Chapter 1: The Tersh
Thor Odinson, alias “Thunderstorm”. Former soldier, professional assassin, unintentional hermit. Been living in a remote cabin safehouse outside the city limits for the last four years. He has exactly one bowl and one plate and one spoon and they’re all military surplus. He grooms his nails with his tactical knife, wears his boots to bed (which is actually the couch), and jacks off in the shower more than he would care to admit. His wardrobe consists chiefly of black BDUs and white tees. He owns more guns than pairs of socks, and he has more socks than reasons to get up in the morning. He hasn’t been in a relationship since 2001 and he hasn’t had a home-cooked meal in even longer. He’s two years from 40, he has no living family, all of his friends are dead, it’s getting hard to read small text, and Doc Banner says if he doesn’t get his blood pressure down soon, he won’t live long enough to die saving the world like he’s obviously planning to.
Sooner or later he’s going to have to hang up this contract killing bullshit, take all the money he’s earned popping bad guys for the last two decades, and find a fjord somewhere to grow old and bitter in. What’s the point of trying to live a normal life when you’re this numb inside anyway?
But this last assignment…
His client hadn’t said anything about a kid being in the house. Certainly not a pregnant teenager who was one of the Grandmaster’s “living assets”, an orphaned tersh (tertiary sex, male and female anatomy, very rare and valuable to underworld sleazebags) who was currently being served hot and fresh in the VIP lounge at Club Sakaar. The kid—Loki he’s called, no surname, no ID or records, according to the government he doesn’t even exist—had his virginity auctioned off for 2.2 million when he was sixteen and was leased for breeding at age eighteen. The first leasee’s “investment” is growing in his belly now.
Thor hadn’t known what to do. He couldn’t kill the kid. The sight of him huddled against the wall with his hand on his belly, tears shining in his big beautiful eyes, begging for his life… Thor would rather suck the lead out of his Beretta. Nor could he leave him behind to be bought, sold, bred, and abused for the rest of his life. Other assassins might, but Thor lived by a different code.
That left only one option.
Loki had come willingly, and one haphazard, heart-stopping motorcycle ride later, Thor is looking around at his grungy, disgusting cabin and wondering how in the hell he’s going to make it suitable for human habitation. Especially considering what Loki had come from: caviar and silver spoons, plasma TVs and limousines, luxury sheets, designer clothes, his very own room that locked from the outside and was under 24-hour video surveillance. It was a golden cage, but it was still a lot nicer than this dump.
Loki, already shocked and shaken and scared by everything that’s happening, starts to cry when he realizes he might have to spend the rest of his life in this awful place. That’s just how it is. Every man he’s ever known has owned him, body and mind and soul, and he doesn’t know anything about this Thor guy other than he’s a huge, angry-looking contract killer who lives like a backwoods troglodyte.
He sobs about the appalling conditions of his new home and Thor’s feelings get hurt. Hell, Thor can’t remember the last time he felt hurt—or anything for that matter—and like any prickly, hypersensitive old bastard, he ends up lashing out and snarling at Loki about how “life’s tough, your highness” and how he has to “get used to it, because this is the way it’s gonna be” and how he’s “lucky to even be alive”.
Loki wipes away his tears and screams that he’s traded one monster for another, and at least his old monster wasn’t so fucking mean and revolting, then he storms off to Thor’s bedroom—the only bedroom in the cabin, the one Thor hasn’t used in years—and slams the door in his face.
Thor drops down onto the couch with his head in his hands and wonders if this is what having teenage kids feels like. He is old enough to be Loki’s father.
God. That means he’s old enough to be a grandfather.
He gets up, goes to the kitchen, and digs out the bottle of Glenlivet from under the sink, because realizations this awful deserve to be drowned.
All of Thor’s uncomfortable new feelings are pretty well anesthetized by the time Loki emerges from the room an hour later and murmurs that he’s hungry. Then everything comes roaring back in full fucking Technicolor glory, along with one metric shit ton of added guilt, totally killing Thor’s buzz.
Maybe trying to drink away the first feelings he’s had in years is the wrong thing to do. He takes a breath and decides to try again.
