm, and tell me the good news. I hear you’ve found some lost property of mine.”
One of the bouncers pulls out a chair for Thor. He slowly takes a seat, trying to keep his face neutral and for once failing. A terrible scowl draws lines between his brows and around his downturned mouth.
There are so many things he wants to say. So many ways he’s rehearsed this for the past few weeks. But all he says is, “I have.”
Thanos smiles and sets his cigar in the ashtray. “Can I see him?”
Thor unlocks his phone and slides it across the table. Thanos lifts it up, studies it smugly. “Ahh, there he is. My baby boy. Hasn’t he got the most beautiful eyes? Like emeralds. It was the first thing I noticed about him, those big green eyes.”
Revulsion stirs in Thor’s gut. Revulsion that the first feature he noticed about Loki was also noticed by this monster.
Thanos sighs and slides the phone back. “I always hated that Gast found him before I did. I tried to buy him out, but he refused to sell. He should have. Maybe then he’d still be alive.” He nods to Thor. “But you did your job well, Thunderstorm. I knew I could count on you.”
Thor’s heart freezes in his chest.
Thanos laughs at the expression on his face. “Oh! Oh, you didn’t know. It’s okay, Odinson. Three proxies and one government agency is a lot of insulation between me and that dirty little hit I hired you to make. Didn’t expect you would make off with the one thing that mattered, though. Bravo. I did not see that coming.”
Suddenly Thor can’t think. His heart is going to pound its way out of his chest. The blood throbs in his temples. He’s paralyzed, unable to do anything but sit in his seat and try to suck air into lungs that feel as if they’re being squeezed by a giant snake.
Maybe he’s having a heart attack. If he is, he’s got only seconds left.
About the time he’s pulling the pistol from the crotch of his pants, Thanos reaches underneath the table and drags a human being into his lap. The muzzle levels between the large, frightened blue eyes of a man in his early 30s—handsome, shaking, his left arm terminating in a stump below his shoulder. He has long, disheveled brown hair and an unnaturally beautiful mouth. He looks like he may have been drugged recently. He seems dazed, out of it.
“And things were going so well,” Thanos sighs. “Put down the gun, Odinson. You wouldn’t hurt an innocent bystander, would you?”
Thor slowly lowers his weapon and lays it on the table. One of the bouncers hovering nearby steps in, plucks it up, and steps back.
“That’s better,” says Thanos. “Now then, I’d like you to meet Winter. I had him brought in while you were on your way up, just in case you decided to get cute with me. Say hello to Mister Odinson, Winter.”
“Hello, Mister Odinson,” comes the frail, obedient voice of a terrified child.
Thanos puts his hand on the back of Winter’s neck, and Thor sees how he cringes at the touch. “Winter’s a tersh, too. One of my best. Certainly the prettiest, even with the missing limb.” The hand slides down Winter’s back and that pretty face twists with disdain. “I acquired him after HYDRA dissolved a few years ago. They had to liquidate their assets pretty fast, and I was in the right place at the right time. Lucky me.”
Thor stares, his hand itching for his pistol.
“He was their favorite test bunny once upon a time,” Thanos continues, gazing fondly at the side of Winter’s face. “They had him since he was nine, used him in all sorts of scientific research and experiments. Unfortunately, they harvested all of his eggs, so he can never be a mommy.” The ugly, scarred chin wrinkles as he pulls his lips down in a mock sadface. “But his swimmers are still good, so at least he can still be a daddy. And daddy he is. A new one, too, just a few weeks ago, if my memory serves correct.”
Thanos turns to Thor and grins at him knowingly.
Across the table, Winter sits in petrified silence, and for a split second Thor sees Loki’s face overlaid on top of his.
The chin. The mouth. The eyes.
He is looking at Vali’s father.
“Let me guess, it was a home delivery, wasn’t it?” Thanos clicks his tongue. “Damn, and I missed it. Not many people have seen a pregnant tersh give birth. It would have made a spectacular show.” He picks up his whiskey glass and takes a sip. “I hope the baby didn’t tear him wide open. Be a shame if it did. He’s got a nice pussy. I assume you’ve seen it?”
Fury boils up from Thor’s pounding heart and stains his face red. He clenches his fists until his knuckles go white.
Thanos chuckles. “Well, all beauty must fade eventually. Doesn’t matter if his cunt looks like a smashed lasagna now, as long as he can still push ‘em out. He’s in his prime reproductive years now. I wanted Gast to start him at thirteen, but he was old-fashioned. Wanted to give him a few years. Me, I say old enough to bleed, old enough to breed, know what I mean?”
Thor’s mouth twists into a snarl. “Shut the fuck up.”
Thanos just leers and runs his hand underneath Winter’s shirt. Winter whimpers and squirms on his lap. “Ooh. Did that touch a tender spot?”
“You’re a monster.”
One large shoulder shrugs. “It’s a living. Pretty good living, too, when hitmen aren’t robbing me blind.” Thanos’s ugly face hardens. “You cost me over a million dollars, you know that, Odinson? I had plans for Loki. Plans that you ruined. He was going to be my shining star. The third trimester is the best time for fucking, did you know that? All those happy hormones flooding through mama. Pussy gets nice and wet real easy, the tits are looking great. Maybe the milk’s come in, that’s always a plus. A lot of people would pay good money to see a pregnant tersh get gangbanged.”
Thor’s stomach turns. He thinks he’s going to throw up. “You’re disgusting.”
