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Deliver Me

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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 gender, intersex, 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 Text

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 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, respectfully 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 find 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 gender 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.