He doesn’t have much in the way of real food, and he was saving the MREs for a genuine emergency, but he lets Loki have his pick (he needs the nutrition, after all), and clumsily clears off a spot at the tiny, rickety kitchen table so he has a place to sit. Loki sits down and eats his MRE in silence, Thor takes his tray when he’s finished, and he offers up a quiet, tentative, “Thank you.”
Thor replies just as tentatively, “You’re welcome.”
It isn’t the best start, but at least it’s a start.
A few days later, Thor goes somewhere he hasn’t been in years: a real, actual supermarket. Gas stations and drug stores are good enough for a bachelor, but now he has a baby on the way and—no, no, not his baby, he’s just taking care of a pregnant tersh for a little while, that’s all, just a kid who needs balanced meals, fresh fruits and vegetables, bread and milk, perishable stuff like that, maybe some comfort foods, too. What do expectant mothers eat anyway? Shit, Thor should have thought of this before he left the house.
He ends up with half the store in his cart and enough bags in the back of his battered old Land Rover to obstruct the view out the rear window.
When he returns to the cabin and unloads everything, Loki comes padding out of the bedroom and is shocked by the cornucopia covering the kitchen counters. Not only food, but some of the things he’s either cried for or griped about missing since he’s been here: his own toothbrush, some basic clothing, a heating pad for his sore back, his own towel and washcloth, cocoa butter lotion, a big bottle of prenatal vitamins—
“I got ice cream,” says Thor helpfully, holding up two of the twelve one-pint cartons he bought. “You get cravings, right? I didn’t know which flavor you liked, so I got an assortment.”
Loki folds his arms on top of his bulging belly and puts his hand to his lips, wincing. “I… can’t eat dairy. I’m lactose intolerant.”
Thor goes still. Then he looks down at the twelve pints of ice cream he’s going to have to eat by himself, as if staring at his own demise, and Loki can’t help it. He starts giggling and it catches. Soon he and Thor are standing in the kitchen cackling and guffawing, and every time they look at each other, it just kicks up another notch.
Finally Loki wipes his eyes and says breathlessly, “Oh. Oh my, I haven’t laughed like that in ages. I think it woke someone up.”
Thor gives him a quizzical look, and Loki steps forward and picks up Thor’s hand, pressing it to his belly. “Wait for it… ah, there. Do you feel it?”
Thor does. The smile vanishes from his face, replaced with a look of wonder. Something is bumping into his palm, maybe a little foot or a fist, strong and insistent.
Something strange comes over him in that moment. Something soft and warm, wistful and reverent. It’s insane, really. Assassins don’t nurture lives. They end them. To feel the evidence of a new life growing inside someone is… very different from what he’s used to.
He kind of likes it.
Thor looks up and smiles. “That’s a lot of energy being burnt in there. I’m not the best chef in the world, but… can I make dinner for you and the little one?”
Loki grins. “That would be lovely, thank you.”
Thor practically glows. “You’re welcome.”
Thor, as it turns out, is not the best chef in the world. He’s not even the best chef in the house. Loki is exactly half his age and knows more about cooking than he does, and as a result, Thor spends the next two weeks getting schooled at every meal.
Loki has to show him how to cut and pit an avocado (Thor has never even touched an avocado before), how to julienne carrots, and why extra virgin olive oil—“evoo” Loki calls it, which makes Thor’s balls crawl—is the greatest thing in the world. They squabble about knives—“It’s just for cutting food,” Thor argues, “why does it matter which one you use?”—and how to whip eggs for omelettes versus beating them for scrambled eggs, just to name a few of the lectures.
“Don’t use hot water to make coffee, you barbarian. It ruins the flavor. Use cold.”
“I’ve been making coffee since before you were even on this planet, Loki. I think I know what I’m doing.”
“Well, you don’t. Here, let me show you how to make it correctly…”
They’re always bickering and bantering and bumping into each other, fighting for control over the sink and stove, and lightheartedly heckling one another:
“You’ve been to India how many times and you’ve never had mattar paneer? You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Thor.”
“‘Medium chain fatty acid’. What’s that? It sounds lethal. Has anyone been killed with one yet?”
“Bacon is not a main course, nor is whisky a side dish. Are you actually trying to kill yourself?”
“I was eating scorpions in the goddamn jungle when you were still in nappies, Loki. You learn to get by with what you’ve got. It’s called survival.”