Thanos smiles. The scars on his chin stretch grotesquely. “Says the man who kills people for money.”
“Can I have a drink, Daddy?” Winter asks suddenly. He sets his gaze deliberately on Thor. His eyes are sharp, clear, no longer drugged-looking. He gives a slight, imperceptible nod.
Thor’s face is a blank mask, but he blinks twice.
Thanos caresses his asset’s belly. “Just a sip, Winnie. You’ve got a doctor’s appointment tomorrow morning.”
“Yes, Daddy.” Winter reaches for the whiskey glass.
“Well”—Thanos turns back to Thor—“now that I’ve got a way to track down my stolen property, thanks to this phone you’ve so graciously provided me, I suppose that leaves just one last thing: what to do with you.” He taps the table, rings sparkling. “I could kill you outright, but that wouldn’t be very profitable. I’m sure I can find a way to make back the money you owe me. Your organs might fetch a good price if they’re—”
Without warning, Winter thrusts his arm upward. The whiskey glass pounds into Thanos’s left eye socket without breaking. Thor springs from his seat, hurls the chair at the nearest bouncer, and charges into the second one. Thanos snarls as his eye is drenched with alcohol. Winter drives his fist between the big man’s legs. Thanos roars as one of his testicles ruptures like a smashed grape. Winter grabs the ashtray—the cigar still burning in it—and throws it into Thanos’s face. Something sizzles and the snarls turn to roars of fury. Winter untangles himself from Thanos’s arm and scrambles out of his lap.
The second bouncer is flailing uselessly in Thor’s chokehold. Thor slips his polymer knife from the waistband of his BDUs and drives it between the man’s C3 and C4 vertebrae. One slice severs everything. The man’s eyes go blank and he falls to the floor dead.
The first bouncer is now crawling to his feet, Thor’s pistol in hand, only to be tackled by Winter and sent sprawling onto his back. Winter sits on his chest and tries to wrestle the weapon from his grip.
Thor charges onto the scene and drops his boot onto the bouncer’s face. There’s a crunch and a spew of blood. The man screams, his face reduced to a slimy, bleeding mess. The gun drops from his hands. Winter catches it and jumps to his feet. He turns and points the muzzle at Thanos, who is staggering from the booth in a blind rage.
“You… worthless cunt,” he groans, wallowing ox-like in his pain. “After all I did for you. After I saved you. I gave you a new life, Winter! And this is how you repay me. You ungrateful little shit. I’m going to put you in a fucking snuff film when I get my ha—”
The first round hits him in the right knee. The second in his hip. The third plants his bicep, the fourth in his shoulder. Thor, having slit the bouncer’s throat, stands to the side and watches Winter empty the clip into Thanos’s body. Pop. Pop. Pa-pop. Pop. The shots are muffled by the suppressor. No one in the lounge seems to notice; they’re too busy with their own parties.
When Thanos hit the floor, it rattles the empty tables nearby. He lies there groaning and bleeding, somehow still alive.
Winter shakily lowers the gun and drops into a crouch. He starts sobbing and rocking back and forth. He’s done.
Thor knows time is short. He strides over to Thanos and drags him upright, props him against the upholstered booth. He stares into those ugly pig eyes, one covered in ash and scorches, the other dripping whiskey. Both are as red as a devil’s and full of rage. He knows what’s coming.
He catches Thor’s hand in both of his, holding the descending blade away from his throat.
Shock flashes across Thor’s face as the knife begins to reverse. He claps his other hand on top of Thanos’s and grits his teeth, tries to push back. It does nothing.
Thanos smiles insanely, blood trickling from the corner of his mouth. “You think it’d be that easy, Odinson? You meddling flea. I will survive this, and then I’m going to make you suffer. You and that treacherous little HYDRA slut. I’m going to amputate every limb you have and turn you both into fucking gimps. Oh, yes. And then you’re going to watch what I do to Loki, and believe me, Thunderstorm, it’s going to be the best show you’ve ever—”
Thor drives his knee into Thanos’s injured balls. The scream that follows is almost deafening. His resistance weakens, and Thor pushes forward with all his might.
The knife glides easily through the flesh of Thanos’s neck. It pops through his trachea, his esophagus, a bundle of tendons, and comes out the just to the left of his cervical column. Blood gushes hot and dark from the wound, almost black until it hits the air, then it turns bright red.
A wide-eyed look of surprise washes over Thanos’s face. Stunned. As if he can’t believe what’s happening. His jaw moves and his lips try to form words, but the only sound that emerges is a bloody gurgle.
Thor leans down and mutters, “You talk too much.” Then he pulls the knife out and watches the waterfall of blood pour down the front of Thanos’s shirt. Those tiny pig eyes roll back white. He slumps to the floor, takes two breaths, and goes still.
An alarm sounds somewhere in the building. Thor stands and assesses the situation.
He never expected to survive this, and there’s a good chance he still won’t; there are five floors and roughly thirty-eight security guards between him and his motorcycle. He has the two sidearms he lifted from the dead bouncers, his knife, three push daggers, and a potassium cyanide pill in case they wanted to take their time in killing him. They aren’t the best odds, but he’s survived a lot worse.
In any case, he can’t let the father of Loki’s child fall back into the hands of these bastards. He has to try. Mission status: accepted.
Thor walks quickly over to where Winter is crouching, still weeping. He grabs him by his arm and pulls him to his feet.
“Come on,” he says, reciting the same words he had spoken four months ago to a frightened, pregnant teenager. “We’re getting out of here.”