“I can’t believe you’ve never had kale. I bet your arteries look like a New York City sewer. You’re lucky I’m here. I’ve probably saved you from a heart attack.”
They spend many evenings like this, pestering and picking on one another, sharing mischievous smiles that remain on their lips as they lie down to sleep at night—Loki in the squeaky old bed, Thor on the sagging couch—and long, lingering glances that grow steadily fonder as time goes on.
At Loki’s insistence (nagging, it was definitely nagging), Thor works to improve a few things around the cabin: bulbless lights, broken mirrors, leaky spots in the roof. He even manages to squeeze his oversized ass into the crawl space to fix the leaky pipe in the bathtub so Loki can take a real bath. The sound of Loki’s pleased purrs on the other side of the bathroom door is reward enough for Thor. But the kiss on the cheek that Loki gives him later, well. That makes Thor feel really good. Maybe even a little… happy.
Yes. It’s happiness he’s feeling. And affection. Care. Compassion. Love. All the things that Thor has given up on ever feeling again, and here they are, right in front of him, going by the name “Loki”.
Only once does Thor bring up the subject of Loki’s leasee, and it’s after dinner one evening, while he’s washing the dishes. Loki is engrossed in a crossword puzzle when Thor asks the question, and Loki sets down his pencil and takes a breath.
“I didn’t know his name,” he says calmly. “He was a big man, even bigger than you. He was bald and he had huge hands, and wore these enormous gold rings with jewels in them. He had tiny eyes, like a pig’s eyes, and the ugliest chin I’ve ever seen.”
Loki stares down at the table and puts his hand on his belly.
“He’s not the father, though. He used a donor—I don’t know who. I never had to have sex, but every day for a week I would go to a special room and the doctors would… they’d stick this big syringe inside me. It was cold and it hurt. And he would always be there, watching. I think he liked to see me cry.”
A shiver courses through Loki’s body.
“He used to come visit me at the Club. He would make me sit in his lap and he’d touch my stomach while he talked to En. I hated when he did that. Sometimes he’d put his hand under my shirt and touch me. Pinch me. Say nasty things about me and the baby.”
He folds his arms protectively over his middle.
“I still have nightmares about him. I think I always will.”
Thor clenches his teeth. He thinks he knows who Loki’s leasee is. Only one motherfucker in the underworld fits that description, and that motherfucker is Boss Thanos. Weapons collector. Gemstone enthusiast. Self-styled philosopher. Tyrant. Serial adopter of homeless little girls who end up either running away or disappearing. He’s got everyone in his pocket. He’s practically untouchable, unstoppable. Nothing inspires more fear and dread than the name of Thanos.
Shit. If he thinks he owns Loki’s child, there will be no ridge, no barren moor, no crevice where he cannot find him. Loki will be hunted for the rest of his life. What Thanos wants, Thanos always gets.
Thor grips the edge of the sink with his soapy hands and bows his head. “I’m sorry for bringing it up. I won’t do it again.”
“No, it’s. It’s alright, Thor.” Loki stands, rising awkwardly—belly first, pushing himself up with the back of the chair—and shuffles over to the sink. He slips his arms around Thor’s waist and hugs him. Thor can feel the warm, firm press of his pregnant belly against his lower back. “You saved me from that monster, and other monsters like him.” He lays his cheek against Thor’s shoulder blade. “Thank you.”
Thor stiffens his lips, trying not to think about how he hasn’t really saved Loki at all. That he’s only delayed the inevitable. That Loki will eventually be returned to Thanos’s ownership and be terrorized, tormented, and tortured for the rest of his life. He and his child. Or worse, children.
A lump rises in Thor’s throat.
“You’re welcome,” he says hollowly.
Thor finally has a good reason to dip into his savings, and he does.
Holy shit, he thinks when he looks at his balance. He forgot that he’s been accruing interest in these accounts for the last fifteen years. He has the means to give himself a very nice retirement.
Or set someone else up with a brand new life.
That’s what he’ll do. Fuck the fjords. Fuck retirement; he’ll live in a tent in the Gobi goddamn Desert if it means Loki is safe and his child has a future. There is no better use of his money than that.
Of course, it means he’ll have to take one last job, make one final hit. The biggest one of his life, possibly the last thing he ever does. But if it gives Loki and his baby a new lease on life, so be it. Thor’s life is almost half over anyway. Loki’s is just beginning. It would be a worthy sacrifice.
He spends the next several days on his cell phone, calling in favors to his contacts at SHIELD, getting in touch with nonprofit groups who specialize in helping victims of sex trafficking and provide protection programs for exploited tershes. Loki’s due date is rapidly approaching and there’s no way Thor is just going to drop him off at a maternity ward somewhere and say goodbye; not with Thanos lurking out there, possibly monitoring the incoming patient manifests of all major hospitals, hoping to swoop in and collect his productive little investment.
Just the thought makes Thor’s hackles rise, that that big ugly bastard raped Loki with an artificial penis and paid for nine months’ rent of his uterus—and everything growing inside it. It’s beyond monstrous. It’s unconscionable. Thor wants to take his Ka-Bar and shove it right into Thanos’s taint. Drive it in to the hilt, carve him a big old pussy, then slice off his dick and shove it inside. Let him see how it feels to be—
Blood pressure. Gotta watch the blood pressure, Thor reminds himself. Calm down, deep breath, relax, you’ll live longer.
Because suddenly he does want to live longer. It hadn’t really mattered to him before. There had never been anyone waiting for him to come home at night, no one to ask him how his day was or what his plans for the future are. No one to cook dinner (or breakfast, or brunch) with him, or scold him about his bad habits and encourage him to take better care of himself. No one to stand in the living room wearing his huge t-shirt and nothing else for pajamas, the cloth draping from an eight-month pregnant belly, and shyly ask if he wants to come to bed.
“I just want to be held,” Loki murmurs, his hands fidgeting. “I want someone beside me and I… I want to feel safe.”
Thor hesitates. “Loki, I am an assassin. I kill people for a living. I am walking death.”
“I know. What safer place to be than by your side?”
After a long, thoughtful pause, Thor gets up and follows Loki into the bedroom. He slips under the covers with him, his pulse pounding in his ears. Loki turns off the lamp and they lie there against one another, warm and comfortable, and Thor’s heartbeat slows. He relaxes. The tension leaves his muscles, his breathing becomes calm and slow. He’s pretty sure his blood pressure is actually somewhere in the normal range now. This is nice. This is good. This is… wonderful, actually.
Loki picks up Thor’s hand and puts it on his stomach, inviting him to rub. Thor feels the baby kicking and squirming restlessly inside Loki’s small, cramped belly, and he draws his hand soothingly back and forth over his tight skin. He doesn’t know why, but he begins to murmur nonsense words in a low, deep rumble. It sounds like gentle thunder and resonates through his hand and into Loki’s flesh.
Eventually the kung fu fighting ceases and the baby settles, quiet and content.
“Thank you,” Loki whispers, looking at Thor with his large, pale eyes. He reaches up and runs the back of his finger down Thor’s bearded jaw. “For this. For everything.”
He leans up just enough to brush Thor’s lips with his own—soft young skin against rough, prickly beard—then he sinks back into the pillow with a tender smile.
Thor looks at him and knows he has fallen painfully, desperately in love. “You’re welcome.”
Chapter 2: The Baby
He doesn’t like it, but Thor decides that a home delivery would be best. It’s just too risky to take Loki to a hospital or bring in an outside doctor—even Banner, who isn’t a baby-delivering doctor anyway. No one can know there’s a pregnant tersh here. It’s a safe house, not an open house. If so much as a hint gets out, the cabin could be crawling with the scum of Sakaar within 48 hours. There’s really no other alternative.
He doesn’t expect Loki to take the news well. Most of the decisions Thor has made on his behalf have been met with tears and ranting and slamming doors. He’s fully prepared to have his eardrums screamed out by a hormonal teenager, and actually breaks the news to him with his 32-decibel NRR earplugs in his pocket, just in case.
But Loki calmly looks up from his paperback and says, “Good. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t want to be touched by another doctor again,” and goes back to reading.
Thor is quietly pleased—for approximately two seconds. Then the terror kicks in because he knows less than fuck all about birthing babies.
He spends the next week googling basic midwifery and naturopathic medicine, downloading e-books on home births, thumbing through parenting magazines while he waits in line at the supermarket, researching all possible complications and outcomes, different delivery methods, even postpartum care. He gathers supplies like he’s stockpiling for armageddon: towels and pillows and those mega-colossal maxi pads that could probably hold three liters of blood, cooling gel lubricant and wound-healing ointment, ibuprofen, baby formula in case Loki has problems breastfeeding, and a suture kit that he prays to God he won’t have to use. He prepares for anything and everything.
The more Thor learns, the scarier this whole situation becomes. He’s been in some serious shit over the past twenty years, had several “fuck me, this is it” moments, defused dozens of improvised explosives in the nick of time and experienced hundreds of close calls, but he’s never been through anything quite as nerve-wracking as this.
Taking a life is easy. Bringing one into the world? Goddamn. His respect for Loki increases more with each passing day.
So does his blood pressure.
“Calm down,” Loki whispers to him at night, sliding close and laying a hand on Thor’s chest. “Your heart is pounding so hard it’s shaking the bed. What’s the matter?”
“Nothing,” Thor lies. “I’m fine.”
He can feel Loki’s glare even in the dark.
“Alright,” he concedes, “I was thinking.”
After a reluctant pause, Thor finally mumbles, “You. The baby. About what the hell I’m going to do when the time comes.”
“You already know what to do.” Loki’s voice is low and smooth. “You’ve read more on this than I have.”
“Doesn’t mean I won’t make a mistake. In my line of work, mistakes are what get people killed. I don’t want… I’m worried.”
Loki sighs and props himself up on his elbow so he can look down at Thor’s face, barely visible in the moonlight. “It’s not just you, Thor. I’m worried, too. Terrified, actually.” He grins weakly. “Every day I tell myself that everything will be fine and nothing will happen, but unless I believe it, I’m just wasting my breath.”
He picks up Thor’s hand stares at it, at the large, rough fingers cradled in his soft, pale ones. He lifts his eyes to Thor again, and once more Thor finds himself marveling at their lovely green color.
“I believe in you. I trust you. For the first time in my life, I truly feel safe and protected. You’re the first man I’ve ever wanted to touch me, and the… you’re the only man I want to be touched by ever again.”
He smiles through the darkness, and Thor’s brain grinds to a shuddering halt.
The first man Loki has ever wanted to touch him. The only man he wants to be touched by. For the rest of his life, it sounds like.
Thor suddenly wants nothing more. Loki wanting him—wanting to be with him—is all and everything he needs, the one element that could fill this lonely, loveless void in his heart.
If he allows it.
“I’m an old man,” he blurts, like he’s trying to talk himself out of making a bad decision. “I’m no good for you.”
“I know what’s good for me, Thor.” Loki lays himself down again and rests his head on Thor’s shoulder. “And so do you.”
He snuggles against Thor’s side, his cheek pressed above that thumping, banging heart. Gradually its beat slows, relaxes. Thor’s breathing evens out. He sighs, his breath stirring the soft black hairs on Loki’s head. He slips his arm around Loki and feels the gentle nudge of movement from his belly, as if the baby is also trying to comfort him.
Thor wonders how it would feel to be a father.
He falls asleep listening to Loki breathe, and dreams of a fjord and a small, happy family that could never be his.
Saturday morning. Hot tea and fruit-laden oatmeal have replaced cream-clogged coffee and corned beef hash eaten straight from the can. Thor is actually starting to notice how much better he’s feeling, physically and mentally. He’s leaner, stronger. His skin looks clearer. His guts are working a hell of a lot better, too. Loki was right. A good diet is the foundation of good health. He doesn’t even mind Meatless Mondays anymore. That vegetable stir fry Loki made last week was actually pretty damn—
A loud gasp causes Thor to raise his head from the omelette he’s preparing. Loki is standing at the table, about to sit down, with a mug of tea clutched tightly in one hand. He turns to Thor with wide eyes and a shocked expression, his other hand cradled just below his big, protruding belly.
Thor snaps off the burner and turns around. His face is frozen somewhere between jubilation and teeth-chattering terror. “Oh hell oh shit it’s time, isn’t it? It’s happening.”
“I… I think so.” Loki grimaces as his first contraction seizes him. “Ngh, yes! Yes, it’s definitely happening! Definitely—aaaowww!”
Something clicks in Thor’s brain. His trepidation vanishes and suddenly he’s on autopilot, dashing for the Baby Bag that’s been sitting by the couch for the last two weeks. Nothing exists but his mission, and that mission is to oversee the delivery of a very precious package from a very important person. Status: accepted.
The bathroom is too small and cramped, Thor knew that weeks ago, so the kitchen is where he sets up the makeshift maternity ward. He unrolls a prickly wool survival blanket onto the vinyl floor and begins covering it with bedsheets and towels. He grabs some pillows, then takes out his field surgery kit that has been recently updated to include maternity supplies. Loki waits nearby, hissing through his teeth and rubbing his belly, shifting his weight impatiently from one foot to the other.
Thor finishes preparing the birthing pallet and guides Loki onto it, carefully eases him down, and helps him find a comfortable position. Then he slowly peels off Loki’s pajama bottoms.
Apart from illustrations in his high school biology textbook, Thor has never seen a tersh’s reproductive anatomy before.
It’s pretty fucking amazing, actually.
He looks up and meets Loki’s eyes. “Okay, I’m gonna—I need to see how much you’re dilating, so I’ll need to touch your cervix.”
“Yes, I anticipated that.”
“Alright. Good. I just, I wanted to warn you first in case it… in case you might have some bad memories attached to it. To this. The act, you know.”
Loki smiles at Thor thinly. “I appreciate your consideration, Thor, but you don’t have to ask my permission. It’s you. I trust you. I’ll be fine.” He lies back on the pillows and takes a deep breath. “Go on, I’m ready.”
Thor snaps on a pair of nitrile gloves, coats his fingers with lubricating jelly, and gently begins massaging the outer folds of Loki’s vulva, slowly working him open.
It’s strange how human sexuality works. Thor hasn’t been laid in over six months, and normally the sight of live-action pussy would have his dick turning into a 3-inch diameter iron rebar after 30 seconds. Touching a pussy, fifteen seconds. Fingering one? Merry fucking Christmas, he’d be lucky if he didn’t blow his load then and there.
But nothing stirs in his pants as he gently slips his fingers into Loki and tries to locate his cervix. He finds it eventually and feels around with his fingertips to measure. Loki grunts and bites his lip.
“Okay.” Thor is already sweating, beads of perspiration popping out on his forehead. “Okay, it feels like you’re at one or two centimeters. Still a way to go.”
“Does it hurt?” The grimace on Loki’s face is pretty telling, but Thor thinks he should ask anyway.
“It’s more of an ache, really. Soreness. Like a strained muscle. It’s my… the lips and everything else down there, it just feels achy.”
“Want me to do a PM?”
Loki has been giving himself daily perineal massages for the past few weeks—at Thor’s recommendation—to help lower the risk of tearing during birth. Thor confessed that he might faint if he has to perform an episiotomy, and advised Loki do everything and anything he can to avoid it. Loki wholeheartedly agreed, and he nods his head now.
“Yes, please, go ahead.”
Thor pulls his fingers out to the first knuckle and begins to gently massage the posterior portion of Loki’s vagina. His labia smack warmly against Thor’s knuckles.
Thor takes a deep, calming breath.
In a short while, maybe another hour or two, this tight little hole is going to be stretched around a human skull. It boggles his mind.
Loki props himself up and for a brief moment they meet each other’s eyes. Loki blushes and looks away, tucking his lower lip into his mouth. Thor feels his embarrassment.
“It’s alright,” he says, not sure if he’s talking to himself or to Loki. “Just flesh and blood, that’s all we are. Human bodies. People. You and me.”
“I know,” says Loki softly. “I just hate that you have to see me like this. It must be repulsive for you to even—”
“Wh—no! Hey. No way. You are not repulsive, Loki. You’re incredible. You’ve got this amazing body and it’s… I mean, fuck’s sake, you’re giving birth. I don’t know about you, but this is the scariest and most exciting moment of my life.”
Loki gives him a frail, sweaty smile. “I think mine was the moment we met, but this is a pretty close second.”
Thor’s face relaxes as he mirrors Loki’s smile. Then he returns his attention to the massaging. There will be time for sweet little moments like these later. Maybe.
“Deep breath,” he says. “I’ll breathe with you. We’ll breathe together. You and I. Nothing else right now. No world. Just us.” It’s as much for his benefit as Loki’s.
Loki closes his eyes and takes a breath, and grips Thor’s hand as another contraction begins.
Six and a half hours.
Six and a half hours of Loki crying and screaming and moaning. Six and a half hours of blood and sweat and burning hot tears, pushing and panting, fighting terror and fatigue, before a wet little head of dark hair finally emerges. Thor smiles, tears of relief tumbling down his cheeks, and gently pulls a tiny wrinkled human into the world.
Loki groans one last time before sinking onto his back and sobbing for air, his knees wagging weakly and the umbilical cord trailing from his body. Its purpose has been fulfilled. Thor cuts it—there’s a small spurt of blood when he does—and then ties off the few inches left sticking out of the infant’s belly. The child takes its first breath and begins to squall.
Thor laughs dizzily, his hands slick with blood and amniotic fluid as he holds this kicking, wailing, wriggling new thing. He sees it has male genitals.
“Loki, it’s a b—” He stops suddenly, his smile fading. The baby is still squirming, legs stretching out and pedaling the air, free and exposed. Its cries are shrill and catlike.
No. Not just a boy. It’s a tersh.
A cold feeling pricks Thor’s heart. He struggles to pull his smile back on.
“—a beauty. Your beautiful baby, Loki. Look at him. He’s perfect.”
He cleans the child with a soft towel and lays him naked in the crook of Loki’s hip while he begins the postpartum care. The baby is active, wiggling and rolling and crying intermittently. A strong, healthy little tyke with good lungs and lots of hair.
Loki weakly reaches down and touches his baby’s head. Then he bursts into tears.
Thor stops what he’s doing and gently lifts the baby, places him in the middle of Loki’s bare chest. Loki cups his hands around his son’s naked little body, holding him close. He looks up at Thor with his wet, shining eyes, and Thor suddenly remembers the first time he saw those eyes, frightened and desperate, staring at him from down on the floor of a lavish cage.
“Thank you, Thor,” Loki croaks. “Thank you for… every…” His face crumples with a whine and he begins to sob.
Thor wipes his runny nose on his shoulder. “You’re welcome.”
They spend a little more time on the pallet, Thor tending to Loki and helping him deliver the placenta, then cleaning up the blood and mess. He removes the wet and ruined sheets and ties everything together in a large bundle. He’ll take it out into the woods later and burn it.
He brings over a bucket of hot water and gives Loki a sponge bath, washing away the sweat and fluids of that six-hour ordeal. He wraps Loki in a robe afterward and helps him get settled in bed with his new baby. Both fall asleep almost immediately.
Thor tiptoes out, leaving the door cracked, and quietly begins making dinner even though it’s a few hours early yet. When Loki wakes, he’s sure to be ravenous. The first meal after giving birth is very important, according to the articles Thor has been reading. This is also his first solo dinner mission, but Loki has done an excellent job of training him in the past several weeks, so he’s fairly confident in his abilities now. In roughly an hour, Thor has a hearty beef and vegetable stew simmering on the stove. He begins assembling a tray.
Loki wakes just as Thor is finishing—perfect timing—and enthusiastically devours two bowls of stew, an entire sleeve of crackers, and quarter bag of ginger snaps. The baby, also awake, has no trouble finding his first meal, to Thor’s great relief. Loki is lactating normally, and though his breasts are small, they are more than adequate to feed his child.
Both doze off again when they’ve eaten their fill, and Thor takes the empty tray back to the kitchen. He washes the dishes, cleans up the food prep mess, and packs up the leftovers, all in complete silence. He takes the birth refuse out to the firepit behind the cabin and burns it, staring into the flames and thinking. Thinking. Thinking.
The fire burns itself out in half an hour, just as dusk is approaching. Thor returns to the cabin and gets a shower, takes a peek in the bedroom—mother and child still asleep, status: good—and returns to the kitchen to find something to do. He has to stay busy. He has to keep moving, keep his mind occupied, focus on something. He doesn’t want to spend too much time alone in his own head right now. It’s a dark, unpleasant place. The present is much happier; he wants to spend a little more time here before finally facing his future.
When he goes to check on Loki again, he finds him just waking. Loki lifts his head when he hears Thor’s footsteps and shifts drowsily, offering up a tired but contented smile. His robe is open, the baby curled up between his breasts. What a lovely sight, that healthy little newborn snuggled against his mother’s chest, all warm and safe. Thor tries not to stare.
“I made some of that chia pet pudding for dessert,” he says with a lopsided grin, and Loki’s smile widens. He means chia seed pudding, which is one of Loki’s favorite desserts.
“Thank you. I might have some a little later.”
The baby stirs and squeaks and begins to cry. Thor watches Loki carefully turn him over and cradle him in his arms, petting his upset little face. The baby frowns and turns to Loki’s chest, begins rooting around. He finds what he’s looking for and latches on, his tiny body relaxing as the milk begins to flow. All is well.
Loki lightly combs his fingertips through his son’s thick, dark hair. “I’m thinking of calling him Vali.”
“Vali. That’s a good name.” Thor watches the baby nurse, a tiny hand rising to clutch at Loki’s breast. “Strong. Heroic.”
“Hm.” Loki looks up at Thor, his tired smile still there but now accompanied by a haunted look in his eyes. “He’s a tersh, you know.”
Thor nods. “Yes. I saw.”
“I thought it was a recessive gene.”
“It is.” God knows Thor has read up on tertiary reproduction enough to impress a med student.
Loki looks down at his baby—at Vali, nursing with a trancelike look on his face, his bright blue eyes half closed. “The donor must have been a tersh, too.”
“He would have to be.”
Silence. Loki’s mouth pinches with anguish, and Thor can almost read his thoughts.
Loki’s leasee, aka Thanos, aka that contemptible piece of living shit, must be trying to breed tershes. The tertiary sex makes up less than five percent of the world’s population and sterility is a common problem, yet somehow Thanos has managed to get his hands on a pair with strong enough genes to produce a desired genotype. No doubt he has plans for Loki’s baby. Fetish porn, prostitution, pseudoscientific research, who the fuck knows. Thor’s blood boils just thinking about it. He takes a breath to calm himself.
“You’re still going to sleep here tonight, right?”
Loki’s question is so unexpected that for a few moments Thor doesn’t know how to respond. His hesitation makes Loki’s shoulders droop.
“I know I’m really disgusting right now,” he says haltingly. “I’m a bleeding, bloated mess and I—”
“Loki, you”—Thor is mortified by the insinuation—“you just gave birth. It’s a—you just pushed a human being out of something the size of a coin slot. You’re not disgusting, you’re beaut—” His voice hitches. Loki stares. “You’re beautiful. You’re amazing, I don’t…” Nothing else comes. He gives a helpless shrug. “There are no words to describe how I… how much I admire and respect you. You’re incredible.”
Loki presses his lips together shyly and blushes.
“And yes, I’ll sleep in here tonight if you want.”
“I want,” he says softly.
Thor relaxes, releases his breath. He walks over to the bed and carefully climbs onto the mattress, sitting propped against the headboard with his legs stretched out. Loki nestles against his side like it’s where he’s meant to be. It feels natural for Thor to put his arm around him and… he can’t help it, he kisses the top of Loki’s head. Then he looks down at the baby that should have been his—that might someday be his.
No. No, that’s only a dream. He can’t let himself keep thinking like this. Loki is a teenager. An exploited tersh who’s just had a baby. He needs help and protection, a stable home where he can raise his child and keep him safe. Not some crusty old contract killer living in a ramshackle cabin trying to play husband to him. Loki deserves more than that. Thor will provide.
He leans his head against the headboard and unconsciously begins to rub Loki’s shoulder.
He has one more thing left to do. One job. Then he’ll have secured a happy, normal future for Loki and little Vali. They won’t need him anymore after that. They’ll be fine. Loki is young. He can still find someone else.
“I love you, Thor,” Loki murmurs, nuzzling his head against Thor’s chest.
Thor can feel his heart breaking. He wonders if Loki can feel it, too. He’s right there. Surely this much pain is palpable.
But no. Loki’s eyes are shut, a faint smile on his lips.
A tear slides silently down Thor’s cheek. “I love you, too, Loki.”
And that’s why I have to do this.
Chapter 3: The Monster
I must have written and rewritten this chapter 63 times in the past year, but it’s finally here and I hope you all enjoy it (thank you for your patience)! HJB
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
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.”
Next (final) chapter: The